Making Autumn


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It’s been a while since I posted a serious post, one with more words than pictures. It’s been that sort of fall, really. I’m not sure where the first month of term went; it comes back in fractured images.

(No, I’ve not been drinking the term away. Though we did have an Arkham Horror and Scotch-finishing party one night, to help some friends finish off all their Scotch bottles with only an inch left before they went away for a few months. Let’s say that their liquor cabinet is now substantially tidier. Sadly, the dead bottles have not in fact disappeared, but have merely relocated to the graveyard of departed whiskies. That’s the problem with the beautiful bottles of beautiful whiskies: it’s hard to discard them afterward. The graveyard of departed Scotches is a known phenomenon.)

Term brought with it my first TA-ship. Tutoring, they call it here; after lectures with more than a hundred students, the students break out into groups of ten or so to go over the exercises with a tutor (e.g. me) and get clarification on tricky points. Not having been through the British undergrad system, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the students. In the event, though, it’s the ease with which they accept my authority that’s a little freaky. I suppose I do have nine years on them; they may think of us as hardly younger than the lecturers (professors), which is frankly disquieting.

For some time, the awareness as been growing in my mind that my voice, which I’d always counted on, was no longer quite there when I called on it. It hid. Used to constant lessons and practice through high school and college, it sulked under its neglect and, when demanded, showed up in poor form. In short, singing had been the second biggest part of my life for a good portion of my life (behind studying), and I want it back. It lacks the social usefulness of being able to play a useful instrument (piano, say, or guitar), but I have an affection for it nonetheless. I have joined a chorale.

This, in turn, necessitated finding a dance group that doesn’t meet on Tuesdays to make up for the dance class I dropped, which led to Irish step on Sundays and possibly before my Scottish dance class on Thursdays. You could say my schedule remains a work in progress at present.

My first-year review, which included the forty-page introductory chapter to my dissertation, was held in September. I did not flunk out of my PhD. Now I am in the phase of actually starting the research itself.

As a consequence, I have been getting a number of things done around the house.

Yesterday I made thick wool slippers, as the soles of my commercial ones had worn almost through. Mine are vastly superior, having 2 layers of lambswool sweater for the uppers, and the following for soles, from top to bottom: 1 lambswool sweater, 1 wool sock (left over from my leg warmers), 4 layers of rather thin polarfleece pullover, and 1 heavy cotton twill from NTS’s old trousers, for ruggedness. They are the most comfortable thing that has come between my feet and the cold kitchen floor. Making applesauce

Today I made applesauce. It seems that applesauce is not a mainstream food in the UK and I have not found it in regular grocery stores. I left the skins on, which adds some texture. I would only recommend it if you have access to a food processor, stick blender or food mill, though, in order to get the puree the skins. (Happily, the previous tenant of our flat left a stick blender. Hooray!) Mine is much thicker and tastier than the organic stuff from the co-op (the only place I’ve found it), although that’s pretty good, too. I have decided against investing in formal canning apparatus while I’m here, so this is for the fridge. I hear you can freeze applesauce, though, so I may try that sometime if I ever have a very large stockpot.

Plantain and calendula | FarOuterHebrides

Plantain and calendula (pot marigold)

Other projects I’ve undertaken this fall include hand salve, plantain calendula salve, 2 rag rugs for the bathroom, 1 for the kitchen, and a completely refashioned wool knit shirt (very fiddly). More on those later.

Flow’rs of Scotland


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I finished a year’s worth of research paper a few weeks ago. The day after I submitted, I was damned if I could sit down and concentrate on anything like work. So I didn’t.

Pentlands, September

I went hiking.

Pentlands, September

I’m always telling Mumsy Dearest that it’s fine to hike alone, but I seldom take my own advice. Mostly because I do try to work on work days like the rest of the world, if not always at the same hours. And on weekends I can usually drag NTS along. I feel guilty leaving him at home while I go play in the woods. (Although I did, last weekend.)

Pentlands, September

So I packed up the most important of my 10 things, just to feel super safe, and left.

