Saturday, October 30, 2010

Chips, er... Crisps

I will be so happy when these papers are turned in. I'm tired of looking at them, tired of thinking about them, and tired of contemplating natural law. I get it, I can find 2,000 words on it. Which is not many words at all in the grand scheme of things. But I don't feel like I have a real direction and I'm just kind of typing and seeing what comes out and going with that. I'll give it a bit more tonight but I have to go to bed at a decent hour since I have to be up early for hiking tomorrow. Yay, hiking!

But for a break, I wanted a snack. And potato chips are my weakness (crisps... I must remind myself to call them crisps). And what did I find in the Tescos?

Sweet Chilli!

For those who don't understand my excitement since we don't have this flavor in the States, if you've never tried sweet chilli, you don't know what you're missing. It's just the right amount of heat without a lot of bite and it is amazing. I was introduced to sweet chilli flavoring by my former housemate during the Olympics in February. McDonald's had a number of limited time international dipping sauces for the McNuggets and sweet chili was one of them. Now, she'd fallen head over heels for the flavor when she spent a year in New Zealand and she got ridiculously excited when the commercial came up. I asked what the heck she was yelling for and within 15 minutes, we were in the car, through the drive-through, and back tasting this amazing taste.

Oh Tesco, you've made my night. And I will enjoy you, dear, delicious, Sweet Chilli Kettle Chips, and you will making talking about Aristotle and Aquinas and Natural Law that much better.

And then I can't have another bag in the house, cause I'll eat the whole thing *lol*

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's All Greek to Me

(Scene: Library. Hours, hours, of reading. While the classmate I'm with has been so proud of finding a book and keeping it and waiting to get around to it.)

Her: 'Ah, I think I'll move on to Seneca and work on that essay.'

Me: 'Cool that you found all of the epistles in one place. Since I know you hate citing the web.'

Her: 'Nice, big print... okay, let's open this up...' (pause)

Me: '...?'

Her: *headdesk*

Me: 'What's wrong?'

Her: *hands me the book without saying anything*

Me: '... omg it's in Latin??'

Her: 'How am I supposed to read Latin?'

Me: 'Um... poorly?'

Grad school win of the day: Realizing the that primary source you need to complete a paper is NOT actually available in English anywhere in your library. Or not backordered on Amazon.


Other Classmate: 'What's wrong with her?'

Me: 'She just realized the only text available here is in Latin. And Amazon's backordered.'

Her: 'Who buys up all of the copies of the English translation of Seneca's epistles??'

Other Classmate: 'Well, Christmas is coming up soon...'

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Open Letter to Grad School #1

Dear Grad School,

It was a lovely weekend in St Andrews. The sun was shining after a bout of rain, it was chilly but not cold, and all around there were happy people enjoying their time outside.

Unfortunately, you let me enjoy only the briefest of it in order to walk to the grocery store yesterday and back. Instead, you wanted me to stay inside and read and write and read a bit more so that hopefully I can have my essays done by next Monday and not sound like an idiot in class tomorrow morning. While it was a lofty goal, I'm still irritated that you picked a nice weekend to demand that. This is not how I wished to spend my evening again.

Aquinas isn't that interesting, even if he will be the subject of one of my essays. Therefore, I'm calling it quits tonight. I'm done. I'm done reading, I'm done thinking about Natural Law, and I'm done trying to make your verbose logic arguments make sense after reading so many that they all start to run together. It was a nice ride, but I'm done for the evening. We'll reconvene tomorrow and make some real headway. But for now? I'm going to have to ask you to leave. Or at least hide under a pile on my desk to be found later.

To put you out of my mind, I propose the following. First, a snack.

Said snack will be of the easiest things to pull out of the fridge/cupboard. Cheese, an orange, and Hobnobs (which seriously need to be sold in the States -- oat cookie dipped in dark chocolate ftw). This will be accompanied by tea, Earl Grey since it's amazing.

Second, television of the American variety. Choice should include attractive men, fun, stories as deep as mud puddles, and nothing depressing. Bonus points for suits and style.

White Collar it is. (Mad Men, you were a close second. Alas, you didn't fit the 'nothing depressing' qualifications this time around.)

In exchange for the respite, I promise to hit the books hard tomorrow. Cross my heart.

