ewein2412: (osprey nest)
SCOTLAND seems to be a hot tourist spot for writers on vacation this summer, and I am kind of stunned and flattered at the luminaries who have purposefully put “Connect with E Wein” on their itineraries. Or maybe the word is leaking out that I am an excellent tour guide, having had previous experience as the “Infomistress” at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire over a quarter of a century ago (I wish I had paid more attention to the rivalry between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots that was the theme that summer).

ANYWAY, here’s who’s come to see me in the space of two months:

Kim Brubaker Bradley, Newbery Honor winning author of The War that Saved My Life was here at the end of May – her husband and son were golfing at Gleneagles, so I whisked Kim and her daughter Katie away for a single delightful morning to Stirling Castle. It was Kim’s desire to see the reconstruction of the Unicorn Tapestries that were made there and now hang there in the restored state rooms. We also had tea and cake in the Stirling Castle café. Much discussion of current projects occurred, and Katie was gracious in putting up with the Writers’ Craft stuff.

Then in June I had a much-anticipated and all too brief visit from Ellen Kushner - of Tremontaine & Riverside fame - and Delia Sherman, most recently the author of The Evil Wizard Smallbone, both of them old friends and mentors in many ways. Ellen and Delia, who had a bit more leisure time than Kim, got a proper afternoon cream tea at the Gloagburn Farm Shop and then a tour of Huntingtower Castle (both just outside Perth) - Sara came along for the authorly banter. And before they took the train back to Glasgow, they got served an actual evening meal by yours truly IN MY OWN HOUSE, something of a wonder, and in addition to catching a glimpse of the elusive Tim and Mark, they even got to meet my father-in-law! And they left a souvenir pencil from their 20th anniversary party, which I did not discover until this week. I very stupidly did not think to give them the Francis Crawford Tour of Perthshire (it was pouring), though we did whiz past John Buchan’s birthplace in the car.

In July, I spent most of a day with rising star (or maybe just plain old STAR) Emily Kate Johnston who’s probably most famous for her Star Wars young adult novel Ahsoka but is most recently the author of That Inevitable Victorian Thing and writes something ridiculous like 10,000 words a DAY. SHE got whisked away for lunch at the Winter Garden of the Crieff Hydro, then a tour of Drummond Castle Gardens (where they were selling small but perfectly formed fruit from the walled garden hothouse, including grapes off a vine that is certainly 100 years old), and then a trip to the wonderful Innerpeffray Library, c. 1680 and appearing in The Pearl Thief as “Inverfearnie,” which is currently my Favorite Place In Perthshire. Sara and Mark joined us for our final tour venue of the day, Elcho Castle. All this within 20 miles of home - we never left Perthshire.

And finally, last week I had dinner in Edinburgh with Steve Sheinkin and his family – partner Rachel and their two young children. Steve’s awards and honors for non-fiction are too numerous to mention here (his latest book is Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team) and I do kind of feel like I am in the presence of genius when I’m around him – modest, friendly, dedicated genius. We ate at a restaurant on the Royal Mile, walked up and down a ton of stairs and closes, and rode the Ferris Wheel in Prince’s Street Gardens. Rachel filmed us as Steve interviewed me for his occasional “Walking and Talking” feature on School Library Journal’s Fuse #8 Production blog. Ok, that was really hard work because I was JUST SO SELF-CONSCIOUS and in awe of Steve and his many talents and also I was trying to do my Edinburgh Tour Guide thing AND not be boring to the kids. I hope he pulls it off because I reckon that being made into a comic is true immortality.

A feature of these visits was the children in attendance – plus or minus theirs or mine. Coincidentally, none of the Author Children ever managed to meet each other. Everyone will have to come back.
ewein2412: (e vane)
My latest YA novel, The Pearl Thief, was released in the USA on 2 May by Disney Hyperion and in the UK on 4 May by Bloomsbury. To celebrate the UK release, we had a belated launch so close to home that we were able to walk to the venue. Mark and our neighbour Betty came along with me and Helen – my college roommate to whom the book is dedicated, who’d travelled up from London for one night so she could be there – it was a gorgeous evening for walking. Tim joined us when he got home from work. (Poor old Sara the film student was stuck in Salisbury.)

Helen & E Wein

The event was held in the Perth Museum. The Pearl Thief, a mystery and a coming of age novel featuring the title character from Code Name Verity, is set in rural Perthshire, and it felt most appropriate to connect the living and real local heritage to the fictional cultural landscape of the book. There was a little reception gearing up when we arrived at the museum – Lizz Skelly and Charlotte Armstrong from Bloomsbury Kids’ had set everything up ahead of time with cooperation from the museum and Waterstones. At this point a ton of people I knew began to arrive – other writers, SCBWI folks, my book group from Perth, friends and neighbours, bell ringers – and Jess Smith, my co-star.

Left to right - a true assortment of guests: Alex Nye (author), Bess (student & reader) & her mum Lara Haggerty (Keeper of Books at Innerpeffray Library), Joan Taylor (Secretary for Friends of Innerpeffray and Mark & Sara's voice teacher), me, Gavin Lindsay (Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust), Lizz Skelly (Marketing, Bloomsbury), and Jess Smith (author & Traveller)!

