A Chat with Scotland

Once upon a time, starting about a year ago, my best friend was going to move to Utah at the end of August this year.

Through a series of events that began in May and crammed themselves into about six weeks, she and her husband had received a job opportunity for their family in Scotland, decided they were going, sold their house, and left western Washington for a life across the pond.

I miss her like crazy, but am excited for this chance to hear all about her adventures. And what better way to convince myself that a visit to the UK is essential–and soon–than to have my best friend move there? (No offense, Utah, but I don’t think I could have found enough material to fill a blog series about you.)

Without further ado, I happily introduce the beautiful Tami (one of my very favorite people) as the star of “Scotland Chats!”

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(Here she is with her two youngest children, just chilling while exploring castle ruins. Because that’s what they do for fun in Scotland.)

Wendy: Okay. Is Scotland what you expected? What did you expect?

Tami: Yes it’s what I expected so far, except the weather. It’s been the hottest summer in years and that’s been a bonus. Seeing that “hot” here is in the high 70’s. (Make that the mid 20’s). I did expect it to be green and beautiful. The landscape is amazing, the hills that are gently laid out in green with sheep and cattle. (Haven’t been to the highlands yet). The people are friendly and helpful. I do think they are more reserved than Americans, first off, but when I am friendly and relaxed so are they.

They are definitely more reserved in public and when our family goes somewhere and is loud, we get noticed. That is partially the accent though, our accent. I notice myself talking more quietly to see if that decreases the attention. That said, downtown Aberdeen is full of sassy drunk people late in the evening on a weekend.

Wendy: So you fit right in . . . 😉 Is the conversion confusing? Or did you live with that in Canada? How about from miles to kilometers?

Tami: Haha! As to conversions, I don’t get Celsius, I never have. Even the 4 years in Canada I still had to convert it to F for myself to feel satisfied. It is in miles here so no conversion there.

Wendy: Oh, nice! Are the speed limits posted in mph, then?

Tami: Yes, the speed limits are MPH. Except, the gas in is litres, which I am quick to convert. To figure gas mileage uses a calculator because you fill it in litres, convert it to gallons and then get the MPG.

Wendy: Phew. That’s a lot of work. How much does gas cost per litre?

Tami: About 138.9 pence per litre. Which you multiply by 3.86 to get the price per gallon. About $5.36 per gallon. Of course that is without the pound to dollar factor. Which I don’t think about as much since we are paid in pounds.

Wendy: So, basically, I should stop complaining? I think I paid $3.89 a gallon today.

Tami: Haha! It is much more expensive in Europe in general.

Wendy: Where does the factor “3.86” come from? Is it 3.86 litres in a gallon or something?

Tami: Yes, it is. That I memorized from my Canadian days.

Wendy: You were specially equipped for the transition to UK life.

Tami: A bit yes! I think a big change will be schools, and helping my boys adjust. They are going to have more of a culture shock than the rest of us.

Wendy: True. It’s going to be a whole different ball game. We’ll have to chat again once they’ve been in school a bit and see the differences.

Tami: What does surprise me is how hard it is to understand people. They speak quickly and since I don’t look so touristy they think I understand them. There are those with really thick accents and I just smile and stare with a blank expression. They usually laugh and try to talk slower.

Wendy: Awesome! Hahaha! That was actually my next question: are the accents SO incredible? There is such a musical quality to a Scottish accent, but I can see where not understanding could be a bit of a drag.

Tami: YES!! It’s like living in a dreamland! We all love that, and talk with each other about what things they say differently and who we can understand and who we can’t.

[Editor’s note: check out the sidebar on Tami’s blog to find which American phrases are passé and the way a person should say them in Scotland–although I see “Munch and Mingle” is missing, which has been my favorite Scottish phrase so far. Maybe it’s not on the list because there’s no American equivalent?]

Wendy: I think I would walk around with a sappy smile while listening to everyone’s conversations.

Tami: Hahaha!!! It’s hard not to. 🙂

Wendy: 🙂 Do people want to hear you talk? Is an American accent something they like to hear, or do they get it enough from Hollywood that it doesn’t matter?

Tami: I haven’t had anyone say, Oh! I love your accent. Don’t know if they just hear it enough or if they think that’s forward, or they don’t even care.

Oh, and men dress nicely here. Women are about the same or better. But men dress in slacks and button ups and have nicely cut hair, on average. Now, the younger crowd are still teens and somewhat sloppy, but not YA age and up.

Wendy: Hmm. Intriguing. That visit to Scotland is looking better and better. 😉

Tami: I know!!!

Wendy: Have you asked anyone to speak in an American accent for you?

