Loch Ness & the Highlands!

The sound of death is surely someone wheedling out a hymn on faulty bagpipes.

Like a mixture of Dory, from Finding Nemo, bellowing in her best Humpback and a blunt hacksaw taken to a chalkboard. (You’ll want to take my word for it.)

There Jonathan and i were, enveloped by the mountains of Glen Coe. Probably the most famous of all Glens in Scotland – at least, cinematically speaking – Glen Coe boasts of a film C.V. including Hagrid’s cabin in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the drive to the lodge in Skyfall.

highlands 02At our stop-off within the movie-star glen was a Highland lad, clad in full tartan regalia, muttering about a broken reed in between his attempts to play what i could only assume was meant to be “Amazing Grace.”

We’d made the decision to go with a tour bus, which is not my favorite way to travel. (The asinine teenage boy behind us who referred only to his mother as “Geez, WOMAN!” is a prime example of why American tourists get such a bad rep). But it was the most affordable way we could see as much as possible in one day, so we took it. As if the sights of Scotland weren’t enough to drink in, the sightseeing of thirty tourists in “Hairy Coo” fanny-packs certainly was.

Mr. Blurpity-Pipes was making a killing, asinine teenage boy posing for a sour-pussed grin as Grandma snapped a shot. Then went the Portugese Clooney-Lookalike, who posed for all his pictures like he was a supermodel: butt out, chin up, shades on, half-grimace sexy-grin. Behind him was a clattering group of Germans.

And so on, each plopping a fiver in Blurpity-Pipes’ tin, each encouraging him to play past that wonky reed. Granted, it’s a pretty stellar shot to bring home and make your profile picture: a real Scotsman in the Highlands!!1!!1!

I did my best to avoid the crowd, memorizing every curve of the mountains in our fifteen minutes of allotted time.

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The real event of the tour was to be a boating ride on Loch Ness, involving sonar technology to scan the deeps for the monster below. But as Loch Ness is some four hours north of Edinburgh, we got to see plenty of Scottish countryside along the way.

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After a lunch of disappointingly slim sandwiches (Jonathan’s face caved when he realized he had a what barely qualified as a tissue for his slice of ham) we were bound for the boat. I jockeyed my way to the front, rather than the sonar get-up, so as to avoid Asinine Teen and the Clooney Lookalike. Jonathan and i actually quite enjoyed the Loch, steep cliffsides and water so dark it was almost black really living up to its legend. This was my second time to Loch Ness, the first being a sojourn to Urqhart Castle with my Dad. It was my first time on the water, and we were delighted with the breadth of the sun.

Until, characteristic Scotland, the cloud bowled us over with pelting rain. Suddenly, all the fannypacks were clustered around the Sonar, making awkward small talk about flesh-chomping monsters.

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Our jaunt was over before we’d even made it two kilometers out, and in a pressure-cooker of a run back to the bus we made a pit-stop into a petrol station. Laden with cheese and breadsticks, we clambered back on the fannypack machine headed due south.

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And while we had to deal with the best of American culture and Blurpity-Pipes’ backdrop tunes, Jonathan is quick to say this was one of the best days of his life. Only the day before had he proposed, and i was desperate to see the Highlands one last time before i was stateside for the foreseeable future.

There is magic in those mountains, i tell you. Magic that still bathes the day as enchanting, even when set to the tune of Blurpity-Pipes.

in case you missed it: my sojourn through the highlands with my dad.

best thing: we took photos for our christmas card yesterday! who wants one?

New Posts of Old Things.

I named my external hard drive “the penseive” in a moment of Potter genius in the summer i lived in Kotido, Uganda. It mostly houses back-ups of my photos and comfort movies, like The Princess Bride. But, being as absent minded as i am, yesterday was the first time since March i cranked open the two-terabyte Valhalla.

Oops.

While cataloguing my backlog of photos, i came across a few old gems that i’d neglected to post/write about here. So over the next few days, i thought i’d share a mélange of old tales dating back as far as the naming of the very external hard drive that prompted this serenade down memory gig lane. And maybe some stereotypical pseudo-philosophical reflections on how these journeys in life have brought me to the woman i am today, blah blah blah.

