Saturday, December 12, 2009

Peter and Family Update

In the last blog I explained all of Peter's equipment and the condition he was in. Since he is now 15 days old, I am going to give you an update on his condition.

Currently, he has less wires around him than he did before. They had taken both of the lines out of his umbilical cord so that the cord could fall off and he could get his belly button. They put a line into an artery in his arm for about a day and decided he didn't need it unless his was sick. To keep that working they would also have to run none nutritious liquid through it and it was another potential source for infection to enter his body. His heart has been good so he didn't need the blood pressure gage that was on it, so they just took that line out completely and didn't replace it.

He was weaned from his supplemental nutrition and is taking in exclusively breast milk. He is up to 4.5 ml per hour. They also give him a liquid multi-vitamin and vitamin D. When he gets to be 6 weeks old, he will get iron supplements as well. They were able to do this because he is successfully have normal dirty diapers. One nurse said “he is pooping for all of Scotland!” which seemed to be a strange saying, but at least it means he is doing good.

He was able to be off the ventilator for 3 hours and on a CPAP which just blows air up his nose. This was really good and they are hoping to try again next week.

He has stickers on his chest for a heart monitor and a temperature monitor strapped to his foot. He also has a light that measures his oxygen levels strapped to his arm and an IV in his other hand they give him antibiotics and blood transfusions when he needs them.

We have learned a lot about the human body such as hemoglobins are the red blood cell count (and the main reason Peter needs blood whenever he does). This count gets low when blood is taken for blood tests a lot. His body is a little slow in renewing this. This also effect his oxygen saturation which can cause them to have to turn up the amount of oxygen they give him in his ventilator. Everything effects everything!

Overall, he he is progressing and doing well. They have done a chest x-ray and a sonogram of his brain and both come out fine. He is just moving along little by little.

Kerry and I have been visiting him from noon to 5:30 p.m. everyday. Some kind people from our church has given us a ride, but if wee needed, there is a bus that goes directly there. The hospital is just under 2 miles away so that it is not too difficult to get to. The nurse there have also been very good. They answer our questions and keep us updated about Peter. We are also encouraged to call in to find out how he is doing is we feel concerned. The hospital is called the Royal Infirmary and they have one of the best Neonatal units in this area of the country.

Except when we are sick or if Kerry needs to go to college stuff, I imagine we will continue this routine. I expect that we will most likely visit on Christmas as well.

Kerry and I are doing well. It took me awhile to allow myself to recover from labor and delivery, but I am doing good now. We both get tired though emotionally from watching Peter and worrying about him. There is this hovering parental nature that seems to have taken over. We go through our day doing chores and getting tasks done, but our thoughts are with Peter. It makes for a strange torn life. We spend a lot of time with him, but somehow it feels like its not enough at the same time it feels like it is the majority of our day.

When we go home, I no longer feel like Kerry and I are enough. There is a huge facet of our family that is missing and I don't feel settle without Peter here at home. I also feel dazed trying to figure out what I need right now and what will we need when he comes home. The whole progression of events in our lives have been interrupted and turned upside down. Finally, everything we had expected to happen over the next few months has been re-evaluated and resorted out into a new progression for our lives.

Of course, in the end, it will all turn out just right.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Peter in the Hospital

There have been a lot of good questions about Peter that we have been asked that I felt need a longer forum than facebook to answer.

Peter was born at what we thought was 23 weeks. I had two sonogram to date the pregnancy at the very beginning because of my PCOS (poly cystic ovarian syndrome) because my cycle was very irregular. It is very unlikely that these scans at 6 and 7 weeks could be very off, but Peter was born looking two weeks older. This increased his chances of survival significantly. He was 1 lb 9 oz and about 13 inches long. He had to be resuscitated immediately after birth and place in the neonatal unit.

There Peter now has a ventilator which is a tube going down his throat that forces his lungs to breathe. This at minimal levels. He has a tube down his nose into his stomach that they use to feed him beast milk every hour with a syringes. He has an IV in his hand that they can use to give him blood transfusions or medication. He has a line into a vein in his umbilical cord that is also for blood transfusions or medication if needed. He also has a line into an artery in his umbilical card for taking blood samples so that they don't have to prick him all the time. From this is also a monitor for keeping an eye on his heart rate and blood pressure. He then has a monitor strapped to one feet for monitoring his temperature and a monitor on his other foot that checks his oxygen levels. These monitors on his feet are switched every six hours to keep them from bruising him. He is in an incubator that is kept very warm and has high humidity to keep his skin moist. This is also why they do not have clothes on him at this time. Our skin tends to be 12 cells thick, but his skin was only about one cell thick because he was so young. This means he could loose a lot of water through his skin if they are not careful. Also his skin is very delicate and so they treat him very carefully. He should develop normal skin thickness within a couple of weeks. At that time his skin color will not be so red and plastic looking.

All of this seems like a lot, but for Peter's gestational age, he is doing very well and is very stable. They are often testing his blood and checking everything possible because preemies are in high risk of infections and they want to catch any sign of it as early as possible. Even though he he is doing very well, he is not expected to go home until close to his original due date. This is because there is just a lot of growing he must do. For instance, they are having to tweak various things for him. One day they had to give him just a little bit of insulin, another day they put him under a light for jaundice. Sometimes they give him just a little bit of blood to help his hemoglobin levels which tend to go down with all the blood they take for test. These little adjustments will probably continue for a while.

They tried to take his ventilator out and put him on a CPAP (air blown into the nose) about two days after he was born but his brain would not tell him to breathe often enough. They put him back on the ventilator for a little while and intend to try again in a couple of days. This is OK because they needed to see how much they could push him and make him exercise his lungs. He maybe on and off the ventilator periodically until he his strong enough to stay off.

For food, he was first given a liquid through his umbilical cord that had amino acids and nutrients, but they are slowly weening him off of that and progressively giving him more breast milk. Breast milk is the easiest thing for his stomach to digest and it gives him a lot of help with his developing immunity system. He has been doing very well with this and is having plenty of wet diapers. They change his diaper once every six hours so they do not have to mess with his sensitive skin. They are just now waiting for him to have a bowel movement, but it may wait until he is taking in more milk.

I wanted to do research on the issues preemies deal with, but these issue vary greatly and can be discouraging as a statistic. Peter is doing very well and has been really blessed by God with very few of the problems that preemies can deal with. He is still very delicate and we are told to expect good and bad days. Even so, with prayer and patience, we feel that he will continue to do well. Thank you all for your love and concern. Please continue to pray for him. He is my strong little man, but he also has a long journey to travel.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Black Friday

Starting insanely early in the morning on this day, shoppers all over the United States were rushing with maniacal intensity to store-shelves stocked with merchandise on sale. In a no-holds-barred (unless you get caught) battle royal strangely reminiscent of UFC and WWF, housewives, soccer moms, and dads in search of discount electronics were shouldering and elbowing their way through all these other dopes (probably thinking how stupid these people are for getting up so early), making a path to the prize whatever. At times, this stampede has even proven dangerous for some poor employee. Consumers depend on it for their Christmas budget. Retailers depend on it for their annual sales. Somewhat melodramatically, we call this day Black Friday.

About the same time, a drama of a different sort was going on in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Lara was nearing the end of the effective time of her last dose of diamorphine, and the pain was
reaching a climax again as the contractions accelerated and intensified. It was way too early for our baby to be born, and Lara was heroically trying to hold on for another couple of days to give him as much of a chance at survival as she possibly could. The doctors needed to consult as to whether it was safe to give Lara more, but they eventually did, and the pain gradually became manageable again.

As an extremely interruptive side note, diamorphine, I've just learned, is also called heroin. Heh heh.

In the early afternoon, Dr. Stenson, who had consulted with us the night before, arrived and spoke with us again to answer any questions we might have since our last conversation had been necessarily brief. We learned a little more about the baby's chances for survival. The best estimate we had for his gestation was 23 weeks, close to the end of the second trimester. According to Dr. Stenson, the survival rate for babies born at 22 weeks was 0%. The survival rate for babies born at 24 weeks was near 50%. The 23rd week was critical. Everything that could be done to increase the baby's chances was being done. They had given the baby steroids (by injecting Lara) to help with his lungs, and another dose would be given at midnight if Lara held on. Dr. Stenson, however, was very pleased that the birth had held off as long as it had, since he had been expecting a delivery the night before.

At this point, our hopes went even higher. We had gone from hopeless to having some hope in a one-in-ten chance to now feeling like our baby had perhaps a 50/50 chance. Based on a 23 week
gestation, Dr. Stenson expected the baby to be about 8 to 10 inches long and weigh about one pound (500 grams). The baby's lungs would not be very well developed at all and would need significant help to provide enough oxygen for the baby. Nevertheless, the baby's chances were steadily improving the longer Lara did not deliver.

Lara, meanwhile, was providing me with some comic relief, largely on account of the nitrous oxide she was sucking on rather regularly, and probably partially on account of the heroin, I mean diamorphine. It started with a stray reference to her flowers on farm town. In the context of talking about the pain, she said, “The roses are planted next to the lilies.” I, slightly confused and very amused, asked her to clarify. She frowned and said, “That didn't make much sense.” Then she mumbled something about how the pain looked like lilies to her. Ah. That explains things ... I think. These comments became increasingly frequent as, apparently, the nitrous oxide had a cumulative effect. She said something at one point about putting on a cape, and I thought, if she tries to fly I'm tackling her.

