Thursday, October 23, 2014

Odds and ends

Here are some odds and ends of things I've been up to recently. Nothing worthy of a full post, but a few minor points of interest.

{Ed.'s note: If you multiply zero by eight, you still get zero.}

Well, who's counting?

Jackson at a trig point
Ahh, the accomplishment he must feel when he reaches the trig point.
Hiking:  We try to hike, or at least take a good long country walk, a couple of times a month. I enjoy the cooler weather for hiking. However, now we're entering some of the rainier months of the year, which makes getting out for a hike more of a hassle. It can be a challenge to get a reluctant toddler into rain gear and then into a covered backpack. I try to pick and choose my hiking days carefully.

That said, Jackson's a good hiker. Or, to be more accurate, he's a good rider. He quite enjoys being hefted on my back while I huff and puff up and down the hills. When we get to a flatter section or to the top, he may deign to walk about. Carrying around 40+ pounds (the Little Emperor, his backpack, some snacks/lunch, and a toy or two) is a great way to get some exercise. Or a heart attack.

Jurassic Parrr signMini golf:  Jack had been expressing interest in playing golf -- "I want to whack the ball!" -- so when a Groupon coupon was available for a local mini golf course, we snagged one. He was very excited to golf amidst giant dinosaurs until a few of them became animated, which unsettled him for a bit.

Playing golf with a toddler is not for anyone who expects to actually play golf. Rules do not apply. He hits his ball as often as he likes, up to and including bulldozing it into the hole. He hits your ball. He picks up a ball and drops it in a hazard. Likewise, decorum is verboten. There is no quiet for concentration. You may receive a hug in the middle of putting. If you happen to get hit by an airborne club, that's just funny.

Kate helps Jack on the golf course
Kate helps Jack's technique.
Dinosaurs roam across the landscape
The downed helicopter makes perfect sense here in Jurassic Parrr. About as much as the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
disposable BBQ
(available here)
Grillin':  Last month, we finally got around to buying a grill. Except for a few social events at the homes of some expat neighbors, we didn't grill anything for more than a year. Grilling isn't all that popular here in Scotland. I don't know a single Scottish neighbor, friend, or acquaintance with a grill, though I haven't inquired with all of them, of course. For many Scots, if they want to grill then they might buy a disposable BBQ.

The lack of grills reflects the realities of Scottish weather. But we finally caved and bought one anyway. It's a wee portable Weber model. Which would be perfect for tailgating except, umm, they don't do much tailgating here and if they do it doesn't usually include grills. Chalk up our grill to missing an aspect of the States.

portable Weber grill
Burgers, chicken, steaks, veggies, and salmon all grilled just in the last month.
Beef week:  Do you ever have a week of dinners where you seem to inadvertently create a theme? We recently noticed a "beef week" arise spontaneously. One night, steak; then tacos; Cumberland pie; burgers; spaghetti with a meaty sauce. Throw in a breakfast with leftover steak and eggs. A tasty week! But a bit too much.

Horse races at Hamilton Park:  Without question, a disappointing trip at the end of September. I had never been to a horse race, and this was underwhelming. The grounds are pleasant but boring. The grandstand is utilitarian. No passion or drama amongst the crowd or even the participants.

Hamilton Park race track
The paddock lawn at Hamilton Park Racecourse.
Horse rump clipping pattern
Showing off horse rump clipping patterns in the parade ring.
Horse rump flower clipping pattern
Is it a flower? A man playing bongos?           
Horse rump stars clipping pattern
Clipping patterns are a time-honored tradition.
The race track is not in an oval, but rather in a straight line. It begins far, far, FAR AWAY in the distance. The horses speed down a hill and a while later, gradually, eventually, they gallop by the spectators for the finish. For most of the race, the horses and riders are essentially indistinguishable to the naked eye. There's no excitement and no suspense, because no one can tell what is going on, unless they watch a video screen opposite the track. Most of the spectators paid little attention except for the few seconds when the horses pass.

Hamilton Park race track from the stands
The race begins in the distance, at far right on the hill.
On the rail at Hamilton Park racecourse
I'd much recommend standing at the rail, instead of in the grandstand.
Upcoming trip to Athens:  It's not quite last minute, but we have scheduled a somewhat impromptu trip to Athens in November. Kate has been eager to go somewhere a bit warmer and sunnier. We considered a bunch of options, including a relaxed beach trip, but the narrow window of time she had from work helped dictate when and where we could go reasonably cheaply. Neither of us has been to Greece, so we'll get a taste in a few weeks and then go back for some island hopping on a future trip.

