Thursday, July 10, 2014


As I'm falling asleep, if I try hard enough, I can picture myself somewhere else. 

I'm sitting in the tartan seats on the top floor of the bus, in the front row, the best spot for people watching and picture taking. 

Maura and I are walking up Arthur's Seat, doing trust falls at the top where the wind fully supports us. Niamh is teaching Mark and Maura to do the hand jive in their kitchen after dinner.

Or we're driving through the countryside and through some trees I spot the tower of a castle. I tell Norma to take her eyes off the road for just a second and admire a newly born lamb, then, at the castle we visited, making sheep noises in attempt to attract them over to us so I could pet one (which never happened). I picture all the things Norma did to make me laugh, like arranging an entire bread festival in Paris, or, knowing it would make a great photo-op, agreeing to feed birds some baguette at the Notre Dame. I made her a birthday banner for her 75th, and she got Kris, Paul and me Easter eggs, even though we're all way too old for them. She showed me how to change into a swimsuit in public, then together we went for my first swim in the Mediterranean. The day we went to Liverpool so I could see the Beatles museum, then making sure I had a photo of me outside the Cavern where they got their start.

Sometimes it's already morning and I'm walking through downtown Reykjavik in the cold, on a mission to get my favorite pastry at Sandholt, while babies take their morning naps outside in their prams. I'm back outside at lunchtime for the afternoon fashion show of trends previously unseen. Mothers in capes and furs, fathers in brightly hued trousers and all-weather boots. Preschoolers are better dressed than me.

Other nights I'm arriving at Waverley Station and while all the commuters or families coming back from holiday hurry to the exit, I slow down and look up at the arched glass roof. I can't help but smile as I make up way up the walkway and take in the view of skyline again. I'm by myself, and I'm not expected home at any particular time. So I walk the opposite direction, aimlessly exploring. I take in the stone buildings, unchanged for hundreds of years, and watch as others go about their lives. I see something in a window and go inside. Yet another museum is free, and I look at the postcards in the shop. I watch the Millennium Clock on the hour. Someone asks me for directions. And then I get back on my tartan bus seat where, for once, I don't mind how long the ride takes. I'm happy to be there.

It's been hard this past month since coming home. It doesn't feel real, and I'm not sure I want it to be. My being home seems impermanent, as though I could be going sometime soon. The memories are strong, yet slowly fading, so night after night as I fall asleep, I try to keep them alive.

I have countless pictures, but they are not enough. I need to keep invisioning myself in these places, keep hearing the the lilt of the voices, remember the meaning of the expressions, and to hold onto the memories I promised myself I would never forget.

My family and friends ask me for my favorite parts. The best thing I saw, most unusual thing I ate, strangest expression I heard, best place I went, favorite person I met. I don't know what to say. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I can choose from, but mostly I fear that saying them aloud would mean it's really over.

So now I'm trying to focus on just how fortunate I am to have too many happy memories to decide on just one to tell you. I'm going through my pictures, trying to decide what to do with them, and which ones are good enough for a slideshow. And, of course, coming up with a plan to be able to go back soon.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!While my American readers are enjoying egg hunts in rose gardens (I wish I could be there!), plastic eggs filled with candy, and the trademark chicks and bunnies galore, I thought I'd give you a taste of my English Easter weekend and the way they celebrate the holiday in the UK.

To be completely honest though, I really wanted to share my lamb photos I took this weekend, and I thought the Easter heading would help me get away with it! As Norma will attest, I've developed a borderline obsession with lambs, particularly the recently born, puppy-sized ones. And it's not as though these lambs are rare, they're actually a dime a dozen -- popping up everywhere and dotting the British countryside with white and gray blobs lying with adorable haphazardness in green fields. I should be clear that farming doesn't exist solely in the countryside, I've also seen some grazing taking place on a farm well within Edinburgh's city limits, near to Crammond Beach on the Firth of Forth and just ten minutes away from Circle's head office.

Anyways, enough articulating just how common sheep are, how they number greater than humans in Yorkshire, and that I can't shake the desire to cuddle one, despite knowing that their wool is actually pretty scratchy and oily to protect them from the rain. Enough with that, let's get on with the photographic evidence of lambs' cuteness, along with what I did this weekend with Norma! (Scroll down about halfway for lamb photos.)

