Thursday, May 24, 2012

A this week in May

Carburritos with Mubbs

Night Light

Jessica Long and the New Kind

Band buddies

River Whyless

Church Picnic: Keri and Abby

Church Picnic: Mom and Dad at horseshoes

Mr Beamer's BBQ


I travelled up to Chapel Hill to see some old friends play in Jessica Long and the New Kind. They were on tour with the River Whyless and I would recommend you see them both.  Halli from Whyless played the violin so well it made my heart ache.  It made me want to play it well too.  Why is simply listening never enough?  I laugh at my feeble attempts to sing along in tune and key with Gotye.  It was so good to see old faces, visit old haunts, and meet some of the New Kind and Whyless. All are ridiculously talented.

I spent Friday morning trolling through the stacks of UNC library.  As an undergrad I didn't realize how exceptional they were: it was just the library.  Now I walk among them in awe and gratefulness. We drove home that night and attended the church picnic Saturday. Horseshoes, frisbee, and a three-legged race, which I lost to my mom and sister. Mr Beamer made his own BBQ. I wish I could take it back to Scotland and say, "Taste and see that this is good. Now how can your life ever be the same?" That or lemonade.

That night we went on a walk and took a detour to the culverts. We used to race through these as kids, one in each tunnel, blindly competing, hoping desperately not to fall in, get stung by yellow jacket, or worse, lose. We also used to swing across the creek, with it's pathetic shallow bed, on a rope swing, and catch crawdads in the shallow rocks. I wonder if we weren't half wild. I wonder more that we didn't see more snakes.  Annabelle had never seen them before. Silly dog.  She pushed Abby in the water in her excitement. On Sunday dad and I worked on making our own cornhole, perhaps I will post more on that later, and all of us watched the new Sherlock Holmes on PBS. (Won't Martin Freeman make the most adorable Bilbo?? Much better than my childhood vision of him as this.) Sunday night Mystery has been a family favorite for ever so long and I love the introduction PBS uses to accompany the series. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

An Academic Pursuit

The sweet baby rabbit that breakfasted in our backyard.

"If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work.  The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable.  Favourable conditions never come.  There are, of course, moments when the pressure of the excitement is so great that only superhuman self-control could resist it.  They come both in war and pace.  We must do the best we can." 

"Happy work is done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment "as to the Lord."  It is only our daily bread we are encouraged to ask for.  The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received." 

"But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still." 

- from "Learning in War-Time" found in The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis

Though he is over-quoted, it is still encouraging to hear a justification for academic pursuits when so often nothing tangible results from them: perhaps a paper written or a book read, a new edition or a published volume.  (I think that's why I'm continually drawn to life on a farm, not only because it allows a life near animals, but also because the results of a day's labor are seen and felt.) Yet here is today's work and today's bread and it is good. 

Kindle Thoughts, Revisited

This past week, I've tried to read everything on my kindle. Sometimes through necessity. Sometimes through choice. Thoughts:

1. The designers of kindle were sensitive to people who loved books. The intentional 'white' pages and black ink, the ability to turn pages like a real book, demonstrate an awareness I had overlooked before.
2. It's nice having it 'all in one.' I don't have to lug several different books everywhere. It's convenient for traveling.
3. I'm not motivated as hard to finish reading something because I can't see the book's full length. I read what I want to, when I want to.  This could be good and bad.
4. Taking notes and highlighting is easier than expected. You have to give the kindle it's own time to do it, but it works well.
5. Finding pages is difficult and even finding specific notes or highlights. It takes me a while to refind my memorable passages.

I don't think it's fair on me to hate the kindle.  I don't cradle it to sleep at night, but I don't resent it. I still prefer books, probably always will, but am grateful for the things it provides, in the way it does.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The North Carolina Train


beautiful scenery

durham station

from Durham UK to Durham Carolina!

the conductor

This past Thursday I wanted to head up to see my sister at Carolina and some of my old friends play in their band.  I didn't have a spare car, and gathered courage to catch the train.  I had hear stories of friends of friends getting robbed there so I was a little nervous.  Overall impression? I simply LOVED it!! 

