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.

Spring: Evoking the Green(-Eyed) Monster


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pink flowers

Be jealous; be very jealous. This week, at least, my weather in Scotland is better than yours. (I’m looking at you, New England.) I suppose we also did pass the polar vortex by, but I think we compensated by winds strong enough to force cyclists off the roads and blow cars off bridges (at least one car was blown off the Forth bridge, the main commuting arterial between Edinburgh and points north, before it was closed down for the day). 

pink flowers

But not today.

Today is not as sunny and warm as the rest of the week, which had sunny highs of 11 C (52 F), but today I bring you flowers.

red flowers

Again. I think that makes three posts in a row. I am utterly unrepentant.

You’re just jealous.

red flowers

The Brocmanner Treehouse


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cherry blossoms

Last week, I finished brushing up my translation skills on one Old Frisian text, so today I started on a new one. Alas, instead of simple English translations, this version translates wandering Frisian sentences with even more convoluted German sentences. If I thought the introduction to this edition was hard to read in German, the translations are a thousand times harder.

cherry blossoms 2

Reading the text, I feel like some kids ran away to build a tree house in the woods, so that they would have a nice, secret place for their super secret club. But the club has to have rules, guys, we can’t just do anything in our super secret clubhouse. So um… yeah. The president. We’ll have a president, and he has to keep eing president until his year is up. And he’ll rule until the Sunday before May Day. Unless May Day is on a Sunday, and then it’s the Sunday before. And this is another thing that the club members want, that before the club meeting all the club members have to put money in the kidde to make sure they’re good. And if someone isn’t good, then they have to pay twice as much because it’s on a Sunday, but if somebody says they were bad and they really weren’t, that person has to pay. And if somebody accuses somebody else about gold but the person says “I haven’t taken any gold”, then he can escape like that.


That’s what my afternoon has been like. Just little boys in a clubhouse, making their bizarrely complicated rules. And they have all the literary finesse of ten-year-old boys because there was no literature in Frisia at the time, and besides, they were subsistence farming colonists, not authors.

I’ve got to say, it is a little more endearing thinking of the authors as small, excited boys. Newpaper hats, water balloons, a nice big banner that says ‘no girLs’ aLowwed’.

Calvin & Hobbes | Bill Watterson

Calvin & Hobbes | Bill Watterson


My Favorite Career Strategy: Not Networking


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Today I went to a 3-hour workshop on how to go about starting an academic career: where to find job listings, what they’re looking for on CVs and interviews in this field, etc. (In case it hasn’t been clear, my intentions after getting my PhD are to set up as a research and teaching professor of linguistics and Germanic languages at a college in New England. How’s that for a career in a nutshell.)

It was immensely informative. Everyone knows the basic CV and interview tips, but discussing all the things I’ve been wondering about industry-specific detail was reassuring.Also scary as hell, because looking for a job is soooo much effort and so many applications and interviews, when in the end, all you’re really looking for is one single (permanent) position. Unless you’re one of my professors, who, forty years ago, applied for a job and got it. He’s the one we shake our fists at when we get frustrated. Except that he’s so sweet, you really can’t even grudge him his good fortune.

In the first 15 minutes, a term came up: networking. Networking is the most over-discussed, over-worked term, that whenever it comes up I want to hide in my office and read obscure languages until it passes. And considering how much I whine when I have to translate things with insufficient spelling reform, that’s saying something.

Except. Networking per se sucks. If I go into a conference with the intent to network, I get annoyed by the idea of forced social interaction. But meeting people with whom you have a lot in common and similar life experiences, who are working within a similar framework as you but on different projects? Discussing both shop and non-shop topics? Kind of fun. Kind of what a lot of people enjoy spending their life doing. Networking sucks, but having honest conversations with other academics is pretty much a cocktail party. (Cocktails optional. Coffee not optional.) At least, it is if you’re a woman who doesn’t give a damn about posturing and one-up-manship. Down with networking. Up with meeting interesting people. 

Even so, if you mention networking to me, there will be a pavlovian response, and you probably won’t enjoy it.

Also! I made a friend. Who works in my department, but on a different floor. It turns out I don’t actually hate people.

Well, not all people.

Definitely don't hate my husband, for example.

I definitely don’t hate my husband, for example.

UPDATE: My 288th post! It’s doubly gross! Ew.


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