Three Craws Sat Upon A Wa’

This past week was shaping up to be another in which I did absolutely zero art.  I keep waiting for a week where my schedule is more flexible but in vain.  I used to stay up late working on art but I have been too exhausted for that malarkey these past few months.  I need to figure something out.  Solutions on a postcard, please.  Happily, however, on Sunday I met up with some local art friends and had a couple of hours in a coffee shop to work on my art journals.  I had an idea of what I wanted to work on.  However, I left the house in such a whirlwind that I left most of my travel art supplies sitting at home on my art table.  I, therefore, had to come up with an idea of something I could work on with very limited supplies.

Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was something along the lines of the number 3.  Not too long ago, I had a blog comment exchange with Claudia McGill about the Scottish children’s song “Three Craws Sat Upon A Wa'” and I assume that having that so recently in my brain meant that I came up with the idea of writing out the lyrics of the song and illustrating it with three crows.  Despite being complimented all the time about my handwriting, my typography remains reliably awful.  I decided to write in a childlike print for this page, given it was the lyrics of a childhood song, which should have theoretically made it easier to set out the placement of the words on the page.  Regardless of the theory, in practice my writing went on all over the place with drifting away from the margin and that final word becoming isolated on the bottom line because of my inability to compose the text on the page.  I guess writing in art journals remains a challenge for me.  I am happier with the crow illustrations.  Sure, they look a bit derpy and goofy but I like them.  Having drawn the crows with waterproof micron pens, I used an aquapen brush marker to outline the shapes and then grabbed a water brush to spread the pigment out.  I have seen people obtain beautiful results with water activated brush markers but clearly I am not there yet with my level of experience with them.  I think the scrappy quality works well for depicting scruffy crows, however.  Let’s go with that.

11 - Three Craws Sat Upon a Wa 1

11 - Three Craws Sat Upon a Wa 2

Nessie, Haggis and Royal Babies

Today marks two years since the kids and I emigrated to America.  In some ways it seems like not that much time has passed (such as when we met up with friends in Lochgilphead in July and it felt like we had only been gone for weeks) but in many ways it feels like ages ago, not quite part of another lifetime but not far off.  For example, we bought our house just over a year ago but already it feels comfortably like home, as if we have lived in it for years.  I reread my first year immigration anniversary post and realised that a lot of what I wrote then still stands now so settling is clearly a slow and gradual process for me; but I am definitely more comfortable with things than I was this time last year.  Things that were initially unsettling, discombobulating, strange, alien and stressful have now largely settled into the rhythm and groove of everyday normality with the occasional panicked peak of being a stranger in a strange land.

From the very first, my Scottisness has been a talking point.  A week has yet to pass without people commenting on my accent, always complimentary, usually an exclamation of, “I love your accent!”  Often that is where the conversation on my accent ends but sometimes I am asked where I am from and that prompts further conversation.  Some of these can be quite peculiar.

Last Winter I fell into conversation with a chap who heard my accent and enquired if I was Irish.

Man: That’s not a Philly accent.
Me: Well spotted.
Man: My family are Irish.
Me: That’s cool. I’m not Irish though; I’m Scottish.
Man: Yeah, my grandparents came over in their 20s.
Me: Uh huh.
Man: So where in Ireland?
Me: Sorry?
Man: Where in Ireland are you from?
Me: I’m not. I’m from Scotland.
Man: Oh. It’s just that you sound a lot like Sean Connery.
Me: Sean Connery is also not Irish. He is also Scottish. Like me.
Man: Cool.

It is perplexing the number of times I have had the “I am not Irish” conversation.  I think more people guess I am Irish than guess accurately that I am a Scot.  I sometimes also get New Zealander and South African.  I think people just hear accented English and plump for an English speaking nation.  I had assumed that Americans would be much better at placing accents given there is such a diversity of accents and dialects in the various regions of the US but apparently not.