1. They let you check in baggage like it's an airplane. 
2. The conductors take your tickets on board. 
3. The seats are like first class on an airplane: footrests, power sockets, curtains. 
4. Complimentary tea and coffee!
5. Conductor comes around and makes sure you know when to get off. 
6. The scenery is beautiful and you go through places you wouldn't see in a car. 
7. The North Carolina state seal decorates the windows. 
8. The stations are clean and have church pews as seats. Beautiful and old.

Slight cons: 
1. It does take a little longer and makes frequent stops
2. The whistle blows every time you're near a town, which is often. 

I take the train so often to the UK Durham, it was such a thrill to take the train to the US Durham. The trains don't have a separate track as the cargo lines, so the trains themselves were much bigger than ones in the UK. But, being on a cargo line, means frequent stops through towns which makes it all a bit slower going. The conductor's personalability was charming, taking your ticket like it was something in an old movie. Would highly recommend it to anyone travelling, especially with small children as they have family seats. Better than that, you arrive less drained and weary than if you were in a car. So yes yes yes, well done Old North State!

Thoughts for Monday

Mitch and Dad have gone hiking with some of Mitch's classmates. Mom and I join them on Tuesday. I have been in charge of meals. It's a sad thing when some of your own meals make your stomach queasy at the thought of them: i.e. hotdogs. But I am excited. We shall bring the dog. I hope to take lots of beautiful pictures. Fran comes to town the day we return and we're throwing a graduation party for Mubbs and Mitch.

Today mom bought me a bird feeder for my window at my new home in Durham.  Time home has been spent watching the birds flit across the yard.  I can now identify seven species: the hummingbird (ruby throated and black cheeked), the thrush, the cardinal, the finch, the bluebird, the mockingbird, and the yellow warbler.  Being near the piano has been wonderful, though I am terrible.  I think I shall add to my NYRs to memorize a piece on the piano, though I know it shall be a public service to no one.

I also had coffee with my high school friend. Are there any better moments?  She used to call me opossum face, and I'm sure in the turns of her mind, that is how she still refers to me. I brought Annabelle and she seemed distressed the entire time. We must work on socializing her with good training. I also ran into my high school prom date, which was pleasant and surreal.  To think that was seven years ago!  It seems I was such a different person then and yet that I am unchanged at all.  I like being home and running into people that I know. I do not like being home alone and wish mom would hurry home from work. How I thought I could live on my own--I have no idea!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Abby's Graduation

Rolling into Kenan Stadium

Abby crossing the stage

The Family

Yours truly

Mitch, Mom, Dad, and I drove up on Saturday for a party at Abby's house with all her lovely housemates.  They're seven of them and they call themselves the seven wonders and live at seven davie. They're just beautiful and they're house seems always brimming. The stories they told of Santa Claus's on the Bell Tower and playing True American made me laugh and wish I had been there.

On Sunday morning, mother's day, we drove to Abby's house, to see her dash off, then walk ourselves through campus to Kenan Stadium for the graduation. We saw all the graduates file in, all in their new robes (so much better than mine!), and Dad found Abby through the zoom of his camera lens.

Our chancellor, Holden Thorp, led the ceremony, giving 5 honorary doctorates, the last to Mike Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, who was to give the graduate address. He was an excellent public speaker, filling in jokes and rubbing up to Carolina pride.  At moments it felt like he was giving a campaign speech, and I didn't agree with everything he said, like telling the graduates to use their elbows to get ahead (such a Yankee thing to say!), but he was clever and funny.

We couldn't find Abby after the large ceremony, so we headed directly to the newly refurbished Carmichael Stadium (under construction my entire time there!) for the J School Graduation.  We saw Abby cross the stage, and as she did so, Mitchell made the loudest commotion, something to the tune of "THAT'S MY SISTER" which made us all laugh. We took a brief family photo and then hustled off to our favorite, and ever appropriate Singaporean restaurant where we revisited our best loved dishes from our time there. Then we saw Abby off, who had class in the morning to finish up her Global Studies major, and piled in the car to head home.

