Category Archives: BLOG DEPOSITS

Where the Hell Have you Been? OR A Weegie Refugee Comes Home.

A friend of mine visited my blog site a few days ago and sent me, without pretext, this message:
“Bitch how derelict can you be? Your last post was almost two years ago.”

I had a handy, snark-filled reply at the ready, but then my inner Irish poked me and said, “Ah Feck sure she’s right.” I went to the site. And sure enough. March. 2018. I was writing about writing. And squids. And critics. And hearts.

Well, fuck.

In lieu of an apology for disappearing in the blog space, let me just say that I’ve been busy, bitches. My anxieties, doctoral research, and writing stresses were matched only in size and scope with my fervent accruing of frequent flyer miles.

NOTE: For those of you just joining, I left the U.S. in Sept of 2015 with my husband, who is now lovingly called BigHaggis. We lived as Ex Pats for 3-4 years as I completed my PhD. We adore Scotland. And Glasgow. And Brexit can go Fuck Itself (technically, I think it’s already trying…) but we still consider ourselves Weegie Refugees. AND NOW I’m about to cover 20 months in about 2000 words, so strap in.
ketchup spill
Let’s catch up, shall we?

April 2018: Ireland
BigHaggis and I traveled to Dublin for a glorious 5 days of distilleries, breweries, cathedrals, crypts, and castles. Much fine Guinness was consumed. Many irreverent jokes were made. I was only removed from one pub and really? It wasn’t my fault. We made merry and adopted the phrase “fiddly diddly” from a traveling German and his drunk (but cute) girlfriend.

Also April 2018: Switzerland
While I lead a 2-day writing retreat of bright young talents, BigHaggis amused himself by loading his daypack with whisky, water, and cigars, and sending me photo evidence of his personal invasions (read: border crossings) into Germany one day and France the next. Neither country could be arsed to acknowledge these accomplishments, so he returned to our hotel in Basel each evening, a bit miffed. On our free day together we walked through some incredible museums and the Basel Kirche, drinking in the beautiful town and river all Disney-spotless and impossibly crisp…

basel selfieEnjoying some glorious weather in Basel, Switzerland. Perfect for strolling along the river drinking QuikMart red wine in stolen coffee cups and smoking Romeo Y Juliet 875s. #livingourBestLife

PRO TIP: The bells will deafen you (think: Quasimodo) but the views atop the spires are worth the climb #goodshoes And if you ask nicely, you can borrow the keys to the Basel Kirche crypt (not on any tour) for a look-see. While we want to return one day (Geneva perhaps?) the whole country seems to be both pristine and expensive as fuck, so the jury’s out on that one.

May 2018: Scotland
End of the term marked the last of supervision for my PhD. Anyone who has gone through a doctoral program will have many words about the importance of not being left free-range chicken. I am no different, but let’s just say (here, anyway) that it was a challenge to both my sanity and my liver.

May-June 2018: Scotland
We hosted family for a 2-week holiday which included a day trip to Edinburgh, the Rosslyn Chapel, a relaxing highland cottage stay, the Hogwarts Express train, Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, Isle of Arran, and all the coos my wee nieces could handle without exploding (thank you Pollock House). The glorious two weeks was marred only one day of rain, and one annoying royal wedding that forced folx to fly union jacks for ½ a day. (Stop rolling your eyes. No Scot gives a fuck about the British crown or who they marry, even an American beauty. Scottish Independence can’t come soon enough.) June saw more visitors (10 days of tour guide fabulousness) including serious saturation on the Isle of Islay, where woolen mill tales and flights of whisky and chocolate pairings were magic. The smell of the 30cmx30cm plot of land BigHaggis owns can be smelt in every bottle of Laphroaig.

The Smith-Shropshire crew walking the fields of the battle of Culloden, where many of my ancestors were killed.(ClanRanald of the MacDonald of the Isles). And (below) feeding baby Heiland Coos at Pollock House, near Glasgow.


July 2018: The Netherlands
BigHaggis and I travel to the metropolis of Enschede, to the University of Twente, an engineering, science, and technology university. (Think MIT or GaTech, but much much smaller. And their students speak Dutch + at least two other languages. And they build robots and drink really good beer.) In short, not a place I would ever have been accepted to study. But they were hosting a conference on the power of narrative, and a very cool woman who had heard me speak in Berlin (Nov 2017) asked me to run a writing workshop about narrative and identity, and even offered translation, because she thought my drag life and it’s research was part-academic-part-stand-up-comedy and something folx would enjoy it. How the hell do you say NO to that? (I didn’t. And I will brag a bit to tell you that 40 signed up for the workshop, slightly more than that attended, and the Fire Marshall gave someone an ear full afterwards.) On the 4th of July, we toasted our Ex Pat lives coming to an end, in a beir garden in the Netherlands.