For the launch, we’d dreamed up a panel event framed as a conversation between me and Jess, whose many books and whose background as a Scottish Traveller had proved invaluable to me in the creation of The Pearl Thief. Held in the museum’s lecture hall, the event was moderated by Gavin Lindsay of the Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust, whom I’d met as a result of volunteering at the Moredun Top hill fort dig in September 2016. Jess and I had spent literally hours on the phone last year, but we’d never met in person, so this conversation in front of an audience filled with our friends and family was the first time we’d ever spoken face to face! We had complementary slide presentations – Jess’s showed photographs of Travellers in the past, and mine showed contemporary Perthshire landmarks and vistas. The soundtrack to Jess’s images was her poem “Scotia’s Bairn,” a lyrical tribute to a Traveller childhood in its difficulty and its beauty. We talked about history, and landscape, and the difference between writing fiction and non-fiction. Jess spoke of the prejudice she’d been subjected to as a child, and to which Travellers today are still subjected.

The conversation was thrown open to the audience toward the end to invite questions, and I was struck by the comment made by a cousin of Jess’s, about how the cultural legacy of your heritage can affect you even when you aren’t raised in the traditional circumstances or land of your ancestors.

Afterwards Jess and I both signed our books and were given many floral tributes from well-wishers and from Bloomsbury – I feel obliged to single out fellow writer and SCBWI member Sheila Averbuch. Not only did she grow her bouquet it in her own garden, but she has now been shortlisted for Scotland’s Gardener of the Year. She included lilacs specifically with Rose’s VE-Day lilacs from Rose Under Fire in mind. Sheila, incidentally, wrote a very thoughtful blog post of her own after the event, bringing together threads from her recent reading and themes that came up during my discussion with Jess.

Sheila's flowers

The thing about the launch that really, really appealed to me in a million different ways was how self-referential to The Pearl Thief it was – often in ways I wasn’t expecting. Gavin, who’d just begun reading the book, told me in such a deadpan voice that he’d driven over from Brig O’Fearn that I almost didn’t catch that he was talking about a place I'd made up, having so accustomed my own ear to the place names of my imagination (the real village is called Bridge of Earn). Through a series of coincidences, one of the guests who came along was Lara Haggerty, the Keeper of the Innerpeffray Library – the oldest free lending library in Scotland (circa 1680) – and the one on which I based the imaginary Inverfearnie Library of the novel. (Also, coincidentally, Lara featured in one of my slides). And, in another complete coincidence, the Carpow Bronze Age log boat – on which the significant log boat of The Pearl Thief is based – had returned to the Perth museum for the first time in five years, where it is now on permanent display – Jess and I posed for many pictures in front of it!

E Wein, Gavin & Jess with the Carpow Bronze Age log boat

I am so grateful to Bloomsbury, the Perth Museum, Waterstone’s Perth, the Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust, Jess and Gavin and Lizz and Charlotte for pulling it all together – to Helen and everyone else who came to enjoy the buzz and the banter – and to Debby Harris and Elizabeth Kerner Ewing for wearing their pearls.

I really couldn’t have dreamed up anything more appropriate if I’d been 15 years old again and wishfully imagining my future as a Scottish author.
ewein2412: (osprey hair)

You know, I have lived in the United Kingdom for over 20 years. Cumulatively, I have lived in the UK for longer than I have lived anywhere else in my entire life. Osprey-like, I raised my children here. Now, OFFICIALLY, I am as much British as American. (It was bound to happen some day!)

Of course I did this for a bunch of practical reasons as much as, and maybe more than, deeply emotional ones. The process was such a grind – my friend Tina and I have been going through it together, comparing notes and interviews, helping each other with forms, etc. We started filling stuff out in February and YES, we had to take the “Life in the UK Test,” which incidentally I think is easier than the one they make you do for US citizenship – it’s kind of like the Great British Pub Quiz, and indeed, I have been calling the whole process the Great British Scavenger Hunt, because it’s required trips to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Falkirk, and ultimately Perth, as we gather signatures and official stamps and pass certificates.

So the very last thing you have to do is make a pledge of loyalty to the Queen, and I had kind of just viewed this as another Scavenger Hunt Item, and was TOTALLY unprepared for how much fun it was.

For a start, I’m so glad it happened in Scotland. I ended up having a private ceremony, to expedite it, as they only do them once a month in Perth and I wasn't going to be here for June or July. They do it in the Old City Council Chambers, in a beautiful Victorian high-ceilinged room all wood-panelled and with ornate stained glass windows overlooking the Tay.

They got out the Saltire & the Union Jack and a portrait of the Queen up on the altar where they usually do weddings.

Because it was private, I was allowed to invite random guests – the Council actually sent me invitations, which was lovely, and I was “attended” by my great friends and (both of them) former next-door-neighbours Betty and Kathryn. Tim came too (Sara is still in Salisbury finishing up her first year at university and Mark was at his Duke of Edinburgh award qualifying weekend on a 50 mile hike). Betty and Kathryn were UBER-EXCITED and got all dressed up and brought presents. Kathryn got tearful while I was doing my pledge of allegiance! “Accustomed as I am to public speaking,” I, you may know, managed not to tear up.

At the end we all had to stand up while they played the national anthem. I loved the speech about diversity and making a contribution. I do try.

