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Thursday, July 29, 2004

I keep this blog for you, my readers, but I also keep it for myself. It's supposed to be my diary of our madcap adventures across Europe, and usually it is. I try to keep it fairly clean, and I think I do a pretty good job of that, except for the occasional exploding bee penis.

I just returned from watching Fahrenheit 9/11 at our local cinema. As I sit down to type this, I don't have a clear plan for what I'm going to say, but I have a strange feeling that I'll venture out of the PG-rating area. For starters, I have an overwhelming urge to use a whole lot of really bad language--language that would make even Dick "Do you kiss your mother with that mouth" Cheney blush. So whether I say the dirty words or whether they're in sites that I might link to, trust me: They'll be there. If that offends you, close the window now and check back tomorrow when I hope to have returned to my usual light-hearted self.

First let me tell you a little about the technical aspects of seeing this film in German. Most films that play over here are dubbed into German. Fahrenheit 9/11 is an interesting mix. The narration is done in German, but all the primary source material is left undubbed and is subtitled in German. Except for scenes where hysterical Iraqis are screaming because their house has been bombed or their baby has been killed or their menfolk are hogtied on the floor of their living room--those scenes are done in what I presume is Arabic with the appropriate German subtitles. I would estimate that I understood word for word a little over half of the spoken German, and the other half of the time I had a pretty clear idea of what was going on.

I went to the 2:15 show with my friend Amy. We got our popcorn and Cokes and settled into our seats in an empty theater where we were eventually joined by 5 Germans. I had hoped for a bigger crowd for opening day so that I could gauge the overall audience reaction, but I guess mid-afternoon on a Thursday just isn't prime movie-watching time for most people.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably have a pretty good idea of what the movie is about. Basically, Bush stole the 2000 election, took a lot of vacation, read from "My Pet Goat" while the Trade Center towers burned, blah blah blah. Questionable business connections with the Arab world, to include the Taliban, yada yada yada. Declared war on Iraq, a country that was not involved in the September 11th attacks and doesn't appear to have any of those scary ol' weapons of mass destruction after all, and then declared "Mission Accomplished." Indeed the mission was accomplished if by "mission" he meant a clusterfuck of a quagmire that would leave hundreds more Americans and thousands more Iraqis dead and no sign of an exit strategy in sight.

I expected to cry at the sight of the dead Iraqi baby, and even had my packet of Kleenex at the ready. Surprisingly enough, that scene flew by before I had a chance to react. That's OK though. I've already cried over this child, and this child, and this child, and all 3 of these children, even the one who isn't dead because, good God, how awful must it be to witness a scene like that?

What I wasn't prepared for was my reaction to the parts featuring injured and dead American soldiers. The footage of soldiers slicing uniforms off of their wounded and hysterically screaming comrades hit a little too close to home for me. All I could do was sob as a series of scenes took the American death toll higher, higher, higher. I lost it again when I saw all the armless and legless GIs and yet again in later scenes where a mother shares her anguish over the loss of her son in Iraq.

It will surprise no one to learn that Moore alternates between painting Bush as evil, corrupt, and just plain ol' squeal-like-a-pig stupid. Spliced in among all of the scenes dealing with the war is footage of him with his simpering smirk, making witty remarks like "Some people call you the elite. I call you my base," delivered to a room full of tuxedos.

Moore did an exceptional job of choosing contemporary music to accompany certain scenes. I enjoyed the montage of Bush shaking Saudi hands and kissing bin Laden butts to the tune of REM's "Shiny, Happy People." My favorite though was the image of the commander in thief with a slightly dazed expression on his face, wearing that ridiculous flight suit, which was so perfectly suited to the theme from the old TV show "Greatest American Hero":

Look at what's happened to me,
I can't believe it myself.
Suddenly I'm up on top of the world,
It should've been somebody else.

Believe it or not,
I'm walking on air.
I never thought I could feel so free.
Flying away on a wing and a prayer.
Who could it be?
Believe it or not it's just me.


I love that, especially the part about "it should have been somebody else." Damn straight it should have!

My distaste for Bush is nothing new. It dates back to when I had the misfortune to witness the miracle of Texas education firsthand. On that point alone, Bush would have lost my vote, even if he had single-handedly managed to transform Hussein and bin Laden into a pair of those bedroom slippers with heads on the toes. My desire for regime change has grown exponentially over the past year, and I thought it had reached its peak when my own husband deployed for his turn in the sandbox.

I left the theater this afternoon though filled with more resolve than ever that things need to change. In fact, I just got done sending my second contribution to the Kerry campaign.

I am frustrated beyond belief by people who don't like Bush but who plan on abstaining from this election or voting for some obscure third-party candidate. I appreciate the point of view of Alan Blevins, keeper of the site John Kerry Is A Douche Bag But I'm Voting For Him Anyway. John Kerry is our country's best chance to wrench control away from Dubya and his fellow horsemen. Electing him may not fix every evil in the world, but it's the best shot we've got of stopping the evil that has raged out of control under the current administration.

A vote for anybody but Kerry (or no vote at all) is a vote for the status quo. The status quo sucks.


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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Well, I finally got to sleep around 3:00 this morning. By that time I had worked myself into quite a tizzy and made 2 more semi-hysterical phone calls to USAA. I woke up in a state of full alert at 7:30, and Amy and I were at SATO by 9:00.

The whole thing turned out to be rather a non-issue. Apparently Dertour was not upset about it and they weren't planning on selling our tickets to somebody else. I guess this isn't the first time they've dealt with this.

I'm still irked at USAA though. In one of my midnight phone calls to them, I found out that while their fraud department has full authority to freeze your account in these situations, nobody in the department has authority to make an international call to tell you about it. No, they prefer to let you find out the hard way when you're stuck at the shoppette with a declined card, protesting to the cashier and the other customers in line, "There's money there, I swear! There's no way I can be over my limit!!"

USAA is not some small-town credit union. Their client base has a tendency to move all around the planet, so it's not beyond the scope of imagination that this sort of thing might crop up now and then. Maybe somebody in their fraud department should be issued an international calling card?

***

I've gotten a couple of emails from readers who are shocked to see the Bush/Cheney campaign poster on my oh-so-clean desk. Never fear! I have not gone over to the Dark Side. What you can't see in that photo is the top line, which reads "SORRY ABOUT THAT WMD THING." It's a spoof poster, created with the Sloganator, which I wrote about back in May.

