September 30, 2013

gingers unite!

One always assumes that the Irish and Scottish populations contain a great deal of redheads (ahem... gingers). But to see it in real life -- to see head after head of blazing red hair strolling past you down the streets of Edinburgh -- well. Makes one have faith in the power of the recessive red allele. All you nasty rumours telling me that redheads will eventually fade out of the human race? I don't believe a word of it.

As such, Wayne fits in really well here. We have a very irrational fear of appearing too "touristy", but as long as we keep our mouths shut so as not to give away our very North American accents and let Wayne's reddish hair do the talking, we'll be in business. Maybe we'll have convincing accents by the end of our time here... we'll make a thorough effort of it anyway. Right now it's pretty rough...

{This post written in June 2013}

September 26, 2013

week two.

{On Castle Terrace posing with the back of Edinburgh Castle}

Our second week was again awash in exploration! We walked and walked and walked and discovered what a joy it is to be constantly surprised by that little street we didn't know existed or that second-hand bookshop or the wee coffee shop around the corner where the chairs are actually comfortable and WHOA the cars come from the opposite direction in this land. 

As a side note, I can totally understand why pedestrian tourists get hit by cars when they visit the UK/Australia. We were obsessively careful while crossing streets but even though I'd look both ways on an average of 17 times I would still get these mysterious feelings of dread that a car was going to come shooting up from the opposite direction -- the correct North American direction -- and I never quite shook that feeling, which was good, I guess. Kept me on my toes.

{View of Edinburgh, Salisbury Crags, and Arthur's Seat from Blackford Hill}

On our first Sunday we bussed ourselves down to Niddrie Community Church, home of a small church community in one of Edinburgh's schemes. Wayne had read about the church through Together for the Gospel and thought we'd check things out -- we're so thankful we did! The Niddrie community became a foundational part of our Edinburgh experience, and they were a major blessing to us. That second week a lovely couple offered to take us on a driving tour of the city which we gladly agreed to -- the photo above is taken from that tour and gives a good sense of how quickly the urban centre of Edinburgh turns into rolling green plains.

We couldn't, of course, spend three months wandering around outside in the city streets -- we had come to Edinburgh to get some serious work done. This is what a typical evening looked like in our flat -- Wayne set up at the table doing his reading, and I'd make a huge artsy mess at the desk. Oh, the comforts of a messy desk! 

And yes, that's our flat. Small? Absolutely. It made our student apartment back in Grand Rapids feel like a mansion... but the view was worth it.

September 23, 2013

how to move to scotland.

This post isn't actually going to be a helpful guide on how to move to Scotland. Mostly I'm just going to write about my feelings like any other culture-shocked twenty-something who is still slowly realizing what kind of a fix she's put herself in. 

Wayne and I moved to Michigan almost two years ago. Western Michigan isn't all that different from southern Ontario, and so we didn't recognize any symptoms of culture shock at first. Suddenly though, about six months in, we realized how absolutely irritated we were with a number of things that were slightly different from our Ontario ways. Certain ways of talking, of doing daily activities, of cultural expectations... all of it was so slight, so incomprehensibly and minutely different... but it was different. And that made all the difference. 

We've adjusted by now. We've mastered the west Michigan culture and can blend right in when we need to. I even remember to pronounce the zed in my name as a zee so as to avoid further chaos (seriously -- it freaks people out). 

But now -- all that adjusting is for naught. Scotland is a substantially different place. The language is English, yes, but oi! What a heavy accent! Sometimes trying to understand is like wading through a bowl of black pudding (Which is rather impossible as black pudding is more of a sausage-type thing that I shall never consent to eat). 

We've been here for just under one week, and although we've already developed a bit of a crush on the city, we realize that the culture shock is coming. We had a taste of it during the first day here -- whilst trying to stay calm dragging all of our belongings up the Steep Hill of Death that is also known as Cockburn Street hunting for our flat, inside my brain was screaming, "What on earth do you think you're doing here!? This is complete madness! How could this possibly turn out well?!" Add a Scottish accent to that and you're shaking in your wellies. Stop scaring me, brain!

Then, the grocery store. Yes, produce generally keeps the same name from place to place (unless you're a zucchini -- in the UK they're called courgettes), but all those other wonky names and brands and prices and currencies... one can get so muddied up and intimidated that food becomes too much of a hassle. Who needs food? We don't need food. Plus I feel like everyone in the Lidl is wondering why I'm spending 15 minutes staring at the shelf of bread, so I should probably just leave and eat the stale tortilla chips that are still at the bottom of my backpack. That's part of a food group, right? Right.

