Fiona learns to be silly

Bit by bit, Fiona’s nature is unfolding before us. She has always been a centred little thing, with a certain poise to her gestures and a grounding of deep silence to her warmth. She’s the kind of girl who loves her cuddles, but loves her quiet times with her books as well.

This is not to say that she is never silly. Witness our conversation yesterday:

F: Mommy!
A: Nony!
F: I not Nony. I Nona!
A (deliberatly misunderstanding): Nana? 1
F: No, I not nana!
A: No? What are you, then?
F: I apple!

  1. Our household name for bananas.

She’s also just old enough to find Martin’s and my long-running game of randomly swapping the words “nose” and “knee” funny. She certainly did this morning.

You gotta laugh. I did.


Taken 24 February 2006

In other news, last Monday I was picking the kids up from nursery. Alex, who has only now become interested in representational art, presented me with a picture of a number of space ships and aliens in battle, with lines connecting them up to show their alliances and actions. Even his drawings are social. Fiona, less obsessed with diagrams than appearances, drew a swirl of circles on the page, looked up at me and said, “Datsa moon, Mama!”

It was her first drawing of something, at two, while her brother has only started getting serious about it at 4 3/4. How can my children be so very different?

Hail, Hail!

Yesterday, while I was walking in the Botanics, I came under a sudden assault of hail. I had to shelter under an umbrella under a tree – one layer of protection was not enough.

After the white stuff stopped falling, it seemed to vanish. Only a few balls were left to convince me that it wasn’t a dream.


Taken 21 February 2006

The hailstones didn’t last, but the raindrops were beautiful as well.


Taken 21 February 2006

This shot reminds me of one of my favourite poems, No Road by Philip Larkin


Taken 21 February 2006

I’ve had a few other photos building up that didn’t really deserve their own entries. Of possible interest:

The sacred cow is coming home to roost.


Taken 20 February 2006

Plant in the car park at the Cuddy Brae. Very red!


Taken 19 February 2006

Bus stop hardware…one of those tiny details of life that looks so good up close.


Taken 19 February 2006

Weekend Whittering

We have been having a busy wee weekend here at the Evilrooster’s Nest, after Friday’s high-energy activities.

On Saturday, the kids and I went out for a brief expedition to the local shopping centre and (more importantly) the play park right nearby. It was a frosty morning.


Taken 18 February 2006

But the crocus was just beginning to bloom in the park.


Both taken 18 February 2006

Fiona decided to take a route through the play structure that required her to cross a wobbly bridge. She was brave, but cautious.


Both taken 18 February 2006

We walked home, past the dry hedges in the suburban front gardens.


Taken 18 February 2006

My in-laws then came over and took the kids for a long expedition to a soft play area, while Martin got some quiet time and I took a nap (sleep can be hard to come by in a busy household). M and I then went out to dinner and a film, leaving the kids in Ian and Sheila’s very capable hands.

This morning, after sundry shopping expeditions, we all ended up at the Cuddy Brae (pub with grub) for the classic family lunch. The children were beautifully behaved, the conversation pleasant, and the food good if excessive. Ideal. Even the car park plants were looking pretty good.


Taken 19 February 2006

Who says you have to do exotic things to have a good time?

No Rest for the Silly

Another Friday, another adventure.

Fiona had a birthday party to go to quite late today (4:30 – 6), so I had half-intended to spend the morning quietly so as to leave her with energy for the afternoon. But the day was so sunny, and the kids so chirpy, that I decided we all needed a trip out. There’s been a geocache near us, unfound, for some time: Craigmillar’s One of Four. Off we went.

Alex pointed the way.


Taken 17 February 2006

Fiona checked our heading with a compass.


Taken 17 February 2006

We lucked out. We found the cache really quickly, got good loot, left our trades, and thought, “now what?”

So we walked on round the castle, whcih was magnificent in the glorious sun.


Taken 17 February 2006

Fiona took her own path, at her own pace.


Taken 17 February 2006

We saw lots of trees.

From far away.


Taken 17 February 2006

From up close.


Taken 17 February 2006

And all wrinkly.


