Tuesday, 6 December 2011

UK Holiday Spirit

The holiday season has felt a little off in Edinburgh.  This is in part due to not having a Thanksgiving break to kick-start the season, partly due to not having great access to family (thanks to a ailing computer!) and then partly due to the funny, UK-holiday traditions that haven't worked their way into my heart yet!  I will say that downtown Edinburgh is a bit magical with holiday fairs, ferris wheels, and a big tree (though quite lacking in decorative appeal...whose decision was it to hang just a few strand of lights vertically on the town's tree and call it a day??  There was a giant tree-lighting ceremony, complete with pyrotechnics, on Thanksgiving only to end with a barely decorated tree being turned on. Let down!) I think I have underestimated how much the little US holiday commericals, songs, and festive traditions have played a role in getting me in the holiday spirit.  It's only now that I am without the Coca-cola polar bears and train commericals and am not bombarded by signs for Starbucks Peppermint Mochas that I realize how much I miss them!  *note-they will make Peppermint Mochas, but they're not considered one of their 'festive drinks' which instead include Toffee Nut and Praline Mocha Lattes*

So, I thought I'd now share with everyone at home a few of the UK festive treats that I guess I'm going to have to accept as part of my holiday gear-up for the next 5 years.  [Brian would like to make sure he gets credit for coming up with this blog post idea...but I think it should be given to me for actually putting the effort into doing it :)]

We start with a commerical for Irn Bru. This is a mystery soda drink that I have no desire to try (partly b/c of the weird name) but everyone seems to be ga-ga for!  I admit this commerical is witty...but it also ruins one of the last pure things in the world...The Snowman! 

"But what I'd REALLY like..."  They love their mince pies...Brian and I are trying our hand at making our own mince meat (with veggie suet!) this weekend.

Ok, this one's adorable, too!

But, there is just no rationalizing this one!  It keeps getting played as a Christmas song!  I can't stand it...the video is ridiculous...and, yet, I find myself humming it on the bus!

The semester is just about wrapping up for me.  Unfortunately I don't have exams until Feb. so I'm left with some studying to keep up with over the holiday break.  Luckily, I've stayed on top of things enough that I at least won't be playing catch-up.  As my dear friend, Sabrina, would say "Future Kim is very proud" of the effort Present-day Kim has put in!

Brian and I have continued to attend church at St. Giles Cathedral in Old Town, Edinburgh.  This weekend was a service in honor of St. Andrew (St. of Scotland evidently!) and they had distinguished people from a variety of organizations and professions there.  Fun fact- In addition to the kilts with capes and giant velour cloaks that I've only seen in Disney movies, there were a number of people wearing white powdered wigs!  Who would have thought those still were in use!! 

Snow fell this weekend for the first time, and has continued to blanket the hills on the way to school.  It looks magical having  beautiful snow covered hills as a backdrop to fields of sheep one direction, and the decorated downtown Edinburgh the other!

I miss everyone so much, especially this time of year. Please do email a quick update on how everything is going whenever you find a spare moment!  I hope everyone's holiday season has started off well, thus far!

Stay warm!
Happy Holidays.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Adventures in Stirling

For school we are required to spend one day at a livestock market.  This requirement techniqually doesn't have to be completed until Spring 2013, but since I've happily surrounded myself with overachievers, we decided to get it taken care of right away.  Thus, last Saturday I spent the day an hour + north of Edinburgh in the town of Stirling.

The market itself was quite interesting.  We were there on a slow day of only pedigree sheep sales, but that meant we got to explore the holding and transport areas more thoroughly without risk of being trampled!  I did learn the hazards of talking too aggressively with my hands, though.  While innocently discussing with a classmate how the show pen expands to accomodate cattle, I made a two-handed gesture that got me into the bidding on a Zwartbles lamb! Luckily, the other girls I were with realized the auctioneer had motioned to me and silenced by hands before I raised the bidding even higher!  I had raised the bidding up to £230...and the sheep sold for £240, so I would have been in trouble if someone else didn't raise the ante!

View of Stirling, Scotland.  Wallace Monument on the hill in the background.
 We then had a little bit fo free time to explore Stirling before catching the train home.  Stirling is best known for the Stirling Castle and the William Wallace Monument (where lies his sword with the handle made of the skin of his enemies!?!)  We didn't go into either, but we had the taxi driver drop us right outside the castle so that we could take in the views of the city.  It was a beautiful SUNNY Scottish day!

