Thank God It’s Christmas

Salutations!

Look closely, and you will find some good in 2016.

Buried under the rubble of death, destruction, and devastation are memories of happiness, adventure, and beauty.

It was a year of bucket-list check-offs: I spent a dazzling day meeting, feeding, and interacting with the most majestic creatures on Earth1. I added three new lands to my “European Countries I’ve Visited (Because Travel Is Easier From Within the UK Than the US)” map—Italy2, Sweden3, Belgium4.

It was a year of musical bliss: Tears welled in my eyes as Brian Wilson5 sung “God Only Knows” to the swaying audience at Usher Hall, and again when Elton John crooned “Levon” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” in front of the rowdy Meadowbank crowd6.

It was a year of firsts: Athleticism has never been my strong suit7. So why (I ask myself every Saturday morning when I wake up at 8:30 a.m.) do I insist on participating in the weekly Portobello 5K Parkrun? I decided in October that it was time to pull on my long sleeve running top and try to prove to myself that I can plod along for five kilometers without feeling sick and nearly passing out8. After all, what’s three laps around the park when I grinningly dropped 165 feet from the Forth Rail Bridge9?

It was a year of kith and kin: As per tradition, Neil and I returned to the US this summer to attend a friend’s wedding and visit some faction of my family. I had the great honour and joy of, once again10, standing next to one of my oldest mates as she said “I do” to a wonderful man. Then I had the even greater joy11 of spending a week at my brother and sister-in-law’s Missouri home, where we played games, read books, and exhausted ourselves with my mischievous, beautiful, bizarre12 nephew and niece. Back in the UK, I attended my first Scottish wedding13, where I graciously watched new friends exchange lovely rings and even more loving gazes. Then capped off the season playing tourist with my parents and aunt—first in Edinburgh, then in Bruges.

It was also a year of heartache and pain14: We lost so much and gained so little.

Once the dust settles in 2017, I will be walking down a new career path. For those who haven’t heard, my publishing company (Ziff Davis) made some cutbacks this month; among them: my full-time contract position with PCMag15. Come January, I’ll be watching TV for research purposes16 and diving into the fun, weird, WTF side of tech news as a part-time freelancer17 for sister site Geek.com18. But, keep an eye out for my occasional byline on PCM—my home for the last four and a half years.

So pour one out for 2016 and raise a toast to 2017—to new beginnings, new opportunities, and new delights.

Wishing you and yours the happiest of holidays and a spectacular new year. Cheers!

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne.
We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


1. Giraffes, for those of you who haven’t visited our flat in the last eight months, paused just outside the kitchen, and asked, “What is the Giraffe Experience?”

2. I left my heart in Pisa, Lucca, Florence, and Siena

3. History, culture, meatballs, and friends

4. Where I spent too many euros on a dress with giraffes on it

5. It’s nice to know his eccentricities haven’t dissipated over the years

6. It is a sad day when thousands of people can muster the words to only “Your Song”

7. I once stood stubbornly on second base during a children’s T-ball game, because I didn’t realise it was my turn to move

8. After five attempts, this remains a mere hypothesis

9. I raised nearly £1,000 and abseiled in the name of mental health

10. That’s five bridesmaid dresses now

11. Sorry, Catherine

12. My two-year-old niece sees ghosts

13. Of a Canadian bride and English groom

14. I don’t know if I can face it again

15. i.e. I’m being laid off at the end of January

16. Covering Doctor Who (Allons-y!)

17. i.e. A major paycut and less job security

18. Told you there was some good in 2016

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I’m With Her to Make America Great Again

Listen up, America.

The future is not a joke. Neither is your choice for who should wake up every day in the White House Master Bedroom, conduct international business in the Oval Office, and host the annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn.

No matter your political inclinations, no matter your personal preferences on self-tanning or pantsuits, the next four to eight years will shape the world today, tomorrow, and forever.