Taken 17 February 2006

Ones that look like dragons.


Taken 17 February 2006

And ones that look like island chains! (Cropped, I confess.)


Taken 17 February 2006

Then we rolled back down the hill (no, really, Alex wanted to barrel roll. Fiona tried to join him, but needed a bit of help.) After a brief visit home to lunch, nap and change clothes, we went to Lauren’s party. The kids were perky as they waited for the bus.


Taken 17 February 2006

Fiona loved the party, particularly when painted as a puppy. (Yes, I know it’s out of focus, but she was dancing.)


Taken 17 February 2006

It was a magnificent day. Alex impressed me with his maturity at the party (I asked him to sit out the party games after he won the first one, to give the smaller kids a chance. He not only did so, but he made the effort to smile about it as well. Wow.) Fiona was funny and beautiful. Then they had a delightful bath and went to bed.

Happy Birthday to Me

Today was my birthday, and a very good one it was, too. From the flowers the kids gave me first thing, to the cards and the presents that started my day so well, to the very good day with my colleagues at work, it was both ordinary and magical. Even got my usual walk through the Botanics, taking the odd picture along the way, seemed a little special, though I don’t know if that shows in these phiotos.

Something sprouting through the rocks


Taken 15 February 2006

Something about this drystane wall spoke to me too.


Taken 15 February 2006

Then, on the walk home, I was struck by the beauty of these balustrades in the raking sunlight.


Taken 15 February 2006

But that was nothing to the sky over Calton Hill! (Photo cropped to remove a crane)


Taken 15 February 2006

The best moments came at the end of the day – playing tag with the kids on the walk home in the last of the sunlight. Noticing that Alex has finally figured out how to moderate his pace so Fiona can catch him. Chocolate cake. Silly kids in their bubble bath. A chance to talk to Martiin in the evening (and to thank him – I am aware that the flowers, the presents, and the cake only seemed to appear magically at the right moments!)

In some ways, having such an ordinary working-day birthday was better than having an all special day, because it made me look at my everyday life afresh and see it sparkle. I hope I can hold onto that for a while yet!

Valentine’s Day

If you’re lucky enough to get a Valentine’s card today, well, good. Somebody loves you. Remember that.

If you aren’t, then one of the hearts in this picture is especially for you.


Update, 16th February: A number of people have asked me how I did this, whether it’s wicker, how long it took me to make, etc. Let me explain. I was trimming pages of a few books with my Christmas bookbinding present, the beautiful vertical plough that Martin got me. The bin was full of little strips of paper in cream and white. So I curled a few of them into a half-heart shape and photographed the result, then cut the picture, mirrored the appropriate bit, and pasted. The intricacy of the final result astonishes even me, and I did it.

Sorry to rob you of some of the magic, dear readers, but I can’t let you think I did something I didn’t.

Citizen Sutherland

I have lived in the United Kingdom for 12 1/2 years now, nearly all of my adult life. I have, however, always held myself a little apart from the people around me, partly because I am an American and they are British. And I am distinctly American – my accent betrays me every time I speak, and I have a very American political philosophy. (This is in reference to the idea that sovereignity derives from the consent of the governed, for instance, and the idea that liberties rest with the citizens unless those citizens consent to surrender them for the greater good. It does not mean I think that politics should be spiteful, mean and rude.)

I have lost a little of that separation today. I have become a British citizen.


The whole process started with an immigration official in Stansted Airport when we were coming back from France last summer. After querying me about the terms of my residency here, he suggested I look into naturalisation and handed me a leaflet with the Home Office URL. I was a bit staggered – wasn’t his job to keep people out?

An EU passport would be handy, though, because we are talking about a move to the Netherlands in 2007. Right of abode throughout Europe is not to be lightly set aside.

Why Not?

My major concern was with my American citizenship, because I am not keen to lose that. But a little research, including the US consular site, revealed that the American government does not deem the taking up of a non-exclusive foreign citizenship as the renunciation of one’s American citizenship. (It’s different if one’s new citizenship requires one to renounce all previous allegiances, like the Japanese – and the Americans themselves – do. But the Brits do not require that.) They don’t like it, but they allow it.

