Friday, November 15, 2013

Balgoveeeeee - A Work Update

First of all, Jesse and I are officially the WORST at updating our blog. We’ve had many conversations about it and it’s official. We’re just the worst. There are no excuses. Only apologies.

So, my job. I’ve been at Balgove Larder since mid-January. I can’t believe it’s approaching a year already. It has gone by in a flurry of activity and change. Balgove opened the new expansion of the shop and cafe at the end of May and it feels like it has been flat-out busy since then.

I can’t say enough good things about working at Balgove and I am grateful to have a place there. Like I said, it has been a busy past number of months so I won’t go over all the details. But here are some of the highlights:

The staff: I can honestly say that I enjoy every single person who works at Balgove. The level of care people put into their work each day is so evident. I have a great amount of respect for the staff here. They keep Balgove going and are an indispensable part of its charm and warmth. It has been (and continues to be) a privilege and a pleasure to get to know them and to work with them.

The work: There are many parts to the job I have been doing. Part admin, part marketing, part event planning, part graphics & media design, part odd/random jobs that need doing; all rolled into the nice, neat title of ‘Assistant Manager of Marketing and Events’. I love the variety. And I love that at the end of the day it all revolves around promoting and providing people with fantastic food. (And the food we have really is fantastic. If Balgove is any indicator of where food trends are headed in Scotland, than the culinary future of this country is very bright.) The wide scope of work has, at times, been challenging to prioritize as there are so many things going on at once, but it has also proved to be abundantly rewarding. It feels like I’m able to use so many of the skills I’ve acquired over my years of education and work, while at the same time adding new ones all the time.

Few of the black boards I've done for the Shop & Steak Barn
Events: I guess this technically falls under ‘the work’ but a couple of events have been highlights unto themselves.
The Crail Food Festival. This was a fun little weekend event promoting local food held last June in the town of Crail (just down the coast from St Andrews). Louise, one of the wonderfully talented Shop Assistant Managers, and I ran a table full of samples and merchandise on the Saturday and sold ready to eat food (lobster cocktail and sausage & onion pastries) on the Sunday. One of the best parts about this event was getting into the kitchen at work to prep all the food. It was a couple of very late nights but was completely worth it and a ton of fun.
In September we hosted a Harvest Feast at Balgove. This was a ticketed dinner for anyone who was interested; local foodie types mostly. It was the first event for which I did the majority of the planning and was a fantastic celebration of local, seasonal food. Again, I got to get into the kitchen, which was such fun… slightly chaotic at certain points during the evening, but all went off extremely well and everyone had a great time.

Harvest Feast. Party setup in the cafe.
The food: As I’ve already mentioned, the food at Balgove is awesome. For me, coming from a place like Vancouver, with its rich diversity and amazing quality of food and dining, this is really saying something. I have high standards (sometimes unreasonably high, I’ve been told [by Jesse]) when it comes to food. I can’t help it. Life is just too short to eat mediocre food. Fresh, local, well-made with quality ingredients and a high level of care, well presented, beautiful, natural, clear provenance — these are characteristics I look for when choosing food, and this is the type of food that Balgove carries. I realize this may all sound a bit biased because I work there, but I don’t really care. The food speaks for itself. And for those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of visiting, you’ll just have to believe me!
Rabbit, Strawberries, Bread, Mackerel. All fresh and from within a few miles.

We came here so that Jesse could follow the path laid out before him for study. I never thought I would find real purpose here as well. God is Good.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

May... it happened!

Let me start out by apologizing for being almost two weeks late on the May update. Not that I'm egotistical enough to imagine that some of you are sitting out there on the first of each month, feverishly waiting for me to post our monthly update... but still. My parents arrived in St Andrews on May 31st, and I have neither had the time nor the desire to spend time blogging while they've been here! Explanations and excuses for the delay offered, let me bring you up to date on our lives.

