We met in San Francisco in the late nineties/early naughts. We formed a fast friendship, even when one, then another, then another, then another moved away (then one moved back). We met up in new homes, on vacation, on work trips around the world, keeping in touch via group texts, Facebook, and occasional calls. When we met up it was usually in twos or threes, rarely all four of us in the same place. This year we decided to plan a long weekend away together – all four of us. As we started planning, we aimed for a spot none of us had been and decided on Banff, Canada. From the moment we landed in the airport (“Yes to YYC”) to the moment we left, Canada delighted us. Highlights of the trip included:
- scenics drives along the Trans-Canada Highway
- free admission to Banff National Park (Happy Birthday, Canada!)
- an extraordinary dinner at Three Ravens
- stunning views from our lodge (and it had a fireplace!)
- waffles and bacon for breakfast
- a hike around Lake Louise (I never knew water could be so breathtakingly blue) and up to Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse
- hot tomato soup, crusty bread, and hot chocolate at the Teahouse
- dusting of snow
- a hike in Johnston Canyon to the Lower Falls, Upper Falls, then on to the Ink Pots
- Thanksgiving poutine (turkey and stuffing and gravy over french fries? be still my beating heart…)
- a soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs at dusk
- late night and early morning conversations in jammies
- four fabulous days with three dear friends.
This really was a great idea.
A Day in Glenapp
While in Scotland, we wanted to visit the countryside and we wanted to stay in a castle. This is where Google is amazing. If you Google “stay in a castle in Scotland” one of the first results is a website that lists all the castles where you can stay in Scotland (as expected). We chose Glenapp Castle, a couple of hours train ride away from Edinburgh, and watched the scenery get greener and greener and more expansive the farther west we traveled.
The taxi driver picked us up at the tiny train station, and spoke to us about his profession (electrical pole raising), his mother’s summer house (up the cliff), the Ailsa Criag (where curling stones are mined), and the state of the sea. We told him we were from America and he smirked slightly and responded, “I guessed.” We passed a roundabout with a large stone ship that asked, “Whit’s yer hurry?” A good reminder for the upcoming weekend.
We turned down smaller and smaller roads until we reached a gate, followed by another small winding road leading up a hill. And then, around a curve, the castle! With gates! And turrets! And dormer windows! And a fountain! We squealed and asked the driver to stop so that we could take a photo from farther out (not minding the rain that was falling).
We entered a grand hall and were taken on tour: the dinner dining room, the breakfast room, the sitting rooms, the library, the outdoor patios and terraces. Despite the weather, we were ready to explore. We donned Wellies (Wellies!) and raincoats, foregoing umbrellas, and set out to walk the grounds (how proper!).
First stop, the Tea House. Which was as cozy and adorable as it sounds. Low ceilinged, slightly sloping floor, small tables just close enough apart, handmade lace and mismatched tea cups displayed on the walls. After a cuppa, we ventured to the conservatory, breathing in that earthly, humid, floral smell of greenhouses. As someone who is almost always in cities, it’s such a treat to be surrounded by plants. We admired the delicate African violets, breathed in the thick sweet smell of the honeysuckle, and marveled at the incredibly tiny bunches of grapes blooming on vines.
We meandered to the herb garden, greeted by beds of fragrant rosemary, velvety sage, and bursts of purple blooming clover. We strolled to the Azalea pond, marveling at the picture perfect view. It was almost too perfect, the pond, sprinkled with lily pads, lined with flowering azalea bushes in all colors: cotton candy pink, neon magenta, fiery red, heavenly yellow, flaming orange. We sat on the bench and took in the beauty, catching up on goings on since we last saw each other.
We continued exploring, through the dense woods filled with beds of surprisingly intense blue bonnets, across the yard, littered with fallen petals, down narrow paths, not sure where we’d end up. We made our way back to the castle and discovered a croquet lawn. Not entirely sure of the rules (or the object of the game), we made our own, whacking the ball through wickets and high fiving each other when we were successful.
We decided it was time for a glass of wine on the patio. Inside, we selected a vintage, and asked if they could bring it to the patio. There was a split second, just a glimmer of surprise, on his face before he said of course they could do that. We sat in the very brisk dusk, overlooking the sea, as rain spitted from the sky. Not heavy enough to require umbrellas, just enough of a mist to barely wet your skin. We talked about what we would do the next day – a boat trip to Ailsa Craig or a hike along the coastal bluffs? It’s a good thing to be forced to choose between only excellent options.