In the later evening, Lara was talking with her dad when she suddenly said, “Oh! My water just broke!” Then I heard the trickle which, honestly, sounded like a distant small waterfall one might encounter in the forest. At that point, we knew it was a matter of hours, not days, and the hope was to make it
to midnight so that one more shot of steroids could be administered.

But delivery was not going to wait. As Lara became less and less coherent, the situation became more and more serious. What at first looked like what might have been a totally normal amount fresh red blood increased to a concerning point. We later learned that Lara lost a liter of blood during that time. About 9:00 pm, the new midwife Vivienne, who had just taken over for Emma, Lara's midwife for the last twelve hours, began to listen for the baby's heartbeat. It was difficult to find, and when she found something, it was dramatically slower than it had been just a few hours before. Vivienne's face looked grave, and I was thankful that Lara was not really mentally with us. Vivienne made the decision that we needed to go ahead and deliver the baby, and Lara needed to start intentionally pushing when the contractions came. At this point, communication with Lara was next to impossible because the contractions had been getting more intense, reaching a new level of pain, and only one in ten breaths she breathed was not from the nitrous-oxide-darth-vader-hair-dryer-gun thing. She kept telling us that the baby was coming down and she couldn't stop it. We would assure her this was okay and exactly what should be happening, but she didn't seem to hear us.

Around 9:15 the pain reached a new level and Lara began to weep. I tried to comfort her, but I felt monumentally irrelevant as all I could do was kiss her forehead and speak encouraging words. Suddenly, Vivienne said, “There's his head.” I looked and there was the top of a tiny head. Lara pushed as a contraction racked her abdomen, and out came his entire head. Just seconds later another contraction came and Lara pushed. Then emerged before my eyes a bluish skinned, impossibly tiny, perfectly for
med baby boy, and the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

But he wasn't breathing, and I only saw a tiny bit of movement in his right arm. During the delivery a doctor and another midwife had entered the room, and the three medical pros rushed our baby, named Peter Kerry Lee whether he survived or not, into a nearby room to resuscitate him and stabilize his condition. Following Peter out of Lara's womb was a very large blood clot, lots of blood, and the placenta, apparently already detached. Vivienne was very serious: “I'm not sure what we can expect, dears.” What appeared to be his slow heartbeat, now that we knew the placenta had detached early, could have indicated that he was not getting oxygen for an unknown period of time, and his chances hadn't been that great to begin with.

For the next while of unknown duration we waited, intermittently praying and talking, nearly crying and feeling numb, jumping at every movement of our room door, seeking some indication on the face of the entrant as to whether Peter was okay or not. Finally, someone came in and told us that Peter was stabilized and they were wanting to bring him into our room so we could see him before they took him to neonatal to place him in the incubator that would be his womb-away-from-womb for next severa
l weeks. The excitement of hearing this was only surpassed by the moment he was wheeled in on a table, wrapped up so completely that you could only see his beautiful face, being assisted in breathing by a hand pump operated by Dr. Stenson. I have no idea what the conversation was at that moment. My son was alive, stable, and doing well. Eventually he was taken away, and we were left alone for a moment. I sat in my chair next to Lara, who had long ago become completely coherent, grabbed her hand and, laying my head on her chest, wept uncontrollably.

The story afterward is probably known to most of you readers by now, and it primarily consists of normal post-birthing things. It turns out that he was bigger and more mature than we had expected. He weighed 700 grams (1 pound 9 ounces) and is about 13 inches long – more the size of a baby at 25 week gestation. Regardless of how old he actually is, God is responsible for his survival to this point. Who knows what is ahead, but we have this moment right now when I can see him alive and touch him and try to express somehow to him that he has a dad who loves him very much. For this moment at least I have a baby son.

So at 9:23 pm on the day after Thanksgiving, while it was mid-afternoon in retail stores across America when most of the crazy sales were over and the more relaxed shoppers were filtering in to see what they could scavenge, Peter Kerry Lee, the firstborn son of Kerry and Lara Lee, was born at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, Scotland. For me, the meaning of Black Friday has been forever altered.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pre-term labor

9:30 am November 27, 2009

Well, communication from me dropped off for a while, and my friend JDD can tell you that this is not surprising. After Lara's mom passed away, I had little trite or clever to say, and my time here has been spent in one of two pursuits: coming to a viable dissertation topic during the day, and finding a way to spend time with family online that a number of people could and would participate in. Neither has been simple. Perhaps someday I'll tell you about it, but as of right now I am sitting in a hospital deli while Lara is upstairs at the maternity and delivery section of the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, hoping that our baby will hold on for a few days or even hours more before being born.

On Thanksgiving, 26th of November, we were at the house of some friends from church having just finished eating a very fine supper. Lara had been uncomfortable all day, complaining of mild to medium lower abdominal pain. In fact, she had been feeling this sort of pain on and off for a few days, and I can even remember some days several weeks ago when she complained of the same sort of pain, but we thought (and probably correctly) that this pain was associated with stretching ligaments and perfectly normal. This night, however, the pain began to intensify and happen in increasingly frequent waves. After calling the NHS24 line (for medical advice) we decided to go the hospital, if for nothing else to get something for the pain.

After a brief (but thorough) overview of Lara in the emergency room, they whisked us up to another room where they began to inspect Lara specifically with regard to her pregnancy, including a quick ultrasound which revealed that the baby was head down. The baby was coming, and soon, at just over 23 weeks. Our initial response was shock and dismay. We knew that at 27 weeks a baby could have a decent chance at survival. All we could do, before and then, was to pray and call on the mercy of God.

We were then taken to a last room where we would be until after the baby was delivered. By this time the gas they had been giving Lara to reduce the pain was becoming increasingly unable to sufficiently deal with the pain at its worst. Some morphine fixed that problem right up. Both of us were still trying to process the information, varying between numbness and grief. But then a consultant from pediatrics came and spoke with us. He told us that 23 weeks is about as early as a baby can be delivered and have a chance at survival – a one-in-ten chance. Suddenly, “one-in-ten” became a life-preserver, something to latch onto and hope in. Even if the baby survives, he said, there would still be a strong possibility of some sort of mental or physical handicap. The point of this was that a decision needed to be made: given the likelihood of a lower quality of life, when the baby was born did we want them to do everything they could to help the baby to survive or not?

It's certainly much easier to glibly declare one's ideology when not actually faced with such a decision. In that moment I saw a future where Lara and I may have a child that is never fully independent, that may not live a full adult life, and I selfishly asked if I really wanted that. But I also asked myself if it was more selfish to bring a baby into the world and against nature help it to live a life that may be far from normal. Nevertheless, I am convinced this baby is from God, and it's my duty to, in another sense, help this baby, against nature, live a life far from normal. Lara was far ahead of me in this line of thought, answering politely but adamantly that we were aware of the possibilities, but we were committed to giving the baby every opportunity for life, and I agreed. Lara and I have discussed the possibility of a handicapped child and how we would parent such a child.

After that, it's been all about waiting. I tried to sleep in the chair, but that was definitely not happening, so I used my jacket to make a pillow and lay down on the floor, which was surprisingly comfortable at 4:30 in the morning. I must have slept pretty soundly for a little while, because the next thing I knew there were two people bringing in a pad for me to sleep on. Apparently, the midwife in charge of Lara had come in and seen my feet sticking out past the bed. After moving to the pad, I slipped into a coma.

This morning has been much the same as last night. As the time for the next shot of morphine approaches, the pain crescendos, falling back again after the shot. Lara sucks on her nitrous-oxide bestowing pacifier shaped like a hair blow-dryer and making sounds like Darth Vader. That combined with the morphine have provided for some rather silly moments, like when she tried to blow into the pacifier instead of breathing in from it, and then croaked a scary sounding guffaw when she realized what she was doing. An encouraging development has come this morning in that with the last shot of morphine the contractions basically stopped, and the baby was higher in the womb than it was last night when they searched for the heart beat. I'm not going to get my hopes up too much, though. No really.

I woke up woozy and slightly nauseous, but I wasn't really disoriented until I came down the elevator this morning only to discover that for some reason the ground floor looks completely different today than it did last night. I know there was a corridor here, but now there are three other corridors in different places leading in directions that make no sense. I was expecting to see David Bowie walking on the wall or something (hint: Labyrinth). And this brings us back to the hospital deli. I'm looking around thinking about the different things that bring people to hospital delies, and wishing I didn't have two recent and very personal insights into that query.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Guy Fawkes Day

“Remember, remember the fourth of November!” This rhyme was quoted by the those around us who celebrated the strange holiday of Guy Fawkes Day or Bond Fire Day. This uniquely British holiday celebrates this catholic dude who tried to blow up the protestant parliament and King James I (aka the initiator of the King James Bible). Guy Fawkes was unsuccessful and put to death. King James then proclaimed that this day should be remembered for the preservation of the King's life. Unfortunately, very few even realize that it has to do with the monarchy and only remember Guy Fawkes.

Kerry and I did not realize there was a holiday since our church was going to go play football (soccer in the US) like always and all the stores were open. We found out when Kerry received an invitation the watch a fireworks show at a nearby park. Since we already had confirmed the football arrangements, we declined, but we still were able to see some fireworks during our bus ride to the indoor sports complex.

From all that I can gather, not very much is done on this holiday since nothing else indicated their was a holiday. Perhaps it is like our Presidents Day in the fact that kids at school do things and the government sometimes does things, but most families go on with normal life. When I did a search about the holiday online, I found traditions that included burning a mannequin or kids standing by a mannequin that they made begging for “a penny for the Guy”. We saw none of these things.