  • As you know if you read our April recap, it was a very full month, and I was really looking forward to a bit of return to normal in May. Looking back on it, that is certainly how it turned out. As a result, there's not a ton to report! The weeks passed with Liana heading to Balgove and me to my office in the Roundel on the weekdays, and spending time with friends and with each other in the evenings and on the weekends.
  • Liana is loving her job, which is absolutely wonderful. The Balgove finally opened up their newly-expanded shop and cafe towards the end of the month, so things were pretty crazy busy for a while there. The week before their "grand opening", Liana worked 40 hours in 3 days! Liana loves the environment there, she's challenged by and enjoying her work, and she works with some really great people that she has enjoyed getting to know. This job has truly been an answer to prayer, a great blessing that has been given. Who would have known that coming to Scotland for me to work on my PhD would have resulted in Liana having such an incredible experience? God is good!
  • Also opening at the Balgove in May? The Steak Barn! For the summer months they convert a big open barn on the property into a haven for meat lovers everywhere. They have a giant open-flame grill, a big deep-fryer, and all the necessary liquid accompaniments to make for seriously enjoyable summer food. They make the best burgers in town, great grilled house-made sausages, steaks, and the biggest racks of ribs I've ever seen. We've already had four meals there!
At Balgove's Steak Barn!
  • My work has been going OK this past month. I've basically just been trying to move forward, conquering the next section of the chapter I'm currently working on. It's been a bit up and down productivity-wise. I'm feeling a bit anxious about how far I'm going to get this summer, seeing as how time in my office is going to be repeatedly broken up by conferences and our trip home. However, there's not much to be done about that now. Just have to do my best. There is just so much material out there that I've got to deal with!
  • One of the things we've really enjoyed doing with our friends has been having fires down on the beach. It is really awesome to live so close to three beaches, each with their own positive qualities. Castle Sands is a particularly good one for a campfire, as it's in a small sheltered inlet, under the ancient walls of the castle ruins. Not a bad place to spend an evening!
A beautiful St Andrews evening
  • Also in May was Eurovision, our introduction to a staple of European culture. Not going to go into too much detail (you can google it), but basically it's a singing competition that happens every year involving European nationalism, pop music, and (if you're lucky) some ridiculously out-there dancing, costume work, and "music". We were expecting a lot of this (please, please click on the link and be prepared to be gob-smacked); unfortunately, what we ended up getting was a lot of sub-par singing and somewhat boring pop music. But hey... the guy from Italy had a nice suit on. I guess that's something.
I think that's about it for May! June so far has been fantastic, as we've been having a wonderful time with my parents in town. But I'll save that for next time.

Peace, everyone!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Pretty Awesome April!

Another month of Scottish living is in the books, so it's time to bring you up to date. April was pretty eventful, full of many good things: deadlines reached, birthdays celebrated, and trips taken. (You'll have to forgive me if the tone that comes across in this blog is a little more sedate than those in the past. I got up at 3 am this morning to watch the Canucks, which has resulted in me feeling pretty tired -- and even more heartbroken. That was a rough one. Anyway, I shall soldier on!)

