On loss and long distance, part two

It’s taken me over a month to write this, mostly because I know by writing it, I will have to accept it’s real.  My grandmother Norma passed away in April, which has been really hard for me. Again, I wasn’t able to get home for the funeral, so in some sense, it still doesn’t feel completely real.

When I was little, my grandmother, who I called Grando, used to bring me special cough drops when I was sick. Somehow, they just made everything better.  I’ve been sick twice in the last three weeks, and I could sure use some special cough drops now.

Growing up, I remember the following things about her:

1. She always smelled the same.  Her scent was Estee Lauder Youth Dew, and when I smell on someone, I know it instantly.

2. She had a habit of “putting things in a safe place” and then forgetting where that safe place was – sometimes for years.  I’m pretty sure this is genetic, as I can think of at least two items in a safe place here that I still cannot locate!

3. She made the best iced tea, and she told me her secret was to stick her finger in it.  This seems kind of gross now, actually, but this is what I remember.

4. She always had a jar of pickles and frozen pizzas on hand when my brother and I visited.  I will forever be fond of Totino’s Party Pizzas for this reason (even though I can no longer eat them.)

5. She was an excellent bargain shopper, and she taught me everything I know about finding good deals.  To this day, I usually start at the clearance rack when looking for clothes or shoes!

When I was 21, my mom took me to Las Vegas and my grandparents met us there for the weekend.  When we first arrived, my mom went to check us in while Grando and my grandpa taught me how to play the slot machines.  This was in 2000, so the machines all still took coins back then.  She handed me a bucket of nickels and within minutes, I had nickels pouring out of the machine.  Later on that same trip, my mom showed me how to play Keno and we won $800 first try, so I think she was a bit concerned that I would think Vegas was always like this!

That trip was the only time I can ever remember my grandmother drinking (she had exactly one drink.) I have hilarious memories of what occurred shortly after that one drink, that I will treasure forever.

Grando had a very serious health episode several years ago, where she almost died, and since then, she’s not been able to get around or out of the house much.  My mom and I did take her to get pedicures a few years ago, and I have a great picture of her from the nail salon looking happy.  I was lucky enough to celebrate her 80th birthday with her as well, with a family dinner at a nearby restaurant with an epic happy hour and an enormous, random menu.

After my father’s mother passed away in October, right before I had a chance to mail her a postcard from Scotland, I got my shit together and bought some Skype credit so I could call Grando and Grandpa. (Grandpa hates the phone but I can usually get a few sentences before he runs away.)  In some of our last conversations, she was very worried about whether I’d get married and if she’d get to see that happen.  I’m sorry that she didn’t, but I think she understood that I’m happy where I’m at now – as hard as it can be to be far from home, I’m getting to see the world and experience life in a different culture.

My last call to her was a few weeks before she passed – she’d been in and out of the hospital and was just transferred to a rehab facility.  She was in the middle of physical therapy when I called, so she couldn’t talk, but she yelled “I love you” from behind my grandpa.  That was the last time I heard her voice.  I’m glad I called.

My Grando
My Grando

A new year, and a new and improved attitude about it all

After spending two of the most relaxed weeks of my life somewhere sunny, I’ve realized that in the longer term, gloomy Scotland is not going to be my forever home.  I’m just not cut out for this weather – I always joked that I’m solar-powered, but that has turned out to be truer than I imagined.

However – the fact that I live in Europe still stands, and there are still a number of great benefits to remaining in the UK that I plan to take advantage of.

1. Healthcare is free, and it seems to be pretty good – as many of you know, I’ve been gluten-free for a couple years, but I’m still struggling on and off with a weird pain in my lower left abdomen that doctors hadn’t figured out in three years in the US.  I’m trying again here in the UK, and my new doctor here has already tried two different medications (first didn’t work, second is brand new, and we’ll see) and he’s already got me set up to see a specialist next month for a consultation.  Prescription medications are free here, which is awesome.  I do hear that it can take a long time to get scheduled for certain tests and procedures, but I’m really in no hurry for them to send me for one.