It actually was very similar to the way Halloween was celebrated here. Supposedly the UK celebrated Halloween the same way we do in the states, but we saw absolutely no trick-or-treaters even though there are families in the flats around us. In fact, I could not find any candy in the stores to buy for trick-or-treaters until after the holiday was over. I did see costumes sold, but those, it turns out, are sold all year around for dress-up parties.

Looking back, I do remember fireworks being on sale at a few store before Guy Fawkes Day, but not enough to make me wonder. Of course, that could be because of living in Texas we have a fireworks stand everywhere year around.

All I can say is that I hope Edinburgh is not so dormant when Christmas comes around.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Guide to Kerry and Lara's Baby Registry

It turns out that both baby showers and baby registries are American inventions. Luckily ToysRUs is located everywhere. So here is a guide and explanation to this registry.

Since we live in the UK, we registered on the UK version of the site. You may not find our registry if you just type in Google “ToysRUS”. You must go to “” to find it. Then you will have to type in my email address to find the specific list. If you don't have my email address, you can email Kerry and he will send it to you. We registered in the UK so that shipping costs would be minimal and the confusion factor on the company's part would make the purchasing part simpler, hopefully. Either way double check the shipping costs because it may be better to buy things like baby clothes in the US and mail it that pay the shipping. You may also want to combine your order with others so you are only paying one shipping fee.

This now has caused a few more questions. Terms for some products are different. A cot is a crib, a nappy is a diaper, and so on. You will just have to click on the item and read the description. It is pretty clear in the description if it isn't from the picture itself. Also you may want to search the site and see things like a tens machine that is supposed to relieve pain in child labor or some of the other UK differences. It is kind of interesting. If there is anything you think we missed on our list, we can add it with little trouble.

There will be a few things that are noticeably missing from the list on purpose. This includes some furniture and a car seat. The reason for this is that we are living in a tiny furnished apartment. The second bedroom already has a dresser and a wardrobe (in place of a closet). We also don't have room to have a crib and then a bassinet or moses basket stand since we must keep the bunk beds that are in there. There is also nowhere to place a rocking chair no matter how much I would like one. If I could figure out where to put it, I will certainly add it to the list. We don't own a car and the buses don't have a place to put a car seat. We have observed many parents just holding their babies in their laps for the short trip. I would rather used a baby carrier (thanks Susan) than just hold the baby, but either way, there is no use for a car seat until we are in the US. The stroller is not for an infant because the bulky infant strollers would be harder to deal with on the crowed streets and up and down our stairs than just a carrier. When the baby is too heavy for the carrier, I will use the lighter stroller for longer trips. I also did not list blankets, because I received a great deal of blankets to put in my luggage when we flew here. They are wonderful and traveled well, but I will not need anymore. The top drawer of the dresser is already filled with them. I am certain I will use them a lot.

So why did I have the things that I do? In the UK, using cloth diapers is not as unusual as in the US. With us having a washer/dryer in our flat, it makes sense to try and save money if we can. Diapers are probably one of the biggest cost I have heard associated with having a baby. Also breast feeding is more common here as well. I have done my research and I do already have a few bottles in case, but I am certain I will breastfeed the baby. I also would have liked to vary the sizes of clothing I had listed, but I still do not know the gender of the baby so I stayed with under 6 months and mostly under 3 months. I included a baby tub because our kitchen sink is too small to work for a bath as many people had suggested. Even though most of you may not need some of these explanations, I just wanted to let you know my thoughts so that if you see something I had not thought of, you will let me know. I have done a lot of research, but I do not have a lot of experience. Some of you have suggested small things I had not thought of or read anywhere. Sometimes those little things make a big difference in saving ones sanity.

So that is our baby registry guide. If you have any problems with it from purchasing to delivery or even just some of the items, let me know. The prices may seem a little high, but it is pretty average to low compared to other stores around here. If you want to purchase the same item from ebay, I suggest looking at only those who will ship to the UK. Often they can ship it to me cheaper than you can from the US. I am not particular about brand names either though I wish I could have found more Winnie the Pooh or teddy bear stuff. Also, if you do buy something somewhere else, do let us know so we can take it off of the registry. I know that ruins the surprise, but it may save us the risk of having to return a duplicate object which would be a bit of a bus trip. Well, thanks to everyone and I hope the registry helps make things easier for you. It was fun to create and research!

Domestic Bliss

I thought I would lump together some of the observations I had of domestic life in Scotland. Since everyone speaks English and there are so many American fast food places, one could sit in Starbucks and forget you are in a different country completely. The main places to experience culture shock is in the grocery store. How can “real American hot dogs” come in a pickle jar? How in the world do they call it Mexican food or even label something spicy when I can hardly taste any black pepper let alone a chill pepper? These are a few of the surprises.

The main difference I noticed in grocery shopping is that I have to plan on carrying everything home. This limits most everyone to a hand held basket instead of our American sea of buggies or carts. This is also convenient since the isles and the store in general are quite small. This then gets to my next point. The choices of products are very limited. I do not mean that you do not have a choice of brand which is similar to the US, but that if you want pineapple it better be in season. Your choice of meat or produce will change regularly and if you are wanting to make a particular recipe, then it ought to have a limited ingredient list that is not to specialized. In general they have everything you may need if your cooking from scratch, but things like Ranch dressing and slightly unusual spices like lemon pepper seem completely gone. Some items are the same as in the US but just named differently, such as dish soap is called washing up liquid. Somethings are in one grocery store and not in another, such certain brands of potato chips (which they call crisps).

I also experience this sort of variance in shopping for home do-dads. For instance, many store have shelves of kitchen gadgets, but only one had ice trays. The department store where I was told were reasonably price were over ten times as much as the dollar store style stores. There is variance in the US, but not that much! To prove my point, Jenners, a large department store, sold duvet covers (pillow cases for the comforters) for 80 pounds while the Pound Stretcher sold duvet covers for 8 pounds.

Now why do I need a duvet cover? Here in Scotland, they don't use top sheets. You make a bed with a fitted sheet, a duvet or comforter, and a duvet cover. Nothing is tucked in or folded. It does shorted the time to make the bed to just straighting the duvet. I really like it.

While we are talking about the home, I should mention that there is a switch on everything! Every outlet has a switch and even the outlets for major appliances. I cannot say how many times I put something on the stove to find out ten minutes later I had never turned on the switch to power it. I also made the mistake of turning off the switch to the refrigerator and ended up with a puddle around it. Luckily, we had not bought much groceries yet. This switch fetish apparently derives from the super high electric bills. I have not received ours yet, but people are obsessed here about saving power. Many homes do not even have a dryer. People just hang their cloth in front of the heater.

We are still trying to figure out our heaters. There is an electric space heater in every room and no central thermostat. Kerry had I have to figure out which of the three awkwardly labeled knobs, a switch, a timer, and and two outlet switches to adjust the temperature. We then have to decide which of the heaters to actually adjust to begin with.

So back to cooking, the stove has two compartment where we usually just have a oven in the US. One is the oven and one is a grill. The tiny stove has done well so far, when I turn it on and when I remember it is labeled in Celsius. Luckily, we have not had any fire alarms go off. That would be too embarrassing.

Of course somehow this leads me to my recent observations about Christmas. Many stores have just put out their Christmas things, but so far the Christmas sections are quite small. They also have these things called crackers which are little wrapped gifts in the shape of tootsie rolls. Two people are supposed to pull each side and it give a little pop. Inside is a small gift and a paper crown. The one who got the largest side wins the gift and the crown in some people's versions and some people just give the gifts to everyone to pop open. These crackers are about as popular as Christmas cards.

Well, these are my observations for now, but I am sure there will be a continuation. So until next time, as they say here, cheers!

Monday, October 26, 2009


I want to thank you all for your well wishes and sympathy during this time. I flew back to Dallas Friday, October 9, to be with my father, grandmother, and brother. Then on Wednesday, we flew to Florida with my mom's ashes for the funeral. Friday, October 16, was the funeral. My brother, Joe, being a youth pastor, conducted the funeral and I, my grandmother, and my cousin, Andy, also spoke some words. The service was a celebration of my mom's legacy and devotion to Jesus. Afterwards, everyone met at Olive Garden to eat, talk, and visit. For a funeral, it was as pleasant as can be. My mom's faith left us the certainty and comfort of knowing we would see her again soon. Again, I want to thank everyone for your encouragement during this emotional and difficult time.

A positive side of effect of this sad affair was that I was able to see family I had not seen in two years and able to talk about the coming baby. This was a special thing for Kerry and me. I have not had such nice family time in a long while. Of course, that is my fault because I am the one moving all over the place, but I can't say I would change a thing. Either way, I felt happy to reconnect with some of the most important people of my life.

During this century long week, I also have been able to spend time looking back to see if I have any regrets. My goal in life is to live with no regrets and at the end of my life to be able to look back and be content with all that I have done. During this time of reflection, I have decided that I would rather risk everything and fail than never reach for my dreams at all. I have no regrets. I wish some parts had been easier but I am content with everything I have done so far. My life is dedicated to Jesus and that gives me a bigger focus than how many cars we own (which is zero) or how many things we possess (which is surprisingly little). I see faith, friends, family, dreams, and experiences as the only earthly things that last. That is our legacy, and being cautious in the pursuit of thee things is the only way to guarantee that you will not succeed in these areas. In comparing my goals with the accomplishments of my mom that I admire, I see that one cannot pursue a faithful relationship with God or even human friends and family with reserve. I will need to work on that more.

