Toothpick San Francisco

San Francisco in toothpicks. You’ve got to see this to believe it!


Humility and Roots

I learned a couple of things about myself as I travelled last month.

The first: that it takes a lot of humility to continually receive hospitality and I’m not very good at that.
The second: I’m no nomad, I need roots.

I loved visiting with my friends. It was . . . well, there aren’t really words that quantify how wonderful it was to see them again and in their natural environments too. To see their places of work, where they go to school, to meet their friends and family members, to visit their churches, and share their favourite eateries, was a privilege I was so grateful for. It’s really great to be able to put people in their contexts and now when we talk I’ll know exactly where they are speaking about!
I did find it hard, though, to continually be the one receiving. I desperately wanted to reciprocate their kindness but didn’t have the means to. If we lived in the same place I would have them round for dinner, or over to stay for a couple of nights but I just had to sit back and accept their generosity.
It was a really humbling experience. The situation makes you vulnerable; you’re completely dependent upon another individual, incapable of purchasing or attaining for yourself by any other means the services which they are fulfilling for you, services which you would be lost, homeless and hungry without. You are at their mercy.
When that mercy is gladly given, it humbles you further. That people would care about you so much to welcome you into their home, to go out of their way to accommodate you, to forego studying for their finals for you(!), you realise how undeserving you are of such kindness and how deeply blessed.

Before I left for California I had a conversation with one of my pastors around commitment to a place. I talked about my desire for adventure, the part of me that longs to leave everything behind and just set off into the sunset, not knowing where my feet might take me. Such a dreamer. In my head I thought I would be the nomad, the lonely wanderer picking up friends along the road. My pastor suggested that it was more natural, and more necessary, for us to have a centre of gravity, a place from which we could flow. He described people he knew who had tried to maintain two centres of gravity over a period of time but found it incredibly difficult and ended up choosing one place over another. So what, I thought. Doesn’t mean I won’t be successful in having no centre of gravity but simply floating as though on a cloud. (I hope you’re sensing the sarcasm here).
Just two weeks of spending no more than two nights in any one bed was enough to teach me that I am not a natural nomad. I do not thrive on that.
I want to be in one place for a significant amount of time and really be there. I want to know its secrets, its hidden gems. I want to know what makes it tick. I want to feel it. And I want to be in a place with purpose. I like to get involved, to know what’s going on in the community and contribute. Otherwise, I never really feel at peace in a place.
It’s not an easy realisation for me to accept. It sounds to me like I’m going to have to settle down in one place and there is nothing that I want less. The idea of settling, accepting less than adventure, horrifies me. Yet I have to hold that in tension with a desire and need to put down roots. Deep.
I wrestled for a lot of my trip with whether or not I would ever repeat it without returning to Scotland. I guess I partly went out to get some answers on that front. After a lot of wandering round San Francisco, whispered prayers and shouted grievances, conversations with people wiser than myself, I think I hear God saying that I’ve to go ahead and put down roots as deep as I like here in Edinburgh. I need not be scared that in a year’s time I’ll painfully have to pull myself out again, either because I’m not leaving or because, when that time comes, He will have prepared me.
The door to the USA is not closing tight. It’s got more of a revolving thing going on. And being here does not mean settling or saying no to adventure. It’s just a different kind of adventure. San Francisco may prove to be a place of refreshment and learning in the time ahead but it will not be home in the foreseeable future.
My roots are planted here.


I might bore you with specifics from my trip some other time but let me gush a little about the state itself first.

It is b-e-a-utiful.

Last year, I only left San Francisco for short day trips to Marin and Berkeley on the other side of the Bay. I had no idea what I was missing and I’m a little glad or else I might have been disappointed not to see it. In the past month though I managed to cover 1500miles and just about everything across the state between SF and LA.

The very first thing I learned as I left San Jose on the train was that California is a desert. I probably shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was but I had just never realised while in the very green bay area. Every row of crops – strawberries, corn, grape vines and citrus trees – has a line of plastic piping to irrigate it. It seems a little ridiculous to me, surely it’s a sign that we’re not using the land for its intended purpose, but apparently it’s working quite well for them. And it contributes wonderfully to California’s landscape of contrast.

A contrast of ocean and mountains; green crops and golden grass; deserts and reservoirs; forests and skyscrapers; big cities and sleepy towns. Not to mention wind and fog on the coast and 100F (40C) heat in the valley.

It has all the grandeur of Switzerland and the awe factor of the Isle of Skye but there is something unique about California, or at least, it’s very different to any other place I’ve been and I love it.

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Move, Learn, Eat

3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage… all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning and food ….into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films…..


After handing in three essays (three days early!) on friday, I set off with friends to one of their parent’s houses in Kendal, in the Lake District.

It was a little odd to head south rather than north – I don’t think I’ve actually crossed the border (and flying into Heathrow doesn’t count in my head for some reason) in about three years. I’ll be a little cheeky in admitting it felt like venturing into enemy territory and to be surrounded by even more English accents than when in Edinburgh was a tad surreal. However, whilst their lakes and mountains aren’t quite as pretty as Scottish ones, they didn’t do half bad.

On Saturday we took a bus to Windermere and had a wee dander around the edge of the lake. We stopped at a very picturesque spot for our picnic lunch before carrying on through the town of Bowness and then up over a wee hill back into Windermere to get the bus home again. It wasn’t a very long or difficult walk but it was sufficient to test my severe lack of fitness and reminded me how painful walking ten miles is going to be in two weeks time!