Here's a link to the PDF file, so you can see it more clearly. Heck, while you're there, why not print out a few copies? Paper your neighborhood.

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I really thought things were finally starting to settle down stress-wise but apparently I was wrong. Putting together this trip to Russia has been one headache after another, and I just got the latest headache today.

Late last week, I got a phone call from SATO, the travel agency here on post, saying that Dertour, the German agency we booked our tour with, had tried to put the balance of our trip on my credit card and had been denied. They had used my German address as verification with the bank, and we use our APO address for banking. No problem, I thought, and gave the lady at SATO my APO address to pass along to Dertour.

Then yesterday I went to use my credit card when I picked my car up from the shop (oil change and minor repair work), and the card was declined. I was horrified! I knew that the charge from Dertour was going to be huge, but it shouldn't have put me over my credit limit.

When I checked the account online, I found that the balance of the trip had not, in fact, been charged to my card yet. A quick call to USAA revealed that when the travel agency tried to put through such a big charge, it was automatically declined (and would have been even if they had had the correct billing address) and the account flagged by the fraud department.

To make matters even peachier, at first nobody at USAA wanted to talk to me because--get this!--I'm not "on the account." Ha! I have my very own card with my very own name, and I have spent more money on that card than Fred could even dream of spending. But no, they wanted Fred to call them and take care of it because technically his is the only name on the bill. Finally, I got a very sympathetic representative, and she and I collectively played the Iraq card in a big way to get the people in the fraud department to pull the flag off of my account.

So here's what I have to do tomorrow. Amy and I will go back to SATO in the morning and have one of their agents call Dertour and tell them to put the charge through again, with the understanding that it will be automatically denied--again. Then I have to call USAA and tell them to authorize the charge, and then Dertour needs to put it through again. I just hope that Dertour hasn't written us off as no-shows and sold our tickets out from under us. I feel sick when I think about that possibility.

I am so mad in so many different directions right now. First, while I appreciate that USAA is trying to look out for my best interests, wouldn't it be nice of them to get in touch with me and say, "Hey! We think your card is being used fraudulently, so we've frozen your account." That would have saved me a little bit of mortification at the AAFES Car Care Center yesterday afternoon and have alerted me last week that there was a problem. I'm also mad at Dertour if they didn't go back to SATO when the charge was denied a second time. And if they DID go back to SATO and SATO somehow neglected to contact me about it, I am going to go positively postal on them.

Meanwhile, I'm still suffering from low-level rage at the Visadienst, the agency that took care of getting our visas for us. The visas wound up costing twice what we had been led to believe they would, which we found out yesterday when (thank goodness--the 1 happy item in this saga) our passports were delivered back to us along with our Russian visas.

In happier news, I went to see The Stepford Wives this evening with 6 friends from my neighborhood. It was in English at our local Kino. I haven't laughed that hard in ages!

Fahrenheit 9/11 opens here in Germany on Thursday, and I want to go see it too. I'll probably just watch it in German, as I don't have the patience to wait for them to show it in English and much of it appears to be in English with German subtitles anyway. Also, I think it will be interesting to watch it with an audience of Germans instead of Americans.

And in weird news, while Mike was mowing the lawn today he happened to find 2 bumble bees that were . . . um, "expressing their love." Naturally, I ran inside and grabbed my camera, even though I felt a bit like an insect pornographer. I had a tough time getting the focus right, as the camera wanted to hone in on the blades of grass just above the true subjects. This is the best I could get:



The scene reminded me of a review I heard ages ago on NPR for a book called Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson. It's a collection of odd tales of animal sexuality, written in advice-column format. One that I've never been able to shake from my mind is this:

Dear Dr. Tatiana,

I'm a queen bee, and I'm worried. All my lovers leave their genitals inside me and then drop dead. Is this normal?

Perplexed in Cloverhill


Dr. Tatiana offers the following reassurance to Perplexed:

For your lovers, this is the way the world ends--with a bang, not a whimper. When a male honeybee reaches his climax, he explodes, his genitals ripped from his body with a loud snap. I can see why you find it unnerving. Why does it happen? Alas, Your Majesty, your lovers explode on purpose. By leaving their genitals inside you, they block you up. In doing so, each male hopes you will not be able to mate with another. In other words, his mutilated member is intended as the honeybee version of a chastity belt.

Now isn't THAT special? I observed the bees for quite a while to see if bumblebee boys come to the same sad end as their honeybee cousins, but if there was any exploding going on, I couldn't tell. I could have sworn though that later I saw them enjoying 2 tiny cigarettes . . .

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Monday, July 26, 2004

I've been working like crazy the past couple of weeks to get items scratched off my list of "stuff to do." Every night before I go to bed, I make a list of 13 things I want to accomplish the next day. Some are more challenging than others (like putting our bank accounts onto the computer) and others are just pesky little chores that I can stare at for many times the amount of time actually required to do the job (like carrying that box of books down to the basement after it sat in front of the hall closet for several weeks). Whatever doesn't get scratched off the list by the end of the day goes on the next day's list, but by keeping it to 13 main goals, I feel like I have a decent chance of getting most of it done.

I am the queen of procrastination, and sometimes it bites me in the butt. A month ago, for example, my dear friend from across the street moved back to the States. As she was moving out of her house, she bestowed upon me all of her spices, cleaning supplies, and other household belongings that she wasn't taking with her. Last week I got around to unpacking that one last box of hand-me-downs. Let's just say that frozen peas do not hold their shape well when they are deprived of refrigeration for weeks at a time.

The biggest item on my to-do list though has been "clean desk." That job has been number one on the daily list for ages now. I remember meaning to clean it back in March before Fred's parents came to visit and again in April before Frank and Teresa came. Then I thought it might be nice to have it done before Fred left, but pretty soon I was too depressed about the deployment to face a tragedy like my desk. I also meant to clean it before my dad came to visit in June, but it never quite happened. Sure, I moved piles of paper from one side of the monitor to the other, but I had trouble getting the necessary momentum to really get the job done. Until this past Saturday.

I wish I had thought to take a "before" picture, but I didn't. When it was done though, I had to capture the moment if only to remind myself that a clean desk can be more than a dream:


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I have a new hobby as of last night--I'm now collecting homecoming photos. My Aunt Suzie sent me the following scrapbook page that she made to commemorate my Uncle Mike's return from Vietnam:



Now I just need to get a copy of the photo I was talking about last night, the one of my Uncle Johnny coming home.

