Five Things: She Blinded Me with Library Signs

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1. I waterproofed my shoes today! 

I always feel a glow of satisfaction when I’ve waterproofed my shoes for the winter, like the glow of stacking firewood against the cold season to come (although that’s actually not against the coming winter, but the one after). It’s an atavistic comfort in being prepared for the hard season ahead. Right now, as I acclimate to rapidly shortening days and the new norm of ‘windy, high of 59F (15C)’, the glow of preparedness warms the heart as well as the feet, and is very welcome. (Protip: The further north you are, the more rapidly the length of the days changes.)

2. It’s getting colder. Does your coffee have a sweater?

Does your coffee have a sweater?

No, I didn’t hand-knit my coffee a Fair Isle sweater with size 1 needles. This is the happy remains of one smartwool sock with a hole too large to darn comfortably. (i.e. in the bottom of the heel. I haven’t had much success darning holes larger than a dime in the sole of the sock. The extra cushioning is fine where the heel rubs the back of the shoe, though.)

3. I found a ladder!

I found a ladder

I hid under the ladder because I love you.

NTS’s pillow fortress

NTS's pillow fortress

I was hiding under the ladder because I love you.

I was hiding under your porch because I love you. -UP (source)

I was hiding under your porch because I love you. -UP (source)

4. She blinded me with library signs.

As seen in the university's main library.

As seen in the university’s main library.

Library stacks

These are the stacks in part of the Dewey Decimal section of the library, i.e. the older books. The newer ones have Library of Congress classifications. You can’t quite see it in the photo, but the stacks are on rails, so I suspect you use the spidery hand wheels to move the stacks back and forth until you can reach the shelves you want. The fourth floor is kind of awesome.

Doors

Sadly, even in an institute of higher learning, Scots have yet to figure out exactly what the purpose of door handles is. I’ve even seen pull handles that have the word PUSH molded directly into the handle. Other buildings with this problem: Edinburgh Central Library (Edinburgh and Scottish Collection), the Informatics building where they build robots and program things. And that’s just off the top of my head. Scots don’t really understand how doors work.

5. Buckwheat pancakes. Words cannot express how much I have been enjoying them lately. I’ll try some pictures instead. Recipe will follow in a later post.

Buckwheat pancakes with apples and raspberries

Buckwheat pancake sandwiches

Buckwheat pancake sandwiches

Bonus: Sausagemobile.

Sausagemobile

Happy weekend!

On Killing Your Darlings

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Aaaand there goes my search rating. You guys are going to get some weird ads now.

Like you weren’t already.

I’m reading through some fiction I wrote years ago. I was very attached to it at the time. Still am, in fact. But six years and two (smallish) dissertations give a writer a slightly different perspective on matters. I’ve been afraid to read it, leery of the sheer amount of work that will undoubtedly be required to turn it into anything. And leery to see what past me thought would be a good writing style. So far it’s gone like this:

BRID Hey, this doesn’t suck!

BRID Okay, I’ll just skim over this part.

BRID This is actually rather enjoyable.

BRID Aaaand exposition. And more exposition. Damn, girl.

BRID Doesn’t suck again!

As this is how I feel about my research on a daily basis, I have to assume this is normal.

o O o

The first most important tip you get as a writer is: Write. This is important, but in the furor of planning the perfect novel, it’s surprising how often it’s overlooked.

The second is, once you’ve written, remove every word that doesn’t help the story along in some way. Chances are, a good quarter of the words just slipped in there on their own while you were trying to say something entirely unrelated.

Which brings us to three: Kill your babies. As L. M. Montgomery put it, “All the passages you think especially fine, you must cut out.” This is very hard.

At least, it’s hard until you’re sitting in bed six years later, and you find yourself (although there’s no one else in the house) smothering a smile with one hand the way you do when a student makes a mistake and you don’t want them to feel bad. Yep, my upper lip gets awfully itchy during the tourist ceilidhs. Terribly itchy.

But I digress. You say you want an example?

“Pardon me…” Genevieve’s voice rang musically through the cave, followed by a delicate foot in a swirl of silk and pain.

Great chapter opener, right? I still think it looks terribly elegant.

