Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ranting & raining

Is it possible that rain falls horizontally, vertically, and from the ground up, all at the same time? That's what it felt like today in Edinburgh. Add in wind blowing from the east, the west, from ahead and from behind, and you've got yourself a truly miserable day.

All the same, what kind of 400+ year old university library closes 4 hours early on account of bad weather? Hasn't this institution been around long enough to know that the rain will come and then will go, and students will just keep on doing their work? The University of Edinburgh librarian told me that the sudden closure was on account of "Health and Safety Concerns."

I've noticed that British society takes "Health and Safety Concerns" to a level that I've never known in the United States. I'm trying to think of some other examples.

Let's see, for one, there are doors everywhere! Walk into our flat and there are 6 doors coming off of the small hallway - one for each room or closet. Theoretically, this set-up is more effective in stopping a fire from spreading - but all these doors kind of get in the way. I'm used to the more "open floor plan" of a typical American home.

Another curious thing about the flat is that it came with instruction manuals for EVERYTHING. The refrigerator. The toaster. The tea kettle. I can only imagine that landlords are required to leave them on premises because of Health & Safety requirements.

The other day hiking around the Crags of Arthur's Seat, I noticed a small sign. It said that the proprietors of the area required that permission must be granted to climb around on the rocks due to Health & Safety risks. Who, exactly, are we supposed to get permission from?

I think British people are just better at following the rules. Pubs that close at 1am close at 1am. Glasses of wine in bars are measured out by the mL - you can order a small or a large. Food and drink is not allowed in many public places. I'm always sneaking a hot drink on to the bus or into the library knowing that it is strictly forbidden. I can't help it that things are just so much more pleasant with a cup of coffee.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


I'm often hungry, probably from all the walking around Edinburgh. I love cooking and baking and often find myself thinking about what to eat and how to go about making it. On Friday I cooked a nice sit-down meal for 8 friends. There's nothing I like more than sharing good food with good company. Even better when your company is from a collective 6 different countries! (US, Scotland, India, Mexico, France and the Czech Republic.)

I'm not sure what to write about today, so I'll share Friday's menu just for fun -and to prove to my parents that my childhood subscription to Martha Stewart Living has actually paid off.


Butternut squash slices roasted in balsamic vinegar & honey

Garlic bread and cheese plate


Roasted Free Range Chicken in a Riesling, lemon, thyme & sage reduction sauce, cooked with locally grown shallots, carrots and baby button mushrooms, topped with coriander

Garlic and butter mashed potatoes

String beans sauteed with garlic & lemon zest

Salad of mixed greens, spinach, dill, basil, beets, apples, tomatoes, cucumbers, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and sunflower seeds

Paired with a crisp Riesling wine


Homemade banana bread a la mode, drizzled with chocolate and paired with frozen chocolate coated bananas

Don't you wish you were there??? That's all for now, folks. Now, on to my dinner, for which I'm having breakfast, in honor of the hour that disappeared from my morning today because of daylight savings.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring plans

The scholar team in Edinburgh is hard at work planning fundraising events for Maggie's Edinburgh, a Cancer Caring Centre for patients and their friends/families. We're teaming up to put on an International wine-tasting in May and a large-scale International Dinner Dance in June. Every penny will go directly to Maggie's Edinburgh, with the help of a matching grant through the Rotary Foundation. Here's the preliminary flyer - more info to come!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Not a local

When I travelled to Buenos Aires for vacation a few years ago, I was mistaken for a local within 3 days by someone who was asking directions. In Edinburgh, it's taken 8 months to get there. Funny considering I look much more Scottish than Argentinian. As mentioned before, no one thinks I'm American, but no one ever thinks I'm Scottish either. It's the accent, of course.

The story goes that a guy approached me at a pub, asked if I was a local, and I nodded yes to see where he was going with it. He said "It's rare to meet other locals, isn't it? This city is so overrun with international students." Before his foot went in his mouth any further, I let him in on the truth.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Can't stop listening to ...

Has everyone seen "Crazy Heart"? Hope so. The music alone holds it together (tried to put up a track, but it isn't working). Add some Oscar-winning acting, a genuine love story, and footage of the gorgeous American West, and you've got yourself a great flick. Everyone in my extended family is a fan of country and folk music so it was no surprise that my parents and sister saw it in the theater the same weekend that I did, thousands of miles apart.

A week of Rotary visits!

Last week was full of fun Rotary excursions. I presented at three different clubs: Rotary Club of Leith, Rotary Club of Dunbar (my own host club) and the Rotary Club of North Berwick. I really enjoyed each of the presentations and the goodwill shown by all the club members. Rotarians really know how to make a guest feel special. At each meeting, I was wined, dined, and given 100% attention during my speeches.