Sadly, I don't have any solo shots of Abby. We should have got them of her directly after the large ceremony, but cell phone service was down and no one could connect with their graduate! She was beaming and proud and ready to be done.

I've attached two videos. I don't recommend looking at either, but rather listening. The first should be Mark Bloomberg at the end of his speech.  The second should be the Cleff Hangers, who sang Carolina on my mind, along with our Chancellor Holden Thorp. It was so good to bang those bleachers and sing the alma mater, and if I'm not careful, may turn out to be my only party trick if I'm not rigidly on my guard. Very proud of Abby and wish there was more of her here.

Mike Bloomberg

Cleff Hangers "Carolina on my Mind"

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Somebody That I Used to Know

Walk Off the Earth, Goyte Cover

How ridiculously talanted are these guys?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012



I really should be posting about Abby's graduation and how wonderful it was, but I took so many videos they'll need a bit of editing, and I'm still wrestling this Hydra of a 9 month review.  For now here's some of my last week in Edinburgh with blossoms strewn over any visible surface.  The first photo is a sign we pass every day coming home from school (Thing 1 and 2), and it's a favorite.  The second is homework from Thing 2 in which I appear in sentence number three. I know it may not appear very flattering, but I'm convinced this is their way of showing I'm alright. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Talking Chickens

Homecoming. Things it's the best message board I've ever seen. 

Made it home, though bit of a traumatic journey wherein I missed my connecting flight, which sent me from EDI to LUT to HRW to PHL to CLT. But am home safe and greeted with BBQ. Off today to Chapel Hill for sister's graduation. Very proud of her! You will all be pleased to know that it is a grey day in NC while in Edinburgh rumor has it the sun is brilliant. Wishing you a happy weekend!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Kindle Resolutions and Revulsions

Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass

My parents mailed me my Kindle Touch, and things didn't exactly begin with a peachy-keen start when it took well over a month to ship and I had a glorious fine of 30 odd pounds to pay in customs fees. Cheers.

When I went to put books on I found, much to my disgust, that most of the classics are not free, but have a .77 pence charge in taxes.  Chaucer is not free. Thomas à Kempis is not free. St Augustine is not free. But Walt Whitman, he was free. So I downloaded Leaves of Grass to supplement my newly-bought book from Tills so I wouldn't have take lug the tome home with me. When I went to read it, I was appalled. As a lover of the line, a Creative Writing minor in poetry whose sole eye is for the value of the line, I was shocked. Which lines were continuous? Which ones were new? I played with the size and to my horror, found the line expanded and changed, as obviously it would with an increased or decreased font, but with absolutely no reference to which line was a continuation and which was a new line. The makers of the Kindle were obviously not poets.

Next I downloaded Henry James, Turn of the Screw. I began to read aloud to Fran. It was nice having the touch-word dictionary, but I found I had no idea how long the work was, where I was in relation to the end of the book, or how much I had left.  On the bottom a little figure with "8%" appeared, but it wasn't the same as page numbers or the thickness of a book in my hands. Then I had to turn off the highlighting function. It showed where other peopled had highlighted, which lines were most popular. Insert any academic snobbery appropriate [here].

When I downloaded .PDFs I became even more frustrated. Perhaps I just don't know how to work it well, but it definitely wasn't in book mode. I had to zoom in and zoom out, adjust and readjust.  It is not the painless experience I expected, and sadly, a computer is much more user-friendly. 

I have, much against my better judgement, decided to give it a month's trial.  I don't want to take any books home with me on my journey to the States, so I've compiled all that I can onto that 5 x 7 demon: The Bible; spiritual books, (GK Chesterton and Brother Lawrence); the book Fran and I are currently reading aloud to each other (The Turn of the Screw), books for personal pleasure, (Middlemarch.) And I will try to finish Walt Whitman on the kindle though it seems some sort of crime against humanity.  Or at least America. 

