Virtual Book Tour of Isle of Skye: Day One

Me in archway of Armandale

I believe a great way to promote my new novel, THE STONE MANOR, is to promote the Isle of Skye. Allow me the privilege of being your personal tour guide to the Misty Isles. I promise it will be informative, with lovely photos, numerous anecdotes, and a wee bit of magic.

For your riding pleasure, we will be traveling in Kathryn’s blue Land Rover. It’ll be a blast. I promise to remember to stay to the left. So buckle your seat belt because the roads and the rover are a bit bumpy. Keep your eyes open for sheep, especially lambs. I’ll be driving slowly, as is the rule on Skye to protect not only the sheep, but all God’s creatures. The wee bit of magic part of this tour has to do with time. Even though it’s November in real time, we will be flashing forward to late May. It’s a lovely time for a tour of Skye.

Blue Land Rover

Our tour begins not on Skye but on the mainland of Scotland where the 1692 Massacre of Glencoe and the escape of Mairi Macdonald’s grandmother, Margaret took place.  The drive from the airport in Glasgow up through the Trossachs is breathtaking. The scenery is wild and desperate looking. Be prepared to feel quite small as we walk through Glencoe. The massive glen and jagged peaks dwarf even the tallest among us. The rugged landscape carries with it the story of a people whose spirit matched their environment.

Me in Glencoe

Walking along the stream the silence is deafening. Only the occasional cry of a bird of prey interrupts the quiet. You can, if you listen carefully, hear voices carried on the wind as it blows through the valley between the mountains. And just so you’ll know, these are not fairy songs or sounds of laughter. The voices you hear are grief stricken, haunting. You will never forget the emotions this single glen evokes. One minute we stand in awe of the landscape, marveling at the expanse of it all. The next, there is an overwhelming sense of pain and sadness.

Waterfall in Glencoe

If you’ve never read the history of Glencoe, and the massacre that occurred here, I suggest you do so. Check out the website: www.glencoescotland.com. It’s a story of political treachery, clan rivalry, and honor and hospitality compromised with sword and fire. On a lighter note, because I feel we need one, scenes from Harry Potter were filmed here. Hagrid’s Hut with all the pumpkins, and the high wooden bridge to name two. This can also be found on the above mentioned website. See, I promised you a wee bit of magic.

Leaving the tragic history of Glencoe behind, let’s journey on to the Isle of Skye and look for better days. We’ve driven for five hours now and are minutes away from the Skye Bridge. Bump, bump, thud. What’s that? An unplanned stop on the side of the road. It can’t be. A flat tire. We were warned about the roads and the pot holes. It’s really my fault. I’m so anxious to show you Skye, I’ve been driving too fast. If you’ll just stand to one side, we’ll get it changed in a flash. It’s dusk, so we need to hurry before it’s too dark to see. What are all those small swarming bugs you ask? I know. They bite! They’re called MIDGES. Tiny biting bugs from Hell. Jump back in the rover. I’m about finished here.

Skyebridge

(Photo courtesy of Wiki Library.)

Back on the road, rounding the bend and there it is! Sure, I’ll pull over for pictures. The Skye Bridge was built in 1995. Before that the only way to cross the strait of Loch Alsh was by ferry. The charm is gone, replaced by convenience. If you ask a Skye man or woman, you’re sure to find varying opinions on the subject.

21 Castle Moil Kyleakin Skye

In the bay, you can see the ruins of Caisteal Maol, also known as Castle Moil. Around the year 900, the Mackinnon clan chief married a Norse princess nicknamed “Saucy Mary.” One can only imagine the reason for this nickname. They put a large chain across the strait and extracted a toll from all boats passing through. I’m sure there’s a great story just waiting to be told about this mysterious Nordic princess!

20 Saucy Mary's Lodge

It’s Sunday evening. I don’t know about you but I’m starving. Let’s stop at this pub for fish and chips. I’ve heard it’s fabulous and the atmosphere is fantastic. Live music. Backpacker’s sharing stories of their adventures.

This can’t be. It’s 8:00 pm, and the cook just left. Most restaurants are closed on the island on Sunday evening. There is an Indian Restaurant just up the road. Not my favorite, but let’s try it anyway. I realize you didn’t come all the way to Scotland to eat Indian food, but such is life.

