Mattie Miracle 2021 Walk was a $125,000 success!

Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation Promotional Video

Thank you for keeping Mattie's memory alive!

Dear Mattie Blog Readers,

It means a great deal to us that you take the time to write to us and to share your thoughts, feelings, and reflections on Mattie's battle and death. Your messages are very meaningful to us and help support us through very challenging times. To you we are forever grateful. As my readers know, I promised to write the blog for a year after Mattie's death, which would mean that I could technically stop writing on September 9, 2010. However, at the moment, I feel like our journey with grief still needs to be processed and fortunately I have a willing support network still committed to reading. Therefore, the blog continues on. If I should find the need to stop writing, I assure you I will give you advanced notice. In the mean time, thank you for reading, thank you for having the courage to share this journey with us, and most importantly thank you for keeping Mattie's memory alive.

As Mattie would say, Ooga Booga (meaning, I LOVE YOU)! Vicki and Peter

The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation celebrates its 7th anniversary!

The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation was created in the honor of Mattie.

We are a 501(c)(3) Public Charity. We are dedicated to increasing childhood cancer awareness, education, advocacy, research and psychosocial support services to children, their families and medical personnel. Children and their families will be supported throughout the cancer treatment journey, to ensure access to quality psychosocial and mental health care, and to enable children to cope with cancer so they can lead happy and productive lives. Please visit the website at: and take some time to explore the site.

We have only gotten this far because of people like yourself, who have supported us through thick and thin. So thank you for your continued support and caring, and remember:

.... Let's Make the Miracle Happen and Stomp Out Childhood Cancer!

A Remembrance Video of Mattie

August 25, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tonight's picture was taken in July of 2007 in Boston. Mattie was visiting Peter's parents, and one of the things Mattie loved at their house was the tree swing. There is something very special about a tree swing, versus one attached to the metal of a playground piece of equipment. I always appreciated this difference as a child and I was happy that Mattie did too!

Quote of the day: If some people didn't tell you, you'd never know they'd been away on a vacation. ~ Kin Hubbard

Hubbard's quote makes me laugh! I have no doubt that all our readers knew we were on vacation. I promise to post pictures and updates of our visit to Monet's house soon. Monet's gardens (which he planted himself) are extraordinary, and you can understand how one might be inspired to paint in any one of them!

Peter and I learned on Friday that our flight today was cancelled. United rescheduled us on a flight out of Heathrow at 4:20pm (or 11:20am EST) this afternoon. However, Princess had us in the passenger group that disembarked the Ship at 6:45am today. So literally in order to get home tonight this is what was accomplished: 1) we traveled by ship from Le Havre, France to Southampton, England (we docked at 5am), 2) we got off the Ship at 6:45am and then took a two hour bus trip from the dock in Southampton to Heathrow in London, 3) then waited in the airport from 8:45am to 5:30pm (YES 9 hours!!!!!) to board our plane, 4) sat through an 8 hour plane trip (MY FAVORITE PART!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), 5) once we landed at Dulles International Airport, we boarded a tram, which took us to customs, and finally 6) we took a 50 minute taxi ride home.

The funny part about the flight, was I met a man who was more anxious than me about flying, and unfortunately for Peter, he was sitting between me and this man. At one point, the man threw a blanket right over his head, so he couldn't see anything. While covered in a blanket, both of his legs were shaking a mile a minute. I honestly couldn't watch him, because I would have fed off of what I was seeing, and I didn't need any help.

I am happy to say that we are home safely, and I am signing off because for me it is 4am! Thanks for visiting the blog and for sharing our vacation with us. The blog received several thousand hits while we were away on our cruise, and I am so happy so many of you are enjoying the pictures and commentary!  

August 24, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tonight's picture was taken in July of 2007 in Boston. Mattie was visiting Peter's parent's home and fell in love with a chipmunk in their backyard. Mattie never saw a chipmunk before, so seeing one in his grandparent's garden was very special. Mattie named this chipmunk, "Chippy." In fact, when Mattie entered kindergarten his teacher required the children to develop their writing skills. In order to inspire the children to write, Mattie's teacher asked that each child bring in a couple of photos, photos that could trigger a story. One day Mattie and I sat down looking at pictures, and he immediately selected a picture of Chippy to bring to school. In fact, Mattie wrote some wonderful Chippy stories which we still have in his writer's workshop booklet.

