Glasgow Cathedral T 12

If you visit Europe, I strongly encourage you to visit churches, and stately homes, and to keep your eyes out for the plaques. For the battle flags, torn to tatters. For the endless procession of names, each kept in its own place of honor, in the corner of a room, or on a memorial outside the village church.

I don’t think that we who have not served can have any sense of how truly devastating war is, and I really don’t think we as Americans can understand how terrible World War I was for Europe. By looking around, though, we can kind of get a sense for things, if we really take the time to contextualize the memorials.

Memorials are local, in the UK, in a way that they are not in the US. Here, war cemeteries tend to be where we encounter war memorials, if we encounter them at all. I remember there’s one in Concord CA, but that I only remarked it after we’d returned – it was simply part of the background, before. I believe there’s one on the waterfront in Vallejo, as well. But these are different to Scottish memorials, in that they’re general memorials. “We remember the men of…” sort of thing, and that’s about it.

The memorials in Scotland were mostly very personal. “In memory of our glorious dead who fell in the great war 1914 – 1919,” followed by a list of 38 names. “Faithful unto death.”

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George’s Square, Glasgow
Cambusbarron Village Church

Some memorials are grand, meant to be the centerpiece, such as the one at the center of George’s Square, in Glasgow. Some stand forth to say, “our village gave dearly,” such as the one in front of the Cambusbarron village church; Cambusbarron was our home village for the last year we were in Scotland, so we got to walk past their monument any time we needed something from the village. Cambusbarron, at the height of its industrial vigor, housed a few thousand people and had a school capacity of 270. Cambusbarron volunteered 200 men to serve in World War 1, 38 of whom have names on the village memorial, as they (and a few others, unintentionally forgotten) never returned.

I don’t think I can really understand living with not only the sheer loss (1/5 of a whole generation of Cambusbarron died). I also don’t think I can possibly understand the trauma of having 1/5 of my generation absent forever, and the remainder of my generation would have seen them die. You see, quite a lot of villages joined up together, and were kept together, particularly in Scotland, where military service is a very … clan-centered activity. You join up with your mates, you join a particular regiment because that’s the regiment your village joins, and you go off to war. And then you spend the rest of your life walking past the ghosts of the dead every day on your way to the market.

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I remember my father becoming emotional about Veteran’s day, and not understanding why, not being able to conceive of why he – a true 1950’s man, for whom crying just didn’t happen – would be overwhelmed with sadness when the mood would hit him and he’d remember those lost in his own experience of war. From what I know, my father was not sent to Korea because he was in the Air National Guard (which wasn’t deployed). He was a pathologist in the Navy during the Vietnam war or shortly thereafter. But I don’t know why he cried, and it’s now too late to ask. Was it for classmates? There must have been lost classmates, considering my father attended Massanutten Military Academy. I simply do not know. And, of course, it’s not something he spoke of, at least not to me.

Veteran’s Day is not a day to celebrate America. It is not a day to celebrate America’s military might. It is not a day to beat the drums of war.

Veteran’s Day is a day to remember that war brings death, trauma, and generations of grief.


potpourri & errata

““Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins, travel writer

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A bit of this, a bit of that, this post. First, we’d like to officially explain to the wee hag tromping out in the garden in her wellies that it’s time for her to shove off for the season. But Winter seems rather of a mind to stay for another weekend or three, park on the porch, blow cold all over everything, and criticize our efforts at bundling up. She continues to inconvenience us all with sadistic joy – having been a guest we’d not minded too much lo, these last months, she’s making sure that just before she goes, we remember her. BRRR!

Before the auld hag decided to give us one last memorable blow, Spring was, in fact, springing right along. The snowdrops didn’t show this year – perhaps not enough snow? – but the crocuses are well up (and withered, because of the latest frost), and we even managed to have daffodils in time for St. David’s Day, which was the first of March. As always, those of Welsh ancestry here put a daff in a buttonhole or in their hair – some of them not forced in greenhouses, but picked from the yard or the side of the road. Tulips, which are generally only in bloom here during the last days of April and into May, are pushing up already. The fields – never wholly leaving off their greenery – have shed their dead frozen browns and fairly glow with new life; a few of the more gullible trees have grudgingly put forth a few tentative buds. The hedgerows – always the last to believe that winter has passed – will not be far behind.

In the field next door, the farmer has out new breeding stock. The sheep all have blue bottoms, to show they’ve been visited, and they’re carefully brought in each night to prevent any crafty rams from … perhaps opening the gate and wandering into the field? Prevent competing farmers from wandering off with their impregnated stock? Who knows.

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We met with friends for dinner in the city the other night. We’d planned to celebrate a few things – T. finishing another manuscript, getting a really good reviews from Kirkus for her upcoming release, and, quietly a birthday, as well as celebrating D. finishing his corrections. He, alas, disobliged us and has not yet quite finished (having had to finish corrections for a journal piece first). Being of a thorough mien – and not at all interested in further rounds of correction – he’s taken his time, but promises that he’ll be finished before Monday, and has planned a meeting with the advisers again for next Tuesday. Meanwhile, T. is still celebrating, since her mother got her personalized balloons… if you have a remotely unusual name, much of your adolescence seems to be spent searching for versions of your name on license plate key chains and T-shirts. T. is still pleased out of all reason with having her name put on a balloon. Oh, and on, you know, book covers. Compensations for adolescence at last.