When people do know I am Scottish, all sorts of bizarre small talk can ensue.  One of my favourites was when, not long after moving to America, I was asked at the supermarket checkout, “Do you believe?”  I was desperately confused by the question.  Having had a lot of strangers ask me what religion I was since my arrival, my first thought was that I was being asked about faith.  But why would someone be asking me about religion while beeping my groceries?  I must have looked dim for long enough that the checkout lady offered a follow up, “Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster?”  Oh!  Much easier to answer.  She looked quite crestfallen when I replied, “I believe Nessie is good for tourism”.  Did she really think I was going to reveal that I had been given a private audience with the beastie?  That was not the only time I have been asked about Nessie but it was certainly the oddest.

Haggis is another topic of conversation.  I think Britain still has a reputation for terrible food (which is unfair – you can find wonderful and wretched food wherever you are in the world) and the very notion that someone might eat the heart and lungs of a sheep all chopped up and stuffed in its bladder is barf-inducing to some and the idea that such a recipe would become a national dish is truly mystifying.  But, of course, many nation’s have a simple peasant dish to serve as their national dish.  It is just the fact that Scotland’s is a whole bunch of innards that captures the imagination I suppose.  Mostly people just want to know why.  Why?  Why would anyone eat such a thing?  Just why?  I can then take the conversation along a historic or gastronomic track.  The former involves explaining a bit about crofting practices and the economic need to use every part of an animal and the latter involves explaining that haggis is actually very tasty, thanks to the mixture of oatmeal and spices – though, of course, since I don’t eat meat I only eat vegetarian haggis.  I managed to horrify my son’s class when they thought I was going to make them eat haggis.

The expansion of the British royal family has led to two periods since my immigration in which people have asked my opinion about royal babies.  I don’t tend to have opinions about babies, whether royal or serf or anything in between.  People also tended to approach the subject obliquely and without any context so that I again found myself in a state of befuddlement.  “What do you think of the baby?”  I was asked, again at a supermarket checkout.  I asked what baby and was met with the reply, “Baby George?”  I still had nothing.  Was this some TV programme the checkout person assumed I watched.  “Prince George?”  Oh.  The penny dropped.  It’s always nice when people who want a baby have one.  That’s pretty much my sole opinion on the matter.  And, of course, it was repeated when Prince George’s little sister was born a few months ago.  I was quicker on the uptake with that conversation starter though.  I get asked about the Queen a lot too.  And Downton Abbey.  I think many people think the two are related.

The popularity of the Outlander series of books and the subsequent TV show is also something people ask me about a lot when they identify my accent.  They always look disappointed in me when I confess that I have neither read the books or seen the TV show.  Before I had ever heard of the books, I fell into conversation with an older lady in our library once because she heard my accent and wanted to know what I thought of them.  She looked downright affronted when I told her I had no idea what she was referring to.  She looked like she thought I should be stripped of my Scottish identity.  Then it emerged that some of the teachers at my sons’ Elementary School were obsessed with the books – totally obsessed – so they would ask me about all sorts of things to do with Scotland.  One asked me to email her photos I had taken of Scottish castles and was over the moon when I did so.

Ever so often, someone will hear my Scottish burr and will engage me in conversation about travel to Scotland.  It might be that they want to share their experience of visiting the country and tell me how much they loved it there, despite the weather, or it might be that they are planning a trip there and want some personal recommendations.  That’s always fun.  I think Scotland is one of the most beautiful, historically rich and culturally interesting countries in the world and I am happy to be an Ambassador – though I don’t forget to mention rain and midgies.

I welcome all of these little interactions about my Scottish accent and identity.  I like being Scottish so I am happy to chat about it.  The reaction people have is overwhelmingly positive too which is a welcoming feeling, especially at times when I might be feeling a little alien and adrift.  I am quite happy to be “different” and my difference sometimes prompts people to be very helpful and make suggestions as to places to go, things to see and do.  Indeed in the two years that I have lived in Pennsylvania, the only anti-immigration sentiment I have experienced directly was from a man, whose surname I noted was Italian, who felt it appropriate to tell me that people like me were coming over here and making the economy worse because we were stealing all of the jobs that proper Americans should have.  Sigh.

As a final note on Scottish accents in an American context, as my kids accents and vocabulary are drifting into the Mid-Atlantic, they have become much more conscious of my accent.  “You are just SO Scottish!” they proclaim.  I find that quite comforting.