But for today, here are a few snapshots and accompanying stories from my six months spent in love with and living in Edinburgh, Scotland.

You know you’re an American expat when…

watermarked lidl

It’s true that the cultural clash between the UK and America is no chasm. Sure, they prefer tea to coffee (i can hear the hipsters screaming: SO DO WE!) and say “schedule” the way i did when i was six. I delighted in the wee differences, the brogues and the bagpipes and the slang. But there were three big things i missed most: fresh, non-root vegetables, my mother’s fried chicken, and peanut butter. I handled the chicken-making myself, and made do with Spanish apples for the bulk of the semester. But it wasn’t until i realized Lidl carried peanut butter for under eight quid that i had a field day with my favorite fat-laden snack. I never thought i’d say it, but over a plate of artery-clogging food i basked in the stereotype: GOD BLESS THE USA.

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I snapped this photo from the topmost layer of the Scott Monument on Princes Street, wheezing with the narrowing stairs and staving off my vertigo. I’d saved the clamber for when my Dad came to visit, because he’s the macho man with zero squirms when it comes to elevation. Might be a product of his upper-troposphere height. But this same obscene scale of stature made it impossible for him to follow me to the tippy-top: the stairways were too narrow. So alone, wind ripping off any moisturizer clinging to my cheeks, i snapped this picture and plummeted my head between my knees to keep from vomiting.

‘Twas a charming view.

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My favorite sightseeing to do in Edinburgh was easily the clamber up Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano overlooking the whole of Old Town. I only once got to see this marker of the elevation, because any sunny day i chose to scale its peak half the tourists in town had the same idea. On that same Dad-visit we made our way to the top, my father protesting i was trying to kill him with the hike. But it was a rare rain-free morning with no one else on the mountainside, and i insisted. He later confessed it was his favorite part of the trip – and it’s easy to see why.

Overlooking the city from Arthur's Seat!

Overlooking the city from Arthur’s Seat!

(Okay, that one was previously published, but still. Context.)

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in case you missed it: my favorite posts from studying abroad, including saying goodbye in january to jonathan, jonathan’s proposal, faerie-spotting on the isle of skye, and riding a camel in morocco.

The Drive Back.

It was the ninth time i’d made the trek.

Four Augusts ago, my mother came home armed with Bugles and window-paint Crayola markers; the Bugles, because she says no road trip is complete without crunchy tornado-shaped crackers from a gas station. The markers, so i could plaster her CRV with “Mount Holyoke or Bust!” and “Go Pegasus!”

It was the first road trip to my new home in South Hadley, Massachusetts. We took I-95, with a stop-off at an Aloft hotel somewhere in New Jersey. Mom did all the driving, because i was barely 18 and really not adept at highways in New England. Further proof of my inaptitude for staying in the lines came when i realized i’d mixed up my move-in date – we were a day early. Gracious Residential Life staff handed me a key anyway, and my mother set to work arranging my furniture in spacial relation sense and i planned wall-pockets for my posters.

I remember going to the parent-daughter tea without her. I’d insisted i’d be fine if she left before all the parent orientation activities. Strapped up my red boots and Ghanaian bracelets and told myself i was brave and true like any good Mount Holyoke woman. I sat in the corner, keeping tears in my chest and falling in love with new friends all in the same cup of chai. She says now it is one of her greatest regrets – listening to me and leaving when she did.

Everything and nothing has changed since that August. I still make her mix CDs when i leave for long periods of time. I don’t record voice messages on them anymore, but they’re as carefully curated as the day i handed her my “i’m grown and going to college and trying to be cool, but damn will i miss you” CD. (I changed the title for her; something cleaner and more sophisticated in block Sharpie writing). She came over before this big drive to help me fill my van again, her spacial relations genius only paralleled by her ability to leave hidden notes among my treasures.

But the most obvious change was who i made the drive with.

