Monday, December 12, 2011

The Best Christmas Carols You've Never Heard

Heap on more wood!--the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We'll keep our Christmas merry still.

(Sir Walter Scott, Marmion)

Some might call me a Christmas music snob. I consider myself a devout purist. Years ago I set aside Frosty and Rudolph in favor of holiday tunes of an ancient variety embraced by our ancestors. Christmas revelers in 16th century Europe sang a mixture of religious and pagan hymns at Yule tide, none of which included “Do They Know It’s Christmastime at All?” or any references to Comet, Cupid, Donder or Blitzen.

Before you call me a humbug, let me say that I absolutely love Christmas music. It’s just that the music that warms me most at Christmas time is that of the oldest carols. These songs roll back the centuries and connect us to our ancestors, who huddled around fires and roasted the last fatted pig to get themselves through the winter. And so in the spirit of merriment I present to you the best Christmas carols you’ve never heard. So give yourself a break from Justin Bieber’s rendition of “Let it Snow” and indulge your ears with these ancient melodies. I made all of these youtube videos myself so it’s safe to click on them. Merry Christmas!

Célébrons la Naissance, 16th century French carol

Rosa Minstrels

Riu Riu, 16th century Catalan (Spanish) hymn

Anuna, Celtic Origins

Il Est Ne, Le Divin Enfant, 17th century French carol

(Sometimes heard in English as “He is born, the holy child”)

Diane Taraz, Hope! Says the Holly

Gaudete, 16th century Latin carol, believed to have originated in Scandinavia

The Boar’s Head Carol, 15th century English

(This one was in my mother’s piano book but I’ve never heard it played in the USA)

The Cheiftans, Bells of Dublin

Monday, December 5, 2011

Texas in my Rearview Mirror

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.
-Maya Angelou

For the greater part of my life, I have had a troubled relationship with my homeland. My Scottish DNA never adapted to the Texas heat. I melt like an ice cube in Hades and sunburn quicker than you can say, “Pass the Coppertone.” The allergens, bugs and politics irritate the sanity right out of me. I spent years dreaming about living somewhere else – somewhere cold, free of bugs and of self-righteous hatred for those who are different. You know what they say: Be careful what you wish for or you just might get it. Now I’m living in Scotland, my dream destination. It’s plenty cold and I’m not allergic to everything that grows. I get to enjoy learning a different cultural style and trying out new foods, new hobbies and new ways of thinking. I feel connected to my ancient foremothers and forefathers who were forced to quit this verdant land under genocidal circumstances. In some small way, my being here reverses their forced emigration.

And yet, I miss Texas. I find myself becoming an enthusiastic connoisseur of bar-be-que and tacos, foods I never cared much about before. I get excited when I see Texas on the news. I’m regularly tempted to drop Spanish words into conversation, which are never understood here. (If the Scots think Mexican food includes fried chicken with bbq sauce in a “fuh-jie-tuh” then they certainly don’t stand a chance of understanding my frequent use of “no me gusta.”) On my recent visit with my family, I found myself appreciating the Texas sun, wide open spaces and even occasionally country music (quite a shock as I’ve always hated it). My English friend, Jan, once said to me that when you’re back in the place where you grew up as a child, you can relax into a state of being that needs no translation. I think it takes living away from one’s hometown to understand the bliss that can come from a visit to the place where one has universal understanding, and one’s cultural translation muscles are allowed to atrophy.

I don’t have a desire to live in Texas again, especially considering that the very air closes up my lungs and sends me straight to the allergist. But living away helps me love and appreciate my home state as I never have before. I have become the Texas Ambassador to Scotland, enthusiastically importing Stubb’s bbq sauce for all who are deemed worthy of its glory, telling everyone who asks that yes, Texas really IS that big; It’s bigger than France! I find myself far more proud of my state when abroad than I ever was at home, despite Rick Perry’s frequent attempts to make me hide my face in shame. In the immortal words of Mac Davis, “I thought happiness was Texas in my rear view mirror . . . but now happiness is Texas gettin’ nearer and dearer.”