  • As March transitioned into April, I was still feverishly working to complete all the required components of my GRO. By the end of the first week, I had a pretty decent draft of the chapter complete and only the outline to tidy up. Finally, on April 11, it was finished! All 70+ pages printed out, bound, and submitted. (Though it wasn't due until the 15th, the 11th was my goal deadline, so as to be finished before Liana's birthday.) That felt really good. Now I wait to hear whether it's been passed and I'm "officially" a PhD candidate.
  • One of the benefits of completing the GRO is that I now have a provisional annotated outline for the whole thesis. It's great to have the project laid out before me: not only does it let me know what I've got left to do, it's reassuring to know that what I'm hoping to accomplish can actually be done in 80,000 words (or so I hope)! However, one of the drawbacks is that it had made me rather brutally aware of just how much work there is to do. When I think about how long it's taken me just to get the fraction of it complete which went towards my GRO... well, let's just say it's a long road ahead.
  • Last bullet point about my work: I've had some positive responses (i.e. papers accepted) from a few conferences I've applied to, so I now have a few items to put on my summer calendar:
    • July 7-11: The International Society of Biblical Literature Conference will be here, in St Andrews. I'll be presenting a paper in the "Sacred Texts in their Socio-Political Contexts" group.
    • July 30-Aug 2: I will be presenting a paper at the European Association of Biblical Studies Conference in Leipzig, Germany, in the "Israel in the Ancient Near East" group.
    • Aug 29-31: The British New Testament Society meeting will be here, in St Andrews, and I will be presenting a paper in the group "Second Temple Judaism and the NT". 
  • This is all really exciting, and I'm looking forward (with a little fear and trepidation, I don't mind admitting) to presenting my work in front of colleagues and senior scholars. I'm sure they all will be very beneficial experiences.
  • Also on the summer calendar? We're visiting home in August!!! Exact dates to be determined. Really really excited about this!
  • On April 12 we celebrated Liana's 30th birthday! We are now both in our 30s, which feels a bit strange. We're like, grown up and stuff. Anyway, Liana and I had a wonderful day together, which included 30 beautiful tulips from Laura and Gerry, my famous scrambled eggs for breakfast, walking and shopping in St Andrews, and Skype-delivered birthday wishes from family at home. It was topped off by a fantastic birthday dinner at the nearby Peat Inn, a Michelin-starred restaurant about a 15-minute drive outside of town. And there was even a surprise gift waiting in the kitchen when we returned home that night! The next evening we had a bunch of friends over to celebrate. In true Liana fashion she made not one but two birthday desserts: a coconut cake with lime curd, and a peanut butter and chocolate pie. Yeah. Seriously. It was a great time with our new community here in St Andrews, celebrating the life of a wonderful woman, my favourite person in the whole world!
  • Liana began her permanent position in the office at the Balgove early in April. So far it has been a lot of random jobs as the business is preparing to open the expanded store and cafe, and there is much to be prepared and organized. She's enjoyed the work to this point and is looking forward to becoming even more involved, especially with events and marketing. The staff at Balgove are a great team and wonderful to work with, and Liana feels very blessed to be a part of it!
  • One other item of note in April is the fact that we ate pig's tails. Yep, you read that right. Our friend Chris is a fan of adventurous cooking, and convinced us that if you were to combine chicken wings and bacon, the result would be a pig's tail. So he convinced the butcher in town to start collecting them for him, and, having amassed enough, cooked them up. Read about it here. My opinion? Lots of cartilage and fat to work your way through, but the meat you managed to find was pretty good! I mean, it's pork... how could it not be delicious?
A heart of pork. What could be more romantic?
  • Finally, April wrapped up with us taking a trip to Spain! This has been something we've been looking forward to for a long, long time: our first trip to continental Europe since our arrival in Scotland! (Hopefully the first of several, if we can make it work). We spent 4 days in Barcelona and 2 each in Madrid and Sevilla. It was wonderful, but there is far too much to tell in a single blog post. We saw a lot of incredible things, ate a lot of delicious food, and had some very memorable experiences. We even met up with Cheryl Enns, a friend from back home! We'll hopefully be posting some photos soon. It was a great week away, a much-needed break after what had been a very busy and tiring several months. Now to try and force myself back into a rhythm of productivity...
Liana in Park Guell, Barcelona
Us in Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Us in the orange tree garden in Sevilla's cathedral, with La Giralda tower in the background.
  • Golf season is pretty much here! I've managed to play one round. Unacceptable! My goal is a round a week until September.
  • GO CANUCKS GO!!! I hope to have to set my alarm for 3 am many more times over the next several weeks!!!

I think that's pretty much it for April. May won't have the series of exciting events that April did, but I think a bit of quiet, a bit of return to normal, will be nice for a change. What I'm most looking forward to this month is the arrival of my parents on the 31st. I can't wait!!! Hurry up and get here already mom and dad!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Marching Right Along

Another month has come and gone, so it's time for me to bring you up to date on the happenings of our lives here in Scotland over the past 31 days. Here goes!
  • The highlight of March came a couple of weeks ago when we, together with our friends the Allens and the Brewers, rented cars and took back-to-back day trips, exploring parts of Scotland none of us had yet seen. We covered a lot of ground in a short time... all in the "lovely" weather of an early Scotland spring (i.e. howling wind and blowing snow/ice-cold rain). I'll give you a quick run-down of our itinerary here, but if you want to see more photos and get a bit more info, you can check out the album I posted on facebook. Or you could check out either the Brewers' posts or the Allens' version of events.
  • Day 1 we headed up north-north-east, through Dundee, making stops at Arbroath Abbey and then Dunnottar Castle. Although Arbroath was a neat stop in its own way, Dunnottar was incredible -- its location, on a rock outcropping jutting into the sea, surrounded by sheer cliffs on all sides, is the type of stuff you think only exists in movies. We then headed up to Aberdeen for a couple of hours before driving home.

The whole crew in front of Dunnottar Castle. Beside Liana and I are Garrick and Andrea Allen, and beside them are Chris and Rachel Brewer, with their boys John and Sam.

Arbroath Abbey
  • Day 2 we headed west, first stopping at Castle Campbell. This castle was also pretty incredibly situated. It's at the top of a broad, wooded ravine ("Dollar Glen") with a commanding view over the town and countryside below. The colours of the Scottish countryside were beautiful, even in winter. Afterwards we headed to the town of Deanston and visited the Deanston Distillery, where we took a tour to learn how single-malt whisky is made. It was a very informative and fun experience! We made a quick stop at nearby Doune Castle before heading our separate ways (the Brewers headed back to St Andrews; we and the Allens headed to Edinburgh to hit up the Costco -- a little taste of North America!). I really got a full Scottish experience on this day: freezing cold weather, the beauty of the southern highland landscape, a castle, and whisky... oh! And haggis for lunch! The only thing missing was a kilt.
A view of Castle Campbell across the glen and through the mist.