If only I didn’t snort with laughter every time I read it. It’s too elegant. Like a small child wearing a tutu to go grocery shopping. Endearing in the young, but rather out of place on a fully-grown novel. I’m not going for full-on satire, so I’ll keep the snort for things I really mean to be funny.

Another darling down. But at least this one gets a memorial. I think I’ll just collect hilarious lines from my fiction and give them a decent burial on the blog. Why should I be the only one who gets to laugh at them?

Hanging out in my hammock, before Scotland settled on a uniform high of 59F (15C) for the season.

Hanging out in my hammock, before Scotland settled on a uniform high of 59F (15C) for the season.

 

Adventures

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NTS coming home. So did you have any adventures today, dear?

BRID No.

Not a ladder

NTS … Is that a ladder?

BRID No.

… Yes.

NTS What.

BRID One of these days our apartment is going to have a loft. I’ll be ready.

Climbs ladder.

Who’s tall now, bitches!

NTS You’re very tall, dear.

Glances around nervously. Of course, that’s usually when the whole thing collapses. Maybe that’s enough for just now.

Exeunt, pursued by a bear.

o O o

Every part of that conversation just happened Except one line. Who would have a bear in their apartment?

Also, I’ll have you know I didn’t just go out and buy a ladder on a whim. That would be irresponsible.

I found it.

Yep, a ladder

I may move it back toward the table and use it to store my office supplies where I can reach them. Or I may continue to let NTS use it as a beer table. We’ll see.

View From the Trenches: Every Day is Saturday

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BRID Ow. Ow. I can’t unsee that.

NTS What’s wrong?

BRID Someone is wrong on the internet. On this linguistics forum. The comment is so simplistic that it’s effectively wrong. And the thought of sorting out the terminology enough to fix it just hurts my little head. This is why you never read the comments.

… Although at least they were mostly polite. On the internet I’ll take what I can get.

o O o

BRID thinks for a moment. Oh, dear.

NTS What?

BRID It just occurred to me that I know more about this topic than most people in the world, statistically speaking. And yet not quite enough yet.

NTS shakes head sympathetically.

BRID This is going to be a recurring pattern, isn’t it?

NTS nods solemnly. 

BRID Thank you, dear.

o O o

Last weekend, I went to a friend’s birthday party. A costume party. The theme? pajamas and glitter. It was the most comfortable party ever. Don’t worry; the glitter was Lush glitter bars, not the craft stuff that stays in your hair indefinitely. Em was describing her day at work. She works some odd jobs, so while I thought it was odd for her to be working on a Saturday, it wasn’t that odd.

But then the light dawned.

BRID Oh. It’s Friday, isn’t it?

EM Yes. Yes, it is.

A FELLOW PHD Every day is Saturday when you’re working on a PhD.

BRID And you work Saturdays.

o O o

That’s probably the most accurate description of how time passes around here. I just can’t decide if they’re words to live by or words to rebel against. Mostly, they’re just true.

“Every day is Saturday when you’re working on a PhD.
And you work Saturdays.”

Except for last Saturday, when I did not go to the aforementioned party (that being on Friday), but did go to the farmers market. More on that later.

streetside garden

Five Things: Small Places, Pretend Places, Foreign Places, Private Places

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1. NTS found black beans in the supermarket. When I’m cooking Mexican, even I’m-from-the-tall-end-of-New-England “Mexican”, black beans are infinitely superior to other beans. I’ve been making do with black-eyed beans, but now black is back. Win.

2. A Cup of Jo has been running a series on the experiences of expat moms in various countries around the world. The link is for Germany, but there are links to all of the other countries at the bottom. You can tell she writes a lot, as the stories are really well put-together.

3. I’ve been enjoying a number of blogs lately. And by “enjoying”, I mean obsessively reading the back issues until I get tired or actually do some work. Tammy of Rowdy Kittens, a tiny house dweller, has an enchanting habit of posting links to interesting things every week, which led me to a lot of the things I’ve been reading lately.

4. On another blog front, I just ran across a post by Sas Petherick, where she builds, using only one photo and a page of words, a wonderful place where the mind can curl up for a cosy cup of coffee.

