A New Season

I’ll admit that writing about the change of seasons from San Antonio in August just makes me miss the 40th parallel even harder but here we are – it’s 100 degrees outside and we’re already planning on driving to northern New Mexico this winter at least once for the fresh powdery substance (no, not cocaine). However, for as wonderful as it is to experience four beautifully distinct seasons each year, I’m not here to discuss every millennial’s favorite time of year (fall – squee!) and yammer on about campfires and chemically-flavored coffee creations.

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My children are getting older. Their faces are changing. Gone are the chubby baby thighs. I don’t really remember their newborn smell. Our eyes don’t lock during marathon nursing-sessions anymore. No more diapers. No more pacifiers. No crib. No highchairs. No video monitors.  They still need us, but they don’t need us as much. And I have never been happier.

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I’m not particularly a baby person. Of course my babies were amazing and the amount of love that poured from every ounce of my being into theirs continues to be unmeasurable. But when I look back at their babyhoods, I do so with fondness and not with longing to turn back time. Each year continues to get even better as they grow into their personalities and learn more about the world around them. And how lucky are we to be able to have front-row seats to their childhood?

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There is definitely a sense of freedom we feel now. Not that we ever let ourselves feel tied-down just because we had a baby but it is certainly easier to just pick and go with slightly older children. The fact that we’re able to have deep conversations about life (and farts) with these magical little creatures who look like us is mind-blowing and makes me unbelievably excited for the future of our family. We are in a new season of our lives – one that doesn’t involve babies. And I am okay with that.

O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair – Scotland, Part Two

Within the blindingly green and blue landscape the comprises Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is Ben Lomond, a 3,196 foot mountain on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. One of the most popular hikes in the Highlands, the main path for ascent is scattered with tourists, all eager to see the famed Highland views for themselves.

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We chose to hike Ben Lomond on the lone Saturday of our week-long vacation because the skies were blue and the temperature a perfect 70 degrees. We ate a traditional Scottish breakfast at the restaurant attached to our inn and made the 90 minute drive to Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. The trail entrance is near the Rowardennan Hotel on the shores of Loch Lomond and we were able to park our car in the car park for a minimal fee.

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My first time wearing shorts on our vacation.

Because it was a Saturday, the trail was busy but not overwhelmingly so. Our first hour was spent hiking through wooded areas and gradually making our way up the base of the mountain.

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Love this guy.

The trail became a bit more rigorous but totally manageable as we began the steep portion of the hike.

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Water breaks were the perfect excuse to just sit and soak in the view along the way.

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Seriously, the views were so stereotypical Scotland that we couldn’t stop exclaiming, “Wow!”

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Thank you self-timer. Not surprisingly, as we climbed the temperature dropped and the air became thick with fog.

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And midges attacked my legs and face.

Totally fail wearing shorts. Not only was it freezing at the summit, these little buggers hurt and left welts.

It was worth it, though.

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I know these pictures don’t do the view justice.

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So you’ll have to just experience it yourself someday.

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We’ve been together for almost 15 years now and have experienced a lot of wonderful places together. I love our everyday life and I love our adventures. Hiking Ben Lommond together and sitting side-by-side in silence at the top – gazing at the seemingly never-ending Highlands is definitely deserving of our highlight reel.

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We chose to go down the mountain on the much less-traveled back-end trail.

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It was difficult not to image ourselves as clansmen hiking this trail.

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Hiking in rocky terrain is my happy place.

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We treated ourselves to well-deserved pints and food at the beer garden located at the base of the trail. My face may have been covered in welts and my feet a bloody mess but I couldn’t have been happier. This hike was our favorite of the trip and I will recommend it to anyone traveling to Scotland until my dying day. It had all the elements for a perfect Clay & Karen Vacation Day – rigorous hiking, spectacular views, beer, and food. And what’s not to love about that?

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The following day we went into Edinburgh and spend the day eating and drinking our way around the medieval city in the drizzling rain. So it was pretty much a quintessential Scottish day.

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The Royal Mile was touristy and awesome all wrapped up in a tchotsky package.

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I wouldn’t have wanted to spend anymore time there than we did but it is worth a visit, if anything to go to one of the many kilt and tartan suppliers located along the famed mile. And since I am a McIntyre, I was sure to purchase my family’s tartan in a variety of mediums.

