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Skimming through a North Carolina blog today, I caught a glimpse of something I haven’t seen in a long time. A burrito? you ask. A really, honking big, unnecessary SUV? The sun?

A window screen.

Easter tulips


For me, window screens evoke the feeling of summer. Lying next to the screen window, falling asleep to the sound of peepers (small frogs) with the sun not quite gone from a yellow sky. That’s an old, old memory. Making sure the screens were tacked down at summer camp so the mosquitos wouldn’t get in. Not more than six or seven dozen, anyway. And then finally, when the days had been chilly long enough to convince us that summer really wasn’t coming back, as the leaves turned on the trees and the pine needles carpeted the ground soft orange, taking out the screens and replacing them with storm windows for the winter ahead. And then that happy day in spring, when the snow has retreated to diminshing bunkers on the north sides of hills and the greenhouse effect in the house makes you stretch like a happy cat, putting the screens back in their rightful place for the lengthening days ahead.

They don’t seem to have window screens in Europe.

Easter dinner. Granted, I cooked it on Friday, but that's when I really wanted it.

Easter dinner. Granted, I cooked it on Friday, but that’s when I really wanted it. There’s a pork chop hidden under the apples and parsnips. 

Wait, what?

They don’t. Not in Germany, anyway, or in southern Scotland. The general attitude seems to be that there’s nothing to keep out. There are no mosquitos. I wonder if the legendary, bloodthirsty midgies that plague the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in the twilight stray into the houses in search of sustenance? There are times I wouldn’t have minded a screen to keep out a large fly, or the bee that got into my kitchen unnoticed, but for the most part I much noticed the lack, in Scotland. In Germany, my windows would open onto the lawn, so at night I had a choice to make. Leave the light on to read, or leave the window open. Moths in Germany don’t seem fussy about their source of light.Easter tulips

In a way I didn’t mind the choice so much, though. It felt real, like the inside and the outside weren’t so far apart and sealed off.

So that’s my odd bit of nostalgia for the day: screens. Screens, and living in the woods where they really mattered.

Easter tulips

Woolly Human Universals


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BRID Hey honey, do you want more wool socks?

NTS Yes.

BRID How many?

NTS Four. Why? Is today sock-buying day?

BRID You betcha. Do you want to pick them out?

NTS Not really. Black ones.

BRID What about these stripey ones? They have lots of cushioning, and they’re striped.

NTS No thanks.

BRID Wouldn’t you like me to get you one green pair? So you own one pair of socks that’s not black or white?

NTS Not really.

BRID Hm, not brown, you couldn’t wear them to work with your black suit. How about charcoal? Is charcoal okay?

NTS Charcoal is okay.

BRID reads aloud from page. “Reviewed by Wife of a happy man from Riverton, WY. ‘I bought these for my husband and he really LIKES these socks. Sometimes getting guys to say much about something can be a chore, so the fact that he liked them well enough to say something, is something.’” Well, that about sums it up. These are clearly the socks for you.

Apparently this is a universal husband-wife conversation. Honestly, the fact that NTS said ‘yes’ so quickly when I asked if he wanted wool socks was more of an encomium than I expected to get. I’m interpolating to mean that buying him wool socks is the best present ever, and will continue to do so at every opportunity. Wool socks are a great present. Dumbledore always knows best.

Apples were on sale, so now the eggs perch precariously among the grains and the pears share a punnet.

Apples were on sale, so now the eggs perch precariously among the grains and the pears share a punnet. My kitchen looks delicious this weekend. 


Call Me Captain Ahab


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Who names a whale “Moby-Dick”?

But I digress.

Every researcher has a desiratum. That one whale tome, devoutly to be desired, that promises to provide the lynchpin to so many half-formulated arguments, the firm foundation laid for the great research to come. That one.

The one you can’t get your hands for love or money.

Union of Genius soup van

The ‘Union of Genius’ soup van parked on main campus. It makes me feel smug just walking past it. Yep, just catering to all the geniuses on campus. Like you do. Although since I haven’t read Marx, Kant or Kafka in the past month, I’m not sure they’d condescend to serve me. Maybe if I had a pipe and/or fabulous facial hair. Hmm… [strokes imaginary beard].

