This picture was taken early in December, in Scotland. It was 2.30 in the afternoon.


oh my goodness am I glad it no longer gets dark that early anymore. I think it would kill me.

Now the sun doesn’t set until 8.30!!! It is glorious.
And it rises at 5.30 am! So that means, on sunny days, when I get up at 6 am, it actually feels like daytime. I am so glad.



The Russian Grandmother With Red Boots Goes to an Abbey

Well, kids, after a great, relaxed couple of days in Inverness, Mariah and I split up, and I headed about an hour and a half bus ride away to Elgin, Scotland, and then hopped on a bus with a bunch of school kids to get to Pluscarden Abbey, where I spent the next 5 days.

(While you read the rest of this post, you can listen to this music. It’s approximately what every service sounded like. This first one is fairly typical of how the monks sung the Psalms, which was one “tune” sung over for each line. The second one is more varied and was more typical of the hymns they would sing.)

First, the outward practicalities of life: I stayed at the St. Scolastica’s guesthouse just down the road from Pluscarden Abbey. The little (10 room) guest house had been built just 10 years ago or so, so it’s nothing too remarkable, except that it had the kind of decor in the shared spaces that I’ve decided is very specifically Catholic and “of a certain generation”: lots of floral prints, lots of pictures of saints, constant availability of coasters for your drink.

This is the St. Scolastica guesthouse. If the light spilling out onto the snow is not a welcoming sight on a cold night walking back from the Abbey, I don't know what is.

There were four other women there at the time. 3 of them were over 60 and lovely, stereotypical Scottish Catholic ladies, warm and chatty and devoted to cleanliness. (the other was a nonreligious 20something Canadien studying at Oxford. But she was mostly on walks, and less chatty, so we didn’t talk much.)

We shared food (bread and milk and tea were provided), and I mooched off people’s food.

We were set in a decently remote valley with fields and pastures of sheep and forests and old stone walls.

I walked up a path just beyond that meadow, and it was a perfect day for just 2 hours, and I had amazing views across the valley, and it was beautiful beyond speaking of it. I didn't take my camera, and I'm not sorry. Sometimes you just have to go on a walk with God and nothing else.

Just a five minute walk away was the Abbey. The building has been around in some form since 1230 A.D. That is crazy to me. 15 years after the Magna Carta, monks started living at Pluscarden. But it was sacked once and was roofless and progressively more tumbled down from 1500ish to 1800ish, then it got fixed up a bit, and then refinished progressively more since the 1950s by the predecessors of this group of 26ish monks. On the inside of the chapel the stonework is roughened by being outside for years, and only some of the stained glass windows are replaced. Some are just white Plexiglas. I really like that. It wasn’t a museum piece. It was a rehab project en process, however slowly. I felt at home, although no rehab project I’ve been involved in had a history back 800 years!

These two facing seating areas are the public part of the chapel. The monks walk through from that door on the left to their benches out of view on the right. Every one of them bows to the cross hanging above the altar every single time he passes it.

I typically went to two of the 8 services a day. They sing (in Gregorian chant in Latin) all of the Psalms every week and have full Mass once a day. There were guides provided for each of the services that had the Latin translated into English. It was a cool experience to be with them, but it was hard to worship. It didn’t feel like it was a worship service for us anyways; the public were off to the side, and couldn’t sing with them (not that we could). It’s just something that is a different way of participating, I guess.

I didn’t have much interaction with the monks, but they seemed friendly.

My typical day consisted in sleeping until I woke up (I averaged 10-11 hours of sleep a night. It was GLORIOUS.), reading the Bible, eating breakfast, going to Mass, then going on a walk, hanging out with the other women, writing letters, etc. Then going to bed by 9.30. What a life!


The Russian Grandmother

Guys, when I get cold, I add more layers. And I do not look colorful and cute like some people (*coughMariahcough*), I look like a Russian grandmother. with rosatia. in mourning.  For example:

It’s okay, though. I’m embracing it.


Besides: if I wasn’t into layering to stave off frostbite, i wouldn’t have invented the stylish combination that is ear warmers (thanks for the loan, Jess! p.s. did you know I was borrowing that?) AND a hat! at the same time! with a scarf! AND my oxford hoodie’s hood up!

And that would have truly been a shame.