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Sunday, July 25, 2004

I come from a long line of picture takers and scrapbook makers. My Grandma Jernigan kept baby albums for each of us 6 grandkids, and going through them was one of the highlights of any visit to Grandma's house. The photos blend together in my memory as an enormous visual salad of cute babies, visits to Santa, Calamine-covered chicken pox, and several graduations each, ranging from preschool to graduate school.

There are certain family photos though that stand out sharply for me. One that I can call to mind quickly and clearly is a photo that my father took of his brother-in-law, my Uncle Johnny, returning home from Vietnam. The image quality is typical for the late 1960s, but it made an impression on me as a kid because I always marveled at the fact that it was such a happy occasion and yet my mother was crying. How could that be? I was well into my teen years before I understood that overwhelming happiness and relief could move a person to tears.

We've been looking at photos of soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan for quite a while now, but ever since Fred left they hit me a little harder than they used to. One picture in particular really made an impression on me recently.

Every day the Stars and Stripes publishes a 2-page spread that they call "American Roundup." This section features quick snips of interesting stories from various states and eye-catching photos from the Associated Press. A couple weeks ago, there was a shot of a father receiving a tearful homecoming hug from his 8-year-old daughter. I'm sure that it hit home for me because I have my own little blondie 8 year old who is missing her father, and I meant to clip it out. I got busy with other things though and eventually the paper made its way into the recycle bin.

I remembered it suddenly this morning when I read an article in today's paper about the homecoming ceremony for the troops from the 1st Armored Division. The article begins:

Looking up at her dad, Kayla Krings wiped the tears from her eyes as she began to ponder the question.

It seemed the more Kayla thought about what it was she wanted to do with her father, now that he is home, the more choked up she became.

“Everything,” the 9-year-old said, glancing back up at her father, Maj. Troy Krings, 2nd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment. “I want to do everything.”


There's no accompanying picture of Kayla and her dad, but the story reminded me of the picture I had seen several weeks ago, the one I wound up tossing out. I've been on a mission this evening to track down that photo. I'm generally a Google girl, but it was Yahoo that came through for me this time. Here's the picture that has been on my mind:



Meet United States Marine Corps Sgt. Andrew Mrozik and his daughters, Autumn, 8, and Dakota, 2. Sergeant Mroznik, "an avionics technician assigned to the Pendleton-based unit Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, returned home after a seven-month deployment that took him to Iraq, Japan, Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand."

I can't wait to get our own pictures like this. I've already put my dad on notice that I want him at the airport next summer as my official photographer. After all, he did such a good job getting that one special shot of my uncle's homecoming.

I just wish we didn't have to wait so long to take the pictures. We're coming up on 10 weeks this Wednesday since Fred left. This feels like a group pregnancy, and I always know exactly how many weeks along we are. At 10 weeks though, you should be 25-percent of the way through any normal pregnancy. How fitting is it, with Fred sitting in the middle of a desert, that we should be growing a camel (406 days gestation) this time around instead of a human (266 days)?

We've been keeping busy, and 10 weeks has gone by faster than I had expected. But still. TEN WEEKS! When it has been twice as long as we've already gone, we won't even be at the halfway point. Stupid camels.

The day can't come fast enough for me that Mike and Annabelle learn a thing or 2 about happy tears. In the meantime, I hope that Kayla, Autumn, and Dakota are enjoying having their daddies back at home.

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Saturday, July 24, 2004

Well, for those of you who might have had a little cash riding on the outcome of the scout campout, here's the latest. Mike finally called at around 6:30 to say that he was having fun but that his pants were wet and muddy from the rain. I offered to bring him dry ones, and he wasn't sure if he wanted dry pants or just to come home. So I told him to chill out and enjoy his supper and I would come up with dry pants--he could decide then what he wanted to do. I arrived shortly after he had an unpleasant encounter with a couple of bees, which pretty much helped him decide that he wanted to go home.

We had to return to the camp for Mike to retrieve his forgotten flashlight. One of the leaders came over to me and said that Mike had done really well on the trip, especially considering the torrential rain last night, and suggested that next time I not give him the option of coming home a day early. I know he means well, but I really don't think he gets it: If Mike hadn't been able to go for just the one night, he probably wouldn't have gone at all. I guess I am just not suitably hoo-ah on scouting to demand that my child go camping against his will.

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I've been thinking a lot about security lately. It's hard not to when you live in the ultimate gated community. When you drive onto a post over here, you're greeted with an armed ID check. The people pointing the guns are generally tucked away behind sandbags, but there's nothing between you and the tip of that gun other than a lot of air.

I had an experience the other day where my friend Amy and I got pulled over for what we affectionately call the cavity check. (I said that to a woman up at Rhein Main a few weeks ago, and she giggled: "Yeah, I guess it is a lot like going to the dentist." Um, okay, but that's really not what I had in mind.) Basically, they take cars at random and direct them over to the side for a more thorough inspection.

The procedure is supposed to be: you produce your ID and wait in the car while a guard goes around it, inspecting the underside with a mirror. Then you get out, open all doors plus your hood and trunk, stand to the side, and wait while they walk around and peek inside.

Well, on this particular day, the guards insisted that Amy and I leave the vehicle and open the doors while Mirror Guy was doing his thing. Mirror Guy happened to have his gun strapped onto his back, pointing down at the ground. That is, it was pointed down at the ground until he bent over to look in the mirror or in the car. Then he was basically aiming out his butt and right at us as we scurried to stay a step ahead of him.

Meanwhile, there was another guard walking around carrying his gun across his body and parallel to the ground. Every time he turned, he was basically sweeping across anybody who happened to be in his path . . . like us, for example.

I fumed to another of the guards (who were German soldiers), "I don't like it when they point their guns at me."

He reassured me quietly, "It's OK; you don't have to worry."

I generally go out of my way to be friendly to the guards, as I figure they have one of the suckiest jobs around. But I wasn't feeling very friendly after doing my best imitation of a target for his buddy, so I snapped back, "Why? Because they're not loaded or because he's never shot anybody by accident?" I didn't get an answer to that one.

I came home pissed off beyond belief. I haven't made a formal complaint (yet), but I have talked informally to several people who are in the know about force protection issues. Basically, the answer appears to be "force protection isn't convenient." Isn't that just lovely?

I promise you--someday somebody will be shot by accident. I just hope it's not in my neighborhood. And someday, if somebody really wants to, they'll get on post with something dangerous. Again, please don't let it happen in my neighborhood.

