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Submission Block

When doing a Google search on "What is a writer" I came across a very interesting article about writers, what we perceive as a writer, and the fact that writers often have something called submission block rather than writers block. While reading the article, I couldn't help but identify myself with the article.

What is a writer?

Is a writer someone learned and wise, lots of education under their belts? Is a writer organized and neat, knowing exactly where the stories they write are going to take them and have each project tucked neatly into its own folder, awaiting completion? Does a writer write every day? Have writers lived through war and famine, horror and turbulence? Are real writers confident and driven? None of those seem to apply to me, so how could I be a real writer? But my doubts ran deeper than that. My doubts were not only in my lack of the typical "writer" traits as I saw them, but in my actual writing itself.

Writing has always been easy for me, but that doesn't mean it's good. When something is simple and easy, it's often too good to be true. If it's that easy for me to do, then it couldn't be that special or good. It couldn't be unique if it flows from my fingers like water. Do I even have my own particular writing style? It seems that people enjoy reading my blog according to the comments I get from people I know and by the number of readers I find on the status counter every day, but yet only people I know leave comments on the blogs or stories, so maybe others aren't enjoying them as much as I would hope.

I've wanted to be a writer as long as I could remember. I used to write stories in class and then read them to friends out on the playground. I would be one of the first to raise my hand when it came to reading an essay or short story assignment to the class. Friends always loved it, acquaintances would smile, and lesser contacts would jeer and poke fun at my writing - but my friends always liked it. Or did they? Did my friends back then tell me white lies just to make me happy and to not hurt my feelings? I may never know the answer to that question.

I had a hand-written book that I worked on for almost 2 years before it was finished. While it was stolen from me (along with everything else) in the summer of 2009, I remember sitting down to write in it one day at work. A young 15 year old girl I had befriended sat and asked what I was writing. She asked if she could read some of it, and within the next couple of days, a half hour at a time, she read everything I had written to that point in time. Afterward, she confessed that she hated reading but couldn't seem to put my book down. She said it was like reading a diary - she knew details about me that nobody else knew when she was done reading it. She had been a troubled teen, constantly fighting with her parents, into drugs and alcohol... and she decided to change her ways because of what she read, so she claimed. Not long after that I left the job and I never saw her again, but I dearly hope that she did as she said she would.

But while my stories are given praise here and there, my writing style complimented on occasion by people I know, is it unique enough, special enough, exciting enough to ever be published?

You never know unless you try, right?

Probably my biggest encouragement has come from my NEW family, the people I've learned to depend on and trust and love in this far away place. It's not for ME that I made a huge step forward yesterday, but for them... for the praise and encouragement they have shown me. Yesterday, by 3 O'clock in the afternoon, I had submitted stories to two different writing competitions.

While Submission Block is a real thing, it's something I didn't realize I possibly faced until I found that random article on a Google search yesterday. It's just one more fear I need to conquer. The best part is, I didn't know I had it until it was time to get over it. I've already made the first steps, with MANY more to come.

For a year now my writing has focused on the 365 project any time I thought about my writing. Well, the project is done and it's time to focus myself on my writing in a different way. I WILL be a published author in some form within a year.

Wish me luck... I may need a lot of it!

Submission #1 - The Shack in the Woods
Submission #2 - Haunting Blue Eyes

Sounds and Silence

With as many years as I spent in Los Angeles, one would think I would be used to various sounds; the cars passing in the streets, the gulls crying overhead, the noise of neighbors moving about. I lived alone long enough to learn that the television was a companion of sorts. I would turn it on and not even bother to look at it - I would have it on for the noise, for the company. It would block out the cars and gulls and neighbors - but what would block out the noise of the television?

Silence wasn't readily available anywhere I looked, unless I went to the back of the garden out on the mountainside by the Getty Museum, and I wasn't willing to pay the museum admission prices just for a moment of silence. Instead I would take some melatonin, pop in my ear plugs and go to sleep. Even then my dreams were disturbed and my ears would ring deafeningly until I was lost in those disturbed dreams.

When I lay in silence, trying to fall asleep, my ears still ring so loudly that I can barely concentrate on anything else - except the pain in a smashed finger or the pound-pounding of my brain within my skull. Often when I get to the point of feeling so overwhelmed by noises, I try to stay up late at night reading in silence, so that I might sleep later during the noise of the day. With the words flashing before my eyes, there seems to be some sort of a distraction - I can't hear the ringing in my ears unless I listen for it. The pounding in my brain seems to lessen a bit.

I've mentioned the pounding of my head twice now - but it can't really be called a headache. It's more of an awareness of all things around me and feeling overwhelmed by the world in that very moment. It's an odd sort of feeling, where the only thing I crave is a hand to hold and a quiet room away from everything else.

It all seems to start gradually. I start to mute the commercials on television first. The times and moments that noise seems to bother me begin to get somewhat unpredictable. Sometimes in the middle of a show I'm watching alone and seem to be completely interested in will suddenly get shut off. I not only loose interest, but the noise starts to bother me. I might turn on some classical music to drown out the noise of the world around me and then become frustrated at hearing the music. I might begin to sleep more, or take more showers during the day to let the water drown the noise around me.

It usually doesn't last long, and there seem to be so few things that help with the pressure building up behind my eyes.