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I picked Jonathan up from the Divinity School around 2:30 after an embarrassingly tearful farewell to our kittens (they were having a weekend with my mother). We made excellent time, pulling into our stop in Pennsylvania at precisely 10 PM. Our route has changed since the plastered-in-paint CRV days. I prefer the leisure of I-81, the highway clinging to Appalachian mountains and off-the-track home diners. And the decided lack of the Jersey Turnpike.

Somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley!

Somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley!

Sun-dappled photo opp in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Sun-dappled photo opp in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Day two took us through rural Pennsylvania which bears a remarkable resemblance to the Trossachs in Scotland. Clearly, i wasn’t the first to think so:

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(I’ve also seen a rather gruesome-yet-compelling film that re-tells Macbeth, entitled: Scotland, PA)

Scotland felt so far and so close all at once. Mount Holyoke has been such a constant in my last three years that it seemed unfathomable to think of it changing, and yet i wondered how new it would look to me after nine months away.

Contemplating what it would be like returning to a home so beloved as a woman so changed sat with me for the drive. I loved my time abroad, still ache a little when i think about how beautiful Edinburgh must be in the (assuredly rain-splattered) fall. Missing my friends across the pond, missing my friends scattered across America. It had been a long summer. A summer of tremendous loss in my family, but also a summer spent with the man i’d committed to spending the rest of my life to. More transition than i thought possible in nine months away from school.

But there are some things that never seem to change. With New England temperatures come New England donuts – and our first Dunkin’ Donuts run! (I’m aware they do exist in the South, just in disappointingly small quantities!).

IMG_4730Clambering off of I-86 in Hartford onto I-91 remained a nightmare (the tunnel!) but my hands were steady on the wheel, the route still ingrained. We were staying with friends with Amherst for the night, but i insisted on taking the long way round. I wanted to drive past it, a tease, to see the campus from the roadside before moving in the next day.

My posters have changed since first year – all save one. I keep them all stored in the same long green bin, but the only recurring character is Rosie the Riveter – a poster i bought on my middle-school field trip to Washington, D.C. She’s crumpled on every corner and it takes some ten thumbtacks to hold her up, but it wouldn’t live in a room without her. Some days just need that muscle-bearing woman to get me through.

Jonathan was an asthma-saver unloading the van while i flittered with where to put what. The lack of A/C in our dorms rarely poses a problem past the fifth of September, but move-in day is always a humidity fest of misery and stale air.

And yet, all my tummy-knots were coming unraveled one thread at a time. It had been a fat nine months of change, but the campus was as beautiful as that first drive four Augusts ago. When mom and i pulled up to a building i didn’t yet know the name of that now i know houses the Religion department. My second home on campus. When we looked at the green and the lake and the Hogwarts-like library and both wondered who i’d be when i left this place. Wondered how i’d get through those first few tummy-knotting weeks.

Sometimes i still wonder. The similarities can seem minute, like the spaces between them eat away at the reminders they bear. But still, devotedly, i tack those ten pins around Rosie the Riveter. Still i look to her on those miserable Massachusetts snow days.

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And i’m learning, in that sluggish every day way, to sit with the paradox of big changes in small things. Jonathan and i are old pros at the distance, now, however begrudgingly so. And i wouldn’t trade that big change for the world. So with new Scottish flags on my wall and well-worn pens in my backpack, the semester is starting. And i’m glad to be home, if for only one more year.

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current jam: ‘from this valley’ the civil wars.

best thing: convocation!

pre-order my book here! 

The Wind in the Streets: Saying Goodbye to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is the city with the wind trapped in its streets. Every corner a new gust in a new direction. My hands are always slick around the umbrella handle, its protection a moot point in the sideways slashes of water. Unpredictable and wild, the weather is the spirit of the city.

Sunset on Calton Hill.

Sunset on Calton Hill.

“No one comes to Edinburgh for the weather,” my cabbie told me as i first drank in the city’s soggy streets. Groggy and achey and smelly from an overnight transatlantic flight, i surprised myself with open eyes all but glued to the windows. I remember my toes going numb in my soggy socks. He never did clarify why people came to Edinburgh.