So whether you do it for you, your kids, grandkids, future children who haven’t been conceived yet, friends, colleagues, pets, favourite celebrity, or preferred deity—vote. Vote blue or red, white or orange, her or him. Do your civic duty and make your voice heard.

Because it’s not just your jurisdiction, your state, or even your country that’s on the line. The global community is watching, so let’s make them proud.

May your days, may your days, may your days be merry and bright

Dearest, darlingest friends and family,

I told you I’d be back.1

One year. Twelve months. Three-hundred-and-sixty-five exciting, exhausting, frustrating, hilarious, peaceful, adventurous days.

Nearly all of them spent with my abettor—and new roomie. Most of you are aware of my recent relocation2: My 14th in fewer than 30 years, it was about as stressful as you’d imagine a move across town to a third-floor flat at the top of a winding staircase into an already-crowded-with-stuff home would be.

But I got to play interior designer/painter/carpenter for a couple of weeks.3 Which, as anyone reading this probably knows4, is an entirely new experience for me.

As is living full time with a cat. Rather, a cat who thinks she’s a lion, tiger, and bear5 wrapped into a chubby crate of ginger fur. When she’s not whining, she’s actually quite sweet. And then I start sneezing.6

 

The new year kicked off (sadly) not with a Rockin’ New Year’s Eve party, but (thrillingly) with a visit from one of my favourite globetrotters7; there was fiery torches, colourful fireworks, and midnight dancing around the flat.

And as the calendar pages flew breezily off the wall with each passing sunrise and sunset, I found myself, once again, filling the blank spaces of my life with unexpected wonders.8

I learned how to better my creative nonfiction writing, revisited Barcelona, watched more football matches9 in 11 days than I’ll see in an entire lifetime, perused the Tour Eiffel and Arc de Triomphe, and left my heart in Copenhagen. And that was just January through May.

“Summertime”10 in Edinburgh delivered friends back to the city and yielded the perfect excuse to travel to the Scottish Highlands. And while folks in the U.S. were celebrating National Goat Cheese Month11, Neil and I were dashing from one Fringe Festival play to another International Festival concert to a sad singing clown12, trying to scarf down as much entertainment as possible before flying west.

For a wonderful high-school-reunion-themed blast from the past, we visited Maryland–my first time back since December 2013–to celebrate the beautiful nuptials of beautiful friends. Add two weeks at my parents’ Charleston home, subtract the buckets of rain doused on the East Coast, and you’ve got one of the best second-half-of-Augusts ever.

A return to the everyday meant more films, theatre, and board games, interspersed with an anniversary trip to London and a Girlguide camping weekend.13

 

I’m still getting used to missed traditions (my beloved Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade), but am making way for new ones (eating too much Turkey Day cornbread and pumpkin pie with my family of friends). This year I am thankful for the new-found mates who fill the widening gaps between me and my homeland.

Now it’s time to wrap presents, pull crackers, and gorge on Mrs. Chue Hong’s holiday feast.14

 

So here’s to another beginning, friends old and new, and taking chances.

Wishing you the happiest of holidays and a spectacular new year. Cheers!

For auld lang syne, my jo,

for auld lang syne.

We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.


1. [*Obligatory Arnold Schwarzenegger reference*]

2. [If not, we’re probably not actually friends.]

3. [We redecorated two rooms—now my office and the library. And I expect to be pulling my paint-splattered leggings back on in the near future: This place is a work in progress.]

4. [Because we’re probably actually friends.]

5. [Oh my!]

6. [Just kidding, Mom! I only sneeze occasionally.]

7. [Currently exploring South America’s beautifully lanky Chilean coast.]

8. [Expect no further poetry.]

9. [U.S. translation: soccer games.]

10. [65℉ and partly sunny.]

11. [http://www.brit.co/goat-cheese-month-recipes/]

12. [https://www.youtube.com/user/PuddlesPityParty]

13. [This is not a typo. I repeat: This is not a typo.]