Thursday afternoon at Circle we celebrated the Easter holidays with several kids and their families who have been off of school the past two weeks, painting hard boiled eggs and going swimming at the local high school. We gave each child who came swimming a chocolate Easter egg, the closest thing to American plastic eggs filled with candy. I was honored when Norma gave me one Saturday night. She told me that she still buys them for her 40 year old+ sons Kris and Paul as they'd been deeply disappointed one year as teenagers when she'd tried to stop the tradition, thinking they'd outgrown them!
Family Support Workers at Circle choosing eggs to bring to their families. 
My Easter egg from Norma: a hollow chocolate egg shell with four mini Flakes. Not an egg filled with Flake, like I'd imagined from the packaging!

After the swimming, I dashed off the train station to begin my journey to Settle for the long weekend, as Friday and Monday are public holidays nationwide. For the first portion, from Edinburgh Waverley to Carlisle, I managed to get a first class ticket as it'd been the same price for standard with my rail card. It felt so luxurious -- like out of a movie -- they offered me tea or coffee from proper china and fed me dinner for no extra charge.
The train journey from Edinburgh to Settle is gorgeous, especially on sunny days. Lots of countryside views and lamb spotting.

After transferring trains at Carlisle, the rest of the journey to Settle stops at small towns such as Dent.
9pm Thursday night, just before the light disappeared.

Friday, we relaxed around Settle. Norma went out to get a haircut, and I continued to lounge around the sitting room well into the afternoon.
Norma's upstairs sitting room is by far the best room in the house. This is completely unstaged, it's always this bright, airy, clean!

Saturday we drove west to Sizergh Castle, near Kendal. Upon arrival we learned that the castle itself is closed on Fridays and Saturdays to respect the privacy of the Strickland family who continue to live in an apartment within the castle. The grounds were open, however, so we walked around the gardens for a few hours and had some afternoon tea at the cafe.
Sizergh Castle
 Norma at Sizergh's limestone rock garden
Orange flowers on the castle grounds

Now for the part you've all been waiting for, photos of the hour Norma and I stalked lambs! For some reason, Sizergh castle had several pastures of lambs surrounding the gardens, so after our afternoon tea, we decided to go to one of the pastures and see if I could pet a lamb. While completely and utterly unsuccessful, as all the mama sheep would watch us approach and start baa-ing warnings once we close, I was able to get within five feet of a few to take some pictures. 
Norma followed me around a bit at first, but then thought that perhaps her loud red coat was scaring away the sheep, so decided to sit down on the grass in hopes that she'd look more approachable. She baa-ed softly in attempts to attract lambs to come in our vicinity. I will frame this picture the second I get home, I think it epitomized my entire spring - Norma happily obliging my every interest with great enthusiasm, vim and vigor. 
Norma even taught me how to make her legendary chocolate pudding pots. They. are. delicious. I will share the recipe soon so all may benefit.
Today we drove east to Skipton, the nearest town large enough to have a Marks and Spencer. (Skipton + M&S = large town. Settle - M&S = small town. It's a science.) Our mission was not, however, to find the best heat and eat food Britain has to offer, at least in Norma's opinion. 
Instead we were in Skipton to drink the best coffee Britain has to offer at Bean Loved. Just kidding, we went to Skipton Castle, since neither of us had been (and Norma's lived 15 miles away from this castle for 10 plus years!). We also drank the coffee for good measure. 

I thought the windows in the watch towers and bedrooms were beautiful, and promptly decided I could fit a daybed in the alcoves surrounding them no problem. It would be a bit drafty, but I'd figure it out...
The wing of Skipton Castle open to visitors was unfurnished, though for being 500+ years old and having survived so many attacks, the emptiness of the rooms didn't matter, you could still get a good feel for the history. All the Robin Hood-like arrow slits (I had to look up the technical word!) made me miss teaching and practicing archery at camp.
You may be wondering if I went to church today for Easter, as I'd normally have done at home. Yes, I went to a church at the castle. No, there was not a priest inside of it. I consider having been inside a 13th century church better than nothing.
We then walked around a portion of the castle's moat. Norma gallivanted ahead (actually, she was walking at a fairly leisurely pace) while I took pictures. The weather was overcast for the first time this week, so sadly the pictures have quite flat lighting. Though truly you can't complain, as illustrated by these greeting cards which are quite helpful in describing British weather conditions: 
Later this evening we went over to visit with some of Norma's neighbors at their house. They recently began running a bed and breakfast from their home and they were lovely to chat with for a couple hours. The house was gorgeous, too, if you're ever looking for somewhere to stay while in Settle! 