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It occurred to me a little while ago that it might be fun to learn the lyrics to Annabelle's chipmunk song (see post from last Tuesday). So I had her sing it for me in her normal voice, and now I'm sorry I asked. I expected it to be a cute little chipmunk ditty, possibly something off of Cartoon Network. Instead, it's a Mike and Annabelle original:

Chipmunks are on fire.
It's the law of them all.
'Cause when you see their bodies burn,
The song they sing will make you learn
That it's not fun to be a chipmunk,
Especially one that is on fire.
When you see one smoking
A cigarette.
Make him drop it and not get him all wet!
Wow, wow, wow!

Chipmunks are on fire.
It's the law of them all.
'Cause when you see my body burn,
The ashes will turn to tears
Because we are strange animals
And we never came to this world
In the right way.
Yeah!

That's it!!!


It should be on the Top 40 countdown any day now.

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Friday, July 23, 2004

I just dropped Mike off at the scout hut. They're getting ready to leave for their 2-night campout on Königstuhl in Heidelberg (same place where we went for the Brownie campout last month). It might only be a 1-night campout for Mike though. He's pretty stressed about going, which is par for the course for him, so his plan is to make it through tonight and call home tomorrow. He'll let me know then whether or not he wants to stay for the second night. I'm hoping that once he's broken the gravitational pull of home, staying the second night won't seem so big and scary.

Poor guy. I felt like crap leaving him there. He told me on the way over that "I hate camping so much that if I were a bird, the stress would kill me." He paints a pretty word picture, doesn't he?

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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Happy birthday to Mike! Hard to believe, but our first baby is 12 years old today.

We're having a nice celebration, although it would be nicer if Fred could be here to share it with us. Today being his actual birthday, we opened family presents and ate shrimp scampi for supper. Then he took a cake with him to his Boy Scouts meeting. Tomorrow he's having a party at the bowling alley with a few friends and more cake.

You've seen recent pictures of Mike, so tonight I'm posting one of his very first ones. Here I am with baby Mike, chilling out on the couch on one of our first days home from the hospital:


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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

I don't know what got into Annabelle this evening, but she was being quite the little clown. She stuffed 2 cherry tomatoes into her cheeks and did a remarkably realistic impression of a singing chipmunk.

I grabbed the camera and shot some video of it, but I was laughing so hard that I had a tough time holding the camera steady. I have put the video here, but it seems to take a really long time to load.

I tried opening it up in my Pinnacle Studio 8 software, but apparently my little Sony digicam shoots video in PAL format, which just doesn't fly with the American version of Pinnacle. It's rather stupid, I think, as the camera came from the States as well as the software, but it seems to be a Sony quirk, and I haven't had time to learn the work-around. Otherwise I would have reduced the file size for faster loading. So best of luck to you in watching it. Let me know how it goes.

Oh, and if you do watch it, make sure you stay for the whole 69 seconds. I think the last couple are the funniest.


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Monday, July 19, 2004

We started school yesterday. We decided to go with a prepackaged curriculum this year, because with Fred away, I just wanted to keep things as simple as possible. So I ordered from Calvert, and we got our boxes a few weeks ago. The kids were eager to check it out, and I figured it couldn't hurt to get a headstart on the year. My mom will be here for the month of August and then we're going to take a couple weeks to go to Texas at the end of September, so I'm sure we'll be taking plenty of days off.

I finally got all the roots out of my front flowerbed and re-set the stone border and planted the new flowers. Now all I have to do is put in the mulch, but I think it's shaping up quite nicely:



And in other happy gardening news, my hummingbird moth is back this summer:



The kids and I went to Miramar this afternoon to meet up with one of my internet friends and her 2 boys. The kids were a little shy around each other in the beginning, but before we knew it they were thick as thieves. They had the run of the place, while Iris and I sat next to the wave pool, chatting and snacking on the most amazing hazelnut-and-chocolate bars that her mom had made. All the way home, my kids kept raving about how much fun they had.

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Friday, July 16, 2004

I just got home a little while ago from taking my dad up to the airport for his flight home. We had such a nice visit! It was just the perfect amount of high excitement and lazy times.
 
I've always wanted to live in a musical, and I finally had my chance at the airport. I was walking back to my car after saying goodbye to Dad when I walked past 2 elderly German gentlemen accompanying a middle-aged American woman up to the tram that connects the terminals. As I passed them, one of the Germans burst into song: "Everything's up to date in Kansas City." Who could resist? I looked over my shoulder and agreed: "They've gone about as far as they can go." He was delighted to have the accompaniment, so we sang 2 verses together as we traveled up the escalators to the tram. I'm not sure what the innocent bystanders thought of our little production--nobody threw tomatoes, but nobody threw money either.
 
When we got off the tram and parted ways, he gave me his business card and insisted that I should call him sometime. I'm told his wife makes excellent stuffed cabbage rolls.

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Several years ago, I found a most amazing plant on a hillside in Hawaii. Its large, starfish-shaped blossom caught my eye, and I just had to pull over for a closer look. I could tell from its fleshy leaves that it was some sort of succulent, so I took a chance and nabbed a quick cutting before hopping back in my car. Over the following months, my cutting successfully set up roots and produced a modest plant.

When it was time to move back to the mainland, I couldn't bear to leave my new plant behind entirely, so I gave a cutting to my mom on her last trip out to visit us on Oahu. She took it home and rooted it and established a second, equally successful plant. This plant took up permanent residence on her back porch along with a dozen or so orchids that I couldn't abandon in Hawaii but somehow also never managed to transport to Texas.

One day, Mom went out on her porch and smelled something really, really foul. She looked around outside for a dead animal before finally realizing that the stench was coming from the first blossom of this new plant. Apparently, this particular type of plant relies on flies for pollination, and it attracts these flies by mimicking rotting flesh. (Pretty clever for a plant, don't you think? Kind of reminds me of Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors.) We dubbed the plant "Mr. Stinky," and he continues to live in Florida with my parents.

"Mr. Stinky" is actually a type of stapelia. That's the Latin name and also the name we use in English. I encountered a German stapelia today in the cactus house at the Luisenpark. Perhaps he's "Herr Stinky" to his friends, but his official name in German is--I'm honestly not making this up--Aasblume. Yep, that's Blume as in "flower" and Aas as in . . . well, figure it out for yourself.