5. I found my fountain pen. It wasn’t in my pen case, where it always is, or any other place I could think of. I had just about resigned myself to the purchase of a new one when I looked in a pen-shaped box that happened to be on the bookshelf, and lo! there it was. I promptly dashed off a few words of minimalist wisdom.

Enough

It just felt so right in my hand. The pen itself is so worn that I really should replace it anyway–the powder coating is not nearly as resilient as it first appeared, as has degraded sadly–but at least I have my perfectly-worn-in nib back. And I think we all know, deep down, that I won’t really be replacing the barrel any time soon, either.

Bonus round: Is this a weird sign, or is it just me? It was the “do not disturb” sign at a very nice hotel in New England. I can’t help feeling that it’s a little… insinuating.

ME timeI mean, I just wanted to sleep in.

 

Object Permanence

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A very young infant has no conception of objects that exist outside of her immediate awareness. (Just how young has yet to be determined.) That’s why a parent’s “reappearance” in peek-a-boo, so mundane to us, is such a miracle to the child: the parent doesn’t exist, and then she does. It’s a classic early childhood game. With such high existential stakes, though, I can’t help but wonder if it induces some level of stress for the infant. But perhaps the joy of seeing the parent again is worth the existential doubt of separation. At any rate, she must get used to it.

On some level, the flush of homesickness in someone* leaving home for a long period of time is caused by a failure of object permanence. One some deep level of the mind, I don’t quite believe that I’ll ever again see the people and places I’m leaving.

When I say “someone”, I mean “me”, but I can’t be alone on this one.

For immigrants, especially in times when wooden or steam ships were the only way to cross the ocean, this would have been the case. Even today, refugees and desperately poor seeking a new life say good-bye to their homes forever. But I’m one of the lucky ones, so home is really just a tram ride, a flight, another flight, customs, and a long car ride away. Less than a day, end-to-end.

But when I came over two years ago, I didn’t believe it. Not really. Not in the painful countdown to Christmas, when I actually contemplated buying vastly inflated last-minute plane tickets and showing up unexpectedly on the doorstep. (I suspect part of that was the incredible stress of exams. I have never had such a tense exam schedule as that first December, including my first semester of college, when I wrote four exams in two days and had to switch to my left hand on the last one because my right hand hurt too much. In the UK, your entire grade may be based on the final exam/paper, and it sucks substantially.)

Not during the long phone calls. Maybe a little during the round-robin calls, where the phone would be passed from person to person as Mumsy Dearest and my sisters tried to make cookies and dinner while talking on the phone.

Not when I searched the internet for pictures of Maine in the summer, and then Maine in the autumn.

It wasn’t until after my masters year ended, and I went back home and came back again to Edinburgh, that I was quite certain that everything I loved still existed, and would continue to exist until I was there to see it again.

This is not true, of course. Favorite pizza places close, as NTS discovered this trip. Family pets grow terminally old; expecting a dog to live past fifteen is not really reasonable. People are not immortal either, but of all the realities an expat has to confront, this is the one my mind avoids, and the only one that can’t be avoided. What if something happens, and we’re on the other side of an ocean? The only thing to do about it is to stay home, and expats agree–if not everyone else does–that that’s no way to live. As with many smaller things in travel and in life, you can only make your decisions, trust to luck, and try to accept what comes. And enjoy every minute while you have it. When travelling, all minutes are fleeting. You may not be there when they come around again, so you take them now.

Big things, though–back roads in Maine in the summer, apple orchards, friends in Boston and western MA–these are never going away. Not in my lifetime. That’s what trips home remind me. These places, these things, are there, whether I’m there to see them or not. And more importantly, they’ll be there when I get back.

Engagement Photos

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My best friend got married in May, and my lovely sister-in-law in July, and NTS’s cousin in September. It’s a year for weddings. Last weekend I even had the fun of wedding dress shopping with a friend of mine who’s having a wedding here in Edinburgh in the spring. So you could say I’ve got weddings on the brain. Luckily for you, I’ve also got a blog. So let me re-open my long-neglected series on weddings with a series of pictures.

