Adventure

Day Eight: Inverness (October 9)

On Wednesday, we decided to explore some of the areas around Inverness. We started out at the Clava Cairns at Balnuaran of Clava, Bronze Age circular chambers with standing stones around them. Balnuaran of Clava is believed to be the inspiration for Craigh Na Dun in the Outlander series and most of the stones there are believed to have been placed over 4,000 years ago.

We left Balnuaran of Clava and drove to the small town of Rosemarkie, where we hiked up to the two Fairy Glen Falls and took some photos. It seemed like a really popular place for people to walk their dogs as we saw several along the trail. At the both of the falls there were “money trees” where people hammer coins into logs as an offering to the fairies, a tradition I was happy to take part in.

After making the return journey from the falls, we went looking for a place to eat. The sign at the Fairy Glen Falls had mentioned the Rosemarkie Beach Cafe, so we decided to go there. Dad and Mom said they had the best burgers of any of the burgers they ate in Scotland.

When we were finished eating, we walked along the beach a little bit before it started raining and we returned to the car. From there, we drove to a place called the Falls of Shin. A Scottish man Dad and Mom met at the Falls of Falloch along Loch Lomond had recommended it as salmon are known to jump up the waterfall. We were lucky enough to see several fish attempt (and many make) the jump up the falls.

We were exhausted from all of our hiking, so we ended up just eating McDonald’s for dinner in the heart of Inverness. I tried the cheese and herb melts which were really just like sad mozzarella sticks.

Adventure

Day Seven: Isle of Skye to Inverness (October 8)

On Tuesday, we all woke up, packed the car in the rain, and set off from Harrapool towards Inverness. Our first stop was at Eilean Donan Castle. We pulled over to take pictures, but didn’t pay to go inside as we learned it was rebuilt in the twentieth century.

Our next stop was Urquhart Castle. The current ruins date back to the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries and are on the same spot where a medieval fortification used to be. The ruins of Urquhart Castle sit on Loch Ness and we were able to go down and touch the water. It wasn’t as cold as we thought it would be, but there were a lot of waves from the wind.

From Urquhart Castle, we made our way into Inverness and parked at a large public car park. We ate lunch at The Grumpy Chef, a restaurant I had read about on TripAdvisor. The food was good and the atmosphere was calm and cozy. After eating, I went to the famous Leakey’s Bookshop while Jac walked around and Dad and Mom went to the bus station to find the public restrooms.

Mom and Dad met back up with me at Leakey’s and then we all met with Jac at the car park. From there, we drove out to Culloden Battlefield, the site of a 1746 battle between government (mostly English) forces and Jacobites (supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie- Charles Stuart). We took a thirty-five minute long tour of the Battlefield in the wind and the rain.

After Culloden, Jac, Dad, and I dropped Mom off at the AirBnB then ate at the very unimpressive The King’s Highway, stopping at a Co-Op for groceries and Miele’s Gelateria for some gelato. Then we stopped at McLeod’s Fish and Chips to take food home to Mom before relaxing for a while then going to sleep.

Eilean Donna Castle
Adventure

Day Six: Isle of Skye (October 7)

On Monday, we spent the day touring the Isle of Skye. The first thing that we noticed was that there were waterfalls everywhere. We also saw about four rainbows during our time there.

Our first destination was the famed Fairy Pools. Unfortunately, the attendant at the car park told us that the river you usually cross to get to the Fairy Pools was flooded and it was unlikely we would be able to see the Fairy Pools. We walked along the river, searching for a place that was safe to cross. One man told Jac that he had tried to cross but the water was up to his waist, so we decided not to try our luck. While we were there, it rained sideways. We were glad that we were prepared with rain pants, jackets, and hats! A few of us needed to use the restroom when we got back to the car and the closest public toilet was in Carbost across from the Talisker Distillery. We had to pay twenty pence to get into the toilet!

