Wednesday, 22 August 2012

What's old is really young...

A colleague walked into class yesterday and proudly displayed something he found in his garden the day before – a seven hundred year old silver Robert the Bruce penny.  It was an incredible find that his wife happened to discover while digging up the dirt underneath their roses.  Impossibly, this amazing piece of history was sitting right there in the dirt.

What I learned from my friend John is that he must now turn this in to the Scottish government.  Apparently (and please, someone correct me if I have this wrong), anyone who finds any artifact that is pre-Victorian is required to hand over the item to the treasure trust.  To be fair, the person will be compensated for the item at its perceived value.  In this case, John believes he will receive somewhere in the realm of 1,200 pounds (just a shade under $2,000) from the government for his find.

My father enjoys using his metal detector, especially near old schools, homesteads, and churches.  He has found a plethora of treasures, yet they are mostly contextual treasures, unlike John’s actual treasure (I’m rightly or wrongly basing this on monetary value).  He’s certainly found some old coins, including one from the 1820’s that is a prized discovery.  He’s also dug up three Civil War minie balls in Georgia along Sherman’s march to the sea.  Again, treasures for us over in the US, but still 500 years younger than this coin my friend John discovered.

My dad brought out his metal detector with the kids at the cottage in Interlochen right before we left for our trip.  To all our surprise, they actually found some relics of the past in the yard by the lake.  Their collection included 40-some cents (in a variety of coins dating all the way back to 1965!) and an old belt buckle.  The kids were amazed by how old the things were that we found.  

Boy do I feel silly thinking about that in our current Scottish context.  We found something from 1965 and considered it old.  John found something from 1300.  Context means everything, doesn’t it?  The US government did not demand back the dime from the 1960s, nor would it pay me any more than 10 cents for it if I gave it to them.

We've been here before...

Green Lake, Interlochen, Michigan, USA
Before we left for Scotland, we stayed at the family cottage in Interlochen, located on the beautiful shore of Green Lake in the northern part Michigan’s lower peninsula.  My family has been coming to this gorgeous part of the world all my life.  My grandfather purchased the cottage, a few acres of woods, and 40’ of waterfront some years before I was born.  As a child, my brother and I spent whole summers up by the lake with my mother, while my father would join us on the weekends and for a couple of vacation weeks here and there.  

Needless to say, Interlochen holds a very special place in my heart (as well as that of my brother).  In spite of living all my formative years in Brighton, in a house that my parents still live in today, I identify my home as the cottage much more firmly than I do other places in the world.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I rejoice over the love my wife and children find for this same place.  There is a divine sense of nostalgia that occurs when you watch your children revel in the same places, things, and activities you yourself enjoyed years prior.  Everything changes yet the world remains remarkably the same.

There is a certain value in vacationing or retreating to the same place year after year, even month after month – though I personally struggle with this lack of exploration.  While the kids did get to spend two weeks with Rachell in Interlochen this year, because of our epic adventure in Scotland this month, they are spending much less time in Northern Michigan than they normally would this summer.  Both Bryce and Denali say they miss Interlochen in the midst of their enthusiasm and joy for the experiences we are currently having here in the UK. 
What types of vacations and holidays do you take with your families?  Do you go to the same place season after season?  Do you strive for the new each time?  What is helpful for children – when and why?  Just some thoughts about where we are and where we are going…

Monday, 20 August 2012

Aberdeen Harbor (Harbour, for our UK and Canadian friends)

Monday – August 20, 2012

Class restarted today, which means we’re back in Aberdeen.  After a wonderfully refreshing weekend with our dear friends from Kirriemuir, we have returned to the Granite City for the final ten days in the UK.  We’ll be here until Friday while I take a fantastically inspiring class from Wes Avram on Worship in the Reformed Church (emphasis on proclamation in our post-modern context…my added definition of the class based on what I’m seeing so far).  On Friday night, we’ll get on a very long ferry boat ride across the North Sea to the Shetland Islands for the weekend, returning on the same ferry Sunday night.  
The journey from Aberdeen to the Shetlands is approximately 12 hours across rough waters toward Norway.  We’re telling the kids this is a “cruise ship,” since we’ll have a cabin on the ship.  Rachell and I understand this is VERY different from cruise ship accommodations.  It’s funny what our Scottish friends have been saying to us upon informing them we will be heading to Shetlands.  Their answers tend to include two statements:
            1. I’ve never been there before.
            2. Why in the world would you go there?
We have not doubted our plans but we do feel the need to justify our decision to head off to the middle of the North Sea to a series of islands primarily populated by wind and Viking myths of the past.  The ferry is located immediately outside our apartment window so we get to see the gigantic ship enter and exit the harbor every couple of days.  The kids are impressed each time it moves.

