Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Skye

After spending a few days in the busy city of Edinburgh, our time on the Isle of Skye was quite a change.  What a beautiful place!
Once on the island, we stopped for a lovely view of the Cuillin which is a mountain range. The Red Cuillin are on the left of the road and the Black Cuillin are on the right.  The Black Cuillin are higher and rockier than the Red.
 The light wasn't ideal, but you can see how dark the mountains on the right are compared to those on the left.
 Home for our time in Skye was the town of Portree.  Portree is the largest town on the island (at around 900 people).  With a small harbor and colorful shops and homes, it is a pretty little town.
The dark clouds and blue sky kind of followed us around during these days.  At least they gave the pictures some color.
This was the view a few steps from our hotel.  I kept finding my way to this spot every time I walked out of the room.

We spent two evenings in Portree.  Each morning we woke and met the driver/tour guide at the van and left the town for the day.
One of the highlights of our time on Skye was to visit the Neist Point Lighthouse which is at the westernmost point of the island.  It was a beautiful drive across the island (Portree is on the east side) and the weather mostly held up.  We stopped at a few photo ops along the way.
It was very green and there were a lot of sheep!  The weather was iffy on the drive.  Some rain, a lot of clouds, and some sun.  It seemed to change every few miles.
Once we arrived at Neist Point, the blue sky started to peak out.  We climbed out of the van, pulled on our jackets and headed off for a hike down to the point.
You can see the walkway hand railing in the left of this picture and then the path to the lighthouse towards the sea.  The wind kicked up a bit as we walk away from the van.  By the time we got to the walkway, it was whipping.  It was blowing so hard it literally pulled my jacket off of my body and my camera strap away from my neck.  As I had mentioned, I was still have a tough time with my allergies and was not able to breathe through my nose. The wind was blowing into my mouth, and I couldn't breathe.  I tried several times to keep going, but kept having to turn away from it.  I was never able to make it down to the bottom, which is my only regret on the trip.  Those who kept going said that once they got to the path and changed directions, the wind was much easier to take.  I was so afraid that it would be bad the whole way down and back up again and didn't want to risk having to move into the lighthouse if I wasn't able to get back up the hill.
I spent the time wandering around and taking pictures of the view.  Unfortunately, my time unsupervised found me involved in some shenanigans...which I will share in the next post.


Monday, September 11, 2017

A Coach Tour

Are you sick of my, "I'm sooooo busy" excuse for not writing yet?  I am, but school is really kicking my butt this year.  It always does during the first few weeks of a new year, but the change in grade and room (I can't find anything) have made it more challenging than usual.  Just to get something down on "paper", I wanted to share some more pictures from my Scotland trip.  There's not much writing to go with it, but it's better than nothing I guess.  Enjoy!  I sure did.  :)
When we booked our two week trip, everything we had heard said that when visiting Scotland, the Isle of Skye was a must see.  That wasn't so close to Edinburgh and we just weren't sure about the time it would take to get there.  Then we found a 3-day round trip small coach trip tour that would pick us up and drop us off in Edinburgh.  I am not really a tour bus kind of traveler because I don't like the drive by, seeing things through the window, stopping only for a few moments for a photo op kind of tour.  But our options were limited so we signed up.  The trip was definitely a drive by type tour, but once I got over that we actually had a nice trip.  We saw A LOT of sights on our way to and from Skye, which considering it was only 3 days, was impressive.
Day 1 - This was our drive to Skye...
 Only got to see this hairy cow, but at least I saw one.
 Loch Lubnaig
 There were so many little waterfalls just trickling down the mountains during so much of our trip.
Just before the bridge to Skye is the village of Dornie and the Eilean Donan Island and Castle.  Currently used for special events and tour visits, the castle's origins start in the 1200s.  It was all but demolished in early 1900s and then refurbished in 1914 to mostly what it is today.  The entertainment industry uses it for movie and TV.
 The castle actually sits in the water where three sea Lochs meet - Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Lock Alsh.
You can see the Isle of Skye from here.  We drove over the bridge to the island shortly after our visit here.  More pictures to come...
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Saturday, August 19, 2017