Also July 2018: Germany
Off to Dusseldorf to see Frau Dr Fabulous, a lifetime friend, musician, and all-around amazing human. We drank, we laughed, we walked the city and drank some more! We strolled through art shows and riverside festivals #alltheoysters, and even crashed a church service/violin performance. Standing in the front lawn of that church after the service, we watched as they assembled tables and tapped the first keg of beer, I almost found religion again. (Almost.)

Monaco selfie w Ben

Also July 2018: Monaco & Nice
We were hosted by old friends made new again. We partied like rock-stars on the Cote D’Azur and marveled at the crazy cool compassionate people in our lives. BigHaggis also discovered that copious amounts of Rose leads to him dancing on tables. (There is photo proof of these shenanigans!)

Also July 2018: Spain
Barcelona in the summer is a nightmare. Go any other time. The beaches are beautiful but like walking on the sun; the heat is only somewhat squelched by copious amounts of cold beer, but then you eat the tremendous (served in hot cast iron skillets) paella and say fuck it. I’ll just sweat until I get back to Glasgow.

August 2018: BigHaggis goes back to the U.S.
Without me. I am crushed, even though we knew it was coming. The GEE18 (Great European Exit tour of 2018) is over. He is returning to find FT work (Fuck you very much Brexit) and (hopefully) a place for us to live once I have submitted my dissertation. I made arrangements with Glasgow friends to check in on me and make sure I’ve not collapsed in the Cigarden and been set upon by hungry urban foxes. I go on a writing retreat in the Trossachs. I cry for 2 days, but then am cheered by pals at Katie’s bar and a long weekend on the Isle of Bute with fellow writers and my chin is up again.

September 2018: Glasgow
I keep busy. Mostly. I work on chapter revisions and allow a crazy woman to use my flat to film her horror movie project. I live in the Mitchell library and few pubs in our neighborhood. I binge watch Lucifer and X-Files episodes and eat tons of Tunnock’s sweeties. I crank out the 30-page bibliography of my dissertation and do nearly-naked happy dances in the wee hours in my flat. I have mini breakdowns over giving away our beloved fichus tree and when BigHaggis sends me flowers. I find someone to sublet our flat. Because after 8 weeks, I need BigHaggis. I rent a beach house at Oak Island, NC, so that I can see him on weekends. But Hurricane Florence shits on that dream setup, damaging it (and the whole island) badly enough that there are no toilets, no running water, intermittent power, and no Wi-Fi. The view was still amazing, though, the owner told me. I told him to fuck right off. I also had a hard time explaining to Scots what a hurricane is – and how large.

hurricaen florence

For my non-U.S. friends: See the long narrow state whose arse is sticking out and clearly in the path of where Flo will make landfall? Yeah. That’s where this genius rented a beach house to be a writing retreat. FML

All of Scotland fits about 2X in (square footage of) NC & SC borders. So explaining that this hurricane was 4 times the size of Scotland to somenoe who’s never ventured out of western Europe – or even out of the UK? A challenge.

October – December 2018: North Carolina & the dissertation cocoon
BigHaggis started a new job with BigPharm and found us a wee house to rent. Heaven at first, but Ex Pat Limbo is not a sustainable life. Adjustments were hard for me. Free range writing and editing. The stress. The stress-eating. The stress-drinking. These months are an absolute blur. Holidays were had, even hosted, but not much of it stuck. I’m advised to edit 12000 words OUT of my dissertation. I struggle with homesickness and self-confidence, spinning in self-doubt and a desperate longing for my Glasgow flat and the Christmas markets I know are happening in City Centre without me. BigHaggis gets a promotion and can now work from home. We go to the animal shelter and adopt a scarred pit bull that is 38 pounds, 5 years old, and shy. We name him HAMISH. It’s maybe this that keeps me from derelict danger zones of depression.

We adopted Hamish on 18 Dec 2018 and our lives are so much richer for it #AdoptDontShop #PittiesRule

January 2019: Cocoon and Classroom (Elon University)
I teach a winter term course based on my research, which I call “Lip Sync for Your Life”. I have drag queens do a “Drag 101” in class and the students and the queens are all brilliant. I am hoping my transition back to teaching in the U.S. will be this easy. (It wasn’t.)

Jan-Feb 2019: Glasgow
Burns Supper with good friends. Dissertation edits, printing, and finally. Submission.
SUBMISSION. The tears. The whisky. More tears. More Tunnock’s. I get a new tattoo.

Feb – March 2019: Greensboro
Teaching. More Adjusting. Also, I sign up for dance lessons (more on that later) because the tango is fucking cool.