Bee on thistle, Pentlands, September

Well, when I say left, I mean ‘lost interest for a while and then got going in the afternoon’, but eventually, I left.

Thistle with bee, Pentlands, September

This is heather.

This is heather.

Heather, Pentlands, September


Pentlands, September

It was very hazy, but also sunny. Scotland.

Beware: hiking may cause death.

Beware: hiking may cause death.



Sun on a reservoir, through the spruces

Sunset on a reservoir.

Mexican Food in a Scottish Byre, Part II


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There were too many pictures of that gorgeous old dairy farm to fit into one post. So lucky you… today’s post is more pictures! Enjoy the rest of your virtual tour. I’m afraid we’ve eaten all the Mexican food, though.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides


Another woodshed. There was wood everywhere.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides


Wood for sheep, anyone?

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

As someone who used to heat my house with wood, I find myself drawn to a good wood pile.

Wood | A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

Or three.

Wood and a Tractor | FarOuterHebrides

Tractors are good, too. The bus I took to get to this place got stuck behind a tractor for a while. It gave me a nice tingle of nostalgia.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

A memory of zipping along back roads on a sunny day, while My Girlfriend Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy blares on the radio. I didn’t get much money from my job that last summer after high school, but I did get the best drives.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

Mexican Food in a Scottish Byre, Part I


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One of the common themes of expat life is the things you miss from your old life. For Americans, Mexican food and NY Jewish food (notably bagels and reuben sandwiches) rank fairly high on this list.

Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

Even though my home state of Maine could not be further from the Mexican border, and I didn’t eat Mexican food until I moved to Boston, I quickly learned to value a well-wrapped burrito. And fresh bagels were a mainstay of every trip to visit family in New Jersey, from the time I was first old enough to lick the cream cheese off my bagel and ask for more.

Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

So we were delighted to hear a few weeks ago that fellow SCAdians (reenactors), a group with a high proportion of expats, were cooking up a big Mexican feast and wanted us to help them eat it.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

The food did not disappoint. Sooo good. I wanted to keep eating until I exploded, but I refrained.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

Which is to say, I didn’t actually explode, so the laws of cause and effect imply that I must have refrained a little. I only ate one really enormous burrito. It took all afternoon.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

The company was excellent. Our friends have very interesting friends.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

And the location was to die for. Those of us who currently reside in cities were very jealous. The estate was once a dairy farm, with the cows housed in the courtyard. Now there’s one apartment and the main complex, which is used seasonally and on weekends (not for dairy farming). Isn’t it spectacular?

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebridesA Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

Sunday Sun


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The star of a good picture is always the light.

Emerson "Too high a spirit"

When I noticed the light streaming through my window on a perfect Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t resist.

Sunday Sun | FarOuterHebrides


I know some of my family (Mumsy) are always eager to know what our flat looks like.

Sunday Sun | FarOuterHebrides

Apparently giving virtual tours of one’s house is also common on the blogosphere. That’s my mending basket in the back corner.

Reading nook | FarOuterHebrides

My wee, ill-lit kitchen is nothing to write home about, but the sun perks everything up.

Oil lamp | FarOuterHebrides

So here is my new reading nook, complete with my hard-won chair and bathed in sunshine.

A Mad Tea Party: Cucumber Salmon Crescents


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Tea time is always at four in the afternoon. And when one’s companion in tea is providing the scones with clotted cream and jam… well, then one needs to provide ballast, so as not to roll away from the party. My will power doesn’t extend to ignoring scones with clotted cream while at a tea party. Probably because I don’t really want it to. There’s no point in spoiling a good tea party with ill-timed abstinence.


She makes really good scones.

On the other hand, adding cake or cookies on top of the scones seems unnecessary.

Enter the fish.

salmon crescents


1 large cucumber
1 small tin tuna or salmon
1 small red onion
1/4c plain greek yoghurt

dried or fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp lemon juice
freshly ground pepper
garlic powder
pinch of salt
dried or fresh chopped basil

1. Cut cucumber in half lengthwise. Use a melon baller, measuring spoon or teaspoon to scoop the seeds out of the middle and discard/eat them. The cucumber should resemble two dugout canoes.