Dinner is over. I’m glad you enjoyed our meal. All I can say is, I’m glad I bought the bag of peanuts at the airport. This is no reflection on the restaurant, only on my finicky taste. I’m afraid you’ll have to get used to this if you’re traveling with me. But, it’s okay. I also have a bar of chocolate . . . always.

22 Macdonald B & B

Finally, we’ve reached our destination. A lovely B&B owned by a Peter and Jane Macdonald. I’m sure we’re cousins. He’s the number one tour guide on the island. He took us on a private tour of Skye on our first visit. It was amazing.

16 Hills of Knoydart at Sunset

We’ve had a full day. Get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we’ll explore Sleat, (pronounced slate), the southern portion of Skye. We’ll visit Armandale Castle and Grounds, the Donald Center, and take a drive along the coast. I’ll even tell you the tale of the three young men and their Selkie wives. See you in the morning.

 

THE STONE MANOR IS HERE!

Book Cover

After almost three months of working on updating this blog site, it’s finally up and running. (Thank you, Andrew Hale and Andy Fronius!) AND, after beginning my novel, THE STONE MANOR, over six years ago as a short story, it’s finally published! I’m beyond excited. It was a very long pregnancy. The labor was intense, but a labor of love. Now that my baby is here, I just sit and stare at it.

I attempted to have it published by October, but realized it just wasn’t going to happen. Things always take longer than you think. I started looking at dates in November, as in, what happened in history, famous people’s birthdays, famous and infamous inventions. You know me. Why wouldn’t I? Suddenly, a thought came to mind. I should look at the birth dates of my MacDonald ancestors, since the story is partially based on them. AND GUESS WHAT? The first MacDonald in my line born in the US to my Isle of Skye ancestor was born on November 6, 1788. There it was!

28 Violin and Fam Pic

(This is a photo of my great-grandparents. My great-grandfather, James Rueben Little, was the great-grandson of our MacDonald ancestor. This is also his fiddle!)

I realized I had very little control over the exact date my novel would be for sale. I knew November 6th was a long shot. However, my novel is all about ancestral dreams, fairy glens, and fate. In keeping with the fairy tale theme, it was, in fact, published on November 6th. This just makes me smile.

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(Your dreams are worth your best efforts to achieve them.)

Last night, Jim and I went to our favorite Thai restaurant in Percha, Germany (near Munich) to celebrate my dream finally coming to fruition. This was my fortune at the end of the meal. The dream theme continues. This also made me smile . . . and laugh.

Dreams do come true. I’ve loved the journey, from putting the first words to paper to pressing the PUBLISH button on my laptop. I know newbie novels don’t sell themselves. I’ve a lot of work ahead of me. But, I’ll be doing it with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, a fairy song I once heard in my dreams.

 

French With Friends

126 French Books

Learning a new language is always . . . always an adventure.

I’ve decided to learn a new language. French. Why, you’re asking, if you live in Germany would you be learning French? Such a good question. I have a bit of a complicated answer. We now live minutes from the French border in the Black Forest. Near the wine country of Alsace. I’m absolutely in love with the small villages that wind their way up the valley wedged between the Rhine River and the Vosges Mountains. It’s breathtaking scenery, and the people are delightful.

I speak Spanish. I’ve learned that because of this, I’m not entirely lost when people are speaking French. Not entirely. I speak German, somewhat. They speak Alsatian there, which is a form of German. And some people speak a bit of English. All the same, these villages are in France, where they speak French.

127 Jean Diedrich Shop

I’m setting my second novel in one of these small villages, Kaysersberg. I’ve written about it in previous posts. I’ve stayed there in the past for short visits, but this fall we will spend a full month in the same apartment from our previous trip. I am determined to be able to speak, if only like a five year old, to our many new friends there, in their language. French.

I’m currently using a program by Pimsleur,  goFrench. You listen and repeat. No dictionary, no books, you cannot look at a French word. Only listen! These are the rules. I’m afraid if I cheat and look up a word in my stack of books, the CD will immediately begin to self-destruct. Now I have you thinking of Mission Impossible, a likely title for this new adventure of mine. But what I want you to be thinking about is Friends. The sit-com. I was reminded of the episode where Joey was learning guitar from Phoebe. She would only let him practice the chords with his hands in the air, not touching the guitar. This is how I feel. (This is where I must confess I am a visual learner. It’s been difficult.) That being said, if you heard me repeating after the native speakers YOU’D be reminded of yet another episode of Friends. The one where Joey is learning French from, you guessed it, Phoebe. She would say a phrase and he would repeat it. The problem was it sounded nothing like what she’d just said. Get the picture?

