Monday, August 31, 2015

A turn in the weather.

It could certainly get hot again. In fact, I'd actually put money on the fact that it will, it will get hot again. But a decided cooling--by almost ten degrees, I think--makes such a noticeable difference that it feels like change, big change, the kind that signals something turning.

Last night, when we stepped out of my daughter's house in the evening, the sun hurtling toward the horizon as it does at the very most fiery end of the day, we all paused to notice the drama happening over there in the west. I thought about--and said--how beautiful the skies seem to get this time of year. The big billowy clouds. The sun rising and setting when we're getting up and getting home. Splashy, living for the moment. That's the light I'm talking about. The light is seizing the day.

Today, when I was driving from here to there, I noticed some new trees that had been recently planted on some high berm, marking the up-there freeway from its down-there offramp. They were perfectly oval, and cast lengthening oval shadows in a row. There wasn't time to look--I was getting off a freeway--but I felt some twinge that I couldn't see it properly. I wanted to fix it in my sight, in my memory. My imagined world.

I'm feeling the crush of not enough time. It's both a practical and an existential state. But I am loving what there's time to see, to do, to feel, right now while there's still lots of light and the really interesting shadows are getting ready to do their beginning and end of the day stretches. I hope to keep my eyes open.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Oh, hey, it's my birthday,

--so last night we ate dinner with Anna and Matt, and this morning we ate pancakes and I opened presents and washed the sheets and went to (birthday) church with my son and graded a little and ate delicious tacos with my kids and chatted to all the children hither and yon--Amelia and Miriam and Evie and Eli and Isaac and Lesley and Will and Van and Mitch and Supriya--and my parents and my niece and so forth, and ate some cake my daughter Sophia baked--it was pink with strawberries, fyi--and just took a walk with Bruiser in the cool night air, nbd. And also I have social engagements forthcoming with Ann and my parents and my auntie!

Am I older? I guess I am. Doesn't much feel like it matters, though. I feel good. I feel lucky for that, and grateful besides.

thanks for the picture, Sophia!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

At the farmer's market we discuss tattoos.

Just now, reading this post by my friend Ann reminded me that the historian and I had a little discussion at the farmer's market this morning:

(Passing the henna stall:)

Me: If we wanted, we could get henna.

The historian: How long does it last, do you know?

Me: I don't, really.

The historian: Maybe two weeks? I thought the henna April did for Supriya was...

Me: beautiful!

The historian: --yes. Amazing.

We walk on.

The historian: I've been thinking I could get a tattoo.

Me: (What!? Mind entirely blown.) ...I saw a post somewhere of super tiny tattoos that I thought were kind of cool. Like a little crescent moon right here (pointing behind my ear). Or, like, five tiny stars scattered across (sweeping gesture across clavicle).

Historian: (flexes bicep)(for real) I was thinking right here.

Me: Oh!

Historian: --like, maybe, a hammer and sickle. (considers:) Or Karl Marx!

Me: (whoa.) (pause:) Well, solidarity.  

--and off we went, to buy peaches, peppers, and corn.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Today in ten good things.

1. Waking up to a beautiful morning. Opening our bedroom door so Bruiser could hop up on the bed.
2. Thinking, when I woke up, maybe I'll take a rest day, because I felt sore, but as the day wore on, thinking, nope, I'm gonna do another two-a-day. And doing it.
3. Knowing from the moment I sat down to eat my Frosted Mini-Wheats that we were going to see a movie later in the evening.
4. Getting to talk to my smart colleagues about exciting things.
5. Thinking with Charlotte about making the Publication Center* a micro-press. (OH YES it is happeninnnnnngggg)

< I will pause, so that you may reflect**. >

6. Eating a surprisingly delicious lunch in the Student Center.
7. Visiting with friends before whisking off to the movie.
8. A very good movie, a comedy, that had the grand advantage of being a perfect length.
9. A big big moon.
10. Thinking about going to the farmer's market tomorrow!