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Thursday, July 15, 2004

I can't believe I haven't posted in almost a week. Things have been crazy here (but in a good way), and I'm dogpaddling as hard as I can to keep my head above water. You know you're too far behind on your blog when you catch yourself thinking, "Thank goodness the rain kept us away from Legoland today. At least this is one day where there's nothing blog-worthy going on."

My main activity for the past week has been playing travel agent. The kids and I, along with my mom, my friend Amy, and her daughter Rebecca, are going to take a week-long tour to Russia at the end of August. Even though we are working with a travel agent here on post, it is still a phenomenal amount of work, especially in the visa application process. Getting everything set was like trying to put out a grease fire with water--new fires kept springing up left and right.

In the middle of the application chaos, Dad and I took the kids up north to visit friends of mine (and students of my dad's) from Stetson. Yesterday the rain finally stopped and we made it over to Legoland. This afternoon we're going to take him downtown to show him the Luisenpark. But I'm not going to worry about posting photos or reports on these or any other events until after Dad leaves tomorrow. I'm just going to focus on having a good time.

Apparently, I'm not the only blogger who finds the task overwhelming at times. Here's an article about blogger burnout.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

[Another post from the future! Greetings from August 9, 2004.]

When we went to Legoland in the spring with my brother-in-law's family, they were running a fantastic deal on season passes, so I bought them for me and the kids. At the time I had very ambitious plans of visiting not only the German park at least another time or 2 but also hitting the parks in England and Denmark. As the summer wore on though, it became apparent that we'd be doing good just to get back to the German park one more time. I decided that it would be a fun day trip to take with my theme-park-hating father.

Dad actually was a much better sport at Legoland than he is at Disney World. He enjoyed seeing the miniature Europe constructed out of Lego, such as this smaller rendition of Neuschwanstein castle:



Can you spot the real Einstein in this picture?



We took in the 3-D movie, which was hokier than most I've seen at places like Disney World. Here are Dad and the kids sporting their new eyewear:



I like the low-stress atmosphere at Legoland. Dad snapped this picture of me taking a nap while the kids enjoyed one of the playgrounds:


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From Fred--written 07/10/04 

One of my buddies asked me recently what we do for fun over here. Fun in Baghdad . . . It is warped fun. It is the stupid fun you had with your peers during military field training exercises or Boy Scout camping trips.

It is laughing at weird stuff like why did AAFES send a crate of 16-piece stoneware dishes to be sold at the PX in a combat zone when we all (AAFES employees, too) eat in a contract dining facility? Or why is there cat litter for sale at the PX when pets are not authorized? They don't sell cat or dog food. It is watching 2 guys eat nothing but salad bar food at every meal to see who can outlast who. (Roommates had it rough from all the fiber . . . )

It is "movie night" on Saturday night, where you watch silly cult classic movies
(Caddyshack, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, etc.) and make fun of them and relate their "hidden messages" to the stupid stuff you see daily. There are real MWR events, gyms, TV rooms out there, but mostly it is self-generated stuff. For the more serious minded, there are tons of paperback books to read.

Weather report: Yesterday was really hot, I mean REALLY HOT. 122 degrees and the sun was
out and the wind was up--it was a HOT wind, like looking into a blow-dryer on high. Today is also really hot, but more than just hot it is really HUMID. There are clouds, gray clouds covering the sky. There is also a ton of dust in the air. Running this morning sucked. Anyway that is my life today.

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Sunday, July 11, 2004

[And yet another post from the future--August 30, to be exact.]

The weekend after Scotland, Dad and I were too exhausted to contemplate doing much of anything. The NEXT weekend, however, we set off with the kids on a roadtrip to visit Irena and Christian, who are friends of mine and students of my dad's from Stetson.

We arrived the afternoon of Saturday, June 12, and went to an anniversary celebration that Christian's company was having. The kids and I set off with Irena in a horse-drawn carriage while Christian showed Dad the way to the beer. The kids were terribly impressed by the bungee trampolines and the rock-climbing wall, while Dad was terribly impressed by the bartender, who saw to it that he never had an empty glass:



That evening they took us out for an amazingly good meal, and we stayed up late chatting and visiting. Christian and Irena have 4 daughters, and Annabelle really hit it off this time with their 8-year-old Magdalena. She and "Maggie" played hangman in a combination of German and English at supper, and Annabelle was delighted to be invited to spend both nights in Magdalena's room:



We started Sunday with a typical German breakfast of rolls with coldcuts and cheese, croissants smeared with Nutella, and fresh cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices. We went out to a tennis club to watch their oldest daughter, Katherina, compete in the finals of a tournament. Maybe our enthusiastic cheering had something to do with her winning the tournament!

Irena took us to a Chinese restaurant for lunch and then we went to a children's fest sponsored by their church. That night Irena made the chicken satay that my kids were hoping she would make for us. (They always rave about Irena's cooking so much that I'm sure she must suspect I never feed them. The truth is though that she really is amazing!)

Weekends with Irena and Christian and their girls always go by too quickly. Before we knew it, it was Monday morning and time to head for home. We're looking forward though to the end of October, when we hope that they will join us for a traditional American Halloween just like last year.

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Friday, July 09, 2004

[Composed at a later date--August 30]

One of the neat parts of living where we do is being able to hop over to a different country (in this case France) for a day just because you can. We started off in Strassbourg, where we had lunch at a nice little sidewalk cafe:



The scenery in Strassbourg is so pretty. I love all the half-timber buildings, like this one:



And the cathedral is always an impressive sight:



Annabelle had a close encounter with a mime in the square in front of the cathedral:



After Strassbourg, we headed south toward Colmar and then west to a little town called Kaysersberg:



My grandfather won a Bronze Star in Kaysersberg back in WWII, so I'm thinking we probably enjoyed the town a good deal more than he did. It's just one cute building after another, like this one:



And this one:



After Kaysersberg, we hustled back into Germany and over to Freiburg so that I could try to find a garden gargoyle that I saw in a store there last year. We found the store, but they were fresh out of gargoyles, though they would have happily ordered me one for $70 or so. I took a pass on that, and we headed north towards home.

Remind me never to drive in Freiburg again, OK? It's a miracle that I made it into and out of town without taking out a bicyclist or 2. Or 3.

