Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Legos v. Lincoln Logs.

While I was teaching piano lessons last night, I apparently missed out on some fun: David was doing something Lego-related for school with our houseguests (did I mention it's a highly-ranked MBA Programme? Legos?!). Later he explained to me that he was talking about childhood memories of Legos or marketing or something like that, and he asked me about my Legos. To his shock, I told him I didn't have any.

"I had Lincoln Logs."

Well, this, my friends, sent him in to wild fits of laughter. "Lincoln Logs?! I thought that's what our grandparents played with! Bwahahahahah!"

I went on to explain that the boys across the street had Legos, but they never let me play with them because of the old No-Girls-Allowed rule. "I think I got one or two Legos once as a Happy Meal prize, but you can't really build anything with one or two Legos." If he wasn't rolling before, he was getting the side-splits now.

"You poor thing! Lincoln Logs Bwahahahahah! You can only build squares!"

"And other quadrilaterals!!"

Was I really so deprived?

After some research, I learned that Lincoln Logs were, indeed, invented for our grandparents -- in the year 1916. Interesting fact: they were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright's son.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Burns Night Festivities!

David and I have had our own makeshift Burns Nights the past few years, but this year we went to our first actual real official Scottish Burns Supper. It was hosted by the Business School, an organization clever enough to celebrate on a weekend night rather than the standard January 25th.

When we lived in Louisville, we made a vegetarian haggis on January 25 and called my friend Lyzz in Texas, who plays the bagpipes. Like I said, it was makeshift. The University supper was complete with many a kilt, a lone bagpiper, an address to the haggis (featuring witty poetry in Scots and enthusiastic stabbing of the haggis), plenty of whisky, and dancing. Before you meat-eaters jump down my throat telling me veggie haggis doesn't count, let me tell you that I've yet to find a menu in town that doesn't offer a vegetarian version. (Plus, it's really nutritious and quite tasty!) It was a grand evening.
In some respects, it seems like a Fourth of July for Scotland. They don't have a official Independence Day [YET] that I know of, so days like St. Andrews Day and Burns Night are good excuses to celebrate all that is Scottish. Technically, it's a day to celebrate Robert Burns, who was born on January 25. And celebrating all that is Robert -- whisky, poetry, song, lassies -- seems like a proper tribute to all that is Scotland.

I didn't do any dancing because dancing didn't even get started until 11:30pm -- late enough to be whisky-tired not whisky-frisky. I practiced my ceilidh calling in my head instead. In December, I attended a calling class where I became a pro at announcing the intricate steps to the Gay Gordons and the Dashing White Sergeant (okay, okay so those are the two easiest dances of all, but give a girl a break!). Anyway, I love dancing, but I was ready for bed after all that food. Believe it or not, I actually passed on the free drams (it was a blend -- bleghh!). I'll leave it to you as to whether I partook of the flask of Laphroaig that someone else may or may not have brought...

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Me? In a Bridal Magazine?

Last year I was inundated with bridal magazines. This year I'm in one! How fun is that? If you were not at our wedding (sorry -- we had to keep it small for budget reasons), but you're just dying to see photos and stuff (ha ha), then pick up a the latest issue of Louisville Bride. (Their website is out-of-date, so you can't see it online, unfortunately.)

Also, in the piece I wrote for the magazine, I mentioned a funny little incident where the groom's cake we ordered (supposed to be shaped like Texas with Lone Star icing) actually arrived iced with pentagrams. Colleen, who was in charge of the groom's cake, graciously kept this little mistake to herself and crafted an entirely new Texas-shaped cake that afternoon, so there were no freakouts -- at least not by me. I never named the cake company who did this (it's a local Louisville bakery), but I want to make clear here that it was NOT the amazing Adrienne & Company, who did our main wedding cake. Adrienne & Co Indiana-based bakery makes to-die-for cakes, and they had nothing to do with the pentagram incident. Just wanted to clear their good name:)

There were so many excellent people to thank, I wish I could've just had a whole page of thank yous. But, ah, editing! You all know who you are. Although, funny, I don't think most of those people read my blog, now that I think about it...

