Saturday, January 30, 2016

Christmas Day

We really enjoyed the adventure of having Christmas away from home this year.  Of course there are so many wonderful things about being home for Christmas, but it was really nice enjoying the simplicity of being in a place where you only brought the things you needed for a couple of days. There was just the right amount of food to cook, just the right amount of toys to play with, and no other jobs calling to be done.  It was peaceful and nice.  Also, we don't have our television hooked up here (mostly because the place to do that on the back of our TV was broken), so we enjoyed being plugged in to the world of the BBC for Christmas, watching Christmas movies and Christmas specials, and of course, the Queen's speech.


KJ did a little research before we left on a few different walks and good views near where we were staying so after presents and breakfast we got dressed and headed out for a drive.  Driving around mountain roads brings back good memories from my childhood.


I love that misty, magical fog!


How about that place for a magical Scottish getaway?  


And this backdrop for those great cows.


And this sign?  It is the best farewell ever, Haste ye back!


The water droplets clinging to the trees was beautiful.


The kids were pleasant.


The weather was cold but not too cold, and without a harsh wind blowing, it was comfortable enough to take off our heavy coats for some family pictures.  We weren't in the prettiest spot as far as the dead grass around us, but there was a snowy mountain in the background, and the kids were cooperative so we were happy with our little homemade family photoshoot.


Ella laughs at me for always kissing KJ when we get a silly shot.  This is fair.  I don't know how to make silly faces, and I am self-conscious about trying.


At this point the kids were ready to go back to the hotel pool, but then KJ saw the path to a viewing point he really wanted to walk up and see.  James cried, and only my age and slightly higher maturity levels kept me from doing the same at the thought of getting out of the car again after getting in and out so many times.  The view was worth it, though.


I loved seeing the different layers of clouds hovering over the mountain.


The most exciting thing for me happened as we were walking back down the hill toward the car.  I was lagging behind, being extra careful about slipping on the rocks or in the mud.  I really didn't want to end up with a bruised rear end.  Earlier that morning when we were in our room I had glimpsed a robin on our balcony, but he flew away before I could get to my camera.  I really associate the robin with Christmas and especially an English Christmas, and I thought to myself how fun it would be to get a nice wintery photograph of one that day.

I heard a fluttering noise in the brush and stopped to look and listen, and in what felt like an especially providential kindness saw this happy fella.


I couldn't believe it.  It was like a little secret Christmas wish come true.  And then he so kindly flew a little closer where I had a clearer view.  Thank you, Mr. Robin.  Thank you, God.


He struck a pose before he flew away.


And then of course, our Christmas lived happily ever after with the kids in the heated pool, my walking on the treadmill and watching Brave, and the finale of Downton Abbey that night after the kids were tucked away in bed.  It was a happy Christmas.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Dawn Before Christmas

Dawn is an overstatement of course, because the lucky thing about winter at northern latitudes if you're a photographer is that dawn is so late in the morning that you can still enjoy a lie-in and watch the sunrise, too.


We arrived at the lodge (but really think more like condominiums) after dark so we couldn't see anything about our surroundings until the next morning.  I went out around 9 a.m. to see the loch and to see if by chance there might be a sunrise.  


When we learned a week earlier that we would be going to Scotland for Christmas the forecast was for nothing but rain, so I was feeling really thrilled not to be rained on...much.  A few little drizzles fell from the sky.  I just kept walking down the road looking for a good spot to stop.


I climbed over a low, crumbling stone wall to this little beach because it had a great view of Ben Lomond, the snowy mountaintop in the distance.


I have dreams of being able to climb things like this when the kids are older.  Although of course, you can't see the mountaintop if you climb it, which is always a drawback.


KJ bought a gadget for our tripod to hold our phones, and after deleting Angry Birds Transformers I had sufficient space to do a timelapse video.  It was nice because the sun finally came over the hills and out of the clouds around 10 a.m., and you can see the light start hitting the mountain.  That was my first successful timelapse with my phone.


I loved all the forests of fir trees we saw in Scotland.  The skyline always looked like it was full of Christmas trees.


The sunshine didn't last, so these shots were nice to have.


I took the above picture because when I looked across the loch at the sun on the trees I thought of the line from The Emperor's New Groove:  "When the sun hits that ridge just right, these hills sing." My head is full of these quotes from animated movies.


The sun didn't last for long, but it was beautiful while it lasted, a beautiful way to start our stay at Loch Ard.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Stirling Castle

We all have those opportunities in our lives that we get really excited about and then think, "That's too good to be true."  And lots of times those too-good-to-be-true things don't happen.  I often lower my expectations so that I'm not disappointed.  Oh, but when it does happen!  We should be really happy in it, don't you think? 


When our new friend Lisa offered a free 3 days in their time share in Scotland via Facebook on a first-comment basis I was second in line.  And the phrase "Christmas in Scotland" just sounded so out of this world to me that I was just contenting myself with imagining what that would be like without thinking it would actually happen to me.  You can imagine our excitement when we were able to go!


This was our second Christmas in England, and I was excited to try to do some of the same things we did last year and make them new traditions, but doing this also seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up.  It's not every year that you have the freedom to take an impromptu Christmas adventure with your own little family.  And for Americans, it's certainly not every day that you are within driving distance of Scotland.

The really cool monument pictured above is the William Wallace Monument that looks over the town of Stirling.  Stirling was just a small stop on our drive to the place we were staying so we didn't climb to the top of the monument.  We heard from our friends that the wind made it feel quite dangerous!  As it was, when we stopped at Stirling Castle there were some walks that were closed due to the high winds.  We enjoyed looking at the monument from afar.  The hills look so otherworldly and like a painting to me.


The bridge is so beautiful, isn't it?


A statue of Robert the Bruce stands outside the castle walls.  I think the name Robert the Bruce is just about the manliest name and moniker you could have.


There were some gorgeous views all around the castle, and inside there were a lot of activities for the kids teaching about castle life as well as historical information for the adults.


Stirling Castle has a very long history, dating back to the 1100s.


It was cold and growing dark or I would have loved to spend some time exploring Stirling more, especially the area around the castle and one or two bookstores I spied online.


James and I had a nice wander amongst the cannons while Ella and KJ explored the chapel built in 1594 for the baptism of Prince Henry.  We met back up in the Great Hall.  Great Halls are probably my favorite part of a castle.  You would think they would be extremely cold and cavernous, but they usually have several massive fireplaces spread throughout the room like this one did.  I loved being there at Christmas time and seeing their tree.


Mary Queen of Scots celebrated the baptism of her son, James VI here at Christmas 1566.


The rooms of the palace we walked through with their brightly painted wall designs were in a very different style to other castles we've visited.


There's also a museum for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regiment at Stirling Castle, which was really interesting to walk through, although it always feels slightly impossible to digest all the information.  I did very much enjoy these guidelines for regiment members wishing to take a bride.

The bride must "prove to having received a fair education and can do sewing with ease and [be] acquainted with the practise of plain cookery."


I hope to be able to visit Stirling again.  Here you can see the sun going down at 3:41 p.m. as we made our exit.