At least, not for the kind of money in a grad student’s research budget (read: $0). In civilised countries, that’s what inter-library loan is for. The libraries of the greater East sent a steady diet of obscure hardbacks into my research refrigerator to nourish my burgeoning undergraduate thesis in the hallowed halls of Chestnut Hill. I believe they drew the line at flying in books from Cambridge, England. That seemed fair. Cambridge, MA usually sufficed.

The ILL system around here, though, is a Sisyphean cycle of submitting pleas for books–author, title, and edition painstakingly entered by hand into a stark black-and-white form–waiting, and never hearing from the system again. Three months to go until your due date? Still not enough time. < infinity. I believe my success rate is one lonely book that came in after I had submitted a paper.

On the other hand, it let me work the word Sisyphean* into a sentence, which has never happened before.  While checking the spelling, I can across some gems. For example, the word Maundy, as in Maundy Thursday, refers to the mandate Jesus gives in the Book of John to wash each other’s feet (and love one another generally), and has also come to refer to the giving of alms to the poor that often accompanies the ritual washing of feet on the Thursday before Easter. **

Getting closer to the word itself…


Of or pertaining to Sisyphus; like (that of) Sisyphus; resembling the fruitless toil of Sisyphus; endless and ineffective.

1635   F. Quarles Emblemes iii. xv,   I barter sighs for tears, and tears for grones, Still vainly rolling Sisyphean stones…

1871   J. R. Lowell My Study Windows (1886) 41   The Sisyphean toil of rolling the clammy balls.

- (OED online: ‘Sisyphean’)

… Ew. I’m not sure I want that word near my ILL experience any more, never mind my career. I’ll be going back to my research now. Which is no less disconcerting, but that’s a topic for another post (or two, or three).
*Sisyphus is a figure in Greek mythology, condemned to eternally roll the same stone up a hill. Application of the metaphor to the wider view of one’s career is widely considered depressing and should be avoided, no matter how obvious the parallel.
** I would like to the source, but you can’t log in to the OED online without a subscription. I’m not going to lie, having a permanent and easy subscription to the OED and free access to libraries is one of the greatest perqs of being a lifetime academic. 
Finding the original attribution of a meme is pretty nearly impossible. I'll credit Disney for the art though.

Finding the original attribution of a meme is pretty nearly impossible. I’ll credit Disney for the art though.

Tactile Experiences


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So, my Darlings. You have been woefully neglected of late. This, of course, is because I have been Doing Things.

George Square narcissi

On Saturday we had an SCA (re-enactors) get-together to focus on natural dying and other period crafts. It looks like a great deal of work, but the colours they obtained were lovely. If I lived in that time period, the monotony of wearing undyed grey and off-white all the time would probably inspire me to take up dying. Not to mention that my current favourite hobby, freehand embroidery, would not be nearly as enjoyable or effective unless I did. Nevertheless, I think I’ll focus on the later stages of the process for now instead of the colouring phase.

George Square blossoms

Afterward, we joined other friends for a delightful fondue party.

George Square narcissi

On Monday, I got the most extraordinary new phone. The speaker on my flip phone had died, and not being able to make or receive calls was getting old. (Granted, I figured this out 2 months ago, but since the texting still worked, I was fine 60 percent of the time.) Since I’m seldom out of wifi range, I require very little from a cell phone–texting, sending and receiving calls, and the ability to check my voicemail without wanting to smash the phone (because apparently businesses leave voicemail when they can’t reach you instead of sending a text or email like a sensible human being). The shop was out of the single inexpensive flip phone they carry. It’s a miracle to find one at all, really. The young gentleman offered me the choice of the 10 quid non-flip phone, of the variety we called ‘chocolate bar’ when flip phones first came in, since it sat fat and unmoving in the hand, and a fifty quid, much shinier flip phone. Needless to say, I am now the proud owner of this little beauty:

pink phone

The last one in the store, she comes in “carnival pink”, which sounds more like a nail treatment than an electronic. She actually weighs less than my broken flip phone, and the buttons are nicer. Really, it handles more like a child’s toy than an electronic, with a nice tactile feel. The day they stopped making mainstream devices (phones, name-brand mp3 players) that you could operate by touch alone, without looking at them, was a sad day. It’s funny that they call it “touch” technology, because the big change was that you couldn’t actually operate them by touch; you need your eyes. Which makes the silly devices very difficult to operate while exercising, or even walking. How does a device you have to stop walking to operate increase convenience?