Also... today is my half birthday! And Burns Night ... I love today:)

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Storming the Castle -- Daily.

I'm trying to hard to pull myself out of this winter funk. It happens every year, but it's been worse in Scotland. I miss Monday night bluegrass sessions with Steve Cooley at Gerstle's (though you probably miss it too since it was canceled a couple of years ago). Those Monday nights were great stress reliefs and a good excuse to put on grownup clothes. Most of my work involves internet/Skype, so I don't technically have to change out of my pink panda pajama pants. It's a rough life, I know.

Still, I'm trying to look forward to a few things. My favorite instant mood improvers involve baking, which probably isn't a good idea considering our beltlines and budgets. So I'm looking into non-consumer alternatives (we thought buying a fancy Anthropologie quilt would satiate our ennui, but then we never ended up buying it), if anyone's got any bright ideas.

We did join Historic Scotland, which means free entry to the Castle until next year. I'm thinking about walking there daily, having tea in the cafe, and getting some writing done. I mean, if you can't get creative while writing from a castle, where can you? I wonder if they allowed pink panda pajamas there...

How do you beat winter blues?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cold fingers and a guitar.

Newsflash! I just got out my guitar and strummed a few chords. I'm thinking I might play more often if I could feel my fingers. It's cold in the flat because, well, I turned off the heat. Truthfully, I am absolutely terrified of our gas bill. No one has taken a reading since early November, and I think that means we'll have a three-month bill when it comes. Three months of winter all at once! I've been saving, but I have no idea how much to expect. I think I'm expecting the worse, but what if the worse is waaaaaay worse than I'm expecting?

On that note, anyone want to buy a CD?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Scotland v. Texas.

This whole Scottish Independence possibility is pretty intriguing. I've got many native friends, and they seem equally divided on the sanity of the proposition -- as many who think it's preposterous, as think it's inevitable. I'm remaining like Switzerland or Kentucky in this debate.

In thinking about David's career, however, I kind of hope that Scotland secedes. Additionally, I hope that Texas (which, apparently, is the only state that can legally do so) secedes from the United States. Then, I'm thinkin David could finally put that great hair to good use as a politician, obviously becoming the Texas Ambassador to Scotland. Or maybe the Scottish Ambassador to Texas... I'd better think about this some more.

Scotland and Texas really do have a lot in common. They were both former independent nations. You never hear a Texan say they are from "The States." They always say, "I'm from Texas," just like you would never hear a Scotsman say he was from Great Britain. They both like football. Their populations both think their country is the better than yours. I have a hard time understanding many of their accents. They both have lots of oil. They both have the letter "A" in their names. Okay, I'm beginning to sound like a second-grader, so I'll let you all come up with more similarities while I go off in search of a latte. Thoughts?

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Flat Stanley is headed home.

David and I have been hosting Flat Stanley for a couple of months now, and he's beginning to wear out his welcome. He doesn't cook, he doesn't clean, he just sits there in a pile of stuff -- doesn't even bother to move the newspaper before he takes a nap on top of it.

And what did we do for him? We took him to Rome, Florence, Venice, and all over Edinburgh and the Highlands. We even took him to see the Pope on Christmas Day, for goodness sake, and how does he repay us? Well, at least he doesn't make a lot of noise or eat.

I won't miss him, but I'm afraid David has grown a bit attached. So long, Stanley!

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Toast, tatties, whisky = kilograms. Lots of kilograms.

I've never been obsessed about my weight, but this morning, while at the doctor's office, I stepped on a scale for the first time since October. October's number of kilograms was both pleasing in its double-digit numbers and also in the conversion to pounds. I attributed the weight loss to life without a car, in a flat sixty stairs from the ground. It revived sense of I-can-eat-whatever-I-want-because-I-walk-everywhere, like when I was nineteen and living in New York. The number was so pleasing, in fact, that I began to eat butter popsicles for breakfast. Well, that's not entirely true, but a few weeks in Italy was apparently not as good for my body as it was for my soul (despite walking fifteen miles a day!), nor are snacks of tatties and toast (slathered in Irish butter, of course).