Tami: No! I haven’t thought of that. I will need to try. There is a “Scottish” language that locals speak (I remember my dad telling me about it). I’ll have to look up the name. I have asked people I’ve met to say something in that.

Wendy: Cool! Is it like Celtic or Welsh or something? (Hm. I probably just offended the entire citizenships of Wales and Scotland by saying that . . . sorry, friends! I know you’re different countries!)

Tami: I’ll find out the name and redeem you!
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Now that, folks, is a real friend. I’m hoping to have chats with Tami regarding the mysteries of living in Scotland on a regular basis. Any questions you want to ask a real-live American living in Scotland can go in the comments, and I’ll do my best to fit it in.
Check out Tami’s blog for more Scotland adventures and gorgeous photos. (Not many UK citizens think to post pictures of the everyday stuff, so it’s like an Anglophile’s dream come true!)

Making it Stick

My writing is going through a rough patch lately. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, I only know that I’m having a hard time getting anything to stick. The words, they slip through my brain and out of my mind without stopping to greet the paper.

When I was a kid, we would go up to the mountains to a place called West Piney for family reunions. You’re probably thinking, “Piney? That sounds like a made-up word.” Well, it just might be. Still, that’s what we called it. But when we thought about it, we didn’t think of it as “West Piney.” We thought of if as “that place with the gigantic slide.”

Now, there’s gigantic and there’s gigantic. I don’t know if you can fully appreciate this slide without seeing it in person, and seeing it in person when you are under four feet tall is even better. The lodge was built on the side of a mountain, overlooking a small valley and creek below, and then the mountain grew back up out of the opposite creek bed. To get down the mountain you could take the 40-some-odd steps . . . or you could take the slide.

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Thanks to the magic of the Internet, here’s a picture.

So, when we’d be there for our family reunions, my brothers and cousins and I would do the regular camping-type activities like hiking, wading in the creek, and performing corny skits around the fireplace, but we’d also raid the kitchen for wax paper or used chip bags. The slide is made out of metal. In the July sun, that baby would heat up enough to blister. We’d take the wax paper or chip bag (opened up with the greasy side down, of course) and sit on them at the top of the slide. The slide has high sides, so it was almost like going down a chute. There we’d perch, the drop off looking impossibly steep, with the end yawning into a pile of cedar shavings.

Once we shoved off, the only way to slow down was by pushing our feet into the sides. But, heck–who wanted to slow down?

We’d zip down the mountainside, the wind whipping our hair behind us, feeling as though we were flying. And then we were flying–right off the end, for only a fraction of a second, but it was you, in the air, free as a bird with a chip bag stuck to its bum.

Then we landed, of course, which wasn’t always the best part of the ride. Just ask my Aunt Barbara, who happened to sort of break her ankle at the bottom.

Sometimes when I’m writing I have these thoughts, these bursts of brilliance. It’s more than my normal writing self: it’s adding a greasy chip bag under my tush at the top and flying, flying, flying, sometimes with the slide underneath and supporting me and sometimes completely on my own.

And then I land.

I lose the flight.

I haven’t caught it. It’s over. It’s done.

It didn’t stick.

Apparently more people than Aunt Barbara were injured on the slide, because they extended the bottom in later years. Instead of flying off the end, we rode flat for longer periods to ease some of that momentum. The only problem was when you didn’t even make it to the end in your initial ride. Then you had to scoot along on your bottom to be able to jump off the end.

Awkward.

In my writing I’m working on finding that perfect balance where I can go fast and fun and free but slow down enough to not injure myself. Not too slow, because no one wants to have to push themselves to the edge. The perfect end is where you come to a stop just before stepping off all together. Although it could be argued an even more perfect end is where you don’t stop at all and the momentum carries you through to the last sentence, where you hop off lightly, turn to look back at what you just conquered, and sigh in satisfaction.

The funny thing about this post is that I wrote it a couple of years ago–and it’s still true. Apparently, I am wont to struggle with getting into a routine of writing. Some weeks it’s great, and others it’s more non-existent. But I continue to try, continue to reach for that perfect end.

Also, check back in a few days for my first (of what I hope will be a great many) Scotland Chat.

The Itchy-Ache

Writing-wise, the past few months haven’t been as consistent as I’d like.

I can blame it on a lot of things–kid issues, my friend learning she’s moving to Scotland and helping her get her house on the market and sold, personal drama–but even though all those things are real and relevant, I still miss it.

I can tell I haven’t been writing. I can almost feel it, the words bubbling around in my fingertips, jostling for elbow room in my brain. I need to let them out, let them spill on the page.

