Seattle | Holiday Visit | 2016

by Jim and Melanie

Before Christmas we traveled to Washington, with Seattle our first destination. We arrived late to the Mayflower Park Hotel for our three night stay. The next day dawned sunny and bright. It was a positive omen for things to come. The window of our tenth floor room faced south, and we had a good view of the heart of town.

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The first goal for the day was to find breakfast. We headed toward the Pike Place Market and found three places serving breakfast, one for each of our three mornings. They each had views out over the bay like this. We watched ferries cross the bay, and tankers and tugs chug through.

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After breakfast the first day, we wandered through the Market, intent on filling Christmas stockings with small treats. Vendors were setting up, giving samples of fruits and pepper jellies. Crafters arranged their wares with care, ready to sell to holiday shoppers. The fishmongers sang a call and response while tossing fish to fill orders. They put on a fun show as people watched with cameras poised.

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We returned that evening after dinner, well after closing. The vendors were gone. The stalls were cleaned and empty. It was an eerie sight, one that not many people see.

The next day we headed for the Market for another breakfast with a view. Afterward, we visited the Seattle Art Museum. We enjoyed the exhibits, especially of the Native Americans of the northwest.

The day continued with fair skies. Our next goal was to visit the Space Needle and surrounding venues of the Seattle Center grounds. Going up in the Needle is pricey. We used to bypass tourist opportunities like that, but we’ve learned that some things are worth the price. This was one of them. The viewing deck gives a 360° panorama of the Seattle area. We could even see Mt. Rainier, almost 60 miles to the southeast. After rounding the outside deck at least once, we sat inside and shared a bowl of chili. It was fun to watch other tourists, including several who spent a lot of time posing for selfies, trying to get just the right slant of chin for the photos.

As we waited for the monorail to take us back to our hotel, we noticed a young man with a strange looking camera. Jim knew it was an older model Polaroid. He went up to ask him some questions. The young man was happy to tell about his prized camera. He asked if he could take our picture. We said it was okay. He pointed and pressed the button. Out came the film which developed slowly over the next 30 minutes. We chatted more on the monorail ride.

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That evening we enjoyed dinner with old friends, long missed. The next morning we headed south to spend several more days with our son.

Seattle was fun and interesting, with much more to see and do than we had time for. We’ll look forward to visiting again.

New Year Walk | Fairy Plates | Ice | Bear

by Jim and Melanie

Squire Point trail is a favorite place for hikes. We go there several times a year in different seasons to see the variety of ways nature presents. Today was day 1 of the new year. The Sun was out. The wind was not strong. The temperature was above 32˚F. We bundled up and went there. It was a good day to be out.

We stopped and chatted briefly with two of Jim’s former teaching colleagues. Their dogs were huge. Several families were out with small children enjoying the day. One father was especially loud but good natured. The lake was frozen over solid but we did not venture onto it. There were icy patches on the trail we negotiated very carefully.

Melanie pointed out these tiny fungi that looked like plates or saucers. The biggest is about 1/2″ wide.

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Jim risked falling into the stream to get this picture of a small frozen water fall about 2′ tall.

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We both spotted this bear cub hugging a small 6″ tree. We were surprised to have never noticed it before on our hikes.

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Scotland | A Few End Bits

by Melanie and Jim

We enjoyed our time in Scotland. The people are friendly. The history is rich. The countryside is beautiful. Our previous posts about our trip will remind us of the highlights each time we revisit them. We hope you have enjoyed them. This post is about a few aspects we found interesting that didn’t fit into the narrative of the earlier ones.


The City of Inverness

Situated on the northeast coast, Inverness opens to Moray Firth and then the North Sea. The River Ness flows from Loch Ness 12 miles (19 km) away and through the center of Inverness. The first claimed sighting of the Loch Ness Monster was in the River Ness in AD 565. We stayed in the city of 47,000 for two days prior to our barge holiday on the Caledonian Canal. We never saw the monster.

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First Snow | Cardinal Waits

We have our first snow of the season in Iowa this morning. There is about 3″ on the ground and nearly stopped. I filled the feeders since the birds will find it harder to locate food. This cardinal sat for the longest time in the thicket nearby. I like how he is all fluffed up. Now, he and chickadees, titmouse, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and juncos are busy checking out the new supply.

Cardinalis cardinalis

Cardinalis cardinalis

Scotland | Whisky

by Melanie and Jim

If you’ve never been to Scotland and someone asks you to free-associate words you link to the country, you might think of things like highlands, tartans, kilts, golf, sheep, and scotch whisky. Though Scotland is much more than these, these stereotypes actually hold true. The land is beautiful and rugged; the people hold their textiles and kilts dear; golf courses are everywhere; and whisky is one of the main manufactured products of the land.

According to wikipedia, “Scotch Whisky has survived USA prohibition, wars and revolutions, economic depressions and recessions, to maintain its position today as the premier international spirit of choice, enjoyed in more than 200 countries throughout the world, and generating more than £4 billion in exports each year.” Besides the whisky itself, the whisky industry is closely linked to tourism. Many distilleries are open for public tours (for a fee), adding more than £30 million of value a year.

