And now we wait

2012.12.19.now-we-waitI have finally managed to get all of my visa stuff sent off to the UK Border Agency. There was a bit of a hiccup in the process which means that I will have a bit of time to wring my fingers in worried anticipation whilst I wait to hear the outcome of my application. But at least it’s in progress now.

I made my application online and carefully put all of my documents in an envelope post off for review. All of my important documents: My passport, originals of my birth certificate and marriage certificate, letters from financial institutions, and my original master’s degree certificate.

Unfortunately, this means that I am without my passport and can’t go back to the Homeland for Christmas. But it also means that I am a step closer to obtaining a work visa that will allow me to remain in my beloved Scotland. Well, to remain for the duration of the job, at least.

The next step is to have my biometrics taken, which will happen once I receive a letter from the UKBA, then I wait some more. And hopefully I will be sharing a picture of my new visa with you soon!

Visa hiccups

2012.08.12.visaIt would seem that I am being challenged on my visa journey this time around. And it is so very frustrating!

As you may know, I have been trying to switch my visa from a Tier 4 (Student) to a Tier 2 (General Work). But to do that, my employer needed to apply to the UKBA to become a sponsor.

For the past few months, there have been various back-and-forths on this, that, and the next thing to get everything lined up so that I can apply for my visa before my current one expires in mid-January.

And—finally!—everything came together.

The plan was simple: Make my application online and pay the extra £300 for the premium service which would include an in-person interview and a decision within 24 hours.

The hope was that I could get an interview for the next week so that I could have my passport back in time to travel to the Homeland for Christmas—realising that the last-minute ticket would cost a small fortune.

So I filled out the online application. Only there aren’t any available appointments before Christmas. In fact, there aren’t any available appointments before my current visa expires!

What does this mean?

Well, first of all it means that I will have to send off my application by post (which means I don’t have to pay the extra money). Along with my application I have to send my passport and other supporting documents. And since it can take six weeks—or more!—to get everything back, it means I can’t go home for Christmas.

It also means that I have to talk to the HR folks at work to make sure that they realise that once I apply, my current visa automatically extends until my application is decided. Because if they don’t clearly understand that, they may not let me work (or pay me!) until the new visa arrives.

So whilst this isn’t ‘good’ visa news, it’s certainly not bad visa news. (And let’s hope it doesn’t transcend into bad news!)

Of course, now I need to figure out a Plan B for Christmas. That’s going to be hard!

October: The missing month

I’ve thought long and hard about how to handle the month of October for my blog. You know, since I only posted twice before the site went down for essential maintenance.

I thought about writing posts off-line, then adding them to the site when it was back up. But that would mean loads of back-reading for my (small) readership.

I thought about forgetting the month all-together. But that would mean not talking about a few things that happened that I want to include in my digital diary.

I even thought about writing one really, really long post that gave all the details of everything. But that would mean one really, really long post that no one would want to read.

So, instead, you get a bulleted list of some of the highlights from my October:

  • My Mum spent most of the month here on holiday. We toured all over the UK (with her having a week without me in England with my in-laws) and really did have an amazing time.
  • I ran the Beat Beethoven 5.5K race in Stirling with my friend, Joanne. We both beat the maestro, which was awesome, and it means that I got my October race out of the way for my 2012 Race a Month Challenge.
  • I received notification that I not only passed my dissertation with a distinction, but that I passed my entire master’s course with distinction—a rare honour and one that I will blog about separately very soon.
  • I managed to secure a two-month extension on my Tier 4 student visa, giving me a bit of breathing room whilst I sort out my Tier 2 work visa. (There is still stress around that topic.)
  • I made two major decisions about my future in Scotland: 1) I really do want to research PhD opportunities and 2) I really do want to get a car.

Lots more stuff happened throughout the month, but those are the ones that jump out at me. If I’m completely honest, most of the month was spent in tears though. It was a very stressful month that saw me fearing for my future because of visa issues and concern over how I did on my dissertation. I’m sure that the visa stresses will return with vigour, but at least I’ve learned that I’m a smart cookie.

But for now, here’s October in a nut shell. And as I’m nearly half-way through November, I’ll just concentrate on keeping up with that!

Forty-nine days

My visa expires in 49 days. My employer is working on getting sponsorship approval for me so that I can apply for a new visa, but I don’t know if it will all happen before my current visa expires. I might be entitled to a two-month extension, giving me a bit of breathing room to apply for the work visa, but I’ve not heard back from the Home Office to confirm that.

I have just moved into a new flat with a six-month lease. I have spent nearly all of my savings. If my visa doesn’t go through, I have no job, no money, and no legal right to stay in Scotland—but I will still owe the balance of my lease (and my two-year mobile phone contract). I will be destroyed financially—and emotionally.

I am stressed. I am worried. I am frightened. I worry that my mental health and emotional well-being will be on dangerous ground if my gamble doesn’t pay off. I am fearful that losing this dream will turn my life into a spiralling nightmare.

I have to be honest and say that my world is consumed with the stresses of WhatIfs these days. I’m trying not to be doom and gloom, but I really am afraid. I know you can’t fix it. I know that there is very little I can do about it at this point. But I’m trying to stay positive and I’m trying to be upbeat. It’s just hard some days. And the closer I get to November 11 without a visa solution, the harder life will be. Oh, and if I don’t get a visa, I can’t even attend my own graduation ceremony, which isn’t until November 23!

So, yeah. That’s what’s going through my mind these days. I must find a happy outlet …

Packing up

I alluded to a big step toward a happier future the other day, but also said I wouldn’t share the big(ish) news just yet. Only I’ve changed my mind because I realised that the little steps needed for the big step are a bit more stressful than I thought, and writing about my stresses often helps to ease my mind.

So, I guess I’ll go ahead and tell you that I’m packing up my belongings so that I can move into a new flat this weekend. I am actually really excited about the new flat. It’s a fantastic place with loads of space for me (and guests!) and even has a private garden and off-street parking. It’s so much nicer (and bigger!) than where I am now and is really a place that I can turn into a home—even if only temporarily so.

But I’ve been really upset every time I start boxing things away. And since the majority of today has been spent packing—and making calls to transfer various utilities and such—I’ve been pretty much upset all day long.

I hate that I’m upset about packing because I should be happy since it’s such a positive step. But I suppose that it reminds me of the last time I packed up my home, and all of the tearful and painful feelings that came along with that move.

At the same time, I imagine that some of the stress about packing up is that I am not 100% certain what my visa status is—or how long I’ll be able to remain in the UK. I guess I’m kind of gambling with that stuff at the moment and am just hoping and wishing for the best! (Work visas are being applied for, it’s just a matter of hoping everything falls in place!)

Anyhow, I guess the good things about packing up is that I’m finally getting rid of some of the clothes I’ve had slated for the charity shops. And I’ve finally taken the old photos and other mementos of Paul’s down to my in-laws (not all of them—but I wanted to make sure I was sharing!). Oh, and I’ve finally gotten around to getting Paul’s old race t-shirts ready to have made into a quilt (more on that later).

So, there you have it. My big news a bit earlier than planned. And sometime after I get the keys to my new place, I’ll give you a tour just like I did when I moved into my current flat!

Boxes from home

I’ve written in the past about foods I miss from the Homeland, and I’ve shared tales of the amazing boxes I’ve received from family and friends back home. And, well, it’s time to tell those tales again! Only this time, the boxes have really stacked up! But I want to make sure that I’m sharing the joy because I want to make sure that everyone knows how very much I appreciate their kindness.

