Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Abroad

A lot of people have asked me, "Kimber, do they have Thanksgiving in Scotland?" And I have answered,  "No, that's a silly question." A better question would be, "Kimber, how did you celebrate Thanksgiving while living so far away from home?" Well, I'll tell you! (You were worried I wouldn't, weren't you?)

The first step to a successful Thanksgiving abroad is strategic friendships. Now, I'm not saying I made friends with certain people months ago in anticipation of this one holiday. That would be.... crazy. But what I am saying is, it helps to have American friends with flats. Living in the dorms, I have not the space nor facilities to prepare and serve a holiday feast. So I had to finagle some invitations to other people's festivities. That's the first way in which strategic friendships pay off. The celebration to which I was invited was of the potluck variety, so I needed a place to cook. This is the second way strategic friendships pay off. One of my friends who was recently liberated from the dorms graciously allowed me to come over and use his kitchen. (Thanks, Morgan!)

The second step to a successful Thanksgiving abroad is creative shopping. I had several dishes in mind to make, and while they were ultimately a success, it was not without a few adjustments on my part. For example, one of my dishes called for two cups of shredded cheese. Easy in the States. One bag of shredded cheese generally equals two cups. Here, we run into two problems. First, no shredded cheese. Second, everything is measured in grams and milliliters. As a result of this kind of issue, I ended up with an extra block of cheese, way more butter than I could have ever used, and a kilogram of frozen broccoli. What's more, I was totally unable to find a couple of things I needed, like cinnamon and corn meal (for making cornbread dressing, or "stuffing," if you prefer). This last missing ingredient would have been disastrous if not for a successful execution of step three...

Have great parents. Ok, to be fair, this isn't one you can really plan for. Unless you had the inside track at conception, you kind of have to work with the parents you've got. As I've known for a while, mine are pretty great. In this case, that is illustrated by the package I received from them a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. It contained (among other things) mini marshmallows, a can of french fried onions, JELL-O instant pudding mix, and two bags of stuffing. Essential ingredients for making sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, broccoli casserole, instant pudding, and cornbread dressing, respectively. And each of those four ingredients (with the possibly exception of the marshmallows) is difficult to find in this country. So hooray for my parents! (And for the $50 they spent to mail that package.)

So, armed with all those ingredients (and a healthy supply of red wine), my sous chef Sabrina and I produced four great dishes over the course of about 6 hours and took them over to the home of one of my compatriots for dinner. As it turns out, our dishes made up a significant chunk of the meal, but no one was complaining. Because they were great. And if they were complaining, I didn't notice (remember the red wine).

The long and short of it, readers, is that it was delightful Thanksgiving. Certainly not as great as Thanksgiving at home, but it was a pretty good alternative. Besides great food and delightful company, the best part of Thanksgiving was explaining various aspects of it to the non-North Americans. My favorite things to explain were the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the football game, and Black Friday. Some of it seems a bit silly when describing it to someone not from the US. But that doesn't make it me miss it any less.

Except Black Friday. Forget that shit. Happy post-Thanksgiving!


For a much more poetic and touching take on Thanksgiving abroad, I encourage you to read this article by my dear friend Michael McGuire. He tells it like it is, and I will admit, it got me a little emotional. Enjoy!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Recommendation: Lana del Rey

Lana del Rey is a relatively new artist that I discovered through Spotify. (I recommend Spotify, too, if you're not already using it. It's like Grooveshark combined with Facebook, I guess? Although, you don't have to deal with the social networking aspect if you don't want to, so basically it's just like Grooveshark, except that it exists as an application on your desktop instead of as a webpage. Check it out. It's good.) Anyway, back to Lana del Rey.

She has been quite the little success on YouTube with her hit song "Video Games." That song has now been featured on several TV shows, including Ringer*, Gossip Girl, and Made in Chelsea. She doesn't have a full-length album out yet, but she's already playing sold-out concerts, according to her Wikipedia page. Lana del Rey's voice is beautiful. It's resonant and dynamic with a hint of something tragic that really moves me. Check out "Video Games" and look out for more to come from this little lady.

*Also watch Ringer because I don't want it to get cancelled before they solve the mystery!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What I'm reading this week

Hey, gang! I'm sorry for the distinct lack of posts lately. The end of the term is coming up, and I have been at the grind. I thought I'd update you, though, on what I've been reading of late.

Last Friday I finished The French Lieutenant's Woman, an amazing novel by John Fowles about love and duty and identity and stuff in Victorian times. Wow, that was a vastly inaccurate description of what the novel really is. It is set in Victorian times and, in some ways, it's a critique of Victorian life, but it is also (in a way) set in the 1960s and is also a critique of that time. That still doesn't make sense, so you're going to have to take my word for it and read it.

Yesterday and today I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. James Joyce's semi-autographical novel about young Stephen Dedalus is wrought with existential dread, religious crises, and aesthetic theories. Woot. Not always a page-turner, but worth having in your arsenal of literary knowledge. Plus, isn't Joyce cute and goofy looking in this picture?