In good news, however, the doctor's visit didn't cost me a penny, so at least I'm getting rich in my elastic pants.

I can't handle dieting because dieting is stupid, so I suppose it's time to start exercising. And exercise apparently means more than climbing 60 stairs twice a day.

I know I'm not fat, so please ... no pep talks. But I'm sort of bummed that my body apparently got used to walking several miles a day in a matter of months. I really like tatties, toast, and whisky. If only the Whisky Society was farther away...

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Some good Scottish music.

As usual, I've been doing more than just being a singer-songwriter over here. I've also been a sideman, as I have been known to do back home as well. It's nice to have no pressure/no poster-hanging gigs. I don't have the holy-crap-my-career-is-over-if-the-crowd-is-weak moment before the show starts, and I get to be on stage playing music with good people.

I've mentioned Adam before, but I thought I'd point you to some of his tunes today. He's barely 21 and has received more accolades than most songsters I know. He also sings with a Scottish accent and happens to be a good guy. I'm terribly jealous that he has bandmates who do things like his website and booking and social media (artist friends, can you imagine?), but he's just too nice to hate on.

Have a listen at:

I'm not on any of those recordings, but if my tummyache goes away, I'll be recording with him a bit tomorrow. Oh, and we're playing the Traverse Theatre (next to Usher Hall) tonight at 8:30. It's "Free entry," as they say over here.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Treats from Home.

My parents and I were never big on Christmas. I wasn't deprived child or anything, but we just only ever exchange a few gifts -- usually a Hawley-Cooke gift certificate and some clothes. This year was a biggie though, even if I got it a few weeks after Christmas: My parents came to Scotland!

They also came bearing gifts -- wee, but mighty. We have needed various material things, but we refuse to buy them for several reasons.
1) We don't want to buy anything we can't take home with us. And we aren't shipping boxes. Everything comes back in the same suitcases that came with us.
2) We don't have the money to spend on little Ikea marketplace items that cavemen lived without. Student budget, anyone? In a country where the dollar is basically worth a shilling?

Here's what they brought:
A wooden spoon (technically, a wooden spork):
Our kitchen is "furnished," but not to the spoiled American standard. It's not even furnished to a spoiled Scottish standard. I can live without my Kitchenaid Stand Mixer, but the lack of a simple wooden spoon was torture.

A spatula that actually gets underneath things:
There are two spatulas in our weakly-furnished kitchen, but both have been loved by previous tenants. They were burned and crusty long before our arrival. I'm pretty sure the neighbor thinks David & I get into shouting matches at breakfast, but it's just me screaming expletives because I cannot flip an egg. Thanks to my parental units, we now own our own spatula.

Chocolate chips:
A few ex-pats have told me they have found chocolate chips, but I've yet to experience that thrill. Until my parents showed up with two bags. It's cookie season!

Hugs from home:
Hugs are worth ten billion wooden spoons.

Monday, January 16, 2012

New year, new resolve.

Something rather spectacular happened over the Christmas holidays: I received two donations for my blog via Paypal (handwritten thank you notes to follow). Like, from people who read my blog. Then, what did I do? I took a week off from blogging. How horrible is that?

The winter has been hard on me. It's not very cold in Scotland (no matter how much the natives complain), but the darkness is intense. Even with my SAD lamp and a trip to Italy, I've been fatigued and weary for months. Writing is both my biggest stress relief and the hardest thing in the world to do. That goes for writing a blog or responding to an email. (Sorry, I know I owe you a response. I've been thinking of you and harboring more guilt than you know.)

If I'm going to accept these generous donations guiltlessly, I need to find a balance between collecting stories and writing about them. It's the same with anything that's good for you. Discipline is required.

I've got loads of stories, not-so-deep thoughts, and photos to share. And I shall share them this week.