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(Me, pretending to be French.)

I am determined! I’ll let you know how it goes. I have till October. I’d love to close this post with a lovely French phrase, but I don’t know how to read or write anything I’ve been saying. Ha!

Finding Yourself Inside The Story

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Luc Grun and me in his studio in Riquewihr, France.

Guess who’s coming to dinner? Our new friends and owners of the apartment we’d rented for the week invited us downstairs one evening to their restaurant to meet some of their best friends. We walked down from our third floor apartment and entered the restaurant. There at the table by the door sat Jean-Jacques, Gabrielle, Isabeth, and Luc. They’d started the party without us. Jim and I sat down, and we were all introduced. I sat next to Luc and Jim sat next to Isabeth. Let the magic begin!

125 La Capucin Restaurant

Inside Le Capucin Restaurant.

Luc is a mathematician, turned linguist, turned painter. He has a deep voice and an infectious laugh! We six spent the evening together, discussing all manor of topics. Our conversation was a constant mixture of French, German, and English. Most of the time all at once. It was like being in a movie, an indie film…French comedy. I love finding myself inside a story. Full of the most amazing characters. People I could never write. Bigger than life. Luc is just such a person. Jim and I drove to Riquewihr a few days later and visited him in his studio. It is a must see if you ever go to this delightful village. He’s on the main walking street mid-way up the hillside. #37. Tell him we sent you.

121 Me and Gabrielle

Gabrielle and me in Le Capucin Restaurant.

I love finding kindred spirits in unexpected places, though I should have known I was destined to find just such a person in Kaysersberg. In fact, I’m so excited about our new friendship, one that will last a life-time, I’ve decided to take French this summer. I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m laughing as I type this just thinking about summer posts…could be funny.

120 Gabrielle Lamp

One of Gabrielle’s pottery lamps.

Okay, I said she and I were kindred spirits. Look at what she can do with clay! She makes the most wonderful, whimsical lamps. The restaurant is full of them. I’m hoping to place my order when we return in the fall. We will definitely be visiting them at their farmhouse in the mountains near the village. Her studio is there.

This is where I need to tell you that the following day after meeting Luc, we had lunch at the restaurant with two more of their dear friends. A retired couple who were professors of Biology and English. They were delightful! Jean-Jacques prepared a traditional Alsatian dish for us for lunch (which was delicious) and we spent hours eating and talking about life and legends. We talked about how there were many people in the area with the family name Ancel. Now the reason this is important has to do with Arthurian Legends, Sir Lancelot in particular. If you break down his name in French, which he was according to legend, it is L’ancel’ot…Little Ancel. My mind was spinning with ideas for my novel. Sadly, our time had to end, as I had another appointment with a local historian on the other side of the village. We made a date to visit our new professor friends at their farm, which is very near Jean-Jacques and Gabrielle’s home, when we return in the fall. I can hardly wait!

123 Ancel Restaurant

Me in the doorway of  The Golden Lion Restaurant in Kaysersberg.

Notice the name above the door at the restaurant in the above photo. J. Ancel. Jim and I had walked by this restaurant, next door to our apartment all week long. We decided to try it out our last night in town. We walked in and immediately loved the place. The tables were beautifully set, the light fixtures were iron, there were huge beams across the ceiling, and the food…well, DELICIOUS. As exciting as all this was, I had no idea that fate once again had led me to this very place. The owners of the restaurant were none other than, you guessed it, the Ancel’s. Sir Lancelot’s family. Here I was, inside my own story, and loving it. I giggled like I was a little girl when we first noticed the name on the menu. What a perfect way to end a perfect vacation.

124 Lamp Post Vins

My room with a view.

As I sit upstairs on my final night in our apartment the church bells are ringing. I open the window and lean out, looking toward the steeple rising above the house tops. It’s dark out, except for the lamplight on the street just below our window. No one is around. The bells are suddenly quiet, and I listen for ancient voices whispering on the street below. I look up at the castle tower and see a loan figure standing in the open window. She waves to me, inviting me to come closer. It’s her story I find myself a part of. Her name is Amélie.

 

Heroes Real and Imagined: Knights Across the Centuries

113 Me and Knight

Knights in Shining Armor are not always what they seem.

