here, now: turtles

TWU Turtles

A few months ago, I discovered the university’s garden. I was taking a break from grading and needed to stretch my legs, so I wandered over the part of campus I hadn’t been to before. I came across a small pond. As I walked up to it, I heard and saw a splash. “What was that?” I asked aloud. A small shape moved through the water and further out a head poked up above the surface. “A turtle!” I exclaimed with surprise.

You see, I had gotten used to not seeing turtles in ponds. There are no turtles native to Britain; any turtle seen in the wild is likely an escaped pet. Being so far north, the UK isn’t an ideal climate for reptiles. (Of course, I learned this after asking innocently where the turtles were, and was mocked mercilessly by the Powells. This post is for you, Ros.) Although being back in Texas, I had forgotten that I would likely see turtles in ponds.

And so, the university ponds might not have ducks or swans, but I still am delighted when I see the turtles sunning themselves on the rocks among the lily pads.

Photo: Turtles on a rock in a lily pad pond, Denton, TX.

here, now: the one ring

The One Ring

Edda of Greenfield’s companions all fell mysteriously ill, leaving her unable to return Greenfield’s trade wagon to the village. In a gesture of goodwill, King Bard commissioned one of his newly-made kingsmen, Barra the Bardling, to accompany her from Dale and keep the goods safe. This Barra and her companions did, though there was some distrust between Edda and members of that company.

As they approached Greenfield, Edda knew something was amiss when she saw the crowd of villagers inside the town gates. A farmer claimed that he had been threatened by a giant while out “looking for lost goats.” The company of adventurers volunteered to investigate the farmer’s claim and Edda went with them as the village’s representative. They found the giant, clarified the terms of his demand for tribute, and returned with grave news for the villagers. The giant could not be swayed: they either had to pay tribute, or fight the giant. The villagers chose to take refuge in the town’s keep, leaving the adventurers, Edda, and one constable to defend the village from the angry giant. Some of the company had misgivings about preparing to fight the giant. He had been rather reasonable and he hadn’t actually harmed anyone — yet. But the decision had been made: they must fight the giant or, as cowards, leave their friends to fight him alone.

It was a long and arduous battle. Three of the company took up positions on the village wall with their bows and arrows; the others waited for the giant outside the walls. Eventually it was the constable’s arrow that finally brought down that fell giant. The company caught their breath and, seeing how Edda had not fled with the rest of the village but had fought bravely, was welcomed as a comrade.

While the villagers rejoiced in their rescue, Edda traded glances with her new comrade-at-arms Hild. The giant had said that his family was following behind him. What will they do when the giants find their kinsman slain?

Photo: The One Ring, a role-playing game set in Middle Earth.

here, now: egg cups for expats

egg cups 2015

When I moved back to the U.S. about a year ago, one of the first instances of culture shock I experienced was the lack of egg cups. While in Europe, I had been introduced to eating soft-boiled eggs and adopted it into my usual breakfast. But in my parents’ house, there was nary an egg cup to be found! I used my ingenuity and used narrow-necked jars, but that was hardly ideal.

Fortunately, my friends rose to the challenge of providing me with egg cups! Pictured above are egg cups I have received from Kelly, Ros, and Lola — from Texas, England, and Poland. Not pictured here is a white egg cup my dad bought for me in New Zealand; it’s at my parents’ house to use when I visit them.

My sister also gave me a couple of perfect egg timers, so now I have a perfectly boiled egg every day for breakfast. Yes, I take my breakfast — however simple — seriously!

Now all I need are more egg spoons…

Photo: Five egg cups.

here, now: the new yorker

New Yorker Breakfast

Upon moving to North Texas, I soon learned that a perk of having a PhD is that I get offered reduced subscription to certain magazines, such as The New Yorker. One of my housemates subscribed to The New Yorker when I was in university and I enjoyed reading them when she was finished, though I couldn’t afford to subscribe to it myself once we had parted ways. A couple of months ago, however, I received an offer from The New Yorker addressed to “Dr. Chera ——” with a note saying:

“In order to guarantee that we reach the audience we are meant to serve, the Publisher has authorized us to offer The New Yorker to selected professionals at a special rate.”

I was initially hesitant to subscribe, knowing it to be a weekly magazine, but I haven’t regretted the $25.00 I paid for a six-month subscription. On mornings I don’t have to rush off to teach, I take a leisurely breakfast and read an article or book review, sometimes letting my tea go cold. The issues have piled up and I am “behind” with reading them, but even so, The New Yorker offers well-written and sophisticated reading material that keeps me up to date with current events and culture when otherwise I mostly read first-year university essays.