 

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My favorite photo I took in Edinburgh.

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It’s easy to see why it is a favorite European city of many.

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The architecture. Sigh.

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And bagpipes. Sigh.

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We had a blast wandering around the city and seeing where all the courts, tunnels, and walkways took us. My favorite experience of the day was attending an evening service at St. Giles Cathedral, which dates back to the 14th century. I grew up in the Episcopal Church and we’ve been attending Episcopal services for awhile now so being able to experience an Anglican service in Scotland was quite special.

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For our last full day in Scotland we did something a little different because we were absolutely worn-out from all our days of hiking (and drinking!) so we booked a last minute tour through the Highlands out of Glascow. We don’t consider ourselves tour-bus people and after experiencing our first one in Scotland, I doubt we will ever go on one again. But it was a welcome treat to just be able to sit and have someone else drive the mountain roads.

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There were a lot of stops along the way to Loch Ness.

I’m pretty sure every person who has taken a Highland tour has a picture of this guy.

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I didn’t accidentally eat reindeer in Scotland like I did during our Alaska vacation.

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The infamous Skyfall mountain. Sadly, no Daniel Craig.

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When planning this trip, we originally decided not to incorporate Loch Ness into our travel plans. But since it was part of the tour package we booked for the day, we didn’t really have a choice. Yes, it is very hokey. But the lake itself is quite spooky with deep and dark water – Loch Ness is the largest lake of the British Isles by volume.

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We took a cruise around Loch Ness, which included fantastic views of Urquhart Castle. We chose not to tour the castle and instead extended our time on the water.

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After a quick top in Pitlochry for ice cream we were on our way back to Glasgow.

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Our trip to Scotland was amazing and we can’t wait to go back with the kids someday.

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We flew out of Edinburgh, where I had the best breakfast of the trip. Yes, at the airport. So if you find yourself at the Edinburgh airport, get the Asparagus Benedict at Sir Walter Scott and a pint of Tennent’s Lager to either begin or end your trip to Scotland (or both!)…you won’t be disappointed.

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The east coast. Hi Massachusetts!

Flight delays at JFK ensured that we didn’t get back to Atlanta until well-after midnight but when our kids came running into our room at 6am, it didn’t matter that we had gotten only three hours of sleep. A wonderful trip ended with the best reunion possible – snuggles and giggles and all.

Scotland – Part One

O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair   Robert Burns

O were my love yon Lilac fair,
Wi’ purple blossoms to the Spring,
And I, a bird to shelter there,
When wearied on my little wing!
How I wad mourn when it was torn
By Autumn wild, and Winter rude!
But I wad sing on wanton wing,
When youthfu’ May its bloom renew’d.

O gin my love were yon red rose,
That grows upon the castle wa’;
And I myself a drap o’ dew,
Into her bonie breast to fa’!
O there, beyond expression blest,
I’d feast on beauty a’ the night;
Seal’d on her silk-saft faulds to rest,
Till fley’d awa by Phoebus’ light!

Scotland – Part One

IMG_3549Leaving Fort Leavenworth has the reputation of being a bit of a cluster due to the fact that every June 1000+ majors graduate and PCS at the same time. But Clay and I didn’t let that deter us from squeezing in a week-long trip to Scotland while my parents watched the kids. We knew that Clay’s schedule would be crazy once he signed into his new unit so it made sense to vacation en route to Texas. So we made the trek to Georgia after graduation, chilled for a couple of days, kissed and hugged the kids, profusely thanked my parents, and then found ourselves at Atlanta airport drinking beers and waiting for a flight to Edinburgh.

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An overnight flight ensured that we arrived in Scotland mid-morning with plenty of time to secure a rental car, drive to our hotel, and then explore before crashing due to lack of sleep. The first thing we noticed (aside from the gorgeous green countryside) was the cool air – the average temperature in June is in the low-sixties, which is one of the many reasons we chose to vacation in Scotland before moving to San Antonio (where it has been 100+ degrees for the past five days). Scotland is home to almost 5.3 million people. And as any guidebook is quick to point out, Scotland has more sheep than people.