Over dinner we discussed our options and decided on the 8-mile hike along the coastal bluffs. With each of the six courses we chatted and tried to keep our laughter at an appropriate level in the very hushed, very formal dining room. The conversations of other tables couldn’t be heard. The laughter of ours could. Before one course, I asked our waiter, Hugh, “So who owns this castle?” He motioned for me to keep my voice down and mentioned it was the gentleman in the corner. Hugh shared the history of the castle, including the disappearance of a former owner’s daughter, Elsie Mackay, aka the actress Poppy Wyndham. We asked if there were ghosts, and he indulged us with stories of sightings. We said we hoped that we encountered a ghost during our stay. (we didn’t)
On Sunday we enjoyed a traditional Scottish breakfast (haggis is delicious) before embarking on our coastal hike. To be in the countryside, nary a soul in site, on a beautiful sunny day, on the coast of western Scotland, is pure heaven. We traipsed through meadows filled with sheep and cows, and spotted shy deer, bunnies, and partridges on the path. We climbed jagged hills strewn with rocks and walked through grassy leas. Mostly, though, we simply enjoyed the stunning beauty of the countryside, already planning when we could return and experience more of lovely Scotland.
A Day in London
“Have you been to Great Britain before?” asked the Immigration Official. “Yes,” I answered. “When was that?” I paused, and thought. “I don’t remember. It’s been at least six or seven years.” “That was a long time ago,” she said. Yes, I thought. It was.
Why had it been so long? I forget how much I love the UK, London in particular. I’m delighted simply to speak to people. I love hearing their accents; I love how polite and proper folks are. The city is so ultimately walkable and museums are free. And fish and chips. And black cabs where the seats fold down and you can ride backwards, seeing all that you’ve passed. And signs, reminding you to be careful: “Mind The Gap” and “Look Left” and “Stand Right.” And Big Ben. And tea served in dainty fine china cups. And beautiful, old train stations, with new trains that run on time. And theater, so much theater. And shop clerks who call you “love.” And cobblestone streets that cause you to take care so you won’t twist an ankle. And poets, sitting along the river Thames, offering to type you a poem on a manual typewriter:
Over there is a
big salty puddle called the Atlantic
in the other direction, another
even bigger puddle, that one we
call the Pacific. The difference is
Pacific folks are handsome and eat
a lot of grapef ruit and avocado
The people of the Atlantic are very
clever but ill formed. They read
the New Yorker a nd the London
review of Books but they don’t unde
stand the word ‘lifestyle’ they
invented that stuff on the Pacific
Rim. Brunch, decking in the garden
barbecues and long walks along the
This, London, is a place for drinking
drinking is not a lifestyle
it’s an occupation.
Highlights of a Day in NY
- My flight arriving on time
- Early check-in at the hotel
- A beautiful sunny day in the 50s (in December!), perfect for walking around the city
- A delicious NY diner breakfast of French Toast, eggs, bacon and sausage
- Walking along the waterfront and seeing the Statue of Liberty in the distance
- Hanging out with the Charging Bull on Wall Street, wreath around its neck
- Honoring the memories of friends who died in the attacks of 9/11
- Watching skaters at Rockefeller Center
Visiting the New York Stock Exchange! I’m on the Board of Directors of Girls in Tech, and in honor of our 10th anniversary, we had been invited to ring the closing bell of the NYSE. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and the few expectations I did have were blown away. The folks at the NYSE were so incredibly gracious and welcoming. They shared the history of the stock exchange, took us on a tour of the building, and encouraged us to enjoy ourselves during the closing bell ceremony. I was shocked that anyone would need encouragement. We were on the floor (and then overlooking it) of the New York Stock Exchange! I was struck by how quiet it was. My impressions of the NYSE are mostly from movies in the 80s, where people yelled as trades were made. The floor had a calm air to it and people were friendly as we walked by. On the podium, we could see the floor in its entirety. We watched, expectantly, as the large digital clock counted to 3:59:45, the signal to ring the closing bell. We clapped and woo hoo-ed and high-fived as the bell was rung. It was a celebration – the end of yet another successful day.