Look forward to: a cooking lesson from a lovely Scottish woman who taught me to make a traditional Scottish pudding recipe, a day-trip to St. Andrews, several evenings at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, deep thoughts on spending 24 hours a day with your husband for five weeks in a row (we are still gooey in love, ladies, so don't get any ideas!), and maybe even some music here and there.

New year, new resolve.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Visitors from home.

My parents are coming to visit today!* We haven't had nearly as many visitors as I thought we'd have, especially based on the "Hey, we're going to visit you in Scotland!" cheers we heard last summer. That's not meant to guilt-trip anyone; I know how hard an international trip is to plan (believe me). People seem to be afraid of Scottish winters, but I still contend that it's Baby Winter compared to Kentucky. And I know Kentucky's had some freakishly warm days lately, but I also know that it will get down to single-digit Fahrenheit at some point there. No chance of those numbers here.

Anyway, my parents do not fear the weather nor the flight, and I cannot wait to see them. They were here once about ten years ago, when I dragged them on another European trip. I'm betting they never thought they'd come back to Scotland. Now I must find adventurous ways of keeping everyone occupied without exhausting them. In remembering that not everyone can keep up with my sightseeing pace, I also note that I must have gotten the tourist gene from someone ... we'll see who can keep up this week.

*Prospective burglars, you should know that BOTH of the beasts are still at their home (see photo), along with several housesitters. I'm not kidding when I say "beasts." They will sit on you, then eat you:

Monday, January 9, 2012

A trip to the Highlands (Scotland, not Louisville)

I'm no good at vacation. The minute I finally get my mind calm and relaxed, I start remembering all the things I have to do, all the emails I haven't replied to, and voicemails I can't access (the ongoing war with my mobile phone company). But this past weekend was a really good attempt at relaxation.

David and I got a car and headed up to the Highlands. He drove because I still freak out when there's a manual transmission involved. When I'm on tour all through the countryside, I have to keep my eyes focused on the road even when I'm not driving. Everyone I tour with is American and uncomfortable with driving on the left. So I'm the back-up eyes, reminding drivers to stay left, look right at the roundabout, but go left, watch out for the curb (depth-perception is the main issue when driving backwards cars), and stay every bit as awake as the driver. David, however, has driven enough over here that I don't have to warn him about sheep and stone walls anymore. So I got to enjoy the scenery.

Now it's your turn:
Stirling... think Battle of Stirling

Glencoe ... think the Campbells slay the Macdonalds:

Friday, January 6, 2012

Book-it! Novels, challenges, lists ... and what to read next...

I know pride is a sin and all, but, hey, I'm not really into labels. That way I can be proud of myself for completing my 2011 GoodReads Challenge. It's a self-imposed book-reading goal and has been a fun way to keep track of books and pages that I read. I read a total of 58 books last year (though I only listed 54 -- 17,000 pages --- on GoodReads because I don't want you all to know about all the smut I've been reading). My dad read just as many books (53), but wayyyyyy more pages (25,000). Okay, okay, so one of my books was Daisy Miller. It's not exactly a tome, but at least it's a classic. I totally admit to reading lots of guilty-pleasures. There's nothing better when you need an escape. But I guarantee you, not one of my dad's books was a "baby book," as he likes to refer to my reading list.

This year, I set my GoodReads goal to 60 books. That seems like a lot, but consider that George W. Bush supposedly read 95 books during 2006. Ninety-five. Yes, there are loads of jokes ready for the making, but still ... give pause and think.

I've read two books so far in 2012 (2% ahead!) -- one trashy fiction and one thoughtful non-fiction. Now I have a massive list of things I need to read. Still, I'd love nothing more than to be in the middle of a novel-I-don't-want-to-end. Anyone reading one of those right now? I'm envious...

Anyway, back to vacation.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Movies, Intermissions, and Gone With The Wind.