April 2019: Glasgow
3.5 years of research and writing and whisky. Conferences, workshops, retreats, and travel to 8 countries and countless cities, and so much of Scotland. 10 weeks of living apart. 3 intense weeks of VIVA prep. To survive a 2-hour 10-minute VIVA (oral defense of dissertation) and I AM A DOCTOR.

#DocShrop celebrations with many Harris Gins and shenanigans ensue for several days. I get a new tattoo. I cry off and on the entire plane ride back to NC.

Coffee mug BigHaggis got me for Christmas #hegetsme

May 2019: Greensboro
I finish my corrections and begin a new project – a collection of short stories that feature dogs. We shop for houses. The PhD limbo is over, and we are ready to stay put for a while. But first, many drams and celebratory gins and travel/graduation shenanigans must happen!

dunvegan selfie
The #BigScotsHols crew at the seal boat landing of Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye. 

June 2019: Scotland
A two-week glorious holiday (ending at Hogwarts for graduation, of course) with my best friends in the world. Fryer Ted, Turner, and Gboy come with me and BigHaggis and we show them the country we love, the country that adopted us without reservation. Time is spent in the Highlands golfing, hiking, drinking, and fly-fishing. GBoy and I fish with flies Mackula tied for us more than a decade ago, when he dreamed in the last days of his life to see the Isle of Skye, and to go fishing with us in Scotland. There on the banks of the River Tweed, I heard his laughter in the running water, and I knew he was proud of me.

Me and GBoy, setting out to fly-fish on the River Tweed.

Two weeks of adventures and giggles races by and ends with a graduation day in my beautiful University, in my beloved city, shared with treasured friends. It’s almost too much. It is filled with champagne and a tremendous dinner at Curlers Rest and (appropriately) Lady Balls Bingo at one of our favorite bar/restaurants called the Hillhead Bookclub. My heart is full of love and my hair is full of glitter. The next day, I get a new tattoo.

#DocShrop’s entourage on Graduation.

Post-Graduation: ShropHQ-to-date
(July 2019 – January 2020)
Life has been undeniably good. We’ve begun slowly unpacking our memories and filling our new home with them. We held a glorious graduation party so we could celebrate #DocShrop Stateside. We hosted family for the holidays, and it was glorious, even though it flew by. Family reunions, cooking, shopping, puzzles, Nutcracker ballet, homemade versions of “Nailed It!” (more on that later) and lounging on our deck in the warn sunshine #CackalackyChristmas). Hamish (now 59 pounds, healthy, and full of attitude) flourishes. (And by flourish I mean he is a spoiled rotten snuggler.)

eileen dunon castle selfie

Don’t let BigHaggis’s scowl fool you. He was having a “Highlander” moment at Eileen Dunan Castle.

I struggle some days to remember the anxiety attacks, the tears of frustration, and the meltdown stress of it all. But I find that the day in Berlin, when someone called me “the Drag Lady” and referred to me as an expert, is a stand-out memory. As is the first set of drag queen interviews I conducted, BigHaggis tagging along and ordering specialty cocktails with dirty names. And the sunrises on the Isle of Eigg as we walked lazily to the water’s edge, mesmerized by the colors above and below. The memory of BigHaggis blocking me so the Swiss Guard wouldn’t catch me taking photos of Drunken Moses in the Sistine Chapel.

Navigating Tesco deliveries and discovering that we could get whisky delivered. To. The. Flat. Being invited to Alasdair Gray’s home, where he poured us healthy drams with Mad Bastard Stevie, who took us to his whisky club in Edinburgh after a rugby game. And the snow falling and bells ringing in Vienna on Christmas night. Or watching a falcon land majestically of the arm of the man standing next to me on the grounds of Dunrobin Castle.

Smoking countless afternoons over books and music and playing backgammon in ourGlasgow Cigarden. Seeing whales jump next to a CalMac ferry boat. The first dinner BigHaggis and I shared in Curlers Rest. And the last. These are the memories that I mine. I get to decide which ones to share, but I could, if I wanted to, hoard them all to myself, curling up in them like a napping dragon.

Not everyone supported this grand expedition of ourse, and there were many rocky days, of course. But we fucking did it.

“Was it worth it?” is seldom asked of us. These days, it’s “Do you miss it?” Oh Yes. The homesickness for a Weegie Refugee is real. The stress is not forgotten, but it is overwhelmingly outweighed by the fabulous adventures. And the laughter. And joy. And pride. We did it. #teamshrop did it.

Not bad for a derelict debutante.


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Posted by on January 24, 2020 in BLOG DEPOSITS


Squids & Writers

I have been struggling with my writing lately. It’s not a big secret. Or even a particularly shameful one. Everyone has moments when they feel like they are floundering, even when it’s in an ocean of their own design.

mr incredible typing

‘Tis the writer’s curse, they say, to be haunted by words that seem always just out of grasp, phantasmagorias that linger and tease and move through the air with both graceful fluidity and sharp punctuated movements, like squids.