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Mike and Annabelle--nothing special. Just your standard deviations:


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You know how it is when you take on one small redecorating project? Say you want to paint your kitchen. You paint it, but then your floor looks really tired, so you replace that. Then you notice that your cupboards need refacing and your light fixtures look like something off the set of The Brady Bunch. And so it continues, on and on and on until your kitchen is just like George Washington's hatchet--it's original equipment except for the head and handle, which have both been replaced a time or 2.

I'm afraid that this is what is happening in my yard. Late last summer, I set out some heather plants, and I was really happy with them. They weren't huge or dramatic, but they were different and they provided a little splash of color along with my modest windowboxes of pansies. But then I put hanging geraniums in my windowboxes and planted standing geraniums in the ground. I even put a huge pot of fuschias on my little cafe table Then the walls themselves looked a little bland, so I hung up pots of strawberries and a huge mess of petunias, and before I knew it, the heathers I admired so much last summer looked rather . . . boring.

Daddy and I went out to Pflanzen Paradies the other day and I bought wildflowers to intersperse among the heather plants and 24 begonias to accent the outer edge of the flower bed. But when I went to plant them, I discovered that at least half my yard was nothing more than an enormous tangle of tree roots, so I have spent the past 3 days de-rooting my yard. It has been a battle of Middle Earth proportions. I know the neighbors must think I'm insane, as they watch me whack away at my yard with an axe and jump up and down furiously on my shovel.

By early evening today, however, I had cleared the area of all offending root material. And I had created a front yard that looked like this:



After supper, I went back out and planted my wildflowers in and around my heathers. Now it looks like this, and this is as good as it'll get for the next couple of days, as we have a roadtrip planned for tomorrow:



We're coming back on Monday, so I hope that by Tuesday or Wednesday I'll have planted the begonias and spread out the 4 huge bags of mulch that are currently sitting in my carport.


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The Scotland Report: Installment VII 

I was beginning to think that it would take me as long to blog Scotland as it did to visit it! I'm relieved to see that the end is finally in sight.

We left Broadford on Monday morning and traveled back over the bridge to the mainland. We spent most of the morning making our way to Glenfinnan, home of the monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie:



Glenfinnan is also the location of this railway bridge, which was crossed by the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies:



This is where I ran out of room on my camera's memory stick, which I felt was perfect timing. The rest of the day was dedicated to getting down to the Glasgow area in preparation for our trip to the airport the following day. The scenery was beautiful, but by that point we were all a bit numb: "Yeah, yeah, beautiful loch. Pass the corn nuts."

We spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express in Greenock. I had booked an internet special a couple days earlier from the tourist office in Portree, and at only 39 pounds for all 4 of us, it was quite a bargain. It was so nice to use a bathroom sink again where the hot and cold water both ran out of the same faucet!

Tuesday morning we enjoyed the breakfast buffet at the hotel and then drove down to Prestwick Airport. We turned in the rental car, checked our bags with Security, and tried to figure out how to pass the 9 hours we had before our flight.

We wound up going by train into the town of Ayr, birthplace of Robert Burns. We wandered around downtown for a bit and wound up having lunch at Burger King. Then we took the train back to the airport and settled in for the few remaining hours.

I hit the bookstore and bought a copy of Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country? which I enjoyed immensely. I noticed that the gentleman sitting next to me in the waiting area was reading this book:



Finally, it was time to get on our plane and head back to Germany. We arrived back in Frankfurt-Hahn at around midnight and made it back to Mannheim at 2:00 a.m.

Here's a random observation that I've been meaning to stick in somewhere, so I might as well tack it on here at the end. For all the stereotypes about the Scots being penny-pinchers, I have never before seen a more altruistic-minded society. Every cash register in every store had at least 1 or 2 piggy banks for various charities. The captain of our seal boat had a jar set up for tips, which he was donating to cancer research. In fact, that same afternoon in Plockton a hotel was hosting a tea to benefit cancer research. Even the celidh that we enjoyed on the Isle of Skye was a benefit for multiple sclerosis.

I mentioned this to the clerk at the riding-center cafe on Skye, when I noticed that she had various certificates posted proclaiming that the cafe had donated so much money or so much time to a certain children's home. She said she had never really thought much about it but was pleased and flattered that I had noticed. There are worse things to be known for than a concern for your fellow earthlings.

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Thursday, July 08, 2004

I went to the mailroom yesterday and was thrilled to receive a package of photos from Fred. There are quite a few that I want to scan and post, but for now I'm just putting up 2 of my favorites.

First, here is Fred with some of the local scenery:



He says, "Me under crossed sabers in CPA Green Zone. I think they are somehow related to the Republican Guard, as the CPA HQ building was the Republican Guard's home in Baghdad."

This next one just cracks me up:



The inscription reads Dedicated to the memory of all the displaced ducks who gave up their homes in the hopes of a better Iraq. Fred explains, "The dining facility on South Camp Victory (where I live and work) is built next to a filled-in duck pond like the one at the quad at Ft. Sam Houston. The joke is in the sign and the decoys and rubber ducky."


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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The Scotland Report: Installment VI 

Sunday morning we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in our hotel in Portree and then headed north to explore the Trotternish Peninsula.

The road was narrow, but the scenery was amazing. We got out of the car to admire Lealt Falls and the rock formation known as the Old Man of Storr. It was misty on the old man that day, but you can have an idea of what is was like:



One thing I forgot to mention from our very first night in Scotland is that as we were walking from the plane to the terminal, a small airplane buzzed by at what seemed like pretty close range. One of the airport workers informed us that the plane was off of the aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise, which was in local waters as part of an exercise. We thought that was very cool but expected no further encounters with the Enterprise.

Imagine our surprise then, when we rounded a curve up on the northern end of Skye and saw this just off the coast:



The carrier was surrounded by other smaller ships, and we even saw a plane taking off from its deck. I hopped out of the car and immediately began snapping pictures, but that sucker moves FAST! Here's another halfway decent one though:



We stopped for lunch at a riding center, where Daddy and I had the most amazing scones with strawberries and whipped cream. In the field outside the parking lot, we saw one of Dr. Doolittle's legendary animals, the Push-Me-Pull-Ewe:



We were now finished with the Trotternish Peninsula and continued on to explore the northwestern part of the island. We went to Dunvegan Castle but opted not to go inside for the tour. It was getting late, and we were more interested in trying to find the seals that we had heard lived in the area. So we drove past the castle and down an even narrower road and were able to see a few seals on an island in the middle of the loch. I took this picture of the castle:



We spent the rest of the afternoon driving down to the town of Broadford to find a place to stop for the night.