On the job front – academic work remains scarce, and applying for multiple jobs seems to be as effective as shouting down a well. In many ways, it’s “who you know,” and D. is trying to decide whether he wants to exploit some connections or if he even wants to work within academia. He’s slightly burnt out on the whole thing. Time will tell. Meanwhile, we finally got the online appointment-maker to work, and are set up to give our biometric details to the UK in return for them extending D’s student visa to August. And then, it’s goodbye Scotland (or, we’re told, we could take a 3-hour train trip to Aberdeen, on the off-chance that they would do our biometric ID’s on a walk-in basis and that getting our biometric ID’s done would speed the process and give us the chance to apply and pay £1,000 for new visas, yay!).

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That’s something that rattles around in our heads every day – we are already a little sorry not to have taken pictures backstage at the Royal Concert Hall because “our Christmas show was the last time we’re going to perform there!” We have “last time”-itis, a disease that can strike the victim with intermittent bursts of nostalgia. T. finds herself a little teary-eyed at the end of chorus each week, because this is the last season and the last time we’ll rehearse to sing a Choral Classics concert… (which isn’t quite true; we may have one more in May). Lately she’s been sad that she didn’t buy the score to the Berlioz Te Deum and chose to rent instead. Not that all the scores on earth will be lost after the performance – or even tomorrow – but no, the one marked-up from these rehearsals is the one she wants, and is finagling her way into buying a fresh clean score (she claims that she got the one she has wet in the rain, so it shouldn’t be returned, as it’s damaged) to return with the rented ones, and keeping the other… She does not believe she will regret renting the score to Karol Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater, however, because she’s having trouble falling in love with it – which is rare. We have several weeks of rehearsal left before our April 21st performance of that, so time will tell… perhaps she’ll find herself weepy over the clashing modal pitches and parallel vocal movements, which give a plaintive, lamenting sound to the work (it only makes sense, after all Stabat Mater references Mary as “standing mother,” who stood and wept at the cross. A Stabat Mater is a simpler form of requiem.)

All in all, chorus is going well, our Benign Dictator, er, Director, continues to grumble and insult us throughout rehearsals, and and this time around, the doors remain open for tenors (although D. would REALLY like for there to be no more, and particularly no more who are both loud and off-key and can’t count!) and basses (they burble along and who knows / cares if they’re on pitch)) as well as first sopranos (there are enough of them, if only they had some power in their voices) and altos to join even now. However, with the addition of a few gents after Christmas, the tenors are finally coming quite loudly into their own – let’s emphasize quite loudly – they’re so loud that they’re coming into someone else’s own at times, but they’re balancing out. (D. wears an earplug on the left side, so as to be able to hear anything other than … well). The second sopranos continue to be superb, of course. They even have purple pencils which say so.

In response to a few requests, we are, with much amusement, going to post more pictures of our food. While we can no longer in any fashion consider ourselves food bloggers, we still haven’t broken the habit of snapping a shot of the odd cake or icing attempt. In truth, we get ideas visually all the time for meals and that’s why food magazines – or, magazines marketed to women, anyway – have a wealth of glossy, hyper-realistic photographic food images. Our food will *never* photograph that well, but that only means it’s not Photoshopped plastic, and it’s edible…

First up is the classic Southern Italian ribollita. It’s served in many an Italian restaurant, but it’s definitely country food – it’s the Italian equivalent of beans on toast. The word literally means “reboiled,” and apparently, in feudal times peasants gathered the leftovers from the trenchers of their “betters” and dumped them in a pot at home with a little cabbage or kale. The dish always includes leftover bread… so imagine them really clearing the table, and eating after the lords, plate and all.

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Our ribollita included bread, but not much bread lasts long enough in this house to go stale! We used instead a chewy and tangy sourdough toast with flax seeds which we made with whole wheat flour – but apparently this batch used white winter wheat, because the bread looks very golden blonde – probably from the flax! Anyway, simmering some lovely cannellini beans, zucchini, onions, carrots, chunked tofu and crushed tomatoes made our “soup” which we garnished with a few shreds of parmesan. Sadly we had no cavolo nero – the dark, leafy Italian kale – or it would have been perfect. As it was, it neared perfection well enough, managing to be both toast and veggie soup at once.

We are eating tons of lentils these days – they’re such a good, inexpensive source of protein that there’s certainly reason to add them to anything. (We were a little alarmed at Alton Brown’s lentil cookie recipe, but… there’s truly no reason to add them to anything. Even cookies… We’ll be trying those… eventually.) We make lentil soup – curried mulligatawny for T., and a blended lentil and veg soup for D., which T. says looks like sludgy brick mortar, because he blends it too much — but, to each their own.

We grew up with lentil loaves, but that’s not been one of the things we’ve made, because… well. As we said: we grew up with lentil loaves. Like a casserole, the “loaf” tends to be considered potluck food, akin to the omnivore cafeteria lunch “mystery meat.” It’s something which might be good, depending on whose mother made it. T. claims that her mother’s lentil loaf was pretty good, but not something even that cookery paragon made very often. D. doesn’t much remember his mother making lentil loaf, but lentil patties, instead… regardless, none of these memories were as clear as they should have been, so we decided it was time to resurrect this dish to see if there’s a reason we don’t make it.

Lentil Gluten Roast

Sadly, no, we did not use the Magic Loaf Generator for this dish. (It is, however, still there for YOU to use!) T. based her sort of thrown-together recipe idea not on past loaves she’s known, which generally call for Special K (?) and eggs, but on on IsaChandra’s lentil meatballs at the Post Punk Vegan blog. She started with minced garlic scapes – hard-stemmed garlic – from the veggie box, and boy, that stuff brings tears to the eyes. Ditto the minced yellow onion. She pulverized a box of stale crackers – about a half cup – then added a quarter cup of nutritional yeast. Two cups of vital wheat gluten, a quarter cup of oat bran, a teaspoon each of sage and oregano, a quarter cup of oil, two tablespoons of soy sauce, a quarter teaspoon of liquid smoke and two teaspoons of dried vegetable bouillon followed. Finally, two cups of lentils in their leftover juice, which was about another cup of broth. This was stirred together until the gluten saturated, and then it had to be kneaded by hand. They didn’t want to come together in anything but small blobs, but this actually is a good sign – we didn’t want them to be too dense. We formed the disparate blobs into temporary loves and lobbed them into two oiled loaf pans.