Squids and writers have a lot in common, actually.

For example, squids have three hearts.

And I think writers do too.

They must, because the very pursuit of their craft means they are constantly being stabbed in the heart, or in the general vicinity of the heart, at least. Two of these three hearts exist merely to take the abuse of the world, because people are assholes. Assholes who are dismissive and cruel about artists in general.

As an artist, my life is open to the opinions of the world in the way that, say, a plumber’s, is not. If a plumber screws up their job, something leaks. Or explodes. Or something that was meant to flow away from your home, flows the opposite direction, resulting in fecal matter streaming over your designer floor tiles. There is nothing subjective or up for interpretation about turd water floating into the hallway. Shit flushes or it doesn’t.

Artists also do their jobs; a writer creates a short story or a screenplay; a sculptor fashions an art piece from clay and steel and plastic components; a poet authors a sonnet. But for these folx, people will line up to loudly have their say about how horrible they think their work is. Because art is subjective. One man’s jar of distasteful piss is another man’s critical commentary on the hypocrisies of the Catholic church.

Critics will tell you that you are not good enough. They (and often your own inner demons) will tell you that will never be good enough. They will look at you with those judgmental eyes that say that you are doomed to follow a passion that will only break your heart over and over again. You will sink into debt, despair, and probably addictions. They worry (usually aloud) that you’ll never find love, when you are worried that you will never find peace.

They don’t know that they are breaking your heart.

And they don’t know that writers and squids have hearts to spare.

And so the writer smiles, knowing that while one heart is breaking, another is healing. And the third one is pumping enough oxygen and energy into me to fuel my fantasies of bathing in the blood of my enemies. Sometimes this bathtub is full of ink in my waking reveries, but usually it is filled with blood.

Anyway, writers and squids.

They both often look effortless to the outside world. Like we are both just lazing away our days, drifting on the tides. But trust me, our lives are stressful. And every now and then, when you poke or threaten us, we will spray you violently with ink.



Posted by on March 2, 2018 in BLOG DEPOSITS


 Not Throwing Away My Shot

If you are a Hamilton fan (and let’s face it, who isn’t) then you instantly recognize this lyric. Hubby and I saw this amazing production a few days ago in the Victoria Palace Theatre in London, where the acoustics were tremendous, the cast was superb, and the whisky was reasonable, which was nice since the legroom was not.


This post is not about Hamilton, per se, but I will say that the production lives up to all the hype – and then some.

It’s about the fact that I bought the tickets 16 months in advance.


This is a record-breaking event in my life. Not only because I have lived my life according to my “Cadaver Metric” (patent pending) by which I measure my current overall health by considering what kind of cadaver I would make, but also because I live with the assumption that someone will have to make that decision sooner rather than later.


In short, I don’t commit to anything more than a year out because I assume I won’t be alive then.

Relax. I don’t actually think I am dying. I think we are ALL dying, simply at different rates. The PTSD and anxiety that accompanies the survival of a terrifying illness means that I find it impossible to imagine my life 12 months out from wherever I am right now. So purchasing FECKIN THEATRE TICKETS more than a year in advance raised quite a few eyebrows indeed.

Have I conquered my fears? (Nope.)

Am I growing as a person? (I doubt it.)


Simply, I love the theatre. When I was younger, I even had dreams of being on the stage, but was told by a director that I was a girl who “should not be in the spotlight.” (Yes. They actually said that. In front of the whole cast. Then made me sing my solo mic’d from backstage.)

really bitch giphy

It was a little traumatizing. But with equal parts stubbornness and stupidity, I continued to audition for everything anyway (one time I was dismissed mid-audition without reading because the directors were so sick of me).

I continued to sing (in my church choir, in my car), stage managed in community theatre, directed/produced plays in college, even did some (very briefly!) stand up in Los Angeles. Karaoke moment? Sure. Intense poetry readings? Yup. Musical drag numbers, Hell Yes. But after high school I never again auditioned for theatre.

shelley BW

Shelley Berman, a veteran comedian and performer – you probably remember him as Larry David’s dad on Curb Your Enthusiasm – and an amazing human being, was the one who encouraged me to do stand-up. I had never been so frightened in my entire life. It was an open-mic type affair in a place in Burbank, California and I am still amazed that I did not wet myself on stage, but Shelley helped set it up and I would never let him down. Shelley also gave me great advice. Humorous, whimsical, practical, actionable advice. So instead of pointing out the exact spot where I didn’t belong, he helped me craft the humor in occupying it anyway. He was lovingly brutal.