It's not the company of people that I eventually find disturbing, but the ambient noise of everything around me. It's the impersonal cars on the close by roads. It's the mindless birds crying out incessantly. It's the neighbors lack of consideration for others. It's the television constantly blaring, never ceasing, growing louder in the commercials. It's the lack of personal contact, of pleasant conversations, because of everything else arising as a constant distraction. Ambient noise is my worst enemy on days like that.

So, my friends, be patient with me.  


Dear Readers, Friends, Family and 82 Foreign Nations around the world,

Sometimes life can throw a few curve balls our way. Today, in fact, the internet was down when I was gearing up to write this particular blog; today of all days.

Tomorrow will be exactly a year to the day when I first started my blog project. That makes this day 365 when all the math is done. It's been an interesting journey to say the least. This past year has seen me through both some of the worst and best moments of my life. It's been a journey of discovering not only how my own family would react to the truth being told for all to see, but also in learning so much about the person I am and who I've become because of the crazy adventures I've lived through. I've explored several corners of the world and I'm always looking for the next adventure. Though the stories are far from over, I have reached my goal I set out to achieve. As of the moment when I post this for all to read, I will have a total of 365 entries on the web within 365 days from the first entry.

The 365 project hasn't been an easy one. I've had my share of challenges and struggles, but somehow I've pulled through to the end with stories enough left over to keep me going another year! There were several times I nearly gave up on the project, thinking there was no way I would ever be able to finish it. Half way through this project I was faced with challenges worse than any I thought I would be able to face on my own and yet I pulled through. I had plenty of encouragement from friends and loved ones along the way. Without them, I doubt this project would have survived. There were two distinct times when the blog project itself was the only thing I had to look forward to. There were times when I felt as though I didn't' have a friend in the world, and the blog was my way of reaching out to the world with open arms, asking complete strangers to love me. I was a desperate, lonely girl with little to no direction some days. Other days the blog didn't seem to matter - I had more important things to worry about. There were times when I would rather talk to a friend or go Line Dancing with employees rather than write. There were times when I felt so overwhelmingly loved that writing took a back seat to all else. Then there were the days in between, when the only thing more important than telling a story was stopping for a bite to eat when my stomach growled so loudly I couldn't hear myself think. Somehow through it all I pushed on and finally reached closer to my goal.

The farthest behind I ever got was more than 65 days behind. I did the math and discovered the massive number I needed to make up for in less than two months time one day just out of curiosity. I knew that if I didn't write at least 4 stories a day I'd never catch up to my goal. I haven't written stories on the weekends in so long now, and seeing that massive number surprisingly didn't' change things. I still didn't write on the weekend, but would put pressure on myself during the week days to write more than my goal. If I missed a day or two because of being ill, I would begin to loose my hope once more. A massive kidney infection coupled with tonsillitis a couple of weeks ago made the project seem further away than ever. Yet, once I started feeling a bit better, I attacked it all over again. I kept up with it through a car wreck, the announcement of skin cancer, a death in the family, the discovery of another and many, many other challenges. Even telling the stories themselves became challenges.

Some stories make me laugh when I write them while others can bring me to tears, but isn't that what its all about? These are the stories so powerful they will be with me forever. I've heard people laughing out loud as they read about the pranks my brother and I used to pull on one another as children. I've heard people gasp with horror at the kidnapping I survived. I've watched as other stories have made people both smile and cry at the same time. But no matter the emotions I've watched or heard someone go through just from reading my simple stories, I've felt those same emotions by ten-fold as I've written each story. I've remembered what an earthquake felt like. I remembered having my heart broken, and I remembered the guilt of breaking someone else's heart. I've remembered old friends and the warmth they made me feel from the depths of my soul. While talking to someone has always been a way for most people to vent frustrations and solve their own emotional crisis, I've found that writing has not only cleansed my system of the stories I've finished, but often I'm finally ready to let go of the horrible or emotionally damaging events of my past. As good as my memory often is, some things never seem to leave my memory no matter how hard try - until I write them out. It seems that when I'm able to share the story with the world, I'm finally ready to let go of it. So in a sense, if I want to forget something, I have to share it in what I hope is an unforgettable way.

I've tried to be a good person, but I've learned through my own writing and adventures that I haven't always been. I've been short tempered and irrational. I've been lonely and desperate. I've been guilty and innocent. I've been happy, but not very often in my younger years. I've larded that I have tried very hard to remain positive at all times when the rest of my immediate family seemed very negative about almost everything. I've been a rebel and I've been a follower. I've been childlike and innocent while at the same time being overly adult and fully guilty of crimes I care not to confess to. I've been easy going and I've been a stick in the mud. I've been a walking contradiction in terms. I've been extremely emotional and emotionally devoid. Still, above everything else, these stories, these contradictions, have formed me into the person I am today. But who is that? That's just one unique person… unexpected and surprising, childlike and fearless, afraid and timid. I'm still a walking contradiction, but after so many long, difficult years, my dreams are finally coming true. I finally feel loved. It wasn't the blog that brought the gift of love to me, but one remarkable man who loves me no matter what I've done, or what I haven't done, and has been kind enough to share his wonderful, loving family with me.

The 365 project may be finished, but my stories are far from over. Thankfully I am ready to let go of the distant past and focus more on the recent days. Life has changed very much over the past few months and I can only see things getting progressively better from here on out. I still want to share my writing for those who have become accustomed to reading it and enjoy it for what it is. I want to write daily again, but if that isn't possible then writing once in a while would be better than nothing. There are so many stories left to share. There's so much more to say and do. This time, I can go at m own pace.