A minor, but still persistent, point was the requirement to swear allegiance to the Queen. The full text of the things I had to say today is:

I (name) swear by Almighty God that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law.

I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.

The second paragraph is fine. Absolutely. The first took some thought, both because of a profound discomfort with the notion of personal loyalty to the sovereign, and because I am not naturally a monarchist.

But the way I parse the oath (there is an alternative “affirmation” version for those who do not wish to swear, or do not wish to mention Almighty God, but it parses the same) is that the last clause (“according to law”) modifies the entire sentence. That’s why there’s a comma before it. So my true and faithful allegiance is limited by, and defined by, the law. The Queen is an office-holder, even if she is born into it rather than elected into it.

But what of the office itself? Americans are as wholeheartedly monarchist as, say, ancient Romans. But remember what happened to them – they ended up with Augustus “restoring the republic” by turning it into an Imperium. And, watching the current Executive Branch grab at primacy in the US system, I’m not sure we Americans don’t yearn for some sort of monarch to tell us what to do as well.

As monarchies go, the British one is remarkably powerless. In theory, the sovereign can dismiss a prime minister or dissolve Parliament. In practice, she can do that once, and the next day the UK will be a republic. But while Queen Elizabeth is on the throne, no one else can be. She is an effective blocker of any claim to absolute (political) power, while simultaneously excercising none herself. (Thanks to my university friend James for pointing this one out.)

Practical Considerations and Tests Evaded

So, having assuaged my moral qualms, I sent in my application for citizenship in October. My timing was close – had I sent it in in November, I would have had to sit a test on British life. I was one of many, too – 57,000 others wanted to avoid the test as well. Despite reports of slow processing, with some responses expected to take till June, I got my reply back within the 4-month pre-rush average.

Then I booked my “citizenship ceremony” by ringing up the City Council offices. As an American, I was bemused by the reaction, or lack thereof, of the staff. Had I called an American local government office to book the US equivalent ceremony, someone, somewhere along the line, would have said “congratulations.” Here, it’s like booking your car in for a service.

Martin, in deference to my American-style emotional engagement in this whole process, took the day off and took me out to lunch before the ceremony. We showed up in good time and sat in the city chambers till about 10 minutes after the hour, when Edinburgh’s Lord Provost (a woman, as it happens, but the title does not change) came in. She gave a wee speech, the chief registrar gave a wee speech, and then we all stood up and mumbled through the oath and pledge. We were each then called up to shake hands with the Lord Provost, get our certificates, and get our pictures taken. Then we all had tea and biscuits.

But What Does it All Mean?

The British government introduced these ceremonies to try to give a stronger sense of identity to the new citizens. I think it does that, a little, but I am not convinced that the Brits are really interested in an American-style citizenship model. I encounter a lot of bemusement among my British friends about the test of British life, for instance – no one is sure what would go on such a test, or whether they themselves would agree with the “right” answers. And this lack of enthusiasm, which I first really noted in booking the ceremony, pervaded the whole event. The oath and affirmation were murmured rather than proclaimed, and the Lord Provost had to prompt people to applaud each new citizen as she presented the certificates.

Basically, the Brits aren’t entirely sure what citizenship means to them. For instance, the Lord Provost’s speech made no reference whatsoever to anything expressed in that oath I agonised about it. She spoke almost exclusively to the Pledge about upholding the UK’s traditions of rights and freedoms. The Registrar was a little more forthcoming, managing to mention the “sovereign” twice, and there was a picture of the Queen looking benevolent in the room. But the monarchy was clearly not the heart of the ceremony. The ideas of respect and inclusiveness, both much mentioned in the speeches, didn’t ring true either (they are neologisms in the political discourse), though the very ethnically and religiously mixed crowd needed to hear them.

In the end, I don’t know what being British means to me, or to anyone there. I thought it would sum up something of these last 12 years for me, give me a label for that half of me that is not American, but it doesn’t. There is no summary, no single easy definition, apart from that gentle, mild unease with the pretense of certainty that an easy definition would give.