In light of these thoughts, I am eager to go back to Scotland to finally get settled in our new home. Home is the center of one's world in which you are able to reach out to others. Without a satisfactory home situation, it is hard to pursue any other goal. Kerry went and got our shipment of things before joining me in the US. Most of our things other than the books, are sitting waiting to be placed in the spots I had envisioned when packing them. Things that turn a place into a home such as pictures, tablecloths, doilies, and art are so important because of the memories and comfort they bring. They are the physical reminders of the relationships and experiences that make a life feel full and complete.

In looking forward to this nesting instinct, I have struggled with wanting to take everything that I feel I might need with me. A lot of household things seem to me to be unreasonably expensive in the UK. these things are simple, dumb things like hangers, rugs, towels, washrags, and even kitchen utensils. I also feel the need to take comfort objects, objects that are really best classified in the junk group. I just feel a little insecure and want an identifiable teddy bear type object that makes one feel safe in the world at the moment, but I can't figure out what that object might be. Perhaps I am wanting things to replace some lacking in relationship time I feel at the moment. It doesn't matter, the practical side of my nature will keep it in check.

Finally, I have spent more time this week thinking about Baby Lee than I have at any time in my pregnancy. I have thought about what Baby Lee should call various family members. I have thought about how my mom raised me, and how we should raise our baby. I have really just noticed the baby;s movements and started to think about Baby Lee's potential personality. I have also wondered what more I am really going to need in the UK for a baby. It appears that until we fly to the US, we may not need the car seat. I may want to adapt to some the UK child rearing sensibilities as I learn of them. The whole world of the newborn baby seem more foreign now than it did just months ago when I thought I would depend on my mom for advice. Kerry's mom will be a good source and I respect her mothering abilities very much, but my foundation has been shaken. I wonder also how this baby will see the world being born in such a different circumstance than most people. This baby will in its blood and earliest experiences be a citizen of the world. What I mean is that this child will learn about so many different ways to live at such an early age. Baby Lee will be exposed to the UK mannerisms in terminology, while at the same time hearing and experiencing American culture and being exposed to the Cuban way of life. This child will, like me, not truly belong to one cultural group, but be versed in overcoming cultural idiosyncrasies and navigating various forms of social interactions. Hopefully, Baby Lee will inherit Kerry's natural charisma and friendliness and less of my awkwardness. Above all, I want to focus on giving our child a biblical education. Baby Lee will not merely go to church to learn how to live a godly life, but will get focused family time in which we really teach the importance of prayer, study, and relationship with Jesus.

I suppose that all of this has been my week of reflection and I think that my time in Scotland will be forever effected by it. I spent very little of my time in Dallas and Orlando actually going places, but emotionally, mentally, and in every other way it was a very busy week.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Arthur's Seat

On craggy Arthur's Seat I found a bloom.
Alone and stark its violet velvet life
Persistently against the cold and grey
Did share its beauty on the stony slopes.
Then once atop the rocky heights I stood,
The sun I glimpsed through granite stratus wisps,
Descending now and glowing drowsily
As jagged shadows strengthened at its wane.
Where once volcanic violence destroyed,
where ash and lava formed a rocky crust,
I now found green and bushy herbs and grass
Reborn amidst the fertile remnant soil.
On Arthur's Seat and in its frigid breath
I learned how Nature thinks of life and death.


So much of what I could write about Edinburgh seems completely useless in the present context. Lara's mom died Thursday evening (which was after midnight for us). If you've followed this blog, you will know what has been going on, but here's a summary. Elizabeth Barnoske was diagnosed with the most aggressive kind of brain cancer back in March of this year. Less than seven months later, after repeated hospitalizations, a surgery, radiation, and two different kinds of chemo-therapy, she slipped into a coma and died quickly. She was to turn 51 this December, and see her first grandchild next March.

First of all, let me throw out the disclaimer of saying that I am perfectly aware that death is a human problem that, theologically speaking, is the result of our corporate rebellion against God. I know where death comes from and that it is the naive and uninformed atheist who justifies his/her atheism by the question, "How can a loving God allow suffering?" All we actually deserve is suffering and death. God has provided for our reconciliation to himself and the defeat of death through Jesus.

Yes, I know all of this.

But I have to be honest. God's laissez faire approach to cancer makes me mad. Sure, I can look at it from the perspective that at least she didn't suffer over an even longer period of time, at least she died relatively quickly. Only she did suffer, constantly for the last seven months, and in ways no one should ever have to suffer. There is nothing good or redeeming about this, and I have more than a little difficulty understanding how God is glorified through allowing a servant of his to suffer and die in such a horrible way. Where is the covenant benefit? Beyond feeling grief, I feel totally humiliated for having believed that God might possibly heal cancer. Is it a sign of spiritual immaturity to trust God? Surely not, but that's sure what it feels like.

I guess the issue for me, and for every Christian as they go through times like this, is what can we reasonably expect from God? It's pretty clear that God wants our total allegiance and trust. Okay, but what does that mean? Is trust that is not defined by some set of expectations truly trust? The whole Bible, from beginning to end, speaks of times (maybe exceptional) where God miraculously intervened for his people and delivered them, often through healing. This healing aspect of God's intervention seems to expand and accelerate in the New Testament. Obviously, one of the ways you can deal with these things is to dismiss them in a cessationist sort of way by saying that healing was only for the apostolic age (many of us do this even if we are not doctrinally cessationist), but I still don't think this is justified by the texts without projecting our own disappointment back upon them. Christians tend to become cessationists when their naive hopes of God's intervention are not realized. In this case, the fact that our relatives weren't healed is justified by saying that they have entered into (at least the first stage of) life everlasting.

But can we honestly push all the weight of God's blessing forward to an undefined future, saying it's okay because of the resurrection to come? The attitude that Jesus' resurrection means that God can stop intervening in earthly affairs is totally backwards based on the picture painted by the New Testament. The Kingdom of God is here, or at least that's what we are told. At times like this, the whole theological balancing act between realized and future eschatology just seems like a gigantic cop out: whatever of our experiences doesn't fit into one category we just push to the other. It feels like an elaborate hoax, a justification for a system that simply doesn't work. For example, if the supernatural ethics of the Sermon on the Mount, of self-abandonment and not caring about money, don't seem reasonable based on your experience that you really do have to look out for number one and money actually does make the world go 'round, then excuse yourself by saying that these ethics are to be fully realized in the future kingdom and we must simply live by the rules of the world around us. Or as another example, don't bother trying to identify the presence of beasts one and two from Revelation in our current governmental systems, or the Harlot in our own sub-culture's participation in the larger human culture of rebellion and idolatry, because those are images that only pertain to the last few years of human existence. I just don't see in the apostles' written words an attitude of waiting for anything, except the return of Christ.

Obviously, therein lies the time-related reason for pushing anything into the future. We await Jesus' return and the manifestation and fulfillment of his rule in the world, which includes such things as the final defeat of death and the vindication of his followers by a resurrection and everlasting life thereafter. But the question still remains, what can the followers of Jesus reasonably expect from God in this present life, especially now? Nothing? I think not. The certainty of a future total victory over death provides a foundation for what we might call peace and joy. We Christians have that vague concept of spiritual comfort, but what does that mean? I still hurt, and I know that Lara and Joe and Dave, among others, are hurting worse than I am. I know that God loves us, but I would like to feel it right now.

I'm tired. I'm tired of wrestling with death, with cancer, with God. I'm tired, but I am not going to let this issue go simply because I want to slip back into the slumber of unawareness. God is not off the hook, and neither am I. Especially in the United States we allow our prosperity to turn us into spiritual herbivores, beasts who avoid real issues by turning on the television or by going shopping or by some other escape method. If I read the Jacob cycle and Job correctly, I don't think God wants to be off the hook. Somehow, it is through this wrestling that God is actually known in all of his fulness and glory. What I want with regard to cancer is some sort of propositional guarantee of something, some sort of concrete expectation I can depend on each and every time. But when it comes to truly knowing God, propositions are a mere starting point. The real and harsh truths of life cannot be glibly reduced to mere statements. They transcend even our ability to describe them; we can only glimpse and reflect.

So today, Saturday 10th of October, 2009, I sit in my new flat, the one we had just moved into and were spending our first night in when we got the call, wishing Lara were here but also being glad that she's in Dallas with her dad. They both need that right now. When Lara's gone, I eat less and generally feel lethargic. I'm going to ty to eat, get out, and type some preliminary thoughts for my dissertation today, because that's still going on despite the events of this week. The funeral is supposed to be next Friday or Saturday, and I'll be flying to Orlando for that purpose later next week.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sprinting Cripples, Brisk Winds, and a Russian Cafe

It's funny how people and cultures stubbornly defy any attempt to reductionistically characterize their idiosyncrasies. For example, you might say of Scots that they do things more slowly than we do in East Texas, like signing leases and turning on utilities. But take that statement any further and you would be inaccurate, because there are things that Scots do a great deal more rapidly than East Texans. Talking, for instance, appears to be done with the thought in mind that this could be one's very last breath and it is therefore imperative to squeeze every bit of important (or unimportant) communication out by the time this breath ends. This also seems to become more true the thicker the Scottish accent. Apparently, those whose accents are the least discernible by non-natives are the ones most in touch with their own mortality.

