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Two survival tips for living in Edinburgh:

  • Keep your eyes down when walking about town

2015-6-DontPoopOnSidewalkPeople let their dogs poop all over the sidewalks. We do not understand why and there are city campaigns urging people to discontinue this practice. And yet, you’ll see a pile of dog poop right next to the little reminder on the sidewalk and will have to leap to avoid stepping on it, on a lovely posh sidewalk in an upscale neighborhood. So unless you want to feel a squoosh under your feet, keep your eyes glued to the ground and be read to step around.


  • Obey the street lights as a pedestrian, or expect death – In the U.S. a pedestrian can scurry across the street without a “walk” light knowing the cars will stop or slow down. In the U.S. our laws protect the pedestrian. Even if a pedestrian leaps out in front of a car, the driver is likely to pay the penalty. In Scotland it appears that is not the case. Cars do not stop for pedestrians. If they have the light, they zoom around corners, so if you decide to put one foot in the street, you are likely to lose it. The rule of the road is “do not ever stop the flow of traffic.” As a matter of fact, locals will get bitter if you interrupt the flow. If I slow down because I see an old man standing in the middle island and I want to kindly let him cross, the old man is likely to angrily wave me on because they so dislike stopping the flow. It’s ruthless but it works. The pedestrian ‘walk’ signal allows all walkers to cross at the same time, including diagonally through the middle of the intersection. So all cars stop at once for pedestrians, then when the cars get their turn, pedestrians must just stay out of the way.
  • Minimal ti2015-5-EDI-Tartine2pping – Ok, a third tip. About tipping. I got my nails done and gave a tip and the woman said “Oh! That’s so American of you!” It’s really hard to walk away from a restaurant or hairdresser without giving a tip, but I’m down to 10% and they still tease me for doing it. I was at lunch the other day with a woman whose husband is a Scot, and she insisted that we not tip; it’s just not done. That was my first time and it felt so wrong. When you learned about the ‘no tipping’ rule you initially think “cool, I’ll save money!” But you end up wanting to tip because it feels wrong not to. But then you are plagued with a deep inner struggle, asking yourself “why am I wasting money?” We humans create unnecessary inner struggles, don’t we? I guess some people have an angel on their shoulders to guide them. I need a little Scot on my shoulder to slap me whenever I try to tip.

Kids and schools

As I said in last month’s post, we moved Luke to Merchiston Castle School. Things had been so uphill Jan – March for Luke, that we set expectations very low in terms of promises regarding the culture being better at Merchiston, but it ended far better than expected.

2015-5-Merchiston37Thankfully, there is a night and day difference. Whatever undercurrent of anger or frustration at the other school, it is non-existent here. There are unforced smiles, genuine laughter, and all good normal things. I haven’t had to try. There have been instant friends, play dates, sleepovers, and fun. Just really good, chummy friends and the school is incredible (academic rankings higher than the prior school!) And it could not be more bucolic and beautiful. Luke gets into the car and chats away about the day’s events, and then says “Mom, can we stop talking? I want to read now.” I can just hear how unwound and easy things are in his tummy, heart and mind. Ahhhhh. Thank you, Merchi…

Graham is applying himself incredibly well. My intention with these journal entries is to be very, very frank. However, I do not wish to slam entire institutions. So I’ll try to explain this way: Graham recognizes the extreme maturity of his friends back at Shorecrest and values them now more than ever.

Regardless of one’s level of privilege, the friends Graham has at Shorecrest are solid, have each others’ backs, and generally get what friendship is about. Laugh to the degree something is funny, but not to a degree of hurtfulness. In contrast, he currently seems to be in a constant bit of ‘testing’ amongst peers that gets old. To the degree of having his school blazer pocket ripped. (Oddly, his city basketball team is completely different, very much more like his old friends; “good people” types that Graham easily laughs with.) Graham has a strong relationship with one teacher (“tutor” as they say … just as”tuition” here is used for “teaching” and not “the fee for entering a school” which frankly is the original definition). So this particular tutor has been incredibly insightful, sharing some of his own experiences with Graham in a very genuine way. But for a kid like Graham, who is very mature (as noted by his current teachers), it’s hard to step backward in terms of maturity and just accept that But the education and overall experiences are second to few as far as growth opportunities, so he’s just learning to place a thoughtful framework around anything that doesn’t meet expectations. One cannot define a better future if one hasn’t experienced the many other possibilities, right?

Graham is focusing on the learnings he is gaining academically as well as socially. He and I have talked so much about how easy it is to feel great when you have a handful of good friends around. But if a person loses that support network, say, if one was an orphaned refugee in Syria, or if one was simply a minority that was excluded socially in school, it could make everything incredibly hard. Graham is experiencing only the lightest taste of that kind of struggle, but from it he’s gained compassion and understanding that he’ll keep with him his entire life. Having it too easy can rob a person of empathy towards others’ pain. So a little struggle early on can serve as a springboard for myriad great things in the future.

We’ve also discussed how the compassion his one tutor has shown might, in the future, be something that Graham–with these experiences in his DNA–will be able to pass on to some other younger person. Certainly, no mother wants pain for her child, but this isn’t helicopter time. Supporting him as he captures every thought, experience and emotion from this year, and helping him to cherish this all as enriching learning experience is the best silver lining we can offer at this time.

