What I’ve Missed Most

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Spending time in the U.S. again, both in Florida and now in Texas, gives me a new foundation for making comparisons between Scotland—where I’ve spent the past seven years—and America. What I’ve missed most…

Family.

A plethora of churches, every denomination and non-denomination; plenty of “God Bless America” banners, and “Merry Christmas.”

Blue Cheese Dressing. For seven years, salads have never tasted this good.

Buffets. All you can eat from a colossal assortment of restaurants.

Free refills. On beverages at restaurants, along with wait staff who return several times, always with smiles and offers to top up iced tea, coffee, or sodas.

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Outdoor Christmas decorations replete with Nativity Scenes and awash with colored lights on houses, trees and along yard borders.

Sun and warm weather. Wearing shorts and a T-shirt in December.

Steak. Huge, affordable, tender steaks.

Houses of different colors. Here in Laredo, Texas, houses follow the rainbow. Outside colors include lilac, pink, turquoise, blue, purple, yellow, orange, magenta, lime green, red-brown, gold, Jesus Is Alive Green…house colors are only limited by the owner’s imagination and preference.

Cactus. Of all shapes and types—growing in yards and rock flowerbeds.

Wildlife. Including reptiles like turtles, snakes, and lizards.

Family. I’ve missed family most. Blue Cheese Dressing isn’t even in the running…really.

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Marine Climate & Common Sense

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Because I’m from Texas and grew up in southern U.S., I’m accustomed to hot temperatures and extended dry periods.

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Getting acclimatized to Dunoon, Scotland, has been a challenge. It doesn’t rain every day—it rains almost every day. It has probably reached 70F during the “summer” a few times, but it hasn’t gone much above that. Mostly, I wear the same number of layers, the same jackets—and at times even the same woolly hat—summer and winter.

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One of my pet peeves is labels because they are misused. Labels that judge, condemn and hurt are wrong and not beneficial. And I hate politically correct labels like calling abortion “choice” instead of murder, and attempting to soften the blow of transgression by calling sin “risky lifestyles.”

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Some labels create a chuckle: “Warning, take child out before washing.” Or on a garden implement: “Not intended for human consumption.” Way to go me; I eat hammers for breakfast and spit out nails for the rest of the day.

Now I’ve found a label that explains why we wash clothes and hang them around the house (rain outside) and it takes them three days to dry. We live in a “Marine Climate.”

Finally! A common sense label.

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Joy, Real Joy

 

Dunoon, Scotland sponsored a great event this past weekend, the Cowal Highland Gathering. Tens of thousands attended to watch and participate in the dancing and pipe and drum band competitions. The event wrapped up with a parade down the main street in Dunoon and fireworks at Argyll Ferries.

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The event is so popular that Western Ferries operated a four-boat service with around 550 sailings over a five-day period, and Argyll Ferries operated a three-vessel service during the games on Saturday. It was fun. It was wonderful to see families celebrating together and neighbors greeting one another. I loved watching the dogs that attended the event, so proud to be there with their families.

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It was great fun—but not all of it was joy. Sadly, we watched a teen stumble up the steps to the main street, marijuana joint in hand, pausing to pass it around to his buddies. The kid was so wiped out that he couldn’t walk—he could barely stand. That is not joy.

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Psalm 16:11 says that the fullness of joy is found in the presence of the Lord. Jesus said that the secret of full joy is found in living for Him. The games were fun and entertaining, but those of us who met at New Life Christian Fellowship on Sunday after the games experienced real, lasting joy; joy so full and overflowing that we took it home with us.

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Mysteries

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I love mysteries. When I was a child, I read every Erle Stanley Gardner “Perry Mason,” and “Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine” I could find.

Recently I purchased a kindle book with an intriguing title, only to be disappointed that it wasn’t a mystery. I finished reading it and left a review for the author, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoy mysteries.

So much of life is mysterious, especially in our human relationship with God. I’ve often asked God, “How do you do it? How do you give me ideas for books and help me write them?” Some might mistakenly claim that I labor under false humility. I don’t. God writes; I type. I have 19 published books.

My hope is that readers will enjoy “The Fog Busters—Old Bones Detectives.” Alec is nearly blind, John and Peg are nearly deaf, Morag is on a crutch, and the two youngest members of the amateur detective agency—Rory and Susan—are 60. The clean-reading, Christian cozy mystery is intended to entertain older readers, but the gentle humor should entertain readers of any age.

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When the Lord gave me the idea for the new mystery series two years ago, I made excuses for not writing them. I told God that I couldn’t write older Scottish characters because, having grown up in Texas, I wouldn’t understand Scottish-born people well enough to write convincingly. When I quit making excuses and started writing, the Lord took over.

“Black Pudding Murder” will be released soon. It’s been fun to write, but the real mystery isn’t in the book…it’s in how the Lord got involved to make it happen.