Fact about Le Havre, France: While under German occupation, the city was devastated in 1944 during the Battle of Normandy in World War II; 5,000 people were killed and 12,000 homes destroyed, mainly by Allied air attacks. After the war, the centre was rebuilt in the modernist style by Auguste Perret. Le Havre was honoured with the Legion of Honor award on July 18, 1949. Le Havre was once synonymous with urban gloom and greyness. The city's inhabitants have done much to change this; as a result of substantial improvements, Le Havre is now spoken of as the Brasilia of France.

Below is an account of our day! I will post pictures of Monet's home and garden when I return home this weekend. We toured from 7:45am to 7pm today, so I am exhausted. Now we are scrambling to pack so we can fly home tomorrow. The weather continues to be awful, and we are meeting quite a wind storm right now as we are sailing back to Southampton. The Captain is recommending Dramamine to passengers.... not a good sign! To top it off we just learned this morning that our flight tomorrow was cancelled, so we are trying to figure out how United plans on getting us home. Quite a last day to say the least!!!
Perhaps no other place in France holds more associations for English-speaking visitors than Normandy. The historic Allied landings on D-Day - 6 June, 1944 - live on in the memories of British and Americans alike. Nor has Le Havre forgotten the dark days of the war. The port was nearly completely destroyed during the Normandy campaign. Today, Le Havre is France's second largest port and the gateway to Paris, "City of Light," the Norman countryside, and the historic landing beaches. Le Havre was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2005, with The Musee des Beaux Arts Andre Malraux which boasts one of the finest collections of Impressionist paintings in the world.

We took a scenic drive through the Normandy countryside on the motorway to Monet's home at Giverny on the Seine (a two hour bus drive from the port of Le Havre). Claude Monet spent the last four decades of his life creating a magnificent garden at his home, and memorializing it in oil on canvas. We embarked on a guided walking tour through a flower garden called Clos Normand. The Clos Normand is ablaze with color in summer, with tulips, roses, dahlias, sunflowers and nasturtiums. Monet created his garden with an eye for how it would appear on canvas. We approached the pink crushed-brick house adorned with green shutters through the garden entrance. Inside, we visited the salon, Monet's bedroom, his Nympheas Studio, the yellow dining room and the tiled kitchen, noticing Japanese prints and the work of his artists friends which lined the walls throughout. One marvels at the Japanese-inspired water garden and the Japanese bridge surrounded by wisteria and azaleas over the lily pond. The pond and bridge were the subjects of one of Monet's late masterworks. We had lunch in Fourges, at a picturesque restaurant housed in a restored barn on the banks of the Seine. We dined on salmon terrine with creamy sauce, an emince of chicken with cream, apple tart with calvados, and wine. Next was Rouen. Rouen boasts over 700 ancient timbered houses. Bustling Rue Saint Romain and the Rue du Gros Horloge, passing Rouen's old fortified clock tower and law courts, housed in a Renaissance building. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, is a superb example of French Gothic architecture that took 300 years to complete. The cast iron spire is the largest in France and the central portal features an elaborately painted "Tree of Jesus." The interior, features a Lady Chapel, the tombs of Rouen's archbishops, secured behind wrought iron gates, and impressive 15th-century stained glass windows. The Place du Vieux Marché, the Old Marketplace, which is the site where the English burned Joan of Arc at the stake. Today, the square boasts the Great Cross of Rehabilitation erected in tribute to the Maid of Orleans, a daring modern church is dedicated to her memory.

August 23, 2012

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tonight's picture was taken in July of 2007. We took Mattie to Boston to visit Peter's parents. Peter's mom got Mattie this life sized puzzle of King Tut. Mattie LOVED it! Literally he assembled it, disassembled it, just to assemble it all over again. At one point Peter's mom asked Mattie who was taller, the puzzle or Mattie? Mattie got down on the kitchen floor and solved that problem by putting his arms up over his head. Indeed Mattie was taller!

Fact about the English Channel: Often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about 350 miles long and varies in width from 150 miles at its widest to 21 miles in the Strait of Dover. It is the smallest of the shallow seas around the continental shelf of Europe, covering an area of 29,000 square miles.