14. [But it’s OK: I’ve been going to the gym. (This is not a typo. I repeat: This is not a typo.)]

Photo gallery (and more)

Sometimes life just gets in the way. But most of the time I’m just lazy.

Previously on Sair for Scotland, my parents left me for a cruise around Spain, and I settled back into a Fringe-free Edinburgh.

About a week and a half later, I was off on my own European vacation to Barcelona. If you don’t count the few hours I spent in La Havre, France, during my U.K. cruise five years ago (and I suppose I do), this was my first European trip outside of Britain.

Really, all I wanted to do was spend time with my parents and see Antoni Gaudí’s architecture. Add to that sweltering heat, scrumptious food, and a language barrier, and that was exactly what I did.

There was Parc Güell, La Padrera (Casa Mila), Casa Batlló, Biblioteca de Catalunya, Palau Guell, Catedral de Barcelona, and, the most glorious of them all: Sagrada Familia. *Swoon*

Antoni Gaudí @ Parc Guell

Antoni Gaudí @ Parc Güell

Antoni Gaudí @ Casa Batlló

Antoni Gaudí @ Casa Batlló

Revolución de ajedrez @ Biblioteca de Catalunya

Revolución de ajedrez @ Biblioteca de Catalunya

Antoni Gaudí @ Palau Güell

Antoni Gaudí @ Palau Güell

Catedral de Barcelona

Catedral de Barcelona

Antoni Gaudí @ Sagrada Familia

Antoni Gaudí @ Sagrada Familia

Antoni Gaudí @ Sagrada Familia

Antoni Gaudí @ Sagrada Familia

Once home—back to the crisp chill of Scotland—I had to accept the fact that life was returning to normal. Five-day work weeks. Empty home (and fridge). I happily filled my time last weekend with a visit to the Edinburgh Zoo.

And while the penguins weren’t in any mood to parade, and the giant pandas were quarantined while mama Tian Tian is monitored for her excessive pregnancy, those rhinos, zebras, and monkeys sure made the £16.50 price entirely worth it.

Kings of the castle.

Kings of the castle.

Having a wee cuddle.

Having a wee cuddle.

Hungry?

Hungry?

Zebri?

Zebri?

I’ve otherwise been staying busy with The Great British Bake Off, various Meetup.com groups (the weekly writers crew, my fellow American expats, new freelancer friends), and just this week began volunteering with Girlguiding Edinburgh (U.K. Girl Scouts).

Coming up next: Supporting creatively inclined friends, An Evening With Elvis Costello (Oct. 18), fireworks with the wee bairns, and An Evening With Alan Cumming (and his new autobiography, Nov. 12). I’m also looking forward to seeing Edinburgh during the holidays. And perhaps a New Years visit from a friend.

And now that is official, let the countdown begin: Only six months and one week until my big brother arrives for a very British (and mildly French) adventure!

Haste ye back

There is a specific sort of loneliness that sinks in after saying goodbye to people and hello to an empty-again apartment.

The whirlwind that was the last 11 days has come and gone, and, well, here I am. As expected, B.J. Novak, military bagpipers (plus fireworks!), Jack Dee, and a fresh Doctor Who start were fantastic. I laughed and almost cried and felt justified in every decision I’ve made over the past year.

And then my parents arrived.

What a joy it was to hug them again, after six months away and only dodgy Skype video connections for almost-human communication. Despite my deep adoration for the independent lifestyle, it sure felt nice to have people around who know and understand me, and can make me guffaw for five minutes while on a public bus.

Adventurous and relaxing, we saw three Fringe shows in one day (if you do one thing before you die, make sure it’s seeing Rhythmic Circus perform live), toured the Royal Botanic Gardens, met some hairy coos, visited Stirling Castle and the National Wallace Monument, and ate lots of burgers. (Photos coming soon. Of our trips. Not ground beef.)

I make friends everywhere I go.