Thanks bunches,

Saturday, October 23, 2010

When In Doubt, Bake

I spent Saturday in the loving academic embrace of Aquinas and friends, which meant that by the middle of the afternoon I was desperate to do something, ANYTHING, different from what I was doing. And since it was a nice day, it was worth it to walk to the big grocery store. It's amazing how differently you think about things when you don't have a car and you have to decide 'is a mile and change to far to walk today for the big grocery store' and 'make sure that I don't buy too much cause it would be too heavy to carry' and 'I could always grab the bus, now where's an extra £1.20 around here...' I'm very aware of how privileged I've been in the past now, as this is my first time without ready access to a car.

But it was a pretty day, I felt like doing some cooking, and they just didn't have all of what I needed at the Tesco around the corner. So I made the hike to the second of three grocery stores in town.

Why, hello Morrisons! And gah, perhaps it's not a terrible thing that I don't have access to a car. Unless my math is failing me, £1.14 per litre ends up just a little over $8 per gallon. Holy expensive gas, Batman! Remind me not to complain about $3 gas when I get back to the States...

Anyway, hello Morrisons. You had my sage, and my ziploc bags (I've lasted a month without them cause my flatmates didn't seem to need them, but again, I use the heck out of ziploc bags), but you didn't have the butternut squash that I was craving. Alas, no one's perfect. But you also had tea on sale, so I'll forgive you this time.

My desire to bake (and I'll use bake loosely because the precision of baking often eludes me) came about because of running across this recipe: Spinach Strata with Sage and Gruyere

If the name didn't entice you, how about a picture of the finished product?

One of the worst parts about my little student housing kitchen is that the oven doesn't have a window for me to obsessively watch it cook. But you mix it up, and then 45 minutes later you get this delightful creation. It's warm and carb-y and cheesy and tastes very much like fall. So worth the walk and the late cooking!

Spinach Strata with Sage and Gruyere

  • 1/2 baguette (to yield about 6 cups of torn bread)
  • 1 tablespoon softened butter, plus 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage, torn
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1 1/2 ounces baby spinach (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 ounces Gruyere (about 1 1/2 cups, grated)
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated
1. Cut the bread into slices about ¾-inch thick. Set on the counter for several hours to dry out, or toast the bread in a 400°F oven for about 5 minutes. Tear each slice into several pieces. You should have about 6 cups.

2. Grease an 8-inch by 9-inch casserole dish with 1 tablespoon softened butter.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy. Whisk in milk, sage, salt, pepper, melted butter, and minced garlic until homogeneous.

4. Add the torn bread to the custard, mixing to make sure every piece absorbs some liquid. Stir in spinach and Gruyere. Pour the bread-custard-spinach mixture into prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan and top with more freshly ground pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit for 1 hour on the counter, or several hours in the fridge.

5. Preheat the oven to 375°F (191°C) about 20 minutes before you’re ready to bake the strata.

6. Bake until the top is browned and slightly puffed and the strata is cooked through, about 45 minutes. Let rest a few minutes before serving warm.

Courtesy of Serious Eats

Nom nom nom...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lord Nelson, I Presume?

My favorite thing about Friday is that the only place I have to be is choir practice. There is something delightfully cathartic (and boy could I use the catharsis after the budding anger of dealing with an idiot boy yesterday) about choral singing. It was something that I didn't realize how much I'd missed it in the six years since I'd had the chance to do it. It was one of the worst things about working a job that required extended travel during two seasons and drop of the hat travel during the rest of the time if it came up -- I couldn't do art, or music, or theater because I could never guarantee that I could be there for rehearsal.

Now? Now Friday nights are choir nights. And even though it took a moment or two to get used to British choral terms (a quarter note is apparently a quaver here, which... it never occurred to me that terms would be different. I assumed it was like math, a universal language. But then, they also call it 'maths' here, so I can see where my logic is fundamentally flawed...) it was like riding a bike or pulling out a comfortable sweater. It just fits. I'm a singer, I always have been. The weight of the music in my hands and the awkward and humorous warm up exercises are like coming home.

