Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Fair Zombie

I just bought this jacket for $12 on Ebay to use as part of the My Fair Zombie costume that I'm putting together for Dragon*con:


I've also put a bid on a pair of cheap long white vintage wedding gloves, since the sleeves on the jacket are so short. The black grand exit skirt that I'm wearing has a lace train in the back, so I may add a black lace ruffle to the sleeves to give them a little more length, so that I don't have any arm showing when I'm wearing the gloves. That way, I only have to put zombie make-up my face.

Scotland, Part 3

We finally arrived on Iona, after a harrowing trip down a one-lane road out in the middle of nowhere. We stayed at the St. Columba Hotel, which was a very small hotel on an island devoted to the religious retreat, so it had tiny little rooms. OTOH, there was lots of hot water and interesting soaps, the food was amazingly good (many of the vegetables came from the hotel's organic garden), and the views from the hotel common room were just outstanding.

And I had my own room. wOOt! No more motorboat full of bears. :-D

The only downside to being in Scotland was that it was cold as kraut. If it was this cold and rainy in the height of summer, I have to wonder what winter is like. It's no wonder the Scots were so cranky and contentious. They were cold and wet, all the dang time. ;-)

Our first full day on Iona, we took a walk to the abbey in the morning, then had prayers with the community. After that, we did more walking around the island, more prayers, then tea with at Bishop's House that night.

The daytrippers were much in evidence on the island. In fact, Iona wais so crowded with tourists during the day that it was hard for me to find a place to just sit and be quiet and listen for the voice of God. I could have struck off for the hills, but I didn't have a map or any idea of where I was going, so I was hesitant to wander off, even though it is a very small island.

Several of us took a nice boat trip one morning, while the rest of the group hiked to Columba's Bay. The water in the Iona Sound and surrounding ocean was the most beautiful color of blue (on the rare occasions when the sun shone), and we saw harbor seals, all manner of birds, Columba's Bay (we sailed around the island just in time to see our group come hiking over the hill), and Balfour Bay, which was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's book, "Kidnapped". And no wonder. It was absolutely stunning, with white sandy beaches, blue/green water, and steep stone cliffs. Our captain, Mark, anchored in the bay and made us cups of hot tea, while we talked nature and U.S. politics.

And just to show that pride goeth before a fall, I was so proud of myself for packing light and for bringing old things that I could throw away as I wore them to make room for my souvenirs. Alas, it turns out that Scotland was so wet and cold that I steadily bought clothes the whole time I was here. I purchased a boiled wool hat at Argyll Castle, two pairs of socks in Inverary, and a wool hat, wool gloves, a fleece jacket, and a wool sweater in Iona. And I wore every bit of it.

The next day, we spent time on both Iona and Mull. It warmed up a bit, and the sun was out almost all day, which turned the water around the island all kinds of beautiful, jewel-like colors. We visited Torosay Castle, where a charming older woman by the name of Jaquetta Digby James, wife of a British war hero and sister to the former U.S. Ambassador to France, gave us a private tour of the house and gardens, and Duarte Castle, where Lachlan MacLean, 28th Chief of the Clan MacLean, gave us a personal tour of the keep.

It had been a wonderful trip, up to this point, but I was still looking for the thin places that Iona is famous for. I expected Iona to be the spiritual highlight of the trip, and it hadn't been. Cumbrae, the Cathedral of the Isles, and the modified monastic rhythm that we experienced there were much more spiritually satisfying. Iona seemed just so, well, touristy. People come to Iona to say they've been there and nothing more. Plus, we weren't really part of the community. We were merely curious outsiders, looking in. It didn't help that we seemed to be going ninety miles a minute to be tourists ourselves, and I felt like I was losing what we had on Cumbrae as a community of Christ. No one else seemed to be as bothered by it as I was, so I decided that I would strike off on my own again after we got back from Staffa the next to see if I could find what I was missing on this leg of the journey.

The next day, we took a boat to Staffa (inspiration for Mendohlson's Symphony for the Western Hebrides), and it was an unmitigated disaster. Well, maybe not unmitigated, but I made a big baby of myself. I didn't realize that you had to climb to the top of the island on an aluminum staircase bolted onto the side of a cliff to get up to where the puffins are. As you may or may not know, I'm terrified of high, open places, and I have terrible vertigo. But I was determined to get to the top, because we were going to have a reconfirmation of our baptismal vows up there and then see the puffins. Unfortunately, the climb was so terrifying that, by the time I got to the top of the stairs, I was sobbing like a small child, and I continued to cry quietly through the whole reconfirmation liturgy. I tried to stop, but I just couldn't. The thought that I would have to go back down those same stairs facing out over the drop to the ocean wasn't helping me to gain my equilibrium. I did manage to calm down before starting off to the other end of the island to see the puffins, but I had to detour from some places on the path, because they passed too closely to the edge of the cliffs.

Surprisingly, the trip back down the stairs wasn't as terrifying as the trip up. I crouched low, gripped the rails, and kept my eyes focused on the rock face, and I managed to make it down without a resurgence of tears. Several people offered to help me down, but that would have just made it worse. I tend to panic a little, when someone touches me while I'm on a high place, because I'm so afraid of falling.

Anyway, the puffins were adorable, the island was beautiful, and we saw some huge dolphins on the way. It started to rain on the way back from Staffa, so I was pleased that I had my poisonous yellow rain poncho with me. Others were not so lucky.

Next Up: More Iona, and God finally says 'hey'.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Fair Zombie

I don't think I've mentioned that I'm going to Dragon*con over Labor Day weekend, and my group of women friends has decided to go in costume as a Zombie version of the Ascot Opening Day Scene from "My Fair Lady". I, of course, am providing the hats. These are the ones I've selected from my collection to use:

This is the one I'll be wearing.