Afterward the Council gave us coffee and shortbread and the presiding official, Rhona, revealed that she’d been at a Girl Scout camp (as a Guide leader) in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, near Ephrata, in 2011. So that was a funny coincidence. Later, Betty and Kathryn and I had a girly lunch in the sun in St John's Square in Perth, while Tim ran away to nurse his latest round of dental anesthesia (he had already been to the dentist in Edinburgh and to Ikea by the time he met us at the Council Chambers at 11 a.m.).

“Do you feel different?” someone asked me.

I do, kind of. It feels right. It was time.

The Recall

I am the land of their fathers,
In me the virtue stays.
I will bring back my children,
After certain days.

Under their feet in the grasses
My clinging magic runs.
They shall return as strangers.
They shall remain as sons.

Over their heads in the branches
Of their new-bought, ancient trees,
I weave an incantation
And draw them to my knees.

Scent of smoke in the evening,
Smell of rain in the night -
The hours, the days and the seasons,
Order their souls aright,

Till I make plain the meaning
Of all my thousand years -
Till I fill their hearts with knowledge,
While I fill their eyes with tears.

--Rudyard Kipling

ewein2412: (osprey hair)
Sara (the 16 year old) is making fun of me because I am sitting here wearing my Twilight Sparkle Stealth Bronie hat as I type. ’Cause she spent all summer watching My Little Pony on her iPod and decided that I needed to watch it too, and as a sort of cultural phenomenon it is curiously addictive, and while Pinky Pie is my favorite, I relate most to Twilight Sparkle – the writer, the scholar, the resident alien. (On the other hand, I really detest Spike, her hideous sidekick house elf slave baby dragon.) Sara said, “You should write, ‘Today what I’ve learned about friendship!’” – as though I were filing a report to Princess Celestia … and you know, I feel like that is kind of what I am doing.

It is really a half-baked report on my weekend at the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Midwinter conference in New York. I helped run a day-long “Plot Intensive” workshop, including 16 synopsis critiques and a session on alternative plot structure, and I gave a keynote speech (my first!) on Authorial Responsibility, because I am pompous earnest like that. Lee Wind wrote a very nice summary of that speech for the SCBWI Midwinter blog, here. In a surprising aside that really delighted me, Susan Brody also gave a riff on my speech called “Practice What You Preach” on her own blog, “The Art of Not Getting Published.”. I’d met Susan last September at Children’s Book World in Haverford PA, and I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to say hi to her again at this conference. But MY GOSH it was big! There were over a thousand participants. I don’t think I’ve EVER given a speech to a thousand people before.

So, that was the working part of the event, but the really wonderful part was the networking (hence “Friendship is magic!”). First there was the Illustrator’s Showcase cocktail party on Friday night, then the Gala dinner party on Saturday, and trust me to find myself a sort of afterparty event on Sunday night, hanging out with a small group of extremely kind and welcoming Regional Advisors and the stellar Ellen Hopkins (who has the dubious honor of being the most-censored author in America). In fact, it feels to me like I spent the entire weekend crashing parties, including being taken to lunch at the Yale Club. This is what the SCBWI is all about, people – making these wonderful connections. If you have any aspiration to writing children’s books whatsoever, I highly recommend joining this vibrant and helpful organization. Here’s their website: www.scbwi.org. And here’s their website in the British Isles: britishisles.scbwi.org. Conference recaps are here.

I also went to see a wonderful exhibit of Antoine de St. Exupéry’s manuscript pages for The Little Prince at the Morgan Library. This is terrifically curated and made me sob for a number of reasons. I highly recommend it for WWII buffs, pilots, and children’s book writers, and fans of The Little Prince! It’s on till 27 April 2014. Alas, there is no printed catalogue for the exhibit, but there are a number of related lectures coming up (details on the website) which I would go to hear if I were in New York. Being a desperately adoring admirer of St. X as I am.

I should also mention my visit to the Bank Street Center for Children's Literature, where I received possibly the warmest welcome I've ever been given in a literary context. I spent three hours chatting, eating lunch in the school cafeteria, drinking coffee and tea and eating more lunch with members of the Bank Street Children's Book Committee, and then had a tour of the Bank Street Library. PEOPLE. If you ever get a chance, GO VISIT THIS LIBRARY. It is totally devoted to children's literature and contains a subcollection of elderly classic children's books that have been pulled from the main shelves for various reasons. "Do you recognize any of these?" they asked. "Do I recognize these!" It was like time travel. It was like being transported back to 1976 and standing in the beautiful old Walnut Street library in Harrisburg. EVERYTHING I read as a child was there.

When I looked up the library link I was charmed to see that they have mentioned my visit in their website notes.

And I went ice skating in Rockefeller Center.

