If you would have asked me 1 month ago, in the height of my 1st trimester misery and the lingering dreary winter weather, I may have told you that I wanted nothing more than to move back to the muggy humidity and fast food convenience of the US. But now that the sun is starting to shine, the temperatures are starting to rise, and the days are stretching until 9:30 pm, I’m feeling more optimistic about our time in Scotland.
Yesterday was nearly perfect as far as weather goes. We decided to take the opportunity to revisit a hike that we did shortly after arriving in Scotland on the Glen Tanar Estate. I think that the deja vu helped us to really quantify how far we’ve come in the past year, and how Scotland is starting to feel more like home than a long-term vacation spot.
For starters, last time we visited Glen Tanar, it was our first big hike with Bailey. Since the signs specificed that our dog had to be ‘properlly controlled’ to be off lead, we kept her on leash the entire time, which was quite miserable for all 3 of us.
Flash forward a year, and we were completely comfortable with letting her roam off leash, confident that we could distract her from chasing any birds/rabbits/squirrels with a firm recall from us.
If you had told me that would be possible a year ago, I would have never believed you. Bailey’s off leash excursions have been one of our favorite things about life in Northern Scotland. There is so much spectacular scenery to explore, and it fills my heart to see her get to truly be a dog, running wild through the countryside.
Samson hasn’t quite mastered the ‘come when called’ trick, so he’s usually relegated to a long extendable leash.
Still, he loves going on long hikes, and now that he’s discovered water, you can’t keep him out of the various rivers and streams that we come across.It’s a far cry from the urban walks they got in Houston, and I truly think Scotland is the best place on earth to own a dog. It’s one of the things I love about living here.
But it isn’t all sunshine and roses. There are days where me and the United Kingdom simply do not get along. The conflict has only gotten worse now that I find myself pregnant.
Probably the most frustrating thing here is that everything takes a substantial amount of time. There is no one-stop Target shop where you can get all of your wardrobe, entertainment, home goods, pet store, and grocery needs met in one stop. There are no Starbucks or McDonald’s drive thrus.
It may sound like a small thing, but try telling a sick-as-a-dog pregnant lady that if she wants a cheeseburger (the only thing on earth that sounds appetizing), she will need to drive 15 minutes, park, and walk into a Walmart to get her McDonald’s fix. Not gonna happen. I had Jonathan run the errand for me once, but it took so long that the burger was room temperature by the time he got home, therefore rendering it inedible to my sensitive tummy.
I daydream frequently about being pregnant in the US, with a smorgasbord of convenient comfort food at my fingertips. The one upside: maybe I can get through this pregnancy without gaining 100 pounds. I doubt I’d have the self-control to pass by Wendy’s on a daily basis without stopping in for a burger and frosty.
There are plenty of pros and cons about our lives in Aberdeen, and we used our time hiking to reflect on both aspects. Here’s a few of the top joys and annoyances of daily life.
1. An amazing group of friends and supportive ex-pat community.
The people we’ve met since moving to Aberdeen are truly wonderful. We felt like we were welcomed as family immediately upon our arrival. With friends like these, we could live anywhere and still make the most of it.
2. An active, outdoor lifestyle.
We still can’t believe that right outside the city are miles of forests, gorgeous hilltops, and beautiful castle estates. It’s great to have that perfect balance of city and country life that we were sorely lacking while living in downtown Houston.
3. Travel opportunities. Though we’ll be slowing down our travel excursions once the baby comes, we’ve loved the places we’ve gotten to see over the past year; places I never dreamed of visiting. Warsaw and Krakow Poland.
Salzburg and Bad Gastein, Austria.
The Lake District in England.
Venice and Tuscany, Italy.
Not to mention our travels around Scotland.We are truly and wonderfully blessed.
Cons: (It goes without saying that being away from family and friends is the biggest drawback on any expat assignment. These cons are more Scotland/Aberdeen specific)
1. Our housing.
It is really expensive to rent in Aberdeen. Jonathan’s company helps to supplement our rent, which is a big help, but still, we’re paying at the top of our budget for a house whose living room is too small to fit a 3 seater sofa. I won’t even go into the burgundy carpet which is the bane of my existence.
2. The weather. When it’s good, it’s good. But when it’s bad, holy moly, you don’t want to get out of bed. Wind, rain, sleet, snow, hail…all at one time.
And in the height if winter, there is only about 6 hours of ‘daylight’, which is no guarantee that you’ll see any evidence of the sun. We’ve had plenty of two week periods of a thick gray overcast sky, with no sunshine to spare.
And something that I weirdly miss about the States: there are no thunderstorms here! It’s always a persistent misting rain, but we completely lack those powerful summer storms that I grew up with. I really miss curling up on the couch, feeling safe and snug while the thunder and lightning is wreaking havoc outside. Here we just get wimpy rain and fog, just enough to depress; not near enough to impress.
3. The sports culture. One of our favorite hobbies as a couple is following our favorite sports.
We love getting together with friends to watch LSU football, or going to Minute Maid Park when the Cardinals came in town to play the Astros. Even in Midland, our favorite thing to do was to go to watch the minor league Rockhounds play.
The sports culture, as well as the sports, are different here. We could go watch Aberdeen’s soccer team, The Dons, play, but the thought of watching from an outdoor stadium on the North Sea just doesn’t appeal to me.
And you’d think that people would gather at the pubs to watch big soccer or rugby matches, but it’s just not the case. There isn’t a huge camaraderie around the ‘home team’ like there is in the States. And when there are big rivalries between two soccer teams, it usually turns violent instead of the trading of friendly banter.
Several establishments even ban the wearing of team colors because they don’t want to house any conflict. It’s a far cry from being encouraged to wear the gear of our favorite teams on casual Fridays back in the US.
For all of its faults, I still have to say that we’re happy with our decision to move to Aberdeen. It’s a better fit for us than Houston ever was. There are things we understandably miss about our home culture, and therefore we find the differences frustrating, more-so some days than others.
But our quality of life here is better than it’s ever been. We never get tired of the beautiful scenery surrounding us. When we feel stressed or discouraged, all we have to do is take a short drive and walk through a forest, and our peace of mind is generally restored.
I worried upon moving here that I would struggle with the adjustment of becoming a ‘housewife’, but I find that I am thriving and don’t miss the working world one bit.
Life has changed dramatically in the past year, and this next year will change even more significantly as we welcome our first child into our home. We know that every move, adventure, sacrifice, and change that we have faced so far has brought us closer as a family and we’re looking forward to embracing the challenges that another year in Scotland will bring.
PS. One of my original pros on this list was a low crime rate and feeling very safe here. However, this morning we discovered that someone broke into Jonathan’s car last night and stole his Classic I-pod, Our GPS, his ‘parking money’ stash, and his Snickers Bar. His Snickers bar!!!! That is just a low blow, dontcha think? Especially since it was actually my snickers bar that was supposed to be for after our hike yesterday. Who the heck steals a candy bar from a pregnant lady? Those hoodlums have some bad karma coming their way. Ugh.
And as of tomorrow, when Jonathan gets his new i-Phone for work, he was supposed to give me his fancy i-pod. I was one day away!! I am so mad.
Theft is one of my biggest hot button issues. First off, it threatens your sense of safety on your own property. Secondly, these are things we worked hard for and someone else just comes and takes them away, without any consideration for who actually owns them. It makes me so stinkin’ mad!!!!!
So if this post reads a tad negative, it’s because I’m not super happy with Aberdeen on this particular day.