Cultural Exchanges

The Elementary School my younger boys attend is very good at utilising parental knowledge, skills and experience.  It is a very good way of including parents and embedding the school’s connection to the community.  It is also a great way of extending the education of the students, building in extra little titbits and exposing them to things they may have had no awareness of.  As a genuine, bona fide immigrant with a very definite accent, the staff at the school have been making use of me since the kids were enrolled in the school.  This may or may not have something to do with the fact that several of the teachers are entirely obsessed with the ‘Outlander’ series of novels which are set in historic Scotland.

Having read one class a traditional Scottish Traveller’s tale – The Hedgehurst – last year, I extended their knowledge of Scottish literature still further by talking to them about Robert Burns recently.  I was visiting as part of a series on tradition exchanges so the focus of my talk was on Burns’ Night.  I told them about the speeches, toasts and recitations; gave them a brief overview of the languages of Scotland; provided a potted biography of Robert Burns; and I read them excerpts from ‘Address to a Haggis’ and ‘To A Mouse’ in Scots and then provided an English translation.  What most engaged the children, however, was the talk about the food.  They were disgusted yet completely fascinated by the ingredients of haggis.  I assured them that many people find haggis very scrumptious indeed, including the little Pict who is their classmate, but I don’t think anyone was convinced, not one bit.  What’s not to love about sheep’s pluck mixed up with oatmeal and spices and stuffed inside a sheep’s stomach?  When I told them that I had brought a sample of some Scottish food for them to try, their little eyes popped wide open in revulsion and horror.  I quelled their panic by informing them that I had in fact brought small pots of cranachan for them to try.  If you have never heard of it, cranachan is a delectable concoction of cream, raspberries, honey and oatmeal soaked in whisky.  For obvious reasons I had switched the whiskey for vanilla essence.  I think that went down better with the kids than samples of haggis would have done.  In the course of my talk, I had to explain that haggis is illegal in America which is why I could not even provide one for the class to see.  That led to a whole tangent about Mad Cow Disease.  They were captivated by it.  Perhaps next time I should go in and talk to them about my knowledge of diseases (genuinely, one of my nerdy interests is plague).

The following week I was again foisting Scottish victuals onto children.  One of my sons has been working on a unit about different countries of the world and he was assigned Egypt for his project (which led him to  – just for fun – write the story of Osiris from the point of view of Set all written according to the hieroglyphic alphabet).  As part of their studies, the class were having a multicultural feast.  Each student could contribute a food or drink from either their country of study or a country relevant to their own cultural heritage.  As tempted as he was by sticky date treats, my 9 year old decided he wanted to contribute something Scottish to the feast.  I wrote recently about my husband finding a source of British food so he was duly packed off to hunt and gather half a dozen bottles of Irn Bru.  The feast was a huge success and my son enjoyed trying all of the different foods and drinks, several not previously familiar to him.  I am extremely happy to report that the Irn Bru (a Scottish soft drink) was a massive hit with the students.  I am pleased to have had a hand in introducing their tastebuds to an unfamiliar and slightly bizarre flavour.

Those are formal cultural exchanges, of course.  I am, however, also responsible for an informal cultural exchange.  I have been volunteering in my youngest son’s Kindergarten class a few times a week in order to assist the children with learning to write.  This involves me sounding out words to help them figure out which combination of letters to write down to create each syllable and construct each word.  It took me a while to realise that this was leading them to write with a Scottish accent.  There is no emphasis on accurate spelling, just on familiarity with letters and combinations of letters to produce the phonetic sounds of the words.  Therefore, when I was reading their work back, scribing the correct spellings beneath their writing, I was reading in a Scottish accent and as such not noticing that the sounds were wrong for American English.  Their writing was riddled with my clipped vowel sounds and Es in place of As.  Oops.  Since that epiphany, I have been having to adopt an American accent when sounding out certain phonemes.  In return, the children have been helping me remember my American vocabulary and have been correcting me when it comes to my apparent insistence that Z is “zed”.  I am not quite there yet but gradually they will get it fixed in my head that in this country I need to say “zee”.

To A Mouse ~ Art Journal Page

This week’s prompts for the Documented Life Project were to use writing and more specifically the phrase “words with friends”.