Photo: Paul and me goofing off in cowboy hats.

Song of the day: Texas in my Rear-view Mirror by Mac Davis

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Academic Ancestry

I’ve discovered family ties to two famous Brits and I couldn’t be more proud!

Eight years ago I lost one of my dearest friends to Lyme’s disease. His death hit me hard and I felt as if a part of my own being had been severed, leaving an angry wound and a soul-deep longing for my beloved friend. Then I found a piece of prose written by Henry Scott Holland that gave me more comfort than any other words have ever done. It’s an excerpt from a sermon that has become one of the most famous writings about loss. It’s called “Death is Nothing at All.”

Death is nothing at all.

It does not count.

I have only slipped away into the next room.

Nothing has happened.

Everything remains exactly as it was.

I am I, and you are you,

and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.

Whatever we were to each other,

that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name.

Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.

Put no difference into your tone.

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed

at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.

Let it be spoken without an effort,

without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant.

It is the same as it ever was.

There is absolute and unbroken continuity.

What is this death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you, for an interval,

somewhere very near, just round the corner.

All is well.

Today I discovered that those words, which have meant so much to me over the years., were penned by a relative. Henry Scott Holland is a distant cousin. He wrote speech as part of a sermon during his tenure as Canon for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. I have visited St. Paul’s many times and always find peace there, wrapping the stillness of the building and the voices of the choir around myself like a thick blanket. One of my ancestors, Salvator Muscoe, cut the stones for St. Paul’s, so perhaps it is not such a mystery that I find the place so meaningful when family connections abound.

I’ve spent the summer labouring over my Masters dissertation, and during the stolen hours when I’ve found time for “fun” research (genealogy), I have discovered another well known academic in the family tree. My ancestor Philemon Holland was a well-known Elizabethan scholar. He translated the classics into English during the century when the English middle-class was learning to read for the first time. Thanks to Philemon, we have the works of Erasmus, Suetonius, and Plutarch preserved in English. His books are still available on Amazon to this day. As I’m struggling for academic achievement, I’m proud to know I come from a family of scholars, especially one like Philemon who used his talents for the public good. Now back to the books! I’ve got to make Grandpa Holland (and cousin Holland) proud!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Going Native

I think it's happening . . . I'm starting to go native. It became noticeable when my word choices changed. I've started saying "boot" instead of "trunk" and "shop" instead of "store." Those are the most noticeable but there are smaller changes in phrasing that I've noticed too. I've started saying "just now" instead of "right now." I used to consciously change words when speaking to my British friends in order to be best understood. Now I find myself having to consciously choose to say "parking lot" to my mom instead of "car park." But perhaps the biggest shock came today, when I unconsciously thought (not spoke - thought) the word "hoose" instead of "house." That's the first time local Scots slang has ever appeared in my head. I'll be saying "fit ye doin?" next. No wonder I've always been a quick study at foreign languages. I'm a linguistic chameleon.

Next month I'll be making a long trip to Texas, and even though I'm really chuffed (excited), I've been thinking of what I'll miss in Scotland. Besides missing my Paul, I will miss the sea, the rain, the emerald green of grass that only occurs in rainy climates. I'll miss crumpets and cool weather and buildings that are beautiful old buildings.

America holds most of the people I love and has a tremendous piece of my heart. But Scotland has also become my home. I'm a cultural wanderer, at home everywhere and nowhere because no matter where I am, part of my heart (not to mention my vocabulary) is somewhere else. This divided heart is the immigrant's curse. So many Americans are the product of the courage of immigrants from all over the world. They broke their own hearts, severed forever ties to their homes and families at a time when there were no blogs. They made a dangerous and expensive crossing to a place they'd never been in hope of making something new. And here we are, children of their courage. Every time I'm homesick I gain a little more respect for my ancestors' sacrifice.

