Thursday, 4 July 2013

Another day in Dundee

Today we woke up to a glorious sunny day, so we decided to go back to Dundee and explore the RRS Discovery in details. The RRS Discovery was built in Dundee and used for the first Antarctica expedition from 1901 until 1904, taking on its board - among others - the explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton. It is amazing how these men set out without any proper knowledge, equipment or food supplies, heading into the great unknown, facing illnesses and temperatures as low at minus 70C for months on end. The ship was purpose-built for the expedition and ample supplies were packed. However The North Face equipment and freeze-dry rations not having been invented yet, both their gear and their food seemed relatively amateurish by today's standards. It is amazing that they made it for three years, collected an enormous quantity of scientific data, kept morale by organising theatrical plays, debates and concerts, and even printed a newspaper to which everyone could contribute.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Day in Dundee

They told us it would rain today and these Scots people, they tend to be right. So we planned for a day inside. We visited the Dundee Science Centre two years ago, but the kids were just a bit too small to really enjoy it. We checked online and this time around they have a Myths and Monsters special exhibition that just started yesterday.

So this morning, off we went, armed with rain
coats and an umbrella. Our first mission was to buy a cup of coffee at the station in Arbroath. We looked up and down the street, browsed the information panels, but there was no mention of any cafes or even vending machines. So in desperation we trooped down to the platform. Luckily for us, the platform has a direct access from the parking lot and right there was a small mobile coffee van. The gentleman prepared two cups of coffee and two cups of perfect hot chocolate for us while explaining all about his past as a school teacher and the difficulties he had encountered procuring a new engine for this van.

The train ride was fun, all the more as we ended up seated beside the disabled toilet, complete with a huge curved automatic door that provided endless entertainment to our children. To our general hilarity the loudspeaker then announced that the next stop would be "Grotty Ferry". It took us a while to realise that she actually said "Broughty Ferry". You'll note that we are rather easily amused...

The Dundee Science Centre did not disappoint. I cannot quite explain how, but we managed to spend four hours in there, never getting bored. We saw a demonstration about flaming bubble bath for dragons and tooth paste for the yeti, as well as some myth busting regarding all those weird creatures. Vince discovered that the narwhals really do exist and now we all know that the long thing sticking out of their head is actually a tooth. We met Nigel the Dragon, a yeti and several unicorns. The kids had a blast and so did we.

On our way out we decided to look for the Srathmartine Dragon of Dundee that was mentioned in one of the shows. We walked along Dundee's main street in the rain looking for about 20 minutes before we located the statue. That being done, we headed down to the station but just as we were ready to enter, Vince spotted a boat across the road, so we went to take a look. It turned out to be the RRS Discovery. Since it was getting quite late, we decided that we might need to come back to see the ship in details.

The day was finished with a fish and chips dinner from the mobile van, which was lovely but would have definitely been better if they hadn't make us wait 30 minutes in the rain...  Also, on a quick note, the fish is usually yummy here, but the way Scots like their chips is not mine. They are cut huge and barely done. I like them thin and crisp. Oh well, we can't agree on all.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Arbroath day

The weather being rather lovely, we went into town this morning. There is a great playground right at the sea, complete with some kiddie attractions such as electric cars, small train and a mini golf. I think this last one is called "crazy putting" for some reason. While the sun was shining, the breeze was rather chilly, so we were quite glad to meet up for lunch with Bruce and Juliet at The Bell Rock, a local fish and chips joint that serves a magnificent buffet lunch. The afternoon was spent doing some more playground things and trying to organise a birthday card and present for Juliet. The day was finished off with a wonderful soup, some quiet reading and playtime with the neighbours' grand children. 

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Sunday in Scotland

This morning I tagged along to church with Bruce and Juliet. There is one Catholic Church in town and it was packed. As the people queued by for the Eucharist I realised just what an eclectic crowd that was. A young hell's angels looking father complete with head scarf carrying a pink baby girl, a Scotsman wearing a kilt and knife stuck in his sock, a number of people in their jogging clothes, a rather large gentleman with almost no hair except a thin two-feet long braid at the back of his head and - wait for this - a gentleman well over seventy, completely bald with a lawn mower tattooed to the back of his head. Sheer genius.

