Speaking of Ian Rankin and Scotland (and travelling the world)

Was just going about my business, la di da, when this came through my FB feed:

25 Reasons Why Scotland Must Be on Your Bucket List

– boredpanda.com

I’ve been to Scotland, let’s see… one, two, three times and found it staggeringly beautiful but I’ve never seen any of the sites photographed in this article.





God, my heart just stopped beating.

It isn’t that I don’t love my own country and know we have beauty spots but holy mother of god. I have less interest in what’s here but that’s normal, isn’t it. Do people who live near these sites in Scotland know how fortunate they are? Would any trade for life in the Chicago suburbs?

No, really, would they? Because I have a nice house on half an acre I’d trade in a heartbeat, once my heart starts beating again.

I love rugged countryside, not snow-topped mountains. Areas of tropical beauty, like the Appalachians and Smoky Mountains (named for a near constant haze), leave me breathless but Ireland and Scotland specifically offer what’s most to my taste, rocky and mostly treeless hills and mountains, overrun with heather. In this country we really don’t have that. I take that back. Some of our western states are similar in look but not climate. They’re hot, dry and dusty. Gorgeous for their austerity but too hot by far.


“We were now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width, on which the foot of civilized man had never trod. The good or evil it had in store for us was for experiment yet to determine, and these little vessels contained every article by which we were to expect to subsist or defend ourselves. However, as the state of mind in which we are, generally gives the coloring to events, when the imagination is suffered to wander into futurity, the picture which now presented itself to me was a most pleasing one. Entertaining as I do the most confident hope of succeeding in a voyage which had formed a darling project of mine for the last ten years, I could but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.”

– Meriwether Lewis (Lewis and Clark expedition)



wyomingThe Grand Tetons, Wyoming

What gets my blood pumping are castles and abbeys and lochs/loughs, history often bloody and filled with major figures history often knows little about, adding to their mystery and potential for new discoveries. I love myth and legend, druids and fairies and shape-shifters, knights, ladies, monarchies… I cut my teeth on Robin Hood and the Tales of King Arthur, both of which my late brother patiently read to me as a child, teaching me to read by alternating pages, helping me stumble along until I learned to read proficiently. He was obsessed with history, as is my older son, who shares my brother’s middle name. My son’s university major? Teaching of History with a minor in languages. Is it coincidence he shares my brother’s name and proclivities? I wonder.

So when I see photos like these of rugged Scotland, castles and lochs and brilliantly colored autumnal mountainsides it reminds me what I haven’t seen and more than likely never will. I recently had a taste of the beauty of Ireland and Wales, and long ago the beauty of Scotland. It all just leaves me wanting more.

I hope my children carry on their wanderlust and see more than they could ever hope. Two have been abroad, my daughter most extensively (studying in Wales for a semester, traveling to Italy, Ireland and Paris) and my youngest is awaiting his turn with as much patience as can be expected. My older son has been to Italy to meet family, planning to study abroad in Italy, maybe Siena or Florence, and will certainly travel to Rome and Venice. He’s already made his lifetime travel list: starting in Portugal and making his way east, visiting Ireland and the UK then looping around for the rest of Europe, bit by bit, over his vacations.


siena3Siena, Italy


I’m fortunate to have been where I’ve been, seen what I’ve seen. As a family we’ve seen almost all 50 states, all contiguous but one of the Carolinas (South?). Hawaii would be nice but I’d rather see Alaska. Traveling as we did, by car, is rare these days and can be mind-numbingly dull. Ever driven the width of Montana? We have and it made us so slap-happy we celebrated all the tiny towns along the way as if they were the gilded streets of heaven. Because there is nothing else in Montana, at least via the West-East highway we took. There was one town sign I still wish we’d have stopped to photograph. It said something like, “Home to Six Nice People and One Jerk,” with photos of all. Funny, of all the states it’s Montana that comes to mind first. Because we made misery so funny, I guess. Misery being a staple of our family vacations.

