Sunday, September 21, 2014

4th Year Exile

Last week’s return to the UK marked the start of my final year of life here in Scotland and at the University of St Andrews.  It marked my final year of PhD work (most likely), and it marked my final year of being a full-time, fee-paying student.  After this year I’ll have been in school for 24 years: 13 (ZM), 4 (Crown), 3 (GCTS), 4 (St A).  Do I know more now than I did when I started?  I can perhaps read and write better than I did pre-Kindergarten, but my math skills remain delinquent and I still don’t have my Southern Hemisphere geography or my Periodic Table of Elements memorised.  Life-long homework, I suppose.

It’s good to be back across The Pond.  I’m ready to finish here and to return ‘home’; and returning for this final winter is with the goal of making that transition happen.  My time in Scotland has been good in many ways, and I will always cherish the memories from this land.  But I’m ready to be done; I’m ready to be a teacher, to be back in leadership, to use my gifts, to mentor students, to earn an income.  Oh to see the day!

This final semester of work on the dissertation is tangibly different than those previous.  Some friends who started this programme with me have decided to finish from home.  And, due to retirements in the Academic Development department in which I work, my role as the University of St Andrews Study Skills Tutor has expanded, meaning that most of my ‘free’ hours are now spent preparing for workshops and other tasks rather than with the friends that remain.  That is to say that, my social life is nearly non-existent.

But the largest tangible difference is my final-year exile from the Duncan room and the Roundel—my office and office building of the last three years.  All fourth year students occupy the Baillie room, which sits on the top floor of the St Mary’s College building, dating back to the 1600’s (I think). 

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Unlike those of the Roundel, Baillie Room residents do not have 24/7 access to their office… or to their books.  Monday through Friday, 8am-7pm.  That, my friends, is a very short work day/week, and an unfortunate part of the fourth year, given the push to finish.  The Baillie Room is not all bad, however.  Whereas the Roundel is directly across from the beautiful Cathedral ruins, the Baillie Room is in the St Mary’s community, literally 20 yards from the divinity library, a doorway away from the seminar rooms and the faculty offices.  For the first time in my time here, I feel like a participant in the everyday life of the divinity school.  I now work ‘on campus’.

And, I scored one of the best desks in the room, the furthest away from the door and complete with its own window and chair.

Some of you will recognise my Montana ‘office’ in the photo to the left of the lamp. :)

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Envision me working away back in the corner.

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To access the Baillie Room, we climb the circular stairwell leading up through the ‘Founders Tower’ (seen behind the tree in the picture above),

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  after entering through this door:

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Because I submitted my first rough draft to my supervisor before returning home for the summer, my task now is to revise that draft into a version that will be submitted for final evaluation and which I will defend at my viva, the oral exam,  sometime in February or March of 2015.

This is truly the final leg of this Scotland journey, and I’m quite keen to get on with it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

of deployments and departures

Jack and his fellow mechanically-mined 934th Airlift Wing mates left for Kuwait on Tuesday.  I cried a lot little, but I wasn’t alone.  As we watched the final chalk approach the fourth of four C-130’s sitting ready for the runway, every wife, mother, girlfriend, and daughter in the hanger was shedding tears the equivalent of Victoria Falls.  Watching the men and women hold and hug their children and loved ones for the last time for four months gave me a new appreciation for the sacrifices our military members and their families make time and again.  

Lucky for this airlift wing’s loved ones, they will be reunited with their soldier in four months. I, being Scotland bound, am not so lucky. :(

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This C-130 is waving goodbye.

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Don’t be fooled; this smile is as fake as your grandmother’s teeth.

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Between the throes of PhD completion and separation from this stud, these may be the slowest moving nine months of my life.  I’m grateful for the summer months behind me, for the fun, the rest, the friends and family, the travels, and the days with Jack.

But I’m also ready to get back.  Judith called last week and reported that Holly Pops and Mungo are missing me.  Poor things.  So, tomorrow I fly and Friday I return to the land of the Scots for what will be my last two semesters on this path to the PhD.

As we like to say here in Minnesota: ‘Oofda’!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Cooke City 2014

I’m finally getting around to posting some photos from our time in Cooke City.  We had seven days in the Coolest Small Town in America, and every day was filled with good friends and great fun.  We are so grateful to everyone to fed us, played with us, and let us use their toys.  You know who you are.

Here are a few shots of some of the adventures in the first half of the week.

4-wheeling in the backyard

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Fly fishing!  We caught 60.245% of the fish in the Soda Butte  and, well, enjoyed the afternoon on the Lamar.  Our guide from the Lazy G was brilliant.

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Friday was spent in the Bighorn Canyon Recreational Area with Dye’s Bait and Tackle, and a few Wyoming and Montana hitchhikers we picked up on Colter Pass and in Crandall.  It was another beautiful day on the river, though not quite as calm as it was on the boat trip last year.

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While 4-wheeling on Squaw Creek Road, we encountered this.

It was fresh.  As in, that morning fresh.

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Jack kayaking on Island Lake.

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There were many other adventures that filled our week in and around Cooke City.  Most of all, though, I’m glad for the chance to sit and chat and laugh and eat with many of the crazy locals.  Unfortunately, even seven days are not enough.