We may embellish them a bit more.

I'm going to try to modify this outfit to go with my hat.

I already have a long black skirt and white gloves. I just need to find or make a black/white jacket to go with them.

Scotland, Part 2

After church services on Cumbrae, we loaded up the bus and headed for Inverary. Now, I should offer a disclaimer at this point. My mother was a McDonald. Inverary is Campbell territory. If you don't understand why that's an issue, Google the Massacre at Glencoe. ;-)

I should also note that, by this point in the trip, I've eaten my weight in haddock. But that's okay. It's good for me, and, after all, I never get haddock at home.

The first morning in Inverary, I led morning prayers, complete with a brief, made-up-on-the-spot homily on justice, after which we had a group tour of Inverary Castle, ancestral home of the Dukes of Argyll, who are those dastardly Campbells I mentioned before. Interesting note about Inverary. The town originally sat on the hill occupied by the castle, but one of the Dukes of Argyll decided it was a better spot for a ducal residence, so he rebuilt the town on the shores of Loch Fyne and burnt the old town to the ground.

BTW I bought a cute hat at the castle...blue boiled wool with crewelled flowers on the crown. :-) I love my hats.

After the tour, the group members went their separate ways for the afternoon. I toured Inverary Jail, where I learned all about appalling prison conditions, and I bought some souvenirs--a Harris tweed cap for my father and some whiskey and heather scented soaps for my women friends. Later, we had evening prayers at All Saints,
the only Anglican church in Inverary.

That night, we went to a local oyster bar for dinner, because Loch Fyne, which is a tidal loch, is famous for its oysters. You could see the oyster and mussel farms located at various places throughout the loch.

The next day, we loaded up the bus and headed for Oban. On the way, we saw red deer stags in a field (I was thrilled) and all manner of Highland cows. Or, as the Scots say it, Highland coo.

Next Up: Oban, Iona, and the biggest still I have ever seen.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Scotland, Part 1

I went to Scotland on pilgrimage with my church, so understand that we're Episcopalians in a Presbyterian land. ;-)

We flew into Glasgow and spent some time at Paisley Abbey and the Kelvington Museum, trying to stave off jet lag. The Kelvington is enormous and is home to Dali's Christ of St. John of the Cross, which is a gorgeous piece of religious art and Matthew's favorite. Matthew is one of our canons and lead the pilgrimage.

After Glasgow, Ken, our bus driver, drove our little bus to Largs, site of the decisive sea battle between the Norse and the Scots in 1263 (and source of the story that explains why the thistle is the national symbol of Scotland), where we took the ferry (Caledonian MacBrayne) to Cumbrae. Cumbrae is a small island with a tiny little fishing town, Millport, and not much else, except the College of the Holy Spirit and the Cathedral of the Isles, the smallest cathedral in Scotland. We stayed in the seminarian's dormitory at the College and followed a modified monastic schedule with morning and evening prayers and occasionally compline in the Cathedral. During the day, we went on various pilgrimage excursions.

One day, we took the ferry to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute and went to visit St. Blane's, a ruin of a monastery on a hill way out in the countryside with a spectacular view of the Firth of Clyde. I cannot possibly tell you how lovely it was. The dark pink foxgloves were growing everywhere, and it was one of the few sunny days we had in Scotland. We celebrated the Eucharist in the midst of the ruin (with Victorian silver, I might add). And while we were doing so, the workmen who had been chiseling out the mortar as part of maintaining the ruin stopped working and sat quietly, until we finished.

Then, Helen, who is warden of the Cathedral of the Isles and was our worship leader on Cumbrae, arranged for us to go a little dock on the other side of Bute, where we all had a ride in vintage wooden launches, kind of like the ones in the old Bond films. I chose the fastest one, and boy, was it fast. We went racing across the Firth like megalomaniacal villains were in hot pursuit. :-)

The next day, we took a walk on the Cumbrae beach with Helen, and she talked about the Celtic concept of God being manifest in the sound and smells and textures of the island. We collected stones, built a cairn on the beach, and had prayers over the cairn.

The day after that, some of us took the ferry back to Largs and visited Skelmolie Aisle, which is all that's left of the Largs kirk, while the boys, Jack, 9, and Owen, 11, and their dad went fishing with Ken. The Aisle was the Montgomery family chapel and is decorated in an elaborate Renaissance style. And then we had ice cream. :-)

The last day we were on Cumbrae was Sunday, and we helped Helen with the service. Helen taught us this absolutely wonderful Peruvian Gloria to sing during the service. She did the actual preaching in the service, but some of my group, including me, made up the choir, Pete swung the censor, Kate carried a 14th century cross in the procession, and Matthew, our canon, celebrated the Eucharist. It was a most appropriate way to end our time on the island.

Cumbrae was a wonderful, spiritual place, and I was very sorry to leave it.

Next Up: Inverary, and those dastardly Campbells!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Here are my five strongest impressions of Scotland.

1. It's cold, and it's wet. To misquote Mark Twain, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in the Inner Hebrides."

2. The only way to avoid stepping in sheep poop is to stay on the bus.

3. There is no Mexican food in Scotland. I don't know why this surprises me so, but it does.

4. The Glaswegian accent is charmingly unintelligible, until you're trying to figure out what the gate agent is saying at the airport.

5. Caledonia MacBrayne would be a great pen name for a writer of historial romances.

There will be stories of my Scottish adventure coming soon.

What Min Is Reading on a Rainy Day

  • Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, Alan Bradley
  • A Fatal Grace, Louise Penny

Min's Current Conditions

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Nashville, TN, United States
If it was a perfect world, I'd be out of a job.