We made a short stop in Portree, where we got some paninis, chips, and sodas at The Granary and took them back to the car, where we were on our way to see the Old Man of Storr. I don’t have any good pictures of the Old Man of Storr because you really can only see it before and after the car park for it, which we didn’t know initially. We parked and started hiking to see if we could get a clear view, but it was rainy and we found out the hike was eight miles long, so we turned around and walked back to the car.

Our next stop, although we didn’t know it at the time, was to be Lealt Falls. We were looking for Brother’s Point, but pulled into a car park a little before we were supposed to. It was so windy that I was scared we would be blown off the side of the cliff.

A short car ride later and we were at Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls, where the view was just as beautiful facing the falls as it was looking the opposite direction down the beach.

Our next destination was a place called The Quiraing. Apple Maps failed us when we ran into a hand printed sign saying “No Access to Quiraing”, so we turned around to look for another way to go and found a road sign pointing the way. On the way to and in The Quiraing there were many many sheep. We pulled off on the side of the road and took some pictures of the beautiful scenery both with and without the sheep.

We left The Quiraing and headed for the Fairy Glen, a place I was adamant I couldn’t miss since I had missed the other Fairy location for the day. We parked the car and walked up the terraced hills, looking out over two waterfalls and a gorgeous valley.

We stopped for dinner at The Caledonian Cafe in Portree on the way back to our AirBnB. Jac walked to the grocery store and back then everyone got some sleep.

Adventure

Day Five: Travel from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye (October 6)

On Sunday morning, Dad and I Ubered to Hertz Rental Car at 10 Picardy Place to pick up our blue Kia Sportage. It took longer than anticipated to make it back to the AirBnB because driving through the roundabouts and determining which lane to be in to turn was quite confusing at first.

After we got our luggage packed into the rental car, we set off from Edinburgh, passing through Stirling, Arnprior, and Buchlyvie before stopping at the Co-Op grocery store in Balloch at the south part of Loch Lomond to look for a cooler bag. We were unsuccessful in finding one, but did get some drinks and chips and snacks before returning to the parking lot and eating our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

We then passed through Luss, Culag, and Inverbeg before stopping in Tarbet to see Loch Lomond. We saw a few “Cruise Loch Lomond” ships and Dad and I felt the water to see how cold it was. (Dad said it was in the fifties and not too cold, but it was making his hand cold). Jac walked around taking photos while Mom stayed in the car.

Our next stop was at the Falls of Falloch. A short hike led to a beautiful waterfall, the first of many we would see in Scotland. We got back to the car and made our way up to the Three Sisters of Glencoe. I think it is the most beautiful place in the world.

We continued to the Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint, where I was overjoyed to see the famous bridge the Hogwarts Express crosses in the Harry Potter movies. Jac and Dad saw the Glenfinnan Monument on the other side of the road.

The journey went on through Arisaig, Morar, Beoraidbeg, and Glasnacardoch before we arrived at Mallaig for the last ferry to Armadale of the evening. The crossing took about thirty minutes. Dad and Jac enjoyed the views from the top of the ship while Mom and I stayed warm in the car.

We drove past Armadale up to Broadford, where we stopped to find something to eat. The first place we stopped was a little too fancy and didn’t have anything for my picky taste buds, so we ended up at the TripAdvisor recommended Siaway Fish and Chips. A comment on TripAdvisor said they had the best fish and chips in Scotland.

After eating dinner, we went and found our AirBnB. It was a lovely, spacious, beautiful, well supplied home on the Isle of Skye.

Adventure

Day Four: Edinburgh (October 5)

Today we sort of separated off and did our own things. We all had to rearrange routes and plans because of a March for Scottish Independence that took place today. Mom and Dad did a hop on hop off bus tour and toured Edinburgh Castle, Jac hiked Arthur’s Seat then did some shopping, and I did some laundry, wandered around various shops and book stores, then came home for lunch and to hang my wash to dry.

Standing outside The Boy Wizard on Victoria Street

Jac wanted to go check out the Frankenstein bar, so he did that while Mom, Dad, and I toured Holyrood Palace. It was really cool to see where Mary Queen of Scots spent so much time and where the current royal family hangs out when they’re in town. I also really loved the ruins of Holyrood Abbey. Mom, Dad, and I Ubered back to the flat.

