Friday, March 30, 2018

A day in Edinburgh's OLD TOWN

Adventures in Old Town of Edinburgh

For YEARS, I’ve had a blog in draft about what to do in Edinburgh. People are constantly asking. When I lived there I had my history walking tours down to a science, having read so many books and taken so many tours on my own, but, of course, some things have changed. I feel like I should write 10 different blogs for friends visiting Edinburgh, but for this one, I’ll just tell you what we did.

We were staying behind the castle, on Lothian Road, so we went straight towards Castle Terrace on the west side of the castle (the steepest and most dramatic views that make you wonder why anyone every seriously considered attacking the castle) and hiked up some switchbacks that brought us around towards the South Castle Wynd steps. They are steep, but quick, and they’ll deposit you right at the castle. 

The paved area in front of the castle gates offers great views, and you can walk over the “moat” bit and through the gates before you have to pay. If you’re a budget traveler, go ahead and walk as far into the castle as you can (you can get to the shop and restrooms before you are required to have a ticket). I decided that, as Steve had never been to Edinburgh before, he needed to do the castle properly. It’s £17/person now, but you’ve got to see the castle. Take a guided tour — they are free. You can pay extra for audio guide if you don’t want to wait for a tour to start (the times can vary), but i always enjoy the live docents. 

If you are planning on doing a bit of traveling outside of Edinburgh, then considering buying a Historic Scotland pass or a Tourist pass, which offers discounts to various other historic sites around the country — Stirling Castle is another great one that’s included, and it will save you money. 

There’s a tea room and snack shop at the castle, so it’s possible to spend hours there if you want. We poked around for about an hour, and I spewed all kinds of factoids about Mary, Queen of Scots, that I’m not sure if Steve cared about, but I find riveting. The King’s Apartments were closed this visit, which made me sad because I love to stand in the tiny room where James VI/I was born (especially since I’ve now had a home birth!) and soak up the ancient birthy vibes.

We wandered down the Royal Mile, where you might as well go ahead and buy souvenirs. The prices don’t change much from shop to shop, and I always find that you never get back to the place you think you’re going to (“Oh, this is nice, but i’ll keep looking and come back later.” — no, you won’t, just BUY NOW). 

I like to suggest you keep some pound coins handy for tipping street musicians because THAT’S JUST GOOD FOR THE WORLD.

Vegetarian Haggis at the Baked Potato Shop in Edinburgh.
Take a left on Cockburn Street for lunch at the Baked Potato Shop. A small potato is HUGE, so don’t order the medium or large unless you’re starving or sharing. I suggest the veggie haggis with cheese (the restaurant is all vegetarian). I also like the veggie chili, but it’s spicy. A random one i had once that remains an unsuspecting favorite is: curried corn & cottage cheese (I thought the tattie worker was pulling my leg — or “winding me up,” as they say in Scotland — but he was dead serious and it was dead delicious). There is only one small table, which you can share with a few other diners. If the weather is nice, get the tattie to go and eat it outside by The Tron. Or buy a coffee at the nearby Starbucks and eat on the second floor there with your fancy coffee drink. It's a pretty cool Starbucks, considering the building is hundreds of years old.

I like to walk down Cockburn Street a little ways and pop in shops (Diagon House is awesome), but then immediately walk back up to the Royal Mile via a “close” or “alley” (Fleshmarket Close is cool) because they are magical fairy medieval Harry Potter streets that make me swoon.

The Tron is an old building near where the gallows once were, and in recent years it’s been converted into an indoor market where you can buy very reasonably-priced handmade local souvenirs. It’s worth a pop-in, especially if you want locally-made souvenirs.

Walk back up the mile and stop in to Deacon Brodie’s for a pint or snack if you need a rest. If not, turn left on George IV Bridge and then turn right immediately for a saunter down Victoria Street. You can pick up Harry Potter souvenirs, elderberry tinctures, tweed suits, and antique books here. And all kinds of other stuff - this street was the inspiration for Diagon Alley, and it’s a great little shopping street. There’s also Victoria Terrace just above it, which is a pedestrian street that only makes sense if you understand the 3-dimensional nature of Edinburgh. 

