Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Tail of Two Cities

Late in the afternoon on our first day in Edinburgh we trudged up Candlemaker Row in the drizzle looking for the statue of a famous little dog and the churchyard where he and his master are buried. His master - some say he was a local farmer, some a policeman - died in 1858, two years after he acquired Bobby, a Skye terrier. Bobby stayed on his master’s grave until he died 14 years later, leaving only to get lunch about one o’clock at a nearby pub, then called Traills Coffee House, now Greyfriar’s Bobby Inn.

Famous even in his time, he was buried in the Greyfriar’s churchyard and a Baroness erected a fountain and statue in front of the tavern a year after his death. His is the most photographed statue in Scotland.

Greyfriars Kirk, Bobby's grave just inside the entrance

What is it about Bobby’s story that makes visitors like Joan and Patty and myself endure the elements and jet lag to search out this little guy’s statue? Is this kind of faithfulness and loyalty missing from our lives today?

In 1886, soon after Bobby, San Diego had its own dog story. Bum, a St. Bernard - spaniel mix (that must have been some union!) stowed onto a steamer from San Francisco and got off in San Diego to become a fixture in the Gaslamp area of town for the next 12 years. He hung around downtown restaurants and bars where, unfortunately, patrons fed him alcohol and he had to go through detox. He hitched rides on streetcars and lost a front leg on a train track. Famous also in his time, he rode the fire engines, participated in town parades, and his picture was put on dog licenses.

Bum was a vagabond loyal to a town. Quite a contrast, but both dogs are immortalized with their statues in a little park at 4th and Island in the Gaslamp.

San Diego’s sister city, Edinburgh, brought over a statue of Bobby in 1998

and last month a delegation from San Diego traveled to Edinburgh to place a statue of Bum in Prince Street Gardens, just down the hill from Bobby.

Why all the fuss about these two? What is it about these two guys that makes them heroes?

Friday, August 29, 2008

More Evidence for Animal Magnetism

Those pesky cows. Every Kentucky farm in the 1940’s had a cow. Ours was pretty scary, an ill tempered witch of a beast, more so if you happened to be only 4 years old. My brother and I were chased more than once, fast as our little feet would take us across the pasture.

Fast forward sixty years to Hadrian’s Wall country where we walked through cow pasture after cow pasture. Mostly peaceful beasts they were until we came near Bowness-on-Solway. Lord, I think they were reincarnations of that Kentucky cow, come back to get vengance for those times Ray and I climbed over the fence into her pasture.
Methane belching cows are a major factor in global warming. Deforestation for pastures, feed fertilizers and cow burps of methane, twenty three times more potent than carbon dioxide, are a greater threat to climate change than all the world’s transportation.

And now -- this just out -- the beasts align in a north-south direction when grazing or resting - do they do anything else? - according to this week's Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences.

Had I known I wouldn't have been so worried walking across England when we couldn't figure out how to use Joan's GPS.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

75, the new 35

Just as Hayley's last boat was getting out of the water at the Long Beach Nationals I vaguely heard the announcer say something about 75 and older. No, it couldn't be.

I walked down to the launch area and, sure enough, four single sculls were racing down the Marina. Muscles rippling, upright postures, eyes fixed on the finish line.

John McCain, move over.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Coxswain Courageous

My 13 year old granddaughter, Hayley, rows competitively as a Junior (ages 13-18) for ZLAC Rowing Club and sometimes serves as a coxswain for a boat. That is, she is the boss, she gives the directions, sets the stroke rate, implements the race strategy, and steers the boat. Last weekend, she was the coxswain for two boats at the Long Beach Masters’ National Crew Regatta. One boat was crewed by younger women, 30’s-40’s, and the average age of the second boat was 63. Speaking of Courage under Fire, it takes some chutzpah for a 13 year old to tackle coxing a team almost at an Ancient Mermaid age. And, she had to give up some time previously committed to her band to do their first recording session. I asked her to do a guest blog for us. I told her to show some humor, some vulnerability, and that she was welcome to include that her mother hadn’t asked her before volunteering her services. She wrote,

I don’t know how I was dragged into this. It happened rather quickly. My mom, without asking me, volunteered me to cox a boat at Masters Nationals in Long Beach if they couldn’t find another coxswain. This was three weeks before the actual event. For two weeks they strung it out and didn’t tell me, and didn’t tell me, and didn’t tell me. Fast forward to one week beforehand. They told me I wouldn’t be coxing, they had found another coxswain. So I went and said to the band on Sunday: “Yes, I will be at church next Sunday, packed and ready for the recording session.”

The next day the Masters’ rowers emailed my mom and said

1. We actually need your daughter to cox two boats,
2. Neither of them is the one we originally thought she would be in,
3. If the first boat makes its final, the final is 20 minutes after the second boat’s race, so we don’t know what to do, and
4. Could you possibly cox another boat at 2:00?

I said NO to the last, I have something I really have to attend, and I’m already going to be late for it. Then, the day before, my mom realizes she didn’t finish our hotel reservations for that night, and the hotel is now full. Our reservations do not exist.