2. We live in a beautiful country. It is full of castles and beautiful landscapes.  We should really go see as much of it as we can.

3. We live really close to a lot of other really awesome places.  There are really cheap flights to some of them.  We should go see those too.

4. It’s a chance to learn about another culture, political system, economy – this would probably be easier if we had a TV, so I could watch the news, but I read what I can and I’m trying to pick up as much as I can.

What other places should we try to visit while we’re here? Loch Ness is high on my inside-Scotland list, and the coast of Portugal is a top travel pick.

Just a quick update!

Hello and Happy New Year! I’ve been thinking about all the great things that happened in 2014 – I moved to Scotland, I visited Brazil for the first time, I received an award for serving as Staff Council Speaker – it was a pretty good year.

Here are a few updates since I posted last, in no particular order:

1. Job: I’m still in my same job.  It’s been better since coming back from break. I now have a work plan and some professional development courses scheduled.  I am managing my own time with less disruption and chaos.  I think I’m going to live!

2. National Insurance Number: I forgot to mail in a document and my application was denied in December.  I just re-applied and mailed all the things.  Should be just fine this time!

3. Health: Yeah the darkness is brutal.  Getting out of here for a couple weeks was awesome, but coming back was rough.  I’m currently sitting in front of a SAD lamp.  I’ve just talked to my doctor, who says this happens to pretty much everyone here.

4. Future plans: I am going to apply for the BBC Journalism Training Scheme.  It is a year-long program that starts in September.  It’s a long shot but it sounds really cool.

Anyone want to give me updates from home?

I’m still here!

Hey, whoever still checks this blog despite my total lack of posts lately.  Thanks for sticking around.

I feel like I’m still waiting for the storm to pass.  Still waiting for things to calm down, to feel like I belong here, to feel like things are okay back home, to feel like my job isn’t going to kill me.  I don’t know when, or if, these things will ever come.  I’m surviving on a week to week, sometimes day to day basis.  If I can just get through this conference… if I can just get to winter break… and so on it goes.  I’m in a constant state of fight or flight and it’s taking a toll on my health.  All I want to do is sleep.

And so, dear readers (reader?), I’ve been waiting until I felt better to post here.  But you know what? I don’t feel better, and that’s okay to say. In this age of Instagram and Facebook, I think we all have a habit of trying to present the best version of ourselves and while it’s nice to think that all my friends and family are out living charmed lives, and while I’d love you for to think the same about me, it’s just not always the case.

I know I can’t maintain this constant state of stress (nor do I want to) and so it’s time to start changing the things I’m able to influence.  In no particular order, here’s what I am working to do:

1. Get my health straight.  In the last week, I have had three separate instances of pretty awful tummy troubles.  I think these were due to accidental gluten, but this last one has left me in a fair amount of pain for most of the day today.  I’m run down, I’m exhausted, and all my joints hurt.  I’m sure I’ve got some kind of rampant inflammation problems.  This is probably not going to fix itself.  It’s time to take advantage of the lovely healthcare system in the UK and see if they can figure out what three years’ worth of doctors in the US couldn’t.  (Side note: I just learned that if you have Celiac disease, you can actually get prescription gluten free bread and pasta, which would make it free. That’s pretty cool! Too bad I tested negative in the US.)

2. Eliminate sources of stress.  My job is a big one.  Just quitting and living off savings until I decide what do to with my life isn’t the number one option, but it is actually something I could do if I needed to.  However, this is not ideal, and I’d like to find a way to continue working and earning a steady paycheck.  I’ve requested a meeting with my boss to try to get her to clarify expectations, because after 2.5 months here, I still have no idea how my performance is being measured, or what my priorities are supposed to be.  If that doesn’t help, I’ll be thinking about other options over the holidays, and planning to come back in January with… something.

