And for this grace, we are indeed thankful.

Words on the subject @ T’s blog.

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite — only a sense of existence. My breath is sweet to me. O, how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.
If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance, like flowers and sweet-scented herbs — is more elastic, starry, and immortal — that is your success.” — Thoreau

Cartoon clipped from The Philadelphia Enquirer in 2009 and passed along via email through many people.

Cab Tales, Words du Jour, & etc.

Around Glasgow 562

The city is wide-eyed in the dark.

On dim afternoons, the lights come on, and the party goes on. Lights are strung across pedestrian thoroughfares, and white lights – fairy lights – are twisted through trees. It’s the same every autumn in every wee town we’ve visited, but it’s all the brighter in Glasgow now, for it being November. Trees are being lit this weekend in city squares, as the great Christmas/Hogmanay countdown begins. Our rehearsals are full-time Christmas revels now, and between the John Barry tributes (who knew there were four-part choral arrangements of the theme from Goldfinger??), the show tunes from Grease and the ABBA/Mamma Mia songs — (we’re “dancing queens” again!) — we are indeed hauling out the holly. Or something. How we wish you could all be there.

We, meanwhile, have had important things to do, which take us to town. T. is scouring out the last of the library’s stock for Cybils reading, as the first of the big boxes from the publishing companies come thundering in. (Though she’s used the library this year more than ever, this past week, she received twenty-eight books from publishers in a single day. Made the UPS man right curious, that did.) We are also sending donations to a few charities who have requested T’s books (it’s expensive from here, and time-consuming, and she’s glad that the last of them are done and dusted, and she hopes the Illinois Dept. of Children & Families has an amazing Christmas party), which has necessitated additional cab trips, and many chatty cab drivers. Because of this, now, Ruth, we know what your man is getting you for Christmas. And it’s even engraved! (Also, T. thinks it’s really cute how your swain refers to himself as”, “Ruth’s man.” T. thinks she ought to take it up, and call herself “D’s wumman.” However, it’s not quite as convincing when she bursts into loud guffaws afterward.)

Meanwhile, at D’s work, there were quarterly reviews – an embuggerance (a nice British military slang word) – and lots of team meetings – a further embuggerance – as they prepare to add onto their staff of four. As the interviews go on – and D. is stuck at work until almost eight at night! – we’ve decided to regale you with Drew’s Collected Wit & Wisdom once again:

Last week’s Phrase du Jour, scrawled on the white board:
“Never test the depth of a burn with both of your feet.”
(Apparently a bit of conventional Fife wisdom our Drew learned as a lad at his Mam’s knee.) For once, that’s something that’s easy enough to understand.)

How fortunate we are that Drew’s advice extends to shopping as well! Says he, “If you’re ever in an English shop and they don’t have any thingamybobs, look for duberryfirkins instead. Duberryfirkin is the London equivalent to a thingamybob, which is the Northern England equivalent to the Scottish thingummy.”

Americans are so conventional. We just look for stuff.

Friday’s Word du Jour: shufti. /shuf-ti/
n. Informal, British, military; to take a wee looksee, or reconnoiter.
Usage: “Take a wee shufti at this!”
Now, this one was amazing – it really does date from WWII. The word is of Arabic origin meaning “look!”, and was brought back to Britain by soldiers returning from Arabic lands who had learnt the word from …dudes selling nudie postcards. The peddlers used to keep the postcards hidden inside their coats and would show them to soldiers saying “Shufti, shufti!” – “Look, look!”

And now you know.

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The great dial of the season spins, searching for its stations between late autumn and the year’s final cold. We remain astounded by the relative mildness of the days. The temps remain in the mid-forties Fahrenheit/ eight-seven Celsius range, and we. get. sun. Almost daily sun. Granted: a thin, weak sun which is reminiscent of a California January, a sun backed by a pale blue sky criss-crossed with high ragged streamers of nearly transparent cloud. It is such a gift, as compared to last year at this time.