With all things in life there is a delicate balance. Above all else, I've learned far more about that in the past year. While my job should never be my life, my writing should never take over other aspects of my life. I've learned that I need to be open and honest with the people I love, rather than leaving it for them to read about my frustrations with them in a blog or Facebook post. While keeping a clean house is important for many reasons, keeping a clean conscience is more so. While pets are important to us, personal relationships always take a priority. And when all else fails - always follow my heart. It's taken me on the greatest adventure of my life, and finally I've achieved my happy ending - the stuff fairytales are made of.

It may have taken me 365 days to learn all of this, while other lessons come in a single day or one clear moment of thought, but the mind and heart work in mysterious ways. Listen and you will hear the answers. They come from within. Love conquers the darkness, happiness comes to those who are patient and kind, sickness will give way to health, and the opposite of a lemon is actually an orange.

As of this very moment in time, my blog has 10,049 readers from around the world. I never imagined that many people would be interested in reading what I have to say. So, thank you all. I owe you a debt of gratitude.

It's not the end of my writing, but this does mark the end of the 365 project.
Happy Adventures, Everyone. Thanks for reading.

Lady Blackwood

Museum Dreaming Part 2

We left the Egyptian section of the Kelvingrove Museum and began to wander through other areas showing the rich history of the Scottish Nation and its people. Most of the exhibits were quite educational, but occasionally we would come across something rather humorous or cute. The stuffed animals, both extinct and common, were gathered together in the center of the museum in astonishing numbers.

When I stopped to take the photo of the Elephant, Robert seemed surprised. It seemed such a simple thing. But a massive Asian elephant in the middle of the room seemed to be worthy of telling a story I thought to myself. The plaque next to the huge beast told a story of how this particular elephant was part of a circus. In the year 1909 it had attacked its owner and killed him, so the elephant was humanely put down and the body donated to the museum. There he's stood ever since.

Not far from the elephant stood one of the most famous horses that ever lived in Scotland. He was a Clydesdale, and we discovered later on thanks to the help of Google, the Clydesdale breed was actually first discovered in Clydesdale, Scotland. Robert had said as much right off the bat, but not completely convinced of it, he did the research for me to discover the origins of the breed.

This particular horse was quite special though. This was the most expensive horse in Scotland's history. Due to a dispute between two people claiming to own the same horse by the name of Baron of Buchlyvie, he was put up for auction to settle the dispute. The high bidder paid what would be equivalent to £365,000 by today's standards. That's roughly $587,798.54 in dollars. That was one expensive horse!!

While the paintings in the Kelvingrove numbered in the thousands, there were a few that resonated within me. One of the most famous paintings of Mary Queen of Scots was actually never signed. Nobody knows who painted the masterpiece and it's likely the world will never know. Another was the most famous painting of Robert Burns, the man who wrote so many of the Scottish poetry known world wide - including the song American's hear every New Year, Auld Lang Syne.

The painting to the left is actually the earliest known paining of a man in Highland Dress. The kilt is something people generally associate with Scotland, but how many American's know what else accompanied the kilt and why? The long socks were to protect the mens legs from the thistle that grew wild in the countryside. It's a fairly impressive painting and dress style, and worth clicking on to see the full size image.

Probably the most impressive (if not gruesome) item I saw in the museum that day was the cast that was made of King Robert the Bruce's skull. While first all I noticed was the lack of teeth in the front, I started to realize other small details about this man's life that made him stand out among all others. He was a true warrior king in every sense of the word. The plaque next to the skull told even more of a story.

"The battle scarred skull of Robert the Bruce, one of scotland's greatest heroes, was dicovered in the 19th century. It has several deep sword cuts, one cutting deep into his left brow. Loaned by the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow."
Apparently Robert the Bruce wasn't killed by the massive cut into the brow bone over his left eye. I somehow find that to be rather typical of the Scottish people - they aren't afraid to stand up in the face of adversity, give it their all, and keep going when any other human on the face of the earth would fall and admit defeat. It spoke deeply to me of the character belonging to the man I had loved for nearly 7 years. He came from such a proud, strong and noble people, willing to keep fighting when the battle is nearly lost.

I still had much to learn, but I was ready to learn something about the people as they were today, not as they were hundreds or thousands of years ago. I was about to get that chance while on an overnight road trip with Robert, his sister and her husband up into the countryside, to the banks of Loch Lomond.


Museum Dreaming

My head still buzzing with the hours spent at the Wallace Monument the day before, Robert whisked me off to the Kelvingrove Art Museum to help fill my apetite for knowledge and history. Once more I found myself in awe of the architecture I was suddenly surrounded by. The stunning red building that housed the priceless works of art was made of the same stone as the Bothwell Castle we visited on my first morning in Scotland. The building was huge, and try as I might, I couldn't capture the entire body of the structure without crossing the street, climbing a telephone pole and hanging out from a tree limb.

As soon as we walked inside, my first thought wasn't for the priceless art I could smell and taste in the air, but to look up. The building itself was a miraculous work of art, aparently built the wrong way around. The front was meant to be in the back, and the back was meant to be in the front - or something along those lines. Surprised at that particular story, I wanted to see every side and every angle of the structure... AFTER I got to see what was on the inside.

The first room we wandered into completely blew me away. There before me were Egyptian artifacts from the days of the Pharaohs. I remember when I got back to the States people were asking about why Scotland would have Egyptian artifacts in a museum. I remember quite proudly and defensively answering them with my own question - why would there be Greek artifacts in a museum found in America? A museum is a museum. There were plenty of Scotish artifacts in the museum as well, but the first ones I saw just happened to be Egyptian.