Similarly, walking is done here at slightly over 175% of the capacity of one's musculo-skeletal structure. I walk quickly for an East Texan, even for an American, generally speaking. Obviously, I have had to slow down some for my pregnant wife, but we have been maintaining what I consider to be an acceptable pace in our meanderings. Over here, though, we always seem to be in the way. As early as last Friday we were noticing the conspicuously frenzied pace of walking in Old Town. At first we thought this must be because of the large percentage of University students with whom we were sharing the sidewalks. Then, in a phenomenon strangely reminiscent of the opening scenes of Office Space, we were passed by a man with a cane. He wasn't really using the cane (though he hobbled as if he needed to), so much as he held it out in front of him slightly, and set it down every now and then when it wouldn't be too much in his way. To complete the surreality of this situation, Lara and I immediately began to perform the “My Little Buttercup” scene from The Three Amigos (keyword here is surreal, and yes, I am lying about the musical number).

Scottish weather, too, defies any attempt to reduce it to some governing principle. Basically, there is weather, and it happens frequently. We are learning that you never leave the house without an umbrella, because yesterday it rained on us without clouds. I don't know how that's possible, but the only rain clouds I saw were way off in the distance. Then again, we were also experiencing what felt like hurricane force winds, so maybe the rain was coming the rain cloud 25 miles away. Sideways rain appears so far to be the main kind of rain in Scotland. I mentioned always having an umbrella, but I've had to use it differently, more like a shield in combat than a mobile pavilion. Sometimes, the rain is more like ether, existing everywhere and coming at you from every direction at once. In that case, using an umbrella just makes you feel like an idiot because you get wet no matter which way you point it. Perhaps if I have a giant inflatable plastic globe which we could role around in like hamsters...

Speaking of the wind yesterday, it was very impressive, reminding me of Tulsa, and Lara of Hurricane Andrew. Yesterday also was the day we chose to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens, which are directly in front of the place we are staying. The wind was strong all day, but it was stronger in the afternoon than the morning, so we were able to see most of the Botanic Gardens before standing upright became impractical. On the way back to our residence, the wind (which did not come from one direction exclusively, but whichever way was most inconvenient at the time) resisted our approach to St. Colms such that we were actually leaning forward as we walked. At one point, I tucked my head and leaned forward while taking a few steps, only to look up and be sure I was three steps behind my starting place.

Despite the capricious weather, walking around has actually gotten a great deal easier for both of us. I was perhaps more accustomed to daily walking than Lara because of our work environments in Tyler, but even I was tired and sore the first few days. Lara has managed to strike out on her own a couple of times as I spent a few hours in a library, and like a boomerang she always came back. One thing that has helped some is learning the bus system. I can do a PhD, but this bus schedule is intimidating, particularly when they are referring to places you won't find on most maps, because they aren't street names but district names. Finally, we found a bus route number that took us from near St. Colms all the way to the main part of the University (it actually goes by New College, too). With trepidation we got on that first bus, paid our fares and climbed some stairs to the top of a double decker bus, sitting close to the front. Miraculously, we got off at the right place.

Actually, that first bus experience was loads of fun. I'm still not quite certain how the whole center of gravity thing works with double deckers, but I recommend you try it at least once in your life. While we were on that first bus, a young man who turned out to be a student at the University asked us if he was on the right bus route to get to the University. I love irony. His name was Christoph (or Cristoff or Kristoff, I didn't ask him the spelling of it), and he was from Belgium. He didn't realize it, but he had the honor of being the first Belgian I ever met who wasn't a waffle. We exchanged the required student chitchat, like where are you from, what are you studying, etc. I explained that I was a PhD student in the Divinity school and my project was a comprehensive study of spirit in the Old Testament. He looked at me without understanding, but in a completely neutral way, indicating he had no idea what I was talking about. This is not the sort of blank, dismissive look you might get from someone in the US in such circumstances which basically means, “I'm glad you care about that because I sure don't.” Rather, I honestly think he was completely unfamiliar with the Bible and what the study of it might possibly entail. I knew that there were young people in Western civilization who were so unfamiliar with Christianity as to at times never even have heard who Jesus is, but he may very well have been my first actual encounter with that reality.

Despite tackling the bus routes, we still enjoy walking. Today we walked to church, a local one called Stockbridge Parish Church, which is part of the Church of Scotland. Just as last week we had a very pleasant experience with another COS at Palmerston Place, Lara and I were warmly welcomed despite the heat being out in the building. Church of Scotland services are actually very similar to what you might experience at a Methodist church, including a section toward the beginning of the gathering which is aimed at children and young people. The sermon happens about two thirds of the way through, and there is singing both before and after. Communion is not taken every week, but appears to be a monthly occurrence. The minister at Stockbridge Parish Church is actually a woman (today was her birthday), and her sermon today was very well prepared and delivered. We were able to talk to her afterward, and she is very nice, unassuming, and mild-mannered to the point of being a bit bashful. So far, our experiences with the Church of Scotland have revealed an organization characterized by smaller congregations with vibrantly friendly and mission-minded Christians. This is not to say that missionary efforts are not needed. On the contrary, the majority of Scots are quite clearly not Christians. They don't even pretend to be, like many Americans do (I'm convinced that the statistics of Christianity's prevalence in the USA is swelled by the presence within much of the country of a cultural faith, ethnic Christianity, if you will). Therefore, whatever help the Scottish Christians can get to reach their people is vitally needed. I'm just saying that I think the Church of Scotland is playing and will continue to play an important role in that outreach.

Today after church, we ate lunch at this Russian cafe run by Russian immigrants on the corner of Brandon Terrace and Huntley St (or Inverleith Row, or Canonmills; roads often have two or three names here). We each had soup and a Piroshky (Russian for pie) for half of what we would have paid elsewhere, and the food was really good. If you've never had Russian food, it apparently depends heavily on mushrooms, but don't let that stop you if you're not a mushroom fan (as I am not). I will likely eat there again, whether we live in this area or not.


I haven't let you all know what we have been up to lately. Since the last blog, we moved into St. Colm's house where we are staying in some rooms indefinitely. There we have to share the bathrooms, kitchen, and common areas. It is quiet and clean, so we have unpacked some and bought some groceries. That is pretty much all we did on Tuesday.

Wednesday, I had to get over some of my fears of traveling the city alone. Kerry must work on his studies and I could do some of the errands nearby without much chance of getting lost. For some reason I still just had a great big desire to stay locked up in my room. I did not travel across the world to be freaked out! So we walked to New College and there I left Kerry to go to Princes Street to find a cheap cell phone and information about bank accounts. I got information about both very easily and was able to explore the Writer's Museum before the time I was to meet Kerry. I felt really proud that I was even mistaken for a local a couple of times. It probably was because I didn't look quite as lost as the hordes of tourists who were also there.

The next day we followed a similar schedule after going to some University offices trying to find all the things we needed to open a bank account. We took the bus for the first time because these offices were on the very opposite corner of the city center. We also didn't completely succeed getting the information we needed because some things needed to be mailed to us later. This time after leaving Kerry at New College, I purchased a Skype phone, found an art shop and bought some simple art supplies, visited the Museum of Childhood, and then went to the National Library (which was kind of small). I had expanded my sphere of travel a bit farther and felt pretty good.

At this point I may have traveled as much as a half mile away from New College, but I still preferred Kerry good sense of direction (though, some of his short cuts would have been easier the longer and smoother way). Today was a real test. We traveled by bus down to the main campus library so Kerry could use those resources and so we could be close to a flat we were scheduled to look at. We were nervous about whether or not it would fall through. When the time came, we were able to see the place. Someone was still living there and it would not be available until next week.

It was a first floor (in America it would be the second floor) two bedrooms and one bath flat/apartment in a quiet area, situated only about a 15min walk to New College and right next door to the main campus library. The kitchen, dining room, and living room was one space that looked like just a large kitchen (with an American size refrigerator!). The master bedroom was large with a nice window and built in bookshelf (which would be very nice!). The second bedroom was also large with bunk beds. There was also plenty of storage and closet space. It was furnished and a good price. We immediately wanted it and were desperate not to lose it. Unfortunately, Kerry needed to go to his first class, and we needed to pay the deposit. This had to be done in an area of town I had only been to once before, and I had to be there before the offices closed for the day, which was before Kerry was out of class (4:00 p.m. of course).

This made me have to muster as much of an independent spirit as I could. Kerry handed me most of the maps we owned and pointed out the location of the building I needed to go to. I had the cell phone that we bought for this purpose, but could I call Kerry while he was in class? Anyways, we parted ways. He went towards New College and I towards Holyrood Park. I was able to get there and pay the deposit. I found out later that I was supposed to fill out an application, but no one seemed to know that at that time. It still worked out well because we could just fill out the application on Monday. With the deposit, it was ours. Then I traveled to New College and waited for Kerry at the National Gallery where I did a few sketches.

Finally, we went home to eat dinner and I called my Dad. It turns out that even though Mom is doing better, the cancer is spreading and there is nothing they can do. Again, my courage was being tested, but not just mine, the whole family was in turmoil. After talking to my dad, my brother, my grandmother, and even my mom, I have to face what will I do and how will I respond.

I am afraid I cannot answer that. I still don't know. I know a few of you have gone through this. I wrote this in the blog because I know it will be the central focus for me of the next few weeks. Keep us all in prayer.