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Now D. has done the annoying and picky job of the first binding for his 200 + page dissertation (thesis), he continues to await a date for his oral exams (and when he gets one, you’ll probably hear the rejoicing all the way to your house). While he waits, he’s applied to a few promisingly complicated-looking positions in various fields (some of you can imagine him easily in a psychology department. T. just shakes her head in bemusement). Many and long are the discussions about where to land, and now that T’s mother has had a serious bump in her relatively healthy road, some of our plans are being reconsidered, since air travel for her will be severely curtailed (by the entire family, if not just by her good common sense). Meanwhile, as the application process progresses, D. has been seeking to get his grades from the University for the Master’s he completed here his first year… only to discover that the University’s new computer overhaul over this summer has erased his grades, and still has him enrolled. Apparently it’s a time-machine as well as a database, and has reset us to 2009. HOPEFULLY this week upcoming, the nonsense will be cleared up, but T. commented that this doesn’t bode well for getting a job in academia, as it all seems so distressingly disorganized, as compared to the business world. (To which D. replied, “HAH!”)

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The wee birds have kept busy, fighting and stealing seeds from one another, and we see bolder — and bigger — squirrels streaking across the green every day. (And bolder cats following rapidly after.) As we bundle up and hunker down for the worst of The Dread Dark, we are surprisingly cheerful, hopeful, and grateful for the graces of having our families alive in one piece, for our warm blankets, books, faux haggis, and of course — you.

Thanksgiving, indeed.

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Life in the Big City

Come along for the walk to work that D. takes each morning. (Eventually T. will meet him after work when it’s not a.) raining, b.) cold, c.) raining and cold, or d.) dark or even e.) frosty/snowing. You see how often this will occur.)

On his walk to the office, D. visits the sheep both to and from work, enjoying the odd looks he gets, and particularly the odd poses (the one below had been eating, kneeling with its front legs only so as to get closer to the grass).

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Once past the field of sheep, D. gets to see if it will be a morning of visiting with the bunnies. There are as many as four of them who settle for a good graze outside the cemetery, when it’s sunny and there haven’t been any dogs out walking. He’s only ever seen them once in the evening, though.

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Walking home from work, D. visits the guinea pigs, whose cage is sized so as to exactly fit into one quarter of someone’s front yard, and which get moved from section to section daily. They keep the grass effectively trimmed, and seem quite happy. We wonder where they live when it snows, though.

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On Tuesdays, T. catches a cab and picks D. up at his work, then we’re off to the train station for our weekly trip into Glasgow. We get into the city a few hours before rehearsal so that T. can pillage the Glasgow library system (we’re not telling them that we’ve moved) and add yet more books to her to-be-read piles. After we’ve browsed and loaded up, we stop for dinner, then make our way to chorus, where, two hours later, another train trip and taxi ride sees us home, usually by around 10:30.

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The return journey from Glasgow is sometimes eventful, depending upon which train we manage to catch. Sometimes the ridiculousness of the railway company means that a late train home is simply stacked full of party people — cheery and loud — or, cranky and exhausted. Or, as happened a few weeks ago, an engine breaks down, and we’re all shifted to a new line. It’s always an adventure… of sorts. Hopefully the lines will continue to run smoothly as the weather frosts over, which, since it snowed in Aberdeen this past Tuesday (only four hours north of us) will be happening soonish, we fear! At D’s office, they are quickly making plans to allow the staff to dial-in and work from home; they have tons of work to do, and are keeping a wary eye on the weather.

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Just today we finally finished with the last box in the library, and can now say officially that there are no more unopened boxes in the entire house (except the garage)! There are still two or three boxes lingering, but those are mainly art supplies and computer equipment (what does one do with all of the cables which accumulate?) that we’re finding a place to store. We’ve finally figured out how the recycling system works (it’s not single-stream, confound them all, and cardboard is compostable, but not newspaper… Really!?), and after some annoying lessons, we know that if we want a taxi to come all the way out here, we must phone ahead several hours in advance to be certain that one is available. We’re no longer using the weekends to dash around and try to make up for things which have gone wrong during the week, so we’re getting to the point where we are once again baking each weekend (nothing too exciting so far) and venturing forth a bit more into the community. (At the end of the month we’re taking in a play at the University playhouse and looking forward to it!) We’re also pricing plane tickets home for the holidays, strictly in a “maybe” kind of way… so far they’re ridiculously overpriced, so …yeah. Maybe.

While Halloween is (thankfully) not a “thing” here (people do “fancy dress” randomly, but more often for Christmas), already we’re seeing signs for New Year’s celebrations, and much to our horror, Dobbies, a large garden center in these parts, has contracted our chorus to sing for their kick-off of Christmas specials in two different stores, Glasgow and Edinburgh. We loathe the idea of caroling in October — but it means a nice chunk of change for the chorus, and these shiny, clinky-bits make El Maestro very happy indeed, so we suppose we’ll slouch over and help out as we can… it’s just a bit less convenient when a forty minute train trip precedes it! (The one in Edinburgh is just as inconvenient, but we’re actually closer than others, so we’ll probably be there.)