But I can’t.

My insides are all confused.

There’s too much I’m trying to keep track of and I get distracted too easily. I feel like there’s no time.

That’s both true and false.

There’s no large block of time, true. But there are little splices of time. I need to be taking advantage of them.

Jotting down some words and some thoughts–even when they aren’t polished or deep into the character–is better than having a simmering brain.

 

And no words on the page.

Two Recommendations

I think I’ll key a new saying: “When the writing’s good, the blogging’s bad.”

So, if this blog is any indication, the past couple of weeks have been great writing-wise. (And that is correct.) However, I’ve struggled to get any of my started-and-abandoned blog posts to click.

I’m just going to give a couple of recommendations instead.

First, a movie:

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I already raved about this on Facebook, but it is seriously one of the funniest and best-written rom coms I’ve seen in a long time. Beyond that, it’s set in Scotland [digression: I just found out my best friend is moving to Scotland, which is devastating because I’ll miss her so much, but also awesome because I can start saving for a trip where I’ll have a personal guide]. I’m a bit crazy about Scotland (and many other British-y things), so it was fun seeing all the gorgeous footage of the island of Hegg. Listening to Kelly MacDonald’s delicious accent and looking at David Tennant’s delicious face aren’t hardships, either. Let’s face it: you can’t go wrong with a cow-haunted toilet and lines like, “I’ll just leave it blank for eBay.” (Currently available on Netflix, where I just watched part of it [again] when I should have been packing for a Spring Break! trip with my kids.)

Second, a book:

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On said Spring Break! trip, we had lots of miles to cover in our trusty Kia minivan. I picked up Fake Mustache, or How Jody O’Rodeo and her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind by Tom Angleberger (of Origami Yoda fame) from the library. It had my three older kids (ages 12, 10, and 9) and I laughing out loud more than once. One of the things I love best about middle grade fiction is its fantastical nature–the kids it’s aimed at are more than willing to suspend their disbelief and enjoy a completely unbelievable story. And as I have a soft spot in my heart for faux facial hair, this book is a clear winner.

What about you? Read or seen any winners lately? I’ve been making my way through the Whitney Awards finalists; there are definitely some winners there. When the writing gets bad, maybe I’ll write a review or two about some of them.

Does Salary Show What We Value?

Surveys talking about salary always intrigue me. I’m not quite sure why, although it possibly stems from my father. He used to cut out graphs that showed the average earnings of people with a high school diploma, an associate’s degree, an undergraduate degree, and a master’s or other professional degree. I’m sure he did this to make us value education.

It worked! My brothers and I are all college graduates. (But I will tell you a little secret: that might actually have more to do with my mom, who made sure we had the opportunity to work during potato harvest. There’s nothing like long hours standing on a combine or in front of a conveyor belt looking for vines and dirt clods among the thousands of potatoes sweeping by to make you desire a nice, cushy desk job.)

Anyway, for today’s Survey Says, I thought this was an interesting comparison.

On the one hand, we have average annual public school teacher salaries, which have increased almost $12,000 over the last ten years. Not bad, school teachers. $56k is a fairly decent salary.

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Howsoever, when we look at the Highest NBA player salaries for 2012-13, we see that Kobe Bryant earns $27,849,149.

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Is it just me, or is something seriously wrong with this picture? School teachers–who educate our children, the future of our country–make only 0.2% of what an NBA star does. And, granted, these are the highest-paid NBA players . . . but still. The disparity is too much.

I could get on my soap box about this, and point out some of the excesses in society and the upside-downness of what we’re willing to pay for, but I don’t think there’s any need. These numbers speak for themselves.

Stage Fright

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I am kind of a chicken.

Not totally, but, you know, kind of.

I had thought I had reached a fairly safe spot in my maturity where I was content and confident in my abilities.

Well . . .

Apparently not so much.

I had been talking to someone I knew from Narnia. No, wait–high school. We were catching up on our lives and I mentioned I’d been to a writing conference.

“What do you write?”

I told him I was writing a book.

“What’s it about?”

I explained I was writing a Regency.

After a few sentences, which included “Jane Austen” and “some of those historical chick flicks,” he said, “That’s great! I think it’s nice when older people go after their dreams.”

Wait. Did he just call me old?

Before I could remind him we were practically the same age, he said, “Can I hear some of it? Read me an excerpt.”

Gulp. An excerpt.

Remembering my own assertion–I am a writer–my brain scrambled to figure out what part I should read. I made small talk while my mind raced. Also, I was having a difficult time locating my manuscript, or even my notebook.

I was flustered.

And completely caught off guard.