We had countless conversations about life and love and family. He loved my imitations of my grandfathers the most, even asking my permission to borrow a joke about the chauvinist one who (according to me) “lost a part of his soul the day the WNBA was formed” and the other, who advised me not to bother with ancestral research because “I’m sure you know enough assholes already, dear.”

strong line of lunatics

Shelley was never convinced that I belonged in academia, and had mixed feelings about me having a Mid-Life Crisis that involved me pursuing more of it. But he also knew that it was time. Time to write my truths and shoot them out into the Universe. Time that I finally took my shot.

Hamilton was a personal milestone for me in a weird and wonderful way, a commitment met from 16 months out. Go me. Although, I will tell you what I told Shelley 20 years ago (and Cubby, and Aram – who were not nearly as amused) – that being a writer suits me, because I consider it a sport like bowling – one must really want to wear those shoes, which is probably why one is encouraged to drink while doing it.


Here’s to small successes.

#keepwriting #keeplaughing #teamshrop


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Posted by on February 12, 2018 in BLOG DEPOSITS


The Fire Swamp Certainly Does Keep You on Your Toes

My dad (Mackula) was a huge movie buff. He loved watching them, talking about them, going to see them, and reciting pieces of his favorites, inserting quotations into everyday life. He had wide and eclectic tastes, for example: The Ten Commandments, Fletch, Planet of the Apes, Platoon, Stripes, Amadeus, Pulp Fiction, The Pink Panther, Die Hard, Beetlejuice and The Princess Bride. Arguably, this last one topped the list. (1)

film reels and popcorn
As I write, it is January 2018 and I am thinking of him and his movie loving self on this anniversary, that this time ten years ago, I was living in what Mackula referred to as the Fire Swamp.

Following a massive heart attack (the last in a series) and stroke, doctors gave Mackula 6 months to live. Hubby and I left Texas and moved into Grandpa Val’s river rock cottage in the Smoky Mountains to be closer to him. Those last sentences are both incredibly sad and dangerously misleading, in that it sounds as if we are big-hearted loving people who were living in pastoral bliss as we offered support and succor to a dying parent. Yeah, not so much. Er, sort of.

Mackula called our house the Fire Swamp because the dilapidated dump actively tried to kill us (think electrical fires and ROUSs) while we worked to flip it into the 21st century.

In 2005, we discovered that the old well had not been capped correctly and that drinking the contaminated water had caused me to develop a blinding kidney infection. The only voice mail on my phone when I was released from the hospital was from Mackula saying, “The Fire Swamp Certainly Does Keep You on Your Toes!”

Mackula was in many ways my best friend, and I like to think that in his last months, I was his too. We talked on the phone literally every day that I didn’t see him personally, and sometimes, even then. (There were days when I hugged him goodbye and left my parents’ house in the morning, was back in the mountains by lunch time, and after dinner, we would talk for over an hour on the phone.)


Working 60 hour weeks at two jobs, missing Texas and our friends, I often felt isolated and frustrated and Mackula would patiently listen and give thoughtful advice. I didn’t always take his advice, of course. “Fuck those Humperdinks!” while funny enough, is not exactly sage advice, even when it’s coming from a mostly dead man.

When researchers from Duke University interviewed him for a series of scholarly papers about those who live with congestive heart disease, he would complain that they didn’t laugh at his mostly dead man jokes. He kept me updated about his pot garden (tomato plants) and Evie (my grandmother) getting busted stealing all the TP on her floor in the nursing home. He would regale me with his latest escapades, like the day IRS agents scared the shit out of Hurricane by ringing the doorbell at 7:00am on a Thursday. (2) Or how he wanted me to arrange matching bright red sparkly pedicures before his next hospital stay so he could shock the nurses on the unit. Or he would email me a document to proofread – a letter he wanted to send his friend who owned a funeral home, requesting a lay-a-way plan in lieu of his refusal to die in a timely manner.

“If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.”

But we talked about dark things too, with a shared macabre humor that most everyone else found off-putting or offensive. We talked about illness, and pain, and death; we talked about the funniest parts of dying. He shared things with me that he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) share with Hurricane, his wife of 40 years. In this sharing – his fears, his regrets, his memories, his beliefs – as with everything, he made me feel special.

mackula BW

He’s been gone now for ten years. The week after his funeral, Heath Ledger died. Mackula did not live to see the insanity of the housing market crashes, or gas prices reaching over $4.00 a gallon. Had he not gone first, he would have mourned the death of George Carlin. And that’s just through the summer of 2008.