Shortly after NTS and I got engaged, we went to check out the prospective site for our impending nuptials. Once we had checked that it had everything we needed for a wedding–roof, ocean, road–we held an impromptu engagement photo shoot. A little taste of what was to happen on that very spot, eight months later.

Engagement 1

If we’d been in good earnest, we wouldn’t have done it on our way home from my parents’ house with the sun setting, and I wouldn’t be dressed in something I nipped from my sister’s closet on the way out.

Engagement 2

Well, I might have, but it would have been more premeditated.

Engagement 3

We probably would have packed a more sophisticated camera than my old point-and-shoot.

Engagement 4

But we didn’t need the photos for invitations or party decorations. Just for memories.

Engagement 5

As an aide-de-memoire, they suit admirably. I just stumbled on them again while looking for some documents and thought I’d share. I don’t think anyone has seen these photos before who wasn’t present.

Engagement 6

So young and in love. Whatever happened?

Engagement 7

(Just kidding, dear.)

Engagement 8

Love you.

Put an Egg on It: How to Eat Food without Spending Your Life in the Kitchen

Cooking can be entertainment, community, an art form. It can also be one of those many tasks, like brushing your teeth and taking out the compost, that you have to do almost every day or risk losing your teeth/a smelly kitchen/eating ice cream for dinner again, even though you don’t even want it at this point but don’t feel like losing another 45 minutes to the kitchen.

I like to cook. Sometimes. I really like tasty healthy food, where “healthy” is mostly defined by the freshness of the ingredients and lack of straight sugar.  I dislike gaining lots of weight so my clothes don’t fit right and getting stomach aches. (I really like sugar, too, but have come to the conclusion that eating sugar for dinner every night has poor results.)

The garden chef and the pajama’d nommer in me have come to some compromises. Here are some of the ways they make real food, full of ingredients, without spending hours a day in the kitchen.

1. Read food blogs and recipes. Sometimes when I’m sitting in the office but really don’t want to work on linguistics, I read recipes online. Sometimes I pin them on my pinterest board for future use, sometimes I just note the techniques and use them with completely different ingredients when I’ve run out of conventional combinations in my kitchen.

2. Keep a core of real foods that keep well and cook up easily in your fridge and pantry. NTS does most of the grocery shopping, since it’s on his way home. If I don’t give him a list, he still stocks up on bell peppers (red, green, and yellow; they’re all reasonably priced here), courgette (zucchini), cheddar cheese, milk, greek yoghurt, carrots, chickpeas, hommous, onions, etc. I keep a number of dry whole grains on hand, too, since they cook up with little effort and keep for a long time when dry. A pepper or carrots and some hommous are a quick way to add veggies to lunch. Any whole grain can be cooked up with or without bouillon/stock and mixed with any combination of cooked or uncooked veggies to make a filling side dish or meal.

3. Leftovers! Making two of three days worth of food doesn’t take much more effort than making a single meal. Cooking for an hour is suddenly a lot less problematic when you share the results over several days. At least double the amount of grain you make, as it takes literally no extra effort and can be used for salads for the next few days.

4. Put an egg on it. An egg or two over easy, with the yolk soaking into everything, makes leftover grains much richer. If you’re good at poaching eggs, that would probably work too. If you can poach an egg, though, you probably know these things already. Today’s lunch, for example, is yesterday’s mushroom, kale, sweet potato, edam cheese, and bulgar wheat salad with the addition of a chopped red pepper and eggs. Not practical if you’re going in to the office, but you can always use it for dinner, and it takes less than ten minutes.

Put an egg on it

I can’t decide whether that looks appealing or weird. It was tasty, though.

5. Know when to compromise. I use bouillon cubes instead of making my own stock; dried herbs instead of fresh; canned beans instead of dried; pre-made salsa, spaghetti sauce, indian sauces and (whole-grain) pasta. You have to find the mix that works for your life.

Do eat the fresh veggies, though.

How do you fit real food and cooking into your life?

Five Things

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I’m back from the States! All the clever things I have to say about that can wait until a future post, though.