Old graveyard beneath Stirling Castle...Scotland has some of the coolest graveyards!
 Today is Thanksgiving, and I'm a bit burnt out.  I'm used to having a little break from school around now, but here I am typing this from the veterinary library, waiting for my first lecture of the day to start.  Luckily, I only have a short day of classes, however, and then Brian and I have our own version of a Thanskgiving dinner planned:
-Roasted brussel sprouts and hazelnuts in a browned butter sauce (even Dad likes them they're so good!)
-Mashed rutabaga (in honor of holidays with Gma Rhoda)
-Scottish Lamb (for Brian...he figured it would be good to do something local, especially since they don't typically have Turkey in the grocery store, nor will out min-oven fit a full turkey)
-Yorkshire Puddings (this will be a new one for us, but we figured it would be a bit of British-flavor added into our American holiday)

And then for my sweet tooth:
-A Paleo Pumpkin Pie a la Brian (ground walnut crust, low sugar, real mashed pumpkin)
-Peanut butter Chocolate Pie from Sarah Foster's Southern Cookbook (nothing low-sugar about this one!)

Christmas festivites begin today in Edinburgh, too!  The German Market, Scottish Holiday Market, Edinburgh Fair (complete with giant ferris wheel), and Ice Rink (complete with concession stand serving mulled wine!) all open.  Additionally, each year Edinburgh gets a giant tree from Norway that is being lit tonight, followed by a Norwegian Carol Concert in St Giles Cathedral!  There are lighting ceremonies throughout the city all week as the various neighborhoods turn on the Chirstmas trees on all the corners.  Brian and I have already made a big calendar of the festive events throughout the next month so we can hit up as many as possible!

I miss everyone at home so much and wish I could be there to celebrate with everyone.  Our computer is slowly dying, so my posts may continue to be infrequent for the next month, but please do email, and I'll try to keep up with everyone from school.

Happy Thanksgiving!!


Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Remember, remember the fifth of November...

This past Saturday, the 5th of November, was Guy Fawkes Day!  (Side note: I've already converted to the UK style of writing dates, day/month/year!  This proved problematic when I almost bought plane tickets to go home for a wedding the weekend of 10/3/11 instead of 3/10/11!!  Luckily, Brian was keeping me in check!)

Guy Fawkes Day is a bit of a silly tradition, but since it's a holiday that is novel to us, we decided to participate.  The holiday is in memory of Nov. 5, 1605, the day Guy Fawkes' plan to blow-up Parliament was foiled (remember "V for Vendetta"?)  Since the King survived the planned treason, people lit bonfires and sent off fireworks in the streets in celebration. This tradition has continued throughout the UK ever since.

We took a hike up the Salisbury Crags to watch the fireworks.  Arthur's Seat and the Salisbury Crags are large land formations on the east side of the city.  It is protected as a large park, and every clear day you see trails of people hiking to the top to take in the beautiful vistas.   Brian and I have gone up a few times in the daylight, but seeing as it's getting dark by 5pm these days, this was a different experience.
View of the city from Arthur's Seat at night.
We met up with a group of my classmates at the base of the hills, and guided by the light of a few cell phones and one prepared friend's headlamp, we made it up and set up camp in a nice, grassy spot.  Within the next hour, the park became PACKED with people!  Fireworks were going off from every corner of the city, including from far too close to us within the park!  The castle was lit up with a rainbow of colors.  It was pretty fun.

After a few hours, our snacks were gone, our drinks were empty and our fingers were frozen.  Trying to make our way back down the hill, this time among hundreds of people, was a bit comical, but I'm happy to report we had no injuries!

I discovered one of my new Scottish loves while one the hills on Guy Fawkes Day...Crabbie's Alcoholic Ginger Beer.  It's a delight.  I highly recommend trying it if you ever have the chance. :)

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

In the UK, one has to decide what they want to do for the rest of their life when they're 16 yrs old.  You then take the appropriate A-level classes and apply for your professional program, or as they call it, "Uni.".  This means that a majority of my class is fresh out of high school!  I was already expecting to be older than most of my vet school classmates, having taken a few years off since Cornell, but I wasn't expecting to feel THIS old!  My class size is around 120, and about 100 of them would not be allowed to drink if we were in the US (lucky for them UK drinking age is 18!)  So, while I am approaching this program like the professional, graduate degree that I moved to a new country to devote my attention to, others are just excited to be away from home for the first time and still think it' appropriate to wear your pajamas to class.  It's certainly an adjustment for me, but I'm very lucky to have quickly found my small group of US and Canadian second-degree students.
Brand new teaching facilities at Dick Vet! (thanks for the pic, Sabrina!)