You can then hang out in the Grassmarket (White Hart Inn is the oldest pub in Edinburgh, but there are LOADS there). Steve and I popped into Armstrong’s, which is a fabulous second-hand/vintage store where I always buy kilts for my gowing boys. This time I also got a tweed coat for Graham because I was feeling splurgy and because I was proud of myself for not spending an obscene amount of money and the absurdly cute tweed outfit that had caught my eye in a Victoria Street shop window.

From Armstrong’s, you can pop along to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard and have a wander and see if you can find Tom Riddle’s gravestone (more Harry Potter references, sorry). If it’s raining, then you should pop into the National Museum, which has a delightful cafe and also has Dolly, the first cloned animal, who is stuffed and spins round and round for eternity in a glass enclosure. 


While in Old Town, I also like to explore some buildings at the University of Edinburgh. Some of the best folk music clubs are in the area. Sandy Bell’s often has live music at any hour of the day. The Royal Oak has folk music every night and sometimes more specialized shows in the basement venue (I played there). It’s a small room, but a wonderful vibe. Look on the wall for a painted quote from the late Nick Keir. I also love nearby Captain’s Bar, which has a great staff and live music too.

Other suggestions:

  • wander over to The Meadows a huge park in Old Town. 
  • take a bus or Uber to Duddingston — a tiny town on the outskirts of the city, and have a pint or a meal at the Sheep Heid Inn, a royal haunt of yore that has been in business since the 1300s. 
  • Holyrood Palace is worth a visit
  • Climb Arthur’s Seat for a great view (it’s a pretty easy hike, as far as hikes go)
  • Just walk around and get lost!
Don’t be afraid of using the buses. There is a great app for the Lothian Buses, and Google Maps also offers real-time bus schedule info. The buses have wifi, so you can follow your location on a map — or just tell the bus driver where you are headed and ask for a heads-up for your stop. You can buy a day-ticket for around £4. Edinburgh also has Uber. 






Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Edinburgh - day 2 tour blog


I booked this gig at the Wee Folk Club ages ago, thinking it would be our last gig in Edinburgh and that we would then have 2 days off to relax and explore. Of course, I immediately over-committed to catching up with friends and doing some radio appearances — which I ended up having to cancel because I just couldn’t manage to travel to them without taking out a huge chunk of the day, and I’m still feeling guilty about that because 
  1.  I never cancel things and 
  2. I missed catching up with those radio friends and 
  3. it was obviously a dumb business move to not do a radio and podcast, but, after 10 shows in 8 days I was more concerned about my mental health than my career.


Is that the struggle of everyone? Mental health v career? And then, of course, my family, whom I have been doing a very good job of ignoring since I flew out on January 27. I know we’ve been slammed with travel, but I have surprised myself with not actually needing to check in with the babies. They are in great hands, and I will see them soon. Mommy is on a work trip, and they need to understand that Mommy’s job is important. As is her mental health, lest she start talking in the third person on her blog …

BACK TO EDINBURGH

It’s just delightful. We stayed with the magical Marianne and John in their guest rooms and slept wonderfully. Thick buttered and cheesed toast for breakfast gave us a boost and we departed Leith for an early check-in to our hotel.

David (my perfect husband) is the kindest person ever and most thoughtful, and, knowing that after 11 days of traveling and non-stop shows and non-stop staying with hosts that we might want a bit of space and luxury, he used his travel points to get us a fancy room at the Sheraton Grand Hotel. 

And our room was THE BEST ROOM IN THE HOTEL: the CASTLE SUITE. Literally, it was on the top floor, the floor with the Club Lounge and on the door hung a sign that said, "Castle Suite," and i felt kind of sorry for the people staying in the room directly across from us who had to see that sign every time they left their mere “Room 730.” 

Thanks, David — that was a real treat. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

EDINBURGH - 1-day walking tour!




Note: This was published after my trip. I am, unfortunately, not currently in Edinburgh! I am publishing my Edinburgh blogs this week because a friend booked a trip to Scotland after noting that my UK Tour poster said I would be playing there on 4/2. And silly me forgot to explain to Americans that in the UK the month comes first! OOPS!!! But really, that just means she will have better weather and will not be restrained by the times of my gig. So today's blog (and tomorrow's, and again the day after!) I give you EDINBURGH! This is a walking tour we did. ***Note: if, perchance I were starting from a hotel in Shandwick Place, I would do this walk on a Sunday and begin by making my way to Dean Village, then walk along the Water of Leith, popping up just after St. Bernard's Well to appear at the Stockbridge Market.