One loaf got a treatment of about four tablespoons of hot sauce, and the other did not – but both baked for forty-five minutes, covered with foil. They emerged browned and luscious looking with a great savory smell, juicy, meaty texture, and amazingly good flavor. D. suggested slathering his with ketchup; T. …shuddered, and opined that she would prefer hers with spicy apple chutney or mushroom gravy with, say, a fluffy almond studded quinoa, garlic “mash” or veg like peas or corn or kale on the side. It’s a perfect main dish, or lends itself to being cubed into salad or roughly chopped and included in the mother of all omelets. It goes really well in a hearty sandwich with all of the fixings. Most people can’t do that with the traditional squishy potluck loaf.

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Because D. no longer gets a Word of the Day from his old coworker, ‘Drew, we’ve been a bit short on an organized collection of Scottish commentary. We do enjoy the bits from the the writer at the Caledonian who parses “Useful Scots Words,” and also find that, on the whole, just about everyone we know is full of uniquely Scottish things to say, and we don’t need much help locating creative speakers. As our time here ticks down, we find ourselves hoarding up the clever and amusing wordplay as we find it.

Just the other day, one of D’s coworker whom T. calls Thing 1 (referencing The Cat in the Hat book by Dr. Seuss – Thing 1 and Thing 2 have the same name; in this case, he’s a David, too) told him that Scots must always discuss the three w’s – Weather, Women and Wine. Well! In honor of National Women’s History month, and because she strutted and vamped and begged D. to snap her picture (and was pole-dancing on a light-pole), we present for your edification today’s personification of Spring.

Also known as The Stirling Gel, she was downtown the other day, showing off her boa, hat, and floral frock – and probably freezing her wee elbows off, but oh, well. Spring is a dashing lass, whose sheer chutzpah will harry along the auld wee hag, Winter, soon enough. We think our Stirling Gel is a perfect personification, and suspect she might have made her dress herself.

And, that’s all the news from Cambusbarron, where it seems all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the sheep are blue-bottomed.

A Wee Update

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Just realized that we hadn’t actually communicated for awhile except for D’s “links” posts and that we really owe everybody at least a brief update on what’s been going on here in the hinterlands.

Hi. How are you? How are your jobs and your pregnancies and your new babies and your grandkids and your snow packs and your woodpiles and your new cars and your lives?

As for us, we’re… fine. Working. Boring, huh? But, that’s how it is, this time of year. Nothing going on, but some spots of brightness as we watch movies (latest, “Adam’s Rib”, 1949, with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn – where they play a slightly surreal spousal lawyering team — what were they thinking with that weird Adam crying plot twist?), crowing over the orchids both blooming (Okay, that’s only T.), figuring out new uses for mint (a spectacular apple and carrot salad – the mint added just the right touch), and otherwise trying to insert spice into the last bits of winter’s dreich and snell.

We’ve done a little baking (those gingerbread hearts were shared with everybody who came to rehearsal on Valentine’s Day). We used the basic recipe from Bakerella, with added spices, but found we needed to frantically adjust it by adding additional liquid. As is sometimes the case, both wheat and white UK flours can be very dry as compared to US flour. Sometimes this isn’t the case, so we’re not sure what went on, but apparently this batch just… was. This had to be the stiffest cookie-dough we’ve ever dealt with, to the point that it actually sheared off one of the dough-hooks of our wee hand-mixer. (Yes, we miss the Kitchenaid. But, we’re glad it’s in a good home, and kept very busy!) We haven’t done any more gluten-free baking just yet, but have sampled some store-bought gluten free baked goods. We can see a real need to learn to bake one’s own!

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Speaking of snow packs – we actually got a tiny bit of snow over the weekend, but it didn’t stick, just came down in crisp little bubbles and melted. As the light has grown longer – at last! – D. is no longer both leaving the house and returning in the dark, but we’re both enjoying sun in the kitchen in the morning on the weekends (it doesn’t really get in there until half past nine) and sunsets – gloriously pink and lavender and orange.

We’ve both been rather wrapped up in writing – T. because she’s been cursed tasked with doing a production breakdown of her last novel to be shopped around to movie producers, and D. because he’s still mired in corrections and dissertation revisions. T. was told that her write-up is finally in shape, so she can go back to pushing herself to finish her mystery novel – hurray! – and any other straight fiction writing with non-technical jargon such as “logline” and “beat sheet” and the like. D. is trying to meet the self-imposed deadline of the end of February for his write-up, giving him the chance to get the corrections approved earlier than expected, and to get back to the focus of figuring out where we’re going and what we’re doing next. T. has been holding off doing a thorough Spring cleaning to the house, since she tries to stay quiet on the weekends – but soon her excuses will be gone. She is regretful of this already, but plans to draft D. into furniture hauling, vacuuming floors, and window washing. Heh, heh.

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In chorus, we’re prepping for two concerts – and are slightly disappointed to note that we’ll not be singing in Polish. Apparently one of the soloists quit, and the task of replacing the soloists and getting another up to speed in the language for the Syzmonowski was just a bit too much, with the concert coming quickly next month. Otherwise, we’re moving right along learning the Berlioz Te Deum, and looking forward to rehearsing with our divided choir and the children’s chorus, which will make the music spectacularly chaotic and noisy. In a good way. Seriously.