Today was a day at sea, as we are traveling from Invergordon, Scotland, to Le Havre, France. This morning we attended the Ship’s cooking demonstration which was hosted by the Executive Chef and the Maitre D’Hotel of the Ship. We watched these men make a three course meal in a matter of minutes. However, as they reminded us, they had a whole staff of people chopping things before hand and naturally cleaning their mess along the way. So literally all they were doing was mixing and tossing things together. Needless to say, many of us in the audience felt that we too could whip up a meal in minutes, if we had a whole staff supporting us from the wings.

Peter snapped a picture of Guido Jendryztko (Executive Chef, from Rhineland Germany) and Guiseppe Gelmini (Maitre D’Hotel, Placenza, Italy). Though their cooking demonstration looked easy, what they actually accomplish on any given day on a Ship this size is remarkable. Here are some facts about food, supplies, and staff that you may find of interest aboard our Ship:

1) There are 520 crew members dedicated to food (cooking, cleaning, serving)

2) Meats cooked daily: a) Chicken: 1400 pounds; b) Beef: 1700 pounds; c) Pork: 1400 pounds; and d) Lamb: 200 pounds.

3) On average the Ship uses 1500 pounds of flour a day.

4) There are 100 gallons of ice cream prepared from scratch each day.

5) Average amount of butter used daily is 400 pounds.

6) Average amount of fresh fruits served daily is 6000 pounds.

7) Average amount of coffee consumed daily is 470 gallons.

8) Average amount of dishes washed daily is 70,000 (this only accounts for passengers dishes, however, 1100 crew members are feed daily, which increases the number of dishes washed).

After the cooking demonstration, we went for a tour of the galley (one of the kitchens aboard the Ship). In the kitchen (which was spot less), they had all sorts of food art on display. I happened to like a sculpture of birds made out of eggplants!

Later in the day we took a four mile walk around the deck of the ship. While walking, we spotted oil rigs within the North Sea. There really was nothing else around us all day, except for these rigs and an occasional bird. However,

Peter pointed out a fascinating sight to me. He heard it before seeing it! I have seen this on TV before, but never in person. We captured in a picture the mid-air refueling of a military jet.

Also while walking around the deck, we had a beautiful black and white bird traveling along side our Ship for at least 30 minutes. He was an incredible sight, and we admired his strength and ability to keep on flapping despite the wind. I am not sure what type of bird this was, but he captivated our attention.

Tomorrow is our last port adventure. On Saturday, bright an early (6:45am), we are disembarking the Ship for Heathrow Airport. In Le Havre, France, we are taking a tour of Claude Monet’s house, which is in Giverney, and a tour of the town of Rouen, where Monet did a series of Cathedral paintings. This is a FULL day tour, over 8 hours, so I am not sure what I will be posting tomorrow night. I may await our return to the states to report in detail, since each night’s blog on the Ship takes me hours to upload (due to connectivity) and by the time we return to the Ship tomorrow night, I will need to pack. Luggage is required to be out of our room the night before we leave, which always makes me nuts. The whole disembarkation on a ship needs to be revamped because I find it highly stressful and chaotic (despite the Ship’s incredible level of organization). Needless to say, once I disembark from the Ship, I then am a sight because right on the dock, I start opening my luggage to pack my pajamas and other items I needed within our room from the night before. So the next two days should be extremely busy for us with travel on a ship, bus, and then plane.


August 22, 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tonight's picture was taken in August of 2007 in Coronado, California. Mattie wanted to go on surrey ride, so Peter and I rented one for an hour. I will never forget this ride because moving this bicycle looking vehicle was VERY difficult. It is not like a bicycle at all, most likely because the metal structure of this thing weighs a ton. Mattie was laughing hysterically over the commentary Peter and I were having with each other while trying to peddle! This was a ride I will not forget anytime soon.

Fact about Invergordon, Scotland: In 1931, at the time of the World Depression, the British Government announced huge cuts in the salaries of Government employees, which of course included the pay of able seamen. When the Atlantic Fleet returned to the Firth while on maneuvers, meetings of the below-deck crew were held in Invergordon and a policy of passive resistance was agreed - no ships would sail from the Firth. Although this is known as the Invergordon Mutiny, no ships were taken over and no officers captured. Within days of the first signs of resistance, however, the Fleet was slowly leaving the Firth and sailing to its home bases in the South. The effect of the 'mutiny' had caused a run on the Government's Gold reserves and in the short term the pay cuts were reviewed and reduced.