BONUS ten things: Ten Things I Hope to See, Eat, and Buy at the Farmer's Market Tomorrow:

1. a huge croissant
2. peaches galore
3. tomatoes galore
4. basil galore
5. maybe some berries?
6. Mozdykuchen!
7. it's too soon for Asian pears, but maybe some asian pears.
8. ALLLLllll the garlic
9. all the things to make fattoush
10. eggs!

*don't judge this is about to get freaking amazing.

** I hope LK knows that every time I use the expression 'I will pause, so that you may reflect,' it is in homage to her.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Reading list (and a few comments on the beginning of the semester).

I will read any laudatory article about Serena Williams whatsoever. Because I love her. But this is a very good one.

Next year in Scotland... (thanks to my daughter for this one!)

Not that I am the sort to think real hard about the stock market, but 'The stock market is not the economy' seems like a good mantra.

Recommended by Nikwalk: this and this.

Written by Nicole Walker: this.

This gorgeousness.

I could never.

The people, my moods, they have been up and down and up and down and up again. Perhaps the splendor of our Scotland trip has ruined me for my regular life. At least for now. Or maybe I'm almost over it. I worked out twice today, as if I were a high school football boy and as if I were doing two-a-days. That's what I told myself: I'm doing two-a-days. I am surprised, and why should I be, by the fact that the mornings are a little darker and the evenings fall a little quicker. Yesterday when I was doing pull downs, I heard Pat Benatar singing 'We Belong,' and I felt really, really good. If I were a karaoke person, this might be my karaoke song. I can sing all the parts. I won't deny that I sang it a little bit while I was doing the weights. I am not sick of Beck, 'Wide Open,' not one little bit. Tonight I had dinner with two colleagues, and we ate all manner of good things and sat on the patio and laughed while we ate. I came home and did one last orientation with online students who may or may not themselves be feeling dubious about the beginning of the new semester.

Fact: starting the new semester is an up and down and up and down and up again proposition.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

And a chaser of Apple Jacks.

There's a box of Apple Jacks in my cupboard, hanging out with the more sober cereals, as well as a slumped bag of frosted flakes that are out the door, come to think of it, as soon as I write this blog post. The Apple Jacks have almost concluded their performance. Which is to say, when I had a small bowl tonight, dessert-like, after dinner, and then a judicious sprinkling more to finish up the milk, I thought, they're almost gone, thank God, and then felt a small pang because they're almost gone.

But let me start at the beginning.

Tonight, I had my first two online orientation sessions of the semester. I logged in, clicked Share My Screen and let Adobe Connect do its fiddly little thing, uploaded my pdfs, and waited. I waited, and went to the inbox and refreshed it to see if there were messages--none--and went back to the chatroom. No one. So I checked this and that, read a great article about Serena Williams by Claudia Rankine, and another great article from The Guardian about the North Coast 500, a road along the northerly coast of Scotland, which sounds like I better do it. And another article about how if you eat late at night--which they defined, variously, as after 3 p.m. (! what?) and 4:30 p.m. (come on!)--you are basically doomed. Well, anyway, that's what I got out of it.

I refreshed. Nothing. Chatroom? No one.

Until about halfway through the putative session at which no one was in attendance, or so I thought. Then, I got two messages from different students that were all, Hey, we're in the chatroom--where are you?

Adobe Connect! Your fiddly business!

I should have closed and reloaded. Live and learn. Anyway, I hustled over to the chatroom where the students were, and we had a highly efficient orientation. I scrolled back through the chat--they had been talking about the favorite authors! What good students!

While I was refreshing and checking on the no one that was in my chatroom, whilst the everyone was elsewhere, that was when I got up and got that bowl of Apple Jacks. I finished it before I realized what was what with my chatroom fail, which, good thing, because once I had to hustle to the real chatroom and start orienting, I needed both of my hands and also my mouth. I had no time for Apple Jacks!

