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Several years ago, when President Howard W. Hunter passed after serving as the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a mere nine months, a friend of mine expressed his condolences.  My friend was Catholic, and his expression of sympathy was sincere, but he was perplexed at my response.  Although I thanked him for his kind words, he didn’t understand why I wasn’t in mourning. 

I smiled at him.  “President Hunter was a great man.  And even though he wasn’t the prophet for very long, I grew to love him.  But, it’s not about him.  It’s not about the man.  It’s never about the man.  He was not the Man in charge.” 

Howard W. Hunter was never the Captain of the Great Ship Zion.  He was merely the first mate.  And like any good first mate, he humbly followed the orders of his TRUE Captain. 

And likewise, with the recent passing of President Thomas S. Monson, while I do mourn him, I do not mourn for the Church.  I was privileged to sing at his funeral, and I honor him as a great man.  He finished his race, he served his Lord, and he is with Him now.  And he has been reunited with his beloved wife.  I am happy for Thomas S. Monson.  And I am grateful to serve in the Choir he loved.  I am grateful to have sat at his feet (well, up in the Choir loft behind and above him) and to have listened to his loving and prophetic counsel.   

But he was not the Captain either. 

I read a number of obituaries in the media published after President Monson’s passing.  Some were reasonably fair.  Others were barely disguised anti-Mormon propaganda.  One particularly disgusting piece called the Church a “leaderless gerontocracy,” and said that we would need to wait for the deaths of five more old men before we had a senior apostle “born after WWII.”  The point of the “obituary” is that we must be desperately in need of younger men to lead the Church so that we can get past the outmoded notions of the past. 

Well, to such critics I say, “You’d best find a comfortable seat, a pillow, and a blanket.  Because you’re gonna be waiting a LONG time.” 

The TRUE Captain is and always has been the Lord Jesus Christ.  And He is not going to change His mind with the times.  He is never going to say to us, “Okay!  NOW I get it!!!  You wise mortals were right all along.  Oopsie, my bad.”  He will never say that, because His Father sees the end from the beginning.  He knows all truth.  He is Eternal.  And He changes not. 

And His Son is the Captain of the Great Ship Zion. 

President Russel M. Nelson will be announced tomorrow as the new President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the newly ordained prophet of the Lord.  He will serve humbly as the new first mate as long as his mission on Earth shall last.  I already love him.  I sustain him.  But he is not and never will be the Captain. 

If you are waiting for President Nelson or any other man or woman to change the Lord’s mind, you are entertaining a false hope.  And if you are offering that false hope to others, you are not helping them—you are aiding in their self-destruction and adding to their misery.  There is only one truth.  Truth isn’t malleable.  Truth doesn’t change with the years, centuries, or millennia.  The Lord testifies that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I testify that Jesus Christ lives.  I know that He loves us, that He offered Himself as a sacrifice so that we might be redeemed and cleansed from sin, so that we might be made whole.  Whatever your burdens, whatever trials you are suffering through, cast your burden upon Him.  Do not be deceived by the philosophies and “wisdom” of mortals.  Do not wallow in false and vain hopes.  He is the one true Hope. 

He knows you.  He loves you.  And He will save you if you will but let Him. 

It’s not about the man.  It is about the Son of Man.  It always has been. 

 

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Yesterday was a dark day for me.  Probably one of the darkest of my life.

I’m not going to go into the reasons.  Some of them are very real.  Some of them are not.  Some of them are great and some of them are trivial.  And quite frankly, when you find yourself staring into the abyss, the how’s and why’s of what brought you to that dread position don’t matter.  All that matters is that you feel the darkness closing around you, leeching away light and joy and hope.

And the hardest part?  At least for me yesterday?  It seemed as if I were completely unable to communicate how I felt.  Not that I didn’t try.  I did.  Sort of.  Then I just gave up trying to share how I felt.  Perhaps I didn’t want to burden others with my own personal darknessespecially those I love.  Perhaps I just felt as if no one else would understand.

For most of my life, I have been able to sense pain in others.  I know at times I can be remarkably, even stupendously insensitive, but when my empathic sensors are on, I can pick up on someone else’s pain.  I can’t share it.  I can’t relieve it.  But I can feel it.

Yesterday, I encountered a dear friend.  Well, we don’t hang out or anything, but he’s a Choir friend, and over the years, he has become very dear to me.  And I saw that he was in pain.  And I felt it.  Deeply.  But I could do nothing to succor him.  Already struggling myself yesterday, I felt the darkness reaching for me all the more.

We sang the broadcast.  And we sang that beautiful, inspiring song from “Carousel”—“You’ll Never Walk Alone”:

When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark.
Walk on through the wind.
Walk on through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on.  Walk on, with hope in your heart,
And you’ll never walk alone.
You’ll never walk alone.

During the broadcast, I sang that song.  I sang it with all my heart.  With all my soul.  Like I always do.  But it did nothing to lift my spirits.

I came through the day.  I came through my storm.  But I did not hold my head up high.

But that day is past.  And there IS a golden sky and sweet music this morning.

And I was NOT alone, even when I felt completely abandonedeven when I could see no hope, Hope was there, walking beside me.

Perhaps that’s why I write LDS horror books and why my own stupid stories make me weep like a romance novel editor.  I feel the emotions of my characters so deeply, because, quite frankly, they come from inside me.  It’s called “horror” for a reason.  You see, we all walk through storms, through darkness.  But there is that “LDS” part too.  It’s NOT really about the darkness.  It’s about passing through the storm—passing through darkness to get back to the light—grasping at hope in the midst of hopelessnessand finding it.  LDS horror, at least to me, is about finding, in our own way, that our loving Savior is still there.  He will not abandon us.  He will walk each step of the way as we drag our own individual crosses to Calvary.  “Hold on!” he cries.  “I know it hurts.  I know the pain you’re feeling is real.  I have felt it too.  All of it.  I have carried it all.  And I WILL take it away.  Just don’t give up.  Please believe me.  Believe IN me.  Walk on through the wind and rain of this life.  Let me be your hope.  Let me be your golden sky.  And you’ll never walk alone.”

As it says in one of my favorite hymns, in the final verse which we rarely sing in Church, but we always sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir,

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, I’ll never, no never,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

I know it’s hard sometimes.  I know sometimes it feels as if there is no hope.  I know sometimes all you can see is darkness.  I know sometimes all you can feel is the weight of your own cross.  But hold on.  Walk on, dragging your cross.  He has never abandoned you and He will never abandon you.  He is there, walking beside you, cheering you on, even when you can’t hear Him.  And the storm WILL pass.  And you WILL be lifted off your cross.  And you WILL see Him there with a golden sky and hear the sweet silver song of the lark.

You never walk alone.

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From John Abercrombie:

In the latest Star Wars film (Episode 8: The Last Jedi), there’s a scene where Master Yoda is briefly speaking with Master Luke Skywalker about the sacred Jedi texts—which Skywalker believes are then being burned. Yoda quips “Page turners they are not,” which elicits laughter when you realize he’s indicating how boring they are. I submit that David Belt’s books, including “The Witch of White Lady Hollow”, are just the opposite; they are very interesting and compelling to read! I always have a hard time putting them down! David depicts the scenes and characters with such vivid details that it’s easy to picture them in your mind when reading through the story. From his descriptions of Tabitha, Molly, Mike, Joey, and others I can picture how they look, feel how they feel, and imagine how they would act—which makes the story really come alive. Like the protagonist in the story, I was kept guessing to the end. I was brought through a roller coaster ride of being scared, to laughing, to being angry, to sleuthing, and to breathing sighs of relief as I read it. To me these are signs of a great story that doesn’t disappoint. Enjoy!