I’m the most traveled of all of us, by far, having seen most of Western Europe, from Sweden south to Italy, Ireland east to the former Yugoslavia. I saw the Queen of England and Prince Philip in Dundee, Scotland. I sat on the patio of the Houses of Parliament in London, with a P.M. who took me to tea because I’d been a teenage ambassador once. I saw the first President Bush’s limo stuck in mud in Denmark, at a 4th of July celebration. In Austria I climbed in a castle where Richard the Lionheart had been held prisoner. I’ve seen Stonehenge, Glamis Castle (Macbeth), the Matterhorn, parts of Moorish Spain, canals of Venice and Bruges, Belgium. The home of Anne Frank and red light district of Amsterdam, a Lego village in Rotterdam. The Mona Lisa, statue of David and Sistine Chapel, The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen and the Eiffel Tower.

If I die tomorrow I’ll have been better traveled than most people on earth. So how can I complain?

Oh, I still can and do. Justifiably, not really. But it doesn’t stop me. Two more kids left to study abroad mean two more chances to justify flying over to visit. And if one settles overseas? Please let it be Ireland or the UK. Please please please.

Save a room for mom, kids. Or a key and I’ll house sit. If you have any hesitation I’ll blog, in great detail, every little thing about your births and how uncomfortable my pregnancies were.

No pressure.



Photo Essay: Phillips 66 on Route 66



Route 66 was commissioned in 1926 and fully paved by the late 1930s. It ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, creating connections between hundreds of small towns and providing a trucking route through the Southwest. While not the first long-distance highway, or the most traveled, Route 66 gained fame beyond almost any other road. Dubbed the “Mother Road” by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, Route 66 carried hundreds of thousands of Depression-era migrants from the Midwest who went to California hoping for jobs and a better life.

America on the Move


Bent Door Cafe, Adrian TX


“How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him–he has known a fear beyond every other.”

– The Grapes of Wrath






“Like the pioneer days, when they outfitted at St. Louis for all points in the West and Southwest, so today people traveling by auto . find themselves coming to St. Louis over the various U.S. roads, and when arriving in St. Louis, by consulting their map, find U.S. 66 is the most direct road to the Pacific coast and likewise to all points in the great Southwest.

“I challenge anyone to show a road of equal length that traverses more scenery, more agricultural wealth, and more mineral wealth than does U.S. 66.”

—Cyrus Avery






In the 1930s, drought and falling crop prices drove thousands of rural midwestern families to leave their farms and follow Route 66 to California to find work. James F. and Flossie Haggard left Oklahoma in 1935 after a fire destroyed their barn and its contents. The Haggards and their children, Lillian and James Lowell, made their home near Bakersfield, and James found work with the Santa Fe Railway. Another son, Merle, was born in Bakersfield and began his singing career there. By the 1960s Merle Haggard was a country
music legend.

– American on the Move






I am just an old country boy in a big town trying to get along. I have been eating pretty regular and the reason I have been is because I have stayed an old country boy.

– John Steinbeck




The difference between our rich and poor grows greater every year. Our distribution of wealth is getting more uneven all the time. A man can make a million and he is on every page in the morning. But it never tells you who gave up that million he got. You can’t get money without taking it from somebody.

– John Steinbeck


The Bent Door






NOTE: All photos are mine and mine alone. If you’d like to use one for nonprofit reasons, write and let me know. Chances are greatly in your favor. Otherwise, I shall have to kick your buttocks and I’d really rather not have to do that.

Thanks most kindly.



Auto + Audio = Blissful Silence!

Books mentioned in this post:

Lemony Snicket – A Series of Unfortunate Events (Book 1)

C.S. Lewis – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician’s Nephew

Hank the Cow Dog

Avi – The Good Dog

David Foster Wallace – Consider the Lobster

Didn’t get an awful lot of reading done on vacation, though why that should be surprising I don’t know.  I never do, but still I insist on bringing a crap ton of books along on every trip.  I can’t go anywhere without them, even knowing reading time is nearly non-existent on vacations. It’s a comfort just knowing they’re there.  Then again, keep in mind I’m the person who has the post 9/11 preparedness bag filled with books like War and Peace and Our Mutual Friend.  Not bloody likely I’d have time to read with the world blowing up around me, but damned if I’ll be without quality reading.  If I’m going down I’m going down with literary guns blazing, drat it!