As I sit in a posh Victorian flat in Scotland, writing on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I think about how much has changed – and how much has not –  in the last 10 years, living without my friend, my dad. I still struggle to manage the (new, improved) stresses of life, and smile knowing that my Fire Swamp has taken on new forms, new challenges and trials, but it still keeps me on my toes. There will never be a life without a Fire Swamp. We just have to navigate it the best we can. When I feel overwrought or like I am running (out of time) or being chased (by deadlines) or misdirected (by eejits) I stop and breathe and listen for Mackula’s voice in my ears. The goofy chuckle that would precede the words that concluded every phone call. For the 2 years, 9 months, and 17 days after medical science said he would die any day, just before hanging up he would say:

“Rest. Heal. Sleep. I shall most likely kill you in the morning.”

And I would respond (as I still do): “Love you too dad.”


“Have fun storming the castle!”

(1) If you are not a fan of (or have ever seen *gasp*) the movie The Princess Bride, then this post might be a bit confusing to you.

(2) They were looking for my eejit first husband, who – among other things – decided he couldn’t be arsed to pay his taxes. Hurricane recovered from her initial shock to feed the agents pancakes. Along with every name and number in her address book she thought might help them.


Posted by on January 28, 2018 in BLOG DEPOSITS


Words About Self Care

Words About Self Care.

Most of us will agree that self-care is important. As a PGR (postgraduate research student) I hear the term tons, though in so many different contexts, it’s easy to see that there are many variations of how it is defined. According to my Facebook recommendations, self-care for me involves citrus bath salts and Groupons for golf specials in Barcelona. Um, Okay. (1)

Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. And, if you are like me, and manage long-term conditions and/or the fallout of them, self-care is about understanding those and how to live with them.

Self-care is not to be confused with shopping therapy and self-indulgence, although for many this is a fine (invisible?) line. It’s tough, what with all the Treat Yo’ Self images for “self-care” that focus on green drinks in mason jars, gluten-free, fat-free, carb-free, non-caffeinated, protein-powdered, non-dairy foods (?) and skinny bitches doing impossible yoga positions on the oceanside dock of a resort in the tropics that cost more (per night) than I paid (total) for my first car.

Self Care in my 40s has taken many (mostly) positive forms. For instance, I take vitamins now instead of illicit drugs. That’s a start, right? I practice yoga. I take walks outdoors most every day. It’s not like we haven’t heard for years to eat better, be more active, and get more sleep. Why are these simple things so damn hard?

To combat the hours I sit on my ass at this laptop, I exercise. I engage in unsightly squats and terrifying sit-ups. I’ve even been known to jump on the rowing machine at the gym. (It doesn’t like this, BTW.) But my favorite form of self-care involves (of course) bespoke shoes. Fins, that is. That’s right, bitches. I swim.

I forego aquatic Mp3 kit and groovy swimming apps. My rotating arms calm my racing mind. In the chlorine, I listen to my breathing, I focus on my pacing, and I listen to my inner voices that the outside world often drowns out. In the water, I can hear the voice in my center when it says to me:

You can do this.

You are capable.

You are strong.

You are on the right path.

Oftentimes things that are heavy on my heart become weightless in the pool. A problem with my research that I can’t work through becomes fuzzy and floats away, and for an hour or so I think of other things. Or I think of nothing at all. My muscles, my memory, my form, my strokes are all that glide me through the chlorine. I’m not going to tell you that afterwards, all the solutions to my scholarly struggles melt away in the sauna, then congeal with clarity when I return to the laptop. But it has been known to happen. Clarity in the chlorine.

  1. Mental strength building (it’s not just me, it’s science!)
    Regular exercise reduces inflammation and insulin resistance in the brain, which fosters new brain cell growth, which is why it is often employed in ADHD therapies. Swimming allows you to burn off excess energy, which helps “train your brain” to concentrate on one thing for a longer time.
  2. It’s better than running.
    Q:What other cardiovascular activity works as many muscles at once more than swimming? Running, cycling, cart-wheels?
    A: NONE
    Not everyone’s joints (and backs and tits) are built for running. When you compare swimming to running, you can burn more calories swimming laps in the pool than you can running for an hour. Also, regular swimming can delay the effects of aging by reducing blood pressure, increasing muscle mass, improving oxygen and blood flow to the brain, and increasing cardiovascular health.

Also, you runners out there? Will you PLEASE stop trying to recruit? If you want to run a 5K, have at it. But can you go three consecutive days without mentioning it? #ShutTFup #challenge Thanks.  Oh yeah. And constantly-posting Cross-fitters? You’re welcome to get in on that too.

3. It will make you healthy.
Regular swimming can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and stroke. It can also boost your mood and help you lose/maintain weight. Swimming is a resistance exercise, similar to weight-lifting, but without the possible negative impacts of weights, because swimming places almost no stress on your joints and bones.