I make friends everywhere I go.

And now that we’ve said goodbye (for now), life has all too suddenly returned to normal. With a three-day holiday weekend thrown in, for good measure. But a Skype session with my sweet nephew, two new pairs of jeans, and Sam Cooke crooning on my Spotify radio station make life feel great.

Eleven days until Barcelona and a brief reunion with my parents. My last planned holiday then gives way to adult education, Elvis Costello, and heavy-scarf season. It’s the little things, really.

Cheers.

But clouds got in my way

One might expect that these blogging dry spells are the consequence of an overly exciting life, one filled with pub crawls and mountain hikes, epic concerts and late-night raves. Fortunately, that’s not the case.

Quite the contrary: Over the past two weeks, I’ve watched the entire 10-episode first season of Orphan Black in two days, caught two Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows and one Edinburgh International Book Festival event, and spent much of my time in sweatpants.

A productive two weeks, however. While not wearing my pajamas (or working), I ventured out for meals with friends, a toe-tapping journey through the Great American Songbook (Fringe), a series of spectacular letters read live (Ed Book Fest), an open mic night performance, and an evening of Joni Mitchell with Brian Kennedy (Fringe). And fell head over heels for Guardians of the Galaxy—the latest, perhaps greatest, masterpiece from the Marvel summer blockbuster collection.

See: Not all mundane.

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo fireworks over the castle, as seen from Princes Street during my walk home.

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo fireworks over a purple-hued Edinburgh Castle, as seen from Princes Street during my walk home.

The real excitement is just beginning.

After capping the week with B.J. Novak, military bagpipers (plus fireworks!), Jack Dee, and Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who debut, Sunday morning brings the greatest gift of all: my parents.

Visiting on their way to a warm, all-inclusive cruise around Spain, my Mum and Pops will spend 5.5 days in Edinburgh, paying for my meals and nagging me about the cleanliness of my flat. And also giving me hugs, making me laugh, and enjoying new adventures. And then leaving me to sail through warm Spanish lands for two weeks.

At the end of which I will reunite with them in Barcelona—my first outside-of-the-U.K. European holiday.

Gaudi or bust!

Memento

Home sweet bed.

Arrived back in Edinburgh this morning, after a two-week stint in the great U.S. of A.

As superb as hugs and laughter and time with some of my favorite people is, I am thrilled to be able to climb into my big, quiet bed again. I am forever grateful for the twin beds and futons and couches I occupied over the past 11 days. But holy Henry Mancini—There’s nothing quite like your own head-indented pillows and lumpy duvet after time away.

The abridged version of my travel log:

• Edinburgh —> Philadelphia —> Baltimore: Friends, broccoli cheddar soup, baby’s breath balls, aunts and uncles and cousins (not mine), stunning wedding (and unexpected compliments on my MoH speech), Funfetti cupcakes, more friends.

Going to the chapel, gonna get married.

Going to the chapel, gonna get married.

• Baltimore —> New Orleans —> Hattiesburg (Miss.): Family, work, family, breakfast for dinner, family, hugs, family, Scooby Doo, family, happiness (and lots of trips to the potty).

Hanging with my favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

Hanging with my favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

• Hattiesburg —> New Orleans —> Philadelphia —> Edinburgh: Sweatpants, couch, The Philadelphia Story on TV.

I have an unfortunate lack of photos from my trip. A couple of mobile phone-shot images of the blushing bride, and some blurry pictures of my hyperactive nephew and oft-sleeping niece. Mostly memories (and professional wedding photos to be collected at a later date).

Sweet memories and lingering heartache to lull me to sleep in my big, quiet bed.

Photo gallery

Back to life as I knew it.

Entertaining guests for 10 days is nothing short of excruciatingly stressful. But it’s time well spent:

Two days in London to see a giant blue cock at Trafalgar Square and a stunning production of The Lion King in the West End.

Hahn/Cock.

Hahn/Cock.