I spent my last two days stateside visiting Gramma in Mt. Gretna. It was extremely picturesque in the snow. (I might have sung “Let It Go” till the Frog Pond echoed… literally… hoping I was alone in the woods… Just sayin’.)

mt gretna dining room 2014

Dining room in Mt. Gretna cottage with Gramma at the table!

mt gretna former ghost house 2014

Maple Lodge in Campmeeting (formerly The Ghost House) (not our cottage)

mt gretna frog pond 2014

Frog Pond

mt gretna lake 2014

Mt. Gretna Lake (that is our very own canoe, the Millennium Flocken, on its side)

mt gretna library 2014

Mt. Gretna Library! (to end where I began, on a literary note)

And finally. If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed how I keep boasting that Eve Muirhead, the captain of the British women’s curling team, is a local girl? Well now I have the photo to prove it. EVE MUIRHEAD AND MARK. She and her coach came to show off their Olympic bronze medal at Dewar’s Ice Rink in Perth!

eve and mark
ewein2412: (Sara)
My "aftermath" post is 4 days late because Life, nevermind racing, interferes with LiveJournal. Can I just say that yesterday was Mark’s last day of primary/elementary school, my last day of a 10-year-long association with Viewlands Primary School, Sara’s last day of her beloved Guides/Scouts troop who are now DISBANDED because they are all too old, AND our 12-year-old goldfish died. The goldfish was as old as Mark, possibly older, and we have had it since we moved to Scotland. When I left the house to meet Mark at the end of his last day of primary school, Fizz was breathing - when I came home, Fizz was dead. Definitely, all things considered, the end of an era.

We have also been to Mark’s "Leavers’ Assembly," Sara’s senior school play, cricket practice, the supermarket, and the shortlist launch for the Scottish Children’s Book Award. Which Code Name Verity is on, along with (in the Older Readers category) The Prince Who Walked with Lions by Elizabeth Laird and The 13th Horseman by Barry Hutchison. (I am so pleased to have finally met Elizabeth Laird, author of The Garbage King and Crusade. Given that The Prince Who Walked with Lions is a book I wish I’d written - so much so that I actually have a folder labelled "Alemayehu" in my work-in-progress folder - I am extremely pleased about sharing the list with Elizabeth Laird. Also, we had an awesome rushed Ethiopian experience swap and we think she probably crashed overnight with my aunt & uncle (Susan & Rog) in Woldia in 1968.)

But I digress!

Yes, Sara and I completed the Race for Life without incident - the weather was only marginally more cooperative than last year, and I didn’t end up carrying Sara’s hoodie and water bottle like I did last year, either. I finished in 38 minutes and Sara in 34. So we were both slower than we were a year ago. I wasn’t really expecting to be faster as I was much more cautious about training this year, due to an achy knee which I do NOT want to encourage.

[livejournal.com profile] lauradi7 discovered that we are in Photo 23 on the Dundee Courier website - we are the woman in blue and the teen in the navy sweatshirt!

But here’s a couple of close-ups.

race for life 2 race for life 1

Here's our cheering section. The beak is from his school play parrot costume from last week:

race for life 3

Late donations still gratefully accepted - our online donation page is here:

ewein2412: (sara for obama)
OK, we're ready, and the Perth Race for Life is tomorrow. I will post another update when it's over. Sara is hoping for rain because she "likes running in the rain." I confess I wouldn't mind not having fogged up glasses!

Grateful thanks to all of you who put our goal of £200 over the top after my last post - see you on the other side!


ewein2412: (sara for obama)
Hey everybody, next Sunday is the Race for Life again, and Sara and I are both running in this 5 k women’s only race to raise money for Cancer Research UK. Last year we were inspired to do this (Sara’s idea) because my friend Amanda had just had a double mastectomy. To all our delight and relief, she is now considered fully cured, and less than a month ago had the final surgery of her “rebuilding” (from which she is still recovering). It’s not over yet and we’re running again in her name!

Our goal is to raise £200 and we’re still £45 short of that, so if you’ve got even a couple of £ (or $) to spare, please consider sponsoring us! It’s safe and easy to contribute online here:


If you’re a UK taxpayer, please tick the GiftAid box as well.

Many thanks for everybody’s support and good wishes - I don’t think I’ll beat my last year’s time!
ewein2412: (snowicon)
I am compelled to report on our participation, because Mark was marching with the Scouts in the 1000 Pipers Parade in Perth (which culminated in an ACTUAL PERFORMANCE by all 1000 of them).

PKC info re 1000 Pipers Parade
(I've decided not to subject you to the videos.)

We did not participate in the Kilt Run which followed, and so you can blame MARK for being one of the 16 kilted non-participants who caused this race to fall short of being the LARGEST EVER KILT RUN. The record is currently held by Perth, Ontario, with 1089 participants. Only 1074 crossed the finish line in Perth, Scotland. I AM ASHAMED.

PKC's Kilt Run info

Most of our Jubilee weekend was pretty low-key, but on Monday I started getting beacon-itchy. I mean, I kept hearing how they were lighting all the beacons and then some, and starting them on the other side of the globe, and I thought… wouldn’t it be cool to go see a beacon alight?

So I did a little web-surfing. And I found the most wonderful, ridiculous website EVER - The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Beacons website.

(To fully appreciate true nerdy amazingness of this website, I have to give you a little background here. I call myself the Queen of Google. Even my geeky kids acknowledge that if I can’t find it, it’s not on the Internet. But when I first started hunting for Jubilee beacon info I actually used too many search terms. It turns out you only need One. Beacons. That’s it. If you do a Google search simply for "beacons," this website is your number one hit! I seriously recommend you poke around on this site. It includes a flame-covered interactive map, insurance forms, a PDF guide that shows you how to construct a beacon, and the wonderful, mysterious "Lighting Times" schedule. It is so slick and yet so specific - an expensive, user-friendly, beautifully designed site that’s good for ONE DAY.)