I should be headed off to bed now, as it's now well past midnight. Who knew writing a blog took several hours per post?!? Oh well, it's worth it! 

Tomorrow afternoon I'll head back to Scotland for my final two weeks at Circle. I'm sad to be leaving as it only feels like a short time since I've started and I really love working there with such wonderful people. I'm still planning to write weekly recaps for all the weeks I'm away, regardless of their timeliness. As I said, each post takes quite a lot of time and effort, but I still plan to do them. So look out for posts on my first week in Iceland and the beginning of my time at Circle coming soon. While they'll have been written in the coming weeks, I'll still post them on date that the events actually took place so that looking back, they'll reflect what I did on the dates that I did them. It'll make sense once I start posting!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

One month until Paris!

This morning I was checking the booking confirmation for my train back to Edinburgh and I realized something exciting: one month from today Norma and I leave for Paris and the south of France! 

We don't have any solid plans for things to see, besides a trip to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa (a little predictable, but I've been told by several that I look a bit like her?) and eating lots of French bread. I also would like to get an authentic striped shirt. A girl can never have too many, I say. 

Anyways, that's my excitement. If you been to Paris and have some suggestions of sights to see, let me know!

(Paris rooftop photo via

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Week 3: Starting at Circle in Edinburgh, Scotland

3rd week away + 1st week at Circle
March 10th - 16th

A note: This post ended up being much longer than I'd expected, as I gave thorough descriptions of some of the programs I'll be participating in while volunteering at Circle. I imagine future posts will be shorter, as I'll have already introduced many of Circle's projects here. But, wordiness aside, here's a recap first week in Scotland with pictures I took over the weekend scattered throughout.
A view of Edinburgh from the peak of Arthur's Seat.
Monday, 3/10:
On Monday, Norma and I left David and Irene's house in Fife early in the morning so we could get to the Circle main offices in Edinburgh by 9:00. There I met Janet, a project manager for several of Circle's programs, who will be my supervisor over the next eight weeks while I'm volunteering. 

Janet took me around to meet all the staff who work at the main offices on West Pilton Park, around 35 in all. She then took me to the Haven project, where I'll spend most of my time, and was introduced to the team of family support workers (Julie, Pete, Natasha, and Alex), a student social worker based at Haven (Maxine), and three other student social workers based at West Pilton Park (Fergus, Won, and Frances). I must have met a good 45 people that day, but they were all incredibly friendly and welcoming. That's the way it is at Circle, everyone's helpful, nice, and oh-so-hardworking. They really do a great job here, and I'm so excited to get to see how everything works over the next two months. As Janet keeps saying, while I may be a volunteer, she wants me to get as much out of this experience as possible, to understand why Circle does what it does, and to feel like my time is used in a meaningful way, relevant to what I might do later on in life - not to be stapling or photocopying. I sincerely appreciate how much Janet looks out for me and my best interest, so I can enjoy this time to the fullest.

After all the introductions, I dove in to observing one of Haven's weekly programs, Baby Massage. It's exactly what it sounds like, parents and carers coming in to learn various baby massage techniques from Circle workers, and it was as cute as you'd imagine. In this session, we learned a few techniques, and then the parents fed their babies and talked about parenting and childcare. I'm glad to have seen that final session in the series. 

I then went back to the office, and met Maura, the Operations Manager, who I'll be staying with. It was great to finally meet her, after so many emails back and forth, and she and her family are just lovely. In fact, Maura's neutral facial expression is a smile. She and husband, Mark, are also great cooks, if I do say so myself.

