30 December 2007

Aberdeen and Old Aberdeen

We've been enjoying showing my parents around Aberdeen and Old Aberdeen the past couple of days. God's given us some great weather while we've been out. Lots of blue skies the past few days with only some rain :) Here are a few of the many shots we've taken. If you make it to the bottom there is a special treat!This is Marichal College (pronounced "Marshall" as best as we can tell!) on one of the main streets in Aberdeen. It has been owned by the University of Aberdeen, but they recently sold it to the Cit of Aberdeen. It currently houses the City Council offices. I think I was told or read it is the second largest granite structure in the world--it really is massive and imposing to look at on the street!
Even closer detail on top of Marichal College--I love all the little flags! There are tons of them!
I forgot this park's name in the center of town--Maybe Union Terrace Park? It's always nice to see the green among the gray granite.
The beautiful sunrises continue! Yesterday was no exception. The clouds at the bottom make the church look like it's in the sky rather than on the ground!
Walking up to King's College proper on the University campus. Mark and I both walk this every day during the work week.
Mark showing off his office/desk. (More like we asked him to pose!)
The family in front of the unicorn holding the saltire of Scotland. This is right near Mark's office on campus.
Just Mark and me on campus
Mark and I had heard that a neat place to see was St. Machar's Cathedral at the end of Old Aberdeen, so we walked a few minutes off campus and found a pretty cathedral and a huge, very old cemetery. If you click on the link above, you can see better, more professional pictures! I would have loved to have taken more, but as you can maybe see, the church was decorated for a wedding. We soon realized the wedding was going to take place soon so we didn't linger long!

Here is the bagpipe player hired to play for the wedding. Just as I went to take the picture, he stopped to fix his reed. As a final treat, I was able to video record the playing for you to all enjoy :) At the end of the small recording I zoomed in on the groomsman (and maybe the groom?) who were decked out in the traditional kilts as well. Kilts are considered formal wear (like tuxes) for weddings. It's pretty neat to see! I would have gotten an even better view, but didn't want to invade their privacy any more than I did!

28 December 2007

Happy Christmas (a little belated)!

As they say here, Happy Christmas! They do say Merry Christmas some, but Happy Christmas is more the norm. I personally find it hard to say! Hope you had a great day however you celebrated!
After a long Christmas day with just Mark and I, my best Christmas present ever arrived at 9:30pm on Christmas day...the last flight of the day to arrive into Aberdeen--but it was carrying my parents so I was happy they even had the flight! They were amazingly awake and doing well after nearly 24 hours of travel.God answered our prayers for a place for my parents to stay near to our flat--right next door! God is so good! We had secured a couple of other flats within 5 minutes walk of our flat, but what a blessing when our neighbor said she was going to be off-shore (on a ship in the North Sea) for the time my parents were going to be here and that they could use her place! So we have the whole upstairs of our building to ourselves at the moment :) It's nice to have the extra space to spread out. I don't think everything would have fit (luggage, extra mattress, extra chairs, etc) in our living space. We've enjoyed nice weather since they've arrived, with the exception of today which has dawned rainy. Chances are it won't last long. Mark and Dad have gone to see if the Starbucks is open yet. It doesn't open until later, like 8am or something. Mom's enjoying catching up on her sleep and I'm enjoying a little down time to catch up on things like this!Yesterday we took my parents to see the wonders of Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle. It looks like I've super-imposed this picture, but they were really there! (Can you tell it was cold and windy!?)

21 December 2007

Giddy as a School Girl

As one of my friends used to say "I'm giddy as a school girl" today! I am now done with work until Jan. 3rd and it's all paid :) Can't complain about that one bit! I have only worked about a month and a half at this job, but nonetheless, I'm ready for a break. Mark has also started his vacation today, slightly ahead of schedule because I accidentally took his keys to work with me and he couldn't leave the house because you can't shut our front door without the key!) I don't think he minded too much, though :)

The other reason I am jumping for joy today is that it is the shortest day of the year. You might wonder why that makes me excited since the sun rose at 8:46am and will set at 3:26pm...just over an hour from now. But I am excited because now we have longer days to look forward to! It has helped that it has been so sunny the past week, but the darkness has recently started to wear on me a bit. It's a weird feeling to think by 8pm that you should be headed to bed because it has been dark for 4 and a half hours already and your body thinks it's 10pm. In a weird way I guess we've adjusted, but it still does mess with your mind/body a bit.