But even in that state of sleep deprivation, i knew.

That was six months ago. Six months of bad weather, and now i know why people come to Edinburgh: it’s that wild, unpredictable, gritty-yet-quaint magic. It’s the slate slick with water on the street, the cobblestones encouraging a hop-skip dance to stay standing. It’s getting to know the shopkeepers like i lived in a small town but knowing there are more streets here than you could ever plot. It is the sun rolling fat across the spire-dotted horizon after torrential rain. It is the bagpipers on every corner of the Royal Mile making the soundtrack of the city raucous and real. It is the “I’m Scottish!” flags in the grocery store, it’s evensong at St. John’s on Princes Street, the rainbow quilt hanging in Saint Augustine’s. Tea and feminist theology with Rhiannon. Ceilidh with Megan. Flat dinners.

Edinburgh wouldn’t be the same without that sideways rain, the muck that makes me wish i had window-wipers for my glasses and waterproof woolens.

It is the city with the wind trapped in its streets, pushing the growth outwards but never letting its history be eaten by progress. The skyline of Edinburgh is my favorite of anyplace i’ve ever been: grey-black church spires competing with the looming castle for the crown of the view. No skyscrapers competing with Georgian buildings. Edinburgh’s sky breathes into every cobblestone of the city streets.

Edinburgh is a city made of magic, the enchantment trapped in the wind that binds fearlessly wild mountains to fearlessly proud castles.

New College.

New College.

Saint Margaret's Chapel in the Castle; the Castle from the Elephant House.

Saint Margaret’s Chapel in the Castle; the Castle from the Elephant House.

It was an excruciating farewell. I know, in my heart and in my ten-year plan (color-coded, of course), that the enchantment of Edinburgh is not done with me yet. But i didn’t know when i’d be back, and that was painful. I hate goodbyes. I don’t know anyone who relishes them, but i felt there was just one too many this time.

And the worst goodbye was the city itself, because the city is to me everyone in it. And the city is the wind in the streets.

Overlooking the city from Arthur's Seat!

Overlooking the city from Arthur’s Seat!

Arthur's Seat!

Arthur’s Seat!

But, as you may have heard, my Jonathan asked me a little question in the last few days we had in Edinburgh that has had a pretty big impact on our lives. So there was a big tug pulling me across the water: families eager to clutch our hands and coo over our giddiness. Big plans to make and old friends to see.

My flatmate Savannah wrote on her witty and wonderful blog* that she drew a distinction between being excited and being ready to come home:

“People keep asking me if I’m excited to come home. The answer is simple, of course I am! I think what they mean to ask is if I’m ready to come home, and this is a much more complicated question.”

I think i was a mix of ready and not ready, excited and dreading it.

All those months ago, my nose pressed against the window of the cab i felt that lurch in my stomach. The oh-no, i-like-this lurch. The scary fall and willingness to let myself fall all at once meant i knew, even then, that a similar cab ride back to the airport would be excruciating. And it was.

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But i couldn’t be more grateful that it happened. And, in the words of Scotland’s greatest poet Robert Burns:

But boundless oceans, roaring wide,
Between my love and me,
They never, never can divide
My heart and soul from thee.

Until next time, Edinburgh. I’ll wait for the wind.

Sunset from Calton Hill.

Sunset from Calton Hill.

current jam: ‘then i met you’ the proclaimers.

best thing: chai tea.

*Which all of you should go read, because it really is one of the best blogs you’ll ever come across. (I’m a wee biased, but still!)

The Last Five Days.

The last five days in Scotland have been some of the best five days i’ve had all semester. Last Wednesday, J pseudo-surprised me by rolling out a suitcase from the arrivals gate at Edinburgh airport. (Pseudo, because it was meant to be a total surprise, but i’m very good at guessing and also am in the middle of exams, so certain details had to be divulged ahead of time). There was a lot of nervous tippy-toe walking around until he arrived, and even more (probably embarrassing) embracing when he did.

I couldn’t believe my blessings: he was here, with me, in my favorite place in the whole world.