In April, we drove to France for lunch. (I love saying that!) We met several friends in Riquewihr, another lovely Alsatian village. After eating something very delicious (I’d like to tell you what it was but I don’t remember. You just need to know that everything I’ve eaten in Alsace has been delicious.), we walked up the main street and looked in the many wonderful shops. I saw this Knight standing in the doorway of one of the stores and knew I had to have my picture taken with him. I say him, though he never spoke to me, nor did he raise his helmet so I could see his face! Anyway, I took the photo and sent it to our grandson, Graham, back in Texas. He and I have this thing about knights and dragons and such. One of the first things I noticed about this particular Knight in Shining Armor was the size of the armor itself. If I stepped up on the platform, it appeared to be just my size. So, this could have belonged to Joan of Arc. Hmm. All this to say, in my new novel, a trusted knight is sent on a dark errand . . . not a shining one at all. His travel takes him across the valley from Kaysersberg to the Rhine, then on to the Black Forest. In order to familiarize myself with the terrain, Jim and I drove in as straight a line as possible to the river. It was a beautiful drive. Looking across the vineyards toward the Vosges mountains and the Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg. As you can see the weather was lovely. Cold and rainy. The perfect day for a dark ride east. The first body of water we came to was a small river,

114 Weiss Valley View

Le Fecht.

We’re going to need a small bridge to get across. Wood or stone. More research.

116 Ills River115 Fecht River

Le Fecht.                                                                                                              L’ILL.

Next, we came to the L’ILL river. Even bigger. Bridge or Ferry? Continue the research. A few miles further down the road, we took a side trip from my story in search of a more modern knight. Jim had read there was a monument honoring Audie Murphy in Holzwihr. An intense battle took place in the woods outside the village in WWII, and he saved the day, the village, and much more. A true knight. Do a little research of your own and check it out. Very interesting!

118 JIm Audie Murphy Site117 Audie Murphy Site

Jim next to the Audie Murphy Memorial near Holzwihr, France.

Leaving Holzwihr, we traveled on across the valley to the Rhine River. It’s very industrial along the river in this area today. I was continually asking myself what this all looked like seven hundred years earlier. So many questions. Finding the answers is part of the adventure I find myself a part of.

 

119 Rhein River

The Rhine River bridge at Breisach am Rhein, Germany.

Join me next time for the final days of my writing vacation. I’ll introduce you to Luc. You won’t be disappointed. A current knight  who yields a paint brush in place of a sword!

Of Carriages and Chapels: Medieval Moments

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Chapelle de l’Oberhof

“Will I ever get through those locked gates to see the 14th century chapel?” I’ve asked that question for a number of years now, and FINALLY, I learned the answer this week. This chapel is privately owned by the Thomann family. They also own Salzmann Thomann Vineyards. I went on their website, found their email address and explained my quest. I said I was writing a novel set in Kaysersberg in the Middle Ages and would love to tour the chapel.

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Inside the gates, in front of the chapel.

That very evening, as if by magic, I had an email from the owner telling me to ring the bell or call at the shop, and he would let me in to see the chapel. I was so excited; I could hardly sleep that night! I imagined sitting in the chapel, listening for the voices of the characters I’ve created, and possibly those I have not yet met. However the next day I realized, it was impossible to be left alone inside the chapel, as it was filled with wonderful art and icons. Truly a beautiful place of worship. And, I, being a complete stranger, was still afforded a personal tour by the owner.Jim took lots of pictures while I asked questions

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Window above doorway into chapel.

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Beautiful kneeling benches at the front of the chapel.

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Gravestone in the center of the chapel floor.