First up is a box from my baby sister, Royann. It’s not the first one she’s sent, and my guess is that it won’t be the last. I know that she doesn’t have a ridiculous amount of spare cash, and that makes me appreciate her generosity that much more.

Plus, it’s kind of cool that her boys always send little notes along in the parcels!

So, from Royann I got:

Next was a box from my parents. They are great at sending parcels out every-so-often and I’m always surprised at the extra little somethings that are included. From news clippings to old cocktail sticks, there is always an extra little something to make me smile!

The folks are also really good at including goodies for my amazingly-awesome friend, Rebecca.

The latest box from them included:

And lastly, a large box from my friends, Sarah and Martin. This one is extremely special to me because these are a couple of my ‘virtual’ friends and they were very insistent about sending me goodies from home and wouldn’t take no for an answer. It just warms my heart that people I’ve never met ‘in real life’ want to do nice things for me.

Even more is that they sent way, way, way more stuff than I expected. (Well, I didn’t expect anything, let alone as much as they sent!)

What did they send? Well:

And let’s not forget a box of goodies my Uncle Fred and Aunt Becky sent (with Root Beer lollies!) and a parcel sent by my friend, Ramona, a few months back. (No photos of those, sorry.)

Yes, I am loved. And, yes, I need to get to the post office at the weekend to send some love off to others!

A year later

Today marks one year since I hit the reset button on my future. Yes, it’s been one year since I moved back to my beautiful, beloved Scotland.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that the road leading up to my flight across the pond was a troubled one and that the entire adventure was sparked by a personal tragedy. Or, rather, it was accelerated since our hope was to return to Scotland one day.

Regular readers may also be aware that life didn’t magically ‘get better’ with my move and that I have had a few emotional ups-and-downs over the past year. Most of which can be attributed to the stress and uncertainty I’ve faced with questions about what happens when my current visa expires, and other worries about the next steps for my new future. (I knew this move wouldn’t make life perfect and had expected the ups-and-downs; though I’d hoped for fewer downs than there were!)

But, as I write this, I can feel the road levelling out a bit. There are still a few questions and uncertainties (mostly with visas and jobs!), but things are starting to look a bit brighter at the moment. I admit that if things should fall apart, my mental and emotional health might fall along with everything else, but I’m trying to be hopeful and optimistic.

I don’t know where I will be in another year’s time and that’s a bit scary to me because it means I still don’t have the stability that my heart, mind, and soul so desperately crave. I’m afraid to make plans and I’m afraid of the ‘whatifs’ that haunt my thoughts.

However, I am here in Scotland for now and I’m going to hold onto that for as long as I can because life is happier here than it was the last two years I was in the States. This is home. I just hope that, one day, the Home Office lets me make that permanent!

Patriotism abroad

Today is Independence Day in America. It is the day when the nation celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. As a proud American, this is one of my favourite holidays (tying with Thanksgiving). It is a day when we, as a nation, celebrate what it means to be American. We celebrate our independence from the United Kingdom, but mostly we celebrate our freedoms and our rights.

All across the land people hold parades and have barbeques. They set off fireworks and they gather to honour those who fought and died to ensure our independence—and those who continue to fight and die to ensure our freedoms remain intact.

This is my first time being outside of America for Independence Day. And it’s weird. It feels as if the day isn’t really happening, even though in my heart I know it is. To be honest, I was a little sad that the day was passing without acknowledgement (well, I did get two text messages wishing me a happy day). But then Rebecca showed up for a quick visit on her way home from work—with an American flag and a pack of flag napkins. So, I did spend a bit of time being a flag-waving American.

Yes, I am a patriotic American. Despite choosing to be an expat. Despite loving Scotland and wanting to live here for the foreseeable future. Despite my occasional disagreement with the way my home country is run. I am an American and I am proud of it.

And now, as promised as part of Dissertation Month, here’s a wee update:

Current word count: 2,843 (only 9,157 to go!)

That’s right, no increase in the word count. It was a busy day with reading though, and I managed to create my library list for tomorrow, too! (And I managed a 4.67 mile run. Yay!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Go to the library for more books
  • Expand literature review section
  • Make an appointment for a hair cut

No more teachers; lots more books

Today was my last day of classes. And that means no more teachers. No more admissions-determined schedules. No more sitting through lectures and seminars. No more compulsory interaction with other students. Wow. It seems like only yesterday I was telling you about my first few days. Time, it seems, has flown by.

Though just because classes are over doesn’t mean the work is! No, I have four essays due in between now and next Monday, and I still have that dissertation to work on over the summer. And that means that the library will be my stomping grounds for the next couple of months!

But do you know something? I’m really sad about classes being done. I’m really sad that another chapter of this new life is coming to an end. But worse than that—and what’s really making me sad—is that I don’t know what happens next.

I haven’t had luck in finding a way to pay for Ph.D. studies, so have resigned myself to the knowledge that this degree is as far as my academic world will go. And I haven’t had any luck in finding a job—or even getting to the interview stage!—so I am starting to worry that this degree is also as far as my life in Scotland will go.

And that means that I am once again facing a future that is unknown and frightening. I’m facing the ever-increasing realisation that I can’t have the life I want; that I might have to start all over yet again. Only I don’t know if I have the strength to make another start.

I’ve not completely given up and will continue to look at both Ph.D. and work possibilities here in the UK, but I have to start making contingency plans now, too. Whether I want to or not.

But, I still have a bit of work to do before I can put any new plans in action because just because those essays and that dissertation won’t write themselves!

I’m sorry if this post seems a bit sad, but to be honest, I am a bit sad. I never thought that this would be a flawless journey filled with nothing but joy and happiness, but I suppose I had hoped that I would have a bit more clarity about my future by now. And it’s that uncertainty that I am struggling with right now.

And since I like to leave my posts on a high note whenever possible, I’ll say that I am looking forward to meeting up with one of my many cousins in a few days’ time. She’s in the UK on holidays and will be in Edinburgh as part of her travels so we’ll be meeting up. How exciting is that?!

Applying myself

With less than six weeks of classes left—and less than 20 weeks until my dissertation is due—it’s time to start thinking about the future again. And that means getting a job!

Of course, it’s not as easy as just getting a job when you’re a foreign national who requires a visa for work. Then again, with the current levels of unemployment in the UK skyrocketing, it’s even more difficult!

So, I’m applying to jobs. Lots of them. Some are right up my alley and others would be a step backward but a job is a job. Plus, all of them would give me the opportunity to stay on here in Scotland if I was offered the job.

Sadly, I’ve yet to have success. I’ve not even made it to the interview stage yet. But I keep looking and I keep applying. Because eventually someone is going to see my application and realise that I am the best person for the job.

I have another round of applications going out this week, and at least one of the jobs is one that I really, really want. Your good thoughts and prayers are appreciated! And in return, I promise to keep you posted about the job search.

Out of place

As I walked into town this afternoon, I noticed a dandelion growing in a wall along the pavement. It was sticking out brightly against the grey stone as if to say ‘Hello! I’m here! I belong!’ even though it wasn’t really meant to be there; even though it risked someone removing it or spraying it with deadly chemicals.

And, as sometimes happens when I see things that I wasn’t expecting to see, this little out of place flower (weed?) got me thinking a bit about my own life.

You might recall last week’s post about my struggles to keep it together. Well, without getting into too many details, part of those struggles stemmed from my tenuous future here in Scotland. You see, much like the dandelion, I’m trying to put down roots somewhere that isn’t my natural home. I’m trying to put down roots and live a life of joy, but I’m doing it with the constant fear that someone will walk along and pluck me out and toss me aside—like a weed growing where it doesn’t belong.