Abbey ruins at Holyrood House

Jac texted us and said he had met some friends at the Frankenstein bar who had taken him to the end of the march for Scottish independence and that we should go ahead and eat without him. We went to a kebab shop and each order came with SO MUCH food. It was delicious though. Mom walked back to the flat while dad and I walked on to Tesco to see if they had ziploc bags and a cooler bag. They had the ziplocs, but not the cooler bag. We came home and hung out for a while and eventually Jac got home. Mom took a shower while Dad and I went over some of the maps for tomorrow. I love Edinburgh and I’m so happy we got to come here, but I am also so excited to see the Isle of Skye!!!

Adventure

Day Three: Edinburgh (October 4)

This morning, my alarm didn’t wake me up. Oops! Dad and I went to have breakfast with someone who used to be one of his swimmers at The Elephant House for breakfast. Mom met us a little later and shared my breakfast with me. After that, Kendall took us to the Scottish National Museum and showed us some really cool Viking artifacts!

Breakfast at The Elephant House

Even though we went our separate ways, we met Jac at Pret a Manger for some lunch. Everyone seemed pleased with how inexpensive and tasty it was. We caught an Uber out to Leith, where the whole family saw the Royal Yacht Britannia and Jac saw Pierce Brosnan walking to the car park outside! My favorite part of the yacht was probably the state dining room. So many famous people have walked through those doors!

The state dining room on the Royal Yacht Britannia

We ubered from Leith to Calton Hill, where we made a short climb before enjoying some incredible views of Edinburgh. Then we walked back towards our flat and I popped into a shop to buy the things to made a grilled cheese. As a family, we stopped to eat at City Cafe. The food was pretty good, but the service was terrible. I just had some French fries, anticipating my grilled cheese, but I was so full after the French fries and exhausted from all the walking that when we got home at 6:30, I just wanted to rest. I fell asleep around 7:30 or 8 but woke up at 10:40 because I needed to use the bathroom and eat something.

Adventure

Day Two: Inverness to Edinburgh (October 3)

I woke up at 6AM today after falling asleep around 6:30 or 7 last night. I picked up my things and went and got Mom and Dad from their room to go to Costa to get coffee/tea and breakfast. I had a coke and a lemon muffin that was delightful. It had some lemon curd in it. At about 7:30, we all walked to the train station, which was very conveniently located right next to our hotel. We boarded the train, stowed our luggage, and found our seats. The train departed at 7:55 and we were stunned by the beauty of the landscape around us. A woman with a trolly of tea, coffee, snacks, and sweets came by. I got a Yorkshire tea and some shortbread and Jac got some coffee. Then Jac went to find the buffet bar on the train while Mom, Dad, and I enjoyed the scenery.

We arrived safely in Edinburgh, got our luggage to the shop the airBnB owner has to store, and went to Eteaket for afternoon tea! It was delightful.

Afternoon tea at Eteaket!

We walked back to the airBnB and unloaded before walking around Edinburgh, stopping at a grocery for some things, and going to dinner at The Elephant House. We were all pretty exhausted, so we went to bed early.

Haggis balls we each tried at The Elephant House! They weren’t bad!

Adventure

Day One: IAD to AMS (October 1-2)

Our flight was a little late boarding and a little late departing, but we made it to the airport and got through security with plenty of time to spare.

This has probably been the most turbulent flight I’ve ever been on. I can’t remember a more bumpy ride on any of my flights.

In spite of the Ativan and Ambien that I took and the capability of using my CPAP machine, I couldn’t fall asleep as people were wandering the aisles bumping into me and talking and making noise even after the cabin crew turned the lights down. It’s only 10:43 EST, but in 2 hrs and 25 minutes, we will be landing in Amsterdam at about 7AM local time.