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Because we’re cheap, we didn’t pay extra for me to be able to drive on the other side of the road. While we have driven rental cars on the other side of the road in the Virgin Islands, it was our first time driving on the other side of the car as well. By the end of the trip, we felt like pros but I’d be lying if I said we didn’t scrape against a hedge or two along back country roads. We were surprised to discover that Scotland uses miles as a unit of measurement – we assumed they would have used kilometers. We also paid extra for a car with GPS, which proved to be an incredibly smart investment. As Clay can attest, I am not the most reliable navigator stateside…in a foreign country? Forget it.

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Our hotel was in Eaglesham, a little village outside of Glascow. It had about 30 rooms and is a popular venue for weddings. In fact, we were the only Americans there for the duration of our stay – which we consider a plus! One of our favorite memories of our trip involves a trio of drunk Scotsman in kilts outside our window at 3am, continuing the festivities of the wedding they attended earlier that night.

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Our hotel had a nice restaurant attached to it, which was the perfect place to have our first meal in Scotland. Our late lunch consisted of pints of beer, tuna and red onion sandwiches, and carrot and curry soup. We then fell asleep for a couple of hours in order to combat the jet-lag that had began to set in.

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When we woke up, we decided to ignore our foggy heads as best we could and drive down to Ayr t0 check out the water. We walked all along the coastal community (felt reminiscent of a little seaside Massachusetts or Maine town) and ended up eating dinner at Treehouse. Clay had braised beef steak and I had three-cheese macaroni. And yes, my macaroni and cheese was as good as it looks.
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The next morning, we drove up to the Glengoyne Distillery in Dumgoyne. Founded in 1833, Glengoyne is a single-malt whisky distillery located on the highland line (the area between the lowlands and highlands of Scotland). The distillery’s water supply is Glengoyne Burn and they’re only one of two distilleries (the other being Macallan) that use Golden Promise barley.

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This guy was in his element.

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I am not a huge whisky/whiskey fan so I was surprised to discover that I really enjoyed the 18-year variety. Sorry babe – we now know that I have expensive taste when it comes to whisky!

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We ate lunch at a nearby restaurant popular with hikers and then set out to hike Dumgoyne, the picturesque hill located behind the distillery.

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While only 1100 feet high, the climb to the top was steep and included a couple of false summits. We were the only ones on the trail that day, which was amazing. And the views were magnificent – we couldn’t have asked for a more quintessential day in Scotland – a whisky distillery and a hike in the countryside.

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The following day, we drove down to Ayrshire Coast to Culzean Castle (pronounced Kuh-lean), an 18th-century mansion constructed by the order of the 10th Earl of Cassilis.

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We paid to tour the castle and then spent our time walking the expansive grounds.

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Our favorite part of the castle was the walkway between the castle itself and the carriage house. If we ever find ourselves in a position to build a castle (a likely possibility with service member pay…), it will be along a rocky coast somewhere. #lifegoals #draftyFTW

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We had Americanos and biscuits over looking the cold waters of the Fifth of Clyde – one of my favorite memories of the trip.

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And then climbed over some rocks to leave the grounds and found ourselves hiking along the shore. Afterwards, we decided that since we spent the morning looking at Isle of Arran, we should go there. So we found a ferry schedule and booked it up to Ardrossan (about an hour away from Culzean Castle) to catch the CalMac ferry over to Brodick on the Isle of Arran.

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Leaving Ardrossan – cloudy and dreary.

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Arriving at Isle of Arran – bright and sunny.

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Isle of Arran is the seventh largest Scottish island and is home to hills known as the Sleeping Warrior due to their resemblance to a resting human figure.

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We walked around Brodick and stopped in a bar for a couple of pints before making our way down to Brodick Castle to hike Goat Fell, the highest point on Isle of Arran.

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Sadly, we ran out of time before reaching the summit (we needed to catch the last ferry off the island) but still managed to get a really nice and long hike in the books.

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And thus concludes the first part of our trip to Scotland. Stay tuned for Loch Lomond, Edinburgh, the Highlands, Loch Ness, and more. As I look at our outside thermometer reading 102 degrees here in San Antonio, I long for the cool and misty mornings we experienced in Scotland last month. But I find comfort in the fact that we will find ourselves back in the UK again because we left part of our hearts somewhere in the Highlands, along with many other travelers to Scotland.