The good news is that I know things go up from here -- or there -- or whenever we hit rock bottom. Having done the living abroad thing once before, I feel like I'll be more prepared for the ups and downs. It's like being my own life counsellor -- completely effective and super cost-efficient. 

As of yet, we're still honeymooning it. The city is full of charm and bagpipes and we'll stretch this phase out as long as we can. We'll be annoyed with Edinburgh quirks soon enough. But that will just give us more reason to drink more tea. And everyone knows that tea makes everything better.

{This post written in May 2013}

September 19, 2013

week one.

I had hoped to do a "photo of the week" deal to briefly summarize each of our 14 weeks in Edinburgh... the problem is there are far too many photos to pick from every week. But self-discipline will prevail! I shall do three photos of the week.

I shall try, anyway.

This is Wayne and a map the day after we flew into the city. Wayne had just slept for 16 hours and was feeling brave and exploratory. We used this map a lot. But Edinburgh is a silly place full of tunnels and closes and steps and different levels and hills and as such, a map is basically useless. Well, not useless. Just... well, you're going to be confused anyway so shove the map in your backpack and figure it out on your own. 

These are what the streets look like in Old Town (which is where our flat was located). This particular photo is looking up the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Castle. I'm also surprised when I look back at this photo because I had forgotten how few tourists were there in May! The numbers went up dramatically -- seriously, by hundreds of thousands -- once August hit. You literally had to queue up to cross the street. 

Do you like my UK lingo? I do.

Oh, the glory that is springtime! Like much of North America this year, west Michigan was cursed with a lousy spring. It was cold. It was wet and snowy. I wore mittens in May. Some miserable rodent ate all my tulips moments before they bloomed. 

I almost cried that day. 

Then we flew into Edinburgh, and I remember sitting on the bus on the way downtown from the airport, and I was this big smelly jet-lagged mess and was kinda sorta freaking out about what we had just done and then outside, a giant orange rhododendron bush flashed by. And then another one. And then we were passing these gardens and parks that were overflowing with spring flowers and these trees that were weighed down so heavily with blossoms that they were touching the ground and I realized something I hadn't realized before -- I was going to get two springs this year. And then I almost cried on that day, too. But that was because of happiness with a side of jet lag. Well, probably mostly jet lag. 

Anyway. This photo is taken in The Meadows, a great big green space in the middle of the city right next to the university. Check out those flowering trees! We spent a lot of time here -- it was a good place to play catch. We did get some weird looks, though. Scottish people play cricket and golf, not catch. Baseball is a strange phenomenon to them -- they think it's a "sissy" game. Baseball, cricket, golf -- you're whacking a ball with a stick in every single one of them, and each game requires the participant to wear goofy pants, so... yeah. More photos next week!

September 16, 2013

adventure guilt!

Well, we've done it. We've gone and moved ourselves to Scotland.

I've probably never questioned my sanity as much as I have in the last week. Do normal people do this? Do smart people do this? Do wise people do this? Does a couple, where one individual is busting it through seminary and the other is busting it in the workplace to help pay for seminary, typically give up a steady job to cross the Atlantic and do the complete opposite of what a sensible and bank account-saavy couple would do?

No, I say without a doubt that this is not typical. But I do say that this is an adventure. And I do say that I won't regret this, even though I've experienced multiple heart-into-stomach moments and late-night tossing and early-morning brain scrambles.

What are brain scrambles, you ask? Well, plan a move to Scotland with five weeks notice, then you'll know what brain scrambles are.

As a brief explanation: Wayne loves the English Puritans and loves to do research and loves to write, so much so that he wrote a research proposal and sent it off to a purveyor of Puritan knowledge at a university and that kindly professor said, Wayne, do come over and continue your research and writing here!

So we said, Tally ho! Hurrah!

Well, not really. I came home from work one day in April and Wayne took me by the shoulders and said, Suzanne, we're moving to Scotland! in a sort of awed-mixed-with-panic-mixed-with-delight voice. I said yeah right. He said, no really. I said yikes, we should probably find somewhere to live.

Panic ensued! Well, not quite panic. I suppose it was more like quiet desperation. Fortunately an incredible sublet opportunity came up, along with affordable flight tickets after some late-night week-long searching. Clearly we were excited about this opportunity! Who wouldn't be?

As always, though, there are things that dull the excitement. My own guilt, for one thing. People acceptable to the American work-yourself-to-the-bone culture don't go off gallivanting to the UK to spend money rather than earn it -- at least not without reasonable cause. Yes, Wayne is doing research and writing, but Suzanne -- what are you doing?