The interior was beautiful. The stone floor was fantastic. In the center was the carved stone slab in the above photo. I asked the owner about it, and he told me it was the grave of the builder of the chapel. There was a glass encased ornate staff from the Abbess of the nearby Abbey of Alspach on one of the walls. I stood in the center of the chapel and listened. I heard Amélie speaking with someone I did not recognize. Aha, a new character! I can’t wait to write the scene. The funny thing is I have no idea what I will write. But, I know once I begin the characters will have such a story to tell! Speaking of telling a story, here is a scene from the opening of my novel. (This is just the first draft, still a bit rough around the edges.) The village cheered as the opening procession of La fête des Vendanges marched down the main street toward the royal platform. The Harvest Festival had been celebrated in Rois de Montagne for centuries. As Madeline stood with her family near their shop waving her homemade banner, she felt a bite to the breeze that blew through her long black hair. Pulling her shawl across her belly, she shivered. Her unborn child stirred. Something was not right. First, the foot soldiers passed carrying flags representing the kingdom and the royal family. Madeline’s young sons yelled and jumped up and down with excitement. What boy did not want to be in the royal guard? Papillon, Rois’ town cryer, followed the soldiers announcing Borchard, the mayor, and his wife, Marie, riding on horses modestly adorned with flowers. Musicians played while jugglers and fire-eaters entertained the villagers along the main street. Several wagons with barrels of the new wine from the local vineyards rolled past the crowds. Everyone cheered, excited to indulge in the celebration following the parade. Finally, King Ulrich appeared, riding his war horse, flanked by his most trusted knight, Sir Galle de Oberay, steward of the castle. Each villager bowed. However, only briefly as the queen’s litter came into view. Everyone tossed flowers to Queen Giselle and shouted blessings. She was greatly loved and her beauty was unsurpassed. Her golden hair, braided and wrapped into a bun, gleamed in the sunlight.

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Philippe waiting to carry me through town!

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Me and my lady-in-waiting, Nina.

First, the chapel. Now this! There next to the bridge across from the chapel stood my carriage awaiting me! For a mere, 8 Euros, you can take a 30 minute ride through the medieval streets of town. Yes, please! I didn’t look like Queen Giselle as I rode in my own carriage along the same street I’d just written about, but I waved at passersby just the same. It was beyond fun! Tomorrow, we go for a drive across the valley toward the Rhine River to get a feel for the lay of the land. What do river crossings look like now? What might they have looked like then? Wait till you see what we found along the way!

A Night at the Museum: Kaysersberg, France

103 Musee Entrance

Enter at your own risk!

May 18 from 7:00 pm to midnight across France was “A Night at the Museum.” All museums were open and I assume free. At least the historical museum in Kaysersberg was. This museum is normally only open for one month during part of July and August. I was determined to see it hoping to find more information for my novel. When I asked if I would be able to get a private tour, the girl at the tourist office told me about Museum Night in France. I must say I had visions of the movie by the same name. I imagined Medieval knights and cloaked monks coming to life at midnight. I’m sad to say this did not happen, but it was still wonderful.

104 Musee Stairwell

Candlelit stone stairwell to the museum.

We had to climb a candlelit stone stairwell to get to the museum. It was only three rooms, mostly housing replicas of icons from the local church. There were some medieval weapons, a collection of neolithic stone tools, and random apothecary items. I would like to tell you more about what we saw, but our elderly tour guide spoke no English…French or German. We chose German. I must say I missed a lot, but he tried very hard to speak slowly and explain as best he could. He seemed very excited about the subjects he was talking about so I tried to do the same.

105 Me at Musee

View from the museum level into the courtyard below.

It was worth the tour  just to see inside this very old building. Actually, I would have paid money just to walk up the spooky stairs. There was a very large illustration of the town from the 1700s inside the museum. It was really fascinating, with specific houses and buildings marked with their construction dates. This will be useful when setting up the village in my novel.

106 Musee Courtyard

Ancient tower ruins.

Attached to the museum building was the remains of an ancient tower. We wondered around in the dimly lit courtyard taking in the medieval atmosphere. I replaced the plastic tables and chairs with wood and stone, threw in a few large scruffy dogs and…voila! Tonight the museum, tomorrow the chapel built in 1391. So much history. Meet me at the chapel!

On Writing A Novel: A Vacation of Research

96 Me at Amelie's House

Sometimes you just have to pack your bags and go there…

My husband and I have taken a week of vacation and driven to Kaysersberg, Alsace, France. As I’ve said so many times before, it is my favorite Alsatian village. The people are enchanting! It’s the perfect place to set a novel in the Middle Ages, which is just what I’ve decided to do.

97 Our 3rd Floor Apt98 Window view of Chateau Ruins

1. Restaurant LE CAPUCIN, 60, Rue du Général de Gaulle. 2. View from our window.

We found this fantastic apartment online. The ground level is the restaurant. The next three floors are apartments to rent. Our apartment is on the top floor. The views are amazing, enchanting, transporting. I look out the windows and am taken back to a much earlier time. When there were no cars, no telephones, no internet. At first this can seem fantastic until I take a deep breath and remember there was no sewer system, and I see the woman below me dumping the waste from her bed chamber pot onto the street below. The horses have left their deposits in the streets, as well. Hmm. Snap out of it. Back to the enchanting view.