While many people had read my writing, no one had asked me to read my writing, other than at a specific critique group with other writers. And over the phone–!

(Now is probably a good time to mention that I only talk on the phone when I have to. Otherwise, I dislike it with a potent and bitter loathing. I’m awkward enough in person; over the phone the awkwardness reaches new heights.)

I fumbled over my words, apologizing, still not finding my MS anywhere.

Awkwardness galore.

Luckily, my friend is a good-phone talker and he basically said, “That’s cool,” without drawing attention to my ineptitude on the telephone.

In an attempt to be bold and make up for my earlier chicken-heartedness, I am now going to post an excerpt here. “He [or she] who hesitates is lost!” (Props to Mr. Snicket.)

This is the second scene, where we are introduced to the hero of the tale.

Sidney Thomas Francis Carmichael, Duke of Ottley, Marquess of Shelbourne, Earl of Loxley, stared across his desk at his solicitor Frederick Feld of Banks and Feld, Esq. “There’s an estate in Scotland? Why is this only coming up now?”

Feld cleared his throat delicately. “Some papers appear to have been misplaced, Your Grace.”

“Misplaced?” The young duke’s brow furrowed as he thought of the ramifications of that piece of information. He let out a frustrated sigh and raked his fingers through his hair. “Blast.” He thumbed through the pages of the appointment book sitting atop his desk’s blotter. Most, if not all, of the pages had things written on them. “That means I have to make a trip to Scotland.”

Feld considered a moment, then ventured, “You could send someone else to check out the property, Your Grace.”

Sidney shut the appointment book with a click. “For whatever reason, Sir Howard appointed me as trustee.” His voice was quiet, clipped. “Although it isn’t particularly convenient for me to take a trip to Scotland just now,” he cast a baleful glare at his appointment book, “I will fulfill my duty.” Sidney let out a pent up breath. “It will just have to wait a couple of months.”

“Your Grace, someone with your responsibilities cannot expect to do everything personally.”

“Thank you, Feld,” the duke said with a smirk. “I’ve found that lots fewer papers get ‘misplaced’ when I attend to things myself.”

Feld turned an unbecoming shade of red, but before he could stammer an apology Sidney held up a hand to stop him. “You’ll have to forgive me, Feld. It had already been a long day before you decided to lay a mysterious estate in Scotland in my lap.”

Sidney stood and Feld followed his lead. “Come talk with me tomorrow,” Sidney said, his words a dismissal.

After Feld left, Sidney walked over to the window and looked down at the street below, leaning against the sill. The manicured shrubs and the fine carriages passing didn’t register in his mind. If he was honest with himself, the Scotland estate didn’t weigh so heavily, either.

The weight he felt was the weight of the dukedom, the weight his mother had piled on him earlier during tea, the weight of duty.

“You are now a score and ten,” she had pointed out unnecessarily. “You must find a wife.”

I Am a Writer

I got back late last night from Arizona and a writing conference I attended there.

I met some lovely people, ate some delicious food, and attended classes about the craft of writing. Much of it I already knew, but some of it I didn’t. I enjoy learning, and loved this opportunity to delve deeper into certain aspects of writing.

My biggest take away (I think I’m going to do a post on annoying buzz words soon) was this:

I am a writer.

I know this. I have known it for a long time. But one thing that the experts stress about writing (and maybe this is an annoying writing buzz word) is having a platform. I, myself, have written a post on having a platform before. The problem was, I could never figure out my platform. I knew someone whose platform was cancer, another person whose platform was PTSD, and another whose platform was helping people with disabilities. Those are all wonderful platforms–but I couldn’t figure out what my platform was.

Does a platform have to be about a disease, or a mental condition? I considered making autism my platform, or maybe osteogenesis imperfecta. I have experience with both of those. Music programs in the public school system? How floral design can have a positive impact on the world around you? Star Wars as a metaphor for life? The importance of motherhood? Laughter as a healing agent? There are infinite platforms out there, but none of them fit what I wanted my platform to be.

I could easily discard things I didn’t want my platform to be, but had a harder time deciding what I did want it to be. Because of that, I wondered if I could really do this writing thing. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for it.

Except that didn’t make sense, because I felt like it was something I could do for a reason. A gift.

That made me doubly grateful for the snippet I heard in one of my classes at the conference. Or maybe I didn’t hear it. Maybe I thought it, and it was just what I needed to know.

The thought was this: You have to have a platform (this is where my insides began to despair), even if your platform is only “I’m a writer.” (Angels singing.)

And my heart lifted and I thought, “I can do that. I am a writer, so I can make that my platform.”

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I write.

I am a writer.