Failte!!! This in Celtic means welcome. It was the first sign we were greeted with on the dock this morning! Invergordon (Scotland) is a small town, 23 miles north of Inverness. There are many town names that start with the prefix… “inver.” Inver means estuary or meeting of the waters. Invergordon has about 70,000 visitors from cruise liners each year, and tourism is key to their economy.

It is said that in 1933, an enterprising editor in Inverness enlivened a slow news week with the story of an odd sighting in Loch Ness. The legend grew overnight - and today individuals still scan the dark waters of the Loch for a sight of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. Legend insists that the celebrated Loch Ness Monster inhabits a cave beneath the picturesque ruins of Urquhart Castle. Invergordon, is the gateway to Loch Ness and the area of the Highlands known as the "Great Glen."

The hills of Invergordon are splendid, despite the pouring rain and cool temperatures we experienced.

Invergordon has a population of 3500 people. On this main street, called High Street, one can find all sorts of shops, but more importantly the MURAL TRAIL. This trail provides a series of paintings on various buildings depicting a history of the town. There are 11 murals in total. In fact, Invergordon’s economy was failing, and the townspeople came up with the creative idea of painting historical murals on the sides of their buildings to draw traffic to their sleepy town. The murals are simply wonderful and have successfully achieved their goal!

Church of Invergordon, which is part of the Church of Scotland, was the highlight of my visit today. The Church hosts the seamen’s mission and offers telephone cards, telephones and internet access to the crew of all ships docking in their port. Volunteers of the Church also open the Church’s doors whenever cruise ships are in port to serve tea and coffee to all visitors. We had limited time and I debated whether to go into the church or not, but I did. Once inside, I met Ishabel, which is her Scottish name. Her Americanized name is Isabel. Ishabel must have been in her 70s, and was very proud of her church which was built in 1846. What I learned is that the Church opens its doors to visitors because the people of Invergordon feel it is very important for visitors to meet actual town folks and to have the opportunity to mingle with them. So what better way to do this than to offer coffee and tea? The Church is also aware of the fact that cruise ship crew have to pay for Internet connections aboard the ship. They are not given this luxury for free. Which is why, the Church offers Internet connectivity at a very nominal fee for crew people, so that they can connect with family and friends back in their home countries. Ishabel also pointed out several of the volunteers, who work in the Church, two of whom stuck out to me. One was a teenager with a disability and in a wheelchair. The other was a man whose wife recently died. Both of these parishioners, she told me were quite lost until they were given the responsibility to be volunteers. She did not need to explain this any further to me since I understood all too well how a loss of some kind impacts one’s world, and how finding an outlet to re-engage with the world and others is vital. My encounter with Ishabel was very special and will remain in my memory.

We snapped pictures of almost all 11 murals. However, I am sharing this one with you tonight. Painted into the mural are the words….. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time! The placard near the mural read… Only when the last tree is cut, only when the last river is polluted, only when the last fish is caught…. Will they realize…. You can’t eat money. To me this art piece was making a very powerful statement. Each creature depicted on the mural can be found in the waters near Invergordon!

We visited Durnoch, a seaside resort town which boasts the Old Town Jail, the previous Bishop's Palace, now a well-known hotel, and Dornoch Castle. In 1224, Gilbert de Moravia became the Bishop of Caithness, and built the Durnoch Cathedral. He built it out of local stone and glass, paying for Scotland’s smallest Cathedral out of his own pocket. By 1800, clan feuds and lack of money left parts of the Cathedral in ruins. Over the years the Cathedral has been restored and a great contributor to the upkeep of this structure was America’s well known steel magnate, Andrew Carnegie (born in Scotland!).

There are 28 stained glass windows in the Cathedral. However, these three windows were actually built to pay homage to Andrew Carnegie.
The River Shin is one of the greatest salmon rivers in all of Scotland. During September, the River features Atlantic salmon making their journey upstream to their spawning site. We walked a short path down to the Falls of Shin, which are a series of small cascades over which the salmon hurdle.

We stopped at the picturesque Struie Viewpoint or as the local's call it "the million dollar view," with its panoramic highland vistas.

August 21, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012 -- Mattie died 154 weeks ago today.

