Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Snowbound and Stircrazy

Two years ago, we got snow on Thanksgiving. As a country, we don't celebrate the holiday but our family does. But that's how I remembered we had snow this time two years ago. Last year, we got the worst winter weather that this country had seen in 30 years. I hope we're not in for another record-breaking winter!

It started snowing on Friday and by Saturday, there was plenty of snow on the ground but the roads were clear enough to drive on. But Sunday, we had more snow and the boys noticed that no buses were passing through the road in front of our house - which is the main road in the village. Sure enough, school was out on Monday, the car was snowed in out back, and the buses were still not running. I'm very thankful that I went grocery shopping on Saturday!!

I missed work yesterday and spent the day putting up double-glazing film on all the windows on the bottom floor. At least I made myself useful yesterday - even if it was just for us! We had a new coating of snow last night, topped with about an inch of sleet, then more snow. I measured it this morning - nine inches in the back garden!

I woke up this morning knowing I wasn't going to be able to get into work. I called the boss's wife and she was totally understanding - told me not to put myself at risk After I had breakfast and did a load of laundry, I went for a walk to take some photos around the village. As annoyed as I am with the snow this year, its still beautiful. It blankets everything in the same bright white colour - its like all the houses have on matching hats!

Trying to work from home but waiting for the boss to send me some work to do. Its warmer in the house today after putting up the double-glazing film but its still cold. The weather isn't improving - it was actually snowing while the sun was trying to shine a little earlier! Its been snowing again and is supposed to snow and sleet again tonight. I hate being stuck without a way to get out. We're rationing the milk we have left and I'm going to make some bread tonight so we don't have to ration that too much!

I really hope this is not a precursor for what this winter holds for us. I don't want to end up with another winter like last year. I'll settle with this for the snow for the winter, thank you very much! =)

Monday, 29 November 2010

Headline: American learns to swim in Scotland!

I have had an innate fear of water since I was nine years old. My family went on our one and only family vacation then; to Branson, Missouri. This was before it became known as Little Las Vegas and it was just really a resort town. We stayed at a hotel with a swimming pool. My family was poor (to say the least) so I'd never been in anything like it in my life. We had the odd wading pool that, even laying down, you couldn't possibly drown in, so I thought, "this is cool...."

On went the swimsuit and into the water - the shallow end, since I didn't know how to swim. I remember walking around in it, up to my shoulders. It felt all right and a welcome respite from the hot weather. My mother's husband was sitting on the side of the pool next to where I was walking around. I felt safe. Mistake! I slipped and fell into the water. As naive as I was, I didn't realize all I had to do was stand up. So I fought the water, not knowing what to do. I remember fighting and splashing around. Everyone around me must have known I was in trouble. I remember a black circle closing in and the last thing I remember seeing was someone swimming toward me, underwater, from the other end of the pool.

The next thing I remember is this rushing feeling of warmth and coughing. The man had pulled me out of the pool and hit my back to make me cough up the water that had found its way into my lungs. The man wasn't my mother's husband; he was a stranger. My mother's husband was angry with me. He stood me up by one arm and beat the holy crap out of me right there at the pool in front of God and everyone, telling me how stupid I was for not knowing all I had to do is stand up.

I spent the next 33 years terrified of the water. I've never let myself go enough to trust anyone in the water. No one. Not one single person. I've been in swimming pools. I've been in the ocean. I've been deep enough that the water came up to my neck. But I've never been confident enough to not be touching something (the floor, the sand, the side of the pool, etc). If I get unsure of my footing, I can feel panic rising inside me again and all those terrifying memories of all those years ago come up to the surface again.

A few weeks ago, I just decided - its time. I was recently at a hotel with my family and the boys were swimming like fish (they taught themselves years ago) and I was sitting on the side of the pool, just wading in the water. They were having races and really enjoying themselves. I thought it was well enough time for me to learn so I could join in the fun by summertime.

I got online and looked up local swimming pools (there are community swimming pools here that are all indoor pools). I called a couple and finally found one that had ongoing adult swimming classes. I happened to call at the right moment because the instructor had just finished the class and was near the phone. We discussed the sessions and the cost and I told her I would be there the following week. I was actually growing very excited about it all.

Saturday came and I was up early. Had a good breakfast and drove (with directions from the pool) to the town and finally found the car park. I walked in and told them who I was and why I was there. The girl behind the counter showed me to the locker room and told me the class began at 12pm. I had plenty of time to change and I headed to the shower before the pool.

I was nervous but excited. I was determined I was going to do this. There were four lessons left in that block, then they were down for Christmas and then back up again 15 January. These are half-hour classes. I thought that my goal was to swim before summer - sometime in the next block. I felt I'd give it a try in these last four classes and at least lay the ground work for the next block.