White-Beaked Dolphin
Speaking of water, we went out to the beach at Aberdeen Harbour this evening after class ended to run around in the FREEZING cold water and have dinner by the water.  Again, FREEZING cold North Sea water was a little more than Rachell or I could handle, but the kids jumped right in and ran around in the surf.  They were having a blast when we got an incredible treat.  A group of white-beaked dolphins appeared less than 50 yards off shore from us and put on a show for the next 15 minutes – fully jumping out of the water and causing everyone on the beach to stop.  EXCELLENT time by the water.  As Bryce said, “This was one of the best days EVER.”  I have to agree.

Sheepdog Trials and Neverland

Sunday – August 19, 2012

We again spent a great day in Kirriemuir in Angus.  This morning we attended worship at the Old Parish Kirk in Kirri to enjoy Malcolm leading worship.  His sermon title?  “If Jesus had been born in Scotland, would he have used (scotch) whisky for communion?”  Fantastic title and even better sermon to follow.  After worship, we headed out to something we never thought we’d have the pleasure of seeing – a sheepdog trial by the hotel up Glen Clova.  The joke, of course, about whether or not the dog was found guilty was not lost on us.  Actually, the trial was amazing.  Here’s generally what happened:

You go out to a huge field with the spectators gathered on the grass at one end (about 100 people and waiting participants) and a group of sheep in a pen waaaaaay over on the other side.  The shepherd and his or her incredible looking dog step onto the field by us.  On the map here you can see the general layout of the field. 

The local competitors from the Glen were spirited, but not nearly of the same caliber as the regional shepherds and shepherdesses.  The really talented callers and dogs got through the course with a sense of order.  The locals?  Hilarious.  One guy was just great.  His dog went sprinting off into the wrong field and chased the sheep with him.  Another watched the sheep jump over a fence and exit the area.  Another guy was screaming obscenities at his dog in a very disorganized fashion.  These people made the trials for us.  It was an beautiful afternoon with good people, great food and drinks, and some really entertaining local color (or colour, depending on where you’re from).

Dog doing it's job
After the trials we made our way back to the Neverland playground.  This time, there were dozens of kids running around on the playground enjoying the sunshine.  Bryce came back to us after playing alone for a few minutes and said no one would play with him.  We told him to go back out there and ask someone if they would like to play and see what happens.  He went up to the first little boy of equal height who looked at him up and down and said, “Sure.”  Bryce jumped up and down and ran back to us saying, “He wants to play with me!  He wants to play with me.”  Meanwhile, the friend headed into the playground so we told Bryce to hurry up back over to him.  They played great together for the next hour.  It was pretty funny to watch the little Scottish boy chase after Bryce yelling, “Friend!  Friend, come back here and play!”  They chased each other around and had a ball.  At one point, Bryce came over to us with a bag of Hula-Hoop crisps that his friend gave him.  We told him to give them back to the little boy but the friend said, “That’s all right.  I hate those crisps anyway.”  Bryce then responded, “Hear that!  I can have them!  I can have them!” 

I wish we could all make friends that way.  Denali has had similar experiences here in Scotland.  You walk up to a total stranger and say, “Hey.  Want to play with me?”  No fear.  No nervous anxiety.  Just an honest way of saying, “I’m willing to introduce myself to you and play if you’ll do the same.”  Way to go, kids.

Kirriemuir, Angus, UK

J.M. Barrie monument in Kirriemuir

Saturday – August 18, 2012


We’re in the picturesque town of Kirriemuir in Angus.  What an absolutely beautiful village!  We’re hear visiting our good friends Malcolm and Christine Rooney.  Malcolm serves as the pastor of the Kirriemuir Old Parish Church in the middle of this town famous for J.M. Barrie (the author of Peter Pan).  The Rooneys visited Michigan this past spring and we were blessed to have them speak at The Peoples Church.  This was their second trip to Michigan, having previously done a pulpit swap with the First Presbyterian Church of Brighton, MI (my hometown and home church).  We got to know the Rooneys years ago through my mother who was part of this church relationship and has stayed in Kirriemuir herself in the past.  
 In addition to the Rooneys, we spent a great afternoon and evening with other friends of our family – Margaret, Graham and Elaine Henderson.  The Hendersons took us all around the Glens as we searched for Bryce’s favorite things in Scotland – hairy cows.