Well, using their Beacon Locator, I figured out that the nearest beacon whose site-location I actually recognized was East Lomond Hill in Fife. Sara was at music camp and Mark had no school the next day because of the Jubilee, so even though Lighting Time was after 10 (it doesn’t get DARK till after 10), it didn’t matter if we were going to be up late… (also, we had champagne to drink when we got home, for reasons unrelated to the Queen’s Jubilee).

So we drove up to East Lomond Hill not really knowing what to expect, but kind of figuring on sitting in the car and watching a bonfire from a distance. ([livejournal.com profile] katranides, you were there with us on Christmas Eve once - do you remember?)

What we GOT was a trail of 60 pairs of fire baskets marking the path to the summit, minor fireworks, and a procession of 200 people (including us!) carrying lighted flambeaux. And a very jolly bonfire on top.

Our Lighting Time was 10.26 (the Lighting Times are specific and appear to be extremely random), which means that the East Lomond beacon was one of those run by "All other charities, organisations and individuals etc, including hospitals, clubs, pubs, Lions, Round Table and Rotary Clubs, Masonic Lodges, Caravan Club, Trinity House, commercial companies, Private Households and others etc." I don’t know which of these was running the show, but there was some historic connection with the mining communities of Fife, because one of the tableaux fireworks they set up was a Davy lamp - a safety lamp created in 1815 specifically to reduce the risk of explosions in coal mines.

There was also one guy carrying an actual Davy lamp - Tim, who grew up in the coal mining part of Kent, was quite excited about this. Fife, too, is coal mining country - since the 16th century. They still do open cast coal mining in Fife (I love Fife. The county is still called the Kingdom of Fife, you know).

The Davy Lamp... now you know.

The torchlight procession to the beacon site is quite possibly the most pagan event I have ever participated in. Nobody sang "God Save the Queen."

The tune stuck in my head was "Sumer is icumen in," although it was freaking FREEZING (note how everyone is wearing winter coats). From the top of the hill we could see 7 other beacons and some distant fireworks. (It was fun trying to guess where they were. "Crieff Knock! Berwick Law! Arthur’s Seat!" Clearly, we have gone native.)

The poem stuck in my head was A.E. Housman’s "1887." Yes, HONESTLY, I had Housman’s "1887" stuck in my head as we watched the Jubilee beacons burning all around us. From Sound and Sense in Randy St. John’s 10th grade English class back in Harrisburg, PA in 1979. Nothing is wasted. So it seems entirely appropriate to finish with it here.


From Clee to heaven the beacon burns,
The shires have seen it plain,
From north and south the sign returns
And beacons burn again.

Look left, look right, the hills are bright,
The dales are light between,
Because ’tis fifty years tonight
That God has saved the Queen.

Now, when the flame they watch not towers
About the soil they trod,
Lads, we’ll remember friends of ours
Who shared the work with God.

To skies that knit their heartstrings right,
To fields that bred them brave,
The saviors come not home tonight:
Themselves they could not save.

It dawns in Asia, tombstones show
And Shropshire names are read;
And the Nile spills his overflow
Beside the Severn’s dead.

We pledge in peace by farm and town
The Queen they served in war,
And fire the beacons up and down
The land they perished for.

"God save the Queen" we living sing,
From height to height ’tis heard;
And with the rest your voices ring,
Lads of the Fifty-Third.

Oh, god will save her, fear you not:
Be you the men you’ve been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
And God will save the Queen.

- A.E. Housman

ewein2412: (snowicon)
Meanwhile, back in the land of the Immortal Haggis…

Burns Night has come and gone and so has Mark’s P7 Burns Supper, which they held on 30 January. They are 11 years old and the two classes put on a REAL Burns Supper - it lasted THREE HOURS, beginning at 6.30 p.m. with a small string orchestra and the whole school brass band playing a selection of Scottish songs including ‘The Dashing White Sergeant’ and ‘Scotland the Brave.’ Then, not quite but nearly the highlight of the evening, the entire P7 year recited the whole of ‘Tam o’ Shanter.’ The way they did this was for each of the 60 kids to recite 4 lines of the poem - they took turns coming to the front in rows of half a dozen to have their say.

Mark doing his part. Yes, he is wearing a sporran. The table decoration is hiding it.

And then they sang a couple of Burns songs including (appropriately, since it was the day before the UK taxes were due), ‘The De’il’s Awa’ wi’ th'Excise Man.’ Also, ‘Scots Wha Hae,’ essentially the Wallace fight song. WHICH MAKES ME CRY. (Well, to tell the truth, ‘Scotland the Brave’ does too. But I am a little strange that way. Of course it is not for the same reason that ‘Highland Cathedral’ makes me cry. The sound of five dozen earnest young voices singing their hearts out for home and beauty always makes me cry.)

Sorry, have I mentioned that the dress code was what we call ‘Touch of Tartan’? Essentially this means you can wear whatever you want, but you have to include something Scottish in your outfit. Most of the boys were in kilts. (It just kills me that when my children go to a party, as many boys as girls are wearing skirts.) The girls were in shiny, skimpy party dresses with tartan sashes over their shoulders. The parents all had tartan ties or shawls (one woman was wearing her son’s boyscout troop neckerchief!) I had my silver thistle kilt pin with the Cairngorm amber flower, which I bought in the Portobello Road market in 1984.