If you have followed my art journalling for long enough then you will perhaps have noted that I do not particularly write in my journal.  I certainly do not write anything overly personal.  I suppose I use blogging if  there is anything I want to express in a more public way but otherwise I am very private.  The idea of recording thoughts and feelings in a journal does not appeal to me.  I did actually maintain a journal from when I was about 10 through to my mid-teens.  However, as my sister could tell you (since she was sneaky and read my diary) all my journal recorded were my thoughts on current affairs, global issues and reviews of books and movies – nothing personal.  This week’s challenge, therefore, was not – on the surface at least – a comfortable fit for me.

The friends bit also had me stumped.  Writing about or even drawing my friendships felt too personal for a public forum (I share my pages on the DLP’s Facebook page as well as on my blog) especially because, having moved so far away from all my close friends, it is a more emotive subject for me, a vulnerable topic.  I decided, therefore, to be a non-conformist and ignore that second prompt entirely.  That decision made inspiration easier to come by.

Sunday was Burns’ Night, a traditional celebration of Scotland’s national poet.  We marked the evening as best we could – including a small glug of recently sourced Irn Bru, Scotland’s other national drink.  As part of that, I read ‘Address to a Haggis’ and ‘To a Mouse’.  Ping!  That was my inspiration.

I drew the little field mouse on the wheat stalk with coloured pencils and then sketchily outlined it with black gel pen.  I then used the gel pen to write the text of the first verse of the poem on either side of my drawing.  Yet again, I just used my own handwriting for the text but, following the typography lesson with Joanne Sharpe that I undertook as part of the Life Book course, I felt completely OK about doing so this time.

Week 4 - Words

I managed to find time this week for some of my “own” art work so, if you want to see my Zombie Woodland Creatures, head on over to my art blog – Pict Ink – to check it out.

Referendum – My Nation Decides Without Me

I am sure it has not escaped your notice that something momentous is happening today in Scotland.  A Referendum is being held in which the populace is voting as to whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom (a No vote) or become an entirely independent nation (a Yes vote).  The Act of Union which bound Scotland to England took place in 1707 so this is an incredibly historic decision.  I am not going to get into all of the nuts and bolts of the debate here.  That is not the nature of this blog and, besides, other bloggers are probably better placed to analyse and present the arguments than I am because opinion pieces are not my personal style of writing.  No, I am writing about this now on my blog simply because it is an incredibly weird experience to be looking in from the outside on something happening within my country, to be so politically aware, and yet not be part of the process.

For months now my Facebook feed (the admittedly lazy means by which I keep in touch with friends and family on a regular basis) has been chockablock with discussion about the Referendum.  People have offered opinions and arguments, shared links to articles, video snippets from the campaigns and seeing how engaged everyone has been in political discourse has been a delight.  An astonishing 97% of the eligible population has signed up to the electoral register making this a record electorate.   Considering that in recent elections in Scotland the turn out has been woeful, abysmal even, the fact that a high turn out is being predicted (on top of the already huge number of postal votes), the fact that this Referendum campaign – for all that it has been a shambles on both sides at times – has lit a fire under people and inspired them to be active participants in the democratic process again is simply fantastic.  It is a massive decision.  It absolutely needs to be a democratic one and for democracy to function effectively every single voice ought to be heard.  People fought and died to earn us the right to vote and I am very glad to see people finally appreciating the fact that their vote is their voice.  I am also already proud of the fact that Scotland has seen fit to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds for the first time, something I have held to be just for a long time.

However, I do not get to be part of this historic Referendum.  Quite appropriately, residency is the qualification for voting, not nationality.  As a Scot who is no longer resident in Scotland, I do not get to vote.  Indeed, I no longer get to vote anywhere.  I am effectively voiceless, though filled with political opinions.  Watching this whole campaign unfold from afar has been a stark reminder that I am now part of the diaspora.  It is a bizarre feeling, somewhat unsettling since I am also now outside the democratic process generally.  There was a period in my life when I was deeply involved in Scottish politics (never more so than during the Devolution campaign) and now I am not involved at all when Scotland is in the process of making the biggest political decision ever placed before it.  It’s weird.