The photo to the left is of an Egyptian Goddess. The story that the Egyptians told in hieroglyphics was that she had tried to kill all of the people of Egypt with her breath of fire one year about 2,000 years ago. Scientists have since discovered that the year in question had been one of the hottest years in the nations history.

This and several other ancient pieces of Egyptian history were displayed in the open - no glass, no barriers. Anyone could walk up and touch any of the items. No alarms would go off. No parents would shout at the kids not to touch. No museum guards would throw someone out for it. Stunned, I asked Robert.

"Can I," I paused a moment, still in disbelief as I watched him reach a hand out and run his fingers over the body of a sarcophagus, "can I touch it?"

"Yeah," he said, confused. "Why wouldn't you? It's there, isn't it?" I can only imagine how strange my question would sound to someone who wasn't used to the way American's put a museum together - much like a mother's china cabinet: Look but don't touch. Gingerly I reached a finger out and felt the cold, smooth surface of the lion goddess' eye lid. I ran my finger down the length of her nose, marveling at the texture of the stone - it was as smooth as glass! It was more than two thousand years old, and I was touching it with my bare hands.

My gaze next fell upon the sarcophagus I watched Robert touch. Slowly, afraid of disturbing anything, I made my way over with my mouth hanging open. Again, this priceless relic was out in the open, available for anyone to touch and feel, to trace the ancient carvings on its surface. The mummy had long since been removed, but the stone would have been far too heavy for anyone to lift by hand in the museum anyway.

I stood for a long time and traced the edges of the intricate carvings with the tips of my fingers on my right hand. I traced every detail across the chest and even got down on my knees to look closer at the sides of the sarcophagus. It was so intricately designed that I suddenly felt like a complete failure as an artist. Nothing I would ever create could compare to something so precious.

Egyptian Gods were carved on the surface, showing the path into the afterlife. The Egyptian god Thoth, who had the head of an ibis (a type of bird) was one of the more prominent symbols on the sarcophagus. Thoth was the god of Wisdom and of the Moon. I don't pretend to be an expert on Egyptian history, mythology or hieroglyphics so I wouldn't even begin to guess at the significance of that particular character on the sarcophagus, but the fact that it was there, under my fingertips, will remain in my memory all the days of my life.

The Egyptian room of the museum wasn't huge, so it didn't take long to see everything in the room and move on - and next was the opportunity to learn more about Scotland and the way the people fought and died so many years before. With William Wallace fresh in my mind, I was more than ready to learn everything I could about the proud nation and it's amazing people.


Haggis, Neeps and Tatties = Stuff of Dreams

The Wallace Monument was the thing of discussion for a while once Robert and I walked away from the incredible building. On our way back to the car and down the mountain, we stopped just long enough for me to take a couple photos. As I poised to take one of a bee on a thistle, Robert playfully put the end of his shoe against my vulnerable and exposed bottom and pushed. I tumbled forward into the bush and the bee flew off, slightly disgruntled. Robert had no idea I was allergic to and terrified of bees.

We giggled like little kids at our foolishness before both agreeing that we were so hungry that we desperately needed to get going before we got ill from the hunger pains. The only question was where would we go for food? We were all the way out in Stirling, so it wasn't as though we could just go by the house and grab a quick bite. If we were that hungry, we would have to find somewhere local... somewhere with local food.

Starving hungry and not entirely sure where to go, we found a little restaurant and stumbled into it, starving. Robert pointed out an English flag someone had attached to the antenna of their car and said how foolish an idea that was before we went in to the restaurant. Having just come from the Wallace Monument, dedicated to a man who fought his whole life against the English, I understood that more than ever. We chucked and headed toward the smell of food.

Irn Bru, pronounced "Iron Brew" turned out to be Scotland's 'other' national drink. It's non-alcoholic and has a unique flavor unlike anything I'd ever had before. It's a soda, just like Coke or Pepsi, but it comes out of the can in a neon orange color. As much as I like to describe things, I couldn't do justice to the beverage. I wouldn't know where to begin describing the flavor. It's fabulous - and for anyone in the Los Angeles area, it's almost at your finger tips. It can be found for sale on board the Queen Mary in Long Beach in the Scottish gift shop. When I got back from Scotland I wanted some Irn Bru so badly that I sought it out and purchased two bottles when I really couldn't afford it. If you end up with some - be sure to have it well chilled first. It's best when cold.

We ordered our food and talked for a while about what we had experienced over the past three days. We had seen and done things we would likely never tell another living soul about and we had seen and done things we wanted to share with the whole world. I wasn't the only one with a spinning head. Absent-mindedly I began fidgeting with the sugar packets in a bowl before me. There were several different colored packets in the bowl and after a minute I started to notice the names on them.

"What's brown sauce," I asked.

"You're kidding me on," he answered.

"No, why? What is it? Is it something gross?"

"You don't know what brown sauce is?!"

Suddenly I felt as though I had two heads. I shook my head no and watched as he broke open the corner of the packet, grabbed my hand, squeezed some onto my finger tip and told me to taste it. I lifted my finger to my mouth and tasted...

It was like vinegar and salt mixed with a mild barbecue sauce to me. The look of complete puzzlement on his face was enough to leave me laughing for several long minutes until the waitress came over to check on us. She had a spirited personality with lots of personality and pzazz - and I wanted to tell Robert that without using so many words. Suddenly we got into a discussion that would turn both of our faces red. There are several words that don't mean the same thing in Scotland as they do in the States. Apparently, I found out just this morning, the same goes for hand signals.