The 120-some parents were seated around tables which had been cunningly arranged by Mark’s math class to provide everyone with a clear view of the stage as well as giving fire access (Mark, as one of the MC’s, was responsible for the ‘safety announcement’ which included a word for word recital of what to do in the event of loss of cabin pressure — that’s my boy) — and also to provide a clear path for the Piping in of the Haggis!

This was the highlight of the evening. Honest to glory, I really cannot do this justice in mere words.

A pretty, [understandably] blushing young dinner lady clothed head to toe in white came marching out of the kitchen carrying a haggis on a paper plate. She was PROPERLY accompanied by a piper, the real thing, playing ‘Scotland the Brave’ again on the bagpipes and dressed in kilt and Jacobite shirt (the casual look—the kind of shirt that laces up at the collar). The piper was in his mid-teens, a cousin of one of Mark’s classmates. Marching with them were the three or four kids whose duty it was to Address the Haggis.

Note charming collection of haggis pompoms...

They marched round and round the assembly hall about three times and then up on the stage, where the kids recited the WHOLE of the Address to the Haggis — ‘Great Chieftain o’ th' Puddin’ Race’ — and plunged a knife into it, and then marched back into the kitchen, and then we got served a full meal of haggis and neeps and tatties, followed by coffee and shortbread decorated with a thistle motif and made by Mark’s teacher, with our children waiting on us. They cleaned up afterward, too.

During coffee the kids performed ‘The Immortal Memory’ where they detail Robert Burns’s life. They had all researched and written these pieces themselves. The entertainment took a nosedive (or an upturn, depending on how you look at it) after that with the ‘Toast to the Lassies’ and ‘Reply from the Lassies’ which got VERY. SILLY.

And then there was dancing.

Scottish country dancing, of course — it was in the gym hall and was also rather silly, but UTTERLY charming. The two classes took it in turns to demonstrate each dance and then to dance with their parents. I am devastated to have to admit that when Mark and his father were dancing together, my camera was in Tim’s pocket. Grrrrr.

Mark dancing with his mother

The evening finished with all 180 of us holding hands in a circle and singing Auld Lang Syne (why yes, Auld Lang Syne makes me sob too! I might have to take a break from Scottish narrators for a while).

Sara disdained to come along to this event and Mark was fairly happy not to have his older sister heckling him, so I had to go next door when we got home to collect her from the neighbors’. When they heard I’d been at a non-alcoholic Burns Supper they were, at first disdainful. Then the questions started coming:

‘I bet they didn’t pipe in the Haggis.’

‘They did! They piped in the Haggis and marched with it round the hall three times! And then they did the whole of the Address to the Haggis from memory!’

‘But they didn’t actually serve you Haggis, did they?’

‘Yes! And neeps and tatties and the children all waited on us!’

‘Did they have other entertainment?’

‘They had a string orchestra and a brass band and dancing and they did the whole of Tam o’ Shanter!’

Everybody wished they had been there.

It was the Best Burns Supper EVER. ever ever.

You know, the kids did the whole thing themselves - all the entertainment, arrangement, table decorations, menus, programme, planning, 'hire' of piper and kitchen staff, set-up and clean-up, figuring the cost and giving out the tickets, and I just have to say hats off to the teachers and the school and the Council and the Scottish Government. This was really the Curriculum for Excellence and Cooperative Learning at their shining most successful, I think!

I found the pervasive prevalence of Irn Bru in the decor, as a representative of All Things Scottish, quite hilarious. There was no Irn Bru served at the meal. But it was There In Spirit.
ewein2412: (snowicon)
No doubt a bunch of you will remember that my friend Amanda had a double mastectomy last year - quite a few of you very generously made contributions to a 5k run, Race for Life, in which I participated on Amanda’s behalf to raise funds for cancer research. ACB’s operation was so successful she is considered completely cured - she’ll never even have to have another mammogram. But the battle itself won’t be over for some months yet, as she’s in the first stages of reconstructive surgery now. A bit like rebuilding your ruined cities after the bombing stops… or something like that.

Anyway, I’m dedicating Code Name Verity to her. Because more than anything else, it is a story about friendship. But I have to say, the friendship in the book isn’t just based on my friendship with Amanda - there’s a bit of everybody in there, and if you’ve ever bicycled twenty miles in the rain with me or asked me to read or sing or ring at your wedding or be your bridesmaid or hold your chuppah, or driven me to the airport (or asked me to drive you to the airport), or helped me move, or come along on a punting picnic, or taught me to ski, or played recorder duets with me, or come along with me for a ride in a small plane, or - dare I say it - Worn the Socks - well, you know who you are.

Happy new year, everybody - I hope from the bottom of my heart that it’s exciting and GOOD.


On a lighter note, here's me and Sara practicing for next Christmas, since we weren’t home for this one…

sand tarts and...

gingerbread whoopie pies.


Also, look what appeared in Perth while we were in the States over the Christmas holidays - the sign says ‘Curiositeaz… Vintage Tea Room - Bringing the Past to Life - Vintage Curiosity and Gift Shop’

I have not yet been inside. I MAY HAVE TO GO IN COSTUME.
ewein2412: (verity text)
[closed to comments due to Spam attacks!)