Highland cattle are quite a site if you haven’t had the privilege.  The kids keep trying to sound local by asking about the “arry coos.”  It sounds passable for the northern lowlands of Scotland…or like something out of the mouth of Groundskeeper Willie.

We were successful in our cow search.  That made Bryce’s trip. 

Rachell is Awesome

Friday –August 17, 2012
(written by Andrew)
Rachell is the perfect mother and spouse.  Her instincts for both are incredible.  She keeps the rest of us (me and the kids) grounded, safe, happy, and healthy.  As a mother, she knows just what to say when.  She also knows how to put me in my place.
I have the tendency to get stressed when things are not going according to plan.   

When traveling with children, nothing goes according to plan.  Rachell rolls with the punches and keeps things flowing nicely.  As we rushed to get to the train station on Friday afternoon, we were faced with whiny children who apparently broke their arms and legs sometime during our request for them to carry their backpacks.  We were annoyed and didn’t have time to argue.  There were tears and fits by Denali especially.  I started to get irrational and upset so I was ordering Denali around and demanding she do or not do certain things. 

She stepped onto a platform by the road and I went ballistic telling her she cannot step on something like that.  Denali, with tears in her eyes, looked up to Rachell for comfort and shielding from the scary frustrated Daddy who lost his mind in the midst of Aberdeen rush hour traffic and train timetables.  Instead, Rachell said, “You heard your dad!  Stay off that step, NOW!”

I love that she backed me up and presented a unified, consistent parenting front.  It was perfect.
What makes her such a great spouse is her ability to keep that moment in her mind and confront me later after the kids were asleep.  She said, “You know I want to back you up on parenting issues and be a team…but sometimes you’re just wrong.”  She was completely right.  She said she almost laughed at herself trying to maintain some ridiculously arbitrary line I had established in the sand.  She told me to relax more and not worry so much.

Brilliant woman.   

Absolutely brilliant.

Travel with Booster Seats

Our children are not old enough (or large enough?) to ride in a vehicle without a car seat or booster seat.  As a reminder to us (as if we wouldn’t realize it otherwise) there are laws requiring us to place our children on some sort of booster seats while we are traveling in cars here in the UK.  So, we made the decision to bring two booster seats with us, rather than renting booster chairs from the car rental companies or purchasing seats from a store here in Scotland.  And because of that wonderful decision, we have had two annoyingly awkward booster seats with us everywhere we go.  At this point, we only have one more rental car (in Lerwick on the Shetland Islands this next weekend) and opportunity to use them  To be fair, they’re not the worst things in the world until they’re smacking up against your ankles as you walk down the crowded city streets, already heavy laden with suitcases, bags, and luggage.
                Is there a better way to do this?  Anybody have any world changing idea that would give other traveling families a better option?  It’s not a problem when you have a car the whole time during your trip.  What we’re doing on this adventure is staying in the city and the country, traveling by car, foot, ferry, trains, and airplane.  If I don’t get a good answer, I may just toss the car seats in the road the next time we’re trying to cross them like overloaded packmules.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

No Pictures, Gaelic, or Tattoos

Bryce the Pirate
Looks like we left our USB cable at home.  So unfortunately, there will be no posted pics of the family until we get back.  That just leaves a reason for people to head back in September, right?

Three days of class under my belt.  Fantastic questions were presented and the dialogue has been outstanding.  In general, we're looking at changing technology and the ethics that potentially surround this innovative landscape with an eye toward what theological claims are at stake.  I'll put more about it on the church blog sometime.  For now, I'll leave it by saying this class is inspiring, challenging, and exactly what I needed.

Rachell and the kids have made the most of their days in Aberdeen.  They visited the Maritime Museum, complete with children's scavenger hunts.  Excellent time looking around pirate things, oil rigs, and fishing vessels.  The other days they've spent swimming at the next door pool, walking through city centre, and heading out to King's College to visit me at lunch.  They're walking a TON of miles out here and going to sleep very easily at night.