The word I used for the waitress was fairly common and complimentary in America, but quite gross and vulgar in Scotland. There's another word I used that afternoon that is a polite alternate to using the word 'butt' in the United States that is quite possibly one of the most vulgar words a person can use in the United Kingdom. Before that day, I honestly didn't know that. My face turned as red as my hair and I wanted to slide under the table. Luckily we were having a late lunch or an early dinner, so the place was pretty empty. Robert's face grew more red than mine as his eyes teared up in hysterical embarrassment at having to tell me what it meant.

By the time the Haggis came out to the table, we were both laughing so hard we could barely breath. The poor waitress had no idea what was going on and finally just walked away in her confusion. The food was steaming hot and we couldn't dive right in to eating it, so we concentrated on holding in our laughter first.

"Looks awful, huh? I don't think anyone can make Haggis look appetizing."

"I think it looks incredible!! I bet I can make it look good." I picked up my camera and took a photo of my plate, making sure to include the whisky cream sauce in the shot.

After I put down my camera, I couldn't hold my hunger anymore. I poured the sauce over the meal and dove in head first. I was starving, and I had already fallen in love with Haggis.


"Flower of Scotland"
Photo taken at the Wallace Monument
(C) July 28th 2010

William Wallace's Dream

Who among the American people doesn't know who William Wallace is? There was a movie that hit theaters in 1995 where an Australian played a Scotsman fighting the English in an American made film.

Yep, that's right, Braveheart.

While the movie is mostly fictional, the man William Wallace really lived. He wasn't from the poor and humble backgrounds the movie would have us believe though. He was the son of a Lawyer and gave up his lands in order to join the Scots in their battle against the English. The movie may be fictional, but the truth is actually better than the movie.

Not far from a place called Stirling in Scotland is a tall monument that is clearly visible for miles around. It stands on the top of a hill not far from Stirling Castle and the two have a clear view of one another even over the distance.

While photos really don't do justice to the size and magnitude of the Wallace Monument, I can assure you that first-hand experience has shown me that when you're in it, for all acounts and purposes it might as well be as large as the Statue of Liberty - and in some ways I actually look at is as though it's the Statue of Scotish Liberty. This man lead many others to fight and die for the nation they loved. He is a celebrated hero even today, and monuments of William Wallace can be found all over the world in some of the most surprising locations anyone would marvel at. Unfortunately the monument was so large that I couldn't get back far enough from it to take a full length photo without risking a nasty tumble off the side of the mountain.

The tall portion of the tower in the photo above is actually far larger than it seems in the photo. On the left hand side of the tower is an odd spiraling shape going all the way up one corner of the structure. It's lined with thin, open windows each about three feet high. That spiral is actually a spiral staircase that has been traveled millions of times by travelers all over the world. The steps are so worn in some areas that they are bowed in the shape of a canoe bottom. Those steps are the only way up - and down - the tower.

Several large rooms are housed inside the tower, allowing visitors a sneak peak into the life and times of William Wallace. Timelines and historical artifacts are displayed on each level of the tower and people travel from all over the world just for a glimpse at one of the most famous swords in history - second only to Excalibur in my mind. People gathered around the glass case and marveled at the black leather stretched over the grip of the sword. The blade had a few knicks in the edge and the leather had long since dried out, but seemed perfect otherwise. It was a custom built sword, and if it's historically accurate, then William Wallace is assumed to have been well over six feet tall, judging by the length and weight of the massive blade.

When finally we reached the top of the tower, the view was among the most amazing views I've ever seen - including watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. Rolling hills stretched as far as the eye could see. Rivers wound their way around the landscape nearly forming perfect loops in several areas. Those rivers had been following the same paths for hundreds of years - all the way back to the days of William Wallace.

By the time we got to the top of the tower, both of us were starving. It had been a long hike, and several times I felt my knees turning to jello on the stairs. I got the height-willies several times before visiting the highest chamber, and we hadn't yet made it to the roof!

One of the most famous battles in Scotland's History was the Battle of Stirling Bridge, where the English army was masacred by the cunning Scots. I believe it was also the origin of the naming of the flower of Scotland - quite a legend in itself and a story worthy of it's own entry.

Below are two photos - the first is a copper map of the battles fought near the Wallace Monument before it was built. It was fascinating to see the map as I myself looked over the landscape and realizing it hadn't changed much at all.

Hunger finally drove us back toward the staircase and the long climb down. Each step was perilous for us both and we constantly had to hold on to the walls in order to keep from falling. A large woman tried to pass us on the stair case and I found myself kneeling inside one of the windows, the breeze lifting the cuffs of my jeans and cooling my legs by several degrees. Suddenly hungry and cold, I couldn't get away from the wonderful history quite fast enough. I was starving!


Click on the images to enlarge them.

Royal Mile Dreaming

We wandered out of the castle and tried for a few minutes to decide which direction to head in. Since the Royal Mile was probably the most infamous, it was eventually the decision we made, but any direction would have been educational, beautiful and incredible.

An ice cream vendor had set up shop just outside the main castle gates and we stopped briefly for a couple scoops of vanilla. To top it off was a rolled piece of flaky chocolate I had never seen before. It didn't melt in my mouth the way normal chocolate did, but the texture and taste was unmistakable. I love trying new things - especially sweets! It was new, but it was great.

