Con de carn.

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¡Estamos en Barcelona! FunkyPlaid and I arrived last night, excited to return but also a bit disappointed. We were due to meet my father and stepmother here, but because of the storms battering the east coast of the States just now, their arrival was significantly delayed. They couldn’t get a connecting flight out of the east coast, so as I write this, they are driving a rental car to Detroit where they’ll be able to catch a flight over the Pond and arrive two days later than scheduled.

Unbelievable. But the good news is that they will land on a sunny 15ºC (60ºF) afternoon and we’ll all have a glass of wine and relax.

Relaxation has been the order of business today. We slept in this morning, and then I sat on the terrace and wrote in my journal while enjoying a piece of gluten-free brioche that we nabbed last night from the 24-hour farmacia in our neighbourhood. After we were ready to face the day, we headed out for delicious salads and patatas bravas.

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After lunch, we spent the day wandering, reorienting ourselves in the city, and unplugging from the stressors of life back home.

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There is something in my brain that quiets and focuses while I am here. I am not quite sure what that is about, but I am content to spend the rest of my life figuring it out.

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And there is, of course, the food. (Meat cones!)

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And the architecture.

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And the unexpected beauties.

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We will have a proper start to the vacation tomorrow when we pick our family up from the airport. For tonight, Happy Valentine’s Day, or happy Friday, or happy day you spend doing something you enjoy with people you love.

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Resolutions aren’t my bag.

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Hello, beautiful human, and welcome to 2014.

My 2013 was intense. I ran some more races, including my first 10K. I celebrated my birthday in Barcelona and FunkyPlaid’s birthday in Normandy. I sold a short story for actual cash money and placed another one (publications forthcoming this year). I made new friends and hosted wonderful visitors and moved house and got a job. I participated in the Edinburgh International Book Festival and helped to coordinate Edinburgh’s National Flash Fiction Day event. I floundered and flapped my way around database design, picking up some new skills on the way. I visited Orkney, and the furthest point north I have been on the globe thus far.

And Iain Banks died. The last and only conversation I had with him involved me stammering out something about train travel. Of all things? Train travel. He was gracious and articulate. And for the rest of my life I’m going to remember that, that we talked about trains in the Traverse Bar Café, and I couldn’t believe it was happening and I can’t believe it won’t ever happen again.

Toward the end of 2013 I stopped using my Fitbit activity tracker because I had stopped caring about “the quantified self”. I’m done trying to understand how to tweak my myriad failings in hopes my improved self will eventually be a person the world needs. My current focus is figuring out how to use my extant strengths to help make the world better right damned now. I would tell you that this shift resulted from some sort of therapy or epiphanic yoga retreat or magnesium supplements but it happened because I finally realised that it really doesn’t matter if I get 10,000 steps a day if I’m a self-involved troglodyte who doesn’t contribute anything positive to society.

Resolutions aren’t my bag. But I’m still alive, and I’ve got things to do, so I am going to do these things. What do you think? Shall we do some of these things together? Because I’d really like that.

Thanks for bearing with the Holidailies fits and starts this year. I lost focus as soon as FunkyPlaid’s arrival was imminent, but I was always reading. My inspiration this time around was Sharks, whose charming and thought-provoking writing I will miss desperately.

Writing from: the tree-lit lounge. Listening to: rain against the windowpanes and Zen’s zip-line snores.

Good ideas for Christmas Day.

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There are many things I would recommend that you do on Christmas Day:

  • Cook shredded Brussels sprouts with pine nuts and bacon and serious amounts of butter.
  • Bake sweet potato pie. No butter in that one!
  • Show up with aforementioned sprouts and pie to your friends’ home, where they are assembling a magnificent holiday feast, complete with gluten-free stuffing and Yorkshire puddings and gravy and trifle.
  • Eat yourself silly.
  • FaceTime with your faraway sweetie.
  • Watch “Thor” and “Captain America” and “Iron Man 2″ and “Avengers Assemble”. All of them! Happy Marvel-mas, indeed.
  • Curl up in bed with two happy, snoring cats and just before falling asleep watch the mini-episode prequel to the new season of “Sherlock”.

I hope your day was wonderful, however you celebrate.

Bad ideas for Christmas Eve.

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There are many things I would not recommend that you do on Christmas Eve. Almost all of them revolve around shopping. And yet there I was, in the middle of a good-sized grocery store called Waitrose, cradling an amaretto-flavoured soy latte in one hand and a wire basket in the other, when I was introduced to the full-on HPM (Holiday Politeness Morass).

In case it isn’t clear by now, I deeply appreciate living in a polite culture. After decades of the American “everyone’s your friend, the kind of friend you have no compunction about treating like total garbage if it means you are first in line” faux-niceness, I find the whole British orderliness not only refreshing but salutary to my sanity. After returning to the working world, I realised just how crucial this is, and how miserable I was when dealing with the American public every day.

Here is where I will pause to say that I know that a good amount of my readers are part of the American public and might take this personally. I would urge you not to, of course, and instead attempt to espouse a trait of my sociologist father’s that I have always admired: the ability to consider both the cultural veracity of a stereotype and the personal relevance without taking either as an affront. I’m American, and because I live outside America, I am confronted with my Americanness every day. Some of it is good, and some of it is not so good. I try to take zero of either side as a personal value judgement.