Lord's Prayer in Gaelic
Denali is fascinated with Gaelic.  She heard some folks speaking it on a train and watched the BBC station in Gaelic.  She asked if she can learn it in school.  Anybody's school offer it in the States?  The language is interesting.  It is listed with English on all the signs out here but the phonetics of it are so confusing to us.  The "b" is pronounced like "v..." or so I think.  What do I know?  I do know that I can tell Denali and she'll believe me.  Don't misread me, I'm not trying to lie to the kids.  But sometimes the incessant "Why?" questions get tough.

Bryce asked a "why" question yesterday that cracked me up.  We were in the locker room at the gym getting ready to go swimming when Bryce saw another man changing.  He was probably twenty something and tattooed from head to toe.  There were very few square inches on his body without tattoos. Bryce loudly says to me, "How did he do that to his body?"  The menacing looking gentleman hears us and thankfully, smiles at Bryce and said, "I did it with lots of help and lots of time."  To which Bryce rightly answered, "Why would you do that?"  The man laughed and something unintelligible in an extremely thick Scottish accent.

We just finished an incredible dinner of Scottish lamb and mint burgers and are getting ready for bed.  We're all happy and healthy here in the UK.  Thanks for reading!

First Week in Scotland!

Recap From Week 1 - Written on Monday, August 13 after class...sorry for the lack of timeliness! 

We're here at the apartment in Aberdeen for our second night after my first day of class. The apartment is a great size for us - 2 rooms, kitchen, washer and dryer...and they stock the fridge for us each day with breakfast food when they come clean.  It's much bigger than we expected and in a decent area by the city center.  Rachell and the kids went swimming today at the nearby pool, shopped, and took the day off from traveling around the country.  We finally got to cook a meal - fresh, wild Scottish salmon and vegetables.  Best part is the price.  Local meat and seafood is ridiculously cheap, considering how much all the restaurants cost. Rachell's got lamb, Highland beef, and some other treats to enjoy the rest of the week until Malcolm and Christine's this weekend.  Plus, scotch whisky is very cheap at the grocery store.  I finally got Rachell to have some and admit it was good.  After the tour at the distillery yesterday, she's a fan of The Glenlivet.

Here's a recap on our last week:

Tuesday - Landed in Glasgow and slept at the airport hotel.  Kids got to eat Scottish food and figured out new words.  Bryce keeps singing "Skip to the Loo" for "Skip to My Loo" because it's about the bathroom.  He finds that most hilarious.

Wednesday - Got our rental (Toyota Avensis) and headed up north to the Isle of Skye.  We made stops by some rivers, hiked around in the Highlands, ended up knee deep in muddy bog before finally arriving at my friend's parents' place on the NW corner on the Isle of Skye.  Driving out here has been a trip.  The left side of the road isn't a problem.  It's the tiny roads with curves, one lane, and blind hills.  As we were approaching Skye, Denali threw up all over the back of our rental car.  That was a fantastic surprise to the trip.  She handled it remarkably well and we cleaned things up and moved on.  On the positive side, with all the mountains and curves, oceanviews and glens, Skye is one of the more beautiful places we've ever been.  It's definitely been one of the highlights of the trip.

Thursday - All day in Skye.  The kids got along famously with my friend Rory's children (ages 6 and 9).  The four of them wandered all over the tidal flats looking for shells and treasures, ran around the hills, chased sheep, and had a ton of fun.  We went to a castle that day and did some touring around the area before having a barbque on the beach with Rory's family.  We took a seal trip earlier in the day and got to come within 6 feet of seals on the rocks.  It was a boat as big as our boat in Interlochen (14’ with 15 horse engine) and the kids loved it.

Friday - Left Skye and hit Loch Ness
(major disappointment with that touristy area...even Bryce found it depressing), the Talisker Distillery, and every sight along the way to Inverness.  In Inverness, we toured the battlefield of Culloden after hours.  It was like going to Gettysburg...accept you know nothing about either side, what was at stake, and what the consequences were.  People were emotional and really into the battlefield while Bryce and Denali were busy looking for graves of the English.  Very sensitive of them.