I got into the water and was given a noodle (in case you don't know what that is, its a long, round floatation device), told to put it around my chest and get comfortable in the water. I walked back and forth a few times and the instructor taught me the arm movements for the breast stroke. She showed me the correct placement of my arms and how I should bring them around. So that's what I did for the next few minutes, while she tended to the others in the class. I was told to "bunny hop" and pull myself across the width of the pool with my arms, not walking on the floor of the pool. I did better than that, I held my legs up and pulled myself right across without touching the floor the whole time.

It was time for the class to end. That's the progress I made in my first lesson - bunny hopping across the pool holding a noodle. That may not sound like a lot to you, but for me, it was like walking on the moon.

I went through the week as normal. I'd told a few of my friends that I was going to learn and posted on my Facebook page, too. Lots of support from everyone. It was a good thing!

It snowed on Friday night and I called the pool to see if they were open and if the class was still going on. They were and it was so I got my stuff together and headed to the pool. The roads were all right, no big surprises and I arrived very early. I tried having a cup of tea from the machine but it was awful, so I poured it out and headed to the dressing room.

After I got my suit on, I went out to the pool. I was 20 minutes early. The instructor saw me and gave me a noodle and told me to get myself comfortable in the water again. So while she finished teaching the other class (of children, mind you), I walked across a few times. Then I held my feet up and pushed myself across with my hands. I got tired after a few widths so I pushed the noodle out in front of me and kicked my feet. I was moving! So I did that a few times before our class started.

The instructor got me comfortable with spitting water out of my mouth (which is an area of great fear for a lot of people) and then put armbands on me. These are an adult version of the floaties and are not inflatable but made out of the same stuff that the noodles are made of. She held my hands and had me kicking my feet. She told me I had a "good line" - I guess that meant that my body was flat on top of the water.

She told me I was going to push my way across and if my legs did something, then great - if not, no big deal. So off I went, sort of swimming across the width, wearing armbands, and my feet kicking (like they knew what to do!). That was a huge deal for me.

Then she took the armbands! I begged her not to take them off me but she insisted. She promised me she would not let me sink and she told me just to do it. She knew I could. (That was one of us!) After a few seconds of hideous nerves, I pushed my foot off the side of the pool and I actually swam across the width of that pool!!! I got to the other side and stopped, wiped the water off my face, and stood there in shock. I SWAM!!!! How did that happen??

It wasn't pretty ... and it was quite splashy ... but I was swimming!

She told me to take a rest and she went to the other guys in the pool. Soon enough, she came back to me and showed me a leg movement that goes with the breast stroke (I was using a different one). I put the armbands back on, practised it against the side of the pool and I made it across again, this time with the proper leg movements. Ish.

She was with the other guys in the class and it was coming to the end of our time in the water so I pulled the armbands off and headed across the water again - this time with the right leg movements. I nearly made it to the other side before I had to stop - I was getting tired. At this point, I'd been in the water nearly an hour and my body was not happy!

I sit here two days later, writing this and am still in a sort of state of shock about the whole thing. I can swim. That's something off my bucket list!! And now I get to add something else to it - scuba diving!!! I am unstoppable! =)

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Scotland vs Arkansas

Obviously, living in another country has its pluses and minuses. There are good things about Arkansas and there are good things about Scotland. Neither one is better or worse than the other. Notice I'm saying "Arkansas" instead of "America" because I've only ever really lived in Arkansas so I can't really compare the whole country!

I could probably write an entire blog on just this one subject but I'll start here with a few posts. You never know where it'll lead me!

The most obvious difference is the accent. I've travelled here for years and I was used to the accent before we moved. I was, however, concerned about the children - would they struggle in school? Well, I should really learn to give them more credit - they've gotten along very well, indeed! In fact, after their first year, they sound like locals!

I have a theory about that. I once heard someone say, "You speak to be understood." I totally agree. The first thing that changed was everyone's vocabulary. I've heard my boys say things they'd never have inserted into their vocabulary in Arkansas. Things like "trousers" or "revision" (in reference to studying) or even "trainers" instead of tennis shoes. All these things slowly leaked into their Arkansan vocabulary, which was already vast in itself. Early on, I began noticing accent changes, especially in one of the twins.

Another thing is the weather. Wow - what a difference, too! The summers are mild enough that I can get outdoors! I have more colour in my skin than I ever did in Arkansas. I get outside at every opportunity to enjoy the fresh air, the sunshine, and just being outside. We live in Fife - one of the most beautiful parts of the central belt of Scotland. Mountains, the seaside, castles, fishing villages, and open countryside - all on our doorstep. Its so easy to find something to do!

We also have the NHS. There are plenty of people who complain about it and rightly so, but we've had nothing but great experiences with it. I don't mind paying money into it each month in my pay packet (which, by the way, is much less than I'd be paying for insurance that doesn't have anywhere near the same amount of care included!).

Getting paid monthly did take some getting used to, though. I was used to getting paid every two weeks. However, once I got used to it, I enjoyed it. It meant that all the bills came out at once, no need to keep up with due dates, etc. We have most of our bills set up to come out of our bank account automatically so we don't even have to worry about having to write a check (which they spell cheque here!) or make a call to pay with a card.