But they (you) know by now that this wasn’t my last visit.  Not even close.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Yellowstone National Park

En route from Glacier to Cooke, we explored Yellowstone for a couple of days, seeing the highlights along the Park’s figure-8 loop.  Since Yellowstone is, at this point, a bit old hat for me, I enjoyed playing tour guide rather than photographer.

The Grand Prismatic Spring, my favourite Park feature.

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Moonrise over Yellowstone Lake

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Terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs

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The Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

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The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

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Bill the Bison

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Onward to Cooke City!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Glacier National Park: Iceberg Lake

On day three of the trip, we woke up wondering what had happened to our young and strong 30-year-old-ish bodies.  They didn’t feel quite that young and strong anymore.  No matter, there were trails to hike, mountains to climb, glaciers to explore, and I wasn’t about to let cramping muscles stop us.  Jack didn’t have a choice in the matter.  So upward we went, again, this time on a 10-mile round-trip trail up to what must be the most beautiful lake in the lower-48 States: Iceberg Lake. 

Before arriving at the trailhead for the day, this was the Lake Sherburne scene that greeted us on our entrance into the Many Glacier region.

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Like the Grinnell Glacier trail, the route up to Iceberg Lake included a significant elevation gain.  It felt a whole lot harder than the day before.

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Unlike the Grinnell Glacier trail, however, the trail up to Iceberg Lake didn’t have the same diversity of terrain and views along the way, but the scene at the end made up for that lack.

Iceberg Lake, in all its glory.

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A man of some European variety (simple deduction, folks) throwing an iceberg chunk into the lake.

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Some people were crazy enough to swim out to a floating berg, Jack was brave enough to stand in the water for a few seconds, and I was happy to take pictures from the warmth of the rocks on the shore. 

You decide who’s the smartest of the three.

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Jack’s eyes are the same colour as the water. Some people are just lucky.

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The following day we drove over the Going-to-the-Sun Road from East to West Glacier.  I may or may not have taken this photo while driving on the narrow road with a 1,000’ drop-off on the edge. Ahem.

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And this one…

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Gorgeous views. 

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The mountains were gorgeous, too!

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The water in the rivers at the base of the mountains was as bright and blue and beautiful as it was at the tops.  Glacier National Park definitely has the cleanest water of any National Park I’ve yet seen in my travels.  If only it wasn’t so cold!

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Our time in Glacier was short lived, but I’m glad we included it in the trip.  Next up, Yellowstone and the Coolest Small Town in America!

Glacier National Park: Grinnell Glacier

On day one of the trip we drove 17 hours to Havre, Montana, including a tour through Roosevelt National Park. On day two, I dragged Jack on an 11 mile round-trip trail with a 1,600’ vertical ascent up to Grinnell Glacier.  At the five-mile-mark, having been 5,000’ lower in elevation only the day before, he was reconsidering his decision to join me on the journey.   

Swiftcurrent Lake

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Lower Glacier Lake nestled below the granite peaks.

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Jack the Explorer above Lower Grinnell Lake

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Fireweed.

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A number of waterfalls line the highline trail to the glacier.  This one required a bit of rerouting.

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Lower Grinnell Lake, in all its aqua beauty.

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Indian Paintbrush, the Wyoming State Flower.

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We hiked past a number of Bear Grass patches along the way.

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And, finally, with more than a few heave-ho’s along the way, we finally arrived at Grinnell Glacier…

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… or what’s left of it.  The National Park Service predicts that many of the Glacier National Park glaciers will be nearly completely melted by 2020.  That’s not long, folks.

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The Grinnell Glacier trail was definitely a highlight of the entire trip and one I would gladly do again, with or without a glacier at the summit.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I’m Back!

Per usual, two months have now passed since my last post here.  This time, however, I have a new excuse:  password problems.  Thankfully, they’ve been resolved and I’m back on the blog. I would have hated to think that I’ve strung you along all these years just to drop you this close to the PhD finish line.  We’ve come so far together. 

I’ve been back on U.S. soil for seven weeks now—seven weeks that feel like three.  Since arriving here, I’ve done unsurprisingly little work on the dissertation (don’t tell my supervisor). After this winter/spring, the break was necessary. 

Rather than spending the days thinking of Romans 8 (aka the entire biblical narrative) this month, I’ve spent the days fishing, boating, tubing, canoeing, baking, running, climbing towers, riding tractors, motorcycling, hiking, dancing, watching fireworks, playing at waterparks, exploring towns, chatting with friends, loving on family, learning to crochet and, most importantly, meeting my new nephew, Kashton.

It’s been a fabulously full summer of fun, most of which was spent with this good looking chap:

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But that was all in the first month at home, at the end of which Jack and I departed on a three-week Wild West road trip. We headed West, first to Glacier National Park, then South to Yellowstone, and then to the Coolest Small Town in America: Cooke City, Montana.  Last time I was there I swore that I wouldn’t return unless the ground was blanketed in ten feet of snow.  Minimum.  But some things just can’t be helped.

I realise I’ve been negligent in posting photos this summer, but I’m going to limit my catching-up photos to those from the trip.  Somehow Glacier, Yellowstone, and the Beartooths seem more worthy of display than the Zumbro River or the suckers I’ve pulled out of it.  Only slightly more worthy, though.