And for a community choir, I am impressed at the level of difficulty they take on. Performing Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass for Christmas? Yes, please! Attempting Paul Mealor's Sabat Mater even though all of the vocal parts end up down in the basement for most of the piece? Of course! It's all new and challenging... and comforting. I've missed this, and I needed it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Misogyny and the American Male

"I think that the modern feminist movement has been a big party in destroying modern dating and the family and it's not so bad for women to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, you know what I mean? Cause that's their choice. I mean, don't you feel your biological clock ticking? Tick tick tick..."

The students in my course (the whole 14 of us) often go out for a drink at a pub after class once a week, and in an attempt to find a new time, we went later on a Thursday. Which meant that the group was very small, but I live close to the pub that was picked, so I figured why not. I like to be social.

I get into a one on one and make the comment that the hardest thing I find about reading non-modern sources of political theory is the rampant misogyny. All of them use the term 'like a woman' to be derogatory, and while I'm aware that it was a different time, it still always pings me in the back of my head going 'this guy is completely dismissing the value of half the population' -- and even more, if you want to get into ideas of citizenship in the polis and women and children and slaves, etc.

So he's all 'so you're feminist' and I reply 'yes' because I have no shame in that. I think that women should have control of their own destiny and be able to make their own choices about jobs, reproduction, education, dress, livihood. Just as man gets to make his choice, choices for women should not be artificially constrained by society.

So he comes back with the above statement.

... WTF?

I have NEVER in my life had someone 'tick tick tick' at me. Number one, my biological clock is none of your damn business. Number two, the modern feminist movement destroyed dating and you want to back to the barefoot and pregnant model?

Seriously? A boy (because I can't call you a man right now) like you actually exists in the modern 21st century? Modern feminism means that I get to pick my mate just as much as you do, and that I get the choices to study just like you, and get to express my mind just as much as you do.

I was actually struck dumb when he said that, and as much as I hate it, could only just roll my eyes instead of hauling off and hitting him. He then had the nerve to say 'I mean, don't go burning bras or anything' to which all I can say is 'no, I like my bras, but thank you'.

He then lectured me on pieces that I need to read talking about 'manliness' and how women can be manly and that's a good thing but it's essentially a male characteristic, and one on courtship because it's interesting to see how modern feminists have destroyed the sanctity of dating like they had in the 50s and now women are just sluts. I'll read your articles, if only to refute them to your face. Because I can guarantee you this, nothing in your articles (written by men) of course, are going to make me change my mind. My mind's been opened -- there's no reason to close it again.

I then get the talk on how there are fundamental differences between the sexes, and I say 'there may be differences, but the value of feminism is in bringing different voices of experience to the table'.

He asks 'well, if women's voices are actually different than men's, why are there no women philosophers'?

You want to know why there are no popular and well read female philosophers? Seriously, you are so blind to privilege that I have to spell this out for you? Okay, there are no widely read female philosophers because men have controlled access to education, men have controlled the publishing industry, men have controlled the political sphere, men have decided who the men they should listen to are. Men did this. You know why there are no widely read female philosophers? Because men for centuries have declared that women say nothing worth listening to -- not because they haven't had anything to say, or because they weren't trying to say it. They were drowned out by boys like you who insisted that women have nothing of importance to say.

There are so few women studying International Relations (the largest concentration are in Peace & Conflict Studies) because we are discouraged from joining into the international debate because voices have been traditionally men. And it's discouraging when you don't see your own experience valued. We are discouraged by boys like this. Boys who think that it's cute to say things like 'barefoot and pregnant' or using the argument that there are no female philosophers so the female experience is inherently either the same or less valuable than the male.

Well guess what? I didn't hit you this time. I gave you a pass to be polite. But I'm done being polite. I came to Scotland to try and expand my horizons, and instead I just get the same old American man trying to explain to the silly little woman why he's right and she's just cute.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Study Group Wednesday

After realizing that all of the other M.Litt programs had study groups while ours had none, the four women in my program decided that we needed a group. So the four of us have declared Wednesday study group day for ourselves. The readings are dense enough and numerous enough that it's always a good thing to have a second, third, or fourth opinion before we go into class and attempt to be the one to yell the loudest so as to get the floor and present an idea.

Plus, and this may be the women's college grad in me talking, but I think it's important for women to have a place to share ideas without having to yell over men in an attempt to be heard. We're four out of fourteen, and while that's more women than are usually in International Relations programs, it's still only four out of fourteen.