Saturday - We took a short ride down to Aviemore, where we took an old steam train ride to the middle of nowhere, hopped in the back of a van, and went to a Highland Games celebration in Nethy Bridge (the Abernethy Games).  Excellent day out.  The weather was incredible (as it has been everyday but today).  The games were unlike anything we expected...definitely to the better.  They had the massed pipe and drum bands (150 pipers at the same time), feats of strength (ridiculous Scottish Highland games...throwing rocks, trees and hammers as far as you can while wearing a kilt), piping competitions, and tons of Highland dance participatory games for the crowd.  You could sign up for a bunch of events, so we entered into the three legged races - Bryce and Rachell in the mom and child race and me and Denali in the Father and child race.  Rachell and Bryce did not come in last, which was the only goal.  Denali has a competitive streak that we are always shocked by...we came in third and she got a ribbon.  Awesome.  After the games and train we hung out in the mountain town, did some walks, visited a brewery, and stayed in a really nice bed and breakfast.

Sunday - Yesterday was a short drive through the Highlands that had a few hiccups.  First we did church at a Kirk of Scotland congregation in Aviemore.  The kids were marvelously well behaved, though Denali had a bit of a meltdown during the sermon. She must not have dug the exegetical work of the preacher…or she wanted crayons, one of the two.  After service, we started driving toward Aberdeen.  We approached a town to get gas and found out there was no station...nor were there for many miles.  Our dashboard display showed how many estimated miles we had left on the tank.  After a major detour to get to a station, I can proudly say you can drive 10 extra miles after the display says you have zero left.
Besides the gas fiasco, we hiked around the ruins of a castle and drove the whisky trail.  We only stopped at The Glenlivet but it was worth it.  We saw hairy cows finally this day (much to the kids' delight) and eventually had dinner with my classmates at the home of one of our Scottish colleagues before checking into our apartment last night.  Our place is wonderful, but the only way into the building was by pincode that they texted to our cellphone…in the US.  We went through a fiasco for a night trying to find a way in.  Needless to say, we made it but only after major frustration and more hours than we wanted to find a phone.

We Cannot Sit Still

This blog is a little late!  As a way of sharing our adventures of traveling abroad with our six and four year old children, we thought we’d post our experiences.  This blog will continue to share our adventures domestically when we return to Michigan.

When Rachell and I lived in Brighton, there was a wonderful couple from Scotland who provided us an incredible, tangible example of how to experience their world.  They made travel a priority for their family.  They lived life to the fullest in Brighton, but they did not allow themselves to stay settled in that one place.  They were constantly traveling, visiting, and experiencing the world near and far.  At their urging and with their gracious support, we left in 2004 for a trip around the world, traveling from Detroit to Detroit, always flying east for 14 flights over a little less than three months.  That transformative experience changed our goals and priorities.  We now strive to meet new people, see new places, eat new foods, and be a part of the plethora of communities out there in our great big world.

With the arrival of children (Denali and Bryce…yes, named after US National Parks), we recommitted ourselves to this endeavor.  Therefore, we insist our kids see the world from a young age and get used to the idea of planes, trains, and automobiles (along with ferries, walking, hiking, and more).  While they have already experienced a lot in their short lives, we are beginning the documentation of these adventures with this recent trip to Scotland.

I’m (Andrew) working on my Doctor of Ministry degree in Reformed Theology through a partnership of University of Aberdeen (King’s College) and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.  This cohort based degree includes a mix of UK and North American clergy who meet each January and August for seminar classes, with reading, papers, and conversation in between leading up to a final project that is intended to be used by the local congregation. 
I currently serve as the senior minister of The Peoples Church of East Lansing

in East Lansing, Michigan – a wonderful, multidenominational, intergenerational congregation of people next to the campus of Michigan State University.  This degree is intended to help me better minister to this congregation while helping them understand who they are and what they are called to do.  The overarching question I feel we are being asked in East Lansing is, “Would it matter if we weren’t here?” 

And so, we left the States on Monday, August 6 for the UK.  We’ll be here for the better part of a month before returning right before the start of the new school year.  Thanks for reading and we truly hope you enjoy the pictures and stories of our adventures in the UK and beyond.  Feel free to leave us comments, encouragement, advice, and ideas. 

Peace and grace be with you all,   

Andrew, Rachell, Denali and Bryce