Love in Castle Campbell!
  • Liana's work has been going well. If you haven't read her recent blog post about it, go do that now! :-) She starts her final week in the shop tomorrow, which means she has been at the Balgove for 11 weeks already. That's pretty hard to believe. She's very excited to move into the role for which she was hired (marketing and PR), and to find out a bit more about what it will involve. I really think there is some serious potential for her to make a significant contribution to the development of this great business. I'm so thankful that she has been given this opportunity!
  • The weather here has been absolutely dreadful up until the past two days. As per my previous post, on the day marking our having been in Scotland for six months (March 11), it snowed pretty heavily. Since then, it has snowed on and off -- some days more, some days less -- practically every single day. Unbelievable. Plus, the wind has been blowing pretty hard, and the temperature has stayed at or just below freezing. All that to say there has been almost no signs of spring ever arriving. Thankfully the sun has been shining on and off since Saturday, so maybe... juuuuust maybe... things are changing.
  • A week and a half ago we had Canadian visitors! Bill and Kathy Lumsdon, friends from church back home, were in Scotland (where Bill has roots), and so they stopped in St Andrews for the afternoon/evening. It was great to see them, to "show off" our town, and just to be with some people who are from home. Plus, they took us out to dinner, which was very kind. Thanks for the visit, Bill and Kathy!
  • In case people here hadn't clued in yet, I'm pretty sure the secret about how gifted Liana is in the kitchen is now out. Her and a couple of other ladies arranged a baby shower for five women in the St Mary's community who are either imminently expecting or have recently had babies. Surprise, surprise, Liana was in charge of the food, and people were blown away. I think she had a had a lot of fun doing all the cooking/baking, and it was a joy for me to see her turning our tiny kitchen into an awesome-food-producing factory.
  • March has been pretty nutso for me in terms of my work. I've been working to get my GRO complete (you can read about what that is in my February recap). The end is now in sight, but there's still much to do. I've managed to get a complete draft of my chapter done, and I've sent it off to my supervisor for review. Hopefully he'll be getting that back to me early this week. My bibliography is complete, but I've still got a lot of work to do on my thesis outline. I think it will be a really great feeling to have this stage of the process done. I'm looking forward to a bit of a break.
  • Yesterday morning, we attended an Easter morning sunrise service on the ruins of St Mary's on the Rocks, the site of the oldest church in St Andrews. All that remains are the ruins of the stone foundations, none standing any higher than about two feet off the ground. Located right on the coast, with a beautiful view out over the ocean to the east and south, it made for a wonderful place to join with brothers and sisters in celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. All the churches of St Andrews were involved in planning this service together, so there was quite a large group. We sang, prayed, read scripture, and broke bread together to celebrate God's victory over death. It was a wonderful service to be a part of. What an awesome day Easter is! Jesus is risen!
  • That said, Easter was another one of those times where we've been particularly aware of the things and the people we are missing at home. Thankfully, we (and our friends Raymond and Mary Blake) were invited over to the home of our friends Adam, Lindsay, and Christy for the afternoon and evening. We were very grateful to be invited to celebrate with them. It was a great evening of fantastic food and lots of fun.
    Easter dinner! Left to right: Christy, Raymond, Adam, and Lindsay. Mary Blake was taking the photo.
Well! That recap ended up longer than I anticipated. Looking back on it, I guess it was a pretty full month. I'm really looking forward to April, as we'll have lots to celebrate and enjoy: Liana's 30th birthday, the completion of my GRO, the births of the babies in the Sportack, Watts, and Fox families, and our trip to Spain! That means there's going to be a serious blogpost for you to read when that's all said and done. :-) May the joy and hope of Easter be with you all!

Liana (a very cold Liana) and I at Doune Castle
PS I hope you enjoyed the "punny" title. Nothing like a good pun!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Six Months!

We arrived in Scotland six months ago today! That's incredible.

This is how Scotland greeted us this morning:

I guess it's still winter.

However, the gusting wind brought with it periodic bright, brilliant blue skies, which reminded me of just how beautiful this town can be.

We are blessed to be here!

'What about Liana??' #2: Work

The questions I receive most often from people back home are all about my job situation. Finally, you can cease your wondering!

I started looking for a job in early October. I went around (somewhat nervously) with my CV to a number of B&B’s, retail stores and cafes. I managed to land a part time serving job at a cafe in town called Mitchell. Even though I was looking for something a little more permanent and in line with my interests, at this point any job was better than no job. Plus I got free Mitchell’s coffee, which is some of the best in town.