Why do I have Apple Jacks at my house? Because when my son and his family were here this summer, we had some Apple Jacks. I bought a box because it would remind me of summer and childhood and the mornings when children at breakfast at my table, when sweet cereal tasted like freedom.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Open letter to my Canvas course.

Dear my Canvas course,

I have published you. Let's be clear about that. So you're on the books. You're legit. You're actually happening. Regardless of how I feel about the first day, orientations, projected schedules, updating due dates, and all that these imply.

Metaphor: it's like being at the top of a precipice, with a sled in tow. A rickety, haven't-used-it-in-a-while sled. Needs a little WD-40 sled. And I'm looking at my sled, then looking at the slope--whence I will very soon be sledding down--and I think, what the hell. And then I get on and shove off.

Wheeeeeeeeee! And whatnot.

Am I still jet lagged? Why do you ask?

I'm pretty sure we're going to have fun, my Canvas course, but right now, I am holding on for dear life and starting the hurtle down the mountain, and I still really really need some more sleep.

Just keep it together, will you? I'm not sure if I'm talking to myself or to you, my Canvas course, and right now I'm not sure if I can tell the difference.

filled with undecidability,


Monday, August 24, 2015

Not yet at 100%.

I feel like I really really really need to go to bed. It's 10:30. I don't even know what to say, except that it's only been five days since we touched down in the homeland, and it feels like everything in the world points toward the moment when we can finally, finally go to bed.

I did, however:

  • roll content into its Canvas shell (sounds like delicious M&Ms, but it's not, not at all.)
  • go to an exploratory meeting all the way across town at the university about strengthening the book culture of Salt Lake City. 
  • work out for the first time since coming back to America.
  • upon leaving the gym, feel the sun beat down on my head like a hardcore curse word.
  • make a truly exemplary salad.*
  • exchange about a hundred emails in which we took the temperature of our instructional team** at regular intervals and also nagged our poor Canvas administrator nigh unto death.***
  • re-narrate a screencast, and curse the name of YouTube when it turned up its nose at the upload.
  • flounce in to the bedroom to finish my trashy novel and
  • read a trashy magazine.
  • consider my outfit for tomorrow.
  • entertain low-level mental chatter about how impossible it's going to be to do what I need to do this semester.
  • think about getting up at ridiculous o'clock to be there on time for my first meeting. WOE.
But, as I say: I am now at 10:41 o'clock ready for bed, so all the bullets on the above bulleted list have just about exhausted me, clearly. And that is how I know that I am not yet 100 percent. Frankly, I am not sure when 100% megastore will be back in play. What with this weather, extra hot, and the jet lag, and my--let's be honest--bad attitude, it might be awhile. 

*Exemplary Salad: take equal parts herb salad and arugula and strew them upon a plate. Slice a number of cherry tomatoes atop the greens. Ditto English cucumber and fennel. Arrange upon the plate the precise number of artichoke hearts commensurate with your artichoke hunger. Crumble a requisite amount of feta on top of that. Take steamed green beans and sliced boiled new potatoes and put them on the top. If you like smoked salmon, some of that will be swell, too. Drizzle the following vinaigrette over all: glug or two of olive oil; petite dash of sherry vinegar; minced garlic clove; half teaspoon of Dijon-style mustard; salt and pepper. Whisk with a fork until it emulsifies.

Serve the salad with a piece of French bread torn with your wild-animal hands directly from the loaf.

**Temperature of the instructional team: fluctuating. Volatile. Centripetal.

***She is still alive, the soul of efficiency and capability. I am pretty sure that they can't be paying her enough.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The difference ten hours of sleep makes.

Yesterday, three days out from our epic and transatlantic journey back from Scotland, I found myself frayed to my very last nerve, so much so that the thought of going to see a movie made my head feel like bees were flying around it in an excessively closeup way. Also, the curry I ordered at medium heat felt way tooooooo spicy, as did the papaya salad. And I resented pretty much everything about my day. I actually found myself holding my head and davening in a meeting (on Saturday!) of our instructional team.