It comes down to me being a snob. A filthy, self-righteous book snob. I get frustrated when I buy real books that are not up to scratch. My poetry must be set by the line, my medieval texts not translated, my penguin paperbacks published between 1958-64, my favorites in hardback editions. I don't think I would ever buy a classic on my kindle that I did not already own a copy of. There is something so painless, immediate, esoteric about the "whispernet" delivery service that these books don't seem real or permanent. I don't give a toss about an academic essay or a popular Terry Pratchett novel on my kindle. Those I can read and delete with no compunction. But it feels wrong to download pieces of literature that have been treasured, translated, studied, memorized, in a matter of 20 seconds, to delete it once finished, like it's ephemeral and fleeting, and doesn't have the potential to a change a life, fell a country, spark a revolution, demonstrate selflessness, enact a love story, refine one's personal views, and encounter worlds beyond one's own. 

Perhaps it's just me and I'm kicking up a huge fuss about nothing. After all, the argument could go, it's still the author's words and that's all that matters, surely? We've evolved to transcend the printed text. I think it was Aristotle that made an argument about physical beauty leading to spiritual revelation.  The beauty of a woman (he says) can lead one to know and understand other beautiful things, slowly moving from physical beauty to more intangible concepts until you are suddenly encountering the divine. I find it easier to read and understand what the author says when it comes in gilded edges and a 1920s copyright.

The kindle finds its place in my home when it comes to old works that are often out of print. While not my first choice, I need it to read the books I study. It's a necessary evil, a Catch-22. But I can't help but think Amazon and its competitors have paved paradise and managed to set up virtual parking lot, allowing ease, immediacy, and popular demand to dictate and immensely reduce the first-love encounter with literature to a word on a screen which disappears and blinks every time I "turn a page."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A family resemblance

I spoke to a friend recently and she said that her mother was in town and she had one of the best times with her in her adult life. Six months ago I wouldn't have known what she meant, but after my mother came to visit last October, I think perhaps I do.  Relationships with parents alters as one grows up, as all relationships adjust to time and growth.  My time with my mom last October is gilded in my mind as simply seeing the best of her. A part of her, or perhaps her whole self, I could never see as a child. She had gone shopping for this trip and we pieced together outfits.   We shared lunches at my favorite haunts, and picked up a darling copy of The Pickwick Papers in one of my favorite second-hand book shops.  We went on walks in descending cold. The British gardens had not yet closed up for winter and their lush greenness still lingered.  Walking through a neighborhood, mom would constantly stop me with a "Hey, take a look at this" or "Nat, what do you reckon this is called?" She made me slow down and look at things I had passed by hundreds of times before with pausing to consider them.  Mom considered them. While going out to take a look at Indy and Felix, she noticed one sole rose by the garden wall.  When she pointed this out to me, I realized I was only vaguely aware my garden had roses.

Perhaps it is the innate longer for spring that caused me to stop today.  I walked passed a garden I walk pass every day and noticed these flowers. I had never seen such unassuming flowers.  While I caught them out the corner of my eye, I stopped. Then I walked on, reconsidered and walked back to them. (I must becoming more British because this in itself made me feel foolish, retracing one's steps on the street.) When I wondered what flowers they were, I reminded myself of my mother. Somehow knowledge lessens the desire to attain.

Yesterday, I stopped Fran to admire the sun setting on the steeple of a church.  Each day I nanny I'm struck by how gorgeous the pansies look as I enter the front door.  One of the wonderful things about Britain is their lingering springs. While it may not yet be warm, I think it just might make up for it in its demure, almost bashful  grey beauty. I'm beginning to think things are much better when they're understated.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Only Rabbits and Horses

felix and indy

"And so will some one when I am dead and gone write my life? 
(As if any man really knew aught of my life, 
Why even I myself I often think know little or nothing of my real life, 
Only a few hints, a few diffused faint clews and indirections
I seek for my own use to trace out here.)"

- Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I have a fear of some stranger one day reading through my journals and diaries, attempting to construe the semblance of my life, and write a book about it that's titled, Well folks, she truly was crazy. This irrationality causes me to journal less or when I do, consider constructing some code of symbols, or writing in futhork, to make it less easy to pry.  I wonder if all of adulthood is simply trying to outgrow childish paranoia and habits. Whenever I write, I think it is more or less exactly Whitman's words, trying to find a a few "faint clews" to know myself better. (Why do you write, if you do?)