Meanwhile, in the field across from us, the farmer is stacking higher and higher piles of branches, and along D’s route to work, someone has hacked and stacked an old wooden dresser. The pyromaniacs of autumn can now rejoice! All of the lovely Bonfire-y traditions make us want to roast some apples and make a pie… so, we’ll catch up with you later!

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Meanwhile, enjoy the last glimpse of the sun.

-D & T

The News From Hayford Village

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Another week in the wee village of Hayford Mills, and we’re down to odds and ends without homes, and only the library still needing to be thoroughly unpacked. We’re settling into something of a routine in the evening, as D. comes home from work, supper is finished (T. is trying out her Martha Stewart chops and actually, you know, cooking), and then there’s a great sprawl of reading and tinkering until bedtime, or watching old episodes of Columbo or Agatha Christie, to assist T. in her quest to learn the plotting tricks of mysteries. Our routine is indeed pretty tame, although we’re still traveling to Glasgow at least once a week to go to choir practice, so it’s not like we’re hiding out in the country all of the time.

Have we said how much we enjoy the new house? And how enjoyable it is to sit and stare out the windows endlessly? This past weekend we finally cleared some of the oddly waxy gunk building up on the glass and got out and enjoyed the balcony (and really ticked off all the orb spiders who happily make attractively round webs for us each day). Yes, it looks out over cars and things, but still, we find the sky and the old mill buildings quite an attractive view, and much enjoy soaking up late afternoon sun (when it’s there – surprisingly more often than expected) and watching the rather ordinary activities of our neighbors (and their dogs).

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Of course, we would have accomplished far more in terms of R&R and finishing that last bit of organizing if we hadn’t had our first choir concert this past weekend: we hopped on the train at noon to arrive at our afternoon rehearsal from 1:30 to 5:30, had our performance from 7:30 to 10:00, and then caught a slow train home and arrived at close to 11:30. A truly long day, and not the most enjoyable performance, either. We were singing with several other choirs, and the program was … well, extremely eclectic. The director wasn’t ours (thankfully), but she had what we’ll call great force of personality. She definitely had Ideas about how the program was to go, and chivvied and bossed the other directors into making things work as she wanted. She directed her group to snap their fingers, clap their hands, and do all kinds of jazz-hands lift-y things on some songs, and urged the rest of us to “have a go!” and “join in!” Her choir even linked arms and sashayed at one point — which was just a bit terrifying, as there were well over three-hundred and fifty of us on makeshift wooden risers, and we all felt the tremendous vibration from their cheery little dance. The jazz hands, in the same program as Handel’s Zadoc the Priest, Faure’s Requiem, and The Hallelujah Chorus, was pretty weird liturgically, not to mention just plain weird. The day was simply FILLED with little incidents which our chorus will remember and giggle over for weeks to come. No matter how we fuss about our own repertoire, it at least does not involve pieces which require clapping, snapping, or swaying.

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And for the record, we did not “give it a go.”

We’re back on the road this coming Sunday, to take part in the National Police Memorial service. We’ll supposedly glimpse some royalty and hope that there’s not a whole bunch of rigmarole surrounding getting into and out of the venue. We’ve asked about this, but apparently it’s not seen as a big deal, here, for members of the royal family to just … show up somewhere. We’ve tried to relate it to something like having a state senator show up or something, and can’t fathom there not being helicopters, sharpshooters, and creepy people with mirrored sunglasses and black suits all over the place for the event. We’ll see. Perhaps we’ll even sneak some pictures, but likely not, as we’ll be rather obvious, on stage and all. Plus, it’s a Memorial Service… not that this will stop other people snapping pictures, but our Mamas raised us better.

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There’s wildlife in the country, and T. finally is feeling just a LITTLE less insane, as D. has located the massive, child-stealing spider she’s been swearing up and down has been galloping rampant through the house at all hours. He took a picture of it next to a battery for size comparison. Please note that we will not be displaying picture here, but D. now admits that, “Okay, yeah, that was pretty big.” T. would like to put the word out to any arachnids that her moment of Zen is over, and all comers on her territory may end up as grease spots. She’s really trying to evolve past the atavistic urge to shriek and throw things at anything with more than four legs, but it is truly hard going.