Picture here. I would also like to express my gratitude to Jules and Fiona, who told the Home Office I was a good person despite the evidence to the contrary.

Cinnamon Rolls

Yesterday, I felt the restless desire to make something. Usually, that means bookbinding, but yesterday, it had to be food. So I finally got round to beginning something I’ve been meaning to do for some time: learning to make really good cinnamon rolls. For convenience, I want to be able to make part-baked frozen cinnamon rolls.


I blame Robin McKinley, one of my favourite authors. One of her recent books, Sunshine, is about a magician and vampire slayer who also bakes in a cafe. Or, more properly, it’s about a baker in a cafe who discovers she can also do magic and slay vampires, though she’d prefer to just bake. And McKinley expresses her passion for baking so well that when I read the book, I want to do so too.

Now, when I was a child, I had free run of the kitchen as long as I would clean up after myself. I spent a good deal of time perfecting chocolate cake recipe. I haven’t done that kind of evolutionary cookery since, but I firmly believe that no recipe I find in a book is perfect. So I have chosen a very basic cinnamon roll recipe from a book I trust, and I intend to refine it until it’s perfect. My family are just going to have to put up with the collateral effects of this experimentation, namely having cinnamon rolls around from time to time. They’re very brave. They will cope.

The base recipe is from Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook (1961), which was my maternal grandmother’s reference cookbook. I don’t have her copy, having long since damaged it beyond repair with my cake-making, but my mother kindly gave me another copy a few years ago. It’s very good on cakes, cookies and yeast breads, but tastes have changed since 1961, so it does occasionally need a little refining.

The basic recipe, with initial changes. I will convert it to metric/weight-based cookery at a later stage. Additions and changes in bold.


  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 pkg yeast
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm milk (scalded and cooled to reduce dough stickiness)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • approximately 4 cups flour (I never measure flour for bread. You add it till it’s dough, then knead into more flour till it’s kneaded.)


  • 2 Tbsp soft butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup raisins

Dissolve the yeast in the water. Add milk, sugar, salt, egg, oil and 2 cups flour. Mix until smooth. Add enough flour to turn it into dough, then turn onto a lightly floured board and knead till smooth and elastic (about 5 min).

Round up in a greased bowl, then turn to bring greased side up. Leave to rise in a wam place until double, about 1 1/2 hour.

Punch down, and leave to rise again until almost doubled, about 30 min.

Roll out into an oblong, 15 x 9″. Spread with softened butter. Mix cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle over the surface. Sprinkle raisins on top.

Roll up tightly, beginning at the wide side. Seal well by pinching edges of roll together.

Cut roll into 1″ slices. Place on greased trays to rise for another 35 to 40 minutes, until doubled.

Heat oven to 375 F (195 C). Bake 15 – 20 min for part baked rolls, 25 – 30 min for done rolls.

Freeze part baked rolls in plastic bags. When you want a fresh cinnamon roll, heat the oven and bake for 10 – 15 minutes from frozen.

So how did it come out?

  1. The dough could use to be sweeter. Next time, I think I will use 1/3 cup sugar.
  2. The raisins would work better spread throughout the rolls rather than simply in the spirals. I will knead them in before rolling the dough out.
  3. Martin suggests rolling the dough into a thinner layer, making more turns of cinnamon per roll. I think this is a good idea, though it may increase the butter, sugar and cinnamon required for spreading on the rolled-out layer.

Further updates after the dozen cinnamon rolls in the freezer are disposed of.


As bath toys go, bubbles are top favourites in this household. We never do bubble baths on nights when we’re in a rush to get the kids clean and into bed, because the bubbles are too much fun to rush. But though they play with bubbles, both kids had forgotten how much fun it is to wear them. Till I reminded them last night.

Alex with a beard.


Taken 12 February 2006

Fiona with a beard.


Taken 12 February 2006

Apparently, this beard thing is catching. I look like one of the Soggy Bottom Boys in it.


Taken 12 February 2006

Take two Santas into the bath…?


Taken 12 February 2006