2. Drain salmon.

3. Finely dice the onion. Mix onion, salmon, yoghurt, lemon juice and spices to taste.

4. Fill cucumber canoes with salmon mixture. Sprinkle with paprika. Cut into 3/4″ slices and serve.

I used salmon because apparently I stopped eating tuna several months ago, when I decided I didn’t like it enough to buy mayo only for that purpose. I hadn’t yet thought of using yoghurt. I had completely forgotten this decision, but happily I did decide, around the same time, to try tinned salmon. Then I promptly forgot about the fish.

(The last time I tried tinned salmon, I got the tin Trader Joe’s that still had bones in. When I opened the can to make tea sandwiches, Dani and I got too freaked out by the bones to actually use it. It was not a proud day for an outdoorswoman.)

So there you have it: tiny cucumber crescents fit for a tea party. Or perhaps for lunch. Finger-food-friendly, and much faster than making and filling individual cucumber cups. I’ve tried this with tuna, too, and it tastes just as good, if slightly more like tuna.

salmon crescents

A Mad Tea Party: Enter the Cavalry


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I suppose it was only to be expected, really.

Holyrood Park | FarOuterHEbrides

In 1865, Mr. Dodgson set the bar for British tea parties.


Since he immortalised the great British institution in story, the Great British Institution has become synonymous in my mind with outlandish hats and absurd circumstances, though I dare say our jokes are of a somewhat higher calibre.

Holyrood Park | FarOuterHEbrides

Dodgson can’t really be held responsible for the hats; just look at the royal wedding. But for fantastical circumstances surrounding the consumption of my afternoon tea and cakes… that I lay entirely at his door.

Horses from Parliament | FarOuterHebrides

Really, how else can you explain having a bus diverted on the way to tea by a pipe and drum corps, a dozen revolutionary-era redcoats with assorted hangers-on, and great long parade of horses coming up the Royal Mile from Parliament?

Horses from Parliament | FarOuterHebrides

Horses from Parliament | FarOuterHebrides

Down at the foot of the hill, by the Queen’s Gallery, there’s a small street sign I hadn’t noticed before.

Horses from Parliament | FarOuterHebrides

Seems fair.

When Summer Meets Autumn


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When summer meets autumn:

Leaves and sea glass

I feel bad picking the wildflowers in the park, but for the leaves I have no such qualms. There will be more soon.

I was proud of myself earlier this week because I opened up my broken alarm clock and fiddled with the connections until the backlight was no longer stuck in the “on” position. Sadly, it didn’t take; the light came on again last night. I think the metal piece has just lost its spring and can no longer bounce back. But I like the picture.

Alarm clock

A Mad Tea Party in the Botanical Gardens


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After wandering through Stockbridge Market and along the Water of Leith last Sunday, we made out way through the Botanical Gardens.

Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens

Eventually, we pulled out a wool rug and a flask (thermos) of hot tea to keep our biscuits company. It was, after all, four o’clock, and tea time is always four o’clock.

Botanical Gardens

 We also nibbled on one side of a mushroom. Things were rather large after that.

NTS in the Botanical Gardens

But really, we were only a little mad.

The Gently Mad book shop Edinburgh Fringe hairdresser

Five Things: Herbs and Acts of Kindness


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1. My chair. Last week, after extricating myself from the depths of the couch and moving to the floor, and then moving from the floor to the couch for the fourth time when the dust got too bad, I actually said to NTS, “You know what I need? I need a chair that’s just a platform for me to put my giant pillows on. Then I’ll be away from the cold and the dust, but able to sit upright without hurting my back, unlike on that couch.”

Fast forward two days to find me struggling down Merchiston Crescent with a great big chair frame pressed to my chest. I made it about halfway home before giving in and calling NTS to come help. But before he could get there… enter the marine. A stranger, soon to be part of Her Majesty’s marine corps, who carried the enormous chair frame the rest of the way home for me. I know nothing more about him, but he has my lasting gratitude. So I get the perfect platform for my cushions and an act of kindness from a stranger, all in one day.