George Square narcissi

Maybe it’s because my eyesight is so poor that I adore the option to operate primarily without sight. I’m the person who uses every keyboard shortcut in Word by muscle memory because mousing takes longer. I can locate nearly anything in my house or laptop bag without turning on the light. So I like my new phone, with the easy-to-feel buttons.

George Square blossoms

I also went into the office on Monday to work on a research paper, but it was so quiet inside–nearly everyone is away for the Easter break–and so beautifully outside that the office didn’t stand a chance. I worked in the local park for a few hours and went home. George Square narcissi

On Tuesday I fled before the grimness of the silent office altogether. I went in long enough to purge my apartment of glass (the most convenient glass recycling is near the bus stop). I collected my work laptop and four of the most relevant books and vamoosed for the duration. Now that the sun easily clears the houses across the street, my living room is a much more inviting space than the office. Without the lure of colleagues, the office has little draw.


And my living room is much better for a quick yoga or hooping break. Sad fact: hooping 15-20 minutes a day is less beneficial than I hoped. It seems you have to make rather a commitment to it, and if I’m going to do that, I might as well exercise properly. But it will do for quick mid-day breaks or a morning pick-me-up. It’s not bad for wall art, either.

George Square narcissi

The Long Now of Historical Linguistics


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Working with language between A.D. 800 and A.D. 1400 lends itself to a different interpretation of time than, say, computer science. Doing research into historical costuming and craftsmanship on the side doesn’t help, either. NTS laughed at me last night for sputtering when I read about the “ancient” craft of knitting, attested as far back as 11th century Egypt. Ancient? The 11th century? Most of it wasn’t even a millennium ago.


narcissus closeup

At least I’m not alone in this view. There’s always the Long Now contingent, whose projects focus on “not the short now of next quarter, next week, or the next five minutes, but the “long now” of centuries.” (I suggest reading the linked page; it’s a fascinating read and well-written.) And then there are my fellow researchers, who open articles (in 2001) with snippets like this:

Recent trends in Frisian linguistics

This paper presents an overview of the main trends that can be distinguished in
the study of Frisian linguistics since the Second World War…

narcissus field

Yes. Recent.

overexposed narcissus

I suspect that historical linguists have been living in the Long Now for quite some time.

Kirkcaldy Farmers Market


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On Saturday we visited SCA friends to hang out and work on historical projects. I finished a project, in fact, and I’m delighted with it. I want desperately to share it with you and gloat, but it’s a present, so I can’t post it yet. I’m going to have to wait a long time for satisfaction on this one, since Christmas is really not just around the corner (no matter where Santa may be).

Inspired by last Monday’s post, I decided to take advantage of the farmers market that comes to Kirkcaldy, where I was meeting my friends, every month or so. I’ve always like farmers markets. First for the carnival atmosphere, and later, when I had abandoned little debbies for homemade bread and brownies, when I realised that it’s a carnival of things that I actually like to look at and eat. Win. It’s like the Common Ground Fair, my very favoritest fair of the year, in miniature. It’s proof that outside my silly city residence, life in the country goes on as it always has, and will continue to do. The local farmers market shows a 100% drop in sheep dog trials compared to the fair, though; if someone could get on that, that would be great. (You don’t know what a good time is until you’ve watched a sheep dog herd runner ducks. Now that’s quality entertainment.)

Common Ground Fair poster

Common Ground Fair poster

On this occasion, seduced by a certain hot pepper jelly, we stocked up on jam, chutney and sauce. The whisky marmalade was a temptation, too, but as the primary reason I buy marmalade is to use in marmalade old fashioneds, it seemed redundant.

jams and cheese

I saved the whisky for the cheese. Cheese produced on an island (Arran), filled with scotch from the same island. Being a locovore in Scotland would play hell with your fruit and vegetable consumption, but it would do wonderful, wonderful things to your cheeses.

Basil on the window sill, along with a stoneware goblet from a potters we passed during our honeymoon on the Isle of Skye and the sea glass we picked up near Ben Nevis last summer.

Basil on the window sill, along with a stoneware goblet from a potters we passed during our honeymoon on the Isle of Skye and the sea glass we picked up near Ben Nevis last summer.