Since the program was designed for first-degree students, classes started a little slow, going back to the basics of cell biology.  It was a little tedious, but also interesting to relate the molecular processes I've learned many times before back to medicine.  I'm thrilled to finally be starting the meat (excuse the pun!) of the course, with anatomy dissections this week!

One perk of the program, is that animal handling begins much earlier than most US-schools.  Often you hear US students complain that they have no animal contact for the first 2 years of vet school.  I've already spent approximately one afternoon a week at the school's working dairy farm, and have had practical classes in both cattle and sheep handling.

Cattle handling was an amazingly physical way to spend the afternoon...even with them restrained in metal crushes.  While attempting to place a mouth gag in one particularly unruly cow, I was momentarily lifted off both of my feet as she decided to whip her head up and to the opposite side.  My legs were sore for days from squatting to brace myself against any potential head-butting!  I found myself very thankful for even just the handful of days I got to ride around with Dr. Alley, gaining basic cow knowledge!  While I am by no means proficient in wrangling large ruminants, I found myself less tentative than many of my classmates.  I'd like to think that I was willing to jump in there and work with even the stubbornest of cows with, of course, a gentle finesse. ;)

Sheep in Silverknowes, near the Firth of Forth (bay that opens into the North Sea)
This past week was sheep handling.  The most impressive part of the afternoon was watching one border collie bring in the flock of 80 ewes!  I'm now starting to learn sheep breeds (which will be useful throughout my stay in Scotland) and am comfortable flipping them onto their rumps, where they happily sit propped against your legs!  It is breeding time for sheep in the UK, or "tupping time" as they call it, so as long as I stayed clear of the giant rams mixed throughout the flock, I was ok.

Finally, I'll end with explaining the school's name, since I always get asked!  William Dick founded the veterinary school in 1823.  Since there was already the Royal Veterinary School in London, the founder's unfortunate name had to be included to distinguish the two programs.  Thus, I am now proudly a student at "Dick Vet!"

Getting Acquainted with Edinburgh!

Princes Street Gardens
Since we've been in Scotland for well over a month now and I haven't sent home any pictures yet, I'll use this first post just to do just that!  Edinburgh is a beautiful city and there is so much to explore.  Although we make it a point to get out and investigate a different area each weekend, we've barely scratched the surface.  I'll make sure to keep posting lots of pictures along our journeys.

The heart of the city is divided into Old Town and New Town, separated by the Princes Street Gardens.  This is where the spectacular (or so we're told!) Christmas Market is held annually.  By the end of the month it should be filled with white tents, colored lights, a ferris wheel, and maybe a dusting of festive snow!

View of Edinburgh Castle from Princes St Gardens
Within Old Town you find the Royal Mile.  This is also where you find the majority of tourists, but for good reason.  On the Royal Mile you find loads of whiskey shops, Scottish pubs and woolen mills.  The roads ends at the Edinburgh Castle, which can be viewed from almost any point in the city.  We've yet to tour the castle grounds, but it's on our Edinburgh Bucket List!

View of New Town
New Town lies just north of the gardens and is filled with shopping and chic cafes.  Although it's the "new" part of the city, it was planned prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence!  The east end of New Town gives rise to Calton Hill, filled with monuments and another fabulous vantage point!  Last weekend, Brian and I took a stroll to the top.
                                                                  Brian on Calton Hill
Traditional British tenements
Don't let anyone tell you it's never sunny in Scotland!
And, that brings us to our new home.  We're living in a little one-bedroom flat just outside the downtown area of Edinburgh.  Although it was more than a bit stressful moving over here and not having an apartment already set up (many thanks for my gracious host of 4 weeks, Sophie!!) I think we have found ourselves the perfect set-up.  We're in a classic tenement-style flat, and since we're on the third-floor (US 4th floor, since they consider the floor you walk in on "ground") we'll get lots of exercise going up and down the stairs with Bao!  We're directly  across the street from a wonderful park for Bao to run and canal for Brian to row!
Our park
I swear I am spending a majority of my time consumed with my studies, but that then allows Brian and me the time to make the most of our new locale on the weekends!  While picking up and moving my family across the Atlantic may not have been how I initially envisioned my path to becoming a veterinarian going, this is already proving to be a much more exciting and fulfilling route!

Stay tuned...next time I'll fill you in on what it's like to be 10-yrs older than 90% of your classmates!