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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#62)

Visited another new place in Scotland and spent much of the week there:

Islay and Jura are two isles (islands) off the west coast of Scotland known for being remote, sparsely populated, wild, beautiful and full of some of the best whisky in the world. My Dad and I ventured out to find all of this to be very true indeed.


Favorite new music: The latest from Makaya McCraven, We’re New Again: A Reimagining has been a great companion to lunches and sketching.

The Chicago drummer and producer transforms Gil-Scott Heron’s final album into a masterpiece of dirty blues, spiritual jazz, and deep yearning.

https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/gil-scott-heron-makaya-mccraven-were-new-again-a-reimagining-by-makaya-mccraven/

Categories
Moving to Scotland Travel

Notes from Islay and Jura

Took a trip over to Islay and Jura with my Dad last week for a few days, which was a fittings cap for his trip here during the month of February. Here are some notes and pics.

  • Islay and Jura are isles (islands) off the west coast of Scotland known for the number of distilleries (9-10 depending on how you count) within relatively small distance between each. Because of their location, they take some time to get to, but the driving is great from Glasgow through the Trossacks National Park and the along the lochs, both for scenery and for the fun of the winding road. It’s approximately 2.5 hours to the remote ferry terminal of Kennacraig and another 2 hour ferry ride to Islay.
  • We stayed in Port Ellen, on the south-end of the island, at the Trout Fly Guest House, which served a great breakfast and was an ideal location for hitting the whisky trail.
  • The whisky trail (aka the three distilleries walk) starts in Port Ellen and connects Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries with an excellent walking trail that totals about 4 miles total. This was the first days excursion, hitting all three with walking in between tastings was perfect for evening things out for a day of drinking. The weather was cold but our bellies warm. Nae bother as they say.
  • The second days excursions were more adventurous, as we set off to go to the isle of Jura and the Jura distillery. This meant getting on a tiny ferry that fit about four cars which somehow they managed to get six on at times. Oh, and you had to back onto it, which made things much more interesting. Glad I didn’t have any whisky beforehand!
  • The Jura ferry was unexpectedly closed for the morning, which only meant we had time to visit another remote distillery, Bunnahabhain, located at the end of a 4 mile single track road just north of the ferry terminal. This was the best tasting we had by far (generous drams doesn’t begin to describe the size of the pours) and we got to see some highland cows on the way, bonus!
  • Our nights were spent retiring to the local (only) hotel bar for a couple of beers and a big dinner, before heading back to the guest house to play cribbage, sample more of the whisky we obtained during the day, and listen to music (The Essential Merle Haggard, Best Tracks from Tarantino Films, Dave Brubeck Timeout).
  • I had a basic enough understanding of whisky, and specifically scotch whisky, before the trip but had never tasted as many of such caliber and variation and am still very much a beginner in this world of spirits. In order to understand the drink you have to, well, drink it. Let’s just say I have more work to do.
  • I did learn quite a bit of random facts about whisky throughout the trip:
  • Peated water is also a source of the smoky flavor in whisky, particularly in Laphroaig. Dad grabbed some water from a stream on Islay in a bottle and you could taste the peat in it when we got home.
  • Peat, the source of smoke in Islay whisky and fuel for homes as well, is just earth cut into bricks. A soft earth fossil fuel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peat
  • Whisky is only considered whisky after it’s been aged for 3 years and one day, the one extra day being added to account for the leap year that happens every 4 years (side note: this may or may not be true based on some brief looking online ¯\(ツ)/¯).
  • Whisky is aged in all kinds of barrels, but most common is bourbon barrels of American white oak that are shipped over, sometimes whole, sometime in pieces to be reassembled by a cooper. The other most common is sherry. The barrels are recharred/recharged after use, and can only be re-used 6-7 times max, typically more like 3-4 (in the case of Bunnahabhain).
  • Sherry barrels are very popular for maturing and finishing whisky and since sherry is no longer a popular drink, these casks are becoming increasingly expensive and will be harder to come by as time goes on. The link between sherry and whisky goes back a long time, with sherry being made in Spain in British colonies and imported to great Britain.
  • The bottle date of a whisky matters, but it’s generally not listed. The bottling of an 18 year old scotch will vary over time as the barrels (and other factors) change.