So am I saying go find yourself some chlorine? No. I don’t know YOU. You might not have access to chlorine. You might not even know how to swim.(2) I happen to be a full-time student on campus with a pool and a butt-cheap gym membership. Last time I tried to get back into the water, even though I was working full time, I couldn’t afford the pool dues. So when I graduate, I will reassess. That’s how it works.

You have to actually put some thought into what works FOR YOU rather than going with what you used to do, or by buying into the pre-package glossy images of “Self Care”. Sincere (meaning effective) self-care must be tailored for the individual. All individuals, not just graduate students. Finding a healthy balance in your life takes work. If you can’t find it because you haven’t been thinking about it and working towards it, then I submit you may just be a lazy bastard. Which is OK too, so long as you own it and don’t whine in my direction.


Posted by on January 17, 2018 in BLOG DEPOSITS


Resolutions, Shmesolutions.

Resolutions, Shmesolutions.

Happy New Year, bitches. (my Devoted Dozen!)

A new year marks the moment when many people put loads of energy into changes and fresh starts. These are both good things – changes and fresh starts – and often necessary components of living a good life.

And let’s face it. Many of you fucked it up in 2017. You need a kick in the ass and a chance at a fresh start.

No_resolutions_calvin_perfect the way I am

But as important as a boot in the butt is, so are reflection and gratitude, which (if you are doing them right) involve the same level of honesty.

Reflection involves looking back on what has been and measuring the value of it on what will be. The blessings, the sorrows and everything in between – they will all come again in the next 365 days of living. It is possible to be a product of your past and not a prisoner to it.


Gratitude also involves dipping a ladle into the stock of your life. Recognizing the role that others play in the positive things in it, giving credit where it is due, and forgiving yourself (and others) for mistakes that were made. Giving thanks also entails remembering that only stones tossed and tumbled become polished gems.

Resolutions Shmesolutions. My plan for 2018 is to keep living my life.

We tend to categorize our living paradigms through lenses of positive and negative. Being a dreamer is often mistaken for optimism, just as being realistic can get you labeled as a pessimist.


I don’t like those labels, certainly because they are reductionist, but also because I have found humans, as a general rule, to be much more complex. The glass is not half empty. The glass is not half full. It’s neither and it’s both and you’re missing the point. The glass of life comes with free refills.


And in my house, tonight, it is being filled with prosecco and joy.

In 2018, my goals will be realistic, my efforts genuine, my laughter easy.


I am going to be playful and mindful and happy.

Playful in my outlook towards life and love, mindful in my views of others and their experiences of the world, and happy in my skin, my space, my mind, my heart.

I can’t promise to be a better, kinder, gentler person. I’m not a good liar.
I won’t dedicate myself to new lifestyle regimes around health or fitness.
I’m too lazy. I love my body. And I love whisky.

I DO promise to show up in this space and continue to share life’s little treasures with healthy doses of humor and foul language.
Because I’m fucking charming that way.

broke my resolution
Happy New Year, bitches.


Posted by on December 31, 2017 in BLOG DEPOSITS


A Box of Baubles

Merry Merry to my Devoted Dozen!
…and all other brave souls who dare enter here! [Insert piratey laugh here]

Christmas in Scotland is such fun. The decorations are lovely, the pubs and menus are bursting, there are parties, prosecco, and jumpers, Santa Runs (for those who are fit or insane) and mulled wine everywhere you look.  And, just like in the US, the stores play Christmas tunes that seep into your skull like syrup on spaghetti.

My personal holiday traditions are few but important, including the annual Haters Guide to Williams Sonoma Catalog, where my soul mate Drew takes the piss out of the pretension and nonsense for sale there:


Drew says: Go peddle your Christmas in cup back in Arkansas or whatever. Vibrant mix, my ass.
real hillbilly Christmas in a cup is just a roasted squirrel, a packet of raw grits, and a copy of the Duck Dynasty Christmas album
(which really exists and is literally titled Duck The Halls) all whizzed up in a blender.”

Everyone has a holiday tradition or five, and I’ve written about them before (scroll the archives for more if you’re bored). Hurricane, particularly, lived at Orange Level (the Homeland Security “high risk”) for at least a week until every inch of our home had been smothered with holiday cheer. Or garland.

The one tradition that I love the MOST is having the tree. It doesn’t have to be real or grand, but I love having a tree because we decorate ours with stories. (I bet you do too.) Speaking of stories, let me start at the beginning.
I began writing this post last year on a plane to Vienna.

Yes, I am aware of how that makes me sound and I don’t care. Part of this Mid-Life Crisis Package Deal was that while we lived in Scotland, we would 1) see as much of Scotland as we could and 2) travel in Europe as much as we could.