I started my 18th year of teaching on Thursday.  With a new grade level (3rd) and a new classroom, the end of July and all of August have been spent moving (again), setting up the classroom, learning all new standards and curriculum (again).  The to-do list is never-ending.
We just had two days with kids, and I can't get out of bed.  The only thing that is motivating me about going back on Monday is I got to loop with most of my 2nd grade class from last year.  They were a great group, so I look forward to spending another year with them.
I posted this last year, but it still makes me chuckle, especially March - June.
And so it begins...again.

Monday, August 7, 2017

One O'Clock Gun

We got very lucky with the weather in Scotland as far as rain goes, but many days were quite overcast.  I love me a good cool and cloudy day, but they are not ideal for photographs.  Unfortunately, our visit to Edinburgh Castle was on one such morning when the clouds were exceptionally thick.
Crowds on this trip were light overall, but the castle was quite busy the day we visited.  The Royal Tattoo takes place in August, and they had already begun to prepare for that as well (blue seating on the left) so the amount of people there was more than we encountered on the rest of the trip.
 The views of the city from the castle are fantastic...again not as good with the cloud cover, but you get the gist.
We did get some rain during the visit, so ducked inside the Scottish National War Memorial.
The Scottish National War Museum is housed at the castle.  In addition to the history of Scotland's military involvement, their soldiers who have died while serving are part of the Roll of Honour.  The names of the soldiers are in books, placed around the museum, so many books.  
Photographs were not allowed inside the memorial, but you can see inside here.  
The main entrance to the Memorial is flanked by these beautiful life-sized statues of a unicorn and a lion.  They were sculpted by Phyllis Bone in 1927.  She was one of many female artists who consulted and created for the Memorial.
The animals are heraldic symbols of Scotland (unicorn) and England (lion).  There's something charming about the unicorn being their national animal, magical even.
One O'Clock was an important time for the Scottish sailors in the 1800s.  Watches were not yet reliable so sailors used chronometers and needed to reset them midday.  The time ball was invented as a visual to those on the water.  When the ball dropped they knew it was 1:00 and could set the chronometer.  
However, with it being Scotland, those on the ships couldn't always see the ball, so it was decided a cannon at the castle would be fired at 1:00 as well.  Because the speed of sound is quite slow, sailors were given maps to show what time it would be when they heard the sound on the water.  Of course, the time ball and the One O'Clock Gun are no longer needed, but they are both still used as a matter of ceremony.  
A little before 1:00, the crowds surrounded the North Face of the castle to watch the 1:00.  Thank goodness it was early in the trip and lugging both camera lenses hadn't tired me out yet.  We were quite far away, but the long lens helped with that.  (The photos are better enlarged.)
 The "new" gun is a Howitzer light gun.
 About 5 minutes before 1:00 the process began.  The gunner came out, showed the blank cartridge, marched back to the gun and put the cartridge in.
 Then he stood aside for a bit and watched the time just before marching back to the gun, still watching the time.
 At 1:00, the gun was fired.
 The blank was then removed and he showed the crowd.
While I'm not usually one for ceremony, I did enjoy this one, no matter how touristy it was.  

Friday, August 4, 2017

Edinburgh 1

Mike and I met up in London and then jumped on the train to Edinburgh the next day.  As much as I enjoy London, I've been a few times so it was just our starting and stopping point - easy to get a direct flight from and to Los Angeles.  The train ride to Edinburgh was quite pleasant.  It took about 4 hours and we got into town midday.  After checking into our room, which was just outside the city center, we found a city bus and rode around for a couple of hours just to get the lay of the land.  While I'm not a big fan of bus-type tours, I do like an overview of new cities to get a better understanding of where I am.  For this trip, I don't know how much it helped though, as I was pretty much directionally challenged the entire time in Edinburgh.  That's unlike me, but it was strange to not quite have my bearings.
Although it's quite touristy, I did really enjoy the Royal Mile.  The Royal Mile is made up of the main roads in the Old Town.  It starts at the top of the hill at Edinburgh Castle and runs down to Holyrood Palace (Queen Elizabeth's official Scottish residence).  This is the view of the area from the train station down below.  I liked the Victorian architecture.
Holyrood Palace