Yet the excitement didn’t abate there- two of my very best friends from Mount Holyoke arrived the next day for a weekend trip full of milkshakes, late night catching-up-chats, and even a daytrip to the Trossachs for some hairy coo sightings! (Needless to say, there was a lot of hugs in the arrivals terminal of the airport this week!)

My favorite shot of the daytrip! Taken by Stirling Castle. (J should always wear a Hairy Coo hat, should he not?)

My favorite shot of the daytrip! Taken by Stirling Castle. (J should always wear a Hairy Coo hat, should he not?)

Enacting romance by the shores of Loch Katrine, the setting of Sir Walter Scott's "The Lady of the Lake."

Enacting romance by the shores of Loch Katrine, the setting of Sir Walter Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake.”

The view of Stirling from the Wallace Monument!

The view of Stirling from the Wallace Monument!

Called "THE Bridge" by civil engineers for its feat of genius, this rail bridge crosses the River Forth just outside Edinburgh!

Called “THE Bridge” by civil engineers for its feat of genius, this rail bridge crosses the River Forth just outside Edinburgh!

The Wallace Monument, Stirling.

The Wallace Monument, Stirling.

Our tour, which was the most excellent TheHairyCoo.com free tour, began in Stirling and made its way into the lower Highlands around a number of rather famous lochs. It was a beautiful, uncharacteristically rain-less day to spend frollicking on mountaintops and even feeding bread crumbs to the “dangerously cute” highland cows (for which the company is named!).

My favorite part was the stop off at Castle Doune, where the famous scene with the French guards takes place in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. J and i couldn’t resist clambering our way to the top to yell out our own (very poorly accented) French insults at my friends below!

Hairy Coos!

Hairy Coos!

Doune Castle - where the bulk of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed!

Doune Castle – where the bulk of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed!

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The view from the top of the castle!

The view from the top of the castle!

 

I was running on a high of can’t-believe-this-itis, especially when the tour guide of our day trip put on The Proclaimers as we drove past the lower Highlands. If a perfect day exists, that was it: Scottish mountains, excellent music, and a batch of my closest friends to sing along with.

Trying to get us all in the shot!

Trying to get us all in the shot!

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The last five days have been bliss, but now i have to face the last five days i have left in Scotland. And that, that’s just hard. The good-byes have been a mixture of late-night chats in the flat to quick, painful hugs farewell. My friends from MHC left this morning, and my dear flatmate Abby leaves tomorrow. It’s been a day of sad farewells.

J being here is enabling me to not ache so much for the Carolinas and their rivers of sweet tea, which is such a gift. I feel truly able to grieve for my last walks past the Scott Monument or cups of tea at the Elephant House.

It also means i spent half of my morning weeping over my cup of after-church tea, trying not to think too much about what life will be like without the hum of this rain-slicked, enchanted city.

And in the midst of this emotional farewell to the semester in Edinburgh, i have two exams to tackle and a life to zip fast in my suitcases. So the next five days are shaping up to be crammed – crammed with wadded-up t-shirts in my suitcases, crammed with farewell-to-Scotland activities, and a helluva lot of cramming for finals.

For days of auld lang syne.

Just outside the Writer's Museum, Edinburgh.

Just outside the Writer’s Museum, Edinburgh.

current jam: ‘come thou fount’ sufjan stevens.

best thing: having places and friends so wonderful that the time to leave them brings mourning. it’s the double-edged sword of loving something, i guess.

Faerie Frolicking on the Isle of Skye!

In the midst of all the excitement surrounding the Indiegogo campaign for Talking Taboo, i’ve let my recounting of Scottish Highlands adventures lapse. But no longer!

After our morning in Dornie admiring Eilean Donan Castle, Dad and i set off for the much-anticipated meander through the Isle of Skye.

Can you spy the Skye Bridge?

Can you spy the Skye Bridge? (Look to the right!)

Living in a flat with 11 other people and only one not studying abroad, i’d heard songs waxed lyrical about the beauty of Skye. It had only mounted my anticipation to see it myself – craggy mountains, frigid sea, ewes in such abundance i would have no shortage of puns to make.