Yes, I know—it’s a really cornball analogy. But I hope you get the point.

(And I’m trying not to think about the analogy where the dandelion (me) causes the wall (Scotland) to weaken and crumble because of the foreign matter edging in (immigration). No, let’s not think about that analogy!)

Anyhow, I am still worried. I am still struggling with the fears of an uncertain future and I am still trying to figure out what my next steps will be. But whilst I’m worrying, I’m also trying to find solutions. And I’m trying to be gentle with myself, recognising that even if all of my worries and fears play out to completion, it just means that I have an opportunity to start over again—whether I want to or not.

So, I am still feeling a bit down and stressed and overwhelmed, but a little less than I did last week. Yes, I am surviving. And with luck, my friend the dandelion will survive, too!

Spring break

Well, as of 4:00 p.m. I am officially on spring break. Only, that really just means that I’m not going to classes for a week. And, actually, since there aren’t classes on Easter Monday, and I don’t have classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I’m really out of class for nearly two weeks. Yay!

But that doesn’t mean I won’t be busy. Really, really busy.

During my time off, I will be working on my dissertation (I have a big chunk due April 10). I will also be doing my taxes and working on several job applications in the hopes to find a position that will allow me to stay on in Scotland after graduation.

I know that most students look forward to spring break because of the parties and travelling opportunities, but I’m looking forward to it so that I can concentrate on my much-neglected to-do list, and so that I can really ramp up my training. (I must start running more so that my legs and tummy look great for summer shorts weather!)

But, since all work and no play is a silly way to live life, I am going to begin my spring break in style—at The Junk Rooms. Which means I should stop blogging and get myself to town to meet Rebecca.

Happy spring break, everyone!

I [heart] root beer

I love root beer. I really, really do. It’s my fizzy soft drink of choice and I could drink barrels and barrels of the stuff.

Sadly, root beer isn’t readily available in Scotland. I heard a rumour that it used to be sold in UK McDonalds outlets, but I guess it didn’t sell very well so they gave up on it. And that means that it’s nearly impossible to find the stuff.

A few weeks ago I decided that I would make a trip into Edinburgh to pick up some A&W Root Beer from Lupe Pinto’s import shop. Yes, it’s a bit silly to make such a long trip for root beer, but I’ve been desperate. I mean, it’s been more than six months since I’ve had the stuff!

But then I stopped into my local sweetie shop and discovered that they’ve started to sell some American candies and root beer! It’s not cheap (about $2.50 per can!) and it’s not Barq’s but it sure does quench my thirst!

And now that I have a local source for root beer, I guess I can scratch it off of my expat food woes list!

Free drugs

I’m not new to the Scottish National Health Services (NHS), having had my first experience with them about 10 years ago, but I guess that my American upbringing is just so overpowering that I’m still taken aback from time-to-time with the strangeness of socialised health care.

And today just happened to be one of those days.

You see, I have been on medications for my kidneys for nearly a year now because it would seem that this silly polycystic kidney disease thing has decided to play up a bit. (Darn; so much for being invincible!) Before I left the States, I filled a super-sized prescription so that I didn’t have to worry about it straight away. No problem.

Then, way back in November, I finally got around to seeing my local doctor. And he gave me a new prescription for when my American drugs ran dry. When I got home, I tucked the paper away and forgot about it. Until I took my last pill last night.

So this afternoon I took the prescription to Boots to have it filled. I expected to have a bit of paperwork to fill out as this was my first time filling a prescription there. And I expected to have to come back in 15 minutes to an hour to pick up the filled prescription.

But that’s not what happened. No, instead I handed over the prescription, the pharmacist scanned the barcode on the prescription, printed a couple of little stickers, turned around, grabbed a couple of boxes, slapped the sticker on them, asked for my signature, popped the drugs in a bag, handed them to me, and sent me on my way.

Three minutes tops. No money was exchanged. He had all the information he needed on the prescription form so didn’t need to ask me anything further. That was it. Our transaction was over.

It’s strange, because I forgot that they don’t charge for prescriptions in Scotland anymore—though they charge in England, and when I was here 10 years ago they charged in Scotland, too. And then, I was being seen at the hospital instead of a clinic and there was some loophole with getting medications at the hospital that meant I didn’t pay then, either.

I know that this post may seem more random than most, but someone asked that I share more stories about the differences between life in Scotland vs life in America, and the NHS is certainly a pretty big difference!

And it’s still weird for me, this NHS business. I mean, I love the service; I love the care; I love the ease (and cost!) of filling prescriptions. But it comes at a price because I’ve handed over the control (and ownership?) of my medical history to a massive government agency. And that’s scary to me. Really, really scary.

(But I’ll leave my commentary there because 1) I admit I don’t fully understand the politics behind it all and 2) I have a friends who work for the NHS and I don’t want to say the wrong thing here and have them correct me later!)

Got milk?

If you’re American, you may not realise that milk is a very important part of British culture. From the 1946 School Milk Act (an addendum to the Education Act 1944) to Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher and from breast milk ice cream to the order in which one adds tea and milk to a mug, milk seems to be more than just another beverage.

Which is what this post is about: Tea. Or rather, milky tea.

In the states, coffee tends to be the hot beverage of choice. And not that instant stuff, either. Tea drinkers are a minority group. And then, they’re more likely to want honey and lemon than milk. Oh, and if people do want to lighten/whiten up their coffee or tea, they’re more likely to use half-and-half, not milk. (And then there’s the non-dairy creamer group, but this isn’t about what Americans do, so we’ll just ‘skim’ over that. Skim. Get it? No? Oh, well. Never mind …)

In the UK, however, tea is the winning beverage. It’s very much a part of the culture (more so, I think, that coffee is part of American culture) and it seems that more people use milk here than don’t. I don’t; I drink my coffee strong and black with no sugar and I drink my tea medium and black with no sugar.

And here’s the problem: Since I don’t use milk (with the rare exception of baking or a splurge purchase of sugary breakfast cereal) I never have the stuff in my fridge. Which is OK until someone comes into my home. You see, as part of the UK’s tea obsession, it is customary to offer guests in your home a cuppa. And I’m pretty good at doing that. But the moment I say ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ I find myself remembering that I can’t offer them milk for that tea.

The first time it happened, I was lucky because the friend in question (whilst a bit confused as to my lack of milk) was happy to have Earl Grey tea instead—which apparently doesn’t require milk as vocally as black tea does. The next time it happened, I was lucky enough to have the smallest little drip of milk left over from something I baked the day before. And when everyone came over for Thanksgiving, I made certain that I had milk on hand. Of course, I was then a bit cheeky and let my guests add their own milk and sugar so that I didn’t over (or under) do it.

Which brings me to today. I’ve been having a bit of trouble with the hot water in my flat, so a workman came around to fix it. Now, I don’t know if you’re meant to offer workmen tea, but it seemed rude not to, so I did—since I was making myself a cup of coffee anyhow. And the moment I asked I regretted it because then I had to follow that up with ‘Oh, but I don’t have any milk.’

And my no milk meant that he changed his order to a cup of coffee instead—black; two sugars. I didn’t think it was fair to keep him waiting whilst I made a cafetier of coffee, so I grabbed the instant stuff (that’s not an insult here as it is in America) and fixed a cup for him. With no milk.

I wonder if it’s socially acceptable to offer guests shelf-stable milk for their tea?

So, tell me how you take your tea or coffee. Or better still, tell me what your views are in regards to serving tea or coffee to company!

Home(ish) for Christmas

Well, I suppose now that Christmas is over, I should tell you a bit about my lovely Christmas weekend! And it really was a lovely weekend! I went through to Aberdour with my friend, Rebecca, to spend Christmas with her parents. And whilst I wasn’t with my own family, I was made to feel like family indeed!