I'm a big believer in intermissions. Movies are fun, but they've gotten way too long over the past ten years. Ninety-three minutes is about my limit. Any longer, and I think an intermission should be required. A well-traveled friend told me that many movie theaters in Switzerland have intermissions, AKA ice-cream breaks, in movies no matter what the length. Consider it a seventh-inning stretch -- a chance to refill that extra-large popcorn you didn't think you'd finish and use the loo.

David and I watched "Gone With The Wind" a couple of nights ago. He streamed it from Lovefilm as a joke, knowing there was no way in hell I'd agree to watch it. My basic two requirements of movies we watch at home are 1) they need to be less than two hours and 2) they don't make me think in the slightest. Boy, did I shock him when I got excited about GWTW.

I hadn't seen it in probably ten years, and David has -- get this -- NEVER SEEN IT.* I know, right? It made for a nice evening in our living room pillow fort. Plus, there was the actual intermission, several other self-imposed intermissions, and witty commentary from me. Well, that probably annoyed him, but do I like to browse IMDB on my phone while watching movies and share bits of trivia.

For example, we already know that both Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were released in 1939, but did you know that they had the same director? If I were Victor Fleming, I would have retired after that year. I mean, how can you top that?

What's your favorite scene? I like the part in the beginning when all the women have to take naps during the party, while the men stay downstairs, drink, smoke cigars, and talk about war. I think Kentucky Derby parties should adopt similar policies.

*He also watched The Sound of Music for the first time last Christmas, at my insistence. WTF?!?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Another shout-out to the NHS or "I Love the Dentist!"

Can I just give another shout-out to the NHS this morning? David had two fillings and a teeth cleaning, and the total cost was ... drum roll, please ... forty dollars. Twenty-six pounds! Also, this morning, while providing moral support for David's dental appointment (he doesn't do well with drills), I asked to schedule my own teeth cleaning. The earliest time they could get me in was ... wait for it ... tomorrow morning.

Another interesting fact about life in the UK: my migraines have been satiated by a little bit of medication called Tylenol (acetaminophen) with codeine, which is not only Over-the-counter here, but cost about two dollars for 36 pills. Sure, they make me nauseated, but so does a migraine. At least they help the pain. Regular ol' tylenol/acetaminophen cost literally £0.15 ($0.23 -- twenty-three Lincoln pennies) for a pack of 16.

I've had a few complaints about bad customer service and ridiculous TV licenses, but today I'm pretty pleased with life in the United Kingdom. In fact, maybe I'll work on a whole blog about things that are better over here than back home. Remind me to tell you some amazing things about their library technology ...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Scary flights, barf bags, and pretty pictures.

Flying into Scotland is scary. Last week I was pretty sure we were going to slam into the ground because of the strong winds tossing the plane around. David probably still has fingernail imprints on his arm. Also, it was the only flight I've ever had to reach for the barf bag. I did not end up needing it, but at least four nearby passengers did.

As we exited the plane (we are safe!), several people handed their used barf bags to the flight attendants, which doesn't really seem fair. I think that pilots should have to handle such refuse as punishment for the rough landing. Okay, okay, so maybe it's not their fault the winds are high in Scotland, but, but, but...

The winds are mighty again today. We woke up because the flat (and we live in an old, sturdy, stone, tenement building) was shaking. Car alarms kept ringing because the strong winds were setting them off. The fireplace is still howling with white noise. But the sky is blue and the clouds are rolling by.

We'd planned on taking a day trip today, but officials are advising people not to drive or take the trains. So now what?

I guess it's time to share some Italy photos. I posted a million on Facebook yesterday, but I prefer the comforts of this blogspace.

Sunset over the medieval village of Isola Farnese:

Christmas at the Colosseum:

The Etruscan city of Veio (ruins):

Monday, January 2, 2012

Egg Rolls for Breakfast. It makes sense, I swear.

I woke up this morning all demanding and entitled (hush!), insisting that David take me out for a greasy egg roll. My American readers are probably now wondering why I wanted Chinese food for breakfast. Let me enlighten thee.