Monday, September 28, 2009

House Search Continued

So today we continued our house search. The weekend everything was shut down (concerning relevant business; tourist stuff and restaurants are always open). Today we were able to resume our productive activities, sort of. It seems that very few people show up to work anywhere until 9ish o'clock. Then the all take an hour lunch that could start earlier than the posted time and may run later as well. Finally most businesses seem to close their doors at 4:00p.m. This has been consistent since we arrived.

The first thing we did after breakfast was go to New College, where Kerry met with his advisor, signed up for a research seminar, and picked up some necessary papers. This was a completely positive experience, though I was a bit worn out following him up and down tons of stairs. ORU has nothing compared to New College when it comes to stairs.

After that we headed to the accommodations office which is in the opposite corner of the city center from our hotel. We had to do this because we called a half a dozen times to find out when we could finalize student accommodations, but could not get the one person on the planet who knew anything about anything. Once we got there, it turns out that we can't finalize the accommodation paperwork until we see it and we can't see it until Thursday. We were upset so we asked about the other two places we saw online. One was already taken and the other was the same story as the first. I had happened to pick up a flier from New College (a habit that I have to pick up almost anything that is free). This flier advertised accommodation in an Oxford style college (like a shared mansion) next to the Royal Botanical Gardens just north of New Town. They had double bedrooms (housing for couples) as well as included Wifi. This particular place would be similar to a Youth Hostel or a dorm in that you pay for a room (not sure if bath is in suite) and have to share the kitchen and laundry facilities. The rent was nearly 200 pounds less per month than the university housing and all the utilities (except phone) was included. When Kerry called the guy he spoke to said that approval to stay would take about an hour and to just bring our luggage in the morning and we could try it out. At least, he said, we could stay there until we found somewhere else. The fact is that we would have to find somewhere else once the baby was born, but it would be good to have a semi-permanent residence in which we could start to work and live a little. We had given up on finding a pet-friendly accommodation or even being in the nicest area of town, but this solution would give us the opportunity to do both in a more laid back casual manner. Plus, the picture of this house was very beautiful and located in a great area of town. It isn't perfect, but we will end up making friends.

Now, some of you may be wondering why we are having such a hard time. In the US you walk up to an apartment complex, pick up a brochure, look at a room or not, and sign a lease in the same day. Here you cannot sign a lease until you can see the room. This includes University housing. There was no way possible to have accommodations before we came that we know of. Secondly, the agent will usually schedule you to see the place when it is convenient for them and show it to multiple people. I really don't know the steps after that, since we haven't gotten much farther than scheduling to see a place and then getting it rented out for under us before we can see it. It also seems that the Scots here keep talking of a lot of places available right now, but all the agency offices we pass and the websites we have looked at only have about three at a time ready to lease. Also there is no rhythm to when they become available or where they are located. So, in summary, this sucks!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Shiny Side of Edinburgh Part 2

After all of this we retired in our wonderful hotel room in which both Kerry and I struggled to go to sleep. For some reason the the bed at the hotel seemed nicer, but the one at the Youth Hostel was easier to fall asleep in. I totally don't know why. In the middle of the night, I discover an envelop slid under our door. It told us that tomorrow morning we would be move to a nicer room in the main building because that building was being shut down for techinical problems. So in the morning, we again moved our luggage down to the lobby in the linen closet elevator (it took three trips). Luckily, they tagged all the luggage and said that it would be in our new room when we returned. So off we went to eat breakfast and attend the church around the corner.

It turns out this was a fantastic church to attend. The denomination was Church of Scotland and there was some litergy which we enjoyed, but the sermon was phenominal! The gospel that was preach made us feel at home and the spirit of God was very much there. We met some young couples who we talk with for almost an hour and they gave us their contact information. We made our first friends! One thing about the body of Christ is that you can find a family of believers anywhere in the world. The grace and love of Christ makes us see no strangers. Kerry and I tried to figure out how we could attend this church if we live in the student accomedations that we will be looking at on Monday. Perhaps we will take the bus or perhaps we should visit some closer churches first before making a descision. I don't know, but we intend on going again tonight.

After visiting, Kerry and I ate lunch, bought a more detailed map than the tourist one we were using, and checked into our new room with our luggage already sitting in it. The Hilton upgraded us to a “Deluxe” room which meant it was even bigger and nicer. The private bathroom now had enough room to turn around in and was even larger than many in the US hotels we have stayed in. What a change in just a few days!

So, anyways, this is where I am sitting typing this blog in preperation for our internet blitz at Starbucks. I have to say in conclusion that I have constantly been afraid that God will drop us and we will not be able to afford to stay and have to move back to the US before Kerry can complete his PhD, but this fear seems so ridiculous right now. Every moment we have been here, God has not only watched over us, but he has open my eyes from what I was expecting, struggling and survival – like our worn out impression of Old Town, to the blessing and hope of what He wants to do like the glittering New Town. There are still a lot of questions that I have, like why is my mom having to go through this trial of cancer, but when all is said and done the whole gospel and Christian experience can be summerized in one word: hope. That is why we jumped off this cliff into Scotland, that is why we still pray for healing, that is why we believe in the future promise of eternity. The things that Kerry and I are experiencing is not luck. Our luck should have run out a long time ago before we even got here. What we are expirencing is one act of grace after another. So all of you out there, keep hoping because faith comes quickly behind it and then peace after that.

The Shiny Side of Edinburgh Part 1

Well, Saturday morning we had to get up early and move from our youth hostel to the Hilton hotel. This took Kerry (because it was too much effort for my pregnant body) moving each one of our 40lbs bags down a narrow flight of stairs, checking out, calling a taxi, loading the bags (the driver did help), going to the Hilton, unloading the bags, and having them tagged and stored for when we were able to check in at 3:00 p.m. Even though this was an ordeal, the difference between the youth hostel and the Hilton was worth the effort. Did I mention that because of Priceline we were paying the same amount as we were for the Youth Hostel? Hurray!

We then had intended to take one of the free tours of the city and play tourist for the day, but once we wondered east from the hotel (which was in the unexplored west side of the city center) we came upon a wonderous sight. Yesterday we had explored a good deal of what is called Old Town. This area was pretty in a medieval bumpy stone roads and towering old buildings from the 1600s sort of way. The area we stumbled upon on Saturday is called New Town. The contrast was shocking. This area just north of the castle was made up of a main shopping strip running east-west on Princes Street that was a mile long full of modern, high fashion stores that would out shine any of our strip malls. One of the the less impressive stores on this strip was the Gap. Their was also a Starbucks on every other corner. The boutiques and resturants lined the North part of the street while a beautiful park lined the south side. On our way down this road that reminded us of home (American commercialism!) we came across beautiful views of the castle, Canton Hill, Author's seat, and the whole of Old Town in general. While every road seems to go uphill in Old Town, New Town looked down on everything, in more ways than one. We also came upon the National gallery and went in to see the free art exhibit featuring many Itlain artist and a collection of Scottish art. Then we turned North to explore the rest of New Town. The residential area was lined in uniform Georgian style buildings that instantly reveiled why these flats/apartments were so much more expensive than those south of the castle. The smooth, unhurried pacing gave us room to walk at an American's leasurly pace. Even in the busy shopping area, the population was noticable older and more varied than the 16 through 20 year olds I described in my last blog. The whole day was a large sigh of relief. Even though we may not be able to afford to live in this part of town at the moment (though the area we are focusing on right now is near the very nice Meadows park and away from the bustle), we deffinately know where to go to relax and where we would like to move to once I can get a stable income. It isn't like old town is a “bad” area of town, but it is the college area with LOTS of the young college kids type activities, cigerate smells, and clubs and the touristy area with lots of crowded streets, tartan shops, and tourist focused stores. New Town is where the population really live and shop.

After a pleasant walk we returned to the hotel to check into our room, move our baggage into the second building and up the elevator that could work as a linen closet. The room was large and spacious. We were so pleased with the almost King size bed and private bathroom. We relaxed for a while hoping to use the free Wifi we thought the hotel offered to communicate with family and businesses. It turns out that there was no Wifi, just broad band that you must pay for that we couldn't use even if we wanted to because of our laptop specs. So went out for dinner at a tiny Italian restarant in which the owner/waiter spoke little English. The food was cheap and good. We then searched for one of the zillion Starbucks to go online. Once we found one that was still open, we only had little over a half an hour to get everything done. I guess the UK doesn't do coffee shops on Saturday Nights.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How Not To Kill A Dragon

So Kerry is leveling his experience levels today, but I am trying to figure out if we even squashed a dragon shaped bug. If you don't know what I am talking about, read Kerry's blog first.

Today was a difficult day. At first impression, I was very frustrated, but now I think it was good. I must recount what we did and did not do today to explain my view of our first full day in Edinburgh. Yesterday we flew in, and in the blur of tiredness checked into a youth hostel. This is kind of like a dorm, except we stayed at one in which we got our own bedroom. The accommodations were not luxurious, but we crashed at 7:30 and woke up 7:30 the next morning.