Inverness and Loch Ness

the streetlights were on at 8.45 am, because we are –as a highway sign helpfully pointed out– in THE NORTH.

on our walk to and from our hostel, we get to walk along the gorgeous River Ness. It’s lovely. (and, yes, this one’s a bit blown out, but I kind of dig the effect.)

Travelling Buddy Mariah! Somehow she manages to look cute and pulled together, even while walking miles in the cold and snow, and I look like someone’s Russian grandma, in mourning.

picture of picture-taking! meta!

Loch Ness! No monster, though, and surprisingly few terrible “Nessie” or “monster hunting” puns on the day. So I’ll take it as a 1 out of 2 kind of victory. (although on the pun-count, neither Mariah nor I are very punny people, and we didn’t go on a tour or into any Loch Ness museums, so we avoided the danger-zones pretty well)

This is Urqhart Castle (spelled something like that), which looked SUPER cool, but it was closed for the day due to snow and ice. Next time…

I love the intricacy of branches with snow on them.

Living here would almost make the required job in the tourism or animal (sheep) raising arenas worth it.


At 8.2 pm0 Mariah and I headed over to the Glouster Green bus stop (the one right by Regent’s). But the bus ran into a bunch of construction traffic in London, missed the deadline for Mariah to store her big luggage long term, and almost missed our overnight bus. Thanks to God, I had happened to ask our bus driver where the next station was that we needed to change to, and he said, “Oh, that one? it’s the next stop, just get on!” and took us. we would DEFINITELY have missed the next bus if I hadn’t asked and he hadn’t let us keep going. we were so thankful for that.

The trip 9 hours overnight was not too fun. especially since the bathrooms ran out of toilet paper an hour in. Plus it’s not to easy to sleep on a bus. But that’s alright, we made it, and we didn’t have to buy a night’s lodging for that night.

we arrived at 7.50 AND IT WAS STILL KIND OF DARK. psh. Moscow weather…

we wandered around a bit trying to find our hostel, and between my printed directions, Mariah’s phone app, and a helpful bystander, we got things figured out. We’re staying at High Street Hostel. It’s pretty good, so far. They let us store our stuff from 8 am, even though you can’t check in until 2 pm, it’s warm-ish and got internet. so we got good info from the front desk, regrouped, and left again. we stopped at a grocery store for breakfast/lunch food, then wandered around a bit at a graveyard and a park (which turned out to be on the tour later. as Mariah said, we “pregamed the tour”, but we didn’t know any of the stories). Then we spent 45-ish minutes in the really cool National Museum of Scotland. The Scottish history stuff was cool, but we were tired enough that we had a lot more fun looking at the kids exhibits of dinosaur skeletons and stuffed giraffes and sharks and videos of volcanoes.

Then we walked back to the “Royal Mile”, a really historic part of town, and took a free (well, tips-only) 3 hour walking tour of Edinburgh’s Old Town. There were about 22 people on our tour, and a friendly, funny Scot named Jonny lead it. We were SO COLD, though. I still haven’t thawed. But it was really interesting and historical but also entertaining. I’d heard really great things about the New Europe tours, and this one definitely didn’t disapooint.

Edinburgh is MUCH hillier than’d round a corner, and see that you’re 20 feet above the street below. Although I haven’t taken a tour of Oxford to have a direct comparison, I think Scotland is much more defined AGAINST England, as SCOTS, and their hsitory is one of a lot of conflict. Which makes for really interesting stories, but it’s a different feel. maaaaybe more of an American, defiant, pioneering feel, although in American there’s no ONE enemy against whom we define ourselves.

So we’re back at the hostel now. Mariah’s showering and I’m on the internet, and trying to warm up. It’s not going very well. so i may head downstairs to get some complementary hot chocolate and play whichever of the beat up guitars downstairs in the lounge works best. Guitars!!! I love them!

Tonight I think we’ll go to a pub, and then turn in early. We need to be at the bus station by 7.45ish tomorrow to pick up Mariah’s luggage within the time frame that she stored it, and then our bus for Inverness (3.5/4 hour trip) leaves at 9 am. So, just a quick, cold day in Edinburgh, but really fun.

Edit: we went to the pub, were serenaded by a group of very drunk Scotsmen with Christmas songs, and did NOT eat haggis. And I think I’ve finally warmed up. I was convinced there for a while that I would never be warm again. four shirts, two layers of of pants, two layers of socks, and a 3 hour nap helped. Also: the internet hates it when I try to upload pictures. So those’ll come later.