My father, on the other hand, was not too ecstatic that the only thing i’d suggested we do, rather than just see, was the Faerie Glen south of Uig. (He was never one to clap in the Peter Pan scene when Tinkerbell fell flat). But Uig was at the northern crest of the Isle, so we took the morning to drive through Skye’s wee little towns and not-so-little countryside.

We also couldn’t resist a stop-off at a little knitwear shop called “Hand Spinner Having Fun!” Dad tried every sweater in their arsenal on, but to no avail. Being the size of a medium oak tree (as J would say) has its disadvantages. He did, however, procure for me a warm hat-like thing to keep my ears from getting redder in the cold.

The shoppe had a cat!

The shoppe had a cat!

The Cuillins.

The Cuillins.

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There wasn’t a whole lot of traffic to contend with, so i managed to snap what i think might rank in my top-ten favorite photos (of mine) of all time:

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Well, not much traffic save the rogue sheep or two.

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When we at last reached Uig we prioritized food over faeries (bet you can’t guess who prioritized that list!). There wasn’t a whole lot to be seen in town – a ferry (without wings, alas), two restaurants, and a gift shop. It was the kindly gentleman behind the counter who gave us better directions to find the odd road off the main one to get to the Faerie Glen. Suddenly, i was five years old again and half-tempted to buy the faerie dust for sale. Instead, we settled on post cards and set out for the road posted as “Balknock.”

And at its end we found the Faerie Glen.

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The Faerie Glen!

The Faerie Glen!

I clambered out of the car with a jolt, frolicking in the muddy sheep-paths and delighting in the conical hills.

“What exactly makes this a faerie glen, anyway?” Dad asked behind me. I was initially too busy clapping my hands and repeating that i did, in fact, believe in faeries, to answer.

“Isn’t it obvious?” I was all sass. “Faeries live here, Dad.” I think i even did my best toddler-pout.

He mouthed an “oh” and snapped another picture.

In the end, i think the glen won him over. We split paths, he up one hill and i its cousin, drinking in the damp glamour of this little corner of Scotland.

We took matching opposite-hilltop photos!

We took matching opposite-hilltop photos!

The rain was in a pelting phase by the time i at last un-muddied my boots and plopped in the car. Once more, i asked the universe to invent windshield wipers for glasses. We were off again, back to the south of the Isle. There was a bounty of waterfalls, a hop-off at the gorgeous Talisker distillery (we were too late for the tour, alas) and even a rainbow over the sea.

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Rainbow over the sea!

Rainbow over the sea!

We stopped in Portee for my favorite British delight, millionaire shortbread, and some hot chocolate to warm up. (I also may, or may not, have taken seven or eight maps of the island for my collection. They were free! I couldn’t resist!)

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Casual roadside sightings in Skye!

We were bound for the B&B which was nestled near more castle ruins and a seaside port. It was a charming end to a breathtaking day.

Dad would like you all to know he took this one.

Dad would like you all to know he took this one.

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I won’t say i convinced my father to believe in faeries, but i think Skye’s magic did a pretty good job of enthralling us both!

current jam: ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ janelle monáe featuring erykah badu

best thing: my friends come soon! and so does a certain non-medium-sized oak tree lad!

support talking taboo on indiegogo!

I Could Have Ceilidh’d All Night

It’s pronounced kay-lee, and if Appalachian clogging mated with Richard Simmons to the sound of bagpipe music, the ceilidh would be their child.

And it is wicked fun.

With less than 12 days remaining in my semester in Scotland, i’m in a panic to cross off everything on my Edinburgh Bucket List. And easily, the biggest thing i have been looking forward to was going ceilidh dancing.

I’m the most pigeon-toed ballerina you’ll ever find. But when it comes to a kind of dance that requires a sense of gusto more than talent, i am your girl. I’d heard that ceilidh, as a cultural tradition more than a fine art, was something meant to be easy to participate in. Much like the swing dances i loved dolling up for so much in high school.