I'm slowly learning how to make home portable, to take it along wherever I go. When I met Paul I knew I was at home. I think I have become a citizen of the world. Luckily, my world has planes, telephones and blogs. I miss all of you in America and hope to see you soon! And I will miss all of you in Scotland while I'm there.

Song of the Day: Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears by Sean Keane. It's about the first immigrant who passed through Ellis Island. She was an Irish immigrant named Annie Moore and she never saw Ireland again. She took home with her to America.

Photos: My parents and me at Glenbuchat Castle, My Dad, Paul and me at Kildrummy Castle.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Queen's Camp David and and a Sailor's Hometown Pride

"He is the happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home." (Goethe)

Last Saturday Paul took me to Balmoral Castle. Dating from the 16th century but greatly remodled in 1852, it was purchased by Victoria and Albert and has been in the Royal family ever since. The Queen Mother (played by Helena Bonham Carter in "The King's Speech") once lived there. It currently serves as Queen Elizabeth's Scottish vacation home. Because it's an inhabited Royal palace, the area open to visitors is limited. I was reminded of my visit to the White House and how the public enthusiasticly pays admission and stands in line to see a couple of rooms. Tourists in Washington don't visit the White House to see the yellow velvet chairs. They make the trip because of the great national significance the building holds for them. I felt the same about Balmoral. It's status as a Royal retreat made it feel a bit like Camp David (though far more attractive, I'm sure). Throngs of toursits visit every summer to see where the Queen walks her corgies and gets the rare opportunity to drive her own car. Some locals I've talked to are very proud that their own beautiful Aberdeenshire attracts the attention of the Royal family each year. The route taken from Aberdeen to Balmoral is known as Royal Deeside, named for the adjacent Dee river. The Queen's patronage brought out throngs of people who would line the streets to see her motorcade pass. While she no longer takes the slow route to Balmoral, Royal Deeside hasn't lost any of its pride. It's a lovely part of Aberdeenshire where you can look across the river and into the Cairngorm Mountains. This is where the highlands begin. I know this because there's a large sign reading "You are now in the highlands," as if anyone could fail to notice the sudden presence of mountains that seem to spring up out of nowhere. Another reason I love Royal Deeside is that it's a region undiscovered by American tourists, leaving this Yankee feeling like I'm truly in Scotland each time I'm there. "The Kings Speech" and "The Queen" are both great films to check out if you'd like to see Balmoral on screen.

Speaking of cultural experiences, I had one this morning. An old Scottish sailor approached me outside Marischal College and told me how much he loves the gothic college, which originated in 1593 as a Protestant alternative to the Catholic King's College (part of the University of Aberdeen where I now attend). He told me that Marischal College is to Aberdeen what the Sydney Opera House is to Sydney. It's the local landmark, the most beautiful part of the city, the way he knows he's home. He also had some choice words for St. Nicholas House, the modern style Aberdeenshire council building across the street. He feels that it spoils the lovely view. I have to agree: St. Nicholas House is rather an eyesore and also conceals the 16th century manor house built by Provost Skene. I have to use my imagination to see the view that Skene would have had from his window: a grand, gothic palace of a college, towering above the city like a giant. He would have seen contemporary scholars of Martin Luther and Thomas Moore meandering the green as they debated doctrinal issues like Papal authority and whether God can be experienced personally by each individual or filtered through a church hierarchy. Provost Skene probably attended "Kirk Sessions" at Marischal college. Similar to the Puritan courts of colonial New England, these church magistrates decided on legal fines and punishments for crimes like adultery, theft and wife-beating. Punishments could include anything from time in the stocks to banishment from the city.

The Aberdeenshire city council is moving from the eyesore building and into Marischal College where they will debate legal issues of our time: where to place traffic lights, how to fix the budget deficit, and which potholes deserve their attention first. And so once again Marischal College will play its part in the leadership of Aberdeen.