We’ve been enjoying the fact that we bought a container of suet-balls for the wild birds and have strung them in the trees outside our windows, in the hopes that we can someday get a decent picture of some of the bird life which frequents the garden. In addition to the ever-present magpies, we’ve identified a twitter of tits; blue tit, longtailed tit, stone chat, whin chat, and twite, which is not really a tit, and looks an awful lot like a house wren. (Also, it’s a bit awkward discussing birds in D’s office of a morning. He rolls his eyes a lot.) Of course, none of those really wants to hold still for its picture to be taken (although back in November T. caught a picture of a juvenile goldfinch, shown to the right). Hayford Mills 153 We’ve also had jackdaw, rook, and carrion crow going after the suet balls, but D. has strung the most recent batch onto much smaller twigs, in the hopes of discouraging the larger birds. However, crows are horribly smart, and once they know there’s food on offer… well. You can’t get rid of crows of any kind. And don’t ever throw things at them. They remember. And tattle. And plague. We just might have to get used to our little murder…

The hunt for academic jobs for D. is sort-of on hold until the thesis gets completely accepted and he can say that he’s well and truly done. He’s applied for a few positions which sounded interesting and which had early deadlines, but the hunt begins anew in earnest after next weekend. Our passports are still away with the UK Borders Agency, getting the student visas extended through until well after graduation, so hopefully we’ll be able to plan some travels soon – the visa process could take until mid-March or so, though, so until then we’re stuck with staying in the country. This creates a slight problem, as D. can’t plan to go on interviews except for within the UK. C’est la vie.

And that’s about where things are with us. T. plans to sit in on her grandmother’s memorial service via Skype – which shows how far technology has come. No passport? No ticket home? No problem. Meanwhile, D. has a pair of roller skates he’s also chomping at the bit to try one weekend day it’s not icy – but nothing doing, until those corrections are done… ::sigh::

Aside from that, not much terribly exciting going on, just continuing on with the work before us, trying to get through it and come out the other side.

And that’s us. So, how are you?

-D & T

Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind

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Thanks to all of you who emailed and asked about us… we’re just fine.

Didja know that the United Kingdom has more tornadoes, relative to its land area, than any other country? Nope, when we moved here, we didn’t know that either. Of course, the United States still holds the dubious title of Tornado Leader, but it has a lot more land mass, and a lot more territory in the Midwest especially, prone to the nasty buggers. Prior to moving here, we would never have imagined that tornadoes were a part of the United Kingdom at all. The first winter in our tiny flat in the high rise, where the whole building tower swayed, though, should have been our first clue… Today, folks from Belfast to Bo’ness are suffering through flattened cars, uprooted trees, and sandstone bricks and slate roofing tiles scattered about.

Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday, we lost a mill building. We are now Hayford Mills – 1. Granted, the building wasn’t occupied, and the roof was shingle-free, but it was a four-walls, wooden-roofed, standing derelict building. Now it’s a roofless, crumbled wall, messy pile of bricks. We felt the house – – ours, and brick, mind you vibrate beneath us while we lay abed, and got up and got hurriedly dressed at a ridiculous hour, for fear of ending up in pajamas in our bed in the front yard. It’s disconcerting to feel a brick house vibrate, to be sure. It’s weird, when you don’t live in a high rise, to feel like things are swaying. And the noise – freight trains and eerie howling all day.

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At least we don’t live near the sea – the Beeb posted pictures of the poor people near the coast. With all of this wind and rain, the flooding is insane. Our adopted family in Largs is lucky that they live up a slight incline, since pictures news footage shows the main street of their wee town awash – the sea came over the seawall and into town (We hate to think of the island!! Oy.). Since they’re happily vacationing in Cuba at present, and have a bit of a creek in front of their B&B, we were concerned – and doubly worried, because there were NO trains going for awhile Tuesday, and we couldn’t easily get up to sandbag their house if they needed us – but it turns out they wisely have someone house sitting, and all is well.

Fourteen hours without power made us get creative with the daily activities. Since it’s dim these days anyway, night seemed to last a loooong time. Many of our neighbors went into town to coffee shops and theaters with power, but a few of us lit candles and settled in. D. read aloud, while T. knitted. It felt very pioneer-y, and would have been enjoyable if it hadn’t gone on for so many hours. As the sun begins to go down at 2:30, it was all a bit much. T. was disappointed in herself – she likes candlelight and knitting is supposed to be peaceful. She couldn’t settle into it, until she found the caving lights and strapped one onto her head. And then her mood improved greatly.

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Fourteen hours without electricity is hard, but it was the blackness – the choking, profound darkness that made things really difficult. After true sundown, the dark just went on forever. We hadn’t realized how much we relied, in our more rural circumstances, on streetlights and the glow from others’ homes to not feel like we were isolated in a tiny boat on the edge of a trackless sea. “I don’t know how they did it back then,” T moaned at one point, aggravated by walking into a room and automatically switching on a light yet again. We know, though, that the early Scots had no TV, radio, computers, or electricity to miss, no light switches to fruitlessly flip. They had storytellers and musicians and they could knit in the near-dark, or add to their population – that’s how they “did it.” The fact is, they were tired after dealing with sheep, cattle, fishing and nets, oats, stills, and other hard work all day. We can be sure they didn’t sit around and fuss about when the power company was at least going to have some explanation for the cold, dark hours. Only we wimps did that.

Meanwhile, D. did well with what T. began to call “house camping,” and made foil reflectors to capitalize on the candlelight, lit the hob with matches and boiled up big pots of water and pots of tea, and made a nests of blankets (which, at age ten, he might have called a fort) and dug around for snacks. He read aloud to T. for hours, photographed the stars, bivouacked into the frigid blackness of the garage to find useful items to make the time pass. At least one of us enjoyed being on The 1890’s House, Hayford Mills episode.