And right now, I am about 15 pages into Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I plan to finish by Thursday. We'll see how that goes. From what I'm told, it's one of those "masterpieces of world literature" you always hear about. At the moment, it seems to be a story about a pedophile (please pronounce that with a long e at the beginning). But I'm going to continue reading it because, well, it's an assignment for class. And again, it's probably one of those books I should have read if I want to call myself a literary individual.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Remember, remember...

Those of you who are up to speed on your British holidays probably know that Saturday was Bonfire Night here in the UK. You might know it better as Guy Fawkes Night. Whatever you call it, it is a pretty big deal around here, and it was loads of fun.

Around 7pm, a group of us left the dorm and headed to Holyrood Park, home of Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags, which is conveniently located just behind our residential complex.

Salisbury Crags
We were situated just below where the rock face starts going vertical.

Dozens, maybe even hundreds, of people ranged over the hills to get a good view of the city. And what a view it was! As far as the eye could see, delighted revelers set off fireworks. I've seen many a fireworks display in my time, but never quite like this.

The whole of Edinburgh was aglow with tiny, distant explosions; little pops of color that would sparkle and then fade as you shifted your attention from one side of the city to the other.

I tried to capture the experience on my camera. You'd be shocked to learn that the iPhone does not make the best video recording device, but I think you can still get a sense of the effect from what I recorded. Take a look.

I apologize for the shoddy camerawork, particularly at the end; some jerks decided to walk in front of my shot. What I hope you got from that is that the celebration was happening all over town, and it was truly an amazing thing to witness from our perch halfway up Salisbury Crags.

It was chilly. 

After we had had our fill of the fireworks (which was long before they were actually finished), we made our way down the hill and started to head for home. It was around that time that the people on the hill itself decided to set off their own fireworks, so we were treated to a series of close-up displays, made all the more exciting because I knew these fireworks were being set off from the side of a mountain, amid large groups of people. Hooray for danger!

But lest you worry, dear reader, please know that I was not close enough to the actual setting off of the fireworks to be in harm's way. So you can put your minds at ease.

When we reached the entrance to our housing complex, we decided not to go home and instead to have a mini-pubcrawl. First we hit up a pub aptly named the Ale House, where a live musician serenaded us as we consumed a couple of pints and a bowl of chips and cheese.

For the North Americans among you, that is French fries with shredded cheese on top. And before you start thinking "but wouldn't melted cheese be easier to eat on top of the fries?", let me assure you that the heat of the fries melts the shredded cheese, making a delicious pile of cheesy goodness.

Not unlike sratchos* 

Once the chips and cheese were gone, it was off to our favorite local pub, the Montague, and then home to watch my favorite Guy Fawkes Day classic, V for Vendetta.

All in all, the best Bonfire Night I've had in years.

*sratchos (n.) - nachos made in a sorority (or "srat") house by melting cheese on top of tortilla chips in a microwave

Saturday, November 5, 2011

'Tis the Season

Well, dear readers, Halloween is over, and the holiday season is upon us. You know how I know?

Yup, if Starbucks has the red cups and eggnog lattes, that means it's almost Christmas. Only 49 shopping days left, my friends. I hope you're getting as excited as I.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween in Scotland

So I bet you're wondering, "Kimber, do they celebrate Halloween in Scotland?" Heck, yes they do, dear reader! And this year, possibly because of Halloween's weird Monday-placement, the festivities began on Friday and carried on through the weekend. (Another reason for this all-weekend partying might be that people will take any excuse to go out and wear funny costumes. But what do I know?)

I myself only dressed up for the day itself (because I am purist), but dedicated revelers made the most of their weekend. Some of my favorite costumes include a girl in a pirate costume with a giant CD attached to her front and this homemade car costume:

I had a pretty fun weekend myself. Would you like to hear about it?

On Sunday, a group of post-grads from my building went on the Auld Reekie Terror Tour. This is a terrifying 1 1/4-hour jaunt through the streets of Edinburgh and into the famous South Bridge vaults. It can be debated how terrifying the tour itself actually was, but it cannot be denied that those vaults are creepy as hell. While I was not touched by any ghosts (that I know of), I was pretty horrified just hearing about the true things that happened down there. I don't really want to go into detail because it's fairly disturbing. Let's just say, not a fun place. Oh, also, there is a present-day coven that continues to practice there. Even they are afraid of the vaults! 

The tour also involved a visit to the torture museum, which made me want to pass out. What can I say? I'm not a fan of torture. On the bright side, the tour ended with whiskey and shortbread. Hooray!

On Monday, I attended a Halloween party, hosted by one of my classmates and the people she lives with. (I'm sorry, "the people with whom she lives.") One couple come dressed as the Fantastic Mr. Fox and Mrs. Fox, which was a huge win. There was a minor fail involving a terrible pumpkin-and-rum concoction, but we bounced back and much fun was had by all.

Here is a picture of my costume. I'm going to give you a moment to look at it before I tell you what I am.

Less blurry close-up:

Why, yes. That is a full-body pink jumpsuit. No, I cannot explain why I own such a thing. Yes, I did buy it when I was 15. Jealous? No, no you're not.

Ok, figured it out, dear reader? I'm gum! Take a minute, let it sink in. Yeah, I'm pretty proud. All in all, this was a successful Halloween.