Life in the UK Test

The UK has a couple of residence status that pertain to me: pre-settled (meaning you can stay for a defined period) or settled (meaning you can stay permanently). My status is pre-settled and expires in 2024. Once you have settled status for a year, you can apply for British citizenship. I think that it would be nice to have dual citizenship: USA and British. There are a number of pre-requisites to complete before you can apply for citizenship. One requirement is to pass the Life in the UK test.

Seems like it should be simple – especially after living in the UK for 5 years. But, it’s notoriously difficult.

I bought the online book and study guide. There are 24 questions and you get 45 minutes to answer them all. The questions are drawn from five topics: the values and principles of the UK, what is the UK, UK history, society and culture, and the UK government and laws.

The topics don’t sound too foreboding until you start studying and taking the practice tests. You need to know all of the kings and queens, what significance they played, and what century they lived in. You also need to know the same information about other important historical figures such as politicians, inventors, sculptors, artists, composers, and playwrights. For example, who acted as head of state and head of government in the mid 17th century? Anyone?

Then we move into the society area. Now you need to know the names of some of the most accomplished athletes from some sports you may or may not follow. These names include British gold winners in the Olympics and Paralympics. for example, which Paralympic swimmer won two gold medals in 2008 summer Olympics? Am I the only one that didn’t know this right off?

Then you need to understand the differences in the legal systems and courts in the UK, the evolution of voting rights, the evolution of parliament and the House of Lords. For example, what year did both men and women have the right to vote at 30 years old? The current voting age is 18 in the UK so I wasn’t prepared for that question (but I got it right).

I’m happy to report that I passed it on my first try. Now I need to complete the application form and put my documents together. The difficult part is providing mine and my partner’s original passports. I’m always afraid that I’ll need them.

Wish me luck!

My buddy Ringo

Waiting for vet appointment

We have 5 dogs and now 4 cats. Ringo is an American Cocker spaniel. He has a huge personality. Ringo and the other male dog, Barney still haven’t settled on who the pack leader is.

Ringo has been staying at doggy day care for awhile recovering from his second knee surgery. He injured the tendon on one of his back legs and had surgery to repair it. Unfortunately, it’s pretty common for the other back leg to incur the same injury during recovery. They compensate too much on one leg while the other one heals.

Ringo’s other leg had surgery about a month ago now. It takes a good 13 weeks to fully recover. It’s a slow and careful process.

We’re lucky to have an option for him to stay during the early stages of recovery. Our house has a lot of stairs and the bedrooms are upstairs. I’ve tried to lift him up and down the stairs, but unfortunately he doesn’t wait to be picked up.

I really miss him when he’s not home. It’s strange to get out 4 dog bowls instead of 5. But, Barney seems to enjoy not having the competition. That can drive you crazy.

I might try to arrange a swap where the other dogs stay overnight and Ringo comes home that night. I don’t want him to get upset or confused. Trying to decide if that would be upsetting or exciting for him.

Can’t wait for him to heal enough that he can be back full time again and we can return to our busy household.

Rest and Be Thankful

Nearly every weekday at lunch time, I take a 2.5 km walk up to a bench near Caitloch. The bench (pictured above) says to “rest and be thankful.” I made it a routine to rest on the bench (unless it’s wet) and think of three things that make me thankful. It helps me to refocus on the positive and gives me a boost for my return trip and the rest of the day.

I try to make the three thankful things something different every day. This way I’m not just thankful for the cliche things you normally hear at a Thanksgiving dinner. I focus on the first thing that comes to mind. It’s harder when you’re having a tough day. The day we had to put one of our cat’s to sleep, I was thankful for the 13 years we had together and that this was a peaceful end.

I announce the things that make me thankful out loud. There aren’t any people around to wonder if I’m crazy. But, the sheep behind me always seem interested. Maybe I am crazy. 😉

Today, I am thankful for….

  1. Living in Scotland – this is the 5th country that I’ve lived in (counting my home country in the US and considering Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as a country). Not everyone gets to live or even travel outside of their home country. It’s a beautiful place with friendly people.