And The Countdown Continues: Eight days to the viva!

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For those of you who have been asking how the job hunting is going — well, it’s going. It’s a lot of hurry-make-the-deadline and wait-for-some-response, and we’re in the waiting bit right now. Meanwhile, recruiters and tech personnel are phoning, now that D.’s taken his resume out of mothballs. He’s been contacted by Amazon, and weird (not at all likely to get polite responses) people are even calling Martinez, looking for him! Fortunately, the parents there have one of those Byzantium phone tree things – If you’d like to speak to the lady of the house, say your name clearly, and whistle the first three bars of the Largo from Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.” I’m sorry, we don’t recognize that name. To try again, press 3, and jump on your left leg while raising your right hand – and no one ever really makes it through to speak to them anyway. (We do want to warn all of those people that bothering our people makes us VERY UNLIKELY to be willing to speak nicely to you. Go away.) Job prospects remain a little iffy – lots of nice people want to talk, but it’s difficult to be able to read a situation, job, or person long-distance, and while we’re wary on this end, they’re wary on their end as well. However, we remain confident that we will end up exactly where we’re supposed to be, and if that’s a beach in the Bahamas, well, then, so be it, right?

T., struggling with finishing her latest novel, has begun counting words. She doesn’t usually, but the Winter Blahs (TM) are killing her creativity, so she’s trying a variety of ways to revive it, and her current means is to write two thousand words a day. For the rest of us, this is not the way to happy liveliness, but it seems to be working for her so far. She remains giddy that at long last, her orchids are preparing to bloom, and has high hopes for her African violet as well. For someone who has killed more plants in Scotland than she has kept alive, this is Symbolic and Meaningful for her. Meanwhile D. continues to work on his notes for The Kelvingrove Review, the University’s journal for which he is reviewing a book on the internet. He’ll be glad to be finished, as ironically, the review is due the day of his viva – he might actually want to look at his completed dissertation one last time!

Before After
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Despite flying branches, howling winds, pelting sleet and a lot of sneezing — when it’s not raining, the dust is certainly airborne – all is well at Casa Hayford Mills. Hope you’re doing well, too.


Well, the stork came ’round last night, and delivered. Congratulations. You have now gone once more around the sun, and are the sole guardian of a wrinkle-free, blank-paged new year.

Boy, howdy was 2011 a difficult year. The vicious cold last Christmas which led to frozen pipes, then thawing-flooding rooms, and the return of the under-toilet mushroom. D’s nameless illness which went on and on and on; icy falls, deaths of friends, dumb dissertation delays, D’s work woes, Mom’s pulmonary embolism, carpet-eating moths, selling many possessions, leaving the city. So much change. So much growth. So much… well, angst.

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No one ever mentions that whilst the caterpillar is busy heading butterfly-wards that there’s a lot of hard work, sweat, and tears involved. (No blood, because caterpillars only have this kind of green gook, which you discover if you accidentally squish one. But we digress. Badly.) Battling to emerge from the last tough bits of a cocoon, whether scholastic, psychological or work-related is difficult. Even at our geriatric stage, growing up is hard to do. In myriad ways, we are fundamentally changed from living through a painful 2011 – we are, perhaps a little more serpent-wise than dove-harmless. We are less apt to tolerate liars, less apt to be people-pleasers, and we say no a lot more often – but we’ve managed to keep our people-pleaser smiles as we say it. We’ve re-evaluated many of our relationships, and have hopefully become calmer and kinder and smarter about weighing what really matters.

We’ve realized that we spent 2011 sort of reeling – creeping and cringing from one crisis to the next. There are so many places to err in a normal life, but being outside of our culture provides even more ways. We misspoke, we misunderstood, we …missed the mark. And while today is a new day in a new year, we figure a lot of that will happen again. And again…

Christmas Here Right Now

We are not much given to making resolutions. (In fact, we are not much given to even paying attention to the traditional celebrations of the new year; T. thought the first fireworks [at 9:30!?] were someone dragging a trashcan over the cobblestones.) If we were to make a resolution, though, it would go something like this: we will not fear. Or, perhaps more realistically, “we’ll fear, but move forward.” We’ll stand up straight, instead of cringing, and put some boldness in our steps, instead of creeping. Crises happen, after all… The pop-psychology catchprase says “Do It Scared.”

Human beings live in fear of those squidgy moments no one can control. We live in fear of embarrassment and the horror of awkwardness. Most of us are deathly afraid of pain. Many of us are afraid of voicing our opinions, our likes, our dislikes, or desires, for fear that everyone will say, “eeew!” like they did in grade school when we brought too brown of a banana or tofu in a sandwich. But part of that last moment of birth is the pain – for all parties involved. Being squeezed is uncomfortable, and the last push to break through the cocoon is the one the butterfly – weary, damp, and losing hope – probably believes will kill them.

The goal is to feel the fear and move forward. And while that may sound simplistic to the extreme, it’s what successful people do. They don’t look too far ahead, and try to swallow down the entire scope of the days before them, they take in the immediate challenges of the now, solve them, and go on to the next. It’s T’s mantra, which a friend embroidered on sleeves for her: be here now.

And we, who don’t know what we’re doing or where we’re going or how our work will be received, or what the future holds – we are here now. Today we take the first step on another journey around the sun, clutching both hands to a fragile faith, waiting for our wings to dry, so we can fly.

Kelvingrove Park Butterfly 2

Holiday Lounging!