We had a family lunch with Bruce's sister and her husband and then went for a walk around the estate here. This area is called Letham Grange and back in the day it was all part of one big estate. Now it is two golf courses and a number of houses tucked away small alleyways. Some of the houses - like Bruce and Juliet's - are relatively new, built in the last 20 years or so, while others are the renovated buildings of the former farm, such as the old dairy. It is all very green and quiet. Two years ago we used to walk around a lot, but this time with me being so sick, I was happy enough to make it as far as the garden. Now that I am better, I am definitely planning to spend more time exploring.

The one sore point here is the former estate house that was transformed into a lovely hotel. Unfortunately some time ago it was shut down amid allegations of fraud and since then the owner has been involved in a legal battle. Because of this no one can access the building and it is slowly falling apart as a result. The plants have started forcing their way through the windows, the glass panes on the conservatory are falling out and supposedly the roof has started leaking, threatening the grand oak staircase with destruction. It is eerie to have this piece of "life after humans" right in the middle of the manicured golf course and the well- kept houses all around it. Such a total waste...

Saturday, 29 June 2013

A day out with Thomas

For a few weeks now, Bruce and Juliet have booked us a day out with Thomas the Tank Engine. My general well being having improved quite a big thanks to the antibiotics, I was able to join in. It started as a lovely Scottish day with a bit of sunshine and some small clouds. It was meant to be a surprise for the kids so they only knew that something special would be happening on Saturday but nothing more.

The proceedings took place at the disaffected train station of Brechin, about 30 minutes from Arbroath. Various stalls were set up for the occasion. Merry-go-rounds, hot dog stand, miniature train, bouncy castle and face painting were at hand to entertain the children before and after the main attraction: the hour-long round trip train ride on a train pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine all the way to Bridge of Dun.

The kids loved it all and the train ride was even more enjoyable thanks Auntie Juls' delicious sandwiches. A magician came along in the train and did some tricks with a rope. To Zina's absolute delight, he even produced a quick show when the train stopped for ten minutes in Bridge of Dun. 

I was totally exhausted by the time we got back, so I slept for over two hours. I was told Zina also snoozed for an hour in the car. 

Just a beautiful day altogether. 

Friday, 28 June 2013

Show down

This morning I woke up with liquid oozing out of my ear. I first thought it was bath water that got trapped last night, but soon enough I had to realise that it was more grim than that. The pain had become really difficult to cope with and I had a bit of meltdown. Vince was the sweetest thing, as usual, picking up the pieces, making tea and toast and generally trying to reassure and cheer me up.

The trip to the doctor confirmed what I already thought: otitis media, middle ear infection. He said there was so much goop he couldn't quite see where it was coming from, but sounded quite positive that an antibiotic should clear most of it within a few days. 

I must also say that strokes of genius sometimes come where least expected. I complained to him that my flu medication - while quite nicely keeping my nose from blocking up - did nothing for my pain. He looked at the ingredients list and suggested I took an extra dose of paracetamol with it, as it was not sufficient. So I did that at lunch time and lo and behold, the pain subsided within a few minutes. Brilliant.

It rained the whole morning but now the sun came out, so the kids now went out with Vince and Juls to the playground beside the sea. I wish I could have gone with as I have been pretty much unable to do anything with them for the last few days being too weak and in too much pain, but probably staying at home gathering some strength is more useful in the long term perspective. Tomorrow we are booked to go on a Thomas the Tank Engine train ride. I really hope I will feel well enough to go.

The purge process

Well, it seems that my body decided that it was finally payback time for four and a half years in Sudan. The cold got much worse, combined with fever and ear ache. I don't remember having been this sick for this long before. I am not even sure if I am heading towards better or worse. Today was a bit better than yesterday, but tonight I can't even find the strength to heat the water for my medicine... I have an appointment with a doctor tomorrow, not getting my hopes up though. I've been taking medicines for days now, to no avail. I think my body just needs to go through this process, get rid of everything accumulated over the last few years. So, it might get worse before it gets better.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Tired, sick and grateful

We have been in Switzerland for a week now. The trip here was long and tedious with our first flight being cancelled, forcing us to rebook everything else behind it, but nevertheless we all made it, including the luggage, so no harm done.