On one of our stops that day, we had this great view of Arthur's Seat which is a tall, flat peak in the hills of Edinburgh.  We climbed up to Arthur's Seat the following day, but the sky was so pretty during our first day.
 The Scottish Parliament moved into this new Parliament Building in 2004. While it opened to mixed reviews and some controversy, I quite liked it.  It's different, but quite calming. It was designed to demonstrate a link between Scotland, its people, and its culture.
The offices of the MSP include "contemplation spaces" or big pop-out bay windows.
Because we got a late start, dusk came quickly that first day.  The city was quite pretty when the sun went down.  

As I mentioned in the past post, the sky stayed light (even after the sun went down) until about 10:30/11PM.  It was on odd feeling, especially that first night as it was some what of surprise.  We went back to the hotel earlier that first night as traveling takes it out of you.  With light peeking through the curtains it made us chuckle that it didn't feel like bed time.  
Two more days in Edinburgh to share next time.
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Monday, July 24, 2017

Relaxing Travels?

My friend Mike and I started planning our summer travel just after the first of the new year.  He moved to Morocco a couple of years ago to teach at an English speaking school so we decided we'd meet up somewhere in Europe shortly after we finished up our school years.  We've both had several European adventures between the two of us so finding a destination neither had been to was a bit challenging.  After throwing around some places that peaked each of our interests, we finally settled on Scotland with a few additional days in the Lake District of Northern England.
Neither of us were terribly comfortable taking on the task of driving in the UK, so we decided public transportation was the way we would go.  We made accommodation arrangements before we left as well as long distant train reservations for our long travel days.  After some research, we also decided we couldn't go all the way to Scotland without seeing the west of Scotland and the Isle of Skye, so we did arrange a 3-day tour that left from Edinburgh before we left.  I'm not a huge fan of "Tour Bus" travel, but we decided that was our best way for that particular destination.  Other than those plans we wanted to play the rest of the trip by ear, which is my favorite way to travel.
This trip was probably the MOST relaxing international vacation I have ever had.  I think that the stressful last few months of this past school year had a positive impact on this trip.  When I travel, I'm usually a serious researcher.  I like to know about the places I go and make sure I have at least some understanding of the history and culture and a list of things to do and see.  However, other than the basic information we looked at when deciding on where to go, I did NO additional research.  I had no preconceived notions and expectations about my destinations.  Actually, I had two basic ones.  First, I figured language wouldn't be an issue we'd have to worry about.  Second, having previously traveled to Ireland, there was an assumption that the two countries would be geographically similar.  I was correct about the first, and mostly incorrect about the second.  Anyhow, my point being, we traveled to the UK without a long list of must-sees or must-dos.  We went to bed each night without a plan for the next day, slept in each morning, and devised our day's activities over breakfast.  Being so far north, dusk didn't come until 10:30/11:00 so even though our days started later, we still had a lot of light left.  It was my dream schedule actually - stay out late and sleep in late.
I came home with over 900 pictures on my camera - the blessing AND curse of the digital camera age.  I have finally finished sorting through and editing them.  I'll share some in my next few posts.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Solution