I’ve meaning for a while to find some way of sharing things that are awesome, but self-explanatory enough not to need entire blog posts. Ashley of The Accidental Olympian (who by the time I found her blog lived in Alaska, and then Chicago, but that’s her story) showed me the way with her no-nonsense approach, MondayFiveFavs.

Monday isn’t really my best day for blogging, though. I like a cumulative approach, so I’ll probably just jot things down as I think of them. You can expect my five things around Wednesday. Ish. These, for example, were mostly written on Wednesday. But then I wanted pictures.

Now to keep each of these from becoming long enough to be split off into its own post.

1. Cold-brew coffee. As soon as summer hit, I started craving iced coffee. It has not caught in on Scotland, possibly because there’s so seldom a genuine need to lower your core temperature. I started with this tutorial from Hungry Girl Por Vida for the method. Not being one for sweet coffee or cream, I use 2 parts milk to one part coffee concentrate instead of Cindy’s homemade creamer, although now that I’ve checked out the recipe again, I may have to reconsider.

I brew the coffee for about 24 hours in a large glass jar from Ikea. Instead of waiting the coffee to drip from the grounds, I pour it into a saucepan, and then back into the jar through a bag made from 9″ x 9″ square of cotton muslin. Then I squeeze every drop from the bag with my bare hands and rinse it out.

This is the best coffee I have ever made. Which is impressive, since I use the same 2-quid-a-bag coffee from the German grocery story that I’ve bought since I got here. It just tastes better cold brewed. I know as far as iced coffee is concerned, this is because the hot coffee gets bitter when you refrigerate it. And having made coffee for the week–about a ten-minute time investment–I have coffee ready any time I want it, hot or cold. So thank you, Cindy, for some good advice.

2. Drinking my iced coffee from a mason jar. I am such a redneck. I tried bringing it to the office in plastic and in steel, but it just didn’t taste right. And mason jars don’t leak coffee in your bag like regular supermarket jam jars, which I use for more solid things. This is still less redneck than any alcohol that comes in a mason jar. I think. Which leads us to…

Apple Pie Moonshine

3. Alcohol that comes in a mason jar. Specifically, Apple Pie Moonshine. I suspect I will not be able to find this in Scotland, but it sure kept me company in western MA. Drink responsibly.

4. Spotify. Like Pandora, it streams music and pays royalties in exchange for listening to occasional ads. I find the ration of music to ad very reasonable. Pandora does not work on UK IP addresses, so this is not so much a preference for one platform over another as it is a convenience (as hulu unblocker breaks down often). I think it’s safe to say that I would never listen to new music if not for free Spotify.

(Fun fact: I believe both platforms now have web players, so if you can’t download programs on your work computer, you can use them in your web browser.)

5. My Disney princess bed. I finally got net curtains for the windows for some privacy. My satisfaction rating for the flat immediately rose 20%. There may have been some extra netting. It may now be a canopy-like headboard.

Disney princess canopy

Kingsley Shacklebolt

Kingsley Shacklebolt says hello. You can’t see him, but he’s a dragon. Some bloggers have cat pictures. Until I get home, you get NTS and dragon pictures.

Now that I’m settling back in, I should be posting several times a week again. Happy weekend!

Just an Afternoon in the Park

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A day or two after our return from Bolton Castle, I found the weather so irresistibly non-rainy that I went to the Meadows for lunch. Just as I was about to go, I heard the far-off drone of bagpipes. Were they getting louder? Slowly, slowly, they were. I didn’t move. Surely all would be revealed in time.

Royal Company of Archers

And so, in the fullness of time, there hove into view a piper and his stalwart companion, the drummer. And then, twenty paces behind, so as to be suitably heralded, a miniature phalanx of Scottish longbowmen, straight out of the past.

Royal Company of Archers

Royal Company of Archers

In a matter of two days, I had moved from medieval Scottish warfare to still-quite-old Scottish warfare. Or at least, the weapons give the impression of age, if the uniforms do not. The Interwebs indicate that this was the Royal Company of Archers. I am at a loss to decide whether this counts as historical or modern. If I wait long enough, it will have been both.

Royal Company of Archers

Royal Company of Archers

It was an interesting lunch break.

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