However less than 24 hours after arriving I woke up with a bad case of torticollis (stiff neck) combined with a cold. This only got worse over the following day, so finally my brother got me an osteopathic appointment. In the true fashion of things needing to get worse before they get better, after the one hour treatment where the lady did all she could, I am sure, it got to the point where I could barely walk and not extend my arms or turn my head at all.

Now, four days later, it is definitely on the mend. My cold is still here, and I am trying to limit my medication intake, only taking Neo-Citran in late evenings when I can just pass out afterwards. The neck is a bit better, I can now move relatively freely, only turning my head represents a bit of a problem.

I went to see my normal osteopath this morning (she was not available on Friday, unfortunately) and she told me that she could sense all the stress in me. In her words "We had to get rid of that armour that you put all around you. There was lots of stress but there is also lots of vitality, so you must be doing something right." How nice is that?

Also, yesterday Vince and I went into Nature et Decouvertes which is one of my favourite shops, selling natural products, toys, camping gear, anything really to reconnect with Nature. Before we went to Sudan, I was quite a bit into natural, hollistic and homeopathic things. With Sudan bringing things back to the lowest level of the Maslow pyramid, I let go of all that and focused on the here and now. That "survival" perspective obscured my other aspirations. Walking around in the zen section of the shop, I picked up a Nomadic Essential Oils Diffuser working with either two batteries or on a USB cable, along with some nice mixes of essential oils. What an absolute treat... It is now gently humming beside my computer, diffusing a mixture of ylang-ylang, sweet orange and lavender. Even with my nose slightly blocked, it does have a positive effect on my general mood.

Tomorrow we are heading to Scotland. I need to pack and organise things. But I am so incredibly grateful to be able to reconnect with stuff deep inside of me that I had forgotten about.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Scared of the dark

Today is a better day than yesterday. Yesterday I was panicking. Things started to hit home and everything somehow became big and scary. Where are we going to stay? What are we going to live on? What will happen to the dog and the cat? How often will I be able to shower? This whole plan became a monster with many tentacles and no clear beginning or end...

So last night Vin and I sat down to the drawing board (well, some scraps of paper) and started all over. What are our objectives? What do we feel comfortable with? What puts us off? What can we afford? What are the various options? I am sure than in terms of brainstorming we could have done better than that, since we both had a long and exhausting day and were pretty tired by that time of the night, but at least we came up with a much clearer plan with many less unknowns. I sent a few emails and skype messages immediately last night to mitigate some of the known unknowns (George W. rocks!) and I am awaiting feedback on those. We also made some phone calls at 10pm (time difference can be a wonderful thing) to confirm some other stuff.

So now we have a more compact plan with some clearly defined objectives. With a bit of an effort I could put the whole lot into a logframe, break it down into outcomes and assign a couple of SMART indicators. A Gantt chart is also a possibility. If you have no clue what I am talking about that is because you have never had the infinite joy of drawing up a humanitarian project proposal.

And since we are talking about proposals, I guess we could mention something on the budget. This new and improved version of the plan only leaves us three months without any fixed income which is quite manageable.

The objectives still need worked on. I feel that if we are going to make sacrifices in terms of time and money, we should get some bang for our buck, right? Some purpose, something that we can actually aim for. We have a few ideas, some more general ones, some more specific. I'll report back on those later.

PS: I am still messing with the layout. Bear with me.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Die hard

After faffing about for hours, I finally came up with a design I liked only to realise that it was actually VERY similar to my old blog... I guess that is just human nature for you, we gravitate back towards the familiar.

So, I picked a random background that is totally different from my old blog in its colour scheme. I kept the same fonts and the basic layout, but the colours are different and I included some transparency.

I will now stop messing about this for a while. I locked the blog down because for now I want to keep it private, so there aren't too many people to complain about the visual aspect. I will now focus on the content and then get back to the drawing board about the layout in a few weeks.

Out with the old..?

Yes, I wanted this blog to be TOTALLY different. Completely shining new. And in a way it is. But I also realised that it is still ME and just as when you move house you still appreciate curling up in your old armchair, in the same way I needed to find something familiar in here to be able to truly feel at home. So yes, it IS different. But it still bears similarities. The layout is not finalised just yet, I might still change the background and the font colours. I might even shuffle around the widgets a bit. But I will keep some of the elements that I learned to love in my old blog. I like the idea of the background, the crisp, easy to read text and the brightly coloured post titles. It needs to be streamlined and appealing while reflecting the changes we are going through. Bear with me, details will get tweaked and the blog might look unrecognisable at the first glance, but just like me, you will eventually feel that weird deja-vue and realise that this is a familiar place after all.