So we wake up at 4:45 the morning of, leave at 5:30 from San Diego, and arrive at the Marine Stadium in Long Beach at 7:00 AM. I took my sleeping bag and all my overnight junk for the overnight recording session that I was supposed to go to at 10:30 that same morning. My iPod headphones were glued in my ears for about three hours waiting for the first race.

At this point, I was fairly sure the ladies I was coxing hated me, because the rowing club had made a rule stating that no Junior could cox a Masters’ boat. This was AFTER I had started coxing their practices. Well, they didn’t hate me -- as proved by the never-ending chorus of thank yous after the races.

I discovered that it is much more stressful coxing people who not only know what they are doing, they know what YOU should be doing and will call you out on it. The Juniors have no idea what you should be doing, although sometimes they think they do. I had an experienced Masters' coxswain rowing in the second boat I coxed, and she sat right behind me in the bow. She had to tell me how to do things once in a while during the race, like backing into the stakeboat in a crosswind. That was useful. The time conflict with the final was irrelevant, because we weren’t even close to qualifying. That was disappointing, but it was also a relief.

My first boat was very nice; they were the younger boat.

There was no wind at all for that race, and there was just the right amount of time for a warm up.
Boat #1, the "younger" crew

There are a multitude of brain-busting things for a coxswain to think about, so everything was easier than Junior events. Junior Events are badly organized and usually run late, the start officials are bow ball Nazis, and no one knows what to do.

[The bow, or front of the boat, is marked with a ball stuck on the end. The coxswain in a bow loaded bow is facing front, almost in a lay down position, the rowers are facing back, toward the stern. K.]

The Nationals race was well organized and had perfect conditions. It was fun, but I couldn’t think of much to say during the first race. That is bad for a coxswain. You are supposed to talk to them the entire race. Coming into shore, I was too polite, I guess, and let all the other fours land before we had any room. Oh, and I think we finished fourth out of five.

The second four were older of the two racing teams and had an experienced coxswain in bow seat. [The bow seat is the rower next to the coxswain in a bow loaded boat. K.] We had a little too much time to warm up, so we came to the start line 15 minutes early. We pulled up five minutes before our race time, and it was “two scull bow, two scull bow, two keep sculling bow, please”, until the official finally called, “2 minutes.” Then, thirty seconds later, “Attention. . . row!” I don’t know what happened to 1 minute. . . but we were still sculling bow when he called it. Oh well, bad start.

Bringing in boat #2, the "older" ladies

I had more to say during this race than the last one: I had actually thought about it this time. We came in and I was too polite again, so we waited ten minutes to actually land on the beach. When we finally saw the times, we were fourth. . . by half an second! I’m sorry, I neglected to mention that this was a straight final, and we could have medaled. Oh well. I got a shirt. And a Jamba Juice gift card. And experience.

I’ll probably be the only Junior to cox in a major masters event. Anyway. I made my recording session! Not at 10:30, but 3:00. That’s okay. I didn’t miss anything. We recorded until midnight, and woke up at 6:15 to record some more. We got two songs done with 11 hours of recording. Ouch. This is Kathie’s granddaughter, signing off.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Skinks and Sinks

When we got to Edinburgh on Monday, our room at the Radisson wasn’t ready, so we went to Hisako and Tetsu’s room where we left our bags and took off for lunch at Hadrian’s Brasserie on South Bridge. This was the salad.

Eww - glad I didn't have that!

Hisako and Tetsu had cullen skink, a chowder kind of soup; they loved it but the name put me off – in South Carolina, a skink is a tailless fat black salamander-ish creature.

From the Scottish Recipes site: "Cullen is a wee town here in the North east of Scotland and Cullen Skink is traditionally made with Finnan haddock, potatoes and onions. Finnan haddock is often called Finnan haddie. The word skink means soup or stew. The Cullen Skink recipe may also be called Smoked Haddock Chowder in some restaurants."

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the restaurant is located in the Balmoral Hotel. Probably explains why there were pretty little pink flowers painted on the sink pedestals in the ladies’ room.

(Salad photo by Kathie - who else takes pics of her food? Sink photo by Joan.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bits and Pieces

Colors of the Hadrian's Wall Trail
Green with a touch of yellow (grass, trees, ferns, etc., etc., etc.)
Brown (mud)
Grey (sky and wall stones)
Red violet (foxglove and thistle blossoms)
Orange red (poppies)
Bright yellow (buttercups)
Periwinkle (Harebell and meadow cranes bell)

Flashes and impressions
Kathie’s cough


Tetsu – “I kept up with Joan!”

Joan’s helmet and blue poncho hunchbacked over her backpack (isn't she cute in that helmet?)

Ladders up and over the wall - fifteen gazillion of them

Windburn – fanning my face every evening in the pub - no, it wasn't hot flashes!

Black-faced sheep

Hisako humming and waving to the sheep and cows

Good food and yet my saddle bags are gone!