2. Current work situation – I’m starting a new job with a different company on Monday. I’m fortunate because I left a job that I really enjoyed, but am moving to a job that tics more of the boxes for the type of work that I enjoy. I took a week off between companies to rest and be thankful.

3. Health and happiness – we are so lucky that there’s a highly effective COVID vaccine. I’m happy that I didn’t get the coronavirus and that I’m fully vaccinated. It’s great that Scotland takes the pandemic seriously and that people are getting vaccinated and following healthcare guidelines.

I really enjoy this routine. Obviously, it’s great for me mentally and physically. Not sure what I will do when the weather gets bad. Maybe I can put my wellies to good use.

Silence of the Dog Walkers

Walk with dog on leash, clean up after your dog, and now don’t walk your dog here

Living in rural Scotland has it benefits and some draw backs. I love the beautiful landscape, the friendly people, and the peace and quiet. I enjoy seeing the livestock, especially the horses, cows, and sheep.

I didn’t realise how serious of an issue lambing is. Lambing season starts in early spring. It’s almost biblical how sheep give birth during this same time period.

The farmers separate the new mothers and the adorable new lambs from the rest of the herd. I’m not sure why they do that – maybe the other sheep might injure the lambs or interrupt the process? Maybe it’s a custom or seasonal routine?

In Moniaive, some farmers chose to put their new lambs and mothers on our public paths. I first discovered it when I walked on my normal path and was greeted by two tiny lambs wearing little jackets. They were so cute. I started to take a picture but this ewe with huge horns started growling at me.

I tried to walk on, but the ewe wasn’t having it. He moved forward to block my way. I didn’t know what to do: would he attack me? If he charged me, should I run? Would he be able to hurt me? I hate to admit it, but I was a bit scared.

I walked slowly backwards. Fortunately, I was close to the gate and the ewe didn’t try to come after me.

I was a bit shaken and mad by this experience. Is that no longer a public pathway as the street sign indicates? There wasn’t normally a gate at the other end; is there one there now or did they wander into this path? Is this a temporary or permanent thing?

That weekend, I was walking three of my dogs. We normally use that public path. I thought that I would try the path and see if the lambs were gone. They were still on the pathway, this time without jackets. The angry ewe wasn’t around.

My dogs were on their leads and weren’t interested in the sheep. There was plenty of room to walk around the herd. I decided to walk to the other end of the path.

The lambs and mothers all stayed away from the dogs and I. The dogs didn’t bark at them or try to pull me towards them. Still no angry ewe in sight. I was getting close to the other side of the path; there was a gate there now. It looked like the gate was locked and I was worried that I was going to have to go back the way that I came.

A man on a quad (a four wheel motorcycle thing the farmers often use) came speeding towards me from the road outside the gate. His poor dog was hanging off the back and they were both glaring at me. Obviously, I was in for some drama.

“Couldn’t you have chosen a different path,” he demanded to know. “I didn’t know that this was no longer a public path; are we locked in now” I responded. He showed me that the gate wasn’t really locked. His dog was barking and growling at us and the farmer wasn’t doing much to restrain him.

He yells: “my job’s not easy you know” so that I can hear him over his barking dog. “I never said that it was,” I yelled back, “you would think that you would put a sign up or something to let us know.” I opened the gate and went onto the road. The farmer and his dog scowled and left.

There was a teenager near us watching this drama unfold. He took out a slingshot and started shooting at the sheep.

The whole event was a bit maddening. Does he think that I don’t appreciate his job? Is it a public path or not? Can I set up shop there too and tell people that they can’t use it? Is it going to be usable if the lambs leave? How do I get the sheep dung off of my shoes? Is my job easy?

I did some research about access to public paths and found the Scottish Access Code. There are some rules for “land managers” as well as members of the public. The rules seemed to reflect a bit of common sense: don’t do lambing in highly used public paths; don’t put dangerous livestock near public paths; and put a sign to alert people of the lambing. The sign should say how long this will last and it should suggest reasonable alternative paths.