So grab a cup of coffee and curl up.

Starting afresh

I have wanted to create a new blog. Well, it turned out a bit more complicated than initially planned. I wanted to move platforms and put it on wordpress, but that did not work out for now, so I am back to blogger, at least until I can figure out how to migrate things into a meaningful blog somewhere else.

I wanted this blog to look totally different from my previous one. I loved the way Under this blue sky looked and it was perfect for my mood and situation then. For those of you who have not visited, it was grey with a picture of cracked earth as background, only lightened up by some orange letters.

I am setting up this new blog for a new start. We will be doing different things in different ways. It scares me, but it is all so exciting at the same time. I have been trying to find a format I liked. For now I settled on some organge twirls, but that will need to be changed when I get the time to play around with it properly. It is really hard to find something I like and that will reflect whatever this blog is meant to be. It will be about kids and travel and discoveries and faith and love and education and experiences and places and family and friends and lifestyle and changes, all combined into one.

The one thing I wanted here is colour. I want this blog to be happy because I this is what my mood is and this is what I want it to remain.

We don't know where we are going. We don't know how we will get there or what we will see along the way. But we are stepping out in faith, trusting that we will grow as individuals, as a family and as friends.

Let the journey begin.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Running for my life

I think by now I have successfully managed to use up any patience or goodwill my real and virtual friends have had with me regarding my running regime by telling everyone how much I enjoyed running and how much I ran and that they all just *had* to know about those zombies that chase me. So I think I will not post on facebook anymore about the number items I have managed to collect or show copies of my base on my phone to those poor souls who actually happen to meet me in person. If I do, just slap me.

But this is MY blog, so I can post as much as I want about running, collecting underwear and escaping 16 zombies. If you don't want to hear about any of this, you can stop reading now, I will not hold it against you. I do understand that it might bore some people and totally frustrate others who think that somehow I am trying to tell them that really exercising is easy and they should get their buttocks into gear and lose those flabby bits.

Well, rest assured, I don't proselytise. I love running and I like talking about it but I honestly do not expect any of you to follow my example. I know firsthand that exercise can be boring and tedious until you actually find something that you enjoy, for whatever reason. Some people like to be on a team or build muscles or learn new complicated moves and they will choose some kind of activity that gives them the fun they are looking for.

Running is a very repetitive movement, too much actually to qualify as proper exercise. In all reality, I should be doing some other exercise alongside to even pretend reaping any kinds of health benefits. So I do not run because I want to be fit or I want to lose weight or I want to be healthy. I run because I need to. It gives me a headspace like nothing else does. It frees my mind to wander wherever it wants while my body provides the framework for it. I don't run until I am tired because then I'd stop after 30 seconds. I run until I start smiling and that can take anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes. Or more.

I am not a good runner. I don't run gracefully or fast. I just run. Although truth be told, these last few zombie chases I discovered that actually I can do pretty nifty running and at a rather good pace, reaching 18km/h when needed. But that is only for a few seconds before slumping back into a rather comfortable 8-9km/h cruising speed. And yes, I have an app that does the maths and stats for me, thankfully.

So now regarding that app... it is pretty great. It is called Zombies, Run! and it combines a game with a running regime. It tracks me with GPS, provides stats on where I went and how fast, sets zombies on my trail and lets me collect items to build my base, such as underwear and fuel. It is loads of fun and perfect for people who think that running is boring. It gets me to run 40 minutes and come back thinking "gee, that was such a short run". Best of all, I ran 10km the other day collecting supplies, the most I have ever run in my whole entire life. On the downside, I must say that it is harder to "zone out" when I am getting chased by random zombies and my teammate is developing a cough that sounds like the first sign of turning into a zombie... "You know the drill, first a cough, then a moan..."

So, I love running and I love blogging. They are both a way for me to process reality and make sense of things. And today I managed to combine both. It will probably happen again, so please bear with me.