After a really good night sleep, I thought today would be a fantastic day for dragon slaying. We had seen a little of the town yesterday, but I was overwhelmed with people and city. I also had no idea which way I was facing and would have depended on a map had Kerry not recognized everything. Our first dragon to slay today was to find a furnished flat. The issue of permanent accommodations has been a source of stress for me since this is a very important step toward truly getting settled. I think every woman needs a nest, especially one three months pregnant. To get to the very first flat we were to see, we walked from the south center portion of the City Centre to the northwest portion of that same area. We began our walk through Meadows Park which was refreshing and beautiful, and I thought that this was very charming. After a hour and a half of walking up hill, after which we were over a half hour late to the appointment, I decided there was no way I wanted that apartment anyways. In fact, I was seconded guessing my “not getting a car” idea and was sure their were too many people in this city. I also had expected the streets to be straighter and longer. How can you call an alley a hundred feet long a separate street? Before I completely made that decision about the apartment, Kerry called the agency to reschedule the appointment, but they could not return until Monday. Fine. So we walked back towards the University to try to slay our second dragon, get Kerry registered.

As we walked our way back, I grumpily noticed we were still going up hill. How was it that we went uphill to get to the flat and then uphill to leave it. As I discovered throughout the day, the whole city is uphill!

Anyways, Kerry did get registered, and pretty quickly, but not completely. It turns out there are three steps. One step was done, but two more to go. It turns out that the University is spread out throughout the city, most of the hard part was completed at Old College in a very busy area of town, the attendance registration was in David Hume Tower near where we were staying, and meeting with his adviser would happen a New College near the castle. We ate lunch nearby as I watch a bunch of over stylized teenagers bustling around. I think these are the only people in the world who actually wear what they show in style magazines, and all of them seemed to be between 16 and 20 years old. It is strange to feel “mature” at the age of 27.

Then came the second flat that we saw. This one was up a zillion stairs and was unfurnished. We walked around in circles for about 15 minutes to find an elusive door number 24. The agent did find us and showed us where the apartment was. Inside it was on the top floor with no elevator. Even though we were kind of eager to sign a lease, that apartment just wouldn't work. Leaving there, we passed Holyrood Park with the enormous dormant volcano, Arthur's Seat. We did not attempt to climb it, but somehow it relieved some of the disappointment of the apartment. We then went to Starbucks, of which this city has one on every corner. The glorious oasis provided us with life giving caffeine and free internet, by which we were able to scope out potential other flats. Even though we would not be able to see any of them until Monday, it was good to get this dragon wounded at least.

We actually did the second step to Kerry's registration at this point.

Meeting his adviser would have to wait until Monday. This still left it on the to do list, so this dragon was not slayed, just seriously wounded. After that we went back to the hostel to find out that because we did not reserve our room for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights, we were going to have to find another hotel and move all of our baggage there. I was very depressed, but Kerry actually killed that dragon by bidding on a Hilton on Priceline and winning it. Fantastic! It is a little far, but we will get a taxi to move our stuff and we will be moving up in niceness for the same price. Now that is some major dragon slaying, but I can't take credit for that.

Even though I felt frustrated at not meeting our goals, we did start getting familiar with the city, a little less overwhelmed with the pedestrian traffic, and really picking out the nice areas which differed from online. So at least we have two wounded dragons and one dead one between us. Not too bad.

Behold Edinburgh part 2

Friday (or How I Gained Tons of Experience Points)

Google Maps is a great tool, particularly the street level, which, I am told, has inadvertently allowed certain persons (not mentioning any names, but his initials are JDD) to view people in their underwear through street-facing windows. While I have not personally had this dubious honor, I nevertheless have found Google Maps to be an indispensable tool in preparing me for walking around Edinburgh. After a day and a half of walking through Old Town and some of the surrounding areas, I feel exceptionally comfortable and familiar. I have been able to navigate by landmarks in a city I had never before visited: there's the Starbucks I saw online, and there's that Greyfriars Bobby pub, and there's that Pizza/Kebab place. Now, some might for some reason think it's funny that my landmarks tend to be food-related. Yes, I like food. There's nothing wrong with that. And yes, I have tried two of the three previously mentioned landmarks already.

What Google Maps doesn't show you, even at street level, is that the city was apparently built on an earthquake and designed by Escher. I'm talking about the elevation variances, so we've had to learn the hard way that High Street is actually high, that walking the royal mile is like traveling from Jericho to Jerusalem, and that some roads run underneath others, instead of intersecting them. This can create a problem when you are trying to reach a destination that is supposed to be at a particular corner, only the corner is about 150 feet above you (now where did I put that tourist's grappling hook?).

We've had quite a bit of walking to do, because today (Friday the 25th) was supposed to be our day to find a flat. Yeah. We struck out. Of the three that we were supposed to see today, one we were late to because I misjudged how long it would take to walk there, one was let yesterday to someone else, and one ended up being too expensive. For Lara, this felt like a total waste of time. No dragons were slain, their rotting carcasses burned, and their bejeweled scales harvested for trophies of her valor (we did register me, which took all of 15 minutes – if you've ever registered at a University, you now envy me, heh heh). That's the way Lara looks at things. That's the particular angle she has on goal orientation. Establish a goal, then seek and destroy. That's also why she gets so much done.

I, on the other hand, while being similarly goal oriented, look at goals differently. Yes, I want to accomplish them, but the process of accomplishing carries with it its own rewards. I approach life more like the way I play a Final Fantasy game. While my brother would rush through the game as quickly as possible and then struggle to beat the last boss because his levels were too low, I fight endlessly to gain levels. I never equip the relic or drink the potion that makes random battles happen less frequently. I often do the opposite. Why? Because it makes me stronger. I gain valuable experience points and max out levels, acquiring the mightiest spells, the coolest blitz techniques, and the most expensive or rarest weapons and armor. It is my endeavor in such games to find every last magical item and thus establish my name in the annals of RPG fame! HAHAHAHAHA!

This is the way I look at life. So today was actually rather satisfying for me, because I felt like, even though we didn't make a decision about a flat, we learned valuable things today and thereby came closer to a good decision. Also, we walked around for miles, so my athletics skill jumped like three levels.

My coin accounting skill must be increasing like crazy, too. The UK has 40,000,000 different coins! I'm trying to learn them all, but so far I know them as the heavy one, the one that looks like a penny, the big single color one, the big two color one, the heptagonal one (yes, it has seven sides), the 3.26 pence one ... okay, maybe not the last one. And the paper money isn't much help either. After my first ATM withdrawal I was okay because all the bills came out looking the same. This would simple to learn, I thought. Only the bills from the second ATM withdrawal came out looking different, but they were the same denomination – Anglican. I've gotten some change, too, that looks a little different. Lara observed that the US has different looking bills, especially recently. But at least a five always has honest Abe on it. I have had at least two, if not three, differently colored 10 pound notes with different people on them. All in all, my various skill levels are definitely increasing, and I think I may max out my character in three months.

Behold Edinburgh

Thursday (or Wednesday, or whatever, I'm too tired to care)

After a difficult Tuesday night in which I slept maybe five hours, we faced a hurried and emotional Wednesday. We had to say goodbye to Lara's parents and grandmother, with her mom lying in a hospital bed. We said goodbye to two cats we raised from kittens, bottle-feeding them from four weeks old. We said goodbye to our dog for who knows how long (it depends on the housing we can find). With all of this happening I honestly did not think much about my own family except to test call Skype, which I would use in Edinburgh to call them when we got there. For my test call I talked to my dad because that was who picked up. Then I got a call on my cell phone from my mom who wanted to say goodbye and hear the sound of my voice. Yeah, I felt like a jerk. I could hear Mr. T saying “Call yo' mama, fool!”

We flew out at 4:30 pm from DFW on Lufthansa (a major German airline, for those of you who are as ignorant as I was). We had not weighed our checked luggage, and ended up having to move several items around to make certain that all the bags were under the limit. We were aided by a very nice lady at the counter who made some exceptions for us. International direct flights, at least on foreign airlines, leave from terminal D. This was my first experience with terminal D. A, B, and C are basically all the same, semi-circular with shops on the inside of the circle and gates on the outside, metallic, shiny, and hectic. Terminal D was a little different. It is more squarish, with a kind of shopping mall feel to it. It was also significantly less hectic.

This was my third international flight (if you count going to and from Africa as two flights), and the shortest of the three. The flight was on-time and about nine hours. As I mentioned in a previous post, we were to lose six hours on this flight, so we thought it would be a good idea to get some sleep on the plane. I knew this would be easier said than done, since the plane left at 4:30 central time and would arrive at what would feel like 1:30-ish AM, and I don't sleep well on planes anyway. You already know how well that worked out.

Frankfurt's airport is an interesting blend of upscale, high-tech modernity and run-down, low-tech simplicity. In the B section of terminal 1 there is a really nice area upstairs with restaurants and comfortable seating overlooking the runways (with a McDonalds of all things – I really think it should be classified as a pandemic). Right outside of this area was an extended section with missing ceiling tiles and exposed wiring. It was kind of like Mad Max meets Ritz-Carlton, all the luxury one might expect in a post-apocalyptic airport.

I've heard that among Europeans, Germans are often caricatured as serious, long-faced, taciturn, and abrupt. Yep, that about sums it up. There was about as much hospitality as what one might expect from a county jail. I know it's one of the ruder aspects of American travelers to expect everyone to cater to them, but I honestly did not know how to order a pretzel in German, and we were in the freaking INTERNATIONAL SECTION OF THE AIPORT! One notable exception was one of the flight attendants, originally on Lara's side of our middle section; I moved to Lara's other side because she was much nicer than the one on my side who seemed rather put out that I didn't automatically know the drink options.