Happy Shortest Day of the Year to all of you too!

P.S. The picture is of a sunrise about a week ago out of our bedroom window that looks towards City Centre.

19 December 2007

Are you Fair Trade?

If I thought I was "going green" or organic before because of food allergies forcing me to shop at places like Whole Foods, I feel our time here will take things a step further. Aberdeen is a Fair Trade city and the whole of Scotland, I think, is in the process of becoming a Fair Trade country. (If you aren't familiar with Fair Trade it is giving workers in poor countries, like Africa nations or India, fair wages for their work, rather than ripping them off just so wealthy people can save a buck in purchasing that product.)

So one of my projects at work for the past month has been researching companies who make cotton shopping bags that we can have imprinted with the Uni's logo to give away to prospective students and such when they come for campus visits, etc. We've been using very nice plastic bags, but to be more eco-friendly we are switching to a reusable bag to encourage less plastics in the landfills. This is a big concept here. Nearly every major grocery chain and other shopping chains have bags they sell that are for the purpose of using less plastic bags. It's a great idea. My problem is, I rarely remember to take the bag I do have, and sometimes when I have it I forget to say I don't need a plastic bag!

We had the list of 10 companies narrowed down to 2 or 3 and then someone (why after 3 weeks of research it had to be asked AFTER I was done I am not sure!) asked if the companies we were looking into were using Fair Trade cotton, or Fair Trade practices. I had to do some more "googling" and make more phone calls to ask "Are you Fair Trade?" Of course, they all said yes! Everyone wants you to think they are giving their workers fair wages.

Anyhoo, so today I call up a company and tell him we have chosen their company. I e-mailed the other companies to tell them "thank you for your help, etc, but we've chosen someone else." What was I thinking trying to be kind and appreciative? Within an hour and a half I had two phone calls asking why we chose the other company, acoompanied with two lower bids than they previously gave us, and lower than the first company we chose because they originally had the lowest bid! Salesmanship at its finest. I have decided that they all want to work with a big name like the Uni and because they know this first shipment of 10,000 bags will only be the start of other shipments, meaning lots of money for them in the long-run. I dread going into work tomorrow when I have to send more e-mails or make more calls telling two of these companies they lose out (since we are now reconsidering our first decision based on the lower prices!). I'm glad I don't have to make the decision, I just have to try to explain to someone else why that decision was made.

Despite these temporary trials, it has been a neat project to be working on and I look forward to seeing the final product (and maybe even owning one?). The only real drawback...I felt rather guilty going to the grocery store yesterday after working for 4 hours on the project and then walking out of the store with 6 or so plastic bags! I think I am being brainwashed :)

14 December 2007

Thinking towards Christmas...

One of the neat things about going to a new church is hearing new songs and finding new ones you really like. This is one of my new favorite songs we sing at church. You can hear the first little bit if you go here , on the left click "Kingsway Songs," on the left do a "quick find" using first few words below, click the first choice given, and then click on "Listen Now." Even if you can hear the great tune, the words are still amazing, encouraging, and certainly humbling.

By the Spirit and a virgin's faith;
To the anguish and the shame of scandal
Came the Saviour of the human race!
But the skies were filled with the praise of heaven,
Shepherds listen as the angels tell
Of the Gift of God come down to man
At the dawning of Immanuel.

King of heaven now the Friend of sinners,
Humble servant in the Father's hands,
Filled with power and the Holy Spirit,
Filled with mercy for the broken man.
Yes, He walked my road and He felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again -
I will follow my Immanuel!

Through the kisses of a friend's betrayal,
He was lifted on a cruel cross;
He was punished for a world's transgressions,
He was suffering to save the lost.
He fights for breath, He fights for me,
Loosing sinners from the claims of hell;
And with a shout our souls are free -
Death defeated by Immanuel!

Now He's standing in the place of honour,
Crowned with glory on the highest throne,
Interceding for His own belov├Ęd
Till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
Hope of heaven or the fear of hell;
But the Bride will run to her Lover's arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

Stuart Townend
Copyright © 1999 Thankyou Music

13 December 2007

Picture Time!