We began our wanders down the Royal Mile as we ate our ice cream with gellato spoons. It was incredible, seeing some structures that were several hundred years old coupled with new banks and glass-faced Raddison Hotel buildings. Some of the older buildings and homes (such as the one on the left) even had a date carved into the stone surface over the door.

Peeking through small alley ways I was able to see a myriad of these types of places, this one dated 1623 and looking its age in some areas. Others looked like they had been standing far longer than that, and at one time had been surrounded by woods in order to hide the ancient witch that lived within its depths. Everywhere I looked, I would breath in the history and architecture of my surroundings.

There were small side streets that would cut off after only a few hundred yards - barely big enough for a few cars to park - but with all the people out walking the Royal Mile that didn't matter much. There weren't many cars brave enough to drive down that famous road with all the tourists filling the paths from one end to the other. Always heading at a downhill pace, I knew going back the other way would be far more difficult. Still, we were out for adventure, what else mattered?

We walked all the way to the end of the Royal Mile where we found the new Scotish Parliament building - ugly as it was. The surrounding areas were so lovely and ancient. To find such a modern building among such imaculate and beautiful history seems so out of place I couldn't do much but mutter about how the windows all had bars over them, even up in the top levels. It was as if they weren't worried about people getting in so much as they were about people trying to get out.

The Scotish Parliament building was built as recently as 1999 when the UK granted Scotland permission to have their own Parliament back. They hadn't had their own Parliament since 1707 when all the powers were handed over to England. From what I've gathered after speaking to the people of Scotland, the building was the subject of much controversy. First they couldn't decide where to place it, and once they finally did the project took much longer than originally forecast to build. When finally it was done, it had gone so far over the budget that it left a gaping hole in the pockets of the Nation. While this sort of thing happens often in the United States, for a country as small as Scotland, I have a feeling the effects are still being felt.

Across from the Scotish Parliament we spotted the Queen's Gallery. While the building itself is old, the Gallery itself was only opened in 2002 to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee. The collections within change on a semi-regular basis, constantly leaving the visitors with something new to see. As I write this story, I've dicovered that a Royal Photographer's works are currently being displayed there, includng photos of a young Queen Elizabeth II and her younger sister, Princess Margaret.

Just beind the Queen's Gallery is Hollyrood House, the Queen's official residence in Scotland. Finally it started to make sense, why the street we were on was called the Royal Mile. At the far end, the street went directly up to Edinburgh Castle, while the end we found ourselves standing on actually went to a dead end right in front of the Hollyrood House, built nearly 900 years ago. It was originally meant to be the home of Mary Queen of Scots and was built by her father, James V. It was later the headquarters of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 after the Civil War and then a place of refuge for a French ruler. Some of the exhibits from the Queen's Gallery actually spill over into Hollyrood House and the residence is partially open to visitors when the Queen is not at home.

All to quickly we were winding our way back toward the Castle and then back to my home for those 10 days. My mind swirled with the new information that had been crammed into it. I absorbed some things like a sponge as I pushed other useless facts out of my mind. My hangover still wasn't gone, but I had enough to think about to have a good, healthy distraction. I needed to let my brain settle though - for Robert had another adventure in mind for the following day - with more hands-on experience!


Castle Rock Dream Part 2

The castle prisons held one of the biggest surprises for me as we wandered through the rows of bunks and hammocks. The bedding was appauling and the eating areas seemed too similar to the latrines for my taste, but that was a prison.

The prisons I saw were burried deep beneath the Great Hall, and we had to wander deep into the depts through vast stair cases in order to reach them. They were used for several purposes, inclding food storage, barracks and even a bakery... but their use as prisons of war really amazed me the most. It wasn't the fact that they were prisons, but more of what was on display for all to see and touch.

The prisons had been converted back to prisons during the American Revolutionary War. Prisoners included Spaniards, Dutchmen, Irishmen and even Americans. Some of those Americans were in fact Scots who had gone to America and found themselves amid the conflict, and not all by choice. While there I ran my finger tips over one of the original wooden doors keeping the prisoners in place. There, much to my amazement, was a hand carved original representation of the first American Flag that stood for the original 13 colonies - and next to it was the date 1776. I stood in awe, shivers running up and down my spine. I stood where my ancestors stood, I stood free while they stood imprisoned, and I owed that freedom to the men who carved that flag into the old wooden doors of a prison cell far away on the Castle Rock.

We spent hours in the castle, going from place to place and even getting to see the infamous coronation stone still used to crown the English royalty and the Scotish Crown Jewels. I wasn't able to take photos of the jewels, but photos exist on the internet for anyone to see. Anyone else would have been more stunned by the jewels than the prisons, but that American flag resonated in my mind more than the One O'clock Gun.

Finally our time at the Castle was done, and it was time to explore the entire Royal Mile.


Castle Rock Dream

By the time we got to Edinburgh Castle the next day, breakfast was starting to settle in my stomach. My head was starting to feel a little better, but I still felt completely off. The hike up the side of the ancient volcano to the castle was brutal on me that morning. I didn't know how to cope with a hangover. I've since been told (as of last night) that I hid it quite well, but even now I don't feel like that was even possible. I felt incredibly ill. It was a struggle just to stand up straight.

The line to get in the castle was surrounded by large metal bleachers. I couldn't figure out what it was for, and Robert beat me to the question.