Mom has some type of weird pain in her ear that doesn’t seem to be going away no matter what we throw at it; but Dad, Jac, and I are doing alright. I imagine I’ll be pretty cranky our first day in Inverness from lack of sleep, but that’s probably true of all of us. I’m grateful that we weren’t seated near any small children or infants.

We will have a four hour and forty minute layover in Amsterdam, but that’s really not enough time to leave the airport since we are fairly certain we have to go through customs as it’s our entry point into the EU.

Update: We didn’t have to go through customs in Amsterdam. We probably could have risked leaving the airport. We have been waiting here for almost four hours. Jac may have slept for about an hour and a half on the flight from DC, but none of the rest of us got any sleep. We will arrive in Inverness in a little over two hours, where we can drop our luggage off at the hotel and explore the city a bit. Mom and Dad are grateful they don’t have to immediately get on a train for three more hours to go straight to Edinburgh, and I’m honesty ok with relaxing a bit tonight since I’m running on fumes, caffeine, and stimulants (prescribed to me!) at the moment.

We got to Inverness, dropped off our luggage, and went exploring! I went to the Victorian Arcade while Jac and Mom did some shopping and Dad walked down the street. I went to Milk Bar and had a salted caramel milkshake and Dad met me there. We all went back to the hotel, checked in, then went out walking. We are walked down to the River Ness and saw Hootenanny then crossed the bridge and walked down the River farther.

Majestic stairwell at the Royal Highlands Hotel That may have inspired the staircase on the Titanic!
One of the bridges over River Ness

We ended up eating dinner at The Filling Station, which has American food, because we wanted to eat somewhere close to the hotel. I had a chicken sandwich, Dad and Mom had burgers, and Jac had fish and chips. We went back to the Royal Highland Hotel where we were staying, Mom and Dad went to their room and Jac and I went to our room, I took a shower, and we all crashed after having been awake for more than 24 hours.

Jac on the flight from IAD to AMS
Dad on the flight from IAD to AMS
Mom on the flight from IAD to AMS
Me on the flight from IAD to AMS

mental health, Random Life Things

You Have The Right to Remain Fat

Recently, Bill Maher said some incredibly inflammatory things about fat people. He asserted that “the problem with our healthcare system is that Americans eat shit and too much of it.” He stated, based on this OPINION PIECE in the New York Times , that “poor diet is the leading cause of mortality in the United States.” The article, which contains gems equating fatness with disease such as “Three in four adults are overweight or obese. More Americans are sick, in other words, than are healthy,” is misleading at best.

The study that this opinion piece cites actually says “Specific diseases and risk factors, such as drug use disorders, high BMI, poor diet, high fasting plasma glucose level, and alcohol use disorders are increasing and warrant increased attention.” It further states that,” Ischemic heart disease (IHD); cancer of the trachea, bronchus, and lung; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; Alzheimer disease and other dementias; and cancer of the colon and rectum were the 5 leading causes of death.” While “obesity”and overeating are risk factors for Ischemic heart disease, so are things like:

Rather than examine the complexities of the information presented in the study, Bill Maher decided to lash out at an already marginalized, ridiculed, and shamed population. “But why do people have so many pre-existing conditions? Being fat isn’t a birth defect. Nobody comes out of the womb needing to buy two seats on the airplane.” He goes on. “Everyone knows “obesity” is linked to terrible conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and virginity.”

The links between being fat, diabetes, and heart disease are there, but are not well understood and don’t prove which causes which. “Excess weight is an established risk factor for type 2 diabetes, yet most obese individuals do not develop type 2 diabetes. Recent studies have identified “links” between obesity and type 2 diabetes involving proinflammatory cytokines (tumor necrosis factor and interleukin-6), insulin resistance, deranged fatty acid metabolism, and cellular processes such as mitochondrial dysfunction and endoplasmic reticulum stress. These interactions are complex, with the relative importance of each unclearly defined.” Not all patients who are fat develop Type 2 Diabetes. Not all people who develop Type 2 Diabetes are fat.