Photos: Balmoral Castle, 1890 sketch and current photo of Marischal College in Aberdeen
Song of the Day: "Home" by Scottish expat Ciaran Dorris. This song is for the old sailor who has made Aberdeen his home. The video is by a photographer in Perthshire, where Mr. Dorris calls home. It has a few shots of the Cairngorm Mountains, which he mentions in his song.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Weekend in the Highlands

"My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go." (Robert Burns)

Paul took me to the highlands for a weekend "mini-break" and we had a lovely time exploring a part of the country which I've never visited. We drove to Invergarry, Fort William, the west coast and Inverness and saw such beautiful scenery that I felt I was really in Scotland. West of Fort William, the roads are single lanes and the signs are in Gaelic. The landscape is so breathtaking that it's almost painful - especially to drive away! There are no words to grasp the true beauty of Scotland so I am simply posting a slideshow. The music is "The Gallant Shearers" by the Tannahill Weavers. Sites include the Cairngorm Mountains, Corgarff Castle, Aviemore Ring Cairn, Ruthven Barracks, many highland lochs (lakes), Glencoe, Inverlochy Castle, Invergarry Castle, Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, Beauly Priory, Kinloss Abbey, and Duffus Castle.

If this doesn't make you want to visit Scotland, nothing ever will.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Enchanting England

Oh, to be in England now that April's there.

- Robert Browning

I’ve been so busy traveling and taking great photos for the blog that I’ve been forgetting to actually write the blog. Earlier this month Paul and I traveled to England with his parents. On the way out of Scotland we stopped at the border town of Gretna Green, Scotland's elopement capital. It was made famous by English couples seeking to escape the parental consent laws who crossed the Scottish border and took advantage of the easy marriage laws. In case you're wondering, we didn't give in to temptation and tie the knot!

We visited the small town of Market Harborough in Leicestershire (that’s pronounced Lester-shire by the English who like to ignore letters). I got to meet Paul’s 93 year old grandmother (who is in great shape!) and see a bit of English countryside. We took a walk along the Foxton Locks and it was my first opportunity to see how the old system of canals really work. It’s an ingenious method of getting boats up a hill that involves raising the water (and thus the boat) form one level to the next by allowing water through a system of locks. There’s a short video on youtube that explains this much better than I could. I’ve embedded it below.

We also spent some time in the tiny, flower bedecked village of Medbourne. We had a quintessential English lunch, strolled along the canal and wandered through the old churchyard. Think of a period film like Pride and Prejudice and then add a few cars and you will have a good picture of Medbourne. I love poking around these places, investigating old churches and reading old tombstones. In Britain, where space is at a premium, it was customary to bury several people in the same grave. Headstones come with a list of names, usually of related family members. This is often quite surprising to us Americans!

Paul and I spent a few days in London seeing the Tower, British Museum, Film Museum, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, some decent Tex-Mex food at the Texas Embassy and Greenwich Royal Observatory. If you’ve never been to Greenwich, it’s worth the boat trip down the Thames to see the Prime Meridian. At zero degrees longitude, it divides the eastern and western hemispheres. Greenwich is the birthplace of King Henry VIII (whose illustrious codpiece can be viewed in the Tower of London’s armour exhibit). The royal city of stargazing and scientific study is today a nice day out from London where you can see a planetarium show and get a sunburn in the sprawling green spaces.

Below: you-tube canal and lock video, and my own video sideshow of Market Harborough, Foxton Locks, an old Saxon church at Little Bowden, Medbourne church and village, London City Hall, Tower of London with armor exhibit, Film Museum props (including Dr. Who's TARDIS, Harry Potter's triwizard robe, and Paul with his hairy twin) and Greenwich. Friday we set off for a trip into the Scottish highlands to stay in a castle! More photos to come.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Sightseeing: Abbey, Mountains, Castles and Garden

Spring is nature's way of saying, "Let's party!"
-Robin Williams

Levi and I had a fantastic week exploring Aberdeen city and shire. We took the train down to Arbroath in Angusshire and checked out Arbroath Abbey. Once a medival powerhouse, the remaining walls frame a cemetery and open green space. The sun was shining and it was warm enough that I actually got hot in my jacket. Spring has sprung in Scotland!