So, with the results showing that I'm allergic to 61% of the things tested, what was the next step?  While I was glad that my cheese addiction or any other foods weren't the culprit, the reality is if they were, the solution would be quite easy wouldn't it.  On the other hand, environmental allergies are much harder to address because you can't just remove them from your life as they are everywhere.  That's where Allergen Immunotherapy comes in.  The point of this therapy is to build up an immunity to things you are allergic to over time, so eventually they are no longer an issue.  I know a handful of people who went for weekly allergy shots for several years, but I never realized that was the point of the shots.  I always thought they were just getting extra strong medication to keep them under control.  Instead, the shots are actually made up the very things one is allergic to.  The amount given increases over time, building that immunity.  So the thought of not struggling with allergies was very appealing.
The weekly allergy shot was an option for me and one that is covered under insurance.  Having to go to the doctor each and every week for what could be years was not appealing all.  But there is now a new alternative.  Allergy drops!  Rather than the allergens in a syringe the doctor sticks in your arm, allergen extracts are put in a jar that YOU drop under your tongue, in your own home!
Three vials and a recording sheet arrived in the mail about 2 weeks after the allergy testing.
 Each bottle is designed for a build up of the allergens and is a stronger version of the next.  I take one drop for a week, and then add a drop each week until week 4.  Then the bottle is changed and the process starts over.  I have finished the blue bottle and am on my second week of the yellow.
The first few days were a little strange because the drops have to remain under the tongue for 2 minutes.  Two minutes are A LONG time when you can't swallow.  But now, I'm used to it.  Because it's under the tongue, I rarely taste it, but if I do it just has a sugar water taste, so nothing too offensive.  I believe the red vial is the version I'll be on for the remainder of the time so once I finish that one, it will be a regular 4 drops each day until I'm "cured".  I will have an allergy test once a year to check the reactions.  Once each of the allergens shows no reaction, then I can stop the drops, and am supposed to be allergy free for about 20 years - assuming no new ones pop up.
On a side note, I had done some research ahead of time, wondering what to expect, how it worked, what it tasted like, etc.  At first, I was surprised to read that it was not FDA approved.  The process of Immunotherapy and each extract ARE approved, but what is actually in MY bottle is not.  That is because everyone's bottle is different, to meet their needs.  I found that fascinating.  I've found this whole process fascinating.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Test

As I've mentioned (a few hundred times) this spring wreaked havoc on my sinuses.  Our wet winter made for a gorgeous spring as far as plants and trees go and I spent about 3 months feeling like my head was going to explode.  I should have bought stock in the Kleenex company as I went through boxes of the stuff - about one every 3-4 days.  After three trips to the doctor, numerous decongestants, two rounds of antibiotics, two rounds of steroids, two types of inhalers, chest X-rays, and blood tests, the doctor asked, "Have you ever had an allergy test?"  For as long as I've suffered from allergies (and asthma) I actually have never been allergy tested.  They've kind of been a regular part of my life, an on-and-off irritant, but nothing that ever made me SICK and exhausted like they did this year. At the end of May, I had my first allergy testing done.
It was quite an interesting test/experience.  The tech had a box of 80 oils; each one containing one form of allergen.   She dipped panels of "needles" (10 needles per panel, 8 panels) into the oils and placed them on my back.  This isn't the same panel she used, but you get the gist.
It took her about 10 minutes to place the 8 panels on my back, and then I had to wait about 20 minutes for them to do their thing.  The first one started to do its thing almost immediately as she saw a reaction starting right after placing the first set of needles.  There was nothing painful about the test however it was a long time to lie there without moving (and tipping the needle panels over), especially after the reactions started and things got slightly itchy. She came back in twice to check on me and then again to read the results.  
The little dots that are just dots show where the allergen was placed, but do not show a reaction.  For example, the very last panel (bottom left in this picture) shows little to no reaction.  Anywhere that has a blotch or red that goes beyond that little dot shows a reaction.  The tech noted each one and the level of reaction. 
The reactions are rated from 7-13, with 7 being a reaction but the lowest and 13 being the highest. The results showed that I am allergic to 49 out of the 80 allergens tested.  No foods, some animals (including some reaction to dogs), but the reactions I had most were to trees and grasses.  So while I'm thrilled I don't have to stop eating cheese (I was worried about dairy being a culprit) or give my dog away, the bad news is I have no control over environmental allergens as they are everywhere.