I have to admit that all the angry-looking Muslims waiting for what could have been our flight was unnerving, and it didn't help that the only response I got from my attempt to appear friendly was one of the Muslims getting up and moving away from our area. When our flight was called, I was relieved to be leaving Germany and relieved that the Muslims weren't leaving with me.

I slept most of the two hours from Frankfurt to Edinburgh, hoping that it might refresh me enough to make it through the rest of the day. At this point I didn't know what day it was, I didn't know what time it was, I honestly at one point had trouble remembering Lara's name. I wasn't really in the mood to be happy about being in another country. But the general friendliness level in Edinburgh was a stark contrast to Frankfurt. The lady inspecting our passports and visas for entry had to do some extra checking to verify our story (which I understand), but she did so in a professional and eventually personable manner. I never felt dismissed or an intrusion.

We were picked up at the airport through a service called Edinburgh Direct. The driver's name was Paul, and he was a delight. He made meaningful and comfortable conversation the whole way from the airport to our accommodations at Argyle Backpackers Hostel. I did my best to interact with him through the haze of ludicrous sleepiness, and I gave him a big tip.

Argyle Backpackers is a good example of the European youth hostel: cheap dormitory style accommodation for the most part with shared bathrooms and kitchens, aimed especially at young people traveling on a limited budget. Many hostels, this included, also have private rooms available for a little more money. It's a no frills way to stay somewhere relatively cheaply. Plus, this one was in a good location for us. Objectively, I don't know how comfortable the bed actually was, but I was asleep by 7:30 pm on what felt like the softest, most wonderful bed ever made by third world factory workers.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ein Postlein (a little Post)

I am sitting here in the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, regretting the fact that I have not posted in weeks. There is so much to tell, but it will have to wait.

Now, I know that there is a rule understood by travelers that being in an airport doesn't really count for being in the country. Well, I say: forget that trash. I'm in Germany! The airport buildings don't magically transport me to U.N.-ville. Besides, I had to walk ON THE GROUND to get to the tram that taxied us to the terminals from the plane, so nobody better be telling me that I haven't been in Germany. And if I'm not in Germany, how does one explain all the people speaking German, huh?

The flight here left the US at 4:30 central time and arrived at 8:45 am local time. Now that looks like a really long flight, but once you subtract the seven hour time difference it was a measly seven hour flight. PFFFT! PSHAH! Nothing. Except that my rear end is still numb two hours later and I know there was a 3-shaped indentation on my seat on the plane. I could tell you about the poor infant who managed to cry for the entire flight, or the poor mother who patiently did everything superhumanly possible to calm the baby, but honestly the most remarkable thing about the flight were the cool touch screen monitors in front of every seat that let me watch my own movie (from a selection). Sweet! I watched the new Star Trek movie and Monsters vs. Aliens. Going into the flight, we knew it would definitely be wisdom to get some sleep, so I did (about two hours).

Well, Lara and I will be in Edinburgh in a few hours. Tomorrow we'll view some flats (apartments) and hopefully sign on one. More to come.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Baby Showers

One of the things I was prepared for in moving to Scotland was not to have baby showers with my friends. I thought if they wanted to get me something when I was there, I would try to register with some store in the UK that had a website that they could order from and not have to pay shipping. I was pleasantly surprised that others had thought about this before me.

Kerry and I attend a Bible study on Tuesday nights in Tyler with a group of friends who I hope are all reading this. They are fantastic! They threw us a surprise baby shower. Kerry knew about it and his version of keeping it a secret was saying, "The guys and girls are going to be together tonight and they want us to be 15 minutes late." We usually split up the guys and girls, so this was a clue that something was happening, but I wasn't expecting what I was greeted with. We walked in Mark and Sheila's house and everyone yelled, "Surprise!" The living room had some balloons, the dining room table had a cake that looked like a train and cupcakes that had pacifiers made of candy on them. There was a full baby shower waiting. The food was good, the conversation was fun, and the gifts were very appropriate for our limited luggage space. They were even thoughtful enough to find Classic Winnie the Pooh (which I know is hard to find) for the receiving blankets and pacifier that I received. The cute rattle had all the little tactile things that babies love hanging on it. The little baby clothes made me think, "Wow, I am going to have a baby who will wear this!" It was very neat! The whole thing was very wonderful and was the first surprise party I ever had. In fact, I can only remember having one birthday party when I was a little kid, so it was a very unique experience! I will treasure it always.

At work, I was told they would be giving me and baby shower/going away party the Friday after the surprise party I just described. I had not ever seen the company give a going away party before and I was surprised that I would get a baby shower since I am still so newly pregnant (I was only ten weeks). I was expecting only a few people to show up and a little celebration. I was surprised that nearly everyone in the company who could be there was there. The conference table was decorated in polka-dot themed cake, baby blanket, and cookies. There was also a "money-tree" in the center of the table with cards and money. There were also some small baby items on the table with which we played a "price-is-right" style game and then a name mommy songs game. It was very nice and everyone was very generous. I especially liked the card that was signed by everyone, even those not there.

I was very surprised by these two events, and it was more than I had expected even if I had stayed throughout my pregnancy. I think that I am always surprised by acts of true friendship because of my lack of friends when I was in school, but I hope that I never take these acts that I have experienced for granted. Thank you to all my friends who are reading this. You are all very special and I hope that such acts will be returned to you ten fold!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Baby on the Way

It has been hard for me to figure out what to write. Finding out I was having a baby busted the last calm nerve I had. I have been reading as much as I can about everything from pregnancy to labor and delivery to the UK healthcare system to hushing a colicky baby. At the same time I have been stressing over the short time we have until we need to leave for Edinburgh.

The main question I have received in the last month is "Do you have morning sickness?" I am not offended by this question even though I hear it about 5 times a day from co-workers and friends since it would be the only thing I would be able to think off to ask too. The fact is I have been blessed to avoid that, though I have been snacking to keep the squeamish stomach feeling down. The main thing I feel is tired. REALLY tired! Then I have also been swinging between depressed and panicked with glimpses of frustration mixed in.

I have found that the glorious image of pregnancy that I kept for four years as we waited for this miracle to happen was completely an illusion. Pregnancy clothes are expensive! I was told by a friend who had her baby in Scotland to buy some to bring with me because they were almost nonexistent in the UK. Well, shopping for them before you need them is really hard. How do I know how big I will get? Will I have a cute basketball tummy or will I need a tent? No matter what I picked out, I felt depressed afterwards because I really don't want to get fat! I understand gaining weight for the baby, but how easy is it to just let yourself go and gain fifty pounds by the second trimester? Everything I have been reading also says that I should not be gaining any weigh right now either (since I am still in the first trimester). Well, like it or not, I have and that makes me wonder if I have already "let myself go". I guess I will just have to be resigned to working hard on losing it all after the baby is born.

After that frustration, there were the issues of finding books that talked about stuff I wanted to learn about. What happened to all the natural birth, hypno birth and water birth books? And why does Walmart only carry one pregnancy magazine? Why do the books about breast feeding not cover all the problems that everyone I know experienced? I would also like to read about pregnancy symptoms other that morning sickness and gaining weight. Is it normal to drink water like a camel? What about about the tiredness I feel now, since the books only mention it at the end of the pregnancy? Where are the over-marketed gear reviews and registry musts? Even the internet seems sparse, but then again I probably should do more that a five second search at a time.

Talking about the internet, I found out that the theme I had always wanted for my baby, classic Winnie the Pooh, has been almost discontinued from some of the major stores. I mean you can find Disney Winnie the Pooh almost anywhere, but that is just loud. I like the old fashioned storybook images. I wouldn't even mind if they replaced "Classic Pooh" with the Velveteen Rabbit or Wind in the Willow, but instead you get Disney or plain patterns, maybe some jungle animals too.

I was mourning over the google searches that showed every store carrying only one or two items when I came across a nice surprise. It turns out E.H. Shepard, the original illustrator of the Winnie the Pooh books and the recognizable "Classic Pooh" images, was British. He lived in Victorian England and the British are still in love with his books. They have lots of classy Winnie the Pooh baby things in the style I love. This asset to our new home location propagated many other happy thoughts.

It really is a fantastic thing that I will have the baby in the UK. First of all, we will qualify for their healthcare which will be free. Secondly, I have heard good reports about the system from the midwives to the house visits after the baby is born. Then, I will also have my dream of being able to stay home with the baby if I do in fact work freelance like I was expecting to. Also, with the housing being so small, there won't be as much housework to do when I am tired and busy with the baby. We will be close enough to everything that I won't have to plan all day excursions into town, but timing quick trips, between feedings, hopefully, for whatever I need.

I have to say that this was still odd timing (can we say God has a sense of humor?). I was not expecting my dreams of traveling around the world to include a child, but I think this was kind of a divine leash on me so that I will not feel like I am doing all of this on my own. I have an over-developed sense of being in control at all times. I like planning and working hard and I am proud of my accomplishments. Sometimes this causes me to feel like I have caused the good things in my life because I have worked hard for it, but the truth is, none of us can cause anything really important to happen without God opening the way. With my tiredness and lack of control over my emotions, I have also lost the vise-like grip over our schedule and finances. I can't seem to stay on top of anything anymore and somehow everything is getting done.

I have to say that this experience, which still has hardly begun, is something I have never imagined would happen. If you tried to tell me a year ago that we would be moving to Scotland and having a baby and Kerry getting his doctorate, I would have suggest you just choose one to pray for and we would worry about the others later.