After a lovely roast chicken dinner, cooked for us by Marty’s parents, we embarked upon quite an epic game of Risk. I’d never played before and you could kind of tell. I was doing pretty well in North America for a while before Marty decimated me and then I backed myself into a corner in Australia. Ed was soon in control of Europe but there were just too many borders and not enough troops to defend against the impressive Marty/Katrina alliance. Even Antonia, acting as the UN, couldn’t ensure Marty didn’t monopolise the whole thing and he soon took the victory as Katrina and I admitted defeat, holding on to only tiny bits of Asia and Australia. Then we played pool for a while and once again Marty and Katrina beat me quite easily before Ed came and showed us all how it should really be done.

On Sunday we went up the castle ruins in Kendal. It was a gloriously sunny day and the views across the valley were beautiful. There were many silly pictures taken and a game of Pooh Sticks (which I won!) too before it was time to return to base for lunch and then catch the train back to Edinburgh again.

I needed out of the city this weekend – cabin fever was setting in once more – and (other than Skye) I don’t think there could have been a more perfect place to go. It was lovely to spend quality time with friends who usually just put up with my moaning and nagging about one thing or another. And of course, we have another set of stories to reminisce about for years to come!

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SF: Lists

I have a funny feeling that every time I call home now,  is going to result in a list of San Francisco related things to do.

Tonight’s conversation resulted in the following:

  • Phone consulate about visa
    • Research cost of going to London to get it vs. going to Belfast to get it
  • Get Hepatitis B vaccination
    • ask health professional if there are any other vaccinations I should get
  • Ask YWAM about specific dates/timetable
  • Book flights
  • Make fundraising plans

Less important but also weighing on my mind:

  • Money whilst I’m out there – possibly opening new, no currency/foreign exchange account
  • Phone whilst I’m out there – buy one there or get mine unlocked
  • Shoes – going to need a new pair of trainers
  • How does one survive without weetabix, blackcurrant squash or real chocolate for 2.5 months?

You and I might be thinking “there’s aaaaages!! Four months is pleeeenty of time”. My parents thinks otherwise so I should get on these asap!

Edit: I am also adding health and travel insurance to the list . . .

SF 2011

I’ve just received the very exciting news that I have been accepted to be a part of YWAM San Francisco’s Summer of Service programme!!

This is EXCITING!!!

(I’m excited, BTW)

This means that I will be spending two and a half months this summer working with the youth groups who come to YWAM SF for a week of mission in the inner city. The base is only a stone’s throw from the affluent shopping and civic districts, the street it is on intersects with the famous cable car road, but I’m unlikely to see much of this. We’ll be working in the Tenderloin – an area known for homelessness, illegal drug trading, prostitution etc.

It’s likely to be the hardest I’ve ever worked in all my life. I imagine it’s going to take more than the physical, mental or spiritual strength I can muster. I’ll see, hear and experience things I’m not going to be prepared for or know how to deal with. I’ll admit to being scared about it – 2 1/2 months on the other side of the world from all my friends and family is petrifying. AND I hate long haul flights!

As passionate as I am about Scotland and about serving the people who live here and are suffering, this is an excellent programme that will train and equip me to return to Scotland and work for change.

I’ve been speaking about doing a mission trip some summer for years. I’ve been talking about going to America for quite some time too. I don’t know that anyone really expected me to do it. I didn’t really expect me to do it! But here it is. And I can’t wait, because I’m certain that. whilst being possibly the toughest 10 weeks of my life, these could also be the best 10 weeks: when I have to truly rely totally on God and get to learn all kinds of incredible lessons from Him.

So now there’s lots of planning and preparing to do. Lots of reading and praying. Finances to gather. A visa to get. But I think I’ll revel in the excitement for a few days first!


This un-pronounceable volcano has caused more than a little disruption throughout Europe in the past week.

Six of my friends have suffered from travel woes because of it. One travelled by boat, ferry and train for 20 hours to get to Edinburgh from Dublin, one embarked on a 32hour coach journey from Malaga this morning, one is finally in London having been stuck in Bahrain for four days and the others are still stranded and waiting on flights in the “now cleared” airspace.

I thought that for once we’d struck upon a “disaster” for which no one could be blamed but now of course comes the hunt for a culprit – was the aviation authority too quick to ground everyone? Did the government not step in quick enough? Did airlines fail to assist their customers sufficiently?

Seems to me there can’t be a winner. If they hadn’t closed the skies and something had happened there would have been uproar. Now that they did close the sky, and everyone is alive (though a little tired and skint), there is uproar.

I saw some figures on the BBC News site which said that there are usually 28 000 flights in European airspace – could this by any chance be the problem? It’s a very messed up system where internal flights of an hour or two are now the norm. We don’t want to pay higher prices for less reliable train services, so we destroy the environment and have a breakdown when planes don’t work. It wasn’t 3o years ago that this peace and quiet those living near airfields have spoken of was the norm! I think it’s really funny that we think we’re so clever in our new fangled technology but we have a crisis such as this when it fails us! I appreciate it’s “necessary” for long haul, and convenient for business, but surely there is a more economical and environmental way to do it! Maybe they should be discussing such things in our prime-ministerial debates! (Which I shall blog about soon enough)

Saying that, I’m very glad to have my friends home again and I have enjoyed seeing aeroplanes from my window once more – but I’m a bit of an air travel geek!