I was excited to see a youth hostel, and in spite of Dad's assertion that "I ain't no youth," I insisted that we at least check it out. It turned out to be a wonderful bargain that more than offset the splurge from the night before. We got a 6-bed room to ourselves at a rate of 12 pounds per adult and 9 pounds per kid. The room was simple but clean and comfortable:



All around Scotland, I wanted to get a picture of my dad in front of one particular street sign. In Broadford, I finally got my chance. I call this one "Hey, Papa Boyd! What's your sign?"

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From Fred: written 07/05/04 

Fourth of July came and went without fireworks here at Camp Victory. We are pleased with such an outcome.

It was a pretty lazy day for me. I went to two ceremonies in the Palace and then a cookout. First ceremony was to formally present combat patches to the units that deployed in January (III Corps and 5 of its brigade-sized subordinate commands--2 engineer brigades, 2 MP brigades, and a signal brigade). The ceremony occurred in the rotunda of the Palace--same place as the change of command. Small symbolic unit formations with unit colors were present with the commanders and sergeant majors. First GEN Casey, the new Commander Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), presented LTG Metz the III Corps combat patch. Next LTG Metz presented the brigades their patches. It was a nice ceremony.

Second ceremony was an SJA function. Three officers (an Australian Air Force Legal Officer, a US Air Force JA, and a Marine JA) received departure awards and then an NCO was promoted from SGT E-5 to SSG E-6. This ceremony occurred on the back porch by the SJA office on the 3rd floor. Nice view and nice breeze. When I get the digital camera I'll send photos.

The cookout was later in the afternoon. It was very hot--112 degrees. Breeze was not much help. We would spend some time outside, then go inside the MWR building to cool off in the A/C. We had hotdogs and hamburgers with fixings. We can go to the dining facility and sign for food for these events and fix it ourselves. Works out nicely, but right now it is pretty miserable to do things outside.

After having enough cookout fun, I went back to my living trailer, watched a movie, then went to sleep. Fourth of July was nothing exciting but a good break from the normal daily grind.

Another event that occurred here was a 10K run--the famous Peach Tree Road Race from Atlanta, GA set up a course here at Camp Victory as an alternative run site. I think there was a 5K fun-run too. Both runs were in the morning as it gets to hot to run safely much after 0900 now. There were a couple of bands that played at night, and I think part of an NFL cheerleading squad performed.

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Monday, July 05, 2004

The Scotland Report: Installment V 

We arrived in Portree on the Isle of Skye shortly before lunch on Saturday. The sleepy little town that I was expecting was brimming with activity! We had inadvertently arrived on the day of the 4th Annual Isle of Skye Pipe Band Festival.

We stopped by the tourist office, but the workers there were not optimistic about our chances of finding lodging in town for Saturday night. Apparently, almost every bed was taken up by folks who were in for the festival. We walked around town for a bit in the blustery weather and stopped in at a couple of places. One hotel that we stopped at was booked up, but the clerk called the Rosedale Hotel on our behalf and sent us over to look at what were probably the last 2 rooms left in town.

The Rosedale was our big splurge, but even so it proved to be quite reasonable under the circumstances. The normal charge was 40 pounds per person, but they only charged us 10 pounds for each of the kids for a total charge of 100 pounds for the night.

After we got the luggage into our rooms, we still had a few hours to kill before all the bands from the festival were due to come together in one location for an ensemble performance. Daddy and I went out and brought back fish and chips (and a hamburger for Annabelle) from the takeaway around the corner, and we enjoyed a quick lunch in the hotel lounge. Then we set out to do some exploring.

We walked through town for a bit and poked around in various shops. I was standing in line at a bookstore waiting to pay for my book (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time--very good book; I strongly recommend it!), when Dad called out excitedly from the sidewalk. He had spotted the pipe bands just up the road!

We walked up to the parking lot where they were performing individually and enjoyed quite a show. About an hour later, we wandered back down to the town square to wait for them to come together for the big performance. The wind was biting cold, but we were determined to stick it out. Finally, one after another the bands marched down the street, filed into the square, and lined up side by side. We forgot the cold in the excitement of standing so close to that many bagpipes. Here's one band as they marched into the square:



After the performance, I took pictures of the kids with pipers and drummers:



I even managed to get into one picture:



Finally we escaped the cold by ducking into an Indian restaurant for a hearty supper. After supper, we headed to the Skye Gathering Hall for a ceilidh, which seems to be the Scottish equivalent of a hoedown. This was not a professionally choreographed event put on for the benefit of tourists; this was the people of Portree getting together for a fun time on a Saturday night, and it was without a doubt the high point of the whole trip, at least for me. (Annabelle would disagree, as she suffered through the bagpipes with her fingers stuffed firmly in her ears.)

We sat at a table with an elderly couple from upstate New York who had come to watch their grandson performing in the festival. Families congregated at tables surrounding the dance floor, and one guitar and a couple of accordions provided much of the music. After about an hour, the local pipe band marched in unannounced, now wearing polos and T-shirts with their kilts. Their song? "When the Saints Go Marching In."

By 11:00 p.m., Annabelle was near tears from the blasting pipes and from sheer exhaustion. So we left much earlier than we would have liked, but Dad and I both heard bagpipes going strong at midnight.

I took some video shots, both of the pipe band performance and of the ceilidh. I had to shoot at a very low resolution, however, or I wouldn't have had enough room on my memory stick. So the video itself isn't very good, but it gives you a pretty good idea of what it sounded like along with a grainy view of the action. I've assembled them all into an album at Sony's Image Station, which you can access by clicking here. Make sure your speakers are turned up really, really loud.

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Annabelle did the first harvest of the season from her garden this afternoon. Unfortunately, the one crop that is going gangbusters is our radishes--which we all detest. My friend Amy was happy to receive a small bunch of radishes as a mid-afternoon snack.

Here's Annabelle with the fruits (veggies?) of our labor:


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The Scotland Report: Installment IV 

When we awoke Saturday morning, the pleasant weather that had greeted our arrival in Plockton the previous day was gone. Word on the street was that a gale was blowing in, and we were eager to be over the bridge and safely on the Isle of Skye before that happened.