I’ve since received similar offers from The New York Review of Books and The Economist, and I am sorely tempted by both. And yet the latter is another weekly magazine, and because it is about politics and international news, I would hate not to keep up with reading it each week. I would love to have a schedule with which I could spend the mornings reading The New Yorker, the evenings reading The Economist, and the weekends perusing The New York Review of Books (as well as time for research and creative writing!), but I don’t. I might just stick with The New Yorker for now.

Photo: The New Yorker at breakfast.

here, now: st matthew’s passion

DBS Matthew Passion 2015

The first thing I do when I move somewhere is to join a choir: I sang in the women’s chorus in university, the Balliol College Choir in Oxford, the St Andrews Renaissance Singers in St Andrews, and now the Denton Bach Society Choir. I have been part of choirs since I was thirteen; my routine feels incomplete without the steady rhythm of rehearsals. When I am singing in rehearsal, there is no room for me to think about work or chores or things that need doing outside of that moment. What matters is the pitch, the words, the breath, listening and blending with the other parts, the beating heart of the piece as the director keeps time, shaping the notes, the breath, and the time into music. There have been several times over the past months when I felt that the best thing about living here is the Denton Bach Society Choir.

Today we will be performing St Matthew’s Passion by Johannes Sebastian Bach. I am excited, because it is a challenging piece and it’s come together very well during our full rehearsals this weekend. And also because it is the second of Bach’s Passions that I will perform: the Balliol College Choir performed St John’s Passion the term that I studied in Oxford. But I’m disappointed, too. After today I won’t have my regular dose of choral singing. The choir won’t reconvene until next autumn–and I don’t know yet if I will still be in North Texas. This could be my last concert with them.

And so I’m glad it’s going to be a good one. The concert is going to be streamed live on the UNT music website, which you can watch here. Tune in at 3.00PM U.S. Central Time and enjoy!

Photo: The Denton Bach Society rehearsing in the Murchison Performing Arts Center, UNT Campus.

here, now: a good book


I don’t read nearly as much fiction as I used to. In high school and university, sometimes even as a Ph.D. student, I would read (at least) one book per week. I’ve been known to read an entire book in one day, in one great feast. A few years ago I started keeping track of the books I read each year, and you can see those lists on the Bibliophile page.

Now that I am a college writing instructor, however, most of my reading takes the form of student assignments and essays. Often when I come home I am too mentally tired to read a book. These days I get most of my story-telling from television series on Netflix (I’m currently on a British police drama kick). When I read, it comes in bite-sized chunks at the end of the day. If the book is good, I stay up too late and am tired the next day; if the book isn’t gripping enough, I’ll go days without touching it. Short story collections are a good choice in this situation. During Spring Break, however, with no schedule to keep or classes to teach, I indulged myself.

Last December I received a Barnes & Noble gift-card as remuneration for giving a talk at the public library about Greek myths and fairies. I decided to order a few books that I had been coveting for years, and that no one had bought off of my Amazon wish-list. One of these books was Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier, the sequel to Wildwood Dancing.

Wildwood Dancing caught my eye on book table at a fantasy writers’ conference a few years ago. The cover art is by Kinuko Y. Craft, who also creates the cover art for Patricia A. McKillip, another of my favourite authors. I will admit that I first thought it was a McKillip book and lighted on it immediately. Finding that it was a “new” (to me) author, I hesitated only slightly before buying it. As soon as I began reading it, I couldn’t put it down: it is a wonderful retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses and the Frog Prince set in 16th-century Transylvania. It is also one of those rare books that made me turn back a few chapters and reread the ending, a couple of times, because it came together at the end that well. I was excited to hear that a sequel was on it’s way.

So I waited, and waited, and being a poor graduate student and now a poor adjunct, I didn’t buy Cybele’s Secret, even when it came out in paperback. It was my first choice when I received the B&N giftcard. Because the semester had just started when it arrived, I set it aside to save as an especially good treat. And I was not disappointed.

Cybele’s Secret follows one of the other sisters as she goes to Istanbul with her father, a merchant. I don’t know if Marillier was retelling another folktale–if she was, I didn’t recognize it. Even so, her descriptions make me want to go to Istanbul again, to spend more time there, and to also explore other regions of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. I read the second half of the novel in one sitting today, and once again I found myself rereading the last chapter or two. I didn’t want it to end–I could have kept going with Paula for a long time yet.