This past Saturday we decided we needed to escape the city and see some countryside so we headed north along the coast for about an hour. We stopped first in Cruden Bay, where little did we know (until just now!) we saw Cruden Bay Golf Club which has quite the reputation for being a fine course--last year ranked no. 52 in the world in one magazine. Frankly, I was freezing and was wondering how the men I saw playing were doing so!The course is set on this beach and river that flows into the ocean. We took a brief walk (and I emphasize brief) until the wind nearly blew us away! You might notice how low the sun looks on the horizon. The picture was taken just before noon. Here the sun stays low in the horizon. You always have a long shadow. It's very hard to see sometimes when the sun is glaring at you in the middle of the day, especially driving!
The bridge we crossed to get to the beach area.
Another great sign of "No dog fouling." Glad to see tax payers money hard at work! My favorite part is the, uh, steam/stench coming from the, uh, foul...
Maybe I'm just weird (well, most of you already know that's true!) but this sign strikes me as humorous. Guess it's the stick figure plummetting to his death with arms/legs flalyling. In all seriousness, Mark said he heard someone died near this area from falling off the cliff, so the signs are warranted.
We got in the car for a few more minutes and headed north to Slain's Castle (well, more like the parking lot about 1/4 mile from the castle). Apparently, Slain's Castle was the inspiration for Bram Stroker's Dracula and apparently is in the process of being turned into luxury apartments. After seeing the muddy road we'd have to walk to get there and being reminded of the stiff wind, we opted for the view through the camera lens.
Back in the car, headed north towards Peterhead. But first we stopped off in the little fishing village of Boddam (gotta love the name!). Here is the beautiful lighthouse that we barely got to enjoy because we were so enamored with a seagull (see below).
This seagull was dancing! No joke. Very strange. You can almost make out his foot being lifted in this photo. By the time I put my camera on the video record setting, he flew off :( But, feel free to go to You Tube to check out other people's videos of dancing seagulls. It's entertaining!
We once again headed north to Peterhead. We ended up in a dead end street with everyone Christmas shopping so we quickly vacated and decided there wasn't much to see. I had to use the loo and Mark was craving some coffee, so off to McD's!! It was a first for us since being here. It was a madhouse in there (lots of families and children running around...no play area, now I know why they do that in the States!) Mark also indulged in a "Festive Pie." I thought he had bought an Apple Pie and was going to steal a small bite, but was very turned off when I discovered he bought a Mincemeat and Custard Pie. He said it was good, but I'm still skeptical.
After our travels we spent a short time at home and headed back out to Kate and Brannan's again for game night along with James and Allison. The ladies made dinner, the men discussed theology (sounds like Thanksgiving again!) and then we played Dutch Blitz in couple teams. Mark and I nearly one, but at the end fell to the LOSER catagory. Oh well, maybe next time. Then it was on to a long Jenga competition. We made it to 33 stories only for me to have to yank any old one out because there were literally no more blocks to coax out. Oh well....LOSER again :)

11 December 2007

Life in General

I was thinking recently how it's been awhile since I posted anything about our daily lives here, so I'll catch you up to speed.

Let's start with communications since that's been such a saga while we've been here. Once our phone line was established we got our first phone bill within two weeks. I didn't exactly find that fair since we had waited over 6 weeks for a line, but I don't get to send the bills, just pay them. The company was so efficient in getting us a line finally, that they over compensated and gave us two. After waiting two and a half hours one day to have it corrected and never having the line answered, I hung up in despair. I complained on-line and asked them to fix it. That was a month ago. I never heard anything and don't feel like wasting any more time trying to figure out if we are still being charged for that extra line. In any case, we just didn't pay the "line rental" for the second line.

As for our internet, I had higher hopes for AOL doing better than they have done. When we finally got internet, you might remember it was because a friend lent us their router. I am so glad they did! If they hadn't, we would have just gotten connected last week. Yes, dear friends, our router arrived a good month after it was supposed to. We had been told at least 5 times one was on it's way. Finally, I got a much more competent customer service rep to realize neither order had been sent as we had been reassured all those times it had been. In any case, in a couple days after talking with him we got our very own router!!