I also had this giant crushing papier-mache boulder hanging over my head by a very thin thread: the poem I promised to write for convocation, which is this coming Tuesday.

Have I known I need to write the poem all summer. Well, yes. Most of the summer, anyway. And did I start writing the poem back when I first heard about it? Kind of. Did I work on the poem on the flight back from Scotland? Sure I did.

And nonetheless, was I attempting the come-to-Jesus writing of the poem during the epicenter of the jet lag?

YES, okay? YES.

Anyway, I told my Scotland daughter about the crushing papier mache burden of poem I was fending off. From crushing me. This was after the davening and the head holding had already happened, but before the insult of the spicy curry and the head full of bees feeling. Here was our conversation:

What a sensible daughter! First of all, the suggestion to write a haiku, which: why didn't I *think* about/do that? And then the suggestion to find a poem I already had written! Why didn't I think about/do THAT?

Well, in fact, I did neither of these things. What I did was eat and whine about the curry, then come home and work on the poem.

At precisely nine o'clock, I took stock of the poem. It had two quatrains and many many many many single lines, aka 'notes.' I said (not aloud) SCREW THIS, walked into the bedroom and got under my faux fur blanket. And fell asleep until 10:45 p.m.

The historian took one look at me and said, 'Maybe I'll just take Bruiser for his walk and you can stay here.' I'm pretty sure I thanked him before I fell asleep again until seven a.m.


I woke up, looked at the clock, gave it a kiss (in my mind), and was practically whistling when I walked back to my laptop and wrote that poem like a boss. The End. Sleep is the answer to everything.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Today, while driving to various places, I listened to this

and this,

rather obsessively. It seems to me to be one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

When I've been to Scotland, it always seems that there are more civilized ways of doing things. Such as having smaller teaspoons for tea, and also for the other things that require spoons. I must have some, as it turns out.

I'm still reading those Louisiana crime novels. But soon, I will start reading a French detective novel, and after that, who knows? maybe this. Definitely this. And also this.

Available for pre-order.

Laughed really hard at this, which my son sent me to welcome me back to America.

My daughter predicted that this would be right up my alley, and she was so right. Also: I hadn't quite realized that it was directed by Jonathan Demme, director of some of my favorite movies!

My son finally sat me down and watched one of his favorite movies, which--no surprise--I also really enjoyed.

After reading this--along with the rest of America--I'm in a quandary about where to buy, well, everything.

School starts next week! I will be writing syllabi and getting my course ready and writing a poem for convocation. And putting together my outfits, of course. I hope your Saturday is more snack- and nap-filled than mine promises to be.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


This morning, I woke up and wondered, briefly, where I was. I thought I was staying someplace in between--not Scotland, but also not-home. Then I came to: I was in my own bed, in Utah. It was 7:45.

I made pancakes, thus further establishing the home credential. 

I got my laptop going again, which made it cranky and balky. My email was all, no room at the inn, bitches, so I had a merry time deleting, but also rereading, emails from the past. Totally a sentimental journey, except that I could not send any emails whatsoever until all that heartwarming business was entirely OUT. OF. THERE. Also, just for extra delight, a mandatory software backup. Good computer times!

But when things were humming along, computer-wise, and laundry was churning away in the machine, I went to the front door, just to get a bead on the front yard. There was a hummingbird. It was visiting a torch lily, aka a red hot poker, that we had planted midsummer. 

I opened the storm door just a little bit to get a closer look, and it rose, and redirected its whir at the door. It came closer and closer in little pulses. I drew the door a little more closed. It hovered in the air about eighteen inches away from me, its beak pointed directly at me. It felt like a greeting, a little. 

And then, it turned toward the columbine, and I went back inside. 

The laundry is done, and I have reengaged with work. Advance copies of my book have arrived. I'm making a list of places to send review copies. I'm tired and I have cried several times today. I miss the Scotlands. But I am home. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Things we did in SEA-TAC Airport whilst our flight was delayed and delayed and delayed again.