I cannot contain my joy at being in this most magical of cities. Steve hasn’t been here before, and our tagalong, Alan, only spent a couple of afternoons here as a child taking day trips from Paisley. We left North Berwick mid-morning and arrived in Leith around 11am, being immediately greeted with a strong cuppa from our hosts Marianne and John. They have a fantastic flat near the harbour, and they fed our tummies and hearts with food and stories. 

I immediately dragged Steve on a long walkabout, beginning by the Stockbridge Market (only open on Sundays!), where we meandered and inhaled the festive atmosphere and shared a vegetarian scotch egg. We walked to the Stockbridge Colonies, so I could show Steve our little cottage flat at 12 Hugh Miller Place, where we lived for the last year of our Scottish adventure. The Colonies were some of the first affordable housing built, but now they are very posh and rarely come up on the market. They are small, but adorable, and each flat has the cutest wee garden. If you go this way, you could easily walk to the Royal Botanical Gardens, which are free and also have a cafe where you can buy lunch or tea. Back the other direction, however, is...

Lunch was soup and chips and a pint at The Bailie Bar, my favorite local pub, and then UP WE WALKED Up Circus Place, up Howe Street, up Frederick Street! It’s a big hill, then back down again, across "the mound," then up an even more serious hill and some steep steps (Milne's Court!), but the walk delivers you to the heart of the Royal Mile, where we easily (well, we may have huffed and puffed a little) sauntered up to Edinburgh Castle for a city view. (If you have a couple of hours and £17 then go ahead and visit the castle! If not, at least enter the gates and walk in as far as you can go with out a ticket. It's still pretty impressive.)

Then we popped down the steps to the Grassmarket and around Candlemaker Row to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard (try to find Tom Riddle's grave! and put a stick at the grave of Bobby the dog) and The Elephant House (where JK Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter in the early day) — all the while I was trying to find out which Hogwarts House Steve is in and make sure that the purchased appropriate souvenirs for his daughter. Steve was not amused, but he played nice. 

We paused at a french cafe next to The Elephant House for a sweet treat (the line was too long at the Elephant House and this cafe had nicer desserts). If we had more time (or if the weather had been bad), I would have popped into the National Museum, always free, for either a treat from the cafe or just to see Dolly the Sheep -- yes, actually the real Dolly, the first cloned animal who is stuffed and forever spinning in a glass case, complete with fake poop on the straw floor. Then we meandered back over to the Royal Mile walking down to the very bottom by Holyrood Palace before hopping in a taxi back to Leith. 

Pausing here to express deep gratitude and admiration for STEVE COOLEY, this time not for his pickin’ skills, but for his general good attitude and willingness to walk miles and miles up and down while listening to me jabber on about Mary Queen of Scots and geology and how the Scots invented everything (truly, though, they did) and pub fiction and stories about that time I fainted while waiting for the Olympic torch to run by. Not only did Steve walk every mile without complaint, but I actually had to ask him to slow down his pace. He walks as fast as he picks, people. 

The gig at the Royal Oak was a completely packed house in the most adorable basement room. My pals Alex Hunter and Adam Holmes attended the gig, for which I am grateful (thank you, guys!). They are a bit of a big deal these days, so I wasn’t sure they’d make it out for l’il’ ol’ me, but yay for lasting friendships, right? I played and toured with Adam during my time in Edinburgh. He’s been doing quite well for himself the past few years, with significant credit due to Alex, his behind-the-scenes genius. (Would that the rest of us had an Alex!)

Also in the crowd was CANDYTHIEF aka Diana de Cabarrus, who has a wonderful new album finished and soon-to-be-released. She’s been getting some great radio play and reviews, and it was also wonderful to see her. And since I'm publishing this the week of her album launch, you could even go see her CD release party on Friday, March 30 at the Voodoo Rooms.

Lots of faces, old and new, graced the Wee Folk Club, and I was thankful to be there — this gig was totally acoustic and good fun. Steve impressed all, and I think I sang pretty well. 

More Edinburgh blogs to come this week, but this one was long overdue!