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From Adam Ward:

The Witch of White Lady Hollow by C. David Belt is the story of a teenage girl who, upon moving to a small town in Missouri, begins discovering she has special powers. The allure of those seductive powers not only creates conflict within herself as she tries to reconcile those new experiences with her Mormon upbringing, but also makes her a target of powerful and unsavory men who want to exploit her abilities.

It is a fresh story with a unique plot that will quickly captivate a reader’s interest. Belt introduces a wide range of characters that he uses to propel the page-turner’s many twists and turns, keeping the reader guessing until the very end.

Despite the book’s horror genre, Belt does a fine job of infusing humor and a Mormon protagonist’s worldview throughout the story, both of which are refreshing ways of keeping the story from getting too dark.

Although there are nuances in the book that may be missed by those not familiar with the Mormon faith, the story has a universal appeal that can be enjoyed by readers of all backgrounds.

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Sex and hair color.

When I’m creating a character for a novel, writing a character sketch, the two most important physical features I list are sex and hair color.  Then comes age.  I MIGHT list eye color (probably about half the time).  Even more rarely, I might talk about the character’s height and build.  Skin color or race or ethnic heritage becomes a factor only when it’s important to the story (like being the only black kid in a predominantly white high school in the South).  Otherwise, what a character looks like DOESN’T MATTER.  (Unless it does… for the aforementioned story purposes.)  You see, I’d LIKE for readers to able to see THEMSELVES in the character.  I’d like for readers to be able to identify with the protagonist as much as possible.  (And occasionally, the villain…)

Now, I know that RACE and HERITAGE often define how we think of ourselves and others.  And quite frankly, it sucks.

I went to see the new Star Wars recently—and NO SPOILERS here—my absolute FAVORITE character is ROSE.  She is SO relatable.  She is so… ME.  And I know she LOOKS NOTHING LIKE ME.  But who cares?  The fact that she was female and had black hair and brown eyes doesn’t change a thing.  What?  You want to point out that her ancestors came from a different part of the world than mine?  You want to point out that her family tree doesn’t have its roots in Scotland?

Who cares?

She was so ME.

And besides, this was Star Wars.  In Star Wars, people come from all around the galaxy.  They are of different SPECIES.  They speak differently languages (which somehow everyone seems to miraculously understand).  They LOOK different.  And they don’t seem to notice.

Now, wouldn’t that be cool.

It seems that, as a society, as a SPECIES, we are hell-bent (no pun intended) on dividing ourselves into TRIBES.  We seem to use any excuse to divide ourselves:

  • You can’t understand me, because you’re a different sex. I mean, some people are even trying to say that TWO sexes aren’t enough.  There are 32+ genders out there, according to some people, and the number is growing.  Wow!  Even MORE ways to divide us!
  • You can’t understand me, because your eyes are a different color. You don’t know what it’s like to have blue eyes! Sound stupid?  Well, to me, at least, it’s about as stupid as differentiating us by the color of our hair or skin.  Let me get this straight?  I’m supposed to hate people, because they LOOK different?  I’d have to hate members of my own family.  We don’t all have the same eye color or hair color, after all.  And yes, some of us have different amounts of melanin in our skin.  I mean the people in STAR WARS seem to get this.  Why can’t we?
  • You can’t understand me, because my ancestors were slaves! Uh, so were mine.  And some of my ancestors were slave owners.  And so were some of yours.  Slavery has been around for a LONG time and every race has participated in it on both sides at some point.  Are you a slave right now?  Me, neither.  You want to get worked up about slavery?  How about we help liberate modern-day slaves?  I support www.ourrescue.org with monthly donations.  That’s my big cause.  After the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, that’s where I send my money.
  • You hate gay people! Uh, once again, wrong.  You can ask my friends, the people who know me, and know who I like to hang out with.  I can disagree with people on the definition of what marriage is and still LOVE them.  We don’t have to hate each other just because we disagree, even if we STRONGLY disagree.
  • You can’t understand me, because you voted for <fill-in-the-blank>. Actually, I didn’t vote for whom you might assume, but I do vote according my conscience.  As I’m sure you do too.  And we don’t have to hate each other if we voted differently.
  • You can’t understand me, because you’re Sottish and I’m Irish! You hate Irish people!  Uh, no.  I married the most bonnie Irish lass in the world.  And I don’t hold her inferior Irish blood against her.  Actually, did you know that the Scottii came from Ireland?  That’s right—the Scots and the Irish are the same people.  (That’s why they both speak Gaelic.)  So, whatever country or civilization your ancestors came from, I’m VERY cool with that.  And, BTW, I’m also Jewish, Norwegian (read “Viking”), and English.  And that’s cool.  And there was this dude called Adam and this lady called Eve.  We’re all related if you go back far enough.
  • You can’t understand me, because you’re a Mormon. And Mormons HATE people who disagree with them.  Uh, do you actually KNOW a Mormon?  This may come as a shock, but Mormons are supposed to LOVE everyone.  That’s what our faith teaches us.  If individuals fall short of that goal, it’s not because they’re Mormon—it’s because they’re human.  Like you.
  • You don’t understand what it’s like to be sexually assaulted! Seriously?  Do I really need to list my sex-assault-survivor creds to you?  Again?  Well, tough.  I’m not going to.
  • You don’t know what it’s like to be a woman! Well, you got me there.  I don’t.  (And I know I already mentioned this one, but…)  I do know what it’s like to spend my life defending, respecting, and revering women and girls.

The ancient enemy (no, not the Sith) hates us.  He loathes us.  He envies us.  He wants to destroy us.  He wants to destroy us as INDIVIDUALS.  And he knows the best way to accomplish that goal is to divide us up.  You know, divide and conquer?  He wants us to hate each other for our differences.  He wants us to separate into TRIBES.  It’s a very effective strategy.  Time-tested.  Battle-proven.  And lethal, both physically and spiritually.

So, why the heck are we helping him?  Because hate makes us happy?

Hatred and division don’t make anyone happy.  Except Satan.  And it doesn’t really make him happy either.  He doesn’t know what happiness is anymore.  He doesn’t understand love either.  All he can do is pervert and counterfeit it to destroy us.  And he’s very, very good at what he does.  We, on the other hand, are not all that good at recognizing his tactics.  He doesn’t change them.  He’s not that original.  But he does rebrand and hire new spokespeople.

But we can beat him.  We can learn the lesson of Star Wars.  Even better, let’s learn the lesson of Christmas.  We are ONE people.  ONE race.  ONE species.

SOME differences DO matter.  For example, without male and female, WE WOULD NOT EXIST!  I am VERY grateful that my dear sweetheart is different from me.  Our differences are what make us interesting, what bond us together.  But the surface differences, like eye color, just don’t matter one bit.  (Well, except to say, “Wow!  Your eyes are pretty!”  Which I say a lot to a particular bonnie Irish lass.)  It’s our human souls that matter.  We all come from one Father and Mother.

Jesus came to Earth to unite us, to make it possible for us to achieve the peace and good will the angels declared.  We can’t do that with hate.  We can only do that with love.

And no spoilers here, but Rose’s final line in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (which I’m not going to quote, because that would be a spoiler) was what made that movie just about perfect for me.