Tonight's picture was taken in August of 2007. Behind Mattie were flamingos. What I love about this picture was before I snapped it, I told Mattie to give me his flamingo impression. I hope you enjoy seeing Mattie's flamingo as much as I did and still do.

Fact about Edinburgh, Scotland:  Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and the seat of the Scottish Parliament. It is the second largest city in Scotland and the seventh most populous in the United Kingdom. The city was one of the historical major centers of the Enlightenment, led by the University of Edinburgh, helping to earn it the nickname Athens of the North. Edinburgh attracts over 1 million overseas visitors a year, making it the second most visited tourist destination in the United Kingdom.

South Queensferry is the gateway (or port town) to Edinburgh, the political, commercial and cultural heart of Scotland. Nestled between the Highlands and the Border Hills, Edinburgh is a gracious city noted for its superb skyline, its impressive collection of architecture and its beautiful parks. The streets of the elegant New Town are lined with graceful Georgian buildings, many designed by the great architect Robert Adam. Edinburgh has also exerted a tremendous cultural force on Europe and the English-speaking world. Among those who have called the city home are the writers, Robert Burns, James Boswell, and Sir Walter Scott and the philosophers, Adam Smith and David Hume.

Alive with culture and history, the capital of Scotland is a thriving UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site. One has to marvel at the medieval architecture and contemporary buildings that stand side by side to one another. The lively culture and classic beauty of this city is on display around every corner. The New Town area has elegant Georgian buildings and contemporary design. Whereas, the Old Town has a plethora of historic sites and monuments that line the famed Royal Mile, Edinburgh's oldest and most historical street. The Royal Mile takes you from the magnificent Holyrood Palace, the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen while in Scotland, all the way to Edinburgh Castle, perched high above the city on a rocky, extinct volcano.

Not unlike the many other mornings we have had in the British Isles, we woke up to fog and rain. As the fog burned off and the sun began to shine for ONLY a few minutes, Peter spied this glorious sight. I was still in my pajamas at 7 something in the morning, but I went outside anyway to look at this very fleeting sight.
Our Ship is very large and most of the ports in the British Isles are unable to accommodate it at a dock. Therefore, when we are unable to dock, the Ship instead anchors a mile or so from the port town and uses the Ship’s tenders (or lifeboats) to transport ALL 3100 passengers ashore. This is a logistical feat in and of itself, but one that Princess has down to a science. Peter snapped a picture of the process this morning. However, our tours begin very early in the morning, and on days in which tenders are needed, we have to be ready 45 minutes before the tour departs from the dock.

A scene from an Edinburgh Street. The buildings are primarily constructed using sandstone.

Holyrood is the palace occupied by the British Royal Family when they are in Scotland for official visits. The palace has been damaged and rebuilt many times since the 15th century. The present design was intended to emulate the palaces of Louis XIV’s France. If you look closely you will see on the gate, the head of a deer (center, top, middle). The deer is very symbolic and helps to perpetuate the legend of why the abbey and palace were created. The land in which the palace is now housed used to be filled with only forest land. One day a king went hunting and got scared because he believed he was being chased by a giant deer. His fear caused him to lose consciousness. When he awoke, he found a piece of wood in his hand. Naturally there could be many explanations for this piece of wood, but the king interpreted it as a sign that his life was spared and he had to build an abbey on this land. The abbey is located on the Holyrood property.

Close up of Holyrood

Edinburgh Castle is a fortress which dominates the skyline of Edinburgh, from its position atop the volcanic Castle Rock. The Castle was so strongly fortified that no one dared to attack it. Human habitation of the site is dated back as far as the 9th century, BC, although the nature of the early settlement is unclear. There has been a royal castle here since the reign of David I in the 12th century and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. From the 15th century the Castle’s residential role declined, and by the 17th century its principal role was as a military base. There is still a military presence at the Castle even today, but it is largely ceremonial and administrative. The Castle is considered Scotland’s most visited tourist attraction.
Outside the Castle (which is where the people are standing, and there are blue stadium seats all around) is the broad Esplanade, a military parade ground where pipers and other musicians thrill spectators every year during the Edinburgh Tattoo. The Tattoo is a ceremony filled with bagpipes, military drums, and demonstrations.

To reach the Castle requires a walk up 60 steps and many steep cobble stoned inclines.