I await the result on tenterhooks and meanwhile The Proclaimer’s song ‘Letter from America’ is playing on repeat in my head.

Small Differences: Prickly Heat

The youngest Pict peeled himself out of bed this morning and revealed himself to have cheeks covered in a red rash.  When one is busily trying to drag kids out of their beds, set the breakfast table and make packed lunches, having a rash to inspect is one of those things that makes one sigh.  I sighed.  I am not someone who panics over medical things anyway – just as well since I have four kids – but I admit that the rash presented itself as an annoyance rather than a source of worry.  Maybe that makes me an inept mum.  I studied the rash close up in different lighting conditions, checked his temperature and inspected him all over to determine the spread of the rash (confined to just his cheeks and the nape of his neck) and looked for any additional symptoms of which there were none.

When I was pregnant with my youngest son, his oldest brother contracted parvovirus, the kind which in Scotland we call Slap Cheek and which I believe in America is called Fifth Disease.  Along with all of the other pregnancy complications I was enduring, my exposure to parvovirus meant I had to be monitored for that reason too.  I am, therefore, familiar with how it presents.  The rash did not look red enough to be Slap Cheek but, then again, it was mainly on his cheeks.  That gave me pause.  My knowledge of stillbirth means that I am aware that children suffering from parvovirus need to be kept away from pregnant women.  It might, therefore, have been necessary to keep him in quarantine conditions under medical house arrest.  Some googling and facebooking with people who work in the medical field later, however, and I ruled out parvovirus and instead ruled in Prickly Heat.

I am Scottish.  Until seven months ago I had lived all of my life in the British Isles.  What was the chance I was going to have any experience of a heat-related condition?  Obviously some people in the UK are still sensitive enough to environmental temperatures that they get prickly heat or even heat stroke so I had heard of it but it would never be a common thing in that climate.  Chillblains are more the Scottish thing.  Last night was very humid and, despite sleeping under an open window, the littlest Pict does have a tendency to wrap himself up in his bedlinen like a sleeping burrito so it made sense he had just sweated and baked his way into a rash.

Still I was swithering (a great Scottish word) about whether he should attend his preschool summer camp but, a quick, reassuring conversation with his teacher later, he was all ready to go and heading out of the door.  He is spending the afternoon in our basement living room and playroom with the blinds down to keep him cool.  His cheeks looks less red already.

So that was a first experience for this Scottish mother: prickly heat.  It’s only going to get hotter and more humid this summer.  I wonder what other temperature related mishaps we will experience.

Siri says Tom-May-Toe when I say Tom-At-Oh

I have undergone a technological revolution since moving from Scotland to America in that I have jumped from a mobile phone that was just a few steps up from two empty bean cans and a piece of string to a smartphone.  I am like Ishi emerging into the modern world when it comes to phone technology.  I cannot say that I have mastered it at all.  In fact, I often find myself typing pleas to friends on Facebook asking them to tell me how on earth I do something on the phone.  However, I very much enjoy having a tiny little computer in my pocket.  With all of the things that I just don’t know, being able to conduct a quick google has helped me overcome a lot of minor moments of ignorance as I navigate life in America.  Our Garmin satnav has not been cooperating at all since we emigrated (I think it took the huff) so I have been using my smartphone as a sat nav – a pretty critical function since I have no idea where I am going most of the time.  Easy access to email and Facebook is also helping me to maintain frequent contact with family and friends.  My kids also love my phone because they can play games on it and watch YouTube and even Netflix.  A function of the iphone that my husband likes is the voice recognition tool, which is named Siri for some reason.  Siri likes my husband and does his bidding.  Siri, however, hates me.
The thing is that Siri is clearly set to understand American English.  She is smart enough that she can understand my husband’s plummy English accent.  My Scottish accent, however, floors Siri.  She is bamboozled by my monopthong vowel sounds and my rolling Rs.  Anything I ask her leads to a lot of whirring in the little “thinking” circle only for her to spew out a garbled version of what I asked or provide a reply to a question that does not remotely approximate my inquiry.
The other day one of my children wanted to know what George Washington’s last words were.  I asked Siri.  She thought I had asked “What were George Washington’s last works.”  Close, but no coconut.
I asked Siri how many litres were in a gallon but she thought I asked “How many litters in a galleon.”  Strangely she had no answers for that query.
I asked Siri to find me a recipe for peanut butter banana bread and I got “pizza peanut butter banana” which incredibly led her to then find me some restaurants serving such a concoction (allegedly) and she then sorted them by distance.  Her efficiency and list-making skills are impressive but that was still not what I asked.  I tried again and got “Find nearest be subpoena butter banana”.  I wonder what that court case could be about.  Intriguing.
What was the last film that Gregory Peck made?  Why that would be “the last Olympic make a pigmeat”.  I don’t recall seeing that movie.  It certainly sounds interesting.
Ultimately I bypass Siri, open up the internet and search google to find my answer.  For someone with a Scottish accent, it seems that Wikipedia likes me more than Siri.
Meanwhile my kids love Siri.  They find her hilarious.  They particularly enjoy starting fights with Siri.  They call her a loser and she responds with “I’m doing my best”.  Despite them flinging insults at her, they asked if she was their friend and she replied, “I’m not just your friend.  I’m your BFF.”  Siri can keep kids amused on a car journey for ages.  For that I might just forgive her for not understanding a ruddy word I say.
She also has a sense of humour.  To a degree.  Siri, what is the meaning of life?  “I Kant answer that.  Ha ha!”
So Siri likes my husband and she has great rapport with my kids.  It’s just me she doesn’t get on with.  The feeling is mutual.  Some day we might reach a level of understanding.