I've also spent at least 3 phone calls trying to get our electric bill "sorted" out. If you ever wonder what I do when I'm not at work, you might have an idea now :) Unfortunately, after getting our first electric bill (bills here seem to be billed only every 3 months) we are now "skint." (I taught Mark this word tonight and thought I'd teach you too!) There is no doubt in our mind we are going to find a flat with gas heating!! Can't wait, either :)

Now that we've covered some of the, uh, more interesting parts of life here, we'll move on to the more important things! Mark is pressing forward and studying hard. He went to a class today teaching him how to make the most of using Word for long documents (i.e. dissertations!). Sounds like he wished he would have had the info when he was writing his thesis. I'm very proud of him...I certainly wouldn't have lasted this long studying like he has these past 2-3 months!

I am enjoying my work overall. At first I was on a dreadful project that seemed to never end (in fact, it's waiting for someone else's review and I may end up having to do more on it). Unfortunately, the 4 weeks of nearly constant mouse work has made my tendinitis flare up again (I had it about 4 years ago in both hands). I have had to be careful how much time I spend on the computer, especially at home, and doing other tasks requiring lots of hand movements (i.e. dishes...Mark's been a big help!). The good thing from the project, though, was that I learned my UK geography, especially England. I can now tell you where many of the counties are located and what region they belong to. I wondered why they had the American doing this project, but it has it's perks. When someone mentions cities on the radio or general conversation I often feel like I have a slight understanding of where they are talking about! Very handy :) I'm also learning there are many differences in our education systems. Here "university" and "college" are completely different and not interchangeable! I'm slowly getting to know people at work, too, which is always nice.

We continue to also get to know people at church. We have enjoyed attending Wednesday evening Bible Study that is usually a study of a chapter of Scripture (been in Ephesians) and then small group discussion. One of the things we miss most here is our small group from our old church. The church here doesn't really do small groups except in this form on Weds. We are learning to enjoy what we have and make the most of it! We also like to go some on Sunday evenings as there is tea and coffee and "sweets" served after the service. This is an informal time for getting to know new people in the church and is always an encouragement to us.

Today was the first hard frost I've noticed. Might surprise you, but I've concluded (in my vast meteorological experience) that it's probably because there is often a wind to keep it away! We also noticed that with this frost came a hazard to our well-being! Many of the sidewalks and blacktopped roads were very slick, which wasn't helping me walk as fast as I needed to make up for being late for work :( I am not sure if they were slick because they were wet (as they often are) and then froze, or if it is because they are different materials than in the States or what, but they were slippery for sure!

That's all for now...my hands need a break! Miss you all...

05 December 2007

If You Came for Dinner

Since most of you will never be able to visit our flat, I thought we’d have you over for a “virtual dinner” so we can show you around and share our life and home with you. Enjoy and thanks for coming!

If you were to come to dinner at our house, you’d arrive at our building and press the second from top button with our last name on it. We’d pick up the phone in our entryway and ask who it was. When we found out it was you (our friends!) we’d press the unlock button and wait for you to make the 56 step trek up to see us. On the first few stairs you’d notice a couple piles of mail that is the community drop off point for the mail (Well, after the mailman drops all of it through the main door mail slot and someone in the building puts it on the steps--so much for not looking through other people’s mail! By now we'd be in jail in America!).

Then you’d take a deep breath and head for the first floor (which in America we’d call the second floor). By the third set of steps you might stop on the landing for a breather and look out the window to see our communal garden (which is more like a weed patch) where we hang our laundry out when it’s not too cold and not too rainy (more days than you might think, although when the laundry’s piling up, never enough days!).

Once you caught your breath you’d head up 3 more flights of stairs and knock on the door right in front of you. We would greet you and through your huffing and puffing you might ask (in reference to renting a flat on the 4th floor with no “lift” (elevator)), “Are you mad?!” We’d laugh and have you come in. You’d be in our little entryway/hallway.

Mark would take your coat (you would almost certainly have one, especially this time of year), hang it behind the door, and you’d come into the kitchen straight in front of the front door.