Maher goes on. “There’s literally nothing being overweight does not make worse.” He cites things like eyesight, pain, memory, fatigue, depression, and a weakened immune system without actually offering evidence to support any of these claims. “We scream at congress to find a way to pay for our medical bills but it wouldn’t be nearly the issue it is if people just didn’t eat like assholes who are killing not only themselves but the planet.” He says a lot of other really inaccurate and inflammatory things, but I’d rather get down to the nitty gritty of why this matters.

“Obesity” is complex.
While we all know that overeating is one thing that can contribute to being fat, “The risk factors that contribute to “obesity” can be a complex combination of genetics, socioeconomic factors, metabolic factors and lifestyle choices, among other things. Some endocrine disorders, diseases and medications can also cause weight to increase.” Healthy foods are considerably more expensive than processed foods, genetics play a huge role in whether or not you’re fat, and some medications, particularly psychiatric medications, cause side effects like weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or even diabetes. A few years ago, a combination of medications I was on caused me to gain 70 pounds in 2 months.

Fat Shaming DOESN’T work.
According to a 2014 study from the University College London, “Our results show that weight discrimination does not encourage weight loss, and suggest that it may even exacerbate weight gain,” the study’s lead author, Sarah Jackson, said in a statement. “Previous studies have found that people who experience discrimination report comfort eating. Stress responses to discrimination can increase appetite, particularly for unhealthy, energy-dense food.”

Health At Every Size is an approach that every doctor should be familiar with.
I’m very lucky. I have excellent doctors who actually listen to me, evaluate me, and work hard to accurately diagnose me. There are people my size and larger who are not so lucky. There are women who have been told their pain would resolve if they lost weight who actually had undiagnosed cancer. Health At Every Size posits that the war on obesity has been lost and that, rather than shaming people for something that is very difficult if not impossible to sustainably change, doctors should address their own fatphobia and anti-fat bias when it comes to how they practice medicine.

Diets don’t work.
Here are some good places to start if you don’t believe me or if you just want to do more research on your own:

https://medium.com/@aweightlifted/why-diets-dont-work-and-what-actually-does-dfd6df2f23f2

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/05/04/why-diets-dont-actually-work-according-to-a-researcher-who-has-studied-them-for-decades/

https://www.buzzfeed.com/sallytamarkin/weight-neutral-dietitians

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/changepower/201010/why-diets-dont-workand-what-does

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/6/13/17452936/dieting-weight-loss-netflix-explained

James Corden’s video is a good start, but still has some problems.
“We know that being overweight isn’t good for us, and I’ve struggled my entire life trying to manage my weight and I suck at it… I’ve basically been on and off of diets as long as I can remember and, well, this is how it’s going.”

I’m not going to get into it too much on this post, but Intentional Weight Loss is inherently fatphobic. From Fierce Fattie, “The fat acceptance movement was created so the fat bodies were no longer erased and marginalized and discriminated against. By intentionally losing weight, you are erasing a fat body if you have a fat body, and you are buying into the rhetoric that being thinner means that you are more worthy, more desirable, and a lot of people say, “Well, I’m losing weight to become healthy.” You are also buying into that rhetoric that being thinner means that you are a healthier person, which is not based in science. “

In the words of James Corden, “Fat shaming is just bullying….and bullying only makes the problem worse.”

Want to know more? Virgie Tovar is a great place to start. She has this excellent Tedx Talk:

She wrote this book that changed my life: https://www.amazon.com/You-Have-Right-Remain-Fat/dp/1936932318/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=virgie+tovar&qid=1568654331&s=gateway&sr=8-1

She has a great website with a blog and resources: https://www.virgietovar.com/

Here are some things I’m meaning to read but haven’t got around to quite yet:

https://www.amazon.com/Body-Not-Apology-Radical-Self-Love/dp/B0797YK75T/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=virgie+tovar&qid=1568654390&s=gateway&sr=8-2
https://www.amazon.com/Things-One-Will-Tell-Girls/dp/1580055826/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=virgie+tovar&qid=1568654390&s=gateway&sr=8-4

And here is a whole great list of books I hope to read many of!
https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/118723.Fat_Acceptance_and_Fat_Activism

Adventure

255

255. That’s the number of mass shootings we have seen in America this year as of six days ago. Some organizations define a mass shooting as a shooting event where four or more people are killed. According to Gun Violence Archives, there have been 9,049 gun deaths this year alone. I know that it feels hopeless because I have felt hopeless about this issue. My hope is that generations to come will be surprised and appalled by these numbers because by then, hopefully, our government will have stepped in to do something.