On a more somber note, I'm convinced my bunnies hate me. Indy flipped when I attempted to touch her, and Felix, well, his thoughts were bent only on escape.  I finished a Rabbit Guide book today, and I became really depressed in the section on rabbit behavior.  My bunnies show none of the friendly affections possible, and are characterized by frightened postures, in addition to their loud thump of annoyance every time I put them back down from holding them.  In racking my memory recalling what I might have done to them, I can't help but think that any real children ever will be rather bad idea...

Felix the escape artist

However, I cannot possibly listen to this song and still remain sad. The summer I graduated from college was characterized by Eve and I driving around listening to the, then newest album, of the Scissor Sisters.  I can only say that their eminent release of a new album leaves me feeling a bit nostalgic for my senior summer, especially as both my siblings don the cap and gown and embark upon theirs. "Only the Horses" not only brings back old memories, but also an excitement for this summer (the long, oh so long hours of daylight!), but most imporantly, makes me want to dance in my socks right across the hardwood kitchen floor.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

All Good Things

The Meadows, now spring

The Internet has been so patchy in the flat lately, there's been little opportunity to write.  But even if it had been working well, the last two weeks have been a dithering frenzy where I've hardly lifted my head out of the sand to see what day of the week it was.  All culmination of hopes and fears wrapped themselves up in Wednesday.

On Wednesday I had to turn in a rough draft of my nine-month review, and not only that, but present it to an academic audience.  I had worked, hard and diligently, but it had not congealed.  After prayers and tears, it fell into place on Tuesday evening for a glorious, yet exhausting, Wednesday. 

My meeting with my advisor went as well they can. She liked my conclusions, the work I'd done so far, paper ideas that I had, and my outline for my future progression.  Relief! That evening I presented that very paper to MEMSA (which sounds like MENSA which I am okay with) and it went down well. I talked through the first half of my paper, and read off the last bits.  I managed to survive the questions, though by the end was still a shaky, sweaty, blathering mess.  I'm not sure why this happens as I'm not afraid to speak publicly in any mental capacity. Perhaps it's my body's way of coping?? Thankfully there were many friendly faces in the crowd. 

For the past few months, I've stressed and worried about housing.  I felt directed by the Lord to simply "wait upon him" and within the same day, had a text from a friend, asking if I'd like to be their third in a flat.  Close to campus, not in a bad area (this Durham is dodgy too!), recently renovated-- new EVERYTHING, living room with comfy sofas, a wee garden-patio duo, and most importantly, a room of one's own. I'll even graduate to a 3/4 length bed in this flat, and after sleeping in a single for the past... gosh, 15 years, this will seem a wilderness. More importantly, the flat is pet-friendly and the landlord seems a-okay for Indy and Felix to join the crew. 

Today I want American things. I am wearing flannel, jeans, and boots, everything I own by LL Bean.  I want to read something American. I'm thinking a bit of Flannery O'Connor or Eudora Welty. Whitman if I can find him. I will troll Tills, as when I looked at my bookshelf, I was shocked to only find Edith Wharton among the American crew.  It's patchily sunny today. I think I will go to the garden and read with the bunnies. 

The weather has been freezing at night, with the days, while longer, not so warm.  I'm grateful for the long days. I drink them in. In a week's time I'll be going home to the States to see my family. I feel like I've passed a major hurdle, and the realization I'm not going to die has not yet worn off for any of these wonderful things to sink in. So I'm off to the back yard for even if these good things don't, at least, I hope, the sunshine will.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Beyond a Sentimental Affection

[Click for source]

"This connection with a wild animal is, I believe, a vital one.  It allows us to appreciate the hedgehog in a way that we can with no other creature- and I would argue that it is the moment that we begin to fall in love with the natural world, moving out of a sentimental affection for it and into something deeper.  And from there it is just a short step to wanting to do something about the parlous state we are in-hence the reason why I argue that hedgehogs can save the world." 
- Hugh Warwick, A Prickly Affair: My Life with Hedgehogs, Introduction