"They are preparing for a presentation of the Royal Military Tattoo," he explained, nodding is head in the direction in which I was looking. It wasn't until some time later on I discovered what the Royal Military Tattoo was. They do this special event every year at the Edinburgh Castle in mid to late August. Robert even recorded it on television for me.

We got to the ticket stand after finally entering the main gates to the castle and winding our way through a switch-back line filled with hundreds of people. Finally at the ticket stand, we purchased a souvenir book about Edinburgh that I to this day look at from time to time. Within a few seconds of getting the tickets in hand, my hangover was all but gone, leaving me filled with excitement about this new adventure and the opportunity to learn something new. Never did I realize how much I would be learning that day, including about my own Nation.

We met up with a tour guide first, who would walk us through the highlights of the castle explaining parts of the history I wouldn't be able to find in my souvenir book. She would turn out to be an excellent tour guide, speaking slowly enough for my untrained American ears to understand her, though still speaking with a thick accent.

The castle was much larger on the inside than I could have possibly imagined from our view on the hotel balcony. It seemed to defy what I had known a castle to be, with everything being connected, leaving a center courtyard somewhere roughly in the middle. Instead, Edinburgh Castle was spread out with many individual buildings here and there. It had many odd angles to it and cobblestone paths wound their ways around corners, under multiple gates and to the outer walls of the Castle. Parts of the castle were much older than other sections, but it wasn't until we reached the oldest building in the castle, and in the entire city of Edinburgh, that the tour guide explained why that was.

St. Margaret's Chapel was built by David I in 1130 AD as a private chapel for the royal family. It's called St. Margaret's because it was dedicated to his mother, Margaret, who died in the castle in 1093AD. She had evidently been completely devastated by the horrible and violent death of her husband during an ambush attack. Some speculate that the chapel was part of what was originally a much larger royal home since the bricks forming one wall of the structure are different from the other three sides. Its entirely possible that the three different sides might have been interior walls at one time.

It seems rather simple from the outside, but St. Margaret's Chapel was one of the most remarkable sights in the entire castle from the inside. I found out just last night through reading my souvenir book that the amazing stained glass windows weren't installed until 1922 by Douglas Strachan.

St. Margaret's is still used for christenings and weddings to this day, though the chapel is so small I have a hard time picturing any weddings actually taking place there.

Just outside of St. Margaret's Chapel is a large collection of cannons, two in particular making quite an impression on us during our visit. The cannon I'm standing next to in the photo is called Mons Meg, a six ton beast that once fired cannon balls more than 330 lbs! Mons Meg was built in 1449 (!!) and was given to James II of Scotland in 1457 from his Nephew-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy. Where does it get such an unusual name? It was originally known as 'Mons' after the Belgian town where it was made. It was then cutting edge technology.

Mons Meg was first used against the English in 1460, in a battle that claimed James II's life. It saw a few battles, but the cannon was too large and heavy to move. An army could move it only about three miles a day and had to be hauled by more than a hundred men. In 1550 Mons Meg was taken out of service, leaving it as a huge show piece.

It was used to celebrate the wedding of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1558, but stood silent for over a hundred years after that. Finally, in October of 1681 it was fired as a birthday salute to the Duke of Albany, but the barrel burst open! It was dumped down beside the cart storage area (now the Redcoat Cafe) until 1754 - when it was found and moved to London during the Disarming Act the English forced on Scotland. It was too big to melt down though, and finally after 70 years the English brought it home to Edinburgh Castle, where it remains as dormant as the massive volcano the entire structure was built upon.

The other cannon that made quite an impression on us was the One O'clock Gun. Even now, 6 days a week, that One O'clock Gun is fired at precisely 1:00 pm every day but Sunday. We stood and waited for the gun to go off, but no amount of waiting could prepare us completely for the resounding boom we would feel rattling our ribs and vibrating up through the souls of our feet. Starting in 1861, the gun has fired every day excluding Sundays, Christmas and Good Friday - other than brief times in the two world wars.

The biggest surprise the Castle had to offer me had yet to be seen, but it would be something that would stick with me for the rest of my life...


Edinburgh Dream Land

After St. Giles Cathedral and a quick drink at a pub, we headed back to the hotel to change our clothes for the evening. We had already decided we would visit the castle the following day first thing in the morning, so there was really nothing to do but have fun and enjoy our time. We got a bottle of wine from the hotel bar and took it out to the patio, where we enjoyed a long talk over the full bottle. We discussed what we had seen, where we had been, who had been there before us, and what to do next. We talked about food, about drink, the differences between the UK and the US, and all the times I wasn't able to understand what people had said to us. We were both dressed rather nicely and were both quite hungry, so finally we put the cork back into the bottle and gave it to the bar to keep for our return.

We wandered into a pub not far from the hotel for some food. I norally have an incredible fod memory, but for the life of me I don't remember what it was I ate. That could be partially due to the fact that I'm not completely certain of what it was. I knew that I couldn't pronounce it, and in fact Robert ordered it for me. I believe it might have been chicken of some sort, but I remember it was quite good.

Things started to get fuzzy after that. We went from pub to bar to pub, finally ending up in a little place just across the street from the hotel where we shared multiple bottles of wine. By the time we stood up my head was swimming like an olympic athlete in a kiddie pool. I'd never seen anyone drink as much alcohol in my life as I did the Scots that night while still being able to find their way home, or even be able to stand up. Finally the pubs all closed and we were sent on our way. We went back to the hotel, where I decided I had enough, and promptly passed out to sleep soundly until nearly noon the next day. I personally had never had so much to drink in my life. I knew I should be afraid of the morning effects, but I was too drunk to care. I had never in my life known that feeling.