I went to Washington, D.C. in May to lobby with Amnesty International for Lobby Day and one of the issues we lobbied on was universal background checks (H.R. 8- The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019). The legislative coordinators for my representatives (all Republican) were, unsurprisingly, not supportive. One of them mistakenly believed that this bill would somehow take away guns he already had. That’s not what this bill would do. Federal law already requires licensed dealers to conduct background checks. H.R. 8 would require unlicensed gun sellers to utilize this same system by requiring them to sell or transfer firearms only through licensed dealers.

Depending on how the question was asked in different polls, between 84-94% of registered voters support universal background checks for firearm purchases, so why hasn’t this been implemented yet? The short answer is the NRA. My two senators, specifically (Burr and Tillis), have received more money from the NRA than almost any others, with the NRA spending almost $7 million on Burr and $4.5 million on Tillis. The House passed H.R. 8 about five months ago, but Mitch McConnell, who has received $1.26 million from the NRA, has elected not to bring H.R. 8 up for a vote in the Senate.

I know this post will not be popular with some people, but the reality is that gun violence has reached epidemic proportions in the USA and we have to do something about it. Just this week, Amnesty International issued a travel advisory for the USA because of how pervasive gun violence is here. Some people argue that requiring background checks won’t prevent all gun violence- and they aren’t wrong- but shouldn’t we at least try to reduce gun violence in any way we can? Isn’t any reduction in gun violence an improvement?

The other piece that I wanted to address is the frankly astonishing number of people blaming mass shootings on mental health. This week, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York advocated making a database of people with mental health problems. There are SO MANY problems with that, starting with the fact that it would have virtually no effect on gun violence. Between 95-97% of violent crimes are carried out by people who do NOT have serious mental illnesses. Only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. People with mental illnesses are TEN (10!) times more likely to be VICTIMS of violent crime than our neurotypical friends and family members do. These shooters have many things in common- their belief in White Supremacy, their hatred of women, their fear of people who are different from them, a history of violence (particularly against women) but MENTAL ILLNESS IS NOT ONE OF THOSE THINGS.

You may be thinking, “ok, that all makes sense, but realistically, what can I do?” Here are some actionable items:

Call Mitch McConnell and urge him to hold a vote on H.R.8- (202) 224-2541
You can say “Hi, my name is ______________ and I want to tell Senator McConnell that he needs to hold a vote on AND support H.R. 8.”
Call your representatives and let them know you support H.R. 8- If you are in North Carolina, they are Tom Tillis ((919) 856-4630) and Richard Burr ((828) 350-2437). You can say, “Hello, my name is __________ and I am a constituent from __________, North Carolina. I’m urging the senator to support H.R. 8, The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019.” If you have personal experience with gun violence, tell them about it. Personal stories make things more real to legislators.

Support Moms Demand Action, a nonpartisan group working to end gun violence. According to their website, “Moms Demand Action is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. We pass stronger gun laws and work to close the loopholes that jeopardize the safety of our families. We also work in our own communities and with business leaders to encourage a culture of responsible gun ownership. We know that gun violence is preventable, and we’re committed to doing what it takes to keep families safe.” Visit this link to find a chapter near you. I know the Asheville branch meets on the first Monday of each month at The Block Off Biltmore at 6pm.

If you’re exhausted after reading this and after watching the news this week, I feel you. I’m also exhausted and disheartened and occasionally feel hopeless. In the words of Glennon Doyle, “we can do hard things.” We can’t only contact our representatives following horrifying mass shootings. We have to tell them year round that we want an end to gun violence.