Tuesday, March 22, 2011


On the first day of spring, my grandfather passed away.

And yes, he was old. And yes, he was very, very tired. And maybe we can say that it was "his time to go." It's just, he was so much more than old and tired.

He was one of those safe, stable, good things in life. You could count on Grandpa. Okay, so maybe he'd show up covered in oil, missing part of a finger, with dynamite in his back pocket, but he'd be there. And yes, occasionally he would blow stuff up, and allow small children to operate heavy machinery, and accidentally light himself on fire. He was still Grandpa, and you could still count on him.

Besides the dynamite and the tendency to get his jollies in highly dangerous situations (usually orchestrated by himself), he also used his powers for good. He drew up blue-prints and built houses. He ran printing presses and smelted rocks in his basement (and if you don't know what smelting is, that's probably because your grandpa just wasn't as cool as mine). He presided in courtrooms and supervised mines. He could fix anything with an engine. At 86 years old he could and did drive an eighteen-wheeler around perilous canyon roads better, faster, and further than you ever will, my friend. And if nuclear war is ever declared on Beaver Utah, his steel-reinforced concrete basement will be ready for it.

All of which begins to make my grandfather sound very rugged and tough and just slightly crazy, which is all true. But again, he was more than rugged and tough and crazy. He was also good. He spent his whole life giving, and giving, and giving some more. My mother used to tell me that whenever she pictures dinners during her childhood, she always remembers at least one extra person at the table. Because never mind that he already had a large family, and never mind that they lived in the middle of nowhere in some mining camp, and never mind that they didn't have much to begin with, Grandma and Grandpa always had something to share. No, he did not suffer fools gladly. And yes, he was more often to be found lingering over a cup of coffee than in church on a Sunday morning. But Grandpa always managed to be one of the most christian men I ever knew. You can suit up once a week and wear a silk tie on Sundays, but Christ expects us first and foremost to love. And suit or no suit, Grandpa understood how to love.

He also understood kids. And boy, did kids understand Grandpa. No child, no matter how shy or small, could resist the magic that Grandpa exuded. One look at his twinkling blue eyes and they were instantly crawling up his legs into his lap. Sure, he then proceeded to dance them around singing drinking songs (for a Mormon guy, he had a vast array of drinking songs, all of which he taught to his grandchildren at the earliest possible convenience). And yes, there is the aforementioned "children using heavy machinery" thing. Look, a little fun with mining equipment and a few verses of "Little Brown Jug" never hurt any of us, okay? The point is, Grandpa loved kids and kids adored Grandpa. And whenever he made that little pinching motion with his thumb and forefinger, no matter how many times we'd been caught before, no matter how obvious it was that we would just end up with out fingers trapped while Grandpa poked us in the ribs again, we fell for it. Every time.

But he wasn't just a tough, rugged, slightly crazy, good man; he was also a brilliant man. I'm not exaggerating here; he was tested and confirmed a real life, honest-to-goodness genius. And he used to do very complex math in his head, which was kind of fun to watch. And yet he wasn't showy about being so much smarter than you. He didn't need others to see his brilliance, he just used it. He just lived, and did hard things, and learned new skills, and understood the bigger picture. He had so many random certifications (and was still earning others even in his eighties) that I'm not sure anyone could really keep track of them. And he didn't earn them to show off. He earned them because, well, somebody needed to design and build an entire wetland system or treat the water for a whole town or...

So he was brilliant and capable and selfless and giving and rough and reliable and just slightly crazy. And if you think about it, after eighty-seven years, that's a lot of things for one man to be. So it isn't surprising that after a while he got kind of old and a little bit tired. But old and tired or no, he was my Grandpa and I miss him. I can't just turn away and say it was "his time to go." I don't care whose time it was, I loved my Grandpa and having him gone is like having a Grandpa shaped hole in my life.

And yet, for his sake, I can be glad for that hole. Grandpa is still brilliant and capable and selfless and giving and rough and reliable and just slightly crazy. He just isn't old and tired anymore.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Scotland Quatro: Mr Awesome buys a skirt.

This day, people! This day! It was sunny, we started it out on the beach and had excellent hot chocolate and truffles for breakfast in the coolest little artist village, and then we got in our rental car to continue our journey. Little did we know it would turn into the drive of death. That's right. We went from "Oh isn't this just too perfect?" to "We're gonna die, we're gonna die, we're gonna die!" in less than half an hour.

Let me tell you something about rural Scottish roads, here. They are all very picturesque, you see. They wind down between hills and valleys, with fabulous green vistas and glinting lakes here and there, and of course the ever-present sheep. Perfect for a road trip. Unless you want to live through it.

 Be sure to enjoy the view, it may be the last you ever see.
It's sunny! In Scotland! And we're not dead yet!