After my first day, I had a hard time believing I'd been so nervous to begin my time at Circle. I had nothing to be worried about, everyone is just so nice.
Maura, my host in Edinburgh, nearly getting blown away at the top of Arthur's Seat.
How Maura kept up her brisk pace is beyond me, the wind almost pushed me off the cliff.
Tuesday, 3/11:
I had the wrong time for Pregnancy Cafe, a group where parents-to-be are supported throughout their pregnancy and share a meal every week, so arrived an hour early to Haven. What did I do while waiting? Garden, of course! Won (one of the social work students on placement at Circle) and I spent a good 45 minutes watering the community garden, and talked to one of the dads who helps run it. We then looked after a couple three year olds while their mothers were at Pregnancy Cafe and sampled some of the soup they'd made together. Two thumbs up.

I went back to West Pilton Park (the main office) and did some administrative work for Janet, helping to organize some of the case files. It took a bit of figuring out to understand what I was looking at, but I soon got the hang of how they work. 

Around 2pm, Janet told me I could take the rest of the afternoon off, as it was such a nice day and I hadn't yet gotten to know the city. So, Frances, Fergus, and Won (the social work students) gave me directions on which buses to take and what to see, and I was on my way to Princes Street, the main high street downtown. I didn't do anything all that exciting once I got there, but simply looked around and took in all the spires and old architecture. Edinburgh is a gorgeous city, and if you've never been to the United Kingdom, I'd highly recommend it. It's great for walking or bussing around. And, if you do decide to take the bus, I have to hand it to the Lothian bus system. Their plaid seats are some of the most comfortable public transport seats I've ever had the pleasure of sitting on. Though it is a little odd to watch the CCTV surveillance video of the double decker bus playing on a screen in front of you to watch. But the comfy seats make up for it. 

But back to my wandering around, I found a few pairs of tights on offer (aka on sale - I should really make a dictionary of Britishisms), looked at the Edinburgh Castle from afar, and generally felt a little out of place being able to walk more than three blocks without seeing a Starbucks*. (*At this writing, I've discovered about four Starbucks within five blocks of Princes St., though the prices are exorbitant. When converted, a plain latte is around $5! I think Seattleites, in honor of being from the home of Starbucks and the coffee capital of the world, should be allowed to use Seattle prices overseas. Just my two cents, though. Howard Schultz, we'll be in touch.) Instead of Starbucks, I went to an Italian restaurant for some late lunch and tried their toffee popcorn ice cream. Exactly as it sounds, toffee ice cream with pieces of popcorn in it giving a popcorn essence. Strange, since the popcorn is no longer crunchy, but but actually pretty good.
Holyrood Palace, the Queen's residence in Edinburgh, below. Maybe she can afford Starbucks?
Wednesday, 3/12:
Colin, one of the administrators/IT aficionado, helped me to set up my work email address and gave me a work cell phone. Janet gave me my own desk (very exciting), amongst some of the Kinship Care and Harbour social workers. Yes, I'm getting a little British with my spellings. But only sometimes. It comes with the territory. 

I went along with the social work students, Frances, Fergus, and Won, to a meeting at NEDAC, the North Edinburgh Drug and Alcohol Center, where we learned about the services offered there. The social work students have invited me to come along on any of their visits to social services in the area Edinburgh, as we are all familiarizing ourselves with what services are available here. They'll then keep these services in mind as they begin to work with families, in the event that they need to make a referral to one of said services, later on. 

Back at the Haven project, I observed Nursery PEEP (Parents Early Education Partnership), a group for preschoolers and their parents/carers. Over the past few weeks, they've had a space theme, so we made rockets, using paper squares to write the kids' names, crayon-drawn flames, and star stickers for the sky. The kids were great, and we had to keep reminding the parents not to do the projects for the kids, but only help when needed! They just got so into the fun.
A particularly fancy building on the Royal Mile.
Thursday, 3/13:
In the morning, I went to Dad's Community group, a program run by Haven, yet taking place at the Pilton Youth and Children's Project. This group meets every week for two hours, and dads come to learn cooking skills. We made home-made chicken nuggets, fish fingers, tomato relish, a salad, and a healthy cake. I sampled everything but the fish fingers (just because I made them myself doesn't mean I'll start eating fish!) and it was all delicious.