The Royal Palace was the residence of the Stewart kings and queens in the 15th and 16th centuries. It is also the birth place of King James VI in 1566 and the home of the Scottish crown jewels. Crown room (inside the Palace) contains the crown jewels, scepter, and sword of the ancient Scottish monarchy and the Stone of Scone, where monarchs sat to be crowned. These items have been on display in the same room for over two centuries.

There are many intricately carved stoned corbels around the Castle, representing some of the oldest Renaissance decorations in all of the British Isles.

The view of Edinburgh from the Castle.

St. Margaret's Chapel is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, which dates back to the early 12th century. It was built by King David I and dedicated to his mother who died in 1093. His mother became a saint in 1251, and the structure is considered a glorious example of Romanesque architecture. The Chapel is very small inside, and is a place for reflection rather than a place to hold a ceremony or mass.

One of the many pathway at the Castle.
Peter and I visited Edinburgh in 1995. Now 17 years later, we returned. Things were different from how I remembered them, naturally. However, three things clouded my experience today: 1) the rain and damp weather, 2) the actual tour guide and his snippy personality, and 3) the fact that we lost my Dad for 30 minutes while touring around Edinburgh.

I could tell immediately today that I was not going to enjoy our tour. I unfortunately or fortunately as some would say, can read people very quickly. This tour guide greeted me this morning by giving me a lecture about the incorrect manner in which I was wearing by tour sticker on my jacket. At 7:45am (after many back to back touring days), he was lucky I was functioning well enough to even put the sticker on my jacket. Just from this brief encounter, I knew we were in store for quite a day. After our tour, the guide instructed us to meet him at a particular time and location this afternoon to head back to the port. He made it very clear that if we did not report on time, the bus would be leaving without us because he had another afternoon tour to run. My mom, Peter, and I stopped in a gift shop before heading back to the bus, and my dad told us he was going to walk ahead and wait for us by the stairs. However, when he arrived at that location, my dad wasn’t there. My dad doesn’t have cell phone coverage in Europe, so he had no way to get a hold of us and we had no way to get a hold of him. My dad and I are both graced with NO sense of direction therefore, our level of anxiety sky rocketed because we knew that he was most likely lost. The question was how were we going to find him? We placed my mom in a strategic spot in the street to look out for my dad, and then Peter and I began running around in separate directions. We both have cell phones and were able to communicate with each other back and forth. As I knew the bus was leaving by a certain time, I went back to alert our tour guide that I lost my dad and therefore needed to collect our things on the bus since he told me outright that he wasn’t going to wait. No surprise given his personality. Nonetheless, I spoke loud enough to the tour guide about my level of dissatisfaction with him and his lack of concern for our situation, that my fellow passengers heard me. Needless to say, after a 30 minute search, we found my dad, and by the way the bus also didn’t leave without us. They waited, and I laughed because I know this only happened because of the scene I created on the bus. Otherwise, I have no doubt he would have left without us. So it has been quite a day in Edinburgh!

August 20, 2012

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tonight's picture was taken in front of Mattie's favorite theme park, Legoland. The beauty of Legoland is that it is a park for all ages. Especially if you are fascinated by Lego bricks. Legos were Mattie's all-time favorite toy. However, Mattie also loved the roller coaster rides at the Park, and he literally could spend hours going on the same ride.

Facts about Orkney Islands, Scotland:  The Orkney is an archipelago in northern Scotland, 10 miles north of the coast of Caithness. Orkney comprises approximately 70 islands of which 20 are inhabited. Most of the islands are in two groups, the North and South Isles, all of which have an underlying geological base of Old Red Sandstone. The climate is mild and the soils are extremely fertile, most of the land being farmed. Agriculture is the most important sector of the economy and the significant wind and marine energy resources are of growing importance.

Just north of Scotland lay the Orkney Islands (the latitude being equivalent to St. Petersburg, Russia and Alaska). Washed by the furthest reach of the Gulf Stream, this chain of over 70 islands offers dramatic landscapes that range from sea cliffs rearing 1,000 feet above the waves to sweeping white sand beaches. Bird watchers flock to the Orkneys Islands, drawn by the multitudes of sea birds. Divers explore the wrecks lying in the clear waters of Scapa Flow, the Royal Navy's fleet anchorage in two world wars. Perhaps of greatest interest is that the Islands boast the greatest concentration of prehistoric sites in all Europe.