Our Christmas decorations weren’t all that complete, as we’re not entirely sure where some of them are stored … well, in the garage, yes, but we didn’t want to open every box to find them. Nevertheless, we did have a bit of fun cutting out stars and snowflakes – from paper recycled from our Christmas Cracker flyers, pulling out the whirling pyramid Christmas thing (Weihnachtspyramide) that we got from a Christmas Market in Germany in 1999, and making a clove orange to hang in the entryway. Now T’s reading the last of her Cybils nominations and working on book reviews in preparation for tonight’s midnight (well, between 5-7 p.m. for everyone else) meeting with her judging panel, and D’s catching up on fiction reading, and generally enjoying some time off. D. has a telephone interview-ish thing today with a professor from Puerto Rico – and we’re dreaming of warm places for our next location!

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It was nice not to feel the need to do much of anything – while J. was here, we mostly sat around and chatted. J. crocheted up a flower for T.’s felted hat, D. nearly finished up another knitted-felt project (yet another hat – but an actual hat, rather than merely a cap), and T. has taken up a striped cabled scarf on her knitting loom.

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Apple Raspberry Pasties 2
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Of course, no one should visit without us using the occasion as an excuse to do some baking. We had a lovely basket of raspberries and a pair of old, wizened apples, so we made Raspberry-Apple Pasties. We also made some savory ones, with a curried lentil-carrot filling, but the filling just wasn’t as picturesque as the fruit ones. No sugar, only 4 ingredients, and they were fabulous: apples, raspberries, cranberry wensleydale cheese, and a crust. Pinch them up, bake them until golden, and you have a pie!

And if we might say so: Scottish raspberries are a blessing from God. Amen. Amazingly sweet, even for so early/late in the year. We get them from the farm folks, so someone still has them growing – and we’re really, really glad.

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Today we’re being thankful that the incessant wind has stopped (which sounded rather like the ocean, it was so loud) and working our way through those things on the to-do list which have been delayed for too long. T’s been muttering about finally trying out a faux Goldfish cracker recipe to give away paired with her painted glass jars of layered soup ingredients, and we’ll try to bake up another batch of gingerbread cookies later on, or perhaps watch a movie – although hopefully our second one is nothing like that dumb one with monsters and aliens…

Our families all have this week off as well, so we suspect there’s a great deal of lounging going on all around. Hope you’re able to kick back a little bit, too.

-D & T

“God Willing, And The Creek Don’t Rise…”

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Have no idea from whence that folksy saying comes, but it must have been one of those conditional-on-the-weather places. Who knew we lived in such a place? Our train into Glasgow from Stirling took an hour and twenty minutes last week; what is usually about a thirty minute ride (thirty-three – forty-four, depending on if you’re on an express, and what time of day it is) stretched onward into hideous eternity. T. fell asleep in self defense. D. played endless games of Klondike on his phone. The high winds had again slowed the trains to 50 mph, and then late trains were piled up on the tracks… so we mostly sat. And sat. If it weren’t for the fact that we had to attend our last rehearsal before a big concert, we would have stayed home. The temps hovered in the mid-thirties and the wind was in the 65 mph range, and — brrr! But that wasn’t even the most fun part.

Our burn flooded!

Our mills-turned-homes border a long, light-less rural road, lined with open fields where sheep placidly munch and ignore the wind, snow, sleet, rain, and dark of night. (Really, they’re amazing, but as we were told, with some asperity, “Well, an’ they’re Scottish sheep, aren’t they?” Yes. Well.) A stream, or burn runs along the road and under a bridge to a smaller field used as a playground for the neighborhood and a football pitch. We were riding home with our friend R., who kindly drops us off on Tuesdays, and we skidded for a bit coming off the freeway. This didn’t slow him down, och, noo. He lives in an area just up the pike from us – even more rural, so he’s fearless. We fishtailed down the road, hitting puddles, sheets of water rising in silvery wings on either side of the car. T. gripped the upholstery.

“Er, Rol, mind the turn at the bottom of the road,” she said. “It floods. You might want to slow down.”

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Aaaand just at that moment, we hit one massive puddle and R. gripped the steering wheel as the car went slightly out of control. Fortunately, the road is single-track (one lane) and no one was coming the other way. He slowed a bit as we saw the lights on the first of the mills, and it’s a good thing he did — because the road was completely under water from that point on!

It’s an entirely eerie feeling to feel sloshing under your feet as a car is driving. It is not a feeling we want to feel again. R. said, “Um, I think I’ll have to take the high road back through town. Wouldn’t fancy driving that again.”


Sometimes it freezes after the burn floods. Fortunately, not this time. Next time it goes, we’ll have to take pictures. Meanwhile, our upstairs deck is somehow flooded… we have to wade out and pry up the paving stones that line the floor and see what is plugging up the pipe. Unfortunately, it’s thirty-two degrees at present, and it’s not a job either of us wants, though T. took a stab at it once already. Meh. It’ll keep.

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Well, greetings of the winter holiday to one and all. The winter holidays are always odd for us – our first year, we’d just arrived, so didn’t plan to go home, and had a miserably cold and lonely time, fighting homesickness. Our second year, we gave up and went home, housesitting but not enjoying the whole experience because we both had the ‘flu to end all influenza. The third year we were home, and brought work with us, and last year we gave up and went to Iceland for a few days. Through all of this, T. either didn’t have access to her creché or didn’t unpack it… and hasn’t now for four years. Quite a change from the girl who badgered friends and family to sculpt her a new piece each year after Thanksgiving dinner. We don’t decorate anymore, because we never plan on being here… and this year was going to be the same. Except, we’ve found a stray American who had no plans. And we can’t let someone sit at home in a dark city with no one, when we have two perfectly good guest rooms and a mattress warmer.

Nut Brittle 1.1

And once one guest was invited, well. The floodgates. They opened.