It was a wonderful weekend with loads of laughter and new traditions. I enjoyed my first-ever Christmas goose (I hope it’s not my last) and managed lots of relaxation in between scrumptious meals prepared by Rebecca’s mum.

Oh! And I got gifts for Christmas, too! A lovely cashmere scarf, a French press, some home made jams, lots of candy and chocolates, fresh coffee, and even a worry stone. (And more!)

Yes, it was a wonderful Christmas! So wonderful, in fact, that I didn’t manage to take as many photos as I normally would have. But you can see the few I did manage!

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Oh! And you know those bugs from the photo gallery can be seen on the video below. My bug (yellow) won. But Rebecca will tell you that her sissy pink bug did.

Boxed in

When I moved to Scotland in August, I sent a couple of large boxes by sea—hoping they’d arrive before Thanksgiving. They didn’t. But they did arrive today. (Yay!)

I wanted them here before Thanksgiving because they had my aprons, my favourite cookbook, and my American measuring cups (yes, there is a difference). But I also wanted them to arrive in time for Thanksgiving so that I could share the photos with Paul’s friends who were joining me for the celebration. Of course, I know that I will have more opportunities to share the photos, so I’ll not fret over that too much!

So, what kind of goodies were so valuable to me that I went through the expense of international shipping? Oh, all sorts of things!

The main reason for the shipment was to bring Paul’s belongings over. All of his photos from childhood, college, university, and more. His diaries and mementos. His favourite books and the little trinkets he collected over the years. The boxes are full of his life’s memories. Mostly from times before we met. Mostly things that I want to give to his family and friends.

Of course, part of me wants to keep all of it for myself. I don’t want to share them. But they’re not my memories—they’re Paul’s memories that he shared with the people he grew up with. I just want to keep them because they’re part of him. But I also know that other people need them more than I do. After all, I have all of the mementos of our time together, so why shouldn’t others have the mementos from their time together?

Happily, I had the foresight to put some of my stuff in the boxes, too. And I’m glad I did because now instead of just feeling the sadness of having Paul’s memories with me, I also have the excitement of having some of my things with me.

Yep, I have my favourite cookbook and my left-handed spoons. I have my bathrobe and winter ski coat and three of my favourite winter sweaters (all green, you may not be surprised to know!). I also have some of my favourite stationery for writing letters home and I have my Godfather DVD collection. And a CWU alumni sweatshirt and some hats and gloves and scarves. And a couple of books for my master’s programme and a copy of the Constitution of the United States of America. You know, because every home should have one!

I’m pleased to have some of my home comforts again. And even though it’s not the same as having my lovely home that I shared with Paul filled with all of our beautiful things, it’s nice to have a few more things from that ‘old’ life to help me settle into this new one.

A thankful weekend

Well, my Scottish Thanksgiving weekend has come to a close. Yes, the original planning process was difficult, and I found myself having to make do with all sorts of things to pull it off, but I think I can fairly call it a success.

The weekend began on Friday with some food prep followed by dinner and drinks with Rebecca. Then Saturday saw me waking early to get the meal ready. I chopped and sliced and diced and mixed for quite some time before it was all ready to go. In fact, by the time Rebecca showed up to help, I was nearly done which meant that we got to sit around and chat instead of run around and cook.

Our additional guests showed up within a few minutes of each other—Martin first followed by Paul and Eleanor with their wee girl. It was one of those wonderful moments where a home goes from quiet to filled with laughter as Rebecca and Martin greeting Paul and Eleanor for the first time in 20 years. (It was my first time meeting them.)

It was a fun-filled evening as I shared my Thanksgiving with my guests—their first Thanksgiving. And, I’m pleased to say, everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves.

By the time this morning came around, my mood went from elevated to deflated as I marked what should have been My Paul’s 50th birthday. But I was cheered on and distracted by a visit from Rebecca this morning (who also did the lion’s share of the clean-up whilst I sat in the living room drinking my coffee) followed by an afternoon trip to The Burgh Coffeehouse.

Now I’m sitting here for these final few hours of the weekend working on an essay for school and revelling in the high points of the weekend.

And now you can see some of those high points! I admit it’s not a full photo account of the weekend because I was having too much fun to think about taking constant photos, but I hope this selection helps to show you what a fab weekend it was.

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Making do

Tomorrow, I will be hosting Thanksgiving for the first time since Paul died*. It won’t be as big of a crowd as our last Thanksgiving together, but I find myself just as nervous about the preparations.

In fact, it’s even worse this time around because I’m finding it hard to not think about my last Thanksgiving with Paul. But also because this time around I’m not in a huge house with a massive collection of cooking implements and serving dishes! Oh, and I’m not in America so it’s been a bit difficult to get all of the stuff I need for a traditional American Thanksgiving.

But I’m making do with what I have—and with what I can borrow.

For example, I am borrowing a CrockPot from Rebecca for the stuffing. But since I don’t have a large enough mixing bowl for it, I’m using my new (never used so not cross-contaminated) dish washing basin to mix it all in. (After which the basin will be used as a basin.) I’m also borrowing extra dishes and cutlery, since it seems silly to buy more stuff for a one-off meal.

And since I’m on a budget and I don’t really know how long I’ll be here past this first year, I’ve opted to not buy an expensive rolling pin. Instead, I’ve re-purposed an empty (but clean) wine bottle to roll the pastry for my pumpkin pie. (It seemed to work just fine.) And since I couldn’t find a proper pie pan, I’m using a cake tin for it.

And since they don’t seem to get Washington State wines here, I’ve found an Australian Rosé to serve with the turkey.

Oh, and if any of my guests want a Martini tomorrow, I’ve got a mustard jar (a home warming gift from one of Rebecca’s co-workers) to use a cocktail shaker.

Yes, there are a lot of things I have to make do with right now. But what I don’t need to make do with is friends. No, I have proper ones of those, no making do necessary! And some of them will even be here tomorrow to see just how much food you can prepare when you just have to make do.

*I was in England visiting family and friends the first year after he died, and last year, if you remember, was a bit of an interesting turn of events!

Countdown

As I write this post, people are counting down to Christmas. Really. I mean, it’s not even Thanksgiving and they’re already counting down to Christmas. And I have to say, it makes me a little sad.

I remember when I was a kid and the month of October was dedicated to Halloween. Then in November, we went full-on Thanksgiving. And then—the day after Thanksgiving—it would be time to think about Christmas. Back then (in my memories, at least) we didn’t get Christmas shoved down our throats in the lead-up to Halloween. Maybe—maybe—some places would start in on Christmas before Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t a given.

But now it seems that the Christmas season starts in October, and that just seems crazy to me.

Here’s what I would like to propose: At the start of October, you can start getting (publically) excited about Halloween. You can start decorating a week (maybe two weeks) before Halloween. Then, after you’ve cleared away your Halloween decorations, you can start to get ready for Thanksgiving. And then, after Thanksgiving is over, Christmas preparations can begin.

Now, I understand that people who need to travel great distances need to make plans and arrangements for the next holiday before the current one is over, and that’s OK. And it’s OK to do menu planning and even extend invitations early, if needed. But let’s keep it at that, shall we?

I just feel like we’re so busy thinking about the next big thing that we’re forgetting to take time to enjoy the current big thing.

So, I will not be planning for Christmas until after Thanksgiving is done—which for me is Saturday this year, since it’s not a Scottish holiday so I’ve had to plan dinner around the weekend so that my friends could attend. But come Sunday, I will be in full-on Christmas mode. Well, not too full-on since that is Paul’s birthday and he (not growing up with Thanksgiving) always felt that Christmas needed to wait until after his birthday.