The Way to Papakōlea
The website said “you need to hike 2.5 miles (one way) from the parking lot to the beach.” That sounded like the perfect afternoon to me. I walked across the parking lot and a Hawai’ian woman in faded capris and an ill-fitting tank top, sweat causing strands of her long dark hair to stick to her face in clumps, said, “Wanna shuttle ride to the beach?” I smiled and said, “No, thanks.” She persisted, “It’s 3 miles. Each way. Over an hour walk.” Music to my ears, I smiled and said, “Thanks, I’ll walk.” I had my day pack, filled with plenty of water, snacks, and a jacket (so not needed in the heat of the afternoon but I’m from San Francisco and old habits die hard).
I walked towards the water, then along the coast. There wasn’t a path per say, just various road-ish ways where vehicles had driven over the years.
I wondered if all the roads led to the beach. They sort of kind of looked like it. But they also looked like they could diverge and I had no idea which one led to where I wanted to be. I also wondered why I didn’t see any other walkers. I made my way to the coastline so that I could be closer to the ocean. The sound of the waves and the mist of salt spray calmed my soul. I sat on the lava and ate an apple, letting the sound and spray wash over me.
As I continued to walk, a pickup truck or two occasionally passed. Each time, the driver leaned out the window, waved, and said, “You need a ride?” I’d smile and say, “No, I’m good” and he’d say, “You sure?” I’d nod and wave as he drove off, a few people bouncing along in the back of the pickup. Red dust rose and I waited until it settled, somewhat, to continue walking. I came over a crest and saw a bevy of pickups parked atop a cliff. There it was, Papakōlea, the green sand beach, tucked away at the bottom of a cliff. I sat at the top of the cliff, relishing the cool wind blowing from the water. I sat, and thought, and sat, and watched, and sat, and was happy.
100 Looks Great on You!
Happy Birthday, National Park Service! I hope I look as good as you do when I reach 100! To celebrate your big day, I spent the afternoon wandering through Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. There were very few visitors there, and I loved walking the ancient pathways and listening to the waves lap against the shore, taking in the peaceful atmosphere. As I stood staring at the sea, I witnessed a sea turtle resting. I watched as it breathed in, raising its head ever so slightly, then watched as it sort of harrumphed, dropping its head onto the sand and spitting a dribbly stream of water. I walked over hardened lava, and felt the heat, from today, from years, from centuries, rise.
On the Pacific Surfliner
It’s a perfect, foggy, mystical morning for a train ride down the coast of California. I feel at peace on trains. The methodical, rhythmic cadence of the car. The pace, staring out the window, seeing a new landscape every few seconds. And on this trip, the ocean. The tracks hug the cliffs dropping to the expansive ocean, blues and grey for as far as the eye can see. This morning, the chill, mysterious fog envelops the coast. Maybe it’s because I’m not naturally a morning person (I like to sleep), but when I’m up in the morning, I’m experiencing a secret world. I’m intrigued by the silence, the quiet, the peacefulness.
Let’s Recognize Love
I’m in Washington, DC this week for work. My teammates and I walked through the city this evening, passing by the Capitol, listening as the symphony played out front, timpani drums booming. We walked further and found ourselves gazing at the Supreme Court. I walked up the numerous steps to the massive door of the Supreme Court, reliefs etched into panels. I stared upwards at the huge columns. I touched the elaborate carved marble and felt shivers on my arms. This was where so many important decisions had been made. Brown vs Board of Education. Loving vs Virginia. Roe vs Wade. United States vs Windsor. Obergefell vs Hodges. Laws that guaranteed civil rights to all people, not just the ones who had previously accessed such rights to education, marriage, health decisions. I walked away as the moon rose feeling hope that, yes, our government is (eventually) a force for good.
As we turned to head towards Union Station, we passed the United Methodist Building. I identify as a Methodist. It’s been a part of my identity since I was five and my family moved to Rural Hall, NC. I’ve had periods throughout my life where I struggled with my faith, wondered if there was a capital G God, and preferred to sleep in on Sundays rather than attend worship service. But for the most part I value my Methodist upbringing. It’s one of inclusion and tolerance, mostly.
As we passed the building, I noticed the marquee had a phrase on it. I like to read church marquees; they often are a source of clever puns. This is what I read:
“Let Us Not Tire of Preaching Love”
And I was angry. Really angry. How about we recognize love instead? And not discipline clergy who perform same-sex marriages or clergy who are in same-sex relationships? It’s up for discussion in committee, but does it really need to be discussed? We say that all persons are of sacred worth. We say that we believe in grace.
Let’s believe in love in all forms. Let’s not just preach about it.
We can do better.