1. Ate yakisoba noodles.
2. Talked about our favorite parts of our visit in Scotland. Thought with longing about what we would have been doing if we were still in Scotland.
3. Had a vicious--there's no other word for it--twenty eight minute massage in a massage chair on the concourse, and felt the better for it, if only temporarily.
4. Remarked upon the fairly filthy state of airports at the end of the day at the end of the summer high travelling season.
5. Slept in an extremely awkward posture upon the benches, using our overstuffed backpacks and a balled up sweater to make the armrests work in my favor, a nap that nonetheless ranks among the all-time great awkward public sleeps of limited duration.
6. Briefly considered eating the compensatory pizza the airline offered re the multiple delays. Pass.
7. Had the following text exchange with my son:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A last garden.

Last Friday, everyone else went to Fyvie Castle while Amelia and I went into Aberdeen. The walled garden there was so lovely that the historian wanted me to see it. So today, when the beautiful sunny weather of yesterday had turned again to rain, we went to see it.

still green raspberries
purple cornflowers

'I have to say, I think this is a truly Scottish thing, to be visiting a garden in the rain,' said my daughter. It is a beautiful garden, entirely worth several visits. We opened the umbrellas and took it in.

inside the walled garden


still red blackberries













Scottish apples (James Grieve)











true Scotland.


a lettuce so perfect it is a flower.

It was the children's first day back at school. We walked with them in the morning and met them in the afternoon.

chatting after school.


pretty excited to get there.
Then, it was the back to school feast, finishing reading ambitious novel to Miriam and Evie, watching our last few episodes of Still Game, and packing. Sleeping/not sleeping. And goodbyes.


Monday, August 17, 2015

At the top of a mountain.

I can't--after all the times we've been here--get over the beauty of it. All of Scotland, really, or almost. You're in the most dire industrial park or retail assortment of big box stores, and within fifteen minutes you're away into someplace wild, or into the beautiful patchwork of farmland, there with a visible stone circle up a hill in the middle of the golden field, the Maiden Stone by the side of the road. You just have to open your eyes and there it is: dazzling, all of it rolling past in a tapestry that only ends at the hem of the sea.

Around these parts, Bennachie is the hill to climb, and it's always been on the list of things we wanted to do, but we'd never done it. This was the day to do it: the sun shone in over the trees this morning, and it stayed sunny and fair nearly all the day long, as we had read it would. It took a bit of prying to get everyone with shoes and socks on, snacks packed, a hoodie, water bottles--but we got out, drove to the trailhead, and began.

It's not a hard hike, first of all, but it's not nothing, either, especially with kids, two of whom had not hiked it before. My daughter often hikes it with friends, timing their departure so that they arrive at the top in time to watch the sun rise. We weren't up that early today, of course. But the air was cool as we went, starting where the trees and shade were thick, then ascending above the tree line. The last part is a little bit of a scramble up some stone, through the remains of a Pictish hill fort.

From the top, you can see the farms and the hills around for miles. In the distance, you can see the village and other small towns. We stayed up at the top, though it was windy and cool, because it was also brilliant and spectacular in the etymological sense of the word.

Tomorrow the kids go back to school. Then, the day after, we get on a series of planes to return to our lives and home, and the work awaiting us there. And Bruiser, and the ones we love who live there. As always, it's time to leave, or nearly, and it will be good to be home. But it's the nature of these things: I don't want to leave even so.

the beginning of the hike


up a stone section of the trail.






hikers all!
we're alive, dammit! (at the summit)
down a dry stone wall.
fireweed still a-blooming.
later in the day, we went to Findhorn, and the nature reserve there.
the tide was out.


it was Findhorn Bay, but you could see the way out to sea.


at the end of the day.