Please, let’s become ONE.  The Babe of Bethlehem grew up and said, “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.”  He also said, “A new commandment I give unto you.  That ye love one another as I have loved you.”  We are all children of God.  Let’s start emulating our Father and Mother and our Elder Brother, our Lord, Savior, and Redeemer, the Babe of Bethlehem, even Jesus Christ.

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via Here is my interview with C. David Belt

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We hold a LOT of long notes in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—I mean, a lot of really LONG notes.  Now, as a soloist (although I have never done an INTENTIONAL solo in the Choir, I do have some experience in this area), I can sustain longer notes with the proper breath-control.  But that style of singing doesn’t work in the Choir.  The strong vibrato (wobble) in the voice that a soloist can and does employ stands out.  <best-Rod-Serling-voice>Imagine if you will, 360 singers all singing with their own natural vibrato, all singing out of phase with one another.  Oh, the horror!  (Seriously, it sounds awful.)  So, when we hold those long notes, typically we have to allow some air to escape (called “singing on the breath”).  This means you run out of air much more quickly than you would normally.  And that means you can’t possibly carry the longer notes all the way to the end.

So, we sneak breaths.  And that’s okay, because the other singers around us can carry the note while we surreptitiously suck in a partial lung-full of air.  In other words, we don’t have to be “perfect” all the time.  Our brothers and sisters will help carry us along.  And when the guy next to you needs to breathe, you carry the note for him.  It’s actually pretty cool.  We strive for perfection, but we don’t have to be (and can’t be) perfect all the time.

I’m striving to be perfect, to carry my part and sustain those around me.  Life is like that.  We are MEANT to help and sustain each other on our mutual and individual quests for perfection.  We may not be able to carry on all the way to the end without a glitch, but we help each other to get to the end—in the Choir, as in life.

But as we strive to do this, an interesting phenomenon occurs.  We become so in-synch with each other that we start to sneak a breath in the same places.  This not good.  In fact, it is what I like to call… BAD.  You just can’t have everyone stop singing all at once in the middle of a note.  You can’t even have a cluster of just a few voices pause all at once.  It leaves “a hole in the sound”—the microphone picks that up, and it sounds—dare I say it again—BAD.

So, when I notice that I’m sneaking a breath in the same place as the men around me, I have to make a conscious effort to hold on just a little longer.  Once the guy next to me has breathed, I can (quietly) sneak in a little air.

Once again, this parallels life.  In striving for perfection and sustaining and lifting one-another, we have to recognize that each of us matters and each of us is different.  Our efforts are so much more efficient when we lift others according to their needs and their wants, remembering always that each of us is a unique child of God.  Remember the old proverb, “Thee lift me and I’ll lift thee, and we’ll ascend together.”

I don’t need you to be the same as me.  I don’t WANT you to be the same as me.  Our subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences are what make us interesting.  Soloists can be great, but a choir can be truly glorious.

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Four-and-a-half centuries before the Declaration of Independence, the Scots sent this message to the Pope:

As long as a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of the English. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself. 

Declaration of Arbroath (1320 A.D.)

You see, the Pope had declared Robert the Bruce to be an illegitimate king and demanded that the Scots submit to Edward II of England.  The Scots said, “No.”  And under Robert the Bruce, they fought and won their independence against overwhelming odds and the vastly superior military might of Edward.  Their spirit is memorialized in song:

O, Flower of Scotland,
When will we see your like again?
Who fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen?
And stood against them,
Proud Edward’s army
And sent them homeward
To think again?

“O, Flower of Scotland,” by Roy Williamson

Do not forget that the Scots feared the power of the Pope more than they feared Edward, because the Pope had the power to excommunicate them.  They feared losing, not only their lives and their property, but their very immortal souls.

And yet they stood.

They stood for the truth that the right to be free comes from God, not from any foreign king, not even from their own king, and certainly not from Rome.  They understood that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died to give us the freedom to choose for ourselves and to live with the consequences of our choices.  This does not come from any president or from any congress.  This comes from God.

There are those who seek to take away our freedoms today.  Some despise these freedoms so much that they wish to wipe us from the earth.  They do not seek to peacefully coexist with us—they want us dead or enslaved.  This enemy is easy to see.

There also those who seek to take away our freedoms in dribs and drabs—here a little, there a little.  And we let them, because we are afraid.  We want someone to take charge, to fix it.  We want someone to make it all better.  We want someone to just take away the pain.  And so we submit to small, “reasonable” restrictions.  After all, the government knows better than we do what we need, right?

And no, I’m not just talking about guns:

  • I’m talking about a local government that tells me when I can and can’t water my own grass. They don’t know that I’m fighting white grubs and so I need to water one patch right now to get the insecticide into and under the soil.  But they know better than I.
  • I’m talking about the school board that decides that my grandchildren need to be taught that polar bears are dying because my wife drives an SUV. They don’t know or care that my wife needs 4-wheel drive in the winter to feel safe or that the conclusion about polar bears is based on pseudo-science driven by a political agenda and money.
  • I’m talking about the government that passes regulations that limits my choices in healthcare and decides which doctors I can see.
  • I’m talking about the city government that decides I must pay for a license to write books in my own home.
  • I’m talking about school boards that ban “To Kill a Mocking Bird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, because someone might be offended (and of course, children should never learn what life was really like in the past).
  • I’m talking about school boards that decide that teaching children to read and write in cursive is no longer necessary, because the rising generation should not be able to read old diaries or documents.
  • I’m talking about a government that decides that schools should skip teaching U.S. history prior to the 20th century (coincidentally, the beginning of the Progressive Movement).
  • I’m talking about federal governments that sets emissions standards that make less wealthy people unable to license otherwise working, reliable vehicles.
  • I’m talking about governments at the federal, state, and local levels that seek to penalize idiots who refuse to stand for the national anthem. (I don’t agree with these whiny millionaires, but they have a right to be idiots and deal with the consequences of their idiocy, and of course, whine about that too.  I don’t think we should be giving tax breaks to these idiots either.  In any event, they have the right to make whatever idiotic statement they choose and deal with the backlash and loss of revenue.  Did I mention I think that they’re idiots?  Well, I will fight to the death to protect their right to their idiocy.)
  • I’m talking about a government that makes me take off my belt and shoes and submit to x-ray screening and/or an invasive “pat-down” search of my groin in order to board an airplane.
  • I’m talking about governments that say a boy should be allowed to shower with the girls, and if the girls don’t like it, tough. (Private businesses can do what they want, and I will take my dollars elsewhere.)
  • I’m talking about a government that takes my tax dollars and gives it to private companies to enable those companies to slaughter unborn children and sell their body parts.
  • I’m talking about…

You get the idea.  I could go on, but I won’t.

Our rights come from God—not from any man or woman or body of men or women, elected or otherwise (ESPECIALLY otherwise).  But it takes courage to recognize that and to stand up for those God-given rights.  It takes courage to say, “No more,” to declare that we will not submit to any further chipping away at those rights.

I believe in obeying the law of the land.  I also believe in actively working within the constitutional system to change oppressive laws that chip away at our freedoms.  I want more speech, not less, even if that speech is offensive.  I want my grandchildren to have access to books that are politically incorrect.  I’m sick to death of having to choose the lesser of two evils.  I’m sick to death of immoral cretins who demand our loyalty because of the letter (R or D) behind their name.  (“We can’t let the OTHER guy or gal get elected, because they belong to the wrong party!”)  I’m sick to death of politicians and unelected officials who exploit crises to further enslave us.  I’m sick to death of elected officials who made promises that they have not kept (if they ever truly intended to keep them).