So Wednesdays will be ours.

That made for a productive afternoon, so what could make for a productive evening?


One of the girls and her flatmate and I went out to dinner at The Grill House here in town in the search for something delicious. Now, there is a decided lack of Mexican/Southwestern/Tex Mex/whatever food here. This is understandably, as we are no where near that area. But you'd think with the obscene number of Americans here that someone would get on the ball and open up a Chipotle or something -- they'd make a killing. And of course as soon as something is out of sight, that's all you want. I'd been craving this for weeks now, and we stumbled in and found fajitas and enchiladas, and while no where near as spicy as the ones back home, still pretty darn good considering the alternative is nothing. Here's to you, fajitas.

I still plan on making you soon with my own recipe, though. You were good but not THAT good.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Care Package!

One of the most interesting (and most frustrating) things of living abroad is getting used to what you can and cannot find easily in your new home. Things you took for granted at home suddenly become like gold when you can't just walk into a Walgreens or a Target and find entire walls of what you're looking for. Take for example soft-headed toothbrushes. In the states, these are what everyone buys (unless you're cleaning grout) and what dentists give along with awesome small toothpastes and rolls of floss and they are sold cheaply in packs of three for a couple of dollars.

In the UK? Not so much. Everywhere I look I find medium and firm toothbrushes, but I don't want a medium or a firm toothbrush. I want a nice, gum-friendly, enamel-preserving, soft-headed toothbrush. Looking in the Boots becomes a hunt and the only soft-headed toothbrush you can find that they even sell is a very high tech looking one for no less than £5. Seriously, people? Not cool.

Well, here's where the glory of friends come in.

I was (naturally) complaining about the sad state of available toothbrushes in Scotland to my friend Stacey. Who comes knocking on my door this morning but the friendly Royal Mail carriers with a...

Care package!

Seriously, one of the joys of life anywhere is mail -- actual, legitimate, 'I took the time to go out and get a stamp and write with a pen/crayon/pencil/whatever' mail. Postcards, letters (Hi Mom!) and all of that, love it. Makes me so happy to see those come through the mail slot in the door. So to get not just a letter, but a box? Dance of joy and a tossing down of Aquinas' Summa Theologica to tear into it.

Soft toothbrushes! Crystal Light! Dark Chocolate! Philosophy body wash in a yummy fall scent since, grrr, I had to leave my collection at home because of British Airways weight restrictions! Cheesy romance novel set in Scotland! (Yes, I like my literature light & fluffy to counteract the Summa Theologica) And American GQ -- which, why would she send me American GQ?

Matt Bomer in henley! Damn. For those who haven't discovered the smooth hotness that is Matt Bomer, he plays the lead on USA's White Collar. Which... makes me miss American television too. But dang, he pretty.

It's like mini-Christmas from the US Postal Service.

Makes up for the hours of reading and the ridiculous cold wind that was blowing through town today. It's only October, but I'm already bundled up with scarf, hat, winter coat. I guess it's part and parcel of being right on the North Sea, but still. And I'm one of the ones who hasn't been all that cold lately. So if I'm cold, I can only imagine what the Americans from places like Florida are feeling right now.

On the plus side? Cold + rain + wind + sunset = gorgeous fall colors :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

End of the World

Days with class are always interesting -- I wonder if the other groups in International Relations feel exhausted when they leave class or if they feel like they've learned something and built upon new idea. We yell. And argue. And most classes I leave feeling exhausted and wondering if anything was actually gained that I didn't have beforehand. Hmm.

But it was Augustine, and I'm familiar with Augustine, and at least can join in with some of the yelling, even if I hate that it had to be yelling. And next class is Aquinas, so we're good with that as well.

It is classes like this that make me miss the Religion classes from my undergrad. It was a big debate in my mind if I wanted to go back to grad school, would it be for Religion or Politics. Politics, or at least Political Theory, won out because all of the Religion programs are housed within Divinity programs who are looking for people who want to become pastors. As I have absolutely no desire to become a pastor and whose interest is in the academic study of religions and their impact on societies, there's doesn't seem to be any encouragement of that in Divinity programs. So IPT seemed to be the best fit.