So, out comes the Sculpey, and the clay creché figurines, and the paint, and thus begins the decoration and the fussing and the cookie baking and general making-an-effort-ness of it all. And you know? It’s probably not a bad thing. This is supposed to be a celebration of light over darkness, after all…

Somewhere, in the midst of all of our moves, we’ve managed to lose something tiny and precious – our candy thermometer. It’s horrible! We have had to go all old-school and use a glass of ice water and a shrewd eye to tell when our sugar syrups are boiled enough. Fortunately, you can’t really ruin much once sugar’s gotten past the soft-ball stage – either you’ll have individual sugared nuts, or brittle, right? We were aiming for brittle – and got some, but boy, we’ll have to perfect it. For one thing, the combination of cinnamon and cayenne pepper, while lovely, maybe should have gone into the syrup itself. Using a fine grater and grating cinnamon into the nuts meant it all fell to the bottom, as did the pepper. This made for some entertainment as people sampled — spots completely free of cayenne, other spots causing gasps and choked requests for water.

Nut Brittle 1.3

(Sadly, this caused us more amusement than it should have. Maybe we won’t change a thing.)

Secondly, the nuts probably shouldn’t have been mixed into the syrup, but laid out on the Silpat… and the syrup poured over them. Working with hot sugar brings on some sort of atavistic Lava Terror, and it’s hard to spread that stuff out fast enough – your hands and arms just chant, “Run away!” repeatedly. However, mixing the nuts into the syrup ensures much better coverage, so a heavier spatula and a fiercer attitude next time will have to work. Or something.

Either way, it’s good fun to get into the kitchen, and we’re expecting to bake carrot macaroons, Fauxreo “Coal” cookies, ABC gingerbread men, and a whole host of other fun stuff. Hope your holiday plans a.) do not find you with ice, unless it is in an iced drink or ice skates, b.) do not contain high water, unless you’re kayaking or surfing, and c.) do include exceptional cider and the best cookies you’ve ever had. Rest and peace and loved ones; hands to hold and babies to cuddle, and people with whom to watch bad movies, color, and squabble with over games and scores. Hot baths. Soft blankets. Sweet smells. Frosty air, experienced from a toasty warm distance. Gratitude, pure and deep: This we wish you.

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Namaste. Pax. And Heavenly Peace.

Probably Even Glaswegians Are Wearing Sweaters…

Let us take a moment and be exactly like most people we meet, and talk endlessly about the weather:

Reports of a hurricane have been greatly exaggerated. Or, mostly exaggerated. The bit where there were Category 5 winds was real enough. The bit where it would knock you off of your feet if you went around corners incautiously was a bit too real. The part where it was 85 mph in our neighborhood alone was viciously real. But the Met Office won’t agree that it was a hurricane, despite the whole spinning clouds on the Doppler thing. Oh, well. Twittering Scots have deemed it a hurricane, and have given it a cheerfully derogatory name (which, since this is a family blog, and you have Google at your house, too, we won’t repeat), showing that they are cooler than any Category 5 storm. “Nature, bring it on!!!” is the general attitude. (Of course, those were not the actual words. We believe they were something like, “Come ahead, ya dobber!” You get the idea.)

We still can’t find our recycle bin. We found the lid, but the rest is blooown away somewhere…

Hard to believe, that within the same week as the wind, we had our first snow – and it had stuck around unpleasantly. There was ice everywhere, we got out our insulated boots and snow-cleats, and were hoping not to have a repeat of Snowpocalypse 2010. It was as blessing it was washed away by the rain before the wind came…

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Today, the snow is back. It’s the picturesque kind – heavy and soggy, but good for photographs, and we’ll have some soon. We expect that the rain will return shortly and wash it away, but for now, we’re truly in a marshmallow world…

The sheep are back! The farmer apparently rotates the flock repeatedly, and we’re glad to see them again, as we enjoy watching their mild antics from the kitchen table and from the office. They’re quite peaceful, and fit in with our plans for Christmas: lounging about, eating a lot, and standing still… with no choir, no work, and no obligations to do anything constructive. Well, for D., anyway. He plans to catch up on some knitting (D. has a scarf he’s been knitting now for 2 whole years, although he’s only worked on it when he’s been in lectures), but T. has a monster pile of reading to finish for the Cybils (altogether 171 books. she’s halfway through), by the end of the month, plus she’s hoping for the positive conclusion of a Super Seekrit Project which is turning out to be a lot more work and aggravation than she expected. Finally, she hopes to finish one last book before New Year’s Eve, but that might just be hubris at this point.

One last push – our big, shiny Christmas Cracker Concert next weekend – and a few more days of breakneck work finishing projects, and then we’ll have earned our rest. We look forward to overnight visits from city friends and lots of baking, movie-watching, and general laziness. If we can’t be home in the States, we’ll at least have a good time with friends.

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BIG NEWS: D. has finally AT LONG LAST been given a date for his viva voce exam: January 12th. Prayers ascending, candles lit, fingers crossed, and wood knocked upon that day, if you please. Post-exam we’ll know more about the immediate future, as after the grueling day they will inform him how much more work he has to do on the Big Paper before they let him go. After that, well. The serious feelers go out. Already D. is speaking to people about visas, and together we’re doing a bit of thinking about where we want to be. It’s actually difficult to think of, since we’ve been in Scotland for the past four years. When one takes the time to contemplate what one wants out of a community, where we’re going to make a serious effort to put down roots, suddenly the decision is a little harder…

We’ll keep on thinking, and see what turns up. Sometimes, when the weather is nasty (and the indoor temperature falls to 12°C/59°), or when it’s really dark (we’re down to 7 hours of “daylight” now), we think that D. ought to find a job someplace warm and sunny. In the Bahamas. Other times, though, we remember what we enjoy about life here – the rare clear, crisp days, the slower pace of the semi-rural environment, our weekly trip in to friends and civilization in Glasgow — and it’s difficult to think of leaving.