No more.  You will never get my vote again, even if I have to vote for someone who has no chance of getting elected because he or she doesn’t have an R or a D after their name.  And I invite all other Americans to do the same.

“We are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.” 

To which I say a resounding, “Amen.”

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums,
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes. 

Les Miserables, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”,
by Jean Marc Natel, Alain Albert Boublil,
Herbert Kretzmer, Claude Michel Schonberg

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I love my wife.  She is the best person I know.  And “best” doesn’t even begin to encompass her near-perfection.  I could spend all day (and have on occasion) focusing on her many excellent qualities.  She is the love of my life, after all, but I’m not in the least prejudiced when it comes to my wife.  She IS the best.  She is the sweetest, kindest, most loving (not to mention most gorgeous and sexy) woman I have ever met.  And any of you men out there who think YOU got the best one, I’m not at all sorry to say, “YOU’RE WRONG!  I GOT HER!”

Now having said all of that sincerely (as Linus would say, “from the bottom of my socks”), it may shock you to know that on the six occasions when my wife has given birth, she didn’t always say the nicest things to me in the hospital.  That’s right.  My lovely, kind, sweet wife was downright crabby to me and not at all complimentary.  Not ONCE during the labor and delivery process did she say, “Thank you, Dave, for this glorious experience, for making me a mother.”  No, she said things that might be the exact opposite of that…

Now, before any of you ladies out there start throwing things at me through your computer screens (none of your rotten tomatoes will hit me, by the way—they’ll damage your monitor, keyboard, mouse, or computer, but they won’t damage me), allow me to say that my wife’s crabbiness and lack of gratitude was PERFECTLY UNDERSTANDABLE.  She was in PAIN.  And when we are in pain, we don’t always think clearly or act like our normal selves.

There’s a candy bar commercial on TV that says something to the effect of “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”  One could just as easily say, “You’re not you when you’re hurting.”

And we are all hurting right now.  The destruction wrought by the hurricanes in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Florida, and elsewhere has killed and maimed and left many homeless and without water, food, and other basic necessities.  The horrific evil perpetrated by a monster in Las Vegas has murdered, maimed, wounded, and destroyed lives and families.

We are hurting.  And when we are hurting, we can make bad decisions.  There are many who are using and will use this or any other crisis to make political points, to point the finger of blame to advance their own (hopefully) sincere agenda.  But I don’t care what your agenda is or which side you are on.  If you are using these crises to advance any political or social agenda, you are doing so by writing in the blood of the slain.  You are taking advantage of the fact that when people are hurting, we don’t always think clearly.  We just want the pain to go away.

There will be time for “rational debates” and “considerate dialogue” later, but now is not that time.

Now is the time to mourn.  Now is the time to lay our differences aside and come together.

In the face of these devastating events, many stepped up.  Brave men and women ran toward the danger.  Others shielded perfect strangers with their own bodies.  Many have acted in heroic self-sacrifice.  Sometimes, pain and horror can bring out the best in us.

So, let’s BE the best of us.  Donate blood, money, food, clothing, hygiene supplies.  Volunteer in the relief efforts.  Call your loved ones and TELL them you love them.  Do an act of kindness for a neighbor or a stranger.  Shake the hand of an adversary.  If you are so blessed as to still have your family with you, hold them close and be grateful.  Pray.  Sing.  In the words of Ryan Murphy, Associate Director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, “When the world gives us ugliness, let’s make beauty.”

Now is the time to be ourselves—no, more than that—now is the time to be our BEST selves.

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Probably the oldest weapons known to man (once you get past the fist, the foot, and the teeth) are the rock and the stick.  No one, save God, knows for sure which came first.  But you take a rock and put it on the end of a stick, and you have a MACE.

As most of you know (if you’ve been awake at all for the past several years), I collect weapons and armor.  (I also teach classes on weaponry, including next weekend, August 25th and 26th, at the Utah Valley Renaissance Faire at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah—shameless plug, I know, but come on out!  I sing songs, I tell tales, I pass out all the weapons in my arsenal to the audience and teach how those deadly beauties were used historically.  You will get to handle scores of sharp, pointy, and otherwise lethal treasures.  In short, good times will be had by all!  But I digress, as I so often do…)  One of my treasures (yesss, preshusssss) is a lovely, historically accurate, extremely lethal replica of the River Thames Mace.  Now, the River Thames Mace gets its name from the fact that the original was found along the banks of… YOU GUESSED IT!  …the Mississippi River.  (And if you believe that, let me tell you about a lovely bridge for sale in Brooklyn…)  The original River Thames Mace was discovered along the banks of the River Thames (which Cindy and I got to cruise back in July!) and dates to approximately 1100 A.D.  (“A.D.”, for the painfully ignorant or those who are simply victims of a politically correct educational system, stands for “Anno Domini,” or for the Latin-challenged, “In the year of our Lord”, meaning somewhere, give or take a decade, around 1100 years after the birth of Jesus Christ.)  The mace (and I bet you thought I’d never get back around to the subject at hand), is a flanged mace.  That means, rather than simple metal ball at the end of the stick, you have a head with heavy metal flanges.

Here’s a picture of this wicked beauty:

RT Mace

It weighs about 2 lbs. and is just over 2 feet long.  And it is frighteningly effective.  The flanges make the head of the mace lighter (as compared to a solid steel ball of the same approximate size) so you swing it faster.  The flanges also make the weapon far more lethal.  They allow you to concentrate all the force of the blow at one or two points of impact, easily crushing a helm or a breastplate (and the skull or chest beneath).  In other words, it is nasty, efficiently deadly weapon.

Here’s a close-up view of the head:

rt-mace-head-e1503170116281.jpg

I want you to examine this picture closely.  (Trust me—I have a point.  Although some would say my hair covers my only real point…)  The flanges and the half-sphere at the left end of the head are forged as a single, solid piece of steel.  Then comes a gap (where you can see a bit of the exposed wooden shaft of the handle in between the flanges).  Then comes a longer hollow cylinder of steel which goes around the wooden shaft.  The flanges are welded onto the cylinder near the halfway point.

Now here’s the FUN part!  (And he’ll have fun, fun, fun till his mommy takes his weapon away…)  The River Thames Mace is an historical MYSTERY!  And I LOVE historical mysteries!

You see, the flanges are WELDED onto the cylinder.  Today, the weaponsmiths who make this lovely instrument of death use butane torches (or some other modern method of welding) to attach the flanges to the cylinder.  But in the 11th century, butane welding torches did not exist!  I have enquired diligently among  the blacksmiths and weaponsmiths whom I meet at Renaissance faires and I have learned that the only welding techniques KNOWN to be in use in the 11th century both involved super-heating the steel components over a coal or coke fire (stoked with a bellows) and then hammering the red-hot steel pieces together, thus creating a weld.  The problem is, you cannot hammer the red-hot flanges onto the cylinder without DEFORMING them.  (They wouldn’t stay straight once you start beating them with a hammer.)  In other words, the ancient, long-dead smiths used a welding technology that is LOST to history.  WE DON’T KNOW HOW THEY DID IT!!!