Saturday Paul took us on a scenic drive of Aberdeenshire. We visited Crathes Castle, a 16th century clan seat still standing which offers guided tours complete with ghost stories. I swore I felt something brush up against me on the stairs. Hmmmm . . .

After our tour steeped in Jacobite legend, we strolled though the well-kept garden. The blooming flowers and sunshine put me in a picture-taking mood. After the castle, we visited the ruined Church of St. Mary in Kincardine O'Neill and then went for a drive in the Cairngorms National Park. We ended the day at the ruined Glenbuchat Castle, perched on a hill with 360 degree views of the hills and the Don River.

Spring brings lots of new sightseeing possibilities and I can't wait to explore some more! This weekend we're leaving Scotland to spend a week in England. More adventures are in the making!

Song of the Day & Photos: I had so many good shots from this week that I made a slide show of them. You can see it here on youtube while drumming your fingers to the Scottish fiddle tune "You and No Other" performed by Texas group Circa Paleo.

Here are some shots of Paul, Levi and me at the castle also.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lonlely Lighthouses and Crazy Comida

Anything for the quick life, as the man said when he took the situation at the lighthouse.” (Charles Dickens)

I have a confession to make. After months of mocking the “Mexican” food in Scotland, I broke down and tried some yesterday. It was a beautiful sunny day and Paul and I headed down to Aberdeen Beach. He teasingly suggested we have lunch at the Mexican restaurant, knowing I would be horrified. I surprised him by consenting. I think it was the homesickness talking and I beg forgiveness and understanding from all of you who know better than to try Mexican in Scotland. And so the true Texan crossed the line and entered into Chiquito, the local chain selling food from “south of the border.” I think they mean the Scottish-English border. Anyway, I have to say that the chicken burrito I had wasn’t too bad. It came with normal things like refried beans (though not pinto), rice, sour cream and salsa. The spicy tomato sauce was definitely British, but so is my man so British can’t be all bad. What actually horrified me was the rest of the menu. Their choices of burrito fillings included chilli, Cajun beef, and duck. Wait . . . DUCK? Who the hell puts duck in a burrito? Granted, if a Mexican was hungry and had nothing but a duck and a tortilla, it might happen, but duck does not feature in Tex-Mex cuisine. Texans feed ducks at the park, not eat them. These Chiquito people are quacked.

We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling the beach and then drove up to a ruined Victorian era fort on the south side of the Harbour. The views of Aberdeen and the Aberdeen lighthouse were stunning. Lighthouses are so vital to the shipping industry here. Today they’re all electric but once upon a time a lonely little person had the job of living in that lighthouse and protecting the ships by keeping the oil burning and warning of the rocky coastline.

We also stopped by the ruined church of St. Fiddick’s with its old graveyard. A church was established here in the 13th century and the current building was abandoned in 1829. Ivy covers the walls and the remains of the church walls blend in with the surrounding gravestones. It’s in a cold and windy spot with an excellent view of the Bay of Nigg. As we drove home, I saw hundreds of purple and white tulip bulbs popping up from the grass. Aberdeen regularly win’s Britain’s “City in Bloom” contest and I’m told that spring is gorgeous here in the city. I’m looking forward to seeing the colours.

Paul just called me from Oslo on a business trip. He says the dinner menu in his room has Mexican food. The Europeans are killing me. Somebody please call the Mexican Ambassadors and tell them have a potentially dangerous situation on our hands. Ducks and the reputation of Mexican cuisine are being abused. Stop the madness!

Photos: Aberdeen seen from the bay, the Bay of Nigg and lighthouse, St. Fiddick's Church (above)

Song of the Day: Ready for the Storm by Dougie McLean, featuring another youtube slideshow of Scotland.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is pòsaidh mi . . . I will marry

Marriage is more than finding the right person. It is being the right person. (Unknown)

Paul proposed this morning. I accepted and I’m feeling like the luckiest woman alive. In marrying him I will gain the kindest and best of husbands, a man whose thoughtfulness of others inspires me to be a better person.