Jesus told His disciples, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.”  I guess even God is into mysteries.

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Thistles, Statues & Vikings

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According to legend, the Scots won the last battle against invading Vikings on October 2, 1263 in Largs when invaders sneaking on shore to slaughter the sleeping Scottish army stepped on thistles and yowled in pain, alerting their victims.

True or false, thistles have been a symbol of Scotland for more than 500 years. And Largs is home to the Pencil, a 65-foot rounded stone tower constructed in 1912, as a memorial to the battle of Largs.

Largs is also home to 16-feet-tall “Magnus,” a statue presented to Largs in 2013 to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Largs.

Visiting the tourist-driven seafront village reminded me that life is full of thistles that prick us, memories that overpower us, and giants that threaten us.

Thistles in our lives can be good—no matter how sharp their prick. Thistles remind us of Romans 8:28 in the Bible, “All things work together to good to those who love the Lord.” Walking on thistles is sometimes the road to victory.

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Like “Magnus,” giants come into our lives in the form of major illnesses, job loss, death of loved ones, or broken families. It is natural to cower before giants. They are huge. They are crushing. But we have the same promise today that David gave his son Solomon in 1015 BC, “Be strong and of good courage; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD God—my God—will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

Memories, like giants, can be crushing. But we have God’s promise in Isaiah 43:25, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.”

We have victory in treading over thistles when we put on the whole armor of God including the shoes of the preparation of the gospel of peace. We have victory over giants when we call in reinforcement in the person and presence of God. We have victory over memories when we control them instead of allowing them to control us.

Victory or defeat. The choice is ours.

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Golden Gates

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The Golden Gate Bridge may be in California, USA, but Scotland has its own set of Golden Gates at Benmore Gardens just outside of Dunoon. They date back to 1872, and were installed as entrance gates to Benmore House, a mansion built in 1850, by John Lamont who died before the mansion was completed.

Benmore Gardens continues to draw tourists. Those who made the 120-acre grounds possible, including James Piers Patrick who planted “Redwood Avenue” with giant sequoias in 1863—are all dead.

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Fortunately, “death” to this world and on this earth is fleeting, no more than a shadow that one must pass through to get to the eternal Light of Heaven. The Bible promises that whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:15-16)

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Benmore House and gardens have undergone extensive restoration, expanding, and improvement over the years. Even the Golden Gates have been refurbished. Nothing on this earth is lasting. Everything gets old, wears out, rusts, crumbles, dies, and is destroyed. It’s wonderful and amazing when folks like the Benmore Garden benefactors leave behind a blessing for following generations. But nothing we leave behind on this earth—not even remarkable golden gates, artwork, or writing—can compare to the riches of God in Christ Jesus in Heaven.

And we get to keep them forever.

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Adventure Outside Books

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Most of my books are mystery-romance-suspense and revolve around adventure, but sometimes adventure is overrated. Most of my adventures outside books revolve around getting lost—or similar calamities.

God has a sense of humor. Both my husband and I are directionally challenged, yet God put us together. Sometimes getting lost is a positive experience. Getting lost led us to Scotland’s historic Ballachulish, a slate quarry which opened in 1692 and employed up to 300 men for more than 250 years. Roofing slates were shipped to Scottish cities, with a record 26 million Ballachuish slates produced in 1845. It is now a tourist attraction of walking trails and poignant memories carved in rock.

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We just returned from two days of travel, six hours of driving both days. We only got temporarily lost on the way up to the Black Isle, and twice on the way back, so it was good other than the eight road work delays. Due to time constraints, we couldn’t stop to take pictures on the way up. We planned to stop on the way back. Never count on the next day for good weather in Scotland—we should know that.

When we finally reached the hotel booked for any time after 2 p.m., it was closed. Every door in the front was locked and no one answered our incessant doorbell ringing—incessant because I was desperate to get to a toilet. It was after 5 p.m., and there was not even a light inside. We stood there in the rain and cold wind (me with my legs squeezed together) considering our options. I walked around to the back and found an open door to what was apparently a linen closet and workshop. First I shouted, then getting no reply – I walked in, still shouting. No answer, but I found an unlocked door that led into the motel. I could see a bathroom in the gloom. Steps led up into the bowels of the historic hotel, which was built in 1892, a listed two-story square rubble stone building with dormer windows, a Tudor hood mold at the main entrance, and spacious rooms with elaborate trim around the high ceilings inside.

My husband was appalled (or perhaps frightened) by my bold adventuring, so he was back in front of the building waiting in the rain. The entrance along the main road opened into a bar and I got a chuckle thinking that people passing by and seeing Alan waiting might wonder if he had retired from the ministry to indulge in drink. Eventually two other people showed up—and unlike us—they had cell phones and called someone.

We finally made it to our room, which was grand and beautiful—but as cold as the outside stones. The restaurant was closed, so it was back out into the rain to walk across the street and get take-away Indian curry, which we ate in the closed restaurant.