3. Do things I enjoy. I know, this is kind of obvious, but by the time I work all day, come home, cook dinner, clean up, do whatever chore needs doing, it’s like 8pm and it’s been dark for four hours and I don’t feel like doing anything.  This is no good.  I need to spend the hours I have to myself doing things that are awesome, like cooking and writing and reading and walking and exploring my still very new hometown. We don’t have a TV and yet somehow all my free time gets sucked into a vacuum of Facebook and Candy Crush.  Maybe I should get some jewelry making stuff, or paints or something.  Or, you know, I keep thinking that I might like to try writing for a living… perhaps I could spend more time writing here. I’ve been on two trips that I haven’t written about yet and this could be my chance to be a travel writer!

4. Be grateful. On Thursday, my co-worker made me not one but two gluten-free pumpkin pies, complete with tiny American flags, so the office could celebrate Thanksgiving with me.  I was so touched I burst into tears in the break room.  Thursday night, I got to video chat with most of my family and voice chat with my grandmother (thank you Skype, Google Hangouts and Viber) – I still wasn’t there, but seeing and hearing everyone and knowing they were all together was nice.  On Saturday, we celebrated our own little (gluten-free, vegetarian) Thanksgiving here in Glasgow, and I am grateful that my not-American partner was willing to join me so I’d feel a little less like I was missing out. Yes, the distance is hard, and I still haven’t found my people here, but I have people all over the world that are just a little bit of technology away.

So.  I’m still here.  I have a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and a steady paycheck.  I have family and I have friends. Thanks for that.

On loss and long distance

You may have noticed I’ve been a bit quiet this last week.  Last Tuesday, my Grandma Shirley passed away at her home in Arizona, surrounded by family. I wasn’t able to get there for the services, which were held yesterday.  I sent just a few words to my brother to read on my behalf; there were a lot of stories and memories that I didn’t get to tell.  I’m going to tell them now.

My parents went to Germany over my fifth birthday, and left me and my brother with Grandma.  On my birthday, she got me this chocolate cake with whipped cream icing and Oreos and cherries on it and it was AWESOME.

A few years later, my brother and I were with Grandma at Smitty’s, the grocery store.  My brother had a loose tooth that he kept playing with.  Standing in line to check out, Grandma stuck her finger in my brother’s mouth and popped that tooth out with her fingernail.  Poor kid just stood there, bewildered and bleeding from the mouth.

Grandma was notorious for over-serving food, especially to the children in the family, but you had to clean your plate before you could leave the table.  One year she’d given me this full-grown man-size portion of stuffing, which I hated, and I was in dinner purgatory.  When she wasn’t looking, one of my aunts scooped up most of the stuffing with a napkin and pitched it.  Best save ever.

In July, I was pretty sure I would be moving to Scotland, so I took a few days off work and went to Phoenix to visit all my grandparents. I decided to surprise Grandma at bingo, which she played every Sunday.  With the help of my aunt, I showed up at the bingo hall and I’ll never forget the look on her face when she saw me.  I’m so glad I was able to spend that day with her, playing bingo and hanging out.  That day when we were leaving, she looked at me in a way that told me she didn’t think she’d see me again.  I know now she was right.

I have been very lucky to have only lost a couple family members across my whole life – great-grandparents when I was a child, and my grandfather when I was in high school.  This is really the first major loss for me as an adult, and I don’t feel well-equipped to handle this.  Being so far away from my family has been crushing; I wish I could be there with them to tell these stories, and hear theirs, and just be together.

So, I open up the comments – tell me a story about my grandma, or about yours.

Grandma Shirley
Grandma Shirley


I’ve been trying not to complain, but…

You guys, moving to a new country is hard.  I’ve been here just over a month, and I still struggle to understand people.  I don’t feel like I’m fitting in at work and I have no idea what’s expected of me there.  The office is open plan, and can be loud and distracting, and sometimes I feel like I’m given impossible tasks to do.  I haven’t failed yet, but I’m bound to (in fact, it’s probably happening tomorrow.  I have an impossible deadline, and I need information from other people to make it.)