I decided to write an email to our Council. My note included recommendations to help follow the Code. I think that it was pretty reasonable.

The email was referenced on the next Council’s minutes in the appendix. This was overshadowed in the body of the minutes by a lengthy discussion and distinct outrage about dog walkers who don’t clean up after their dogs. I believe that it’s a standing agenda item. Dog poop causes sheep to give birth too early and is harmful for the environment. I’m glad that I pick up after my dogs. I always thought that livestock caused 10% of our greenhouse gases and wonder if bovine tuberculosis and bird flu really came from dogs?

Sarcasm aside, lambing season is over and many of those cute lambs in jackets were sent off to be part of people poop (I’ve never written this much about poop). We have the public paths back. The lamb poop seemed to be a great fertiliser since it’s now full of tall grass and weeds.

Hopefully, next lambing season is better. At least I know what to expect. I still wave to the farmer and his dog as they speed by on their quad.

I suppose these events are part of the rural experience. I still love it in Moniaive. Just make sure that you clean up after your dog if you visit.

The grass is greener in Moniaive

View near my home office

My 20 year old self expected my 50 year old self to be a high powered executive making a fortune. I imagined that I would live and work in a big city: like New York City or London. I would take the subway into my office that was in a skyscraper in the middle of the city. My office would have an incredible view. I would be traveling first class to really exotic places like Dubai. My life would be a episode of Dallas and Dynasty.

I’m sure my 20 year old self would wonder what happened to my 54 year old self. I’m not “high powered” or even an executive. Thanks to the pandemic my commute is from the kitchen to the attic where my home office is. I do have an incredible view – but it’s a scenic landscape and not other buildings and city scape.

What happened? Did I mess up somewhere?

I had a flavour of some of these things in my 30’s and 40’s and reality didn’t always match up to my 20 year old imagination. Who would have imagined that commuting wasn’t actually fun, that it can be packed and can make you late. Never thought that travelling might mean flying economy to Hattiesburg, Mississippi and staying in a Marriott Courtyard. I didn’t think that executives live and breathe their work – even if it’s really not that interesting. One executive told me that he’s afraid to express an opinion without others believing that it’s the official opinion of the company, and possibly costing him his job. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to make his salary, but not sure how enjoyable life would be.

They say that the grass is always greener and then you experience it and it’s not as good as you thought. I can literally say that the grass is greener in Moniaive than it is anywhere else I’ve lived and worked. I love walking during lunch on a beautiful rural pathway. I look forward to seeing the horse I pass and stop to pet. I love how the sheep and cows stare at me. The only sound I hear is the river nearby. It’s a fantastic way to clear your mind and come back to work in my attic refreshed.

I hope that once we come out of this pandemic, that people will have more options to work remotely. I’m looking forward to visiting the office and travelling again (even if it’s not to a fancy place). But, I think that it makes a real difference to live and work in a place that gives you so much positive energy.

Hindsight is 2020

In 2006, Boeing flew me from Brussels (where I was living at the time) to Rome for a regional European meeting. It was my first day on the job and the first time meeting my boss in person and meeting my coworkers.

I love Rome and it was great meeting. I recall there being a session on pandemic business continuity preparedness. At that point in history, we had seen some challenges with the Swine Flu and Ebola. A September 11-type terrorist attack seemed more likely to me than a global pandemic.

Fast forward to 2020 with the COVID-19 global pandemic. The expression “hindsight is 2020” ironically and literally rings true.

I went on a business trip in February 2020 to the US. We heard cautions of the coronavirus; but I didn’t believe it was more serious than what we’ve seen in the past. I had a cold during that trip and then had a spout with Bells Palsy shortly after I returned. I never got tested for coronavirus but wonder if that’s what triggered the Palsy.

I speculated with family, work colleagues and social media connections about how this pandemic and lockdown could be a global disruption in what we consider a “normal” way of life.