Thursday, March 22, 2018

Surprise Snow Day & Life with an Au Pair

STICKY FINGERS - baking bread on a snow day.
We had a completely unexpected (and unwelcome) snow day yesterday in Louisville. Our Brazilian au pair disapproved of the weather, as did I, but it did yield some pretty photos in my Instagram feed and some delicious food back home. I keep forgetting to as our au pair if I can use her name in my blog, so today I will keep saying au pair, au pair, au pair.

I am practicing these words also because I keep feeling bourgeois guilt when I say it. Most people do not understand what an au pair actually is (just like most people do not understand that I actually work -- I shouldn't care, but it makes me insane when my friends think I am independently wealthy or don't put in the hours that they do for their jobs -- I WORK ALL THE TIME, just not the same hours that you do, people!) ... whew, sorry for the digression.

Anyway, an au pair, is french for "on par" or "equal to." It's a person who, first and foremost, lives with us and is part of our family. I feel like this only child (me) suddenly has a younger sister with a lot more energy than I have, but just as much love for my kids. We do not have a large house (here is our house, and yes, I'm aware that it's not super smart to put a photo of my house on the internet, but, honestly, I figure that if you're a creeper-stalker-type, then you already know where I live because property info is public record.), but we have 3 small bedrooms. The boys are in one, David and I are in another, and our wonderful au pair is practically on top of us in the third. We share a bathroom. We are family.

She helps with the kids, and wow, has she been a help. I mean, look at me, right now, sitting at a coffee shop, breathing deeply and writing a blog, knowing that my kiddos are getting one-on-one attention and love. It is amazing!

Mostly, my exhalation is because I have childcare at all. Angus has been at home with me for the past 2 years because paying for daycare for two children is insanely expensive. It's cost-prohibitive for me to work (yes, an au pair is less expensive than two in daycare!), and if I don't work, I am a terrible mother and general bad person to be around.

A snow day would normally have set me back into a depressive mode, but with our au pair around, I was still able to work. In fact, I was so productive that I was able to pause to come upstairs and play some games and eat lunch with and bake with the kiddos. Our au pair just whipped out a vegan bread recipe from her brain and two hours later, we were smothering hot, fresh bread with Kerry Gold (well, I was, but wee Angus and our au pair went dairy-free) and inhaling the whisky-smell (bread-baking smells like a distillery -- not the other way around).

Look out for more blogs and more cheerful blogs, friends. And haters out there, just stay away please. I need to throw a party for our wonderful Brazilian soon, so you all can meet our new family member!

(if you're seriously interested in an au pair experience, here's a referral link to the agency we use: http://culturalcare.com/ref?VVNYMjg4MTY3JnR5cGU9Mg )
I suited up to shovel the snow, when I found cash
in a pocket, which I then gave to a neighbor kid
to shovel the sidewalk instead. 
Holly tree with snow, through the screen window in my kitchen. 
My house -- credit to Rebecca Renzi for the photo.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Brigid gives you a tour of Beverley, England

Beautiful Beverley, England in East Yorkshire:

We played a perfect house concert at the lovely home of Denise, who stuffed us with fancy cheese and delicious crunchings and munchings. Before the sun went down, however, I ran through the High Street to properly inhale a bit of England.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Top 5 Google translations from the past week #aupair

My dad took wee Graham to see School of Rock!
This has nothing to do with the blog, but they are so cute.
GOOD MORNING! I'm having coffee and alone time -- alone time, in which I answer old emails and pour through the 9494 unread messages in one of my inboxes (proof in the photo -- I clearly have a lot of work to do). This week, for the first time in years, I have 35 hours a week of dependable childcare. I might even return a phone call, people (ha, doubtful, because WHO USES THE PHONE???).













Anyway, our lovely au pair arrived last weekend, and we have slowly been integrating her into our crazy family. We love her already. The boys adore her. The language barrier has not been much of a barrier because she is really smart and a really fast learner. Also: google translate app. We try not to use it because she wants to learn English, but it is really helpful for getting the exact right word for various things. It also keeps a list of things I have recently translated, which I will share with you in today's blog.

TOP FIVE favorite things we have had to translate to Portuguese:


"butter controversy"  (controvérsia sobre manteiga)  Used to discuss why we leave the butter dish out and how it is not necessarily a thing that all Americans do. But we do because butter should be soft!