I don’t know if I’m having so much trouble at work because of me, or because of them, or because maybe it’s just not a good fit for me.  I’m struggling with how I address this, if at all, with my boss, or if and when I should just throw in the towel and look for something else.  I’m trying to keep perspective on this – it’s all still really new, and I’d probably be having these same kinds of struggles anywhere here because I’m just new and don’t know how things work yet.  I just know I can’t go on the way I am now – I am miserable all day at work and who wants to spend 35 hours a week in misery?  I’ve been down this road before.

In other news, the weather has finally taken a turn for more “typically Scottish” which means I get rained on a lot. Today we got the end of some hurricane, so it’s been really windy, and intermittently sunny and pouring, which is quite confusing and hard to dress for.  I managed to stay dry, as it was not raining too hard this morning, and was clear skies when I walked home. The sun rises at 8 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m., so it’s already feeling like winter to me.  Apparently at its worst, we’ll have about seven hours of daylight, which means I’ll commute in the dark both ways.  That’s crazy.

I’m going to a Meetup on Thursday – it’s time to make some friends here.  It’s a new member event so I think that’ll be a good place to start.  I remember my first Meetup in Albuquerque – it was at Nob Hill Bar and Grill, and I was almost too terrified to walk in the door.  A group member named Tammy talked to me and introduced me around, and before you know it, I had a few phone numbers and a new friend! A good number of my Albuquerque people came into my life via Meetup (or I showed up in yours, via photobombing your pictures at Keith’s Halloween Party.)  Maybe I should wear my Mary Catherine Gallagher costume to the Meetup, that seemed to work last time!

So you remember when I requested the paperwork for my national insurance number? Well, it still hasn’t arrived.  I called last week and was told they are behind and that it was mailed on the 13th.  So, maybe this week I’ll get it.  This almost certainly means I won’t have my number in time for my October pay check, so it’ll be November before I have a good idea of what kind of taxes I’ll be paying here.  This makes it a bit harder to plan budgets, but I will just continue to be cautious, I suppose.

I’m trying to remind myself of the good things in all this, when the work things are getting me down.  We have a great flat – it’s huge, even by American standards, and the kitchen is great to cook in.  I’ve got Spotify for tunes, and access to American TV online, so I can keep up with Sheldon and the gang.  I’ve been able to talk to my mom and dad and even Skype with my nephews a couple times.  And I’m finally back to living with my partner, after being separated for close to ten months.  We have everything you could want (except a gym) within walking distance of our place. It’s all good in the end.

What is the same, and what’s different in the UK

I must confess, one of the things I was most nervous about in moving to the UK was where I’d find my brands – mostly in relation to cosmetics. As it turns out, that’s been one of the easier areas.  Let me describe what’s the same here, and what’s different from life in the U.S.

1. Cosmetics and toiletries

I had heard that it can be tough to find American brands of makeup, shampoos, etc in the UK.  This has turned out to be no problem! I found everything I used in U.S. here with the exception of deodorant; they do have the brand (Dove for Men), but for some reason, sprays and roll-ons are the thing here, and I like the stick kind. I tried one from Nivea instead and actually really like it. And I smell like a lady again!  No problem on face wash (Biore), shampoo/conditioner (Herbal Essences or Dove), toothpaste (Sensodyne) or tampons (Tampax.)

One advantage here is that you find the full range of Nivea products here – in the U.S. you’d usually see body wash, lotions, and lip gloss.  Here they also have deodorant, a full line of facial products, and sunscreen.  I love Nivea.  In addition to the deodorant, I have their body wash, lotion and night cream.  I may be switching to their day cream when mine runs out because while I can get it here, it’s insanely expensive (Murad.) I’ve also heard good things about Boots’ line of products, so I’ll report back when I’ve tried those out.