99 Window with Church Tower View

View from my writing spot.

As I sit and write this post, the church bells are chiming. They’re beautiful. A few days ago, it was Pentecost Sunday, and the bells rang long and loud. It’s was a beautiful call to prayer. This is sweet music to write by. When we first arrived in Kaysersberg, our landlady met us at the bridge to show us the way to the apartment. We parked on the street, which was filled with tourists (It being Saturday.) and quickly unloaded our things. After finding a parking spot nearby, we returned to the restaurant and met the owners in their private garden in the back for a glass of wine. This was the only warm sunny day we’ve had. It was perfect. Gabrielle speaks English quite well. She’s delightful. Her husband, Jean-Jacques, grew up in Kaysersberg in this very building! It was his home, and he has inherited it. They turned the garage into a restaurant. And his father’s dentist offices into apartments. Their family living quarters are also now apartments.

When I told them I’m a writer, and I’ve come to research and write, they got very excited. Gabrielle said, “Oh, my husband will be so happy. He started a book about this area, but his computer died, and he lost it all. You must talk to him and help him.” And, talk we did. Over several glasses of wine and as many hours. Jean-Jacques’ English is not as good as Gabrielle’s. But that didn’t stop him. He did drink quite a bit of wine. He said he also speaks Chinese, but only after the 7th glass of wine can anyone understand him. So as our conversation went along, he would pour himself another glass of wine, saying, “Oh, I need another glass to lo0sen my tongue so my English will improve.” It was such a fantastic afternoon. He told me that Arthurian legends really began here. Lancelot in particular was from here. I gasped when he said this and told him I had already written this into my novel. They both looked at me and said, “We have been waiting for you to come!” Magical!

102 Wee Delivery Truck

Local delivery truck.

So you’re asking yourself, Is everything in this village cute? The answer is a resounding YES! Even the delivery trucks are cute. I wish I would have stood next to this one so you can see how tiny it really is. And it has a stork hanging from the rearview mirror, a symbol of good luck in this region.

When I wrote my first novel, The Stone Manor (which will be published at a date soon to be announced), I had been to Scotland before, but not to the Isle of Skye, which is the location of the novel. I did all my research from books, libraries, online, and memory from my first trip. Then, when I had finished writing we took a trip to Skye, and I retraced the steps of my novel to make sure it was all accurate. Or as accurate as a work of fiction should be. It was wonderful walking through my novel so to speak.

This is a similar feeling but in reverse. I’ve come here many times. But I’ve written very little so far. This week is a “jump start” for my novel. It ‘s incredible to sit here in this village and write my story. To hear the characters speak to me as I walk through the narrow cobblestone streets. I love living in the middle of my story. I’d love to bring you along as I write and explore. Stay tuned for A Night at the Museum.

Young Life Macedonia Service Project 2013: Crossing Cultures Through Service

90 Me and Macedonian Girl's Dance Troup

(Such beautiful girls! And you should see them dance!)

On the last day of our trip, the mayor of Strumica put together a celebration from the city for our group. It was incredible! They have a huge plaza in the center of city, and that’s where it was held. Lots of music, lots of dancing, lots of celebrating!

91 Kandern:Basel Worksite SP 2013

(This is the Kandern/Basel/Croatia group.)

This is the beginning of what we were celebrating. Kids and their Young Life leaders building a playground at an elementary school. They also painted the mural on the building in the background.

92 Completed Service Project 2013

(Here’s the final product! And the children are loving it! So fun! This is one of the two Munich sites.)

We built six playgrounds, painted and repaired fences, painted murals on school buildings, to name a few of the things that happened during the week. The kids that came on the service project are from international schools in the London area, Munich, Brussels, Kandern, Basel, and Croatia. These are all areas where Young Life is taking place. At the end of each work day we had Young Life Club! It was a great week.

93 Me and Macedonian kids

(Rachel Miller, Lucie Crighton, and myself with Macedonian kids from the middle school in Strumica.)

94 Service Project Macedonia 2013

(All 280 of us in the Strumica Town Plaza!)