And that means that I am counting down until Thanksgiving right now—not Christmas. After all, Thanksgiving in my favourite holiday of the year. It’s a time for people to reflect on the things they are thankful for in this world—family, friends, good health, and a plentiful harvest.

This year, I will celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday with a small group of Scottish friends. It may not be a holiday of much meaning to them, and they may not be counting down with the same excitement as I am, but I’m so very thankful to have people to share my favourite holiday with. And hopefully, they’ll learn to like my favourite holiday, too. After all, who doesn’t enjoy an opportunity to be thankful?

And if you’re counting—it’s only three more sleeps until [my] Thanksgiving dinner!

Warming up

I’ve been upset about Thanksgiving for a while now. Like really, really upset. I know it’s silly, but that’s the way it’s been. (As I’ve said.)

But all of the sudden, it’s getting better. It seems that there has been a late-comer (or two or three) to the party and Thanksgiving will maybe feel a little less like just having two friends over for dinner (not that having two friends over for dinner isn’t something to be thankful for) and a little more like a proper Thanksgiving. Well, as close to it as you can get when you’re not in America.

So now I’m getting all warmed up and I’m trying to figure out just how to get it all done. I’ve got pies to bake (will anyone like pumpkin pie?) and bread to rip (you know, for the stuffing). And I’ve got dill pickles to find and serving dishes to sort. In addition to regular dishes and chairs and stuff.

Oh, and drinks. Must figure out drinks. And I should decide what vegetables to serve. And I should try to find fresh cranberries so that I can make sauce.

But don’t worry—I have the olives (all the way from America!) and even noticed today that they’re jumbo-sized so they’ll fit on adult fingers. Because you have to put olives on your fingers for Thanksgiving.

Oh! And to add to my renewed interest in Thanksgiving, I’m totally pleased that Das Gute Essen linked to my bladenda post in their Thanksgiving post today. Yay, yay, and yay again!

[The picture with this post is of our Thanksgiving table from 2008. What a wonderful memory that day has left for me!]

Sugar and spice

OK, since it’s sort of my thing to tell you all about goodies that I get from home, I suppose I should tell you about yesterday’s parcel. (Yeah, I know you’re excited about this!)

It would seem that two of my nephews found themselves with extra Halloween candy—in addition to the extras their Mom had since they only got one (or was it two?) trick-or-treaters. So, the boys, Adrian and Brendan, offered some of their candy to me and my baby sister (their Mom), Royann, added a few other bits-and-bobs to round out the care package. And even though I was expecting the parcel, I beamed with joy and excitement when it arrived. And, true to form, I tore into it straight away!

Inside, I found loads of Now and Laters, a few Tootsie Pops, a couple Bit-o-Honeys, some Dots and JujyFruits, and a smattering of other candies. And, of course, a box of SweetTarts. Royann also included two of my go-to ingredients, Lowery’s Seasoning and Lemon Pepper, as well as a thimble and a vintage handkerchief. (Just in time for cold and flu season!)

But the best things in the parcel were the hand-made cards from the boys, each containing their most recent school photos—and each with jokes and I-love-yous.

Oh, yes, the candy and the seasonings are fantastic, but they’re nothing compared to cards from my nephews. Those were my favourite part. And they look very nice displayed in along with my collection of family photos.

Oh! And I also got a Thanksgiving card from my cousin, Helen, and her family this week. And an enjoyable letter from my friend, George, the week before—one that contained more than 30 questions about how I’m getting along in Scotland.

Yes, parcels and letters from home make the arrival of bills and junk mail seem less annoying!

And amazingly, I’ve not eaten all of the candy yet. But give me time…

The race is on

If you aren’t already aware of it, tomorrow is Election Day in America. And as we all know (or should know!) one of the most vital parts in a democratic society is to go out and vote.

For me, voting is now done by email. So when I received my ballot from the Kittitas County Auditor’s Office a few weeks ago, I happily printed it out, filled it in, scanned it as a PDF, then emailed it back. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Of course, this election will likely have an appallingly small voter turnout. (Heck, even the presidential elections do, in my mind.) This is ‘just’ a local election. My ballot had the mayoral election (one candidate running for re-election, unopposed) and several county-level races (again, mostly people running unopposed) as well as a handful of state initiates. And you may think those things aren’t important, but I think that local and state elections are by far the most important elections you can participate in.

But this election also signals the start of the Big Race. Yes, folks, this time next year we will be voting in the Presidential Election. In fact, we’re already hearing the rumblings of primary races—rumblings that will get louder as we head into the primaries.

As an independent voter, I get pretty excited about elections because they signal an opportunity for change. Mostly, I get excited about the opportunity for the creation of a strong third party in the American political system. But as a citizen of the great United States of America I just get excited about the opportunity to vote.

I’ve made it a point to not get overly political or issue-based here, and I will try to stick to that, but I’ll make no apologies if I do get a bit overly excited about the Big Race coming up.

And if you’re in America—remember to get out and VOTE tomorrow.

Comfort zones

There is something to be said about the comforts of home. Your own bed; your favourite chair; knowing where all the gadgets are in the kitchen; understanding the intricacies of just how to turn the knobs in the shower so that you have the right temperature and the right pressure. Yes, there is something to be said about the comforts of home.

When you’re surrounded by the comforts of home, you truly are in your comfort zone.

Of course, after you’ve sold your bed, put your favourite chair in storage, and moved into a new flat (in a new country) where you haven’t figured out the kitchen layout or the workings of the shower—let alone how to walk down the road—you don’t always feel as if you’re in your comfort zone.

One of the common things with being an expat is finding yourself outside your comfort zone. Maybe not in that ‘makes your skin crawl’ kind of way, but (for me at least) in that ‘I don’t fully understand the way this works and everyone must think I’m an alien’ kind of way.

Grocery stores are one of those situations for me. They are just different here. The produce is displayed differently. All of the foods I like aren’t available, and many are in different packaging so I don’t always realise that they are there. The eggs are not in a cooler—they just sit there on a room-temperature shelf. The aisles are chaos. You have to pack your own groceries. And, in some places, you have to put a £1 coin in a slot just to get a shopping cart. Er, I mean a trolley. (But you get the coin back when/if you return the trolley to its home.)

So there you go. When I’m grocery shopping in the UK I am outside my comfort zone. I’m getting better at it—and I’m a lot more comfortable now than I was 10 years ago—but I am always aware that I’m not in the homeland.

Ah! But there is a grocery store where I feel at home. It’s called Lupe Pintos and they have a shop in Edinburgh and Glasgow. I first found it 10 years ago and I fell in love! You see, they are a North American import store. You want American or Mexican groceries? This is where you go.

And when I go, I recognise the brands and the packaging. They have Lipton Onion soup mix. They have Hidden Valley Ranch dressing. They have Stove Top and Libby’s and Bisquick and A&W and Old El Paso and hominy and yams and all sorts of other goodies that I love, love, love. In fact, they have more stuff there now than they did 10 years ago. And apparently the Glasgow store is much larger than the Edinburgh one.

It’s so nice to be able to walk into a shop and just grab the items you want without having to hem and haw over if it will be ‘close enough’ to the American version. Now, often times it really doesn’t matter, but sometimes, you really want those home comforts. And isn’t it nice that there’s a place that sells them? A place where I feel like I’m in my comfort zone…

Which way?

In America it seems to be fairly straight forward: We move right. In the UK (and potentially the rest of the world?) people seem to move all over the place.