2. Clothing and shoes

The stores I recognize: Gap, H&M, Forever 21 (not that I shop there), Topshop, Zara.  I have also seen a Sketchers store, some higher end designer stuff I wouldn’t have shopped in the U.S., and familiar makeup brands like Bare Minerals.   We also have a Costco.  Everything else is new, including all the department stores (JC Penney, I miss you. And Target!)

The purchases I’ve made in these categories so far: a raincoat with hoodie (Costco), a big black bag for hauling my lunch and extra sweater to work (Primark), a pair of boots, and two more on the way (New Look), and a bunch of smaller accessories at Primark.  And two cheapie necklaces at H&M.

I haven’t actually tried to buy clothes yet; I am still not sure who has decent quality and prices (H&M, F21, Primark all seem cheaply made; Topshop and Zara are expensive.  I’m not feeling Gap’s normcore campaign at the moment.) Anyone do any clothing shopping in the UK and have tips for me?

3. Groceries

Again, other than Costco, I don’t know any of the brands, though I’ve heard of Tesco (thanks, Lily Allen.)  Just on the main road behind our flat, we have three mini-grocery stores, three ethnic delis, and a couple convenience stores.  Still, I like to take the subway ride over to a bigger grocery store, since I like to have choices.

Again, there’s issues with brands – there are more Heinz things here than I ever saw in the U.S., though that might just be a regional thing – soups, canned vegetables, etc.  Pickles here are terrible.  They have a really good brand of gluten-free bread called Genius; not sure if it’s sold in the U.S. but I don’t remember seeing it.  The “Mexican food” aisle (shelf) is usually just kits from Old El Paso, though I did manage to find their salsa once.  Even Lupe Pinto’s has a kind of crummy salsa selection.  Things like refried beans and corn tortillas/tortilla chips have to be purchased at Lupe Pinto’s too, you can get flour tortillas in stores (they call them wraps) but I can’t eat those.  Apparently they don’t have graham crackers in Scotland.

4. Restaurants

As you’d expect, you’ll see the usual fast food suspects here – McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut and Domino’s.  The only chain sit-down restaurant I’ve seen is TGI Friday’s.  No Taco Bell and no Red Robin, which is a bummer.  I usually don’t know enough to know what is a chain here, other than Pizza Express (which has a great range of options for gluten-free people.) Starbucks everywhere.  Which brings us to…

5. Coffee

Sad to report, Keurig has not gotten big here (probably because of all the trash it generates.) There are other pod-based machines but they are expensive.  I’ve seen regular coffee makers, but they seem to be less common as well. What is popular is instant coffee.  As a result, it’s not quite as bad as in the U.S.  I’ve been making an instant coffee “mocha” every day (instant coffee + hot cocoa mix + hot water + milk) that is pretty tolerable.  I miss my Keurig.

I’m going to leave you with this abomination I saw at the grocery store (and did not purchase):

Hot dogs in a jar and in a CAN.  No, I did not purchase them.
Hot dogs in a jar and in a CAN.  ETA: that’s actually a can printed to look like a jar.  Just hot dogs in cans.

So, there’s a soccer game today?

I was vaguely aware that Scotland was playing Georgia today in some kind of football (that’s soccer to us) game.  I’m going to go through the afternoon’s events as they unfolded, because I was just not at all expecting what I saw.

2:30 p.m. We get off the subway and there are a ton of people walking around in the city centre.  I start to see men in soccer jerseys and kilts.  Soon I realize there are an awful lot of blue soccer jerseys and kilts walking around.  I guess everyone’s really excited about the game!

today's official uniform
today’s official uniform

4 p.m. We finish lunch and walk out.  Boy, about half the people on the very crowded sidewalks are now in soccer jerseys.  There’s a huge line from the train station and a huge line for a taxi.

so many people...
so many people…

4:10 p.m.  We find out that if we want to get on the subway, we need to get in that line at the train station.  We decide to walk to the next subway station to see if our luck is any better.  I still have no idea where everyone is going.

