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.

BONUS:

towel rack

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

 

Audobon, Sturbridge and Selfies

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I spent much of May in the US. Naturally, I thought of nothing but taking pictures for the blog, and especially for you, Dear Reader. When I got back to Scotland, I was too excited about travel and being back in Scotland to sum of my vacation coherently. (So much happened, actually, I’m still not sure I can sum it up coherently. It’s a good thing I took pictures so I can reconstruct the narrative in my head. The Accuracy of memory is highly overrated, anyway–all memory is narrative, reconstructed from what we felt and visualised the last time we accessed the memory. But don’t let that stop you.) Now that I’m revising multiple iterations of a paper, though, it seems like a great time to give you a virtual tour through my memories.

Audobon

A wildlife sanctuary in eastern MA.

Audobon Sturbridge

Old Sturbridge Village. In the US, June is actually summer, and the weather was as perfect as it looks.

Sturbridge

Mumsy Dearest is fabulous, naturally.

Sturbridge

In sunglasses, no on can see you squint. Or blink. Sneezing they might notice.

Stockbridge Market and the Water of Leith

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Sunday, NTS and I went on an Adventure.

Stockbridge Market

First to the Stockbridge Market. Lots of organic, handmade, tasty, etc.

Paella

So much paella.

Autumn apple

I enjoyed my first apple of the season. Apples never taste so good at any other time than they do in fall.

Steampunk coffee? Yes, please.

Steampunk coffee? Yes, please.

Unlike in the US, when local apples aren’t available, there seem to be only 3 varieties: Gala, something yellowish, and sometimes Pink Lady. They’re not a bit like the real thing (although Pink Lady are pretty good, once you get past the sugar). I will happily eat apples in quantity all autumn.

Steampunk coffee with a side of NTS? Hoo boy!

Steampunk coffee with a side of NTS? Hoo boy!

And make no mistake, I’m pretty sure it’s autumn here. Summer happens in June and early July, and then we start a gentle descent toward November rains.

Stockbridge

Once you’ve made up your mind to fall, though, you get a long and lovely one.

Stockbridge

After loading up with sale raspberries, local apples, and a Christmas present or two, we headed out past the most fanciful Pizza Express I’ve ever seen…

Yes, this is indeed a pizza shop.

Yes, this is indeed a pizza shop.

and down along the Water of Leith.

Water of Leith walkway

In the early spring, this was quite the torrent, but now it’s settled down.

Water of Leith

It reminded me of the river behind our house Fall was always the best time to pick our way up or down it, from rock to rock, catching frogs. We always came back with wet feet or shoes and trousers full of burs. It was the best.

Kitty!

Kitty!

Water of Leith

Once past the Water of Leith, we made our way to the Botanical Gardens, where we enjoyed our tea.

Thanks for the clarification.

Thanks for the clarification.

But those are pictures for another day.

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.

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