Normal meant we could get on an airplane and travel anywhere whenever we wanted. Normal meant that I needed to commute to and from work every weekday. Normal meant that we could go to a crowded Scottish pub and sing karaoke. Normal even meant that I could go shopping and not wear a mask or worry about standing too close to others.

None of these things are “normal” right now. Will all or some of them be normal again?

One “normal” I didn’t mention is an alternative reality. Over the last decade, and especially since 2016, people are able to live in a reality that makes them comfortable. Conspiracy theories combined with social media and programs masquerading as news make this possible.

Donald Trump’s presidency was built on this alternative reality. If he says something dumb in an interview, a social media campaign kicks in to gaslight it. If he does something corrupt, the campaign to discredit whistleblowers and investigators kick in. Each time, a new conspiracy theory takes over and gives comfort to those living in the alternative reality it creates.

The same is true for the global pandemic. Conspiracy theories have tried everything: from trying to dismiss the seriousness of the virus to trying to discredit healthcare organisations and scientists who inform us of a reality that some people don’t like.

Fortunately, reality won the day in the US presidential election. 7 million more people voted for addressing the global pandemic; 7 million more people voted for addressing climate change; 7 million more people voted for tackling systemic racism; 7 million more people voted for inclusion, respect, and kindness; in other words, 7 million more people voted for Biden.

The normal I want to see go away for good is the alternative reality norm. It does more harm to people than the coronavirus is. The new normal should be living in the real world.

Moniaive – an American in the Village

I own a house in Scotland now!

I just bought a semi- detached (I guess we would call it a duplex) in a rural village called Moniaive. It’s a beautiful area in southern Scotland with a number of famous residents.

I set up my office in the attic. If it’s not raining, I can see a hill covered with white dots that are sheep. If I look to the right, I can see an old church and clock tower.

The house is an old manse (a house provided for a Presbyterian minister). It has 2 large sitting rooms and 3 big bedrooms. Part of the attic has been converted into a 4th bedroom. We’re using it as the cats room and my office.

I haven’t had a chance to venture out much. We’re still busy with remodelling and unpacking. It feels like we live in a construction zone. But, it’s coming along nicely.

It’s about an hour and twenty minutes from my office in Edinburgh. Our original plan was to move closer. But, COVID-19 has changed those priorities. Most of us that can work from home. That will probably be the situation for the foreseeable future.

My job mostly involves virtual meetings and travel to sites to audit operations. I can do a virtual meeting from home. We’re working on virtual audit approaches.

I read somewhere that the pandemic has created a housing “zoom”. The demand for housing has grown in places where people want to live versus places that are commuting distance to work.

Moniaive sure fits this new demand. It’s not only beautiful, quiet, and has interesting sites, but it also has high speed internet connections. Ironically, it’s much faster than what we had in Kilmarnock.

I do hope that we can conquer this pandemic soon. I miss traveling for work and I miss visiting my family in America. It would be really nice for my family to travel here as well. At least we have a fantastic space for them to visit.

I love Lucy

New addition to the family

I pushed back as much as I could, but we got another puppy. We now have 5 dogs and 5 cats. It’s quite a menagerie.

The other dogs are cocker spaniels; Lucy is a Labrador. She is very sweet and good natured. The whole house is full of dog toys and she always carries one with her.

She’s 15 weeks and already taller than the others. It’s interesting how introducing a puppy into the pack ages the other dogs.

Puppies are either moving at 100 mph or sleeping. There is no medium speed. I was taking a shower the other day and tried to grab my towel to get out. She grabbed it and ran out of the bathroom. I finally caught up to her halfway down the stairs.

I was on a conference call later that day. She was chasing the cats and barking at them. Unfortunately, I was facilitating the call and people must have been wondering what the noise was.

We went to see a house in a rural village called Moniave. More about that in another post. We left the dogs at their day care. We picked them up afterwards. Lucy and Ringo (a 4 year old cocker spaniel) were in the back seat together. Ringo was lying on the floor and Lucy on the seat.