So, here’s the deal as I see it: In America, we drive on the right side of the road. If we’re cycling on the road, we ride in the direction of traffic. If we’re walking or running on the side of the road, we do so opposite of the direction of traffic for visibility purposes. When we’re on a sidewalk (UK translation: pavement) we tend to walk on the right, as we do in corridors and when using stairs or escalators (UK translation: elevators).

As with cars, people will generally pass on the left and we yield to others depending on the situation. It’s really quite civilised and is common no matter where you travel—though in larger metropolitan areas with big crowds, it can get a bit messy.

In the UK, drivers travel on the left. And everyone else just moves every which way. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern at all.

I first realised this ten years ago when I moved to Edinburgh. I was having the hardest time walking along Princes Street and climbing stairs without bumping into people. At first, I was embarrassed because I realised that I’d been moving along the right side of the pavement and stair cases, so of course I’d be running into people because, obviously, people should be walking on the left, just as motorist drive. Right? (Wrong!)

I tried keeping to the left and realised that I was getting bumped into just as much there as I’d been on the right. So I started to observe a bit more to see what sort of cultural clues I could find. But ten years later and I’ve still not found the clues!

What I have learned, however, is that it’s every walker for themselves in the UK. People scatter like ants and giving way is not always automatic. Yes, there is a level of decency and politeness to it all, but it seems (to this outsider’s mind) to be very disorganised and haphazard.

So, how do you do it? How to you navigate the sidewalks and corridors in a nation where there doesn’t seem to be a right-of-way? If you know, please feel free to share your wisdom. Otherwise, maybe I’ll figure it out one of these days. In which case, I’ll come back and share my wisdom with you.

[The photo was originally uploaded to an album on RyanCentric. It was taken at the hotel Paul and I stayed at during the holiday where he proposed. We didn’t agree with what the carving was: He thought it was a random carving, I thought (and maintain to this day) that it’s an abstract arrow. You know, in case you wondered where it came from.]

A box of love

You don’t need words to know you’re loved. Not really. Sometimes, a box of stuff says it all. Take, for example, the box that came in the post for me today.

It was a simple box filled with simple things. No note to explain the occasion or the contents. Just a simple box filled with simple things. But I didn’t need a note to know that the box was sent because I’m loved.

You see, the box was sent by my Ant Elizabeth—all the way from America! And the contents were (I’m assuming) chosen because of my list of foods I would miss when I moved. You see, she reads my blog regularly so she knew just what to send. It’s just another example of how amazing she is. She is, after all, the woman who so kindly took in my cat when I left. And she is, after all, the woman who I used to want to be when I grew up. (It’s not that I don’t still look up to her, it’s just that I learned that I can’t be someone else, I have to be me.) And she is, after all, the woman I call my twin! (Really, we look quite a bit alike. Yes, she’s gorgeous just like me!)

Anyhow, since I told you what my parents sent last week, I’ll tell you what Ant Elizabeth sent this week!

  • Black olives (3 cans)
  • 1000 Island dressing (1 bottle)
  • Ranch mix (2 packs)
  • General Tso’s Chicken seasoning mix (2 packs)
  • A bag of ‘Fun Size’ Butterfingers
  • A bag filled with a variety of mini-sized candy bars

And this all means that I have olives not only for tacos, but for Thanksgiving—where I might have to teach my guests about the American tradition of putting olives on your fingers before eating them. And it means that I can have yummy Rueben sandwiches. And it means I can make Ranch dip to share with my friends on Halloween and Thanksgiving. And I can introduce my friends to the greatness of General Tso’s.

And, if I’m feeling generous, I can have my friends help with a comparison taste test to determine—once and for all—what the difference is between American and UK Milky Way bars. (If I’m feeling really generous, I might even share a Butterfinger or two. Maybe.)

Thank you, Ant Elizabeth. You have no idea how amazingly happy I was to receive goodies from home today. No, really, my face hurts from all the happy smiles. I love you!!

Budgeting

Before I graduated from university money was tight. My adult life, until shortly before I got married, was spent not spending money. No, really. Money was so tight that a $5 banking error could have meant complete destruction. I relied on the good will (and good cooking) of family and friends to pad out my grocery budget (I rarely turned down a free meal!). On more than one occasion, I had to call the power company to get my electricity turned back on. I had to cancel my phone. I didn’t have cable TV. I didn’t own a car for a while.

Or, to put it another way, I lived on such a meagre income that there wasn’t even enough money to make a budget, let alone live by one!

But the lessons I learned about pinching pennies and denying myself luxuries like haircuts, clothes, and shoes meant that when I finally had a healthy income, I had more money than I knew what to do with. And that meant that my savings account grew, and that my spending increased. Oh yes, I had disposable income. And I used it!

And when I decided to quit my job and return to Scotland for graduate school, I used those early penny pinching skills to pad out my savings account. Of course, now I’m back in scarily familiar territory again: I’m poor! I have no income and I have a limited budget. So, once again, I have to pinch pennies and deny myself luxuries.

Thankfully, I’m prepared. For nearly two years I’ve prepared myself emotionally and financially for this adventure. But I fear that no amount of preparation will stave off the fears I have about things not working out the way I want them to.

I am constantly fearful that I’ve done the maths wrong or that I’m kidding myself about how much things will cost. I am also aware that, with no income, the money I spend will not be replenished and I fear that watching my bank balance decrease over the next several months will cause me to be a little over cautious with my money. Yes, I fear that I will start denying myself too many things, in an effort to hold on to as much of my money as I can!

All of that said, I am not broke. I can afford this adventure. And if everything does go wrong, I have the option of moving back to my parents with my tail between my legs.

And so, I’ve managed to work out a new budget for the next year. And I’ve done it in part by looking at emotional triggers. Like I knew that living in a squalid rat trap would make me sad, so I’ve put a bit more money towards my housing budget than I originally planned. And I know that I like some of the finer foods, so I’ve increased my food budget so that I can have fresh salmon and quality steaks for dinner from time-to-time.

But those higher budgets mean that I have to sacrifice a bit elsewhere. I will have to scrimp on things like weekend city breaks. My clothing budget has been slashed (not that it was ever that high in the first place). My booze budget is almost gone—no more fine wines, premium beers, expensive Scotch (sorry, whisky), or fine Cognacs.

It’s not really a complaint. I mean, I’m the one who chose this path. I’m the one who made the decision to give up her middle class lifestyle. I’m the one who decided to take this adventure out of the dreaming stage and into reality. And I’m mostly excited about it. I just need to re-learn what it’s like to be on a strict budget. And I need to try not to let it make me sad!

As I said, I’m not really broke nor will I be forced to eat rotting food ‘salvaged’ from back-alley Dumpsters. It’s just that I can’t decide—on a whim—to buy the latest-and-greatest gadget or that really pretty green dress that’s not even on the sale rack.  And I will be looking for occasional work to help my budget—and to allow me splurges from time-to-time. [I’ll put in a quick plug for my freelance gig. You know, just in case you have someone to recommend me to!]

So, now that I’m just over a week away from moving into my new flat, I need to really remember to stick to that new budget! And that’s where you come in! I’d love to hear any great ideas for living on a budget—including ideas for entertainment and home decorating. And great ideas for recipes for cheap food that looks and tastes expensive!

Yeah, I’m looking forward to having a proper income again so that I can splurge on things like name brand shampoo!

Trick of the treats

Oh, what a sweet day it is! I arrived home to see that the postman brought me a parcel all the way from America. Oh yes—a parcel filled with yummy candies from the homeland.