But, all books must end, even the really good ones. When I finally set the book down, I knew that Spring Break was over. It will be at least another day before I pick up another book as my mind continues to swirl in the exciting adventures set in Istanbul and the Other Kingdom. If you enjoy young adult fantasy, then I encourage you to read Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret!

here, now: little red wagon

San Antonio - Nursery - 2015

When was the last time I had been to a plant nursery? Too long ago to remember; long enough to be amazed at the rows upon rows of plants in the open air nursery: on tables, hanging from rafters, organized by type or purpose. Our goal was to find the succulents and add to my small but growing collection of houseplants. I took the handle of a red wagon and pulled it along with us. Other customers with their own wagons passed by, their wagons filled to the brim with flowers of varying hues, or with herbs and vegetables, or others with plants I did not immediately recognize. Once my mum and I found the succulents, described as being “made by God with Texas in mind,” we chose a couple of ghost rosettes and hen and chicks. Nearby was a stand of miniature rosebushes. I already had one at home, but I had bought it from the supermarket and it was a bit unhappy. Here were miniature roses that were lush and full, with dark green leaves and vivid red, yellow, or pink blooms. I have an aversion to solid-colored roses of all three of these colors; I prefer multi-colored blooms. Among the other roses were three of the pinstripe red and white variety. I chose one and added it to our wagon. Perhaps it would inspire my other rosebush to grow.

Now I want to find a Mexican flower pot while I am in San Antonio to take back with me to North Texas.

Photo: Rainbow Gardens in San Antonio, TX.

here, now: morrison’s corn-kits


The air in the prairie, in the city, is not as clear as the air by the sea. Full of dust and pollution, it lends a different quality to the sky, a warmer tone, perhaps, a haziness, as the sky darkens into night. Against the pale orange and grey sky stands one of the city’s landmarks. I was momentarily confused when I first saw it, months ago now. “I didn’t know Morrison’s was here,” I thought, thinking of the supermarket I would often go to in the UK. But of course, this wasn’t a supermarket. Morrison’s Corn-Kits has been manufacturing ready-to-make cornbread mixes for nearly a century; it has been a mill for even longer. This is one building I don’t mind rising above the horizon. Despite still being in use, it has a neglected, abandoned quality to it; a nostalgia for times past. Some buildings seem to have grown out of the land–something about their design, their age, I can’t quite put my finger on it–so that it feels as though they have always been there, or, at least, belong there. When I see Morrison’s Corn-Kits, I feel its connection to the land and the community. It is rough and bare, as the land the farmers would have tended to grow their wheat, their corn, to bring to the mill. And yet, it also feels like some version of Dr Eckleburg’s eyes for North Texas, watching the city’s comings and goings in this dry and flat dusty land, keeping its judgment to itself.

Photo: Morrison’s Corn-Kits in Denton, TX.

here, now: a snow day

On weekends I will post a “here, now” post that will feature where I live now. These posts might feature thoughts on repatriating to the U.S. (as this one does), or about teaching, what I’m reading, knitting, or life in general.


Ever since I moved back to America, I have felt claustrophobic. I am always inside: inside my flat, my office, my classrooms, my car. There is nowhere I can go to see the unbroken horizon, to go where I can’t hear any cars or see any buildings. Even from my eleventh-storey office the horizon comprises buildings and interstate-highways.

In Scotland, I lived in a town by the sea. Sometimes I would walk home “the long way,” which meant along one of the beaches until I reached my street at the other end. The openness of the air, the unending sky, the regular hushing of the waves would calm and quiet my thoughts after a long day. Here, in Texas, I end up standing in the car park texting a friend also recently repatriated from Scotland, “Are there some days you just wish you could walk down the pier or East Sands?

Yes,” she answered. “All the time.”

It snowed this weekend, and I had to get out of the flat. I love snow; I’m used to snow; I needed to be outside in the snow. But not here, in my flat near the university, surrounded by buildings and car parks.

So I braved the icy, slushy roads and drove north, to a nature reserve outside of the city. I had only been there once before. My car was the only one in the lot; I had the entire park to myself. The park had been transformed: snow hid the brown grass, frosted the bare trees. I chose a path at random, across the plain and into the forest.

There, finally, I could stop and drink in the silence. Snow, gently tapping my jacket, the trees. A dove, a jay. The creaking of branches. A noisy quiet, the forest, with no human sound nearby except my own. A flash of red swooped across my path; if I had blinked, I’d have missed it. Another cardinal followed. Back across the plain, I watched a flock of swallows fly overhead, a contrast of black on the white sky. Out there in the cold, warm enough with all my layers, my face wet with melted snow, I felt a little less “out of place.” The cold, the falling snow, being outside, the smell of damp wool from my scarf–this is what is familiar. I was reluctant to return to my car and thus return to the city, with even more cars and streets and buildings. But, I didn’t want to drive back in the dark, and I did have to go back eventually.

My brief sojourn did center me, for a little while. In Scotland, I was out of doors daily and naturally because I did not have a car–I walked or cycled anywhere I had to go. Here, I have to be intentional about finding refuge outside of the city. I have the nature reserve for now and I hope to find other places like it, especially places with water, to fulfill my need for trees and the open air.

Photo: Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center.