• Take two pairs of low-cut boots – both well broken in. No high tops unless you really need the support!
• Go at your own pace - even on a 15 mile day. Take a break every so often – not just at lunch. Sit down at a milecastle, rest, and feel the place.
• If your time is limited, don’t do the whole wall. Start at Cholerford and go to Bowness.
• Consider going west to east. The wind will be at your back. The hazard of this direction, however, is that Newcastle isn’t as beautiful an ending as Bowness is.
• Carry maps from the B&Bs’ websites that’ll help you locate your lodging at the end of a long day. It’s no fun getting lost trying to find your room when your dogs are already dead.

(To see Kathie's smugmug photos, click here. Joan's are here. Trust me, you don't want to see mine - they're mostly blurry shots of cow poop.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Lessons from the Wall

Somewhere years ago I got the idea that I'd like to walk across England. I'd look at maps of England and dream that the Peak District would be a great place to make the big hike. (You'd think the name "Peak District" would have been a big tip-off for me. Funny thing about maps though - by nature of their flatness, they just don't give you a good feel for the real thing. Unless you're talking about Charleston, of course...)

After our Russia trip last year (yes, I still haven't finished the stories on that trip yet), Kathie was trying to figure out what a good next trip might be. Truly, it's tough to beat Moscow, St. Petersburg, and a river cruise on the Volga, but I gamely suggested walking across England.

Kathie did some research. The distance across England at the level of the Peak District is roughly 200 miles; at the level of the Lake District, it's a bit less - more like 160. Since I could only take a couple of weeks off, neither of these routes would work. Being a history lover, Kathie thought the Hadrian's Wall Trail would be a good option, and the distance of 84 miles was doable. I thought sure, I could do that. We can do it in one week, Kathie said. 7 days. I must have been on acid when I agreed.

In July, Kathie, her friend Hisako and Hisako's husband Tetsu, Joan, and I did walk the trail. The entire length of it.

I learned a lot about myself on that trip. For one thing, I learned that I'm not a hiker. Sometimes I'm a walker. Often I'm an ambler. But on this particular trek, I was a stumbler. I stumbled on rocks, stumbled on uneven ground, and stumbled trying to avoid cow and sheep poop. I stumbled going uphill and then stumbled on the other side going down. I tripped over my own feet. Fortunately, I was usually the sweep - so usually no one saw me tripping and stumbling.

I also realized (yet again) that, when faced with adversity, I am able to do what I gotta do, even if it means stumbling twelve miles through hill and dale in soaking wet sneakers. (I kinda wish I'd had a chance to enjoy them - brand new $95 Mizunos - a bit before getting them caked a half inch thick in mud and manure, but what the heck? They're only shoes.)

I'm sure there were other lessons that I kept muttering to myself as I stumbled, trying to keep up with the group, but these are the two I remember. The rest are justifiably lost; what I'll always remember is the wonderfully chilly wind, the soft rain, the heavy gray clouds, the awe-inspiring vistas, the friendly people, the cozy bed and breakfasts, and the great pubs. Oh, and the flowers! Magnificent!

This is my absolute favorite photo of the whole trip. Joan took it in Stanley Plantation. The light was magical, the colors surreal, the textures delicately exquisite. If you look closely, you can see fairies and leprechauns peeking out from behind the trees and ferns.

Stay tuned for more from the trail.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Che is a She

It's official. He's a girl. The imp in the last blog went for surgery today and the mystery is solved.

Two kitties smuggled across the Mexican border at four weeks old to save them from being put to sleep came to the household in April. "A brother and a sister", the rescuer said. She thought maybe they were snowshoe siamese, but that's a mystery, too.

Appropriately for their Latin heritage, she was named Xochitl for the Aztec princess, and "he" was named Che after the Argentinean revolutionary who trained with Fidel in Mexico.

Looks like a revolutionary with that black mask, little black goatee, and piercing clear blue eyes. Well, maybe a Latin revolutionary would have brown eyes. In the movies he would have blue eyes.

"Hm-m-m. Not so fast", said the vet at the first well child visit. "No parts". Not good news if you're a boy. And the female parts were ambiguous. "Bring it back in 2 months".

Two months go by. "Hm-m-m", that noise doctors make when they're not sure or frankly don't know. Still no parts. No clear girl parts and definitely no boy parts. I'm thinking $500 CT scan to find out and the thought that here's a real cat scan didn't make the price tag any funnier. Worse, Che's been raised as a boy and has a boy name. Che has seemed a little "light in the loafers" but how can he/she do this to me?

Today, skipping the CT scan, was the day. Looks like we're going to be raising two girls. Love 'em both. Now, what to do about that name?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


We had excuses of being away walking England for a couple weeks and Patty's computer breakdown, but the rest of our hiatus is unforgivable. My blogging hero is our England co-walker, Joan, every day a blog and photo. Unbelievable discipline! Patty, here's a simple blog to get back into the swing.

Turned my back this evening and Che was on the table in a minute. Not a pang of guilt on that sweet face. Does the five second rule apply? Karma will bite -- she goes in for a spay tomorrow.