Ah yes, therein lies the rub. This question was asked of me more times than I can count. The majority of the time it was asked with sincere interest and kindly intention. I'm not so blind to the character of people, however, that I cannot gauge in which sense a question is asked. There were times when I was asked this question and there was a weird sort of tone to it -- a pushiness that demanded a firm, conclusive and acceptable-to-society answer -- which wasn't the answer I was ever able to give.

My answer? I'm going to do art. I'm going to write. I'm going to explore and be outside and make sure Wayne eats dinner and have as beautiful a time as I can with the slim budget that we've set. I'm going to do the things I love to do that I never have much time to do otherwise. We won't be here for very long -- and after this, let's be honest -- the life of a couple in ministry isn't all tea cakes and pink lemonade.

But there's still that nasty soul-eating guilt. That disapproving smirk that lasts for a shadow of a nanosecond on the face of a person who asks for an explanation. That moment of panic when I remember how completely and fully unemployed I am, and therefore useless to society.

So yes, I hope to work on my art. I hope to draw into reality those images that have been incubating in the creative chunk of my brain for the last several months. I hope to write hundreds of words -- whether anyone actually reads them all is beside the point. But more than any of this, I hope to gain some much-needed practice in not caring. We've all got a touch of fear of man issues, and I've certainly got my fair share. So -- no more caring about who thinks what about our insanity. Our time here is a beautiful gift, not a guilt trip. I'll make it. I've just got to put my galoshes on and get going.

{This post written in May 2013}

September 14, 2013

the travel (superiority) bug.

You know those people who go travelling across the globe and then come home sun-tanned and bright-eyed and adopting a funny accent when they talk and think they've grown four inches taller than you culturally -- and you couldn't care less?

I'm that person. Not the person who couldn't care less. The other person. The person who drives you crazy saying things like, "Well, in Vienna, blah blah blah" and you're totally zoning out thinking about things like your grocery list and how you're going to get to that meeting on time tonight when there's this person talking to you who won't shut up about Wiener schnitzel.

I had the wonderful opportunity as a 21-year-old college kid to go and spend a semester on exchange in Vienna, Austria. For a girl raised in the middle of the black muck of a carrot field (not literally guys, come on), this was the pinnacle of cultural exposure. I went to operas and ballets. I did my daily business with the banker and the grocer auf Deutsch. I memorized all five lines of the ubahn (short for untergrundbahn -- or the subway) and rode the strassenbahn daily. I explored every corner of the downtown, eating up the gloriousness of a city still draped in the beauty of Baroque architecture and endless green parks. 

I went to school, too. Really. 

Heading back to my final year of university the next fall took some adjustment. It was a challenge to walk through a campus in the shadows of 1970s Brutalist architecture when only a few months ago I had been attending an ecology class in a building that was over 100 years old marked with echoing hallways and shining wooden staircases and gleaming chandeliers. I missed Vienna terribly. Fortunately several classmates from my program at home had been in Austria with me so we could commiserate -- we'd gather around a drafting table in our studio with the lights of the Graben still shining in our eyes and talk about how much we missed Stephansdom and Eissalon Tuchlauben and the sparkling Danube

I know that I drove people insane. Anytime something came up in conversation that could be remotely related to my experience abroad, I'd feel this horribly strong urge to say it -- to say the dreaded words -- "Well, in Vienna..." It was a freaky sort of impulse that I had to learn to control. Wayne got the full brunt of it -- being the long-suffering boyfriend of a girl who left part of her heart in Austria while he missed seeing her for five months, I'm surprised he doesn't completely hate the city. Instead, he let me let it all out, and now over five years later I think the urge to word-vomit Vienna all over the place has subsided. Bad news, though. Scotland has taken its place, and this time, Wayne was there with me. 

Yes, dear blog friends, we spent the summer in Edinburgh. We left Michigan in May and came back two weeks ago, jet-lagged and confused as to whether we had actually just done what we had done. I'll write more on why we went later -- I didn't post about our adventure while we were gone because it's usually good practice not to announce to the world that your house will be empty and unmonitored for three months, and we have got a fine microwave that I'm not ready to part with just yet.

In the upcoming weeks I'll try to be posting the bits and pieces that I wrote during our summer so you can get a wee taste of our experience. Hopefully this will serve to dampen our irritating travel superiority problem as well... just tell us to be quiet if we get annoying. We'll appreciate it as much as you.