Balance bike:  In the U.S., the sales pitch claims that all the kids in Europe learn to ride a bike by first mastering balance on a bike without pedals, and then adding pedals after they get good at gliding. We live in Europe now, and I've seen precisely one other balance bike. People look at Jackson curiously. Maybe Scotland's behind the times.

Practicing falling off a balance bike
Neither a fall nor a tantrum. Jack was demonstrating what he would do if he fell -- hop up, brush his hands off, and keep riding. His demonstration continued every 20 feet or so.
Anyway, balance bikes are a smart pedagogical approach. It took a little while for Jackson to warm to the idea of a bike, but once he was interested, the balance and gliding came quickly. He speeds right along and can balance for as long as he has enough momentum. We're not in any rush to add pedals; it'll likely be next spring before we try. But I'm fairly confident he could learn right now to pedal without any use of training wheels (called "stabilizers" in the U.K.).

Edinburgh Zoo:   A few weekends ago we spent the day at the Edinburgh Zoo, a lovely (sub)urban
Northern Rockhopper penguin at Edinburgh Zoo
Northern Rockhopper penguin: "Step off, bro."
zoo located in the fringes of the capital. You enter at the base of a hill and can follow a suggested plan weaving through exhibits up the hill and then back down. Although the zoo lacks some animals, such as elephants and giraffes -- Scotland's not the best climate for them -- it has a wealth of many other species, like penguins and primates. In the afternoons of warmer months they have a popular "penguin parade" in which the penguins are allowed, but not forced, to follow their keepers outside their enclosure in a loop through the many onlookers. During our visit only two penguins wanted to participate, but I imagine it's quite a sight when dozens all waddle along.

Giant male panda at Edinburgh Zoo
Sadly, the panda suffered a miscarriage last month.
We have a love/hate relationship with zoos. As a group, zoos do vital conservation and species preservation work, help with the important study of many species, and of course it's great fun to see the animals up close. On the other hand, we struggle seeing so many caged animals, knowing that even heroic efforts by zoologists leave the animals with circumbscribed, duller, unnatural lives. We get joy out of seeing the animals, and feel guilty at the same time.

A white-faced saki in Edinburgh Zoo
A white-faced saki from the Amazon.
It's tempting to overwhelm you with animal photos. I also contemplated a full post on the zoo, but I think we'd need to visit several times before I had a really good sense of the entire complex. So, here's a few more photos (I can't resist) and perhaps a fuller post in the future.

A wallaby at Edinburgh Zoo
A worriedly impterturbable wallaby in a trance.
Grooming mommy's bugs
Grooming mommy for bugs.
Eating mommy's bugs
A breakdancing Gelado baboon
This Gelada baboon was repeatedly practicing headstands. Or breakdancing.
Doune Castle
Doune Castle, of Monty Python and Outlander fame.
Touristing:  As a lover of history and antiquities, I'm always in tourist mode here in Scotland. There are hundreds of sites within just a couple of hours' drive. I constantly remind myself that Jackson's job is to play and socialize and learn and grow, which means I can't always gallivant him around the country. Every couple of weeks, however, I take us somewhere to be tourists. Can't help it.

Nave of Dunblane Cathedral
Nave of Dunblane Cathedral (not to be confused with Dunkeld Cathedral).
What's the right balance? Dunno. He loves rambling around ruins. Museums often don't do much for him unless they're directed toward kids, though he's delighted to amuse himself with an iPad. He does seem to have the seeds of appreciation for grand vistas, striking buildings, colorful art, and so on. I like to believe he's occasionally being enriched by his tourist experiences, though really, how much do you remember from when you're three? Ultimately, he's a toddler and needs to be a kid, not a tag-along adult. So I do less touristing than I want, but far more than I could ever dream if I wasn't an expat.

Ruins of Crossraguel Abbey
The ruins of Crossraguel Abbey.
Trip to the States:  For the first time since we moved to Scotland, we'll be returning to the United States for a visit. It'll total three weeks in December and January. We'll make a first stop in New York City to see some good friends; head to North Carolina to visit with colleagues, friends, and my family; and then head to Colorado for a visit with Kate's family.

I don't miss living in the U.S. But I do deeply miss many people in the States. By the time of our return in December, it will have been roughly 18 months since we'll have been Stateside. I'm curious to see how we adjust.

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