Hooping for Fun and Profit


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Recently, I bought a hula hoop. A midweight, 1.5kg (3.3lb) hula hoop. It looks something like this:

The hoop as art

The hoop as art

In theory, a hoop of that weight would be the second stage in the evolution of a sport hooper.

In theory, I’m working on my research right now.

I chose the heavier hoop based on a couple of reviewers’ (I love people who leave really helpful reviews) comments that they quickly moved on to heavier hoops. I decided to get the medium hoop, and just make sure to start off slowly. No point acquiring multiples (hula hoops, small frying pans, husbands) if you’re only going to use one. (Unless one is on sale, or likely to wear out, or you have family who might want to try it out who actually live in the same country…).

I was so good.

Day 1:

3 minutes.

Turns out there is room in my living room, as long as I am the only person in it. Hooping not too difficult, although the movements when I twirl it “backward” (if left to my own devices, I will always push forward with my right hand) are exaggerated and not smooth. Minimal movements seem to work best, but only once you have the knack of them. Tempted to do more than the 3 minutes prescribed by the manual, but I’ll see what my body has to say about it tonight.

Abdomen immediately below ribs sore, right where the hoop hits most often. Reviewers mentioned this, but also that it was worth it. Wisdom of starting with 3 minutes a day becoming clearer.

I think I’m standing up straighter. Maybe. This is totally going to work.

I’m not feeling that bad, actually. I wonder if I should try it again when I get home. (This is clearly a bad plan. But am I going to let that stop me?)

Yes. Yes, I am. I want to still have some interest in doing this in the future.

o O o

I stuck to the recommended 3 minutes for at least three days. Maybe 3 minutes twice a day. Sometimes. A week and a half later, I’m up to seven minutes at a time. Seven is sort of like 5. Besides, I don’t take orders from manuals that badly written (translated?). (Which is probably why my tiny food processor started to sell of burning the second time I used it. Apparently you’re not supposed to run it for more than a minute without letting it cool down. But I will not be oppressed by paper! Degrees don’t count.)

So far, I hoop every morning (every one!), usually while watching Avatar. For a sever-minute session, it’s good to have a plot you can pick up on quickly. Like, say, a children’s half-hour TV program.

I don’t know if I would call hooping entertaining, exactly, once you’ve got the hang of it. It’s certainly not a hardship to do it, though, while watching television. For someone who prefers to have something to do while watching a show, this provides an active alternative to knitting without requiring extra brain power. It’s rather zen.

o O o

Happy birthday to my wonderful other half, who gave up his comfortable life to follow me to the other side of the world. I’m so very glad he did.

Poetry on Rose Street


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Lamp in the ocean

Yesterday I gave you a picture of a lamp tossed by a salt sea. Today you get the rest of the series: woodcut-like frames of metal that tell the story of an Orkney childhood. I still don’t know what the building was whose sides play host to the art; it wasn’t labelled. Usually one would expect a library or other public building, but whether any such building is situated on Rose Street is doubtful.














George Mackay Brown (1921-1996)


The Rut and Rose Street


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I, Dear Readers, have fallen into a rut.

Rose Street

Rose Street

When I first told everyone I was going to grad school, the first response generally: You’re moving to Scotland?! What does NTS think about moving to Scotland?

The second question was: What will NTS do in Scotland? He’s going with you, right? (The consensus, somehow, was that he would end up as a bartender, though a stubborn minority held out for sheep herding.)

The Rose and Crown

The Rose and Crown

The third question, though, was invariably: How do you keep working on a project every day for three years? How do you motivate yourself? I could never do that.*

If the first two seem a little husband-centric, it’s because no one who knows me was actually surprised to find out I was going for a PhD. Honestly, they weren’t that surprised that it involved leaving the country for an extended period of time, either, since that’s something I seem to do every four years. It’s a funny sort of circadian rhythm involving wanderlust, actual wandering and heimweh–the longing for home. 

Planter on Rose Street

I didn’t really understand the question, to be honest. I was never a works-well-with-others type, so setting my own schedule appealed to me just fine. (I was also the one likely to go do my high school math exercises sitting on top of my desk in the back row, which somehow didn’t bother my teacher at all. I never really got the hang of standard furniture.) Having worked in an office for three years–two of them quite happily–I decided that I would just stick to nine-to-five workweek and everything would work out fine. Ok, my office job was eight to five, but even imaginary diligence has its limits. But I had confidence. I did get through my undergrad with honors; obviously I had some sort of system for getting through everything.