We also drive on the left here. That did take some adjustment on my first trip twelve years ago. However, it didn't take long for me to get it right and I've been doing it naturally ever since. I passed my test and got my UK driving licence last September. I did study for it and did take driving lessons beforehand - which saved my bacon! I passed the written test with 100% and I only had four very minor faults (you're allowed up to 15) on the practical part of my test. Since I've been driving for 20-ish years, I thought it would be just a case of signing up and taking the test. Well, not even close to that easy and I know people who had to take their practical several times before passing it. Its not cheap but once you've done it, that's it. You don't have to renew your license every four years and only have to update your photo every ten years. It is one of the most difficult tests to pass so once you get it, you can use it anywhere in the world!

Having to pay for a license to watch television was something a little strange, as well. We pay £135 a year for a TV license. They use that to keep people from having to watch so many ads on BBC. I enjoy watching a show without commercials but I'm not sure its worth £135 a year. You might think that it would be easy just not to pay the fee but they actually have vans that go through neighborhoods checking for TV signals. They have a list of households that have not paid for a TV license and if you're caught, you get stuck with a big fine. So we pay!

Petrol (instead of gasoline) is used to fuel most cars here, although there are some that run on diesel. Its advertised per litre, not per gallon, like it is in the States. Cars here are mostly standard shift (not automatic) and if you pass your test in an automatic, you're not allowed to drive a manual transmission car at all. They tend to get better gas mileage (for instance, I'm on a consistent 53+ miles a gallon in my car). Petrol (per gallon) at the moment is running around $8.25 a gallon. Ouch!

We heat our house with radiators instead of central heating. We don't have air conditioning and no screens on the windows. They call our radiators central heating but we don't have vents. A lot of the new houses being built are using under-floor heating on the bottom floors. Its expensive to install but in the long run it 1) reduces heating bills, and 2) frees up the wall space for furniture instead of radiators! We live in a house that was built in 1624. Its full of history and its a beautiful house. However, we don't have double glazing on our windows and we nearly froze to death last winter! We walked around with the heating on all day and sweaters and layers of clothes to keep warm! We do have a plan for this winter, though. We're going to put up plastic insulation on the windows that will mimic double glazed windows. Our house is listed so we can't install double glazed windows, which is a shame! I'm hoping to put down draft reducers under the doors, too. I hope that helps and we have a warmer winter this year than we did last year! Thirteen weeks with snow!! Yuck!

All the phone calls are toll calls, with the exception of 0800 calls. Those are usually reserved for companies who use them to get your money in other ways - like catalogs, etc. If I call my next door neighbour, I pay for the call. No incoming calls are charged - even on mobile phones (or cell phones). Which is great - because even if the boys don't have credit on their phones, I can call them and they can get the call. We use pay-as-you-go for the boys and we both have contract phones. I get up to 600 minutes and unlimited texts on mine and I think Peter has a similar package.

I think that should get us started. As I think of other differences, I will post them here. And of course, if you want to know about a specific difference, please ask! I think its fun to compare! =)

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Hollywood comes to the "holly wood"

A deep rumble shook the ground on an October morning. Was it an earthquake? Nah - it was just Hollywood arriving once again in Culross (which incidentally means "the holly wood" in a combinationof Gaelic and Brittonic). A few days to set everything up; a day to test their monstrous equipment; a night to film; two days to take it all away. All that for around thirty second of a movie!

No one was "officially" talking, but rumours spread like wildfire through our little village! Even theinternet was whispering "Culross" through cyberspace with film lovers requesting photographs of the filming! If we're to believe it all - "Captain America: The First Avenger" starring well-known names such as Samuel L Jackson, Tommy Lee Jones, and Stanley Tucci. We should be able to confirm our suspicions in cinemas next year, when the film is due to be released. 

Our market cross will be a beautiful stand-in for a deserted village in Norway during WWII. They were careful to remove all evidence of our modern world - satellite dishes, window decorations, lights from indoors, and all the cars usually parked in the cross. Three-hundred people from all over, working in the "industry" descended on our village to set up cranes, light boxes suspended from above, tracks and cameras, and enough cable to stretch from here to Hollywood and back!

When this old American girl stood quietly by taking a few snaps during their lighting tests, the crew revealed their true feelings about Culross. The crew and support teams loved our village. They were very happy to support the Red Lion, the shop, and couldn't say enough good things about the locals. They felt welcomed and were happy to allow onlookers to watch them work - preparing the lights, the cameras, and the sound equipment for the shoot on that cold (but clear) Tuesday night. 

The night of the filming arrived and although none of us could get very near, the market cross glowedeerily with the bright lights and man-made fog. Two soldiers dove for cover and ran from a phantom tank which crashed through the Study. The "tank" was represented by two sets of “headlights” mounted on tall poles and will be added in production by computers. Isn’t CGI a wonderful thing??

Two days after the filming, anyone passing through Culross would never have known that anything was up! Just as quickly as they came, they were away. And Culross is once again ... our peaceful little abandoned village in Norway!