So my friend Megan and i donned our billie kilts (for obvious reasons) and made our way to the University’s Chaplaincy centre. It’s still the middle of exam season for us, so we weren’t expecting the largest of crowds. True to form, the crowd was a mixture of curly-haired wee lassies and older folk in full Scottish regalia. In the corner was tucked the band and on the floor was a stomp-clapping mob of high-kicking dancers.

And it was brilliant.

Being in the context of families and University students alike enabled us to see the breadth of tradition. I learned, from a man with a robust white beard and well-worn kilt, that children in Scotland tend to learn traditional dances in late primary school. I also learned, from the same gentleman, that if you just trust your knowledgable partner to lead the steps you might find yourself being flung off the ground and spun around without warning.

And just like that, i was learning jig steps and polka-pirouettes to the thrum of the fiddle. “You can forget about gym membership!” he bellowed, frolicking around me like the considerable age gap only made him more lithe with time. I heaved a giggle-gasp, asthma-attacked but with cheeks sore from laughing.

Observing a move called "The Helicopter" wherein the lads lift the lassies and spin! TERRIFYING.

Observing a move called “The Helicopter” wherein the lads lift the lassies and spin! TERRIFYING.

It seriously was some of the most fun i’ve had in Scotland; that same delirious, verging-on-terrified delight i found in the Highlands i experienced when the dance left me so dizzy i could barely breathe. My calves are still recovering from the whole affair, but i am seriously hoping to go ceilidh dancing at least once more before my time here runs dry. It’s the best of Scotland: excellent attire, fabulous folk music, high-pulse dancing, camaraderie, and ever the element of sweeping-off-your-feet surprise.

Laughing in our kilts over after-dancing drinks!

Laughing in our kilts over after-dancing drinks!

And, if i said what happened next was the best part of the night, it would be a voracious lie. And mortifying. Because i broke my own rule and we totally made a midnight run to my beloved-and-despised KFC. Who doesn’t love capping off a good workout with fried chicken?

Thanks to Megan for taking this! (Gratuitous fast food eating commences)

Thanks to Megan for taking this! (Gratuitous fast food eating commences)

current jam: ‘young & beautiful’ lana del rey.

best thing: today is both j’s graduation and mother’s day in the usa! wishing i was across the pond for both of them, so grateful to have them in my life.

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So I’m Pretty Sure KFC is Made with Narcotics.

It began so innocuously.

My bus ride back from the EDI Airport left me only a fiver in my pocket and a tummy rumbling for food. More pressing than anything, though, was the need for solitude. This mega-level introvert can only handle crowds and queues for so long before she needs a nap. I made the fatal flaw of changing into leggings when i at last collapsed into bed.

There is no getting me out of my room when the cotton leggings have come on.

Some 24 hours later, i emerged, jet-lagged so much i felt hungover. My stomach was screaming for food; i’d only had cookies in the cupboard.

And that’s when it started. I needed food, fast, and my fridge shelf was empty. No time, i thought, for a run to the grocer.

So instead i ran to the KFC, not two minutes up the street. I hadn’t been once the whole semester. In the states, i’m not usually a fast-food-eater. But my week in Carolina had left me hankering for the greasiest stuff America can give, so in a bastion of homesick and hangry, i downed a Lunch Box special faster than any pie-eatin’ champion this side of the Mississippi.

It was french fries and fried chicken, and it was good.

I thought, foolishly, that would be it. My need for bad Americana-style food would be sated. Besides, the KFC’s here don’t even have biscuits or mashed potatoes.

I was so young and full of ridiculous notions of my own strength, then.

My Dad arrived, and his medium-sized-oak-tree stature was American enough to keep me away from the buckets of chicken for the remainder of the week. But all too soon, he was stateside bound. I was alone. Bereft. Abandoned in a land of chips-meaning-fries and no-ice-in-your-water.

So i wept my tears into a bucket of french fries and chicken breasts. (Not literally, that would have made the crispy perfection inside the box soggy). Once. Twice. Three times.

Four. Times. FIVE. Times.