In the afternoon, I observed ISSEP (Inter School Social Education Project), a program that takes places in West Pilton Park, where 5th/6th Form students mentor Primary 1 students one to one, on a weekly basis. They can do homework, go on the computer, draw, bake, etc. together. ISSEP takes place every afternoon for about an hour and half, and there are about 24 pairings of students, four or five of which come in each day. It's a great idea, and all the students seem to really enjoy themselves, being able to build up this relationship over the course of the year. We did some coloring pages that day, and I hung it up over my desk, along with some postcards I got in Iceland!

After work, I met up with Frances and Won at the University of Edinburgh's Student Union, housed in Teviot's Library. It's not so much a student union at night (I was picturing the offices of clubs, like what we'd have in the U.S.), but more of a social gathering place and pub, that just so happened to be surrounded by some very old books. That I'm certain nobody reads. I met a lot of their fellow social work classmates, including one Californian, though I couldn't tell at first because she'd adopted so many Scottish sayings and a bit of their lilt. They were all really nice. 
Edinburgh Castle, from Princes Street.
Friday, 3/14:
In the morning, I sat in on a parenting class session, in a series called Raising Children With Confidence. The curriculum offers six or eight sessions on various topics, from baby brain development and resiliency, to the learning of empathy and the role of love in parenting. The classes are taught in such a way that it's not the social workers just talking at the parents/carers with a lecture, but rather very participatory, and every new idea is opened up as a discussion amongst everyone. It's a great course, and I'm looking forward to going the next few weeks! Even though I don't plan to be a parent for a good 10-15 years, I still find it highly relevant as someone who regularly works with kids on a variety of ways, and wants to develop the way they do so.

Afterwards, I went along with Jemma, one of the social workers in the Kinship Care project, to meet three kids in a family she works with at the Yard. The Yard is an indoor/outdoor play area for kids with disabilities and has a multitude of fun areas and activities, such as go-carting, dress up, arts and crafts, soft play, a boat swing accessible for wheelchair users, a sensory room, a kitchen with raise/lower-able counters, a boat swing accessible for wheelchairs, and soft play, amongst others. The Yard recently received a huge makeover sponsored by one of those TV makeover programs, and it's really beautiful. The kids had so much fun trying out all the areas and activities, and were so sweet. I hope to be able to go back with them another time.
Spires and clocks and daffodils, oh my! Outside the Scottish National Gallery cafe.
Saturday, 3/15:
As the internet connection had been down at Maura and Mark's house, I caught up on Skype with a couple friends, my parents, and Thomas. And Freddie, our dog, too! I just had to see the results of his first professional grooming. Pretty impressive. I barely left the house but to go along with Maura, her daughter, and a boy they look after every other Saturday, on a couple errands. We continued to watch the TV show Broadchurch, starring David Tennant, who also happens to be a patron of Circle. 
Windy fields while walking up Arthur's Seat.
Sunday, 3/16:
Maura took me around to some of Edinburgh's sights, including a walk up Arthur's Seat. It was so windy, that once we neared the peak, I had to sit down on some rocks every few feet so I didn't feel as though I'd get knocked over. Once at the top, we walked to a field, and the breeze was so strong we were able to do complete trust falls into the wind. Maura, who likes to walk up Arthur's Seat every week or so, said she'd never before seen it this windy! 

We also drove along the Royal Mile, between Holyrood Palace (where the Queen stays in Edinburgh, at the base of Arthur's Seat, near the Parliament building) and Edinburgh Castle. We parked the car and met her daughter, a student in Glasgow, at the Scottish National Gallery, which, like just about every museum in Scotland, is free. We walked around the gallery for a little while, looked at (arguably, according to Maura, an Irish woman) Scotland's most famous painting, and had a snack in the gallery's basement cafe, which looks out at the park facing Princes St. A very nice afternoon, even if I did look touristy wearing my borrowed sneakers out in public, something dad warned me was very touristy, as Brits don't wear sneakers (aka trainers or runners) outside of exercise. 
Arthur's Seat
There you have it, my first week in Edinburgh, just five times longer than I'd expected. Hope all is well wherever you're reading this from, and as always, feel free to leave me a comment or message, if you'd like!

(All photos taken March 16, 2014)