Inside the parcel was a selection of some of my favourite American candies—and a sampling of candies I requested for Rebecca, after having a conversation last month about them. (I mean, if my Scottish friends are so kind as to introduce me to their cultural yummies, it’s only fair that I introduce them to mine. Right?)

So, here’s what my wonderful Mommy and Daddy sent me (all the miniature trick-or-treat versions):

These are all great candies that I can’t (seemingly) get in the UK. The 3 Musketeers and Butterfinger bars are great because those have always been my go-to choice for candy bars. The Milk Duds and Whoppers are my ‘nice to have at the movies with a big container of popcorn’ treats. The Smarties and Jolly Ranchers fall into my love of chalky sweets and sucky hard candies. And the Hot Tamales and Mike and Ikes* (whilst also on my go-to list of sweets to buy) are ones that I’m excited to share with Rebecca.

Of course, I did have to laugh since there were no Candy Corns in the parcel. No, Mom forgot to put them in. Or is it that they got eaten before she made a trip to the post office … ? Either way, I’m very thankful to my awesome parents for sending me candy.

Now the trick is going to be not eating the treats until Halloween.

(And if you’re looking for a way to get rid of your leftover Halloween candy, give me a shout and I’ll send you my address… she says only half jokingly…)

* It seems that you can, in fact, get Mike and Ike Tropical flavour here, just not the originals, and since Rebecca likes the tropical ones, I thought she should try the others. And, if you don’t already know, Hot Tamales are actually a secondary product. They are made by re-melting all of the ill-formed Mike and Ikes then they add loads of cinnamon flavour to mask the mis-match of flavours from all of the other candies. Really.

Olives

I love olives. They are very much a part of my life. Olives for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Olives for tacos and nachos and pizza. Olives for tuna noodle casserole and olives for eating all on their own. Oh, and olives for martinis, of course. Only the world of olives in Scotland is not the same as the world of olives in my part of America.

To start with, there are black olives. You know, the ones that you get in a can (sorry, in a tin) in the states. They are in a mild salt brine and are very mild in flavour because of it. These are the olives that children put on their fingers for Thanksgiving and Christmas and are what we use for tacos, nachos, and pizza. Only where you have several options in the states (small, medium, large, extra large, whole, sliced, chopped, diced, and more) in Scotland you’re lucky to find them on the shelf. No, instead you need to search them out. (I did find some that are ‘close enough’ at the farmers’ market in Stirling—they are simply black olives in oil, and they’ll do until I find the ‘right’ ones.)

Then there are green olives. You know, the ones in glass jars with red pimentos—standard green olives. Growing up, there was always a jar of these in the fridge and, again, when you went to the grocery store you had a wide selection of green olives to choose from. And, of course, every bar in America has an ample supply of these lovely little guys on hand for drinks. Dirty martini with extra olives? No problem! But, again, that’s not the way of the world here. I first noticed it a couple of years ago when I was handed a martini with Kalamata olives instead of green ones, but it was a modern-y fusion-y place so I thought they were just being pretentious. (Of course, you could argue that ordering a dirty vodka martini is pretty pretentious, too.)

But I’ve been here just long enough now to realise that my sort of green olives aren’t as easily found here as they are in the homeland. In fact, a week ago I went out to dinner with Rebecca and ordered a dirty vodka martini, but then was told there were no green olives, meaning I had a mojito instead. Then last night we went back to the same place and I ordered my favoured drink again. Only—you guessed it!—no green olives! So I had a margarita. (OK, I had three. It was a Friday night, after all!)

Now, in fairness, Scotland does have an ample supply of all of the other sorts of olives that I love. So it’s not like I can’t get olives here—it’s just that the world of olives is different here. And this means that I will have to work harder to find my mild black olives. But it also means that the next time Rebecca and I go into that fabby little olive-less place for dinner and/or drinks, we will bring a jar of olives. Just in case!

And if you want to offer tips as to how to find those little black olives that I love so much, I’d appreciate it. After all, I’m hosting Thanksgiving and my guests will need olives for their fingers in order to partake in the full-on American experience!

The flat hunt begins

I’ve been looking at flats on line for several months and now that I’m in town, it’s time to start looking in real life! Of course, I’m starting to think it will be a long, hard, emotional process!

I’ve scrimped and saved for the past two years so that I could afford to return to Scotland for my post graduate degree, but despite my efforts I am still going to be cutting it tight on the financial side. I no longer have a comfortable income. I no longer have a car. I no longer have a great credit history. (Well, I have one in America but it doesn’t translate to Scotland so I’m credit-less here.)

All of this means that I need to find a place that I can afford on a tight budget and that it needs to be in the city centre so that I can walk everywhere—or take a bus trip when needed. Thankfully, most flats in my budget are furnished. Sadly, most of them are crappy little dives, barely big enough to swing a cat.

Yesterday was a bit of a blow when I learned that most of the reputable letting agents required you to be in (preferably full time)employment. My student status seems to be a negative one, despite the fact that I’ve spent the last several years as a working professional and that I am not a typical student (you know, being 37 years old and all!). My healthy(ish) bank balance doesn’t seem to matter nor does my offer to pay several months’ rent in advance. No, in order to rent with a reputable company, I will need a guarantor. (Which I know I can do if required.)

Regardless, I registered with a couple of the better agents yesterday and today.

Of course, I also realised that I need to check out the agents with a less-than-fantastic reputation, which is what I did today. It seems that they’re not as bothered with my student status, nor are they concerned about my unemployment—and they’ll happily let me pay in advance so that I don’t need a guarantor.

As luck would have it, one of today’s agents had a flat just across the road that was on the upper end of my budget so we walked across to have a look. It’s in a great location for town (two blocks from the coffee shop I’m sitting in whilst writing this post) and is a ‘good enough’ size. However, I noticed immediately that the entry stair (whilst clean-ish) was dingy and smelly. I also noticed that the flat is grimy and smelly—in fairness some of this could be from the student who is currently residing there, though some is certainly damp.

I have to say, I am sad that my upper limit budget will only get me that type of flat in the city centre. And I have to admit that it makes me cry a bit. I could manage living there for a year, but I fear that I would be sad doing so as it’s such a stark contrast to the lovely home I left behind in America.

But, I have another flat to look at on Thursday. It’s the same price—again, at the upper end of my budget—but is a bit over a mile from the city centre which means it should be a bit nicer for the same money. In fact, the photos are lovely. Sadly, it means taking the bus more often, but if it’s as nice as it seems on line, then I think it will be a better choice for me emotionally. And of course, I would need a guarantor to secure the place, but if I must, I must.

To give a happy spin here: I have to remember how lucky I am that I have a good friend to stay with until I find a place. Rebecca has kindly opened her home to me and whilst I know we’d both rather our own space, I also know that she’s happy to house me in between now and then. (I promise not to stay so long that I wear out my welcome!) Of course, I guess the nice thing is that the longer I stay, the more money I have to spend on a flat—which would mean a nicer place all together!

Anyhow, I’ve only just begun and I’m not stressing out yet, but I’ll take all the luck you can send my way!

By the sea

Today has been a seaside day. But not just one seaside—three of them! Or, really, I suppose it was all the same sea, but just three different seaside towns.

It started with a trip to Saltburn with one of my sister-in-law’s and her daughter where we took in the fresh sea air, walked along the pier, and enjoyed (of course) fish and chips. Our conversations there revealed that I’d never been to any of the other local-to-Billingham seaside towns (other than Seaton, obviously) and that my niece wanted blue ice cream—a treat we were unable to source at Saltburn.