"background music" (música de fundo) -- to explain how my Friday evening gig was not exactly a reason to get very excited (Wednesday she heard me on the radio, and Thursday I played a fun gig in Nashville, but Friday's, while fun, was background music)

"because kids could choke on toy inside" (porque as crianças poderiam sufocar no brinquedo dentro) to explain why proper KinderEggs are illegal in America.

"Graham can dress himself." (Graham pode se vestir.) Because Graham now thinks he has a personal dresser, like he's on Downton Abbey or something, and may be taking slight advantage of his new roommate.

"the vegan cupcakes are the reason to come here" (os cupcakes vegans são motivo para vir aqui) To explain why we drove all the way to Whole Foods when it's crazy-expensive and we normally just walk to Kroger.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Our family is growing!

No, this is not a pregnancy, nor dog announcement: it's an au pair announcement! It sounds so continental to say, "We have an au pair," but I have come to realize it is the only sensible childcare option for our family.

With David's travel schedule and my gigging at night, we just couldn't manage having daycare and various babysitters for my evening rehearsals and gigs. It was also incredibly difficult to piecemeal childcare, particularly this past winter when everyone seemed to have the flu and was constantly canceling or unavailable.

The biggest reason I'm excited to host an au pair is because we love hosting people from around the world. I mean, we have used Couchsurfing since 2008 and you know how much we love travel. It also seems like something we can do to show the privileged boys we are raising that the world is large. The cultural exchange portion of having an au pair is so exciting to me.

Our new family member arrives on Friday. She's a 25-year-old from Brazil, and she is delightful. Our boys love her already. (Well, Graham does. Angus doesn't have any idea what is going on, but he is only 1.5, so he'll learn.) I can't wait to help her with her English -- and for the boys to have another friend -- and also to be able to schedule actual working hours for myself and not have to worry about finding someone at the last minute for a gig that comes up suddenly.

We used an au pair agency and did the whole matchmaking process and she's got a proper visa and all that jazz. We went through Cultural Carehttp://culturalcare.com/ref?VVNYMjg4MTY3JnR5cGU9Mg  (fancy link there with my referral code!) and I couldn't recommend them more. They have been involved from the start and very helpful with all our questions and concerns and helped make the match.

Now I just need to finish the au pair's room -- I am wanting to make a sweet welcome basket and decorate her room beautifully, but I also don't want to mislead her into thinking I am a good housekeeper.

What should I put in her welcome basket???

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Personal life updates & potty-training a 23-month-old

Proof that I am not a perfect parent.
Proud parent post: Angus has decided to wear underwear!!! I was afraid of potty-training because Graham pretty much trained himself. Angus had started showing signs recently -- like disappearing in a corner to poop or letting me know he was peeing -- and I decided to get out the little toddler potty. Then I just put him on it and he went. And now whenever you put him on the potty, he goes. So I just started putting him on all the time, and now he tells me. It's magical, and I ask no questions.

Now, remember, if you are a parent who is hating me right now, know that 1) that's not healthy and 2) I probably hated you (also not healthy) when you announced that your child sleeps through the night or when you complained that your kid was up twice last night, when I'm, like, omg twice a night is the dream.

But enough hating -- that's not healthy, right?

Trying to focus on gratitude and positivity, and I am so grateful for this new phase of childhood. The weight off my shoulders that I didn't even know was there -- the freedom to not pack a diaper bag. The ability to give away all the cloth diapers that live on a table that can now display flowers instead of wipes ... gah!!!! I'm so excited, people.

Other life updates: Mom has started a new kind of chemotherapy, and she had her second round of treatment earlier this week. She's also going to be around for Angus's 2nd birthday, which is huge! I remember this time last year crossing our fingers that she would make it to his 1st.

Angus turns two in 2 weeks!

I, like a great mother, took a gig in Nashville on his actual birthday (judge away, people), so festivities will have to be delayed till the weekend. I guess I should maybe, like, plan a party or something.

Please enjoy this sweet video of big brother reading bedtime stories to little brother.

Also, today 3/1, at 2pm, I'll be on Kyle Meredith's radio who on www.wfpk.org.
And Saturday 3/3, I'll be at Uncommon Ground in Chicago opening for John Whitaker, who has a new album out!