In other wildlife news, we believe that we have had a sighting of a Scottish Wildcat. Over breakfast the other morning, we saw a pigeon behaving oddly, and being stalked – in a desultory, casual fashion – by a very large, muscular looking brown and black cat. Its speed and size gave us a clue — and its general skittishness when D. moved toward the window and went to open it — it may indeed have been one of the wild bunch that was spotted in this area. T. has the big camera sitting beside her desk, in the hopes that she’ll be able to catch pictures of this Rare Wee Beastie. If we can confirm a sighting, we’ll be happy, as they’re endangered, and there are left, by last count, only about four hundred of them in the wild. On the other hand, some of them may simply not want to be counted…

There are two pans of cranberry orange bread cooling on the stovetop, the temps are in the low fifties, and our breath smokes in the air in the clear, bright mornings. Autumn is arriving this week, and indeed may be coming in a little early. Time to take out the gloves and scarves, and get this leaf-turning show on the road.

Hope all is well with you and yours. That’s our news from Cambusbarron-by-Hayford Mills, where the spiders are muscular, the sheep are ridiculously loud, and the chickens occasionally compete and try to drown them out. Happy Autumn.

-D & T

Life Detritus: Lone socks, Dust & Collapsed Boxes

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It is a truth universally (?) acknowledged that things always look better in the rear view mirror. Our Glasgow flat certainly looked better after we left it; empty, most things retain an elegance lacking when stuffed with one’s scruffy possessions. Fortunately, no one can look at this picture and see the coughing boiler, the mowed patches left in the carpet after the moths ate much of it in the corner of the bedroom (OY. We think the undercarpeting must be wool; the stuff on the floor is cheap acrylic like most rentals have), the flaking paint and exposed nails in the windowsills from the damp, and the memory of trickles of condensation down the walls, the stained and leaking kitchen ceiling – which happened a WEEK before we left! – and the still faintly horrific memory of mushrooms beneath the toilet.

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All in all, things are better in the country, where T. sits in her tiny and very yellow office, and snickers at the sound of annoyed sheep. Here, we expect spiders the size of the Isle of Man and perhaps the occasional bunny attack (there are at least three of them taking up residence in the hedge next to D’s office), but not much else in terms of soot, water, and dust and molds, thank goodness. We are warned that “well, the weather gets to be… testy,” and the burn rises and floods the road sometimes, leaving only one way in/out of the village (which is fortunately uphill). We’ve already experienced the loudest thunder we’ve ever heard in Scotland here, as storms sweep down the braes from Ben Lomond, but the rain comes on quickly, and goes away just as fast. We’ll see how long that lasts. So far, T. spends a lot of time simply looking out the windows in the kitchen, staring at the wind moving the leaves of the trees and the clouds. It’s not as if there weren’t trees and sky in Glasgow – but not like this…

Meanwhile, we’ve discovered that we have some of the best bred friends and family, ever. We’ve received three “congratulations on the new job/happy new home” cards from some lovely and polite people, and a beautiful plant arrangement that was hand-delivered right to the movers as they unloaded the truck. We have some astounding friends and family – thanks much, Jacque and Graham and Cooper and Anne and Tam!

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After a solid week in, during which T. got a new revision request and D. walked to work every day, and realized his tree-lined shortcut wouldn’t work in really drippy weather (which comes about every fourth hour), we finally got back to the bliss of unpacking. The kitchen is almost perfect, and we’ve taken over a small closet and reinvented it as a pantry/dish storage place. We thought, many times as we had to move all the boxes, that we had too many things. A massive “turfing out” trip to Oxfam and we’re still left with the same conclusion: for two people in one wee house, we still have too much stuff.

If there’s a “fault” in all of this, it’s having simply too many loving friends and family members who give us things. (Who’s going to complain about that? Not us. Thank you, Mom and Dad.) Now, didn’t your mother always tell you that you didn’t give away or throw away a gift? (Oh, hush, you regifting people. We already know about you.) We heard and obeyed, just like with that thing about clearing our plates… and, years later, we have, in this country:

  • A ceramic watermelon bowl, which the maker said was a just-for-fun Family Camp project twelve years ago (and we never see watermelon here)
  • Nine lamps – granted, our first few flats were very, very dim, but… nine?
  • Fourteen flour/sugar canisters, a few of which we even bought ourselves,
  • Crud Clothes™ – 2 boxes of stained, ratty, holey clothes for cleaning, yardwork, cooking, and everything else. T. recently admitted to our friend Jacque that a couple of good aprons would have eliminated the need for this — but neither of us grew up with aprons, so…

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…as you can see, the list goes on. Thus, the sale is on: two futons, a bed, and a kitchen table set is on the auction block, for cheap. We hope the Stirling U students will be interested. Selling is not what we had planned on doing, but realistically (and psychologically), it seems a good idea to go lightly through this world, so that the next (inevitable) move* won’t be so hard.