Well, we’ll keep you posted. Stay warm and dry and enjoy your weekend!

-D & T

A Pre-Marshmallow World

Welcome to December!

The mornings routinely hover in the low thirties, unless it’s raining, which gives us the requisite five degrees more which allows it to rain and not snow. The snow is forecast for this weekend, however, and this morning we awakened with the Dumyat and the Ochils powdered with snow for the second time this autumn so far. The light – we don’t bother calling it sunrise most days – struggles up around twenty-five past eight, and gives up wearily at around half past three. We soon enter The Great Dark, and yet our spirits are not too diminished.

(Thank God.)

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Thanksgiving was brief – D. came home from a late walk from work to a house with windows fogged from boiling, cooking, steaming, and baking (beige) things. (All comfort food is either brown or beige. It’s amazing how that works.) T. had roasted Brussels sprouts with garlic and herbs – which we’ve discovered that we really like – baked our traditional Thanksgiving haggis (well, as traditional as a faux haggis can get), pan-seared mushrooms and butternut ravioli (cheating – D. didn’t make the pasta this time), and finally, quinoa-stuffed eggplant, quite loosely based on a Michael Chiarello recipe she saw years ago.

If none of this sounds like Thanksgiving food, this is because neither of us could face mashed potatoes – T. didn’t feel like attempting to make a turkey, and we’re saving our cranberries for later in the winter when we’re really craving home foods. We’re stockpiling butternut squash, pumpkin, candy canes and cranberries against that day…

The real culinary star this meal was the dessert – carrot maple pie. The photograph didn’t do it justice at all, so we tossed it. T’s going to make it another one, and finish roughing out a reliable recipe, but we were surprised by how well carrots take the flavor of almond and vanilla, and though the pie filling, sweetened with a liquid and made of carrots boiled and mashed, tended toward a bit of excess in the liquid category, T. plans next time to roast them. Stay tuned for a really inexpensive and tasty and even semi-healthy dessert option.

This past weekend, our chorus had a contract to sing a few Christmas carols at An Unnamed Garden Center, just south of Edinburgh. We were supposed to sing for awhile, step outside to sing a song for the tree-lighting thing, sing for a bit more in-store, and then go home. Is anybody surprised that it didn’t work out quite that way?

Indoors, we piled three deep in a dim aisle, squinting at our music (as our director squinted at his pitch pipe) and through interminable garbled store announcements (Behold, beef burgers and hot-dogs available outside at the bus! Find your places now for the tree lighting, oh, ye hapless consumers!) tried gamely to sing about the birth of Christ. A few people applauded, one woman stood in the aisle and wept, small children tried to imitate our director, but most folk looked stunned or seemed dismayed that there were twenty people harmonizing in the tree aisle as they compared prices on plastic icicles and fiber optic light show trees.

And then, we had to go outside.

Turn your sound down – the above video is of the skirling of Santa’s pipe-band, as the fireworks went off. If you’ll note, the Christmas tree itself is … swaying, a bit. This is because we had wiiiiinds this past weekend; gusts of up to 70 mph. Of course that’s the time you want to be outside with your mouth open. This snippet shows the grand finale of the tree lighting, by this time we’d been standing outside for about 45 minutes, were freezing (the girls frantically dancing to keep their blood moving), and just wanted to be done.

Well, we gave it our best, for a few hours (and in the face of £15 in cab fare plus £18 in train fare, tried to make sure the experience gave us value for the money), only to be dropped off back at the train station in Edinburgh … where there were Mysterious Goings On. On the board we saw that our train had been canceled for lack of personnel. While we pondered what that could mean, we waited around for nearly 2 hours for ScotRail to organize a coach. (Did we mention that it was freezing? And that the drunk man standing behind T. complained bitterly about the lack of toilets on buses, and then proceeded to relieve himself on the wall behind her???) We were freezing and cranky by the time we were taken by bus back to Stirling, arriving home at 8:30 – three and a half hours after we’d finished singing.


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Yesterday, the city stopped — under a general strike, so we finally figured out that many of the missing personnel just decided to start the strike early. Meanwhile, yesterday, just to make sure that the city stayed stopped, we had a deluge. The train lines, some train stations, parts of the Big City, and many villages flooded. Thank goodness our wee Cambusbarron is all uphill! We’ll struggle to reach it once it snows (heck, we struggle to reach it now), but it’ll never flood… Ah, the cold season in Scotland. It does make one count one’s blessings.

And, since it ’tis the season, we’ll be heading out into the weather again in a few weeks to sing more Christmas carols (plus some truly awful pop songs, but we’ll not dwell upon those). Meanwhile, at the University, the semester winds down. Christmas vacation is in sixteen days (not that anyone is counting), and D. is looking forward to doing absolutely nothing for hours at a time. Before the end of the month, T., meanwhile, has still a few hundred books to read (truly) for the Cybils, and many plans to force D. into baking hand pies, making pasta, and his special chocolate pudding, while working her way through our friend Mr. B’s list of Underrated Movies. (Mr. B. is a screenwriter and knows of what he speaks.)

D’s viva looks to be scheduled for mid-January, so we’ll be shelling out the funds to extend the student visas, which will have the expected effect on travel, bank accounts, and shopping for this time of year. On one hand, we’ll continue living in limbo until we can determine where to jump next. On the other – as long as we have this house and both can get some work done, we’re not quite homeless. Lots to be thankful for, so we’re just not going to obsess over the things we can’t control. Which is everything.

Roll on, vacation.

-D & T