The Black Cat

In double hindsight, on the other side of last year’s MSc degree, I recall some details that had previously escaped my mind. Like the fact that said system involved staying up until one or two in the morning Sunday nights to do calculus problem sets, and that going to a party first and writing a paper afterward somehow works out fine when you’re nineteen. It’s not until your mid-twenties that you realise that you actually like sleep.

Being in my (ahem) mid-twenties, and having determined through trail and red eyes that yes, I really do prefer to sleep at night and work not-when-I’m-supposed-to-be-sleeping, I determined that for my doctorate, I would keep work and home life well separate. Having an office in the department aided this decision, being much handier for working than the undergrad library. I go into the office almost every day. This has resulted in a several-fold increase in interactions with colleagues, which is a decided improvement. I may or may not spend part of the time I’m there researching tiny houses and medieval clothing practices, which is perhaps less helpful. I go to the office, I come home from the office.

The Black Cat full front

You see where this is going: in a circle. In the same circle, where the variation is between walking and riding the bus, going along the park (nice, but windy) or the road. Stopping at the (affordable) whole foods shop on the way home. You get the picture.

But today, today I went to the bank. And to the pharmacy, because it’s on the way to the bank. And to another apothecary, where I bought tea, because I passed it walking to the bank. I also passed though part of Rose Street, down in New Town, which I usually only do when I’m going to the sporting goods stores. (“Hill-walking” and “trekking” — hiking — being very popular in Scotland, there are a number of shops catering to it in any tourist areas. I find this both more appealing and more dangerous than tartan tea towels and Scotsman’s kilt tee-shirts. Incidentally, do you know what’s worn under a Scotsman’s kilt? Nothing; everything is in perfect working order.) It’s a funny thing when you only go into the tourist section to do something as mundane as go to the bank.

So today I saw Edinburgh with new eyes, with tourist eyes. And as I always carry a carry a camera for your benefit, Dear Readers, you too can see New Town through my today eyes.

The water at the foot of the hill is the Firth of Forth, and Fife can be seen as a hilly shadow beyond.

The water at the foot of the hill is the Firth of Forth, and Fife can be seen as a hilly shadow beyond.

Today I start to reconsider whether my routine is helping me get things done, or making me stale. I don’t expect answers today, but at least I have questions. As every academic knows, you don’t get answers until you have questions.

A teaser for tomorrow's post

A teaser for tomorrow’s post!

Pavlovian Responses and Other Stories

My Monday:

I just saw a girl walk by with green white and orange balloons. I was struck by a sudden strong desire for whiskey before noon (a traditional holiday observance at certain universities, not to name names), which subsided only when I realised it was already after 12. Not in Boston, though, so I retain the option for some point in the next 4 hours. (Which will probably make it easier to actually get whiskey, as I suspect liquor laws prevent sales before noon. I’m not sure whether this is more likely to affect drunks or just people trying to get their shopping done.)

Possibly my favourite sentence so far today (sadly not from my research):

I’m proud to say that I now make a full-time living as a professional yurt builder.

It’s possible I’m a little jealous. It sounds like a pretty great job. I always liked building portable structures. One summer I remember as a summer of playing Gypsy with our flexible flyer “gypsy wagon”woo and setting up encampments all over the woods and field. (Roma, Travellers and any other appropriate terminology flew right over my head at that age, and as to this day I’ve never actually seen anyone of a similar background, I had little to nothing to go on.)

These days I mostly just go camping. It doesn’t stop us from creating the best encampments ever. Our last encampment featured a sapling table, which we actually used to make and eat dinner and play games. The fairy lights strung on poles around the top provided the crowning touch, along with a fair amount of light.

The Old Frisian word is used for ‘marriage’ and ‘guardianship’. To/of a woman, of course. My little feminist soul hurts.

Got caught up in reading feminist blogs. So much is wrong. Now the rest of my soul hurts, too. I really need to remember: one article at a time. Maybe two. Not a whole year of archives at a time. Since I usually read about permaculture and other happy things, this is a thing I forget when I read about less cheerful topics. I feel like I really should have gotten more out of the two hours I just didn’t spend on research. I think I’ve cheated myself, somehow. Remember, kids: the internet is not just a toy.


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