And so, after departing Saltburn we headed up the road to Redcar (in a silver car) in search of blue ice cream (which we didn’t find) and later in search of the car (which we lost after forgetting where we parked it). Of course, being as we had time to spare, we decided to head up the road again to Seaton Carew where we hoped that we’d find that blue ice cream. Sadly, we didn’t, but they did have other flavours (and colours) of ice cream and a blue cone, which seemed to suffice.

The day wasn’t meant to be a tour of the regional seaside, but it was and I enjoyed it very much. Better still, I enjoyed the company! Better even still is that I know that I will get to enjoy their company more often now that I’m so near. (The bitter-sweet side to that, of course, is that whilst I’m happy to be enjoying the company of my in-laws and Scottish friends, it comes at the price of missing my own family and American friends.)

Oh, and to fill you in since I’ve been a bit MIA these last few days:
Yesterday was spent meeting with several of my in-laws for coffee at Starbucks before heading off gadget phone shopping with one of my nephews—a shopping trip that was hugely successful and saw me purchasing my first-ever Android based phone. And I love it! (I’m sure I’ll be posting updates from it soon enough!)

Tomorrow I’m off running so that I can prepare for my marathon, then the following day I’m heading down to Wakefield to see another sister-in-law. And sometime next week, I’ll spend some time sorting the long to-do list I have that seems to be getting longer rather than shorter!

Right! That’s most everything caught up so I’m off to play with that new gadget a bit more.

Visa blues

I made my way up to Spokane today for my biometrics appointment as part of my visa application for The Big Move to Scotland. You would think that this news would have me extremely happy, but I just can’t find the joy today.

Maybe it’s because after the biometrics appointment I had a bone marrow aspiration. (Ouch!) Maybe it’s because on the drive to the appointment I realised that my last trip to the federal building was for Paul’s biometrics for his 10-year green card. Maybe it’s because once I walked into the building it dawned on me that Paul died right before we applied for his American citizenship. Or maybe it was because we were meant to be immigrating back to Scotland together.

Oh, I tried to celebrate this big step toward my big move. In fact, on my way home I stopped off at the post office and was momentarily joyed to find that my UK tax refund had finally arrived. But then I was sadden to find out that it was about £500 shy of what was expected.

Then, I had to pick up my foster daughter, take her shopping for a birthday gift, and drop her off at a friend’s for a birthday slumber party. ‘Yay!’ I thought to myself. ‘A relaxing Friday evening at home without the kid; I can have a martini and soak in the tub…’

And then I got home and there was more unhappy news waiting for me. (Nothing life threatening or unexpected, but sad none the less.)

Anyhow, I want to be happy today, but I can’t seem to get there. Instead, I can’t stop crying and stressing out about everything and nothing all at once.

But, in an attempt to leave on a high note: Now that my biometrics are done, I can send in the rest of my forms to the British Embassy. They say that most visas are approved within 10 days, so I’m holding out hope that I’m a ‘most visa’ case because I can’t buy my tickets until I have my visa. And once I buy my tickets, I’m sure I’ll be a bit more calm. (And probably a bit more stressed and emotional, too!)

The weekend will get better. It must get better…

Expat food woes

I think that one of the worst things about the life of an expat or repat is dealing with food let-downs. Or is that just me?

You see, when I first moved to Scotland (expat) I really missed certain American foods: Root beer; [proper] hotdogs and corndogs; saltines; Butterfingers; and others. But then I returned to America (repat), leaving behind all of my new-found foods: [Proper] fish-n-chips; curry take-aways; Love Hearts; and various ‘biscuits’ [sweet and savoury].

Anyhow, I’m super-happy about my return to expat life where I will no longer miss my lovely British (and Indian) foods. But I’m starting to realise that I’m going to miss my American foods again. And the more I think about it, the more the list grows! So far I have:

  • Hotdogs and hamburgers
  • Corndogs
  • Root beer
  • Chicken strips
  • Ranch dressing
  • Butterfingers
  • Three Musketeers
  • Root beer (it deserves a second mention)
  • Ranch dressing (it also deserves a second mention)
  • Saltines
  • [Americanised] Mexican food
  • General Tso’s Chicken
  • Pioneer Coffee
  • Jelly beans
  • [Double Stuff] Oreos
  • Basic black olives (the kind for tacos and nachos)
  • Taco Bell and Taco Time (I know these are restaurants, but I will miss them!)
  • Rye bread
  • 1000 Island dressing
  • Many, many more!

Oh! Then there’s the ‘you can find them but they need to be tracked down at specialty import stores’ list.

But you know what? I am willing to make these sacrifices. After all, Scotland is home to deep-fried pizza and Mars bars. So I’ll just console myself with those. [Note to self: Get gym membership!]

For the record

I picked up my medical records today so that I can give a copy of my medical history to my new GP when I arrive in Scotland. I’m a little nervous about passing them off, however, and have decided that I will scan them all before I leave so that they’re not lost in the system.

Now, I have to say this next part carefully, because one of Paul’s old school friends* works for the Scottish health system and knows something or other about how medical records are transferred and blah, blah, blah. We once had a broad conversation on the topic and I don’t think we agreed with each other’s views. Mostly because I was right and he wasn’t. [Enter cheeky grin here.]

But it must be said: I don’t have full faith the UK’s medical records system.

Mind you, it’s not because I don’t trust the system, but rather it’s because the system is too big and I have no control of my records once they are handed over. (Much like the military hospitals here, I imagine.) Once I hand over my records, they ‘belong to’ the government-run system. I don’t know if I have a problem with this because I have a healthy habit of questioning my government’s actions, or if it’s because I’m an American and my government has no right to own (or to know about) my medical history.

But you see, in Scotland (and the whole of the UK) health care is socialised** and I don’t get to pick-and-chose who my doctors are (unless I pay for private care). It also means that if I move three miles away, I may need to register with a new GP and my medical records will be automatically transferred. The good part of that is that I don’t need to do anything for that to happen. The bad part is that if I feel there are errors in my records, the new GP will have that (potentially) incorrect information. It also means that, when seeking second opinions, medical care providers will have access to records which could inhibit their ability to give a non-biased opinion.

So I don’t know; there’s just something wrong (in my opinion) about my medical records being part of the government’s database and therefore subject to the National Archive’s Data Protection Act. But, I want to move to Scotland and I may will need a doctor when I get there. So I guess that I need to play by their rules. And thankfully, Scotland is one of those counties where I’ll not be executed for having an opinion contrary to that of the government’s.

I wonder if other expats have these concerns, or if it’s just another case of me being a little off-kilter.

Anyhow, I guess that’s one more thing I can check off my to-do list. Sadly, I think I’ve added about a dozen things to that same list in the last week…

(And for those counting, there are only 104 days remaining until I’m an unemployed bum–and only 71 of those days are actually working days. Yay me!)

[Disclaimer: I realise that I do not have a full understanding of the health system in the UK and that my statements and opinions may be grossly unfair. I also realise that there are great differences between UK and US medical systems on many levels and that each have their pros and cons. This post is in no way meant as a political or social commentary on those systems, but rather a commentary on my own personal feelings and insecurities (rightly or wrongly) about handing off my medical history to a system that gives me less control and access to that information moving forward than what I am accustomed to currently.***]

* I say Paul’s friend, but in fairness he is also my friend. Though I bet sometimes he wishes that weren’t the case!
** Apologies again to UK family and friends; the term socialised health care is just what we use state-side to describe government-supplied care and in no way means I think you’re all socialists.
*** Gaining a full copy of my records was as easy as signing my name to a very easy-to-understand form then waiting two days for them to be ready. No fees, no additional red tape, no hassles.