Mark's class is more deeply embroiled in World War II than I am. When their teacher played them a sample air raid siren they all spontaneously dived under their desks (because Mark's class is LIKE THAT). Today he brought home from school this note:

On Thursday 10th November we are having an Evacuee Day where the children will have the chance to step into the role of an evacuee for the day and experience some of the thoughts and feelings they may have had... your child [may dress] up in the part and bring a small case. Your child could also bring a more traditional lunch (jam or ham sandwich, carton of milk, biscuit and piece of fruit). If any of you are available to give an emotional farewell at approx 9am on Thursday that would be great. We are also in need of a few adults to pop in and act as a host family to "select" children.

Sara: You have to be the one that takes all the left over kids with nits that no one else wants, you know.
ewein2412: (e Wein)
Thanks for all the good wishes this weekend! Sara and I are now back home having successfully completed our 5 k fundraising run for cancer research. The total contributions made by YOU, family and friends, amounts to over £600 -- about $1000 USD. THANK YOU!

It was pouring, as usual… I don't think I've ever participated in any kind of fundraising event in Scotland when it hasn't been pouring. Sara and I ran together for the first 4 k, at which point Sara sprinted ahead of me to finish in about 32min 45 sec. I followed behind at 34.48 (I was timing myself with a stopwatch, but Sara had to rely on the clock at the finish line). Tim says Sara was in the top 40 finishing and I was in the top 70, out of about 1200 participants, so we are VERY PLEASED WITH OURSELVES!

Kate told us the distance was the length of the Boardwalk plus back to Wonderland… So every kilometre or so we'd go, "OK, now we're eating popcorn… Now we're at the water park… Now we're at the shuffleboard courts…." However, North Inch in Perth is a beautiful place to run along the River Tay, so I had no complaints about the scenery.

Thanks again for all your support!

Lots of love,

E wein


Race for Life raises money for cancer research in the UK.

The Fundraising page for me and Sara:

ewein2412: (Default)
last weekend Perth was invaded by waxwings. Mark and I first spotted them on Sat. 30 October, in a rowan tree in a garden a few doors down from us (apparently their preference is for rowan berries). We recognized them right away because they look so much like the cedar waxwings that we see all summer in the trees and shrubs around the Mt. Gretna Lake in Pennsylvania. We were actually in the process of working on a "nature diary" project for Mark so we took pictures:

And then we realized that there were about 100 of them all hanging out together. I'd seen about 3 waxwings in Perth several years ago, so it was kind of unusual, and we looked them up in the bird book--it turns out that usually about 100 or so are seen in Britain in a year. They breed in Scandinavia, but sometimes the population "erupts" because there is not enough food to sustain it, and then a thousand or more come foraging south. So that is what is going on this year! (The bird book also said there have been more "eruptions" in the past 20 years.)

The following morning there were easily 200 of them in the linden (lime, to you Brits) trees in our front garden, and they devoured our rowan berries, too.

These were taken through our bedroom window:

And this one was taken through Sara's window:

Having stripped bare every rowan tree in Perth, I think they have now moved on--they have to eat some ridiculous amount of food a day to keep going--10 times their own body weight or something like that (I made that number up, but you get the idea. It is some multiplication of their body weight. Maybe only 2 or 3 times, but there were a LOT of them).
ewein2412: (verity no text)
collected sara from music camp today... It is here, and it is LOVELY, but it looks even more like a respectable Officers' POW Camp in real life than it does in the pictures (the kids sleep 12 to a suite, 3 alcoves with 2 bunkbeds in each and an aisle between them about a metre wide). When I arrived the whole place was filled with the incredible sound of a piano quartet playing something GORGEOUS and classical--don't know what, pretty sure it wasn't Mendelssohn, but it reminded me SO MUCH of the scene in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp where Candy goes to visit Theo in the prison camp, and the German officers are all listening to Mendelssohn, and Theo won't speak to him, that I got ALL CHOKED UP and had to blink back tears as I chatted to Sara's wind band conductor.

Fortunately the pianists then switched to "Give My Regards to Broadway" and Sara kicked me. "SHUT UP ABOUT COLONEL BLIMP, MUMMY."

ewein2412: (verity no text)
I have to show off the first knitting project I've done since before Sara was born. It is all [livejournal.com profile] tiboribi's fault as she keeps pointing me to 1940s knitting patterns. These are out of a book called "Essentials for the Forces" which the Victoria & Albert Museum have made available on-line.

yes, they convert into mitts--perfect for sitting at my desk in our freezing house! Actually the cool thing about these is that the needles and wool I used were inherited from the cleared-out estate of our neighbor's 86-year-old mother when she died a couple of years ago.


What else... Vintage ballpoints. I've managed to get hold of an "Eversharp Reporter" that dates to 1951 or '52. It's not particularly special but for a ballpoint it's pretty old. I am getting very clever about making old ballpoint pens work again. SO NERDY. I love writing with them.

and boy oh boy do I bestow the slanty rodent eyes on those pestilent SNIPERS on eBay who keep swiping Miles Martin Biros from me in the last 5 seconds of an auction. >_> EVIL PEOPLE


This isn't anything to do with material obsessions I picked up while writing a novel this winter, but [livejournal.com profile] estara has very kindly written an article thanking me for a donation of the German edition of The Winter Prince to her school. She also talks about the way the Internet encourages a community relationship between writer and reader. I thank her for the lovely tribute! The story's here if you're a German reader.