Mostly, I talk about my life, my accomplishments, how I got to where I am now, and how art has led my path in community service. I talk a good deal about my experience teaching art in inner-city Los Angeles with AmeriCorps, and the trials and tribulations that went with that experience. It's amazing, I still find myself choking up when I talk about certain families that I worked with and the impact that they had on my life.

Americorps (and other short-term voluntary service) is funny like that. You sign up for a program thinking that you'll be making a great difference in people's lives, but at the end of the day, what you can possibly contribute in a year feels far less than the personal triumphs and gains that you take away from it. But, I guess you have to start somewhere.

In terms of feedback, most of the questions I get relate to Scotland - "do you like the food?" "What are you disappointed with?" "What is the biggest difference between here and home?" Some of the questions relate to my artwork - "How are you going to get those giant paintings home?" (that's a really good question. I usually mention that they are indeed for sale!)

Since Dunbar and North Berwick are just next door to each other, I spent Tuesday with past District Governor Iain Marshall, a longtime member of the N Berwick club. He gave me a lovely tour of the coastal area, and we had a great lunch at a place that I forget the name of, but it is right by this church named Dirleton:

North Berwick is really lovely and sweeping and peaceful. It's considered one of the most desireable places to live in Scotland and I can understand why. Iain took me on a walk to the beach, which spreads out for miles. He is particularly fond of the ocean views as he is an avid sailor. Before Iain's wife Grace passed away, this was her favorite afternoon walk. I felt pretty honored that Iain shared the special place with me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

On getting around

After 3 years of what can only be known as freeway hell in Los Angeles, not to mention clocking 3000+ miles driving West -> East this summer, I never thought I'd miss driving while in Scotland.

Well, I miss driving, in my '91 Toyota Camry with its velour seats that are lovely in December and too hot in July, cup holder stationed with iced coffee and automatic windows that often break. I miss the glove box that holds a satisfying load of junk in a very small place. Maps, mascara, a hairbrush, kleenex, a hammer, no nails, CDs, measuring tape, mapquest print-outs from weekend trips to northern beaches. Trunk full of camping supplies and firewood from those weekend trips to northern beaches. Good luck sea shell and petrified wood charms on the dashboard - the ones that must work because I've never been in a serious accident. I miss the Thomas Guide in the back seat. That is, the 400 page tomb with detailed maps of every street and neighborhood in the Greater Los Angeles area (yes, it is that huge).

Me, Dad, car, parking spot, old apartment on Lafayette Park Place

In Los Angeles, you become one with your car, in a way that is at once sad and comforting. You are often alone in your car, because it is unlikely that your friends will live close enough to carpool anywhere. So, it becomes a second home, a safe haven. The one place you actually have some time to think. The city is so spread out that you bring everything with you in your car just in case you have to stay the night.

I miss washing and vacuuming at the $1 Car Wash. Foam foam foam, scrub scrub scrub, hose hose hose, hoover hoover hoover, and fast as you can because you don't want to pay another $1. Car Washes are on every corner, because, of course, in LA, you are what you drive. I'm not even kidding.

I severly miss American radio. NPR, oh, NPR. I am an obsessive car radio listener. Constantly scanning for that great song or fascinating news item. I miss Michelle Norris and Amy Goodman and Democracy Now and All Things Considered and Car Talk or Morning Becomes Eclectic. And Flo Rida and Kelly Clarkson and Britney Spears and Jamie Foxx. Anyway, car radio. I miss the open sun roof, and while we're at it, the open road.

I miss developing the terrible habit of talking on the phone while driving. It doesn't work on public transport. First, because it sucks when other people do it. Second, because I get self conscious and stop listening to the person on the other end.

This wasn't meant to be a nostalgic post, but it sort of turned into one. Guess it comes with the territory of living in another country and uprooting your routines. To end on an up note, it's a total pleasure to live somewhere where walking is a reasonable, practical option. And parts of my morning walk are downright incredible!

Up the stairs to Royal Mile

Victoria Street


And one thing I am in no way nostalgic about is $50 fill ups every week with a gas tank running empty all the time. Here in Edinburgh, it feels great to rely on the "clean" energy of my own 2 feet.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Case Study

Quick, run to your nearest "Pound Stretcher" -the British version of a $1 Store- and invest in a hot water bottle. Better yet, get one with a cute, soft cover, preferably in the shape of a dog or bear (My cover is made of felt with pink and white flowers).

The Scottish winter has been long, cold and dreary. There have been days when I wouldn't argue with author Bill Bryson, who said that "living in the UK is like living inside tupperware."

Herein lies the beauty of the hot water bottle. It's basically having a small, warm stuffed animal to cling to as you drift off to sleep. It stays warm until the morning. It's the next best thing to spooning. These hot water bottles seem to be a staple here. A Scottish girlfriend told me that she still uses the same one from childhood.

I wonder why they never made it big in the United States? Or have they? Have I been missing out all these years?