Vikings settled the Orkneys by the 8th century, putting their own unique stamp on the local language and culture. Viking customs and vocabulary are actually more important than Celtic in the islands. This hint of Scandinavian influence can be heard in the lilting accent with which Orcadians speak. The islands only became Scottish in 1468, when King James III married a Danish bride. The Orkneys and Shetlands were pledged to him as part of her dowry, and they have been part of Scotland ever since. Our tour guide told us that it took about 150 years for the people of Orkney to accept this major change, since their origins and culture aligned with that of Norway, not Scotland. In essence the people who lived on the Islands had NO say or control over who ruled their land.

As we sailed into Kirkwall, the Capital of the Orkney Islands, it was quite apparent that there was NO visibility. It was sailing through very cold pea soup! In fact, in every port town of the British Isles we have visited, I have noticed that each of the islands were fogged in during the morning, and it felt as if we only got about two or three hours of sun during the day, before the fog rolled back in. Perhaps the most extreme of the fog was seen at Orkney today. In fact, it makes you pause and admire the heartiness of the people who inhabit these islands. The islands are remote, isolated, and filled with more animals than people. The local line is “you can see all four seasons in ONE DAY!!!” It was frigid for part of the day, which makes me wonder how raw it must be in the winter. Our tour guide told us that during the winter, some days the wind is so fierce that people are locked up within their homes for days. Also keep in mind that because we are so far north, in the winter, the sun sets at 3 or 3:30pm.

Last night was our second formal night on the Ship. Peter snapped a picture of me with my parents.

One of the first things you notice about Orkney are the beautiful fields dotted with cows and sheep. They are an incredible and peaceful sight! We learned about a new occupation today…. Geese chaser! Apparently geese have recently relocated to Orkney. In fact, four geese can eat as much as one cow in a given day. So farmers are not happy about this because the geese are taking over, and eating the grasses, grasses that farmers provide for their cows and sheep. To address this issue, a goose chaser can be hired to help redirect the geese to more appropriate feeding lands. Amazing!

Stones at stenness are one of the earliest stone circles in Britain. The stones were raised about 5000 years ago. Originally the circle consisted of 11 to 12 stones. They were surrounded by a wide ditch, crossed by a single causeway. Outside the ditch ran a substantial outer bank. At the center of the circle was a large hearth. In Neolithic houses, the hearth was a focal point. It is uncertain what this stone circle was used for, but it probably involved ceremonial and ritual purposes. It has been estimated that it took 50,000 hours to build this circle of stones. This equates to 50 people working a 40 hour week for half of a year.

Ring of brodgar is the third largest stone circle in the British Isles. The monument is generally thought to have been erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC. The stone ring was built in a true circle, 104 meters wide, and is thought to have originally contained 60 stones. Today, only 27 stones remain. The stones in Brodgar are much smaller (4-15 feet tall) than the ones seen at Stenness.

The first settlers known to the Orkney Islands were Neolithic people called Orcadians, who arrived sometime in the 4th millennium BC. These early inhabitants were essentially farming people, who were also surprisingly skillful stone masons. At the time pyramids were being built in Egypt, the Orcadians were constructing sturdy houses and fine stone tombs with multiple burial chambers. The village of Skara Brae is the best Neolithic site in Europe, there are seven houses in a remarkable state of preservation, considering their age, 5,000-year-old! They have course flagstone walls, a central hearth, and a system of underground sewers. Skara Brae has been called the "Scottish Pompeii" because of its excellent preservation. In 1850, a fierce winter storm uncovered this immense archaeological find, revealing an amazingly well-preserved site from prehistoric Europe. The local laird, William Watt was intrigued by his finding and began excavation of the site. The site has been uncovered but none of the stones are preserved in a Museum. Instead, the people of Orkney feel that this unearthing should be left where it is for people to visit it and learn about their culture in its natural surroundings.

We walked along an elevated path to view the various one-room stone houses, a workshop and courtyard (which literally served as a community center for the people). Covered passages once connected all the buildings. The lack of wood (Orkney Islands have FEW to NO trees, because of wind and weather conditions!!!) dictated the exclusive use of stone for the buildings and household items, from beds to tables and tools. This is a picture of the wealthiest person’s house in the community. One can tell this based on the house’s size and amenities, such as catch basins for water, beds not built into the walls, and stone based storage cabinets for supplies.