"I've always been proud to say I've never been drunk," I thought to myself, "but I can forget about that now..."

In the morning I woke myself up moaning. It echoed between my ears like a gong being struck time and time again. I felt my heart pounding just behind my eyes, causing them to feel as thought they would pop out of my head if I lifted my eye lids. Somehow I struggled to wake up not long before there was a knock at the door. Room service was delivering breakfast.

I was famished! I felt as though my neck had been cut and I hadn't eaten for days. The cart was wheeled into the room, I got out of bed and rushed over to the table and lifted the lid, and nearly lost what few contents I had in my stomach. The smell of the full Scottish breakfast overwhelmed me. As much as I loved mushrooms, they were the absolute most appauling things I had the displeasure to lay my eyes on in that moment.

I steadied myself and took a breath. Still very hungry, I swallowed my sickness and dove in head first. Robert and I were both feeling the same way. It wasn't long before the food had vanished completely, leaving several empty plates free of even a smear. Scotch Poriadge Oats seemed very much like Oatmeal to me, but better. The Haggis, black pudding, sausage, beans, toast, eggs, mushrooms and everything else tasted like pure heaven to me. My head still pounded, but nothing could get in the way of food!

Finally, with overly full stomachs, Robert and I struggled to pack our bags. We needed to load up the car and check out of the hotel before we could go to the castle. I sat and relaxed a minute, nursing my throbbing head, while Robert went to check out. Just as he got back, he grabbed my camera up and took a photo to forever remember : my first hangover.

I couldn't wait to get to the castle. My camera had a nearly full charge on it and I was ready to go. My head had a hard time catching up to me though, so Robert introduced me to something called Resolve. In the United States, Resolve is a cleaning agent, potent enough to kill someone if they were to drink it. In the United Kingdom, it's one of the most brilliant hangover cures known to man. I don't know if I would have survived the day without it, looking back on that day now.


St Giles Dream

Shortly after leaving the Ensign Ewart, Robert and I were happily wandering down the street when I saw something that completely took y breath away. Astonished, I could do little else but stare up at the structure. Something about it seemed magical. Even from a distance I could tell it was something worth taking a closer look at. My head was still swimming from the two stiff drinks I'd already downed, but I could see clearly enough to know that the building was special.

We drew nearer with every step and my astonishment only grew. Great carvings adorned the building. Life sized faces and bodies lined the edges and caught the light enough to show the very expression on each hand carved face. I could barely speak.

Inside were signs saying that photography was allowed, but donations were appreciated. We took note of that as we wandered past snapping pictures everywhere we went. There were ancient flags hanging from the walls and stunning stained glass windows on nearly every surface. The walls and ceilings were painted and hand carved to be even more stunning than the outside. I knew as I took the photos that no picture could ever do justice to the incredible surroundings I was faced with. Nothing I had ever seen could compare to the grandeur of this phenominal place.

A few smaller rooms branched off of the main chamber, and ever eager to explore, both of us wandered from one to the next. We had seen almost every corner and every wall when we saw some people coming out of a closed door. It had previously looked as though that area was off limits to tourists, but surprisingly it was wide open. The door was just kept shut for reasons unknown to us. Curious about the last room in St. Giles Cathedral, we wandered over. Robert held the door open for me and I drew in a sharp breath. The hand carved wood stood three times the height of a man and covered every edge on every wall. I walked in, Camera at the ready.

Robert followed me into small room and instantly slowed, as I had when I saw the nose on the wall. He looked nearly straight up, marveling at the intricate wood work. Hand carved seats that almost looked like a row of thrones lined three of the four walls in the room, each with its own coat of arms where a person's back would line up. Each had its own sword replica; it's own intricate character at the top of the carving. All of the characters and coat of arms were hand painted, the swords guilded in gold. My camera couldn't capture the room from floor to ceiling, no matter where I stood or how I tried.

"This is an important place," Robert said to me, as he stood looking at the largest chair in the room. A reverse version of the Royal Coat of Arms was positioned in front of the largest chair. The hair on his arms stood up for the second time that day. "This is an important place," he repeated. "There's something special about this place but I don't know what it is."

There was so much to see and take photos of in the room that we were left pretty much alone for a long time. Finally a few other people came in, followed by an older woman. She turned out to be a tour guide for St. Giles Cathedral and she did much more than confirm Robert's suspicions. It truly was an important room.

St. Giles Cathedral, it turned out, was the High Church of Edinburgh, the Mother Church of Presbyterianism, and most importantly, contains the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle. Twice a year the Knights of Scotland, headed by the Queen, would meet at this special Chapel of the Order of the Thistle - and we were standing in that private chapel at that exact moment. We were standing where the Queen herself came twice a year to meet with the Knights of Scotland. Each coat of arms stood for the family heratige of each Knight. The reverse Royal Coat of Arms was to honor the Queen of Scotland, who also hapened to be the Queen of England. On the Scotish version of the Royal Coat of Arms, things are reversed because the Unicorn that stood for Scotland was on the left and the lion of the English was on the right in order to put Scotland first. It was a huge sign of respect from what we could understand and we both stood in amazement. We studdied the room for nearly an hour.

Overwhelmed with the knowledge that had suddenly been dumped into our heads, we decided to move on finally. Next stop: another drink.

To read more about St. Giles Cathedral, click here.