On our way out of town, we passed through the teeny tiny town of Duirinish (population 21), just west of Plockton. Dad stopped the car so I could get out and get the picture I had been longing for of one of the many longhaired highland cattle that roam freely through the area:



Just after I finished taking the cow's picture, these sheep wandered by:



From Duirinish, we headed south to Eilean Donan Castle:



I stopped on the bridge to take a picture of Dad and the kids with the castle in the background, and a Dutch tourist stepped up and offered to take a picture of the 4 of us:



We had a great time exploring the castle, which is much better preserved than Urquhart Castle. Many of the rooms are set up with furniture, and the kitchen has quite an exhibit of mannequins and fake food to demonstrate castle life of long ago.

I went back and forth with myself over whether or not to put the next part in, but I've decided that I will even though it is a bit of a downer. As we were leaving the castle grounds, we saw the aftermath of a motorcycle accident at the entrance. One bike was standing at the side of the road, another was lying in the middle, and an ambulance was there as well. We saw them loading one person into the ambulance, but the ambulance did not appear to be in a hurry to take off. There was also a tarp near the second ambulance with what could only have been the second rider underneath.

I can't think of anything terribly profound to say about the wreck. I had no sudden insights into the meaning of life, only a sudden jolt of reality to think that one minute you can be cruising through life enjoying the scenery, and the next minute you're under a tarp in front of one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. Also, I felt so sad for the riders' loved ones who were going to get some awful news very soon, news that I already knew.

Within minutes, however, we were paying our toll and crossing the bridge onto the Isle of Skye, about to embark on the most memorable day of the whole vacation.

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Sunday, July 04, 2004

Happy Fourth of July!

We had a quiet day and then joined some of our neighbors for an absolutely delightful barbecue. I learned that although it may sound disgusting to smear corn-on-the-cob with mayonnaise, drench it with lime juice, and sprinkle it with paprika, it is actually rather delicious.

After the barbecue, we all walked over to watch the fireworks. It was definitely one of the best presentations I've ever seen--much better than I was expecting.

Mike did his hair up special for the holiday:


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Saturday, July 03, 2004

Sorry, but I have no Scotland pictures to offer today. I hope to have more ready sometime tomorrow though. In the meantime, I wanted to share a very nice thing that happened to me the other day.

As you know, we arrived home from the airport at about 2:00 a.m. on Wednesday. I walked in the door and saw something sitting on my dining room table that hadn't been there when we left. It was a beautiful Polish pottery canister in the blueberry pattern! My friend Amy had left it there for me along with the following note:

Bonnie, there are 365 M&Ms in the jar, one for each day Fred is gone. Enjoy something sweet every day, and when the M&Ms are gone, Fred will be home and the jar will be left as a reminder of your sacrifice for us. Thank you.

Isn't that just the sweetest thing you've heard today? It meant even more to me considering that Amy's own husband had deployed to Kosovo just days before, yet she still had the resources to do something so nice for me.

I haven't actually started eating the M&Ms yet. I want to, but I know how my mind works: "Hmmm . . . after I finish all this chocolate, Fred will be home." It doesn't take a psychic to foresee me sitting there 15 minutes later, waiting for Fred to walk through the door and wondering why on earth my stomach hurts so bad. Maybe I should let the kids take turns eating the chocolate for me?

Whoever winds up eating the chocolate, it's a gesture that I'll certainly never forget.

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Friday, July 02, 2004

The Scotland Report: Installment III 

Back to Scotland and to Urquhart Castle . . .

When you visit the castle, you enter the grounds through a visitors' center. We opted to hang out and see the 8-minute film on the castle's history before going outside, and we were very glad we did. At the end of the film, the screen lifted and the curtains parted, giving us a breathtaking panoramic view of the castle and the loch.

After the film, we zipped up our rain jackets and headed out to explore the castle grounds:



Once we got down to the castle, we all climbed up to the top of the tower you see in the picture above, and I was able to get a shot of the general overview of the ruin itself:



We had planned to go to Ullapool, a small fishing village to the north, the next day, but our hostesses said, "Oh, you simply must take the children to Plockton to see the seals!" We didn't have enough time to do both and still spend much time on the Isle of Skye, so Friday morning we headed off to Plockton.

The scenery along the road was truly amazing. We saw sheep in just about every field and a number of quaint little cottages with gardens like this:



For much of the drive the road was nothing more than a single lane with occasional wide spots to allow passing. Daddy pulled into one such wide spot so that I could get out and take a picture of this island near Plockton:



In Plockton we had our one and only day of truly glorious weather, and I'm sure that colored our perception of the town in general. Annabelle declared that she liked this part of Scotland much better than the rainy part.

Plockton is a tiny little village on the shores of Loch Carron. It looks as if one might use the word "sleepy" to describe it, but it's really not. The town is brimming with activity, and ever since it served as the set for filming of the BBC's Hamish MacBeth series, more and more tourists have been coming.



We drove past a herd of shaggy highland cattle that were grazing unfenced on the outskirts of town and made our way down to the waterfront. One of the first things we saw was a dog who was clever enough to be responsible for his own walks. As the saying goes, "Retriever, heel thyself":



The B&Bs along the main drag were filled, so we hurried up a side street to find a room. We wound up at a bed and breakfast run by Mrs. Janet MacKenzie, where we had 2 double rooms for 80 pounds total. Here's a picture of the front of the house and its garden:



Once we found our room, we hurried back down to the waterfront to catch the 2:00 p.m. seal-watching trip. When we got there, we discovered that the boat wouldn't be leaving for until 2:30, so we passed the time by talking to a local man, Geoffrey Malcolm Salt, who had recently published a book of his life stories. The next morning I bought a copy of his book, which he signed for me:



Finally it was time to get on the boat. Our skipper was Callum MacKenzie (pictured below with his first mate), who runs daily tours to look at the seals. Callum guarantees seals and doesn't collect payment until some are spotted.



Callum gave the kids on board an opportunity to drive the boat. Annabelle passed, but Mike happily took him up on the offer:



On our way out to the seals, we passed by Duncraig Castle:



We did indeed get to see quite a few seals, much to the delight of the kids. I enjoyed having the chance to play with the zoom on my new camera:



After our seal hunt, we got fish and chips from Grumpy's Takeaway and enjoyed them at a picnic table down by the beach before heading back to our B&B.

We had trouble getting to sleep that night, as the beautiful weather made the lateness of the sunset that much more dramatic. Here's the view from the room I shared with Annabelle, taken early Friday afternoon:



And here's the same view taken at 11:00 that night:



Next time: the Isle of Skye . . .

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