I’ve had to cut myself off. Have intentional, no-KFC-allowed days where i stare down a bowl of granola and British strawberries and dream dreams of vegetables. But it’s so damnably close to my flat, so alluring with its obnoxious red windows and late-night hours. Tempting me with its evil, cheap-and-easy ways.

It’s not like i’m pining my days away for ‘Murica or anything. I miss my family, my cats, my J, my cats, and mostly my cats. But my love for Edinburgh (and Scotland in general) is neither subtle nor limited. I’ve come alive in this city, and i’m not ready for that plane ticket home in less than fourteen days time.

But JesusMaryAndJoseph, do i want KFC every meal, every day. It’s like i’ve unearthed Pandora’s box and now have founded a cult of the £2.99 special with an extra chicken breast, no ketchup.

Maybe my tummy’s telling me something that my mind won’t let me think yet. That the end of my five months in Scotland is coming – and soon – whether i accept it or not. Or maybe KFC just laces their meat with nicotine and i need a support group. Both are equal possibilities in my mind.

But if you’ll excuse me, i have to make a quick run up the block. Something drenched in salt and smelling of potatoes is calling my name, seductive bastard.

2013-05-07 19.29.56

current jam: ‘no church in the wild (feat. frank ocean & the dream’ by jay-z & kanye west.

best thing: more than a month after my last class, i have an exam today. about damn time i tackle this beastie.

Exploring Eilean Donan Castle!

The cap off to our first day of road tripping through Scotland was the quaint, no-stop-lights-needed town of Dornie. A jig step away from the Isle of Skye bridge, Dornie promised us two conveniences: the ridiculously beautiful Eilean Donan Castle and ease for traveling to our next big destination: Skye itself.

Our first glimpse of the castle!

Our first glimpse of the castle!

So cute!

So cute!

The only place, really, to stay in the Highlands is in a B&B (we passed all of three hostels in our lengthy afternoon wander through the hills). Fortunately for travelers, these wee little stop-offs dot the towns of the Highlands in high numbers – and it means you get to have a more personal experience when traveling (and less expensive!). Our host, Jim, was a lovely and chatty man who boasted of being “born and bred here.” Our room, as the only guests in for the night, overlooked the exquisite castle itself – a serious, jaw-dropping treat!

by day

Jim laughed at my hop-stepping glee over the castle, saying he couldn’t even see the glamour of it anymore. But he also was quick to assure us the most beautiful time to capture the castle in photographs would be in the evening, at twilight. As far north as we were, that wouldn’t be much before 9:30 PM.

So to dinner we went, at “a pub just down the path from those wee blue gates” at the end of the B&B’s driveway. (We’re pretty sure it was one of two options in the part of town we were in). Feeling particularly British, i ordered a fish pie with a local ale.

pub

After dinner, we walked back through the we blue gate to drink in the blue-ing sky enveloping the castle. Just as the sun stretched its last farewell over the mountains, i snapped this photo:

Pretty excellent suggestion for a photo, Jim!

The view of the castle from our room!

It was a pretty remarkable ending to a pretty remarkable day!

The next morning we made our way into the castle itself, marveling over its pivotal role in the Jacobite rebellion and laughing at the most excellent wax sculptures in the kitchen. The castle bears a long history of Hollywood, too, having been featured in a James Bond film and a number of other Scotland-themed movies. While the interior is tremendously cool to see, it’s easily the exterior of the castle that makes it so enchanting. Seriously, the castle on an island on a loch thing never gets old.

Our first-morning look at the castle!

Our first-morning look at the castle!

Within the walls!

Within the walls!

Best photo of the day.

Best photo of the day.

And the surrounding landscape isn’t too shabby, either. In misty rain (as it was when we first set foot on the island) or in basking sun (as it turned into, ten minutes later) the castle retains a sense of awe and glamour. What a treat to see in all shades of sun and moonlight!

Barely twenty minutes passed between these photos.

Barely twenty minutes passed between these photos.

Arms laden with postcards from the giftshop, we made our way back on the road. It was only the start of the day, but it was a wonderful way for it to begin!

current jam: ‘skyfall’ adele.

best thing: kind shopkeepers.