We’ve even got some aprons, and made plans to get rid of the Crud Clothes™. Eventually.

Cambusbarron is a wee village, and in many ways, Hayford Mills isn’t really even part of it. (As a matter of fact, we were informed of this. We are officially on the outskirts of a village of a couple thousand. We’re our own bedroom community neighborhood.) Anyway, we’ve determined that it was time to meet the neighbors, so we’ve walked around town over the weekend, and visited the library – which is just a little bigger than our living room and kitchen combined — and last week we auditioned to join a local chorale. The auditions weren’t exactly an unqualified disaster from start to finish, but close.

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It really doesn’t hit you how precariously your independence is balanced until a bus or train is canceled or delayed — and then you realize that you can’t just jump in your car and go where you’d like. (Well, technically, you could take a cab wherever … but with such a prohibitively expensive price, you’d have to have an amazingly good reason.) We were meant to go to Dunblane Cathedral last week for our audition – and the train was canceled. When we arrived, we found that it was the end of the line, and there was no indication when the next train would be available. We hurried up the quarter mile to the cathedral, grateful it wasn’t raining on us, and then proceeded to walk through the graveyard, around the building… and around… and around… trying to find the church hall. No signs, of course, and the church, where change ringing rehearsal was going on, was locked (not that people yanking on ropes to swing massive bells could have heard us shouting or knocking anyway). T. was practically sweating bullets by the time someone found us – a good half hour late – peering through a glass door into a dim and deserted corridor. While D. gave a creditable showing for himself, singing Faure’s Libera Me with increasing confidence; T. squeaked and cracked through Pie Jesu, knew she was doing dreadfully, and tried to withdraw gracefully. No such luck – she had to sweat it out to the end. A lovely gentleman asked if we’d like a ride home, and we gratefully took it – D. ambivalent (as usual); T. still wringing wet with nerves and unhappiness. Neither of us expected to get in, so did some juggling to our schedules and happily embraced the idea of rejoining our old chorus in Glasgow. Combining that with a biweekly visit to our chiropractor made sense (it’s nice to be able to keep ONE doctor), and we ordered our scores for Elijah and planned accordingly…

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…only to discover that we’d made it into the smaller chorale after all. T. is, frankly, shocked.

Anyway, it’s nice to be wanted. The other chorale’s major work this next Spring will be Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, in the original Russian, which will be definitely challenging. The City of G. Chorus’ major work and last concert in June will be Mendelssohn’s Elijah, which T. has been looking forward to singing ever since she was very small and her parents sang part of it at church. Earlier concerts, reference to Glasgow’s large Polish population, will cover Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater in Polish. We’ll have Eastern European languages all around in Scotland next year.

We’ve gotten a lot of really introspective and interesting email about the article on ethics and atheism we blogged about awhile back. You people are seriously deep, and we had fun kind of thinking in tandem with a lot of you. We’ll have to do something like that again.

Meanwhile, we continue to settle in – our internet remains limited, but that just means there’s more time to work, right? Hah, yeah, right.

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One last thing we can’t seem to get over: sheep! We can watch them from the windows of the kitchen, the office, the library, and D. gets to walk past them on his way to and from work. We really do live on the outskirts!

-D & T

*The next move is, indeed, inevitable. D’s PhD hasn’t been submitted to committee yet (his supervisors are giving it “one last read-through”), which means that his viva voce exam won’t be until sometime in November or December. That means that any corrections to be made won’t be finished before the end of the year, and that his graduation won’t happen until next June. What that means for us being in Scotland, though, is that we won’t be able to apply for “post-study work” visas, as that program is being cancelled as of February of 2012. Rather, we’ll be extending the student visas for as long as it takes to graduate, and don’t have any idea whether we’ll be able to extend beyond that point because it seems that the UK doesn’t really want people to work here. Chaos, indeed.