Alas, each time I tried to bring up his gnostic heritage, or the importance of his theories of grace and predestination and the elect, and the fact that the City of Man can't be Rome because neither of the Cities are earthly cities and are ideals and consequences, I get shot down.

Victory in class is the victory of the loudest, or victory of the most bullheaded. I'm not sure that's a victory I can attain.

It's the after class that's most interesting -- usually a most of us go for a drink, but with the main coordinator of that out, three of us went to get a bite and some tea after class and again end up talking about the victory of the loudest. All philosophical discussion should take place over food and drink, I think. It helps people lower inhibitions and maybe not be so uptight about being 'right'.

In the food and drink and discussion we learn that one of the girls hasn't actually seen the sea here yet. Which is boggling for me to believe because I go down there most evenings, and am only a couple streets over. But then, I guess that's what you get when you don't actually live in town. Which meant that I got to show off the sea. And the most beautiful part about water is that if you go a bit into it -- down a pier, out in a boat, in the right spot at a cliff -- it feels like you're standing at the end of the world.

I think it's one of the things that people who grow up someplace other than near water have a hard time understanding. Standing out on a pier, or sailing out in the sea/ocean/whatever, that's freedom. That's feeling that you could just keep going. It's much more than just an open road. An open road has an end, a destination. There may be another shore, but that's not the sea's destination -- that's just where a few waves crash up when they get too close.

And that makes up for a hard class any time. At least I think I got a few points across, even if they were drowned out and quickly forgotten. At least I got a few.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why do we love the sea? It is because it has some potent power to make us think things we like to think. -Robert Henri

More Augustine. OMG, so much more Augustine. But with progress on my reading comes the reward that I take most days -- walking along the coast.

I'll preface with this -- I grew up near water. I haven't lived near water for years, but I grew up near it and that leaves a mark on your soul, it really does. I've heard it said that people who grew up near water will never be truly content away from it, and I agree. I'm one of the odd people that finds seagulls comforting and familiar. Even more so when you watch them terrorize tourists who don't realize that eating chips near the water will inevitably turn to a gang of gulls pulling their very own West Side Story with calls, dancing, and inevitably bullying you into stealing your food.

Ah, feels like home.

But the call of seagulls and the bitter wind that comes off of the water is comforting and a delightful treat for most days. I've been here almost a month and it doesn't feel old to walk along the same path down along the sea and stake my traditional perch overlooking the pier and just people watch. Of course, this time I deserved hot chocolate to fend off the cold. Tea is great, I'm getting used to tea time and have my box of tea in my cupboard, but there's something again homey about hot chocolate. And makes me think about Busch Gardens and Meredith and the talk about the wonders of hot chocolate to which I completely agree -- hot chocolate ftw!

The best part about this particular perch is that it's on the hill overlooking the pier at St Andrews Harbor. It's a popular spot for tourists to walk up and down, and since it's a legit working harbor, there are always boats of both the sail and working variety coming in and out. You couldn't ask for a better people watching spot. From the kids messing with cages that they shouldn't be and sticking them in the water and pretending to 'fish' to the little old couples who hold on to each other as they make their way down the steep hill, to the various and sundry students and families wandering in and out. It's the perfect place to be still while everything else moves around you.

Until your ears start to freeze because you finished your hot chocolate 10 minutes previous and you forgot your hat because it wasn't that cold when you left your flat.

Which means it's time to go in... and read more Augustine.

Reading is Fundamental

When I decided to do an M.Litt, I was aware that there would be a lot of reading. I went into with my eyes open. I have no one to blame but myself. But when it gets to the point that even pulling up BBC News and cringing because, ugh, you have to read to get the news...

My friend tonight is St. Augustine. Good old City of God. All 1,200 pages of him. And maybe the Confessions if I have time, since I... sort of enjoy the Confessions. At least I've read some from him before, unlike me showing my ignorance before with the collected works of Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Cicero, and Seneca. Perhaps if I'd done my undergrad in Philosophy, however they were not popular additions to Political Studies or Religion, so I was touch SOL. But it's all good -- we have St. Augustine now. And Aquinas after that.

I never thought I'd be so happy to read Aquinas again. Even typing out that sentence seems slightly wrong.

And while it would be nice to call it a night, I think getting a little further in Augustine is a good idea. Grad school is exciting, can't you tell?