We also decided to travel a little less in exchange for traveling a little better. At our age, hostels, for instance, were OUT. Again, aware of how this sounds, let me be clear in expressing how many fucks I don’t give. In my mid 40’s I have no desire to sleep in a frozen dormitory with a dozen strangers and walk down a corridor to pee, only to have to queue up there waiting for the dude in front of me to finish flushing his system of what I can only assume is the absinthe-coated roadkill he must have eaten for dinner. (Seriously, what have you consumed that makes poo smell like burnt hair?)

I experienced this in my 20’s – and it was hysterical fun – but I am not that tolerant anymore. And Hubby is much too snobby not to have an en suite bathroom. So when we found a 5 day Christmas package in Vienna, we jumped on it. *(1)

It was splendid from start to finish. The flight was made interesting by sharing our row with Ed Snowden’s cousin, who takes wealthy clients on BMW (cars and bikes) tours across Europe. He was bringing a carry on full of Stornoway sausages and Christmas puddings to a dinner party in Germany with friends. We liked him immensely. Heinekens in the Amsterdam airport staved off hangriness and before we knew it, we’d arrived. Our hotel was lovely. We dumped out luggage and walked right back out and headed for the nearest Christmas market – a smallish affair in a square with perhaps a dozen stalls and a small stage on which local musicians were playing carols:

Mulled wine and a skewer of chocolate covered strawberries later and all was well in my world. There was snow on the ground, flurries in the air, and we had five magical days to explore one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

But this post is about Christmas ornaments. Baubles, as they call them here in Scotland.

It’s one of the few things we purchase during our travels, because they are practical (price and size) and we enjoy looking for ones that tell our story in that place and time. We’ve even been known to buy bookmarks or key chains and turn them into baubles later. And while we actually traveled during Christmas last year (2), we look for baubles every time we holiday. Anywhere. Magical moments happen the year round, and not every holiday has a bauble stall:

This is an actual bauble stall (one of dozens) at the City Hall Christmas Markets in Vienna. It overwhelmed me. So we walked 6 stalls down to bratwurst and more mulled wine and all was well again in my world.

We keep these stories in a box, wrapped gingerly in tissue paper, tucked safely in special storage. We don’t like tchotchkes (3) or figurines, things that require dusting and could be, quite frankly, smashed by an excited dog bumping a table in the living room. My (delusional) grandparents used to get me dolls from the countries they visited, but since I didn’t play with dolls, and they had no cultural or cool stories to accompany them, they lived in a secretary, encased in glass, and I often had vivid dreams about them coming to life and exacting revenge on my grandparents for their ignorance and vanity. Woah to the person today who gives me a snow globe; my lack of filter will surely make them cry.

To me, baubles – Christmas ornaments – should hold stories of lived experience. They slumber away the summers only to reappear in long winter days to make you remember and smile.  Baubles are a box of stories.

The first bauble to go on our tree every year is a glass octopus. No other ornaments can go on before the octopus – delicate and only about 2 inches high, it is hung carefully near lights so that its limbs will sparkle and shine. The octopus is a story of two lovers who ran away from the world for three days, to a motel in the Outer Banks, to escape the stress, the accusations, the ignorance, the exhaustion of daily life. The pair walked the beaches, hand in hand, and decided on a future that, while unsteady and unsure, would undeniably include one another. The octopus was purchased in a wee shop by the shore amidst three days of spicy Bloody Marys in solo cups and walks in the sand full of wisdom and freedom. The octopus is a story of love defining itself in its own terms.

It is the first story we unravel every year, because it’s the most important, but there are many others. With every bauble, there is a time, a place, a face, a memory, a joy. There is a fish from Montana, a gift from a father to a daughter, the brass gates of the Texas State Capitol, bought second hand in the Luckenbach post office, a trip taken for a father from his son. A seahorse, a nutcracker, a loggerhead turtle, snowflakes and martini glasses, a stiletto and Darth Vader. All stories. All experiences. All life.

So in about a week from now – when the den of the holidays is over- when all the peppermint bark is gone and you feel like you might stab someone if they offer you another slice of ham- and you are packing away your baubles for another year’s rest, resist the maudlin that comes with too much Merlot or mulled wine.

Remember that you’re not clearing away happiness, you are storing these lovely narratives to give you joy next winter, when they reappear and remind you of people, of places, of experiences, of a life being lived.

Have a story about a favorite ornament or bauble?  SHARE in the comments!!


(1) When the entire 5-day package- hotel + flight – costs the same as 1 ticket to the US? Hells Yeah we jumped on it.

(2) Hearing every bell in Vienna ring at midnight to usher in Christmas Day might be one of my favorite holiday memories ever.

(3) Yiddish word for cheap touristy souvenir crap most likely made in China.



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Posted by on December 22, 2017 in BLOG DEPOSITS