4:30 p.m. We’re still walking and it’s raining.  I have no hoodie, no umbrella, and my shoes are totally not for rain.  I should know better, I live in Scotland now.

4:40 p.m. We reach the next subway station, it’s not very crowded.  We just miss one train and see that it is packed full of guys in jerseys and kilts.  The subway worker standing next to me tells us that we can take the train in the other direction, as it’s just one more stop to the game.  We realize the game is in Glasgow.  Now it all makes sense.  We tell the guy we’re just trying to get home.

4:45 p.m. On the next train, I manage to get a seat next to a bunch of guys on their way to the game. This happens:

4:55 p.m. On the way past the Squid and Whale, we see about 20 people in sombreros, mustaches and other various Mexican-themed items.  I stopped to ask (because clearly I need to hang out with these people) and apparently they were part of the chili con carne cookoff, where 10 local restaurants offer a sample of their chili and the attendees rate them, with a winner chosen at the end.  I’d heard about it, but did not realize that it was a giant, in-costume pub crawl.  Definitely doing that next year.

5:00 p.m. Made it home.  I was not prepared any of this when I decided I wanted pizza for lunch!

6:30 p.m. Scotland leads Georgia 1-0. Go Scotland!

Fashion in Glasgow

I’ve noticed a few trends walking around Glasgow.  Let me break them down for you.

1. Black tights match everything.  Even navy blue, even brown, even shorts. Black tights with everything.

2. Leggings are pants.  This is also a thing in the U.S., but here, it’s really bad.  I was walking behind a girl on the street, near the university today, and I genuinely thought she forgot to put her skirt over her tights.  It’s a bad look, ladies.  Know the toe.

3. Boots, boots and more boots.  All the ladies wear boots, all the time.  I’ve recently acquired a new pair and could use another before the weather gets really cold.

4.  Scrunchies are in here! I have only seen them on teenagers, so it must be some kind of “bringing the 80s back” thing.  I was quite surprised to see them for sale in a couple shops, but since then I’ve seen them out in real life! I guess everything does come back around.

In terms of men’s trends, the only stand out things I’ve noticed is a tendency to wear cool/patterned/colorful socks, and that there are a few guys with really bright white shoes, which I don’t understand because it’s always wet here.  That must require a lot of upkeep.

Signs, signs, everywhere signs…

I snapped pictures of a couple signs around my neighborhood for your viewing enjoyment.  First up is “no fouling.”  I wasn’t sure what “no fouling” meant on the first sign I saw, but the second one had a helpful image that says it all:

no fouling

The second one also has a helpful picture, but I had to Google “no fly tipping” anyway:

fly tipping

So “fly tipping” is basically large scale littering.  Littering would be throwing your banana peel on the sidewalk. Fly tipping is leaving a whole bag of trash, or an old mattress, on the street.  Both of these things do seem to be pretty major issues right now – in fact, there’s a pile of soggy dry wall and construction waste just outside our building’s front door right now, and in the back, there’s trash (wood boards, a suitcase) piled against the wall behind the dumpsters.  Also, the recycling bins are overflowing (I think we were missed this week due to the mysterious bank holiday, but I’m still really not sure how all this works.)  This article was a pretty helpful start in understanding the waste disposal problems in the UK, but I’d like to ask a local about the specifics of trash removal in our area since I can’t find this information anywhere.  I have heard that we, as building tenants, can be fined £300 per household for this trash that other people are leaving in the wrong places, which would not be a good thing.

I will say that overall, Scotland seems to place much more emphasis on recycling than the U.S. does – at the university here, we have plastic, paper, tin and then “regular trash” bins in our office suite, and I see them at the little cafes around campus as well.  There are trash bins as well as recycling bins in the streets around the city center as well.

So, I’m getting better at checking the information on containers before deciding where to chuck them, and we have a bag for recyclables at home too.  +1 for Scotland.