A Gaelic song keeps running through my head. “Is pòsaidh mi,” means “I will marry.” To marry someone is also to marry their family, but in my case I’m also marrying a country. I will always be a Texan, but I will also be Scottish resident. And in doing so I return in joy to the country my ancestors left in desperation for a better life. In the Scots Gaelic language, one cannot be married to a spouse, but rather at a spouse. I will be married at Paul, and I will be married at Scotland.

Song of the Day: Tighinn Air A'mhuir Am Fear a Phosas Mi by Capercaillie. Someone after my own heart has made a lovely slideshow of Scottish scenery to accompany this song. While I’m not marrying “the shepherd of the yearling sheep” described in these lyrics, I like it all the same.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cullen Skink, Cows that Wink, and Felonious Fajitas

“Everyone has a risk muscle. You keep it in shape by trying new things. If you don’t it atrophies. Make a point of using it at least once a day.” (Roger Von Oech)

Recently Paul and I visited the town of Cullen with his parents. It’s a lovely place full of 19th century fishermen’s cottages and narrow streets. We checked out the local landmark Bowfiddle Rock, a uniquely formed rock along the craggy coastline. I adore the coast in northeast Scotland. Steep, rocky cliffs overlook blue water and compliment a soundtrack of crashing waves and keening seagulls. This is why I came here.

Paul’s stepmom, who is from the area, took us to a café that reportedly serves the best cullen skink in the area. That’s a fish soup whose name comes from the Gaelic word for “essence.” I was dubious about this soup made of haddock, but decided to give it a go. It’s creamy and not at all fishy - a bit like New England clam chowder but even better. I loved it! Afterwards, we took a drive and I got a close up interview with some highland cattle. These cows are known for their long hair and friendly personalities. They’re very photogenic and eagerly left their dinner of fine local hay to pose for my pictures. One of them, who should be a bovine model with a proper agent, seemed to wink at me and say “hey, baby – check out my horns.” We have longhorn cows in Texas, but they certainly don’t come with such long hair.

I’ve gotten very excited about cooking lately, ever since my dad turned me on to Amazon’s new grocery products in the UK. They have a number of small importers who sell such treasures as chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, green chilis, and even Stubb’s BBQ sauce from Austin! I’ve also been inspired by the recipe blog Homesick Texan, written by a Texas native living in New York where she can’t find all her preferred ingredients. The homemade varieties of food are a hell of a lot better than the crap that passes for Tex-Mex in the supermarkets here. Old El Paso has cornered the British “Mexican” market, selling fajita kits that include things like Bar-B-Que sauce and crispy fried chicken. Perhaps it was a bit of homesickness talking, but I actually wrote to them and told them BBQ sauce and fried chicken do not belong in fajitas. I begged them to hire someone in product management who actually knows something about Tex-Mex cuisine. Maybe they’ll hire me! What a laugh that would be.

Photos: Bowfiddle rock, beach photos, cullen skink highland cattle

Song of the day: The Bluest Eyes in Texas by Restless Heart

(yeah, I know it’s not Scottish. It’s stuck in my head because of an essay I’m writing)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Whiskey, Haggis and Burns

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie's
a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

-Robert Burns

Two weeks ago we went to the Glenfiddich whiskey distillery in Dufftown. Situated in an area with more castles than Aberdeen has seagulls, it is clear why the area is called the “Malt Whiskey Trail.” (The castles are closed for the winter but we plan to return.) Glenfiddich has been made in Dufftown since 1886 and has been selling single malt around the world since 1963. After a tour full of smells, steam, and enormous barrels, we got to taste 3 varieties. My parents will not be surprised to learn that I liked the most expensive one, aged 18 years. When Caitlin and I first tasted whiskey in October, we swore to only ever drink whiskey that was put in the barrel before we were old enough to drink it. The older I get, the more expensive (and better tasting) shall be my whiskey. I think this is a fine benefit to aging.