The above photo was taken Friday afternoon. We had our final Young Life Club that evening back at the hotel. Then it was time to begin packing up. Jim and I had an 8:00 am flight out of Thessaloniki the next morning. We, along with about 10 other staff, loaded back onto the same small bus we had arrived in the week before. Bad news being it was 2:00 am. We rode the two hours, which turned into four hours plus one because of changing time zones, back to the Thessaloniki Airport. Checked in and waited another two hours for our flight to take off for Munich. I’ll close with the final photo of me at the airport just before boarding. This is where the two hours I lost in the last couple of months due to “day-light savings time” comes into play. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

95 Me at End of Service Project

Young Life Macedonia Service Project 2013: Where the Old Ways Thrive

84 Horse in Valley SP Macedonia 2013

(A typical means of transport in villages.)

We stayed in the village of Bansko, near the city of Strumica, Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia. (That’s a mouthful.) This valley is covered with green houses growing vegetables. I’ve never eaten so much cabbage salad in my life. Just sayin’.We drove up into the mountains to get to our hotel. The area is breathtaking.

But let me digress for a moment. I do need to say something about the flight over. It was a first for me, in that my seat mate was holding a dog carrier complete with dog. The problem was it was too big to fit under the seat, which was not allowed. So, we crammed it in as far as possible and the teenage boy and I shared the crate at our feet. The sweet little dog kept escaping which made the flight attendant very upset, and she kept looking at me and speaking very, very sternly. I would just point to the young man, who was Greek, and smile. Okay, I must admit, I did laugh. She didn’t think it was funny at all, so Jim got up and moved toward the back (he was sitting in the aisle seat). Then I climbed up out of my tight little economy sized seat and retrieved the dog. This was all before take off. The boy then took the dog out during our climb up, up, and away because he was whining. The dog, not the boy. He pulled out a little bowl and hit the button for the cabin attendant. He obviously did not know the rules about seat belt signs and take off etiquette. So, being the kind person I am I poured some of my Evian into his bowl. The minute the seat belt light went off the attendant came to see what we needed, and again I was in trouble because the dog was out of his crate. I knew right then this was going to be the longest 2 hour flight EVER.

85 Puppy Seat Mate on Way to SP 2013

(Yes, that’s a dog crate.)

Our bus ride from the Thessaloniki Airport to Bansko was a two hour drive that took about four. The border crossing took over an hour, and there were only 20 of us. I knew when the buses of 50+ kids arrived in a couple of days it would be a bit crazy. We had 232 high school kids and their Young Life leaders arriving from all over Western Europe to build playgrounds and do work projects in the villages around Strumica.

Our hotel was a spa site for people with “ailments.” They had a hot springs fed pool and various rooms in the basement area for “treatments.” We took every room and every bed, and then some, for the week. However, the locals continued to come to the pool and for other things. I had a delightful conversation with an older gentleman who’d lived in New Jersey. He had returned home after suffering a stroke and was enjoying the pool.

86 Me and Brent at Hotel for SP Macedonia 2013

(Our home for the week. Shown here with Brent Wolff, camp director.)

Because of the hot springs, there was a Roman Bath ruins to the right of the hotel. And when I said to the right of the hotel, I mean you step off the sidewalk and there it is. The government is restoring the site, but we were able to walk all around inside the ruins. It was fascinating.

87 Me and Jim at Roman Ruins at SP 2013

(Jim and I in the Roman Bath ruins.)

The weather was beautiful most days. We had a wee bit of rain, which was a nice break. It also gave us beautiful clouds streaming through the valley between the mountains.

88 Clouds at SP 2013

(The building in the photo is the pool.)

There were cars, buses, motorbikes, bicycles and …horse drawn wagons everywhere. I tried all week to find a way to catch a ride on one of the wagons. But alas, it was not meant to be. Next trip.

89 Horse Carraige SP 2013

I would like to brag on the hotel staff and the people of this amazing country, in general. The hotel staff fed us delicious food all week. Our rooms were cleaned ever day (remember we had a hotel full of teenagers who spent the day on worksites, and were staying 4 to a room that was meant for 2). There were 280 of us in all. Everyone was so accommodating and the people in the villages where we did the projects were wonderful. Beautiful children! I will talk more about this on my next post, with more photos.

I would like to end this with a teeny rant by mentioning a few days after our arrival, the country experienced a time change. Yes, that’s right, day-light savings, where we fell backwards. Which I did, literally, at the end of the day. What I need to let you all know is that I had already done this earlier in Texas. So, have you already ascertained, I have now lost two, count them, two hours of my life. At my age, not a good thing. There it is. I just needed to get it out there. This, along with the long hours will help explain the picture at the end of my next post. You’ll see what I mean.