Remember Mark's snow caterpillar?

This is what the front garden looks like today.

ewein2412: (snowicon)
Perth is celebrating its 800th birthday this year. Uh huh. I live in a city that has had a royal charter for 800 years--as a Yank this pretty well boggles my brain. For Perth's birthday party there is going to be a big parade and both my kids are marching in it--one as a Girl Guide and one as a Cub Scout. I've known this for a while, but what I hadn't taken on board was that the parade is in honor of the Queen's visit.

My kids are going to be in uniform, parading for the Queen!

How did I get here?
ewein2412: (snowicon)
There is not a single flake of snow on the ground in Perth, but you don't have to go far to find some--it starts on the other side of the ring road. I went cross-country skiing in a place called Wester Glen Almond, off Newton Bridge in the Sma' Glen. This dramatic scenery is like a little miniature Highland landscape and is only about 15 miles from Perth.

I am RUBBISH at cross-country skiing--as long as it's flat I can stay on my feet. This was hard work, too, as you had to balance yourself between the semi-ploughed driveway and the field boundary or riverbank. However, it was worth it for the scenery. I went about 4 miles total.

I saw five other walkers and one other skier, but of course the farmer who I'd passed earlier corralling sheep 300 feet up the mountain (sound really carries in the snow in the glens: "GET IN THERE YOU F***ING B******S!!!") happened to drive past in his Landrover JUST after I'd fallen on my butt taking a picture and got my skis tangled. He stopped to make sure I was ok. ONLY MY PRIDE WAS DAMAGED

pictures are here!

and a description of the walk is here
ewein2412: (Default)
Mark: "It's not my fault I fell in the snow. But it is my fault Sara fell in the snow."


[livejournal.com profile] steepholm asked if there was any chance of a Frost Fair. Not quite yet.

These pictures were all taken between about 3.15 and 4.15 this afternoon.

The pictures above were taken from the Queen's Bridge, looking upstream toward Perth Bridge (built 1766). I like the first picture better but the second gives a better idea of the extent of the ice. The river really is solid ice between the bridges (it's backing up against the Queen's Bridge). Here's the pile up at the Queen's Bridge, looking downstream:

Several times, in flood, I've seen the river reach the top of the arches.

The next picture is downstream of the Queen's Bridge:

The light really was gorgeous!

So then we crossed the river via the railway bridge and circled back up river via Perth Bridge. This one is taken from Perth Bridge, looking towards Perth, about an hour after the first pictures were taken:

And this one is of Perth Bridge itself, a little upstream of the ice. The reason it got so dark is not just because the sun went down--also the haar came in. (That's what they call sea mist all up and down the north coast of Britain. It's a Dutch word, I think.)


Me and Sara wanted to pay tribute to my awesome snowflake gingerbread cookies so we arranged them as a map of Great Britain!

(The little comet at the top is Orkney.)


the rant continues!
ewein2412: (Arthur of the Britons--if looks could ki)
Front page of the Perthshire Advertiser:


"...Dr. Stewart Templeton, who lives in the South Street, phoned the PA after navigating the icy pavements.
"He said: '...Absolutely nothing has been done to the pavements...if [the Council were prepared to pay adequate overtime] there would be people willing to go out and shovel the snow.'
"One housebound PA reader, who declined to be named, added, '...the ice and snow-covered pavements [are] a death-trap. It's a disgrace.'
"He suggested, 'Back in the '50s, the town council got men on the dole to shovel snow off the pavements - it's an idea that should be considered again!'"


Or they could move to Germany, where as [livejournal.com profile] estara informs me, it is illegal NOT to do it yourself.

Or they could move to Kenya, where my husband assures me no one has ever had to shovel any snow.


My husband also tells me Not to Read the PA before I've had any coffee.
ewein2412: (christmas)
It is still snowing. We have not seen the ground for two weeks. I have lived in the UK for 15 years and this is an all-time first.

Also, the Tay is starting to freeze. HOW COOL IS THAT.

We walked into town yesterday, New Year's Day, to look at it. All the shops were shut. It was exactly high tide and the river was absolutely still--I've never seen it before that the water wasn't moving very rapidly, high or low. Perth Bridge, the stone arch bridge that is a couple of years older than the United States of America, was perfectly reflected in the water. (It was too dark to take a decent picture.)

A Little Snow Rant. )

We had our New Year's Eve in the summer house with a bonfire in our fire basket; and Lebkuchen and popcorn and pink champagne and fireworks. We tried to make the maple sugar candy on snow and FAILED AGAIN! But it was a very good party. I skied up to the reservoir under the blue moon and there was a layer of fog hanging in the Tay, absolutely magical. I bought my cross-country skis in 2001, the last time we had snow on the ground for a week, and haven't used them much since. But this is the first time I have been able to ski down the middle of our street a week after the snow actually fell.

Tim and I were married on New Year's Day in 1996. We have now been married for 14 years, 1 day, and about 18 hours.


ewein2412: (Default)

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