And I take great comfort in the fact that we don’t know how they did it.  I am reassured to know that there are still enigmas out there, there are still things we don’t know, there still things to learn.  When you think you have all the answers, the world isn’t a very fun place anymore.  (I know this from experience, because once upon a time, a very long ago, I was a TEENAGER…)

I LOVE going to Disneyland.  I love the familiarity, the magic, the nostalgia.  When I find out they have closed an older attraction to replace it with a new attraction, I am profoundly saddened.  (They better not EVER remove Snow White’s Wishing Well or the Sleeping Beauty walk-through diorama inside Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.  DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, DISNEY!)  But having said that, I also exult in discovering and experiencing the newest creations of the Disney Imagineers.  I love the Disney method of immersive storytelling.  When we visit Disney’s California Adventure, we are likely to go on the Voyage of the Little Mermaid SEVERAL times each day (and surprisingly, nobody seems to object to this).  That one never gets old (and there is almost always some new magical detail to discover).  So, while I revel in enchanted nostalgia, I still find joy in the new magic.  (The new Guardians of the Galaxy ride better be AMAZING, because I LOVED the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror!)

The study of history is a voyage of discovery.  On our recent trip to Scotland, Cindy and I went to the memorial and museum at the site of the Battle of Bannockburn.  I love telling the story of that battle in my weapons classes.  It’s a great story.  But now, I will be telling that story a little differently, because I LEARNED something NEW!  I also found out that some of the details in my story (as I told it) were WRONG.  So, I’ll be fixing those and adding in new details of courage and honor—on the side of the ENEMY.  So, now the story will be BETTER!  (And—be ye warned—a wee bit longer…)

Science (like history) is also a voyage of discovery.  Science is all about asking questions and seeking answers.  When you stop asking questions, when you think you know all the answers, when you teach a theory as if it were a proven fact, when you proclaim, “The science is settled!”, you are no longer in the realm of science—you have crossed over the border into the realm of religion.  What is proclaimed as “science” becomes dogma that cannot be challenged.

It should come to nobody as a surprise that I am a man of faith.  (I am an IMPERFECT man of faith, striving to live according to what I believe… and often failing.)  I believe and testify of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.  I boldly proclaim the doctrines of agency and accountability, of repentance and redemption, of salvation and eternal progression and exaltation.  But even in the sacred realm of faith, I don’t DEMAND others believe and adhere just because I believe and because “God said so.”  I invite others to investigate, to ask questions, to seek answers, to ask for and receive spiritual confirmation of eternal truths.

I do believe in ABSOLUTE TRUTH.  I don’t believe for one microsecond that Schrodinger’s Cat is both alive and dead at the same time.  But I also know that I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING.  And that comforts me and enables me to love and be friendly and civil to people who disagree with me, even on things that are VERY IMPORTANT, even on absolute truths.  Even when I know I’m right.

Someday, perhaps, someone will discover how the ancient weaponsmiths made the River Thames Mace.  That mystery will then be solved.  And that will be VERY cool.

But there will still be mysteries in the world.  And I thank Heaven for that.

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We’re home now.  We had so many marvelous experiences, but I am most grateful for the blessing of sharing this vacation-of-a-lifetime with my best and dearest friend.  My knee gave me trouble throughout the cruise—I bought a cane in Wales and used it throughout the remainder of the trip—but my lovely Cindy stepped in and took care of me.  As a man, it is terrifying to face limitations to my physical abilities, to admit I can no longer do things that were once so easy, but my beautiful eternal companion was always there to help me with tender kindness and love.  She never once made me feel weak or incapable. 

When Cindy has traveled with me on tour with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, we have spent a good deal of time apart as I rehearsed or performed with the Choir.  But on this cruise, we were together almost constantly (except during restroom breaks).  And it was wonderful and romantic and fun.  I couldn’t ask for or imagine a better, kinder, or truer friend and lover.  And it doesn’t hurt that she is so easy on the eyes.  We are nearly at our 36th wedding anniversary, and 36 years is far too short a time to be married to this nearly perfect goddess-in-training.  She is my favorite Disney princess, my queen, my joy, my life, and my heart. 

Thank you, my love, for filling my life with magic.

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We’re in London.  We didn’t have a lot of time today, but we made the most of it.  We did have a number of frustrations, all of them having to do with transportation to and from the airport.  I won’t go into all of them, but here’s a hint: if someone ever advises you to take the Heathrow Express train to London, DON’T DO IT.  Unbelievably expensive, and once you’re on it, you have to pay and ride it to the end of the line.  Expensive mistake.  Oh, well. 

And the Hilton London Heathrow Terminal 5 hotel is… nowhere near the airport, and it costs you a ton to go to and from.  They don’t have courtesy shuttles here.

We got to visit the TOWER OF LONDON!  I saw ravens!  They are HUGE birds.  The Tower Ravens each eat 170g of red meat every day plus “bird biscuits soaked in blood”.  They have been known to prey on lambs.  We are talking big, scary birds. 

I bought a raven plush stuffed animal.  I almost bought one dressed as a Beefeater, but the beak was the wrong color, so…).

And the weapons!!!  So cool. 

Just outside of the White Tower in the center (where all the cool weapons are), there is a bit of the wall left from the original Roman fortress of Londinium. 

Oh, and we saw the Crown Jewels too.  They were cool, I guess. 

Big Ben (now redubbed “Elizabeth Tower”)!  Parliament! 

And… the… Boudicca… Monument…    

Breathe, David.  Just breathe. 

The fish-and-chips we had at a pub near the Boudicca Monument were quite good… until Cindy found three bones in her fish.  So the best fish-and-chips we have ever had were from Alnwyck.  One thing about the fish here—it’s fish-SHAPED.  It doesn’t come in little filets.  You get the entire fish (minus the head, fins, and innards).  I don’t know—I kinda like not having to be reminded of exactly what I’m eating while I’m eating it…  Imagine eating a hotdog shaped like a weird combination of a pig and a chicken…  Mustard ain’t gonna fix that. 

Tomorrow, we’re home. 

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Last full day at sea.  It was both relaxing and stressful.  Stressful, because we had to pack and get ready to disembark from the Disney Magic in the morning, and because I actually had a job interview at 10:00 PM.  Yes, I officially unemployed since my latest contract has just finished.  So for the moment, instead of saying, “I’m a software engineer,” I get to say, “Why, yes, I am horror novelist!”  (Because, technically, that’s my only source of income, so buy more books folks—preferably mine!)  So much cool material for the next book… 

Relaxing, because I finally went to the pool!  I went on the Aquadunk—the big water slide-tunnel-bottom-drops-out-from-under-you thingy.  It was fun, not at all scary (not really), and SHORT, even if you do start out with a 30’ drop.  The water was very warm (which was nice, because the wind was strong and chilly).  The pool was restful and had gentle “tides” along the side where small waves went in and out.  I could have fallen asleep.  (Actually, the  motion of the ship makes me sleepy.)  I spent a few minutes in the whirlpool from which I observed a man in a deck chair right next to the pool.  He was fully dressed, wore a sweater and a hat, and had a blanket wrapped around him.  And although he held up a book, I think he was snoring. 

Every crew and cast member we dealt with aboard the Magic was superb.  They treated us like we were someone very special and important.  (Cindy really IS special and important.)  I know they want repeat business and so have a motivation to be pleasant and helpful, but I really feel that our room steward, Elmer, our servers, Pedro and Martin, and our head server, Nundo, were exceptional.  We weren’t just customers, patrons, or even royalty—we were friends and family. 