Our first week here we visited a farm shop & cafe called Balgove about a 25 minute walk out of town. I immediately loved it and wanted to spend every day there consuming large amounts of scones with clotted cream and jam. The cafe serves up simple Scottish staples and the shop is full of wonderful local products, many of which come in fresh from the farm. So, naturally I dropped my CV off there. I was able to have a quick chat with the manager and a few days later received an email requesting an interview!

Scones, clotted cream, jam, good coffee. One of my happy places.
The interview went really well and I learned that they were expanding the shop and cafe starting in the new year and would be hiring someone for a marketing/promotions/admin position. It was still a little early in process to hire someone at that time (it was late October) and I was asked to come back in a month for another chat. In early December I returned and was given the job which was to start full time in the new year!!!

Heading down the drive to the shop & cafe
I would work in the cafe for 6 weeks, and then the shop for 6 weeks before moving into the office. This is so I could learn about the business, see how things run, and get to know the staff.

Main building
I am currently about to start my third week in the shop and so far I really enjoy working there. The staff is friendly and welcoming and I get to spend my day around beautiful food! I’m eager to start my position in the office in three weeks’ time. I think the role will develop as I learn more about the goals of the business and I’m excited to see where this takes me!

Fresh Fife eggs and local bread made that morning
So there you have it! My job in a nutshell. I’ll try and post another update about this in a few months when I’ve been in the office for a little while.

Balgove's very own highland cows

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Farewell, February!

Well, here we are and another month has passed. Incredible! Over these past several weeks -- really, since Liana started working five days a week -- time has seemed to be zipping by especially quickly. I think my busy-ness has also been contributing to feeling this way. Anyway, how have we been doing? What have we been up to? A few reflections on February:
  • It feels like spring is starting to peek through here in Scotland. We've had a couple of days of beautiful sun that actually feels slightly warm when the light hits your skin! Amazing, I know. The thing is, though, the next morning you could wake up and the wind will be blowing and the temperature will have dropped several degrees. So spring isn't here yet... but it's trying. Makes me want to golf!
  • I have moved offices! I had inquired back in January about moving to a newly added desk in the Hadow room, which is on the top floor of the Roundel. This past week I received an email saying it was mine for the taking. There are lots of good things about this new office: the window is a lot bigger so there is more natural light, the ceilings are much higher so it feels more open, the office itself is larger, and there are three other NT folks in there, which makes for a great corporate learning environment. However, the decision to switch desks was not an easy one to make. I really liked my office mates in Bannerman, and I was saddened to have to leave them behind. I'm going to miss sharing coffee and mate with them, as well as joking around together. I am, though, excited to settle in to my new daily work space.
  • As mentioned, I have had a really busy month of work, as I've been doing a lot of reading, thinking, and writing in order to make a decision about the direction I'm heading for my GRO chapter. Through most of the first weeks of February I was feeling a certain lack of direction in my work, but I had a meeting with my supervisor a couple of weeks ago that was both encouraging and challenging. Since then I've managed to gather together some things I've been thinking about into a chapter topic that I'm pretty excited about. That is promising, and energizing. Even better is the fact that I was able to take a chunk of the larger argument of the chapter and write it up into a shorter paper for submission to the Society of Biblical Literature conference, which happens every November. I sent that in for consideration last Wednesday, which felt really good. It would be hugely exciting to be a part of that conference next fall!
  • We've been talking a lot over the past several weeks about some exciting things coming up over the next months: visitors, and travelling. Nothing is nailed down in stone yet as far as dates go, but we know that Liana and I are going to be taking a trip to Spain at the end of April, my parents are coming to visit at the end of May/beginning of June, and we'll most likely be coming home to visit sometime in August! This is all very exciting stuff, for very different reasons. I can't wait to take advantage of being so close to the European continent for the first time since we've been here; I super excited to see my parents and show them around our home and introduce them to our friends; and I'm really looking forward to visiting Vancouver, seeing lots of people we miss, and eating lots of food that I can't get over here.
  • Liana has been working very hard at her new job over these past several weeks. After six weeks working in the cafe, she has now transitioned into her six weeks in the farm shop. It's certainly keeping her busy! However, she is going to write a blog post herself about her work -- really, she is! -- so I won't say any more about that right now.
  • In our free time, we've enjoyed many good times with good friends. It's a social existence here, that's for sure! We are thankful to be able to share this experience with others.
That's all that jumps into my mind as post-worthy from February. We continue to be thankful for the opportunity to be here in this beautiful corner of Scotland. God is good! Until next time...