Saturday, August 15, 2015


Yesterday, my daughter and I spent most of the day in Aberdeen having lunch and shopping. Today, we made waffles and little books, then went out, all of us. Both days, it was rainy, the kind of rain that comes down steadily, without a lot of fanfare but with not much relief in sight, and today it was even more like that than yesterday. If you look on the iPhone weather app for this town, you can see the animation for rain, drops coming down in perpendicular lines. It looked like that when you looked out the window, too.

It took us a little while to get out of the house, and by the time we arrived at the Winter Gardens in Duthie Park, it was fairly dismal. We were all just a little out of sorts. 'They've put in a lot of new, nice play equipment. But it's not much of a day for that, I'm afraid,' my daughter said. We walked at a good clip from the car park to the gardens. It was wet and we were a little quarrelsome.

rain on the glass

But once we were inside, the rain didn't much matter. We could see it--hear it, faintly--sheeting on the conservatory walls and roof, but the green world inside did its conjuring.

venus flytraps (don't touch!)


fuschia, in the Victorian Corridor


brilliant I'm not sure what.


the desert. In Scotland.


morning glory.


in the tropics.
residents of the Winter Gardens.


My particular favorite beauties of the day.





By the end of the day, it seemed like the gardens, plus a game of bowling, some fish and chips for the kids and some Thai food for the adults, restored us. And the rain stopped.


Friday, August 14, 2015

Other things I could do with my life, #537.

Seen in the Summer/Autumn issue of Scottish Gardner:

The owners of a restored walled garden on the island of Mull are looking for a keen gardener who would be willing to take over the plot on a long lease.

The garden, which dates from 1780, was until recently operated as a nursery for rare plants but has now become vacant.

Owner Jonathan Quinn says: 'We hope that whoever takes it on will also be willing to design and create a new garden around the main house. The site covers four acres and we are quite open-minded as to the style of the garden.'

It was in this house that writer Elizabeth Luard penned some of her books and it is believed that Beatrix Potter was a visitor there as there are illustrations of views in Peter Rabbit that are identical to those in the garden.

Anyone interested in taking over the walled garden should contact xxx.




Rough drafts

Last night, I read the previous day's blog post to the historian, who is kind enough to ask me/indulge me. When I finished, I said, I think with some more work that could be an essay. 

He said, I was going to say.

As I've written these posts about our current visit to Scotland, I'm aware, sometimes acutely, of the imperatives of writing--to record; to make something with form out of the material of the day. To be true to the experience. To capture what is fleeting. Because these are daily posts, I almost always have a note or two, kept only for myself, about what I would add or do differently if I were to revise, or if I were writing the piece for a literary magazine. If it were to be in a book. If I were writing it solely for myself. There are things I leave out. Things I would give a different emphasis to, proportion differently. Sometimes I throw in details, attaching them in ways that I know I haven't yet full worked out, or haven't earned. When--if--I revise the piece I read last night to the historian, I know there are things I will add, feelings and small elements of the day, that will make it truer, in my estimation, that will make the form I give the experience feel, to me, more just.

I'm thinking about this because yesterday, we spent the afternoon at a beach in a small fishing village, Sandend, on the North Sea, and swam there in that cold northern water. And last night, as I considered opening my mobile blogging app, I thought, no. Not yet.

I just now wrote a sentence with loads of adjectives, trying to explain the not yet. Even that sentence: no.

As I woke up this morning, gray light in the window, I thought, I can write about why I don't want to write about it, not yet, and call it Rough drafts. I brought my tablet down to the kitchen. There are little brown birds in the grass, eating the seed Miriam scattered in the grass a day or two ago. It's raining. Yesterday, we had the beauty of a fine Scottish day, which is to say: sun, all afternoon long.

So what I'm doing is this: for all the reasons I can't yet put into words, I'm making a note of the day, and of this moment, the morning after, and saying, sometime, and probably soon, this experience will find its way into words, and I will be glad I waited. But for now, I'm just going to say I was happy, ecstatic, even. Doing this, all of us together--it was beyond.

Pictures, which I know I have posted elsewhere, but here they are again (right now, they are my memory-tokens):


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