Maybe you’d notice it has a door on it...that's to keep the heat in (I love days when I get to turn the oven on because it isn't so cold to be in there cooking!) Maybe you’d notice how much cabinet space there is and our great big window to look out. Maybe we’d show you how our windows can open with a crack at the top (tilting towards us) or open all the way for lots of fresh air to come and how there are no screens so sometimes big flies come in. Or maybe you’d be amused with the washing machine being in the kitchen under the counter-top and with how small it is (it’s not amusing, however, when you can only fit 3 pairs of jeans in at a time!). And probably Rachel would proudly show off her “big” refrigerator/freezer that looks like the cabinets (very right of the picture--fridge on top, freezer on bottom), and tell you how grateful she is to have one bigger than most here in Scotland so she can store away her food in the freezer.

We’d show you into the living area and offer you a seat on either our modern leather couch or on one of the two chairs at our non-modern table since for now this all the seating we’d have.

Maybe you’d again notice the large windows that Rachel gets to open wide to take her sunset pictures out of (in the fall we had the best sunsets!) and understand why we enjoy the 4th floor because it is so open. Maybe you’d even get to see one of the many airplanes off in the distance(see right side of picture) that we often see (but thankfully don’t hear) as they approach for landing. Next maybe you’d comment on the cute little bookshelf nook.

It’s perfect for Mark’s books and other misc. items. And no doubt you'd notice the cute little Christmas tree we are borrowing from friends who are in the States for Christmas and didn't need theirs (thanks Rachel and Chris!). And maybe you’d note that there isn’t a TV. We’d say “No, there’s a high tax on having a TV and we’ve decided to do without. Instead, we are really enjoying reading (Rachel's on her 4th book), water color painting, scrapbooking, playing computer games, or playing Jenga or card games in the evenings, and once again watching "24" on DVD direct from Blockbuster in the mail" :)

To get the rest of the full tour we’d take you directly across the little hallway to see our bedroom. (And point out the bathroom on the right, making sure you knew that if you had to use it, the light is on the outside as no electricity except razor outlets is allowed in the actual “loo.” We’d also tell you sorry that there is no “mixed” water; the hot has its own tap and the cold too--makes for burning or freezing hands!)

Once again you’d see a spacious window that looks out over several other residential buildings, but in the distance you’d notice several old church steeples alongside high rises apartment

complexes. We’d tell you that we love being up high so we get the most sunlight possible and it’s not blocked by other buildings. It helps us not feel so closed in and we are grateful for our space J In the bedroom you might see one or two drying racks holding our clothes that are desperately trying to dry. We’d tell you that sometimes things take days to dry, especially, as you could imagine when it’s cold and there’s no central heating.

When it was actually time for dinner we'd drag everything into the living room and then, of course, after dinner we’d cart things back into the kitchen and if you were a lady you might offer to help wash some dishes. Rachel might ask if the “immerser” was on first. You’d say “The what?” (Which is exactly what we did the first time our neighbor told us about it when we couldn’t figure out why we didn’t have hot water any more). She’d say, “The immerser, it’s the switch behind the door (by the kitchen lights) with the light above it. It’s a hot water tank that is only turned on when needed so electricity isn’t wasted when it’s not being used.” She might also add, “It’s a great concept, but a pain when you forget to turn it on at least 20-30 minutes before you need it and don’t have any or very little hot water. Or when you want it first thing in the morning in the bathroom sink and it's rather cold!”

As the night wore on and it got colder we’d probably turn on the electric space heater we have. You’d notice how quickly it got toasty and how we’d make sure the door was closed to the living room. If you had to step out to another room you’d definitely notice how cold it was elsewhere in the flat and hurry back to the warm living room.

Parting for the night we’d discuss which bus line you need to take to get back to your guest house. Thankfully, several of the main lines stop two minutes from our front door so it's very convenient to get into town. We’d also let you know that although there is a little bit of graffiti down the road a couple doors, it really isn’t a rough neighborhood. We’d say that overall it’s pretty quiet and safe, and we are more definitely really enjoying life here in our new home. But we might also add that when our lease is up in March we are planning to move closer (hopefully) to the university since that is where we both go daily during the week. We also hope to find a place with gas heating :)

We hope that for some of you we can treat you to a real dinner (or more) and have you as guests in our home. We want to extend the invitation (for those of you that we know) that you are welcome to come and visit. Just let us know….our door is open!