Hugs to all the good people at home. 🙂 – MsH









Primates at the zoo, including Tina Turner.

Appendix: Schedules

Here are our schedules, as a snapshot of daily life.


  • 6:45 am – Wake, shower, breakfast
  • 7:30 am – In the car
  • 8:00 am – Arrive Merchiston
  • 8:20 am – House or School or Headmaster’s assembly
  • Morning: Maths, English
  • Morning Break (change into play clothes)
  • Midday – Sport: Swim or Athletics (track) or other PE
  • Afternoon – Reading and language, then History/Science/Special Projects
  • Cricket matches (sometimes being bussed to other schools up to an hour away) or Golf lesson (Monday) or Football (soccer, Friday)
  • 4:00 – Prep (study and homework)
  • 5:30 pm – Tea
  • 6:15 pm – Pickup time

Next year he will stay until 7:30 pm and also attend on Saturdays as he did last term. Six days of school per week is de rigeur.


  • 6:30 am – Wake, shower
  • 7:00 am – Walk across entire campus to dining hall
  • 7:45 am – Walk back to house and collect first set of class books
  • 8:00 am – House meeting
  • 8:20 am – Classes, assemblies, etc. (sometimes chapel)
  • 11:00 am – Break at House. Bagels, bread with jam in the house kitchen.
  • Then back to classes
  • 1:00 pm – Lunch in dining hall
  • Then back to classes
  • 3:00 pm – Games or PE (Rugby, Hockey or Cricket, or for PE Athletics or other activities)
  • 6:00 pm – Tea in dining hall (2 nights/week I pick up Graham and take him to basketball offsite and return him in time for prep, but he doesn’t get tea so I bring him a meal)
  • 7:30 pm – Required prep: All boys in their private studies in House.
  • 9:00 pm – Leave studies and retire to room. Ready for bed, reading.
  • 10:00 pm – Lights out, silence, phones off.

This schedule is true on Fridays so I’ll phone him at 8:30 p.m. on a Friday and he’s in his study doing homework, unable to talk until 9:00 p.m.

Saturdays, same routine. Up, shower, dining hall, classes etc. And in the afternoons they are kept extremely busy with games, competitions etc.

Sundays they go to chapel (in kilts!) either in the morning or evening. They do prep and revision (homework and studying) and they have time to play or go into town. Graham usually takes some time to play basketball before tea. Then after tea he goes to chapel, and then they all meet in House and wind down for the evening.

Mary’s drive times OR why she is crazy and has chair butt:

  • Mornings:
    • 7:30 am – 8:50 am – Luke to Merchiston. (May take a private bus next year, but still needs to be driven through the city to that bus stop).
  • Evenings:
    • Mon, Wed, Fri – Simple “leave at 5:45 pm; arrive home at 7:00 pm. So on those days it’s a mere 2.5 hours of driving.
    • Tues – Leave house 3:30 pm, collect Luke at 4 pm. Luke to basketball 4:30 pm. Collect Graham at 4:50 pm. Graham to basketball at 5:15 pm. Luke sits in lobby with me and does homework, because leaving school at 4pm is considered ‘leaving early.’ At either 7pm or 8pm on some days, we drive Graham back to school, then return home at either 7:45 pm or 8:45 pm. So that’s 6.5 hours of essentially ‘driver time’ on those days. ( – my savior)
    • Thursday is a wee bit better: Leave 4:35, collect G at 4:45, drop him at basketball at 5:15, drive to pick up takeaway dinner for Graham and put it in the trunk (boot). Collect Luke at 6:15 pm after school tea, return to the basketball center at 6:45 pm. Get out of the car for 15 minutes to let my legs move. Then 7 pm we leave basketball, drop G at 7:30 and get home by 7:45 pm. So 4.5 hours on those days.
      Steve’s recently starting trying to help on Thursdays by doing all or some of the evening drive. It requires him to leave the office as early as 4:15 which is a hard thing to arrange on a regular basis.

Despite our best attempts to set up our residence a few minutes from school, with Luke’s school change as well as the very strong draw of basketball on the south side, we’ve got a lot of driving on our hands. I’m just going with the flow because the kids are doing such incredible jobs diving in, integrating, and championing all that’s being given to them, from playing in cricket matches, to going on survival trips, to following homework instructions that don’t always make sense because they use English terms instead of American terms. I guess you could say I’m just along for the ride.


2015-5-EDIdaddyDayCareIn the pictures below you’ll see the Meikleour Hedge – the world’s tallest hedge. Graham had a ‘take your child to work’ day with Dad in their northern office, so Luke and I drove northwest in search of this destination, which was very hard to find and required stops at local pubs to actually locate it. We were proud to find it but mostly because of the journey we took to get there! I so love quirky destinations as they take you off the beaten path, so you are meeting people who don’t meet Americans everyday and aren’t putting on any kind of show. There’s just sitting around being very, very Scottish, all day ever day. Love it.


2015 May – Local Life and Detailed Schedules2 Comments

  1. Your article is really telling me that you and your kids are really having busy routine and that’s a good thing. I really wonder sometime that we should be having these types of routines so that we may able to keep our self busy.

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