Anyway, back to my story. I got off the bus too early (a common mistake I make on new routes, as if getting off one stop too late is somehow worse) and walked through a very nice neighbourhood, peeking at the brightly-lit Christmas trees through front windows. I was feeling only a little sorry for myself, but mostly looking forward to an evening of cooking and watching holiday films. Thus distracted, I entered Waitrose with no sense of trepidation at all. In fact, I was glad to be there: they have nice food and it was blustery crap outside.

This was my first mistake.

Then I noticed the HPM.

It first manifested as a cluster of trolleys and wire baskets clutched by niceties-muttering poor planners like myself, so I was not afraid. Then I noticed the Waitrose worker in the middle of all of this, wielding a price gun above a pile of packets, the contents of which I still have not fathomed. Whatever was in them was more valuable than gold to the HPM as it seethed and swarmed — really gently, and congenially — at the centre.

I decided to go around this, to go somewhere else. Anywhere else.

But this was happening all throughout the store. Apparently prices were being marked down as closing time approached and, as the saying goes, supplies wouldn’t last.

Earlier, I had the bright idea of making meatloaf for dinner, an idea that was quickly revealed as the worst idea on the planet, ever, as I dared to enter the meat aisle for one minute. The HPM there was too strong. I saw two shoppers get stuck in a cycle of darting forward to grab a packet of beef mince but averting as the other was darting forward for not the same packet but one merely nearby. Fierce apologising began, and then the furtive darting forward again, only to bump hands this time, which set off another flurry of apologies.

You know how this would go down in America. Grab the meat, maybe even the sleeve of someone’s coat in the process, and get the hell out of there. You might open your bags at home to discovered you had inadvertently taken someone’s mitten or small child. Ha ha, you’d laugh. What a crazy shopping trip! And then you’d give the small child some potatoes to peel and start cooking.

So stunned, I scuppered the meatloaf idea and went for a dairy-free, wheat-free, gluten-free cottage pie ready-meal. You can bet there was no HPM hanging about that area.

I also might have grabbed a few other things, like crab paté, that I didn’t really need but wanted. At the till, I chatted with the cashier — another Americanism, but it’s a tough habit to break. As we struggled to fit all of the purchases in my bag, I gave a little sigh and said, “I guess I’m eating my feelings this Christmas.” This earned me the first outright laugh I have ever received from a cashier, which I counted as an early Christmas present.

My second early Christmas present was discovering a completely awesome shortcut from the “faraway” bus stop to our flat. Some cottage pie and crab paté later, plus FaceTime with family, and I’m feeling all right. I hope you are feeling all right too.

Writing from: the lounge, next to the tree. Listening to: “Ghostbusters” on the TV. So much better than any holiday film I had planned.

The sock monkey wishes you a Merry Christmas Eve-Eve.

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As my plan to get a tree fell through yesterday, I decided to wake up early and get one this morning. I have no method of conveyance so this was destined to be a small tree, but that’s okay. A tree is a tree, and although I had been avoiding it — as if getting a Christmas tree by myself was the symbol of admitting that FunkyPlaid won’t be here on Christmas — I went out in the freezing slush and got myself a tree. I even have ornaments, but no ornament hangers, a fact I realised too late to rectify because our local hardware store has inscrutable business hours. So I won’t unveil the whole thing until tomorrow when the ornaments are on it, but here is a glimpse of the sock monkey who lives in the tree. Is that a Scottish thing? I don’t know, but she won’t leave.

Writing from: the pine-scented lounge. Listening to: the dings of iMessage.

Magic windows.

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Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Cam.

I’ve never been to Vegas, and I’m not sure if this photo of the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens done up for Christmas makes me want to go or want to stay very far away. But I love that I can look in on it, live, and feel wildly ambivalent half a world away.

It’s been a while since my webcam was in regular operation, but I still peek in on webcams around the world, especially when I am feeling homesick. Here are some of my haunts.

Chicago skyline at dawn.

Chicago skyline at dawn.

Live cam on my old undergrad campus.

Live cam on my old undergrad campus.

Fog and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Fog and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Portmeirion Village. Because, well, it's The Village.

Portmeirion Village. Because, well, it’s The Village.

Did you know you can watch Andy Warhol’s gravesite live 24/7? Or dolphins frolicking in a Japanese aquarium? How about Icelandic glaciers or Transylvanian festivals? I found these and a lot more on EarthCam’s list of the 25 most interesting webcams of 2013.

This didn’t make the list, but I’ve been amusing myself by controlling Alek’s Christmas lights for Celiac Disease. (Really. I couldn’t make that up.)

Writing from: bed. Listening to: Macklemore, on Sharks’ recommendation, and really liking it.

Pop music.

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Warning: this video is not safe for … anything, really. I don’t know. It makes me laugh so hard I can’t breathe.

So yesterday I listened to the entire actual song of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” and blood did not seep out of my eyes. It’s not a horrible song, just a mediocre pop-ballad thing. I think the video is idiotic, but when parodies like this exist, I can’t complain too loudly.

Sharks recently mentioned Pop Danthology 2013, and while I am glad I watched it, I’ve never been so glad to see Justin Timberlake in all my life. His latest album isn’t doing much for me, but I’d rather listen to JT than the rest of the current pop stars.

Except for Lorde. If you want a fantastic pop record of 2013, Lorde’s “Pure Heroine” is it.

Writing from: bed. Listening to: both cats snoring, and they’re just out of sync. How do I sync them up? Please send me your tips.