Me, Nikki, & Nick in Trafalgar Square.

Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

Big Ben sure is big.

Big Ben sure is big.

Man, you are Westminster Crabby.

Man, you are Westminster Crabby.

[London] Eye spy.

[London] Eye spy.

Floating, Yoda is.  Yes, hmmm.

Floating, Yoda is. Yes, hmmm.

Keep calm and hakuna matata.

Keep calm and hakuna matata.

Rainy morning at Edinburgh Castle.

My beautiful city (view from Edinburgh Castle).

My beautiful city (view from Edinburgh Castle).

A walk through Edinburgh’s beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens.

Chinese Hillside.

Chinese Hillside.

Sunny day, sweepin' the clouds away.

Sunny day, sweepin’ the clouds away.

Fried haggis balls ain’t got nothin’ on this chunk of meaty goodness. Our first taste of traditionally prepared haggis.

Haggis and neeps and tatties, oh my.

Haggis and neeps and tatties, oh my.

Nick really got hooked on haggis.

Nick really got hooked on haggis.

It tastes like meatloaf. (Sheep-y meatloaf.)

It tastes like meatloaf. (Sheep-y meatloaf.)

After a slight detour (i.e. getting lost), we made it to Calton Hill for postcard-worthy views of Edinburgh.

Nick & Nikki on the walk to Calton Hill.

Nick & Nikki on the walk to Calton Hill.

The view from below.

The view from below.

The view from the top of the hill.

The view from the top of the hill.

My beautiful city (view from Calton Hill).

My beautiful city.

Not pictured (but visited): Princes Street Gardens, Greyfriars Kirkyard, National Museum of ScotlandMercat Hidden & Haunted vault tour; Stirling (castle & town), Museum of Childhood, The Scotch Whisky Experience tour

A hill for magnitude

Another week, another Tuesday, another set of dodgy British reality show adverts.

Spent the weekend being rather productive, if I say so myself.

Took my first trip to Arthur’s Seat–an extinct volcano that rises above Edinburgh’s cobblestone streets to provide stunning, almost hallucinatory views of not only the capital city, but the green-and-blue worlds that surround it.

Full disclosure: I didn’t make it to the very top (823 feet), but stopped at the plateau just below Arthur’s Seat, which I like to call Arthur’s Footstool.

But my friend and hiking companion was kind enough to 1. not mock me for needing to take a break and rest my unathletic body every 25 feet, and 2. agree that said footstool was far enough for my first climb.

Unfortunately, I left my camera at home, and watched my phone battery quickly fade away before I even made it to the park, so I have no photos to show for my adventure. (I do, however, have the blisters and sore muscles to prove it.) I count that misfortune as a reason to revisit the hill in the future. Maybe I’ll even make it all the way to the top.

Until then, it’s work, work, work. Slipped out a few hours early Monday to rest my aching body and sleepy head. And now am recouping that time the rest of this week.

Until Friday night, when I sit front-and-centre for an evening of Wynton Marsalis and some stunning jazz music. Ahead of a weekend of shopping, cleaning, and more shopping.

P.S. Read Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. Seriously.

The Anything Can Happen Recurrence

Three stateside friends are visiting in less than two weeks. And they’ve (very graciously) asked if there is anything strictly American that they can bring to quench my cravings.

But unless they can fit an air conditioning unit and my therapist into their luggage, they’re off the hook. Though I would actually give a toe for a trio of disgustingly greasy meat-and-cheese soft tacos from Taco Bell.

Things I never expected to complain about while living in Scotland: daily sunny weather and sweating in 77-degree heat.

But stuck inside my flat, working for nine hours in the sun’s direct rays, I occasionally miss the arctic tundra that is (was, I hope) PCMag’s New York office.

Keeping my fingers crossed that the sunshine holds out for a long July 4 weekend. In exchange for fireworks and Sousa marches, I’ll take bright, cloudless skies and friendly adventures.