Burn’s Night

Today is the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet.  I have celebrated Burns’ Night every year of my life as far as I can recollect.  When I was at Primary School, we used to get haggis, neeps and tatties and a glass of Irn Bru for school dinners.  When I was in Halls of Residence at University, I recited ‘Tam O’Shanter’ as part of the evening’s celebrations.  In a later year at University, I helped organise a Burns’ Night supper.  It is part of my culture as a Scot to celebrate Burns’ night and I also happen to love Burns’ poetry quite independently of any patriotism.  Around the globe, the Scots diaspora will today be piping, slicing into steaming haggis, reciting poetry and singing songs and quaffing whisky.  Unfortunately I will not be among them.  I totally brain-farted and left it too late to research where I might get my mitts on some haggis and some vegetarian haggis here in America.  So tonight  I will still read some Burns poems to the kids but Mr Pict and the boys will be having spaghetti bolognese and I will be having some other type of pasta.  I’m sure Rabbie would have approved.

I have lots of favourite Burns’ poems, depending on which mood I am in, but right now as I type this blog this one is top of the heap.  It is actually a beautiful song as well as being a lovely poem so if you are not familiar with it I recommend you go and find someone singing it on YouTube.



Green Grow The Rashes

Green grow the rashes , O;

Green grow the rashes , O;

The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,

Are spent amang the lasses, O.

There’s nought but care on ev’ry han’ ,

In ev’ry hour that passes, O:

What signifies the life o’ man,

An’ ’twere na for the lasses, O.

Green grow the rashes , O;

Green grow the rashes , O;

The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,

Are spent amang the lasses, O.

The war’ly race may riches chase, –

An’ riches still may fly them, O;

An’ tho’ at last they catch them fast,

Their hearts can ne’er enjoy them, O.

Green grow the rashes , O;

Green grow the rashes , O;

The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,

Are spent amang the lasses, O.

But gie me a cannie hour at e’en ,

My arms about my dearie, O;

An’ war’ly cares, an’ war’ly men,

May a’ gae tapsalteerie , O!

Green grow the rashes , O;

Green grow the rashes , O;

The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,

Are spent amang the lasses, O.

For you sae douce , ye sneer at this;

Ye’re nought but senseless asses, O:

The wisest man the warl’ e’er saw ,

He dearly lov’d the lasses, O.

Green grow the rashes , O;

Green grow the rashes , O;

The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,

Are spent amang the lasses, O.

Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears

Her noblest work she classes, O:

Her prentice han’ she try’d on man,

An’ then she made the lasses, O.

Green grow the rashes , O;

Green grow the rashes , O;

The sweetest hours that e’er I spend,

Are spent amang the lasses, O.