Tomorrow, it’s back to the real world. 

Well, not quite…

Tomorrow—LONDON!  Yeah, baby!  Yeah! 

(And by the way, the job interview went well, I thought, even if the phone connection dropped—TWICE—at the end.  Have to wait and see…) 

But tomorrow, we have a day (well, an afternoon and an evening) in can-you-believe-it London!  (THEN we fly home the next day…)

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To be perfectly honest, today’s excursion was my least-anticipated.  Another castle.  Decorated in an Italianate style.  Priceless art collection.  We simply weren’t excited.  I know it sounds like, “If you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all,” but a 19th century castle just sounded so ho-hum. 

But I have to admit, Alnwyck Castle (pronounced like “panic” minus the “p”—it’s the same language, honest—the “L” and the “W” are silent—makes sense to me…) was beyond impressive.  It’s ENORMOUS.  It’s also the filming location for the first two Harry Potter films, Transformers, Robin Hood—Prince of Thieves, and two Christmas specials from Downton Abbey.  And I recognized so many spots from those films, like the place where Harry and Neville learn to fly.  And even I have to admit the artwork and decorations were impressive.  Of course, my favorite was the room decorated entirely with weapons from the Napoleonic Wars (although I didn’t really covet a single weapon—truly). 

The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland are incredibly wealthy.  One of the Duchesses even had the course of a stream altered just to improve her view.  No kidding.  Money can change the course of rivers…  The castle is their actual residence (although they were not there today). 

The castle guards were really cool, in 19th century uniforms with muskets.  They posed with guests.  I don’t think they were doing their jobs as sentinels, however, because they seemed to let just about anybody in… 

One the Earls of Northumberland (before they were elevated to being dukes) apparently committed treason against Queen Elizabeth (the First).  He was executed, of course, but because he was both a nobleman and a friend of the Queen (some friend), he was mercifully beheaded (rather than drawn-and-quartered, which is an extremely gruesome form of execution, but I won’t describe it here, although I could…).  His death warrant was on display at the castle, signed personally by Elizabeth herself. 

And I wish we could have spent more time in the gardens.  They were magnificent.  A bamboo maze.  A colossal cascading fountain.  A koi pond.  Numerous other fountains.  A poison garden.  (No kidding.)  Our guide in the poison garden was a delightful, soft-spoken man with conspicuous tufts of hair growing out of his ears.  We even saw a robotic lawnmower at work, cutting the grass on a section of the gardens.  We could have easily spent another hour.  Or more. 

We had lunch at the garden and ate the best fish-and-chips we have ever had!  Cindy ate almost a third of my portion (which, to be fair, was much larger).  And she normally hates fried foods! 

On the way back to Newcastle, we also experienced our first British traffic jam.  Most British roads have two (or less) lanes (meaning one in each direction).  However, some of the busier roads (motor ways or carriage ways) have FOUR lanes.  (I’ve heard that London and Manchester have a few eight lane highways.)  My hat is off to our marvelous coach drivers who navigate those narrow roads so skillfully when there seems to be about enough clearance for an inch between coaches (buses). 

We also learned why the British drive on the left (which I now agree is the CORRECT side of the road).  When a knight or soldier was riding a horse, he needed to pass an approaching horseman on the left side so that, if necessary, he could draw his sword with his right hand and defend himself.  The left is the correct and safe side with which to approach oncoming traffic.  This was changed throughout Europe by Napoleon, because the Emperor was LEFT-handed.  The British refused to bow to Napoleon and make the change to the right (WRONG) side.  (I guess we followed old Nappy.)  So they defiantly continue to drive on the LEFT (correct) side. 

The British police are so considerate that they are required by LAW to post a sign warning you that they might be using speed guns/cameras in an area.  They also post a sign if they are monitoring traffic from unmarked vehicles.  How polite!  How sporting! 

Our guide today was John (a good English name) who was—you guessed it—English.  Our coach driver was Brian (a good Scottish name) who was—and I know this might come as a shock—Scottish, with the thickest accent I’ve ever heard.  There were several times when they seemed… at odds.  John, would comment, “The Scots and the English don’t always get along, you see, but we’re all one big United Kingdom.”  He also told us that the fourth verse of the UK national anthem is not at all complimentary to Scots.  (I’m going to have to look that up when I get back.) 

We experienced an amazing, truly head-scratching magic show last night performed by Kyle and Misty Knight.  I was completely astonished.  So was Cindy, and she doesn’t usually care for magicians.  (Something about she doesn’t like to be deceived.  Except at Christmas.  I hope.) 

The weather today was again perfect.  We have been so blessed on this tour. 

As we left port today, local people were lined up on the docks for miles to say goodbye.  One of the boats that followed us had a large, yellow rubber ducky on the deck.  Why?  No freakin’ idea. 

One thing I forgot to mention about Invergordon—the Royal Navy had its newest and largest aircraft carrier docked there.  However, the aircraft carrier has no aircraft.  Not one.  They aren’t expected to be delivered until 2020.  That’s military efficiency for you! 

Tomorrow, we are at sea.  It is our last full day of the cruise.  And I am sad our adventure-of-a-lifetime is coming to a close. 

 

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Our tour guide today, James Munro, wore bright red high-water pants, a Saint Andrew’s Cross tie, and a blue shirt.  There was no tartan, but he was dressed, you might say, LOUDLY.  As we boarded the coach, another tour guide, who obviously knew James well, said about his outfit, “You toned it down today.”  His knowledge of the history of the clans in the area was impressive.  He talked a blue (or tartan) streak the entire eight-hour tour, and we loved it.  At one point, he coughed for a bit, then said, “It’s not the cough that carries you off.  It’s the coffin they carry you off in.”  That could have set the tone for the whole day. 

We toured Cawdor Castle.  Now Shakespeare, as much as I love his work, was not terribly accurate when it comes to history.  For example, Macbeth was one of the better kings of Scotland.  He didn’t murder King Duncan.  And if he was “Thane of Cawdor,” it was a long time before Cawdor was built.  Just sayin’. 

Cawdor Castle had an actual drawbridge!!!  And a garden maze with a statue of a minotaur in the center. 

As we travelled through Inverness, the “Capital of the Highlands”, we saw a warning sign next to a road.  You know how you see signs that warn about children playing in area, or deer crossing, or “DEAF CHILD IN AREA”.  Well, this sign cautioned drivers to be extra careful because of… wait for it… ELDERLY PEOPLE. 

Then there was the seagull. 

As we walked past a sidewalk café in Inverness, we saw a very large seagull descending.  As he glided from the sky, he LAUGHED.  At least that’s how it sounded to us.  Then he landed on one of the café tables which was covered with food.  And he commenced to gobble it all down. 

I’m SURE he was laughing. 

We saw two missionaries from the Church out working and we stopped to talk with them.  They were from Idaho and Texas.  One had been in-country for only seven days.  We should have taken a picture with them, but we didn’t think about it at the time. 

I bought a Black Watch military tartan kilt and some other related supplies.  The man who sold the kilt was named Constantinos.  Yep, he was from Greece.  And he was fantastic, friendly, and very knowledgeable. 

Then for lunch, we stopped at a pizza place run by real Italians.  We bought two pieces of pizza and an “Italian milkshake”.  The pizza was terrible—tasteless.  We couldn’t even finish it.  And the “Italian milkshake”?  It turned out to be powder, blended with water and ice.  It was awful.  Worse than awful.  Well, that was a disappointment. 