Map of some of the main destinations we visited on our way to and from Islay and Jura. (Glasgow on the right, Islay and Jura on your far left)

Categories
Moving to Scotland Travel

Notes from St Andrews

Spent 72 hours in St Andrews with my Dad and the family last week, here are some notes:

  • The golf courses (there are seven that are part of St Andrews courses) the club houses, the Royal and Ancient club, and the British Golf Museum are all iconic and of course a must see for anyone the plays or is interested sports in any way. The sheer size of the space that the courses occupy and the open style of the links style courses are wildly different than anything I had seen before. It was crazy cold and windy and then snowy and then sunny and back again, but no matter, the courses remained busy throughout.
  • Speaking of cold…St Andrews is cold! Granted, we did have Storm Ciara to contend with and it’s a coastal town (and Moscow and Labrador in Newfoundland lie on the same latitude), so this is expected, but respect due to what the students and golfers there contend with in the winter months.
  • The cathedral and castle ruins almost stole the show from the golf course. The size of the ruin and the fact that it was built in the 1400s (with tombs and stone coffins concealed under massive stone planks) made it a great site to visit. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Andrews_Cathedral https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Andrews_Castle
  • Lavulins Bottle Shop – great selection of beers, whisky and wine. Picked up a draft liter-to-go of The Kerner’s Foeder Beer and a bottle of the Dalmore 15 year to keep us company upon arrival. https://www.luvians.com/
  • There are a ton of great pubs and restaurants. Here are some highlights:
    Rocca Deli for great coffee and lunch – https://www.roccadeli.co.uk/
    Forgan’s was great for a family dinner and very kid friendly – https://www.forgans.co.uk/
    The sister restaurant to Forgan’s, called Mitchell, was equally good for breakfast – https://www.mitchellsstandrews.co.uk/
  • Speaking of golf and good pubs, we spent some time in a few.
    The Dunevegan (aka the 19th hole) is impressive simply for the backstory and all the pictures covering the wall of the famous players and celebreties that have been there – https://www.dunvegan-hotel.com/
    The Greyfriars Inn Pub was another classic British pub and St Andrews Brewing and Brewdog St Andrews offered very different experiences, the former more classic and warm, the latter more modern and cool.
  • February was pretty empty and we enjoyed being able to get in and out of everything with ease, something we wouldn’t be able to do in the summer months.
  • The town is bigger that most people realize and the golf courses are just one part. There are nearly 10,000 students that attend the university, a bustling little downtown of restaurants, shops and pubs, and two large beaches.
  • It’s way closer to us than I realized, only an hour and forty-five minutes from Glasgow and there are some great roads and views along the way.

We didn’t have much time and I didn’t get any drawing in but I’m looking forward to my next visit.


Here’s a map of the journey:

Here are some pics from the sites referenced above:

Categories
Moving to Scotland Travel

First visit to Amsterdam

Spent my first time in this city last weekend, hanging out with my good friend Chris. Here are some notes.

  • Nothing planned at all except for the Van Gogh museum (learned the hard way about museum booking in advance after Paris).
  • The Van Gogh museum is absolutely worth it and one of my favorite museum experiences to date. Something new I learned was that he started seriously pursuing painting later in life and studied, practiced and struggled to improve for years to develop what would eventually become is signature style. One of his earliest works (The Potato Eaters) was heavily criticized because the figures had “tons of mistakes”, and one of his idols wrote to him “you can’t be serious” when he saw a print.
  • Now I understand the bike thing in Amsterdam. I love it and am jealous that the city it built for it, but it does make it hard to be a pedestrian at times.
  • The beer is superb and we sampled many, some of my favorite spots from the trip (with many other still to get to):
  • I enjoyed the architecture and the canals and the cafes and alleyways. Something new everywhere you looked. It felt dense but not claustrophobic.
  • Went to plenty of “coffee” shops to sample the wares and it was nothing special after living in the states where it’s legal to buy. Not as many options seemingly and the quality could be excellent or just ok.
  • Food was good, but I didn’t really get a chance to go to any spots I would consider particularly amazing. Bakers and Roasters was a particularly good brunch spot and the pancakes were good at De Vier Pilaren.
  • Amsterdam airport is 👍🏼. Easy to get into, out of, and through.
  • I heard Maxwells Urban Hang Suite multiple times at different place while there. 🤔
  • People were friendly but not overly so. Not a lot of chat.
  • There is a colony of parakeets living in Vondelpark: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/the-netherlands/articles/a-colony-of-wild-parakeets-is-flourishing-in-amsterdam-heres-why/
Categories
Moving to Scotland

Afraid in the best way possible

We are about 4 months away from being in full family transition, setting sail for Scotland from the U.S.A. There is a lot up in the air and the only thing that is certain is that this will be a moment of unmooring for us all. Many people have asked me how I feel about it. “Am I scared of moving?” they ask, “I would be.”