Because they are also quite narrow roads, one lane really. And if you happen to be coming up on an oncoming car? That's when the fun starts. In theory you just pull over into the closest "passing place", a little crescent of pavement just wide enough for your car to fit while the other car passes. These "passing places" are scattered along both sides of the road, not quite regularly. And it's a good thing they are there too, since the road is often running along a cliff face and there really would be nowhere else to go. What's that you say? What if there's a car coming at you but no passing place to pull into? Hehe, ever heard of Russian Roulette? Because that's what it feels like. Oh, and did I mention the road winds and swoops over and around the mountains and hills? And that it rains a lot there? And that Mr. Awesome was shifting with his left hand while passing people on the left side of the road? And remember those sheep I mentioned? Oh yes, and the other drivers are NOT very good about slowing down instead of careening straight at you like frigging road-runner on crack. So basically...

We survived, but I have no clear recollection of how. I do know it involved a lot of screaming and laughing and "If this is the end, honey, know that I love you!" But somehow, eventually, we pulled into Inverness.

Inverness, my lovelies, can you dig it? We certainly could. This was one of two occasions on which we opted for an official tour of anything. Our tour guide wore a kilt, spoke with a very deep Scottish burr, and said some very misogynistic things to me. I called it a win then and I'll call it a win now. Don't look so shocked. Misogynists crack me up. They're better than Glenn Beck. Also he talked about executions and torture and stuff. It was all very gothic.

 Inverness castle. Big thanks to our tour guide Cameron, who has forever tainted this view with thoughts of heads on spikes and entrails being drug out and...ick.

That evening, finding ourselves in a "city" once again (Inverness is not actually very big, but it gets city status for being so historically important and all that jazz.), we went out to get ourselves some night life. But it turns out, we suck at bar hopping. So, we went into a kilt shop...mmmmmm, the kilt shop.

For the next hour I got to "help" pick out all the trappings. The kilt, the belt, the laced-up shirt, the socks, the dagger, the whole bit. And when we walked out of our second kilt shop I had something I'd been longing after for most of my life: My very own man in a kilt. Mr. Awesome tried to convince me to buy myself something too, instead of just letting him "get all this stuff for myself." How cute! He thought it was for him! Silly boy.

And then my new kilt owning man took me for a long walk along the River Nis at night. It was gorgeous, and romantic, and pretty much perfect. Again.

Tomorrow, though, tomorrow we start in on the castles*! (Screw romance novels, this stuff is legit.)

*Actually, we stopped by two castles on our way to Inverness, but I figure I'll just lump them into one giant "Castles" post and we can all ooh and ahh together then. Here's a teaser though: MacBeth!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Scotland 3: Durness, My Love

It's this little tiny town at the edge of the island, right there where the land meets the sea and beautiful things happen. It was rainy and dreary and wonderful when we finally parked the car and took the trail down to what we had anticipated would be a highlight of our trip. Smoo Cave is supposed to be one of the top 10 things to see in Scotland if you're a nature lover, and the boat trip around the waterfall inside the cave was one of our top priorities when we planned the road trip. I'm going to be honest with you, and tell you that Smoo Cave is so much less awesome than it should be. And, okay, fine, it was flooded while we were there which made the boat trip impossible (in fact the waterfall had expanded so much that trying to look at it was pretty much the equivalent of being violently smacked in the face with some seriously grumpy Scottish water). But still, it's not like rain is an unusual occurrence around those parts, you know? Also the cave was small and it did not contain any Smoos. In fact, I still don't know what exactly a Smoo is. Talk about a let down.

Smoo Cave, from inside. Note the lack of Smoos.
 Smoo Cave from above. Still no Smoos.
Durness from the cliffs.
Looking out to see from just above the cave. 

And then there was the sea. Am I the only one who does not equate Scottish beaches with white sand and glittery turquoise water? Well color me misinformed because that's exactly what we found at Durness. And the cliffs topped with green grass and heather were like the unnecessary icing on that cake made of gorgeous. We climbed up, we climbed down, we went through gates that we probably shouldn't have toward vistas that were less safe than breathtaking, and we loved every minute of it.

Again, caption not really necessary for this level of awesome.

And when we woke up in our cozy B&B the next morning, we practically bounced back to the beach for a second look. As with all our stops, we left before noon, but not before stopping by the nearby artist's colony where we sampled some serious artisanal chocolate. And, as with all the food we had tried so far, it was pretty dang grood, yo.

 So cheesy, and yet...so happening anyway.
The Sea!
What? It's a honeymoon, people. Lovey-duvey stuff happens.

Oh wait, that last bit about the food all being awesome? Total lie. I forgot (or perhaps attempted to purge from memory) the dinner we had at the local pub the night before. I don't really remember what I ordered or what it tasted like. I do, however, vividly remember the side of haggis that Mr. Awesome ordered. And oh, for the love of all things edible, was it every disgusting. Greasy and meaty and like no other taste I've ever had the misfortune of experiencing in my mouth, that stuff is NOT for the weak. In fact, when the bartender noticed the little dish of haggis looking almost untouched after we had both sampled (and repented of) it, she walked over chuckling and said "Couldn't take the haggis, eh?"

No, madam, that we could not.