When we decided to travel to Scotland, whisky was one thing that drew us. Friends recommended we look at Rabbie’s tours for parts of our journey. Rabbie’s hosts a number of whisky industry tours. Benefits of using a tour company include having a driver/tour guide, an itinerary, and scheduled entrance to distilleries and other sites. We didn’t need to rent a car, drive on the left, or figure out how to get around, all while potentially tipsy!

Where We Went

The Scottish region with most whisky distilleries is Speyside, the area around the River Spey in northeast Scotland. The prime location features fresh water springs and nearby farming of barley, two of the three ingredients used in production. The third ingredient is yeast.

Our 3-day tour, in orange, took us from Edinburgh up to Perth and then northwest through Pitlochry, before turning northeast to follow the River Spey. Near the top of the green region of Cairngorms National Park we stayed 2 nights at a bed & breakfast. On day two we reached the north sea near Forres. The third day brought us down the east side of the park and near Balmoral Castle on the south. Our driver said during one recent summer, on two separate occasions, he met a pair of vehicles on a remote road with one of them driven by the Queen.

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Abscission | Autumn Leaves Fall

On 17 Nov 2016 we reached a near-record high of 75˚F in eastern Iowa. It started to cool off the next day and got very windy. That night and the next day were much colder and windy with gusts in excess of 45 mph. Most of the trees already dropped their leaves before this recent weather. The strong wind removed the rest, except for the mulberry trees. They still held tight to their dried leaves.

The next morning, it was the coldest night of the year at 20˚F. We knew what to expect from the mulberry trees. As the temperature warmed to near freezing, they would drop their remaining leaves within an hour. The process involves something called abscission. Earlier colder and frosty nights triggered the formation of a thin layer of cells at the base of the leaf stem. The very cold temperature helped complete the process of cutting the leaf loose from the stem so it could fall.

In this video the leaf drop occurs on the tree behind out neighbor as the sun warmed the leaves. There was no wind. The video is speeded up by 4X. It will help to view on a larger screen.

Morals | Liberal vs Conservative

A look at moral decision making in a framework of “liberal” and “conservative.”

How I See It

right-way-wrong-way1Consider the following moral foundations that guide the decisions people make. How would you rank them in terms of their importance to you? Which one is top on your list? Which is least important to you?

Take your time. Order them from most to least in how important they are as guides to your moral decisions.

Care/Harm: This foundation is related to our ability to feel the pain of others and underlies the virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

Fairness/Cheating: This foundation underlies the ideas of justice, rights, proportionality, and independence.

Liberty/Oppression: This foundation relates our feelings toward those who dominate and restrict our liberty. Tension with authority can bring people together in attempts to remove the oppressor.

Loyalty/Betrayal: Evolved from our tribal history and the formation of coalition groups with others. Patriotism and sacrifice for our group are two ways this foundation is expressed.

Authority/Subversion: Related to the hierarchy…

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Scotland | Edinburgh Castle and Museums

by Jim and Melanie

So far, the focus of our Scotland vacation blog posts has been on the holiday barge trip we enjoyed the first week. Our travels also included several days in Edinburgh. Our first day was upon arrival before heading north by train to Inverness. After the barge trip, we returned to Edinburgh for three days. Lastly, we enjoyed one more day after our whisky distilleries tour. This post presents some highlights of all three of those occasions in the marvelous city.

First Impressions

We arrived mid-day at the airport and made our way to where we would spend the night. It was only a few blocks from the Royal Mile in the Old Town. The Royal Mile is a series of streets running downhill from the Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace to the east. The descent is from 109 meters above sea level at the castle, to 42 meters at the palace. The thoroughfare is the busiest tourist area in the city. The street was built upon the glacial debris behind the volcanic plug upon which the castle sits. (See more about the Royal Mile and its geology and history here.)

After getting settled into our room, we ventured out to explore and find a place to eat. We walked up the Royal Mile and back again. We explored a few side streets and narrow passages called closes. More about closes in this post. Tourist shops were everywhere, with tartans, kilts, whiskies, and shortbreads in abundance. People from all over the world enjoyed the sights and sounds. Bagpipes could be heard. Street performers (buskers) gathered crowds. The old gray stone buildings rose up with a wide variety of ornamentations. Statues and public memorials were everywhere.

Our train for Inverness was scheduled late the next morning. We packed our bags and rolled them toward a place where we could get breakfast. Afterward, we crossed the Royal Mile and headed toward the train station. This was our view across the tracks. Click on either picture to open them in gallery.

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Scotland | Historic Edinburgh

by Jim & Melanie

Our visit to Scotland this fall included our week-long barge trip, which we’ve already discussed. We also had three separate visits to Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. It is a city that is centuries old. The history of the city’s development intrigued us.

Edinburgh of the Past

Edinburgh was built upon ground surrounding an ancient volcano core. The crag sticking up above the surrounding land where the castle was built stands over 100 meters (330 ft) above sea level. Tailing off toward the east was a ridge of land sloping downward to about 30 meters (100 ft). The top of the ridge served as a roadway. Buildings with shops and residences were densely arranged roughly perpendicular to the roadway. Two old maps show the layout from different perspectives looking north and then looking west.

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View north about 1770

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