On Friday Paul and I attended a Burns supper with his parents at their local golf club. One doesn’t have to be posh to play golf here. It was invented in Scotland and is a game for everyone. I didn’t see one pair of plaid pants, but there were quite a few men in kilts. Burns night is a tradition in Scotland and around the world. It’s a celebration of the poet Robert Burns, composer of “Auld Lang Syne” and “A Man’s a Man for a’ That” among others. Each year folks gather to recite his poetry and eat a dinner of fine haggis, neeps and tatties. Haggis is made of less desirable meat bits combined with barley and spiced nicely. Neeps are turnips and tatties are potatoes, both served mashed. I had lots of fun listening to people recite long Burns poems from memory and share some laughs. Unlike the “traditional Scottish evening” I attended as a tourist in Inverness years ago, this was an actual Scottish evening complete with haggis, music and dancing and it took place among a real community of friends. The evening closed with everyone signing Auld Lang Syne (including all the verses American’s leave out). I learned that to sing it in Scotland involves holding hands with your neighbors with your arms crossed in front of you and bobbing to the beat. What a night!

Song of the Day: Auld Lang Syne, performed by Scottish legends The Tannahill Weavers and sung to a lesser-known tune.

Photos: Glenfiddich Distillery (2) and Haggis with neeps and tatties (and cider), Paul and Me on Burns Night

Friday, January 14, 2011

30: The List

“My dinner, dress, associates, looks, business, compliments, dues, ...The real or fancied indifference of some man or woman I love,...the sickness of one of my folks...or of myself...or ill-doing... or loss or lack of money...or depressions or exaltations, ...They come to me days and nights and go from me again, but they are not the Me myself.” (Walt Whitman)

When my plane touched down in London yesterday, I felt an actual, physical change. I’ve completed 30 years of life. I live in a new country. I’m in love again. It’s as if I could feel the literal closing of one door and the opening of another. So what’s left behind me?

I’ve always been a planner and a list maker. When I was young I would trace outline maps of the US, colouring in the states I’d visited and making endless trip plans to see the rest. I still enjoy checking things off lists. Inspired by the little book “2,000 Things to Do Before you Die,” I have compiled a list of some of the things I’ve done in 3 decades. Some are proud moments. Some I’d rather forget. Some I’d love to repeat. So many are the average, every day experiences that make up the majority of our lives.

In my first 30 years I have:

Survived cancer

Visited 49 of 50 US states

Studied and lived abroad

Fallen in and out of love

Rescued stray cats

Slept on feather pillows

Sung the national anthem at a professional baseball game

Watched too much tv

Been very religious

Been very un-religious

Questioned God

Questioned authority

Questioned society

Questioned myself

Travelled to Asia

Eaten strange foreign food

Worn stilettos

Gone barefoot

Smelled the roses

Seen the sunrise over Oahu

Hugged a child – or rather lots of them


Professionally wrapped Christmas presents

Hiked in the Rocky Mountains

Learned Reiki

Done yoga

Planned my wedding

Cancelled my wedding

Studied Hebrew, German, Latin and Scots Gaelic and mastered none

Studied Judaism, Buddhism, paganism and Christianity and mastered none

Published my own poetry

Memorized the poetry of others

Broken no bones but toes

Walked the dog

Learned to cook

Attempted at failed at sewing

Met US Congressmen and Members of the British Parliament (nerd alert!)

Started a marathon with an actual megaphone

Been on television

Been on radio

Been in the newspaper

Broken hearts

Been heartbroken

Lost a friend

Found a friend

Parasailed in Mexico

Jet-skied in the South China Sea

Failed at ice-skating lessons

Run away

Found my way

Lead the way

Got carried away


Dreamed of the future

What’s on your list? And what have you not yet done? Have you closed old doors and opened new ones?