In Scotland, an egg roll is not a deep fried wanton, but rather a fried egg sandwich served on a Scottish roll. These rolls are unlike anything you've ever had -- even better than those Thanksgiving yeast rolls from the frozen section at Kroger's. They are hamburger bun-esque, but larger and delicately soft. The natives here seem to like them with bacon (a bacon roll), but I adore egg rolls with cheese. (Oddly, sliced cheese seems to evade the egg roll purveyors, as they sprinkle shredded cheddar on the griddle. Ah, anthropology.)

I actually wanted one yesterday, but I assumed everything would be closed then. Everyone knows January 1 is Hangover Day, right? David and I just stayed in our pajamas all day, like proper Americans. By this morning I was craving an egg roll with greasy intensity, only to discover that all of Edinburgh is still on holiday. Apparently, January 2 is Hangover Day over here. I mean, it's nice that these holidays are for everyone. Back home most restaurants don't close on days when the masses are looking to celebrate. But I must respect a city that makes room for everyone to have a day off.

I guess I'll have to go to the store for some Scottish rolls and make my own sandwich now.

Now for some photos of fireworks exploding over our heads:

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Eve in Edinburgh = best party ever.

I've had some pretty fun New Year's Eves. Last year I had a low-key evening in Gatlinburg, starting the evening with Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede (yes, that is a real thing), and ending it watching fireworks over the Smoky Mountains. The night of Y2K, I was in the basement newsroom of CBS News in New York City, taking in and logging live feeds of celebrations on the hour (and the half-hour in Newfoundland) as each time zone welcomed the year 2000. I've also performed at some crazy parties, and I've had loads of good times. Last night's Edinburgh celebration might have topped them all.

The party began on December 30 with the Torchlight Procession (see yesterday's blog), and it continues through tomorrow (Jan 2) with yet another day off work for employees here. That's four days of celebration, for those of you who can't do math with a hangover.

Last night, about 80,000 people attended the street parties on Princes Street, with thousands of other people taking to various other parties around the city. We joined some good friends for a viewing party on top of Calton Hill, where we had a clear view of the street party and the hourly (yes, HOURLY!) fireworks atop Edinburgh Castle. Not only could we see the light show from across town, but there were fireworks literally exploding above our heads, as Calton Hill was host to its own spectacular. Once the cannon (at the castle) fired at midnight, the fireworks lasted about five minutes, -- I know, it's nothing compared to the forty-minute Thunder Over Louisville -- but I must say that a five-minute show in a medieval city is plenty. The whole town looks like a fairy tale, and, I'm sorry, but I get bored with Thunder Over Louisville. Now if Louisville had a castle, maybe that would change, but...

Also, singing "Auld Lang Syne" with thousands of other folks in the country where Robert Burns wrote it was pretty cool. David attempted to follow-up "Auld Lang Syne" with the traditional singing of "New York, New York," but that didn't catch on for some reason.

Not having been familiar with Hogmanay, I know that most of you are in doubt that Edinburgh celebrates New Year's any better than other world cities. You are wrong. That is fact. Edinburgh hosts one of the largest New Year's parties in the world, and has a population of only 500,000. This party rivals the Kentucky Derby, and that's saying something.

And the Scots love New Year's! I haven't seen that much cheer and joy since the Yankees won the 1996 World Series -- complete strangers hugging on the street, introducing themselves, reveling, and making new best friends.

Also -- and this I still cannot fathom, despite having packed a backpack last night -- it's BYOB. Even the ticketed street party! It's as if the Derby Infield suddenly would allow you to bring in booze. Except the Scots are more well-behaved than Derby revelers...

If you want to read some more about the history of Hogmanay, try this article, which explains how Christmas was banned here for hundreds of years and why New Year's takes precedence. Now it's time to get ready for the New Year's Games ... Hangover Day isn't until January 2 in Scotland.

Happy New Year!

Here is a video I found on YouTube. It was filmed from the park across from our flat. But we were directly underneath the fireworks on the left of the screen. Also, there were several more fireworks displays in other parts of the city ... wild!