[2013 Note: For some reason I neglected to mention my husband’s disdain for the thought anyone would bring books, of all things, if the threat of Armageddon were pending. Books? Who would have time to READ?!

I would, that’s who. And a large percentage of the studio audience. Who wouldn’t want to bring books along? What is life without books?

Don’t need to mention this but my husband is very much not a reader. In face, I believe he may be the Anti-Reader.  And this makes for an interesting relationship, you may be sure.]

Despite the lack of much print book reading, audio books worked out beautifully this trip.  My children were riveted and QUIET, all was right with the world.  We listened to the first book in the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” series:

My daughter and I have actually read this one before and we’ve seen the movie (filed in my memory under “bad experiences involving demon-like acts perpetrated by badly behaving children, during children’s birthday parties (SEE:  hormone-induced insanity), but the audio book was still a treat.  Tim Roth was the reader and did an absolutely brilliant job of it, too.  Such a delightfully dark tale, though listening to the book it seems all the more grim that old Count Olaf is drooling over the 14 year old Violet Baudelaire.

In a word:  ICK.

Aside from that I love, love, love that sort of dark humor.  Childhood is very lord of the flies, no matter how some try to sugarcoat it. A whole lot of it’s misery, especially if you’re the kid who doesn’t fit in. And guess who had that distinction?


Next up was the first in the classic mystery series “The Chronicles of Narnia.” We listened to The Magician’s Nephew (which was WONDERFUL) and started on The Lion. the Witch and the Wardrobe, but disc two in that particular set turned out to be CRACKED.  Agonizing to have the children perched on the threshold of Narnia and not find out what happens. I was as upset as they were not to be able to progress, especially considering we still had half of Nebraska and all the width of Iowa to suffer through. If I could have I’d have found someplace to buy another copy of the damned thing. It was just that upsetting.

We also listened to several dog-themed books, including two in the Hank the Cow Dog series (preserve me), Avi’s The Good Dog and another with a title that escapes me, about the life of a stray dog.  The latter, ironically, was actually quite good despite my inability to retain any information about it. I’m sure it was the fault of the stunning beauty that is endless Nebraska highway monopolizing my attention.


For myself, I had a listen to an abridged edition of David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster, a book of essays on topics ranging from lobster festivals (with a side trip past “is it cruel to boil lobsters?”) to porn conventions.  Good enough listening, and I enjoy books read by the actual authors.  It just seems right, doesn’t it?  A real writer shouldn’t hire someone else to read his books, unless, of course, said author is inconveniently dead or otherwise unavailable. Or has a grating voice.

Some complain Foster Wallace is long-winded and self-important, but I was entertained.  Does he try a bit too hard to sound intelligent?  Maybe, but it’s also possible he just IS intelligent. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.

And I’m not just saying this because he’s actually quite cute, in a long-haired, slightly frumpy/hippy sort of way:

Certainly not like me to be shallow!

Stop the snickering.

[2013: Sadly, as we all know, he’d commit suicide two years later.]

Rather pleased I still managed to keep things somewhat literary, even on the road. I read part of the latest issue of Oxford American, too, which is a very worthy publication.  Okay, okay, I also had an Oprah magazine. It went very well with my time spent in laundromats, plus now I have a very firm idea what sort of swimsuit works best with my body type (answer: none).

Can’t get that in The New Yorker, now can we?

Also kept a travel journal but I haven’t had time to even glance through that. It only has the basics, as an outline, so I’ll have to embellish all the nitty-gritty, not-fit-for-family-consumption musings later.

[2013: SURPRISE! I never went back to embellish the trip. As if  you couldn’t have guessed. Life, the universe and everything, that’s why.]