In many places in Europe (and apparently Scotland), you have to pay to use the restrooms.  You need EXACT change, because the attendant doesn’t make change. 

But the seagull made up for it.  That bird redeemed all of Inverness for us. 

Then it was on to Culloden Moor and the site of the battle that ended the hopes of the Jacobites and changed Scotland forever.  We were only able to see it from the bus, but I HAVE BEEN TO CULLODEN!

As we drove along the shore of Loch Ness (and no, we didn’t see the monster), we saw a tourist attraction called Nessieland.  (You know, like Disneyland.)  It didn’t look like much, but there was a green statue of a plesiosaur-ish looking thing in front. 

We tried desperately to take photos of the loch as we drove past, but I doubt any of them turned out well.  We were a wee bit disappointed, but we shouldn’t have been.  Because our next stop was the ruins of Urquhart Castle… on the shores of Loch Ness. 

We were treated to beautiful views of the Loch (but still no Nessie).  We walked around the remains of the castle.  I climbed the highest remaining tower.  The view was breathtaking.  (And no, I was NOT panting after making the climb.  It wasn’t THAT type of breathtaking.)  We had glorious weather and were able to get some stunning pictures. 

As we drove over the Highland hills on our way back to the ship, we passed through several small, quaint villages.  One of the villages had its own zoo.  No kidding.  A zoo.  All of the animals were made of wood or plastic and sat in the front yard of a small house, but… 

We were looking for specimens of the “hairy coo”, a very shaggy cow from the Highlands.  We were informed that there were more of them in America than there were in Scotland.  At long last, after much searching, we spied one!  Of course, all we got to see was the animal’s backside. 

I finally found out what “single-malt” means with reference to whiskey.  You see, they take barley seeds, put them in water until they sprout, then dry them.  The dried, sprouted seeds are then used to make whiskey.  I have no idea how you get all that from the term “single-malt,” but at least I know what it refers to now.  I can now file that away as knowledge that I will never use (unless it’s in a book). 

One last note: as we entered downtown Inverness, our guide pointed out “The American Cultural Center.”  It turned out to be a McDonalds. 

And so, we say goodbye to Scotland and return to England.  When we dock in the morning, we will be in Newcastle. 

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This morning, Cindy and I went into the village of Kirkwall for a short exploration on our own.  We visited the lovely cathedral with its magnificent stained-glass windows.  The interior gravestones are delightfully creepy with their depictions of bones.  We also visited the ruins of the Earl’s palace and the bishop’s palace.  These ancient stone bastions were not places of defense (there are no murder holes), just once-magnificent residences. 

We returned to the ship with just enough time to have some delicious English-style fish-and-chips before heading back out for our port adventure to Orkney’s Neolithic heartland. 

Once again, the rain disappeared before our tour.  The winds howled at 30-40 mph, but that didn’t bother me—it only added to the atmosphere of desolation.  We seem to keep getting perfect weather just for us.  (Our dinner table-mates went on the same adventure in the morning, and they got soaked!)  Our tour guide was excellent again.  We have been truly blessed. 

The Scots we’ve met have been, without exception, friendly and welcoming.  We also learned what Scotsmen wear underneath the kilt.  Did I mention the wind was blowing?  Our tour-guide, Andy, said, “Well, that answers that question.”

The stone circles of Stenness and Brodgar predate Stonehenge!  They are not as elaborate as Stonehenge, but they are much, much larger.  The sandstone here tends to break very nicely into slate-like slabs, so the standing stones are tall, thin, flat, and irregularly shaped.  One of them even had ancient Viking graffiti! 

We visited an active archeological dig.  The site was probably not a village, but rather an ancient temple or meeting place of some type.  The site has been active for only ten years and they are barely getting started.  It was very exciting. 

Then there was the Neolithic village of Skara Brae.  Unearthed by accident in the 18th century, the village is beautifully preserved.  The roofs are gone, of course, but everything else was made of stone.  All the buildings are connected with tunnels. 

We know so little about these people.  So many mysteries.  I take great comfort from knowing that we don’t know everything (as I’ve mentioned before).

The Orkney Islands were under Viking control for centuries and almost all the street and village names here are Viking names.  Folks around here are very proud of their Viking heritage.  Even the flag of the Orkneys is very similar to the Norwegian flag. 

This area was home to extremely important military installations during both world wars.  This area was the first to be bombed, and the first to shoot down a German combat aircraft. 

Tomorrow, Invergordon—Loch Ness and Culloden!

 

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We cruised through the Hebrides today.  The islands seem like desolate rocks in the middle of the ocean, although most are topped with very green grass.  There a few villages visible, and some of the islands have sheep grazing on them.  We saw a couple of lighthouses.  Other than that, we just enjoyed the majestic beauty of these barren islands.  We did not put ashore as today is scheduled as a day at sea.  The waters are rough with whitecaps everywhere.  The ship is rolling and swaying.  It is all very relaxing. 

We had breakfast with Mickey Mouse, Minnie, and Pluto. 

We finally saw the new Spider-Man movie in one of the theatres aboard.  I highly recommend it. 

Cindy and I held our little sacrament meeting as well today.  Not having anything else to hand, we used Scottish shortbread. 

Then we saw “Tangled: The Musical”.  It was wonderful, as good as it could possibly have been.  And yes, I was bawling my eyes out at the end.  It was that good. 

Tonight, at dinner at the Animator’s Palate, we had a very special activity that I very much enjoyed.  I’m not going to spoil it in case you ever get the chance to do a Disney cruise, but… it was a lot of fun. 

And I ate duck.  And it was good.  I was NOT expecting that. 

And lobster tail.  Lots and lots of lobster. 

They treat us like royalty here or like the uber-rich.  Interestingly, I think most passengers here are very rich.  They go on Disney cruises every year.  Wow.  This is the vacation of a lifetime for us, and it is very unlikely that we will ever get to repeat it.  But I am so glad we did.  We are having such a wonderful time.  Together.  Just the two of us. 

Tomorrow, Kirkwall and Neolithic Orkney! 

 

 

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We’re in SCOTLAND!!!

Must… remember… to… breathe… 

Everyone—and I do mean EVERYONE—is so nice here!  When we stepped off the ship, we were welcomed by an older gentleman in traditional Scottish attire.  Our tour guide, Kenny, and our coach (bus) driver, Sam (the owner of Sam’s Travel, giving one of his drivers the day off) were so knowledgeable and so helpful.  They went out of their way—way, way out of their way—to make our day magical.  Kenny (a former police officer) noticed that I was “a-hobblin’”, so he held his umbrella (it was drizzling) over my head as we walked and he answered my myriad of questions.  He called me “Utah” and made sure Cindy and I were well cared for. 

When we left the ship, rain was coming down.  It rained as we drove.  But when we got out of the coach, the rain slowed to a light drizzle or stopped altogether.  The effect was that the day was pleasantly cool and foggy, shrouding the highland hills in an atmosphere of mystery. 

I learned so much about the Battle of Bannockburn that I didn’t know before.  I LOVE to learn history, especially stories of courage and honor.  For example, I learned that an English knight, Sir Giles d’Argentan (one of the enemy), when he knew the battle was lost (even though the English severely outnumbered and were far better equipped than the Scots), saw to the king’s safety, then said, “I have never left the field of battle before the end, and I shall not do so now.”  He returned to the field, even though he knew the English would lose, and he would die.  That’s courage and honor.  Stories like that stir my blood. 