2. On my way to the hairdresser, I discovered the New Leaf Co-op, a wee whole foods shop. Unlike Real Foods, where I get a lot of my “odd” groceries (you know, like legumes, grains, dried fruit and tea), it feels even more as though it’s part of a co-op barn somewhere, with plain wood shelving and things packed in everywhere, though it’s quite organized. My favourite part of the shop is the back, where you can scoop out whatever quantity of herbs, spices, legumes, bouillon, or fruit you want into a bag or jar. I bought a few tablespoons each of dried licorice root, juniper berries and peppermint for a project (see 5), and it came to 50p. Obviously, I will be trying my hand at home-mixed herbal teas in the near future.

The other charming thing about the shop is the jar station. People bring in clean jam jars with lids, and people take jars as they need them. As simple as that. A small act with no monetary gain, or even barter value, for the bringers of the jars or the store. Just a little bit of community.

3. This quote: “Today in Western culture, yurts are routinely used for glamping. (That’s glamour+camping, the bougie version of roughing it.)”

Ever since I first came across the term, “glamping” has rubbed me the wrong way. I think it’s because I’ve been camping since I was one. (There are pictures involving a tent and snow. I slept inside my daddy’s down vest, the perfect teeny-tiny down sleeping bag for a teeny-tiny person. My parents were obviously insane, but awesome.) We’ve always brought just enough to be comfortable, including enough amenities–rugged yet dainty wine glasses, delicious booze, pie–to feel like camping is already a delightful retreat, not a hardship. And the atmosphere can’t be beat. If the scenery requires gauze and quilts to make it palatable, you might want to move on anyway.

(UPDATE: My mother informs me that I was about 3 months old, which puts my snow-filled camping experience in spring. Because it turns out there’s a word for “spring” in Maine. They call it “winter”.) 

To be sure, I’ve stayed in some campgrounds–cough, Mystic–that might have been improved by amenities. That’s because the campground consisted of a field with lanes for driving. It would have been improved much more by containing some nature. Maybe trees. This is not camping, it’s a DIY hostel. If this is your situation, I recommend trying actual camping sometime in the near future, so you can see what nature looks like.

I think I dislike it because the word “glamping” implies that regular camping is not glamorous. Like it’s somehow lacking. I don’t object to the pretty amenities, but the word rubs me wrong.

Nice wine and battery-powered fairy lights, on the other hand, never hurt anyone and are an asset to any camping trip.

4. Actual conversation in the PhD office today:

“I saw your friend, Doctor Hu, yesterday.”

“He’s not a doctor yet.”

“Yeah, but he will be soon. And anyway, it’s too much fun to say. Does The Doctor even have a doctorate?”

“Of course he does.”

“In what?”

“In everything. While The Master only has a masters degree.”

“Oh, right. That’s why he’s so cranky.”

5. Flavored simple syrups. The name suggests that simple syrup, mostly used for making cocktails, mocktails, and flavored coffees, is easy, but it’s hard to express just how easy it is. Pour boiling water from the kettle over sugar, stir for a minute. Done. Adding herbs adds steeping time, but not a great deal of labor. The peppermint was very easy. And it smells delicious.

Now, the juniper… Do you know what’s stickier than sugar syrup? Crushed juniper berries soaked in sugar syrup. Those little bastards are almost up there with pine pitch. I finally used grapeseed oil to get the residue out of the mortar and pestle. They still smell like good gin, but I can’t say I mind. Incidentally, if you aren’t already a fan of gin, I suggest you find a small, unknown gin and give it another shot. I’m not a huge fan of the big-name gins, but there’s a local Edinburgh one that hits all the right notes. Every gin maker has their own recipe, and craft gin seems a lot like craft beer: that is, delicious. And not terribly expensive, either.

Why the fancy simple syrups? Yesterdays are a housewarming gift for someone, and today’s are going to a Mexican food party. Yes, for once all of us expats will have Mexican food. It will be delicious.

I should probably go buy tequila now. Or get back to work. I’ll leave it up to your imagination, which one I’m likelier to do now.


towel rack

My towel rack is smaller than your towel rack. The whole rack fits under the sink.



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