Stewart had to brake suddenly and Lucy fell on top of Ringo. He got really mad and bit both of her ears. It broke my heart and made me angry at the same time. We took her to the after hours vet and fortunately, she’s ok.

Ringo obviously felt bad and followed me around that evening with her and tried to lick her better. She seems to have forgiven and forgotten. We will have to make sure Ringo doesn’t act out like that again.

We put an offer on a new house. This one is big enough for our animals to roam around. The yard isn’t as big as we prefer, but the house and location are really exciting.

First Scottish Adventure

Photo by Dom J on

I worked at the Starbucks EMEA centre in Amsterdam for a year just before joining Greenpeace. I loved working there. The company has great values; I still remember their mission; and we were in growth mode in Europe. New employees are assigned to work in a store for a week to better understand store operations, the products, and the customers.

Starbucks didn’t have any stores in the Netherlands when it was my turn for initiation. Instead, I was assigned to work at one of the stores in Edinburgh. It was my first visit to Scotland.

I can’t remember exactly where the store was, but I was told it was close to JK Rowling’s and Ian Rankin’s homes and that they came to the store pretty often. I didn’t know who Ian Rankin was and googled his name. The mystery novelist came to the store almost every day I was there. But, the Harry Potter author was a no show.

My boss for the week was a guy in his early 20’s. He was really good at his job. I was surprised how many times we ran out of important things – like milk and whipped cream. Fortunately, there was a small store nearby where he could buy things for immediate needs. I remember him buying whipping cream and us all taking turns whipping it. Ironically, part of my Amsterdam team’s job was to make sure that they didn’t run out of products. I now knew first hand how important it is to have products available just in time.

I thought that I would take advantage of Ian Rankin’s visits and get his autograph. I went to his table to ask and he handed me his empty plate and coffee cup. Guess that he didn’t want to be disturbed. He was writing – maybe it was his next mystery novel. I didn’t dare attempt it again.

I preferred bussing tables and washing dishes over serving customers. Making drinks is more difficult than you would think and I was afraid that I would be too slow and tick off the customers. I did serve a couple of brewed coffees; that was easy enough.

The store has little clip-on timers to remind you of things. You clip the timer onto your Starbucks apron and set it to remind yourself of important things like when to take something out of the oven. The trick is to remember why you set it. A couple of times it went off and I would wonder what that weird sound was.

We finally got whipping cream mid way through the week. They are kept in reusable pressurised dispensers. They were almost empty by Friday. My boss asked if I would wash the containers to be refilled on Saturday. I didn’t think about letting out the pressure into the sink first. Instead, I unscrewed the very tight cap. The rest of the whipping cream basically exploded in my face. I looked like Santa Claus. Of course, things like that happen when everyone can see you, so everyone had a great laugh.

Wish that I remembered where that store was. It would be fun to visit again.

Backseat Driving in American Politics

Some people dismiss my US political opinions saying that I shouldn’t say anything because I don’t live in the US anymore. Opinions of non US citizens matter even less to these people. Of course, all of this is triggered by expressing opinions that they don’t like.

US citizens living abroad still pay US taxes. We have to declare income we earned from outside of the US. I consider it a very expensive poll tax since I’m obviously not consuming US public services. I’m also paying UK taxes. I’ve earned my right to express political opinions.

The US used to be a leader and an example for the rest of the world. A typical action movie would depict the US saving the world from utter destruction and other countries as too helpless and weak to participate. The US response to the global pandemic makes this narrative even less believable today.

The US still sets the tone for the rest of the world. My Scottish friends often talk about trips to Disney World or New York City. Americans are genuinely viewed as charming and approachable (at least that’s what I’m told). The pandemic has shown that that the US values money and brands over people and family. I don’t believe that British nationals want to travel to the US until they address the virus infection rate.

The US needs to heal and build back better. We can’t afford 4 more years of this dark nonsense. It’s important that all of us speak out. I don’t care if friends or even family don’t appreciate my viewpoint. Unfortunately, it’s no longer a matter of differences of opinions; it’s a matter of having different values.