The shower was good once I finally snapped to the fact that it was not a power shower and the reason I couldn’t find a button to push to turn it on was because there were no buttons. The bathroom heater didn’t work, so we were nearly as cold the next morning as we had been the previous night.

Then the trip home, driving through a rain/snow mix over mountains and behind slow moving vehicles and watching with pounding hearts as impatient drivers put their lives at risk attempting to pass big trucks in limited visibility.

Sadly, when we were almost to Dunoon, I looked in the rear mirror to see a car zooming along a line of seven vehicles attempting to pass all of them and realized with horror that an oncoming car was about to smash into it. We went around a hairpin turn and I couldn’t see what happened. A few minutes later, police cars with flashing lights rushed past us, and when I looked back in the rear view mirror, only two vehicles of the seven remained behind us…and there was no sign of the car with the impatient driver. So we started praying for everyone involved in the accident and thanked the Lord for our own safe travels.

Some adventures are better missed.

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Vacations

Vacations should be fun and relaxing. Sometimes…they aren’t.

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When I was four and my sister was two, our parents took us camping in Sequoia National Forest in California. We had fun at first, feeding deer, and expressing awe and amazement at the sight of the enormous towering trees. Then we saw a dog, its muzzle completely covered by porcupine quills. We raced after dog, wanting to help. Fortunately for us, our parents called us back and let the dog take its anguish to its owner.

Fast forward to bedtime. Mom had forgotten to pack blankets. There were patches of snow outside our tent and the inside temperature plummeted after dark. Simply put, we were freezing. My sister cried incessantly, and I think I probably cried along with her. When we finally got to sleep, we were awakened by horrified screaming. A bear was licking my father’s feet. We left at daylight the next morning.

Later, when we were older and had been joined by the rest of our siblings, our vacations transferred to Florida in the summertime with mosquitoes and sunburn, terrifying lightening storms, flooded tents, alligators—and even a car wreck.

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Remembering those vacation calamities inspired me to write my newest book, a cozy Christian mystery-romance-suspense set in Scotland. Scotland has been voted the most beautiful country in the world and vacations in Scotland should be fun and relaxing. But are they? The answer to that is in “Lamps of Doom.”

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Childhood vacations for landscape artist Nicky Randall were traumatic enough. But she returns as an adult to face valuable antique lamps disappearing from a locked house and a skull in the garden. Her attempt to solve the 12-year-old mystery faces her with dangers—both to her life and to her heart.

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Things to Remember; Things to Forget

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So at some point in this blog about my recent hospital stay, I should write something funny about the food. I can’t. It wasn’t funny.

Scotland’s National Health Service is under attack from every angle. Criticisms, some justified, are as copious as rainfall, and for those who have never lived here – it rains nearly every day. My surgeon was skilled, hospital employees were caring and competent, and the facilities were outstanding. No way would I bash the health care system which literally saved my life. Chronic, agonizing pain is a killer. Cauda Equina Syndrome is synonymous with killer pain.

As a title of respect in the UK, surgeons are introduced as “Mr.,” not “Doctor.” So it is with upmost respect that I thank my surgeon, Mr. Bhattathiri,” not only for his skillfulness in surgery, but for his genuine compassion. His name may be spelled with a “B,” but he genuinely put the “care” in caring.

I believe the Bible, including 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “I everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” And I know that I know that I know that, “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.”

I don’t know why this happened to me. I don’t know why I had to have major back surgery. But I do know that I’ve been blessed by all the years of good health that God has given me. Soon, Cauda Equina Syndrome will be merely a memory.

The food? Not so much.

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Signs…and…No Signs

The first time we looked for our rental house in Dunoon, Scotland—we couldn’t find it. Knowing we are directionally challenged, we figured it was our fault. Later we realized…there were no legible street signs.

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We felt vindicated when friends from the Black Isle came to visit and also became lost. Signs are important. Faced with medical or other emergencies, signs attain life or death importance.

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Signs matter. They matter to me especially since I’ve been a sign painter. For one of the first signs I painted, I bought a dictionary to ensure correct spelling. When the 10 signs were delivered, the customer yelled at me for misspelling his signs. When I explained I had looked the word up in a dictionary, he demanded to see the dictionary, so I handed it to him. He was livid as he thumped the cover: Webster’s English Dictionary. Authorize is spelled authorise in the UK.

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We read the rules on a pool sign recently. I don’t know if you’re allowed to bring glass containers into the pool area—but leave the ducks at home.

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Signs of spring, signs of autumn, signs of approaching storms—not all signs are produced by humans.

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My favorite sign is the Bible, God’s Word. Lack of street signs may result in physical misplacement, but lack of spiritual signs result in miserable, misspent years in this life, and risk of eternal separation from God.

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Jesus promised, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

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No other sign can match that promise.

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