Skaill House stands near Skara Brae. It is considered the finest mansion in Orkney. Skaill House's unusual architecture is a blend of styles spanning five centuries. This was the home of William Watt (the man who discovered Skara Brae), the 7th Laird of Breckness. We were unable to take photos within the house, but in one of the rooms was a beautiful painting of a young boy. When we asked our tour guide about it, she told us the story of William. William was supposed to be the heir of the estate, but instead died at the precious age of 14. Orcadians are known for their ability to ride horses. Each year, there was a county fair which featured the wears of farmers and equestrian activities. All of William’s family attended the fair that day, but he decided not to go because he was embarrassed and was made fun of because of his lack of equestrian skills. So William stayed home and on his own took out a horse and began to practice his riding skills. However, William’s foot got caught in a stirrup and was dragged to his death. This was of course a death that was very hard for the family to accept. As several of us heard this story, we felt immediately that the moral of the story was….. you need to accept and appreciate your children for the skills, abilities, and talents they possess. Not for the ones you want them to have.

There have been more than 300 species of bird life recorded in the Orkney Islands. There is also an abundance of wildflowers, including summer heather that dots the moors (which is incredibly beautiful). As we were at Skara Brae today, Peter spotted this seal frolicking in the water and coming to shore.

The beauty of the Orkney Islands!

The Orkneys are best known in the 20th century for the Royal Navy’s anchorage at Scapa Flow. Because of their commanding position on the North Sea, the islands were the perfect base for a naval war against Germany. Scapa Flow lies amid the southern island, and promises a roomy and well-sheltered place for warships to anchor. Perhaps the most spectacular moment in Orkney history came at the end of World War I. The finest ships of the German navy had to be surrendered as part of the peace treaty, and were sailed to Scapa Flow by their own crews. On June 21, 1919, the Germans destroyed their ships in the harbor, hoping to avoid further humiliation. Many of the wrecks were broken up for scrap in subsequent years, but the remnants of some of those giants can still be seen today.

On the pier at Kirkwall!

St. Magnus Cathedral was founded in the year 1137 by Earl Rognvald-Kali, the nephew of the martyred Earl Magnus (who was killed by his own cousin). It is dedicated to Magnus, and contains his remains. The cathedral is a reminder of the Viking period within the Orkney Islands.

Inside the Cathedral was quite beautiful. The organist was playing and filled the space with incredible sound which made a lasting impression as we walked through the space. We walked the town, toured the museum, and even had ice cream. It has been a full day, so I am signing off, and will write from Edinburgh tomorrow.

August 19, 2012

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tonight's picture was taken in August of 2007. We were out to lunch together, and Mattie posed for a picture with us. However, you should note that he wasn't standing on his two feet, he was swinging in the air, holding onto our shoulders and necks. He lived up to the animal on his t-shirt, he acting like a monkey!


Fact about The Irish Sea: The Sea separates the islands of Ireland and Great Britain. The sea is of significant economic importance to regional trade, shipping and transport, fishing, and power generation in the form of wind power and nuclear plants. Annual traffic between Great Britain and Ireland amounts to over 12 million passengers and 17 million tons of traded goods.

Today was a day at sea, which was quite needed given the touring pace we have had all week. My mom and I went to a line dancing class (quite different from the line dancing I have done before since it was very aerobic!) this morning and then we walked close to five miles around the deck's track. To our surprise, when we finished, the cruise line was serving hot tea outside on deck, and it was a lovely chance to sit and appreciate our calm surroundings. While sitting, chatting, and drinking, I was staring out into the ocean, and low and behold we were treated to a show of dolphins. They were jumping and moving along with our ship. The dolphins had a white bib, and were much smaller in length then any dolphin I have ever seen before.

A picture of the Sea of Hebrides. Which is taking us from Glasgow up to the Orkney Islands of Scotland.

Seagulls follow our ship in the morning and even in the evening!

This is the main square or Piazza on the Caribbean Princess.

We sailed passed Skye, an island of Scotland.

It is quite a sight to be out in the middle of the water and then to suddenly see land. It makes me appreciate how explorers must have felt centuries ago. These volcanic rock formations caught our attention while sailing by, so I snapped a picture. I am signing off for today, and will share our journey to Orkney Islands with you tomorrow.