I’ve come to the realization that for me, it’s the exact opposite. I am afraid, but I am most afraid of not doing it. Doing it fully. I am afraid that I am not able to conquer the fears that have been both a great builder of strength and a great liability to me up to this point in my life. Rather than feel like I’m giving up what I have, I’m more fearful of missing an opportunity, that I might give up what I know I could have more of. I’m not talking about stuff, but rather, time, experiences, learning. I’m afraid of not knowing what else is out there. Afraid of succeeding. This fear of discovery and realization is new though. For most of my life, I didn’t want to do anything unsettling.

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

Jack Canfield

Like most commonly held fears, I can trace most of mine back to childhood experience. My parents divorced when I was very young, and my sister and I went through multiple family configurations and many different schools from grade 2 through college. We moved with my Mom to a different state at one point (Washington) and spent the school year there and visited my Dad during school breaks. Of course, throughout this I felt like I had no control of my situation. I had to make new friends continuously and what I wanted most was to fit in, to have a “regular” home, and I wanted my Dad back. Being slightly overweight, short, wearing glasses and being obsessed with video games meant I was destined for my fair share of bullying and ridicule. Junior high was hard. High school was harder. Eventually, I figured it out. The lack of emotional stability at home and the desire to be part of the tribe of my peers made me very adaptable and it drew me to seek to create my own order (I’m an organizer and communicator by trade, huh!). It also made me amenable to people of all sorts, and taught me that making friendships is a lot easier if you are open minded and a good listener.

As a result of these experiences, my life has since been defined as one seeking stability and maintaining the status-quo. I am very lucky to have all of the comforts and success that I have, but I can see ways that my fear of instability and of not fitting in have held me back in my personal and professional life, and it’s time for me to learn to set them aside.

I’m trying to shift my stance towards fear and approach decisions differently now. I want to do more things that give me that sense of fear, not less. I’m trying to not to look at the cost of my fears coming true, but rather the cost of them not coming true. Said another way, what likely opportunity (versus unlikely risk) am I missing out on by giving fear the final say in a decision?

I’ll give some examples of fears that I’m wrestling with related to our move to Scotland this summer, and how I’m thinking about them in an inverse way than many others in my life seem to be.

Here are three of my big fears with the move:

  1. Moving to Scotland will deprive Sam and Vivian of (educational and other) opportunities
  2. Moving to Scotland will cause my relationship to my wife to be strained
  3. Moving to Scotland will set me back career-wise and/or financially

Note that I didn’t say they were rational fears! But, what if I looked at them differently, like this:

  1. NOT Moving to Scotland will deprive Sam and Vivian of (educational and other) opportunities
  2. NOT Moving to Scotland will cause my relationship to my wife to be strained
  3. NOT Moving to Scotland will set me back career-wise and/or financially

Is there truth here? Is it just as likely, if not more, that this alternative will happen? I think so. Here is how I think about it:

  1. Not moving will deprive Sam and Vivian of (educational and other) opportunities: I dread that Vivian and Sam will end up having awful experiences in school, either with crap teachers, school bullies, or infinite other cruelties, but that can (and will inevitably) happen anywhere. We live in a great school district in the US with all the advantages that implies, but I know that the first-hand experience with a new culture, seeing kids and people that are different than them, and building friendships from scratch will pay off more in the long run than anything they will learn in school.
     
  2. Not moving to Scotland will cause my relationship to my wife to be strained: Being in a relationship is something you have to constantly do, it needs to be active and provide sustenance to both people involved. This means different things for different people, but for us, travel and new experiences are important. Following this dream generates energy that forges new bonds. Not following through with a move would keep things comfortable, perfect conditions for things to atrophy. Our relationship will surely be tested throughout this next chapter, and that’s exactly the point. 
     
  3. Not moving to Scotland will set me back career-wise and/or financially: I’m going to set aside the imagined/real impact of Brexit for the moment on this one. If I were to believe that I am better off to stick with what I have now, I must believe three things. The first is that I need to maintain my current salary to be happy. The second is that I can reach my full potential in what I do now. And third is that equally great opportunities (or likely even greater) don’t exist or aren’t attainable in myriad forms and places that I have yet to discover. I choose to believe none of it.

Looking at where my fears come from, how they’ve both benefited me and held me back, and the worst-case of them coming true vs potential upside of them not, is a practice I hope to revisit regularly when making big decisions.

Yes, I am afraid of moving, but in the best way possible. Fear will always be present, and I choose to embrace it as an ally, a compass that is telling me something interesting is happening, and look for the opportunity behind it. Try it and you might be surprised what you see.