Stirling Castle was a dream-come-true.  Robert the Bruce razed the original, English fortress, but the Scots later rebuilt the castle—and then some.  So much to see.  So much history.  So much blood and heroism and honor. 

But the absolute best part happened just as we arrived at the dock.  Kenny, our tour guide, had played a CD for us on the way back.  It was a beautiful blend of bagpipes, strings, and occasionally voice.  So lovely.  So peaceful.  I commented on how sweet the music was.  As we left the coach, he popped the CD out of the player and gave it me.  I’m tearing up now just thinking of it. 

Tomorrow, the Hebrides.  We don’t get to go ashore, but the scenery from the ship should be gorgeous. 

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Conwy Castle was constructed by Edward I (Edward “the Longshanks”) in the 13th century in Wales.  And it is AWESOME.  Today, it stands as a ruin, but it was so very, utterly cool.  (Did I mention it was freakishly, awesomely, cool?)  The roof (along with all the rest of the wood, such as the gates and floors) is gone.  Moss and leafy plants grow in the crevices between the stones.  Pigeons roost in the nooks and crannies.  But you can still walk along the top of the wide castle walls and climb to the tops of the towers.  (Cindy climbed one.  I climbed the same one and then the highest of the towers, and the view took my breath away—it literally made me gasp.  And no, I was NOT panting.) 

The castle is located on rocks at the edge of sea—it would have been very difficult to assail.  I looked out some of the many “murder holes” and imagined pouring boiling oil on the enemy (or on people who write drive-by-one-star reviews).  Or hurling rocks at them.  Or shooting arrows.  The steps going up to the towers were narrow and steep, but that was nothing compared to the tiny steps the kitchen staff had to use in the kitchen tower.  (Yes, you read that right—tower.)  There were various rooms built into the circular walls for the tower at various levels where the cooking was done.  And the servants had to climb up and down small, narrow stairs built into the walls of the tower.  Carrying trays or pots of hot food.  That must have taken real guts, I tell you—forget about the soldiers. 

After the castle, we walked around the town and shopped for a little bit.  I bought a beautiful close helm (used for jousting or mounted combat).  It’s going to be fun packing that in my suitcase! 

Conwy is a walled town.  The gate through which we left was so narrow that I doubt the bus had two inches of clearance on either side.  We applauded after the driver had successfully navigated it. 

We were treated to lunch in the Welsh village of Betws-y-Coed.  (Try say THAT three times fast.)  Cindy got her first taste of strawberries in clotted cream.  (She wasn’t that impressed.)  Then we shopped in the medieval village. 

But on the way back to the ship, we drove through beautiful countryside that included moors (where we were told of bog-snorkeling—which is just what it sounds like), rolling pasture lands filled with thousands of sheep, mountain roads so narrow two vehicles could barely pass one another, and the Snowdonia mountain range, where the Welsh believe King Arthur sleeps to be awakened when Wales truly needs him. 

We heard the tale of the Red Dragon, the White Dragon, Myrddn Emrys (Merlin), and Vortigern the Usurper.  (Interestingly, the guide temporarily forgot the name of Vortigern, and I was able to remind him.  Yes, I know the tale well…  I even did it WITHOUT being obnoxious, believe it or not.  Truly—I was not obnoxious.  Honest.  As Cindy is my witness.) 

Here’s something I found very interesting—in the UK, the police are required to post a sign saying that speed cameras may be in the area.  They may or may not have actual cameras, but regardless, they are required to WARN you.  Now if only the Utah Highway Patrol and the Springville police would do the same…  After all, it IS all about courtesy, right? 

I finally had a dinner onboard ship that didn’t involve beef.  No prime rib, no filet mignon, no ribeye steak.  The shrimp and scallop pasta was very good (minus the scallops, of course, which I requested be left out of mine).  It’s like having beef-and-broccoli without the broccoli—perfect! 

Tomorrow, Scotland!!!!

 

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Green.  Green and beautiful.  That’s Ireland. 

Today, we took our first (and last) non-Disney-arranged port adventure.  The biggest difference between a Disney-arranged adventure and one you set up yourself is that if you don’t make it back to the ship on time, the ship WILL sail without you.  So, this was a bit nerve-wracking for both of us.  But none of the Disney-arranged adventures went to Cindy’s ancestral castle…

Cindy is descended from James Butler, the 9th Earl of Ormonde, and James Butler once resided in and owned Kilkenny Castle (in, you guessed it, Kilkenny).  So we HAD to go to the castle.  And we had a wonderful time. 

First, we traveled to Glendaloch (meaning, “glen of two lakes”), a glorious old ruin of a cathedral built in the Dark Ages and occupied for centuries before being abandoned.  The cathedral itself is just a shell of rock now.  The bell tower still stands intact, as does a chapel built much later.  However, a second chapel is barely a foundation now.  The kirkyard is filled with tombstones, some as late as the 19th century.  However, many of the stone markers are so eroded, there is no record left of the dead, except for a nameless stone.  I was saddened to think of these huge monuments, carved so long ago with so much care, perhaps even with love and devotion, meant to last forever, and now, forever mute. 

I was reminded that man may forget and time and weather erase even monuments of stone, but every soul is known to our loving Father in Heaven.  He does not forget us. 

Then we traveled through lush countryside—so many shades of green!  We came to Wicklow Gap and looked out upon the highest point on the Emerald Isle.  We gazed upon locations used in the movie “Braveheart”.  We drove through Hollywood, a tiny village, the namesake of the more famous town in California.  It even had the white letters of the “Hollywood” sign. 

Finally, we arrived in Kilkenny.  And Cindy got to see her castle.  It was much larger and grander than I thought it would be.  It was sold in 1967 by the Earl of Ormonde to the town for £50.  The town has restored the castle to a state reflective of the splendor of the late 19th/early 20th centuries.  (I kept thinking of “Downton Abbey” as we walked through the magnificent halls and rooms.)  Cindy was delighted. 

After the castle, we walked down to an old part of the town, down a sloping alley called “Butter Slip”, to an ancient pub, Kyteler’s.  The pub has been there since the 14th century!  The original owner, a “merry widow” who buried four husbands, was condemned as a witch.  She escaped punishment, but four of her friends did not.  This lovely place has a bronze statue of a witch in one of the front rooms. 

Cindy and I split an order of “fish-and-chips with peas”.  The fish was delicious (with tons of malt vinegar), and the “peas” turned out to be pea soup with whole peas in it.  It was yummy as well. 

We had two cab drivers and one bus driver/tour guide.  All three turned out to be quite knowledgeable… and colorful.  You might describe them as “rough around the edges”.  We could hardly understand the final driver, but he was using, shall we say, colorful language.  Then and the end of our ride, he said, “Pardon my French, but I wouldn’t have the balls to…”  “Balls.”  After everything else, he apologized for “balls”.  It was hilarious! 

For dinner tonight in the Animator’s Palate, we were treated to a magical Disney show that played out all around us.  We were not expecting it, so it was, as they say in England, “a lovely surprise.”  You see, everything is “lovely” around here.  Also, folks around here invent new adjectives by simply adding “-y” to the end of words.  A speed bump was described as an “uppy-downy ramp.”  Something circular might be described as “roundy”. 

All in all, today was a lovely, toury, castley, uppy-downy, twisty-turny (wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey) day! 

On to Liverpool, Conwy Castle, and northern Wales! 

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