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Life as a Scot in California

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Archive for the ‘Living’ Category

Is there a woman who ‘does?’

Posted by berkeleyscot on August 24, 2012

I was in my office upstairs when I heard the crash in the bathroom downstairs. I knew something had been dropped on the hard slate floor and was broken but I waited for one of the two cleaning ladies to come to tell me what had happened.  One cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms, while the other did the rest of the house.

But after the crash, all I heard was whispering and then they got back to work.

I had to go and investigate.  Had the bathroom sink or floor been damaged?

The ladies presented me with a ceramic liquid soap dispenser that was in fragments, but they were trying to hold it together, even though the soap was oozing over their hands and dripping onto the floor.

“Accidents will happen,” said the boss girl.  “Yes, I know, but you rush all the time and I’ve asked you so many times to slow down. It isn’t necessary to do all the rooms every time you come.  And, the soap dispenser can’t be replaced. I’ve had it for 20 years. It’s French and part of a set. The trouble is that you come with a set routine and that just doesn’t meet my needs.  If I ask you to do something different, it’s as if I’m imposing on you to do something extra.”

The ladies seemed relieved when I told I wouldn’t need them to come back. Was I being too demanding?

I don’t need to pay someone to break my stuff. I can break it myself for nothing.

But I do need help in the house. I have cerebral palsy and arthritis, but I have high standards and I’m willing to pay a lot for quality housecleaning.

My first experience was with Catholic Charities which acted as an agent for women from El Salvador and Guatemala (Other countries as well, probably) to find cleaning jobs.  I expected the ladies they sent would have had some kind of training, but they didn’t and because I didn’t speak Spanish, they didn’t understand what I wanted. One lady broke all the venetian blinds by clumsily yanking them up so they caught on the window latch and snapped. Another broke ornaments as she dusted carelessly round them, instead of picking them up. Then there was the one I thought was good. She worked quickly and efficiently, but she took a pile of ‘Dry Clean’ only clothes that I was going to take to the cleaners and washed them on the hot cycle and tumbled them on high heat.  She didn’t check with me first.  I had never asked her to do my laundry, nor did I want her to.

I wasn’t in control of my household and it was my own fault.

I was thinking in a different culture and we were at variance from the beginning.  I have relatives in Scotland who had been cleaning ladies to local families.  They were not strangers to each other, they spoke the same language and so had a more familiar relationship from the start.

Before they started work, they’d take cup of tea with their employer and talk about what was to be done that day.  My ladies arrived, barely greeted me and started work straight away, not giving me a chance to explain what I wanted them to do. I remember one cleaned with one hand while holding her cell phone to her ear the whole time she was in the house.

I found the other lady cleaning my toilet with window cleaner and when I asked why, she said she wanted to my toilet ‘shiny.’ “What about disinfectant?”   She shrugged at that question and so I called her company and cancelled future appointments.

Yes, “If you want a job done properly, do it yourself,” you say. I wish I could!


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Skateboards on Solano

Posted by berkeleyscot on April 28, 2011

I walk on Solano Avenue almost everyday, doing my errands and feel fortunate that I can walk to most of the shops I need, but I get nervous on the Avenue when I hear a skateboarder trundling behind me. I usually step into a doorway to let them pass me safely, but I’m more concerned for my own safety than theirs.

Most skateboarders seem skilled, balanced and maneuver easily, but they do expect everyone to get out of their way. That’s not so easy for those of us who have mobility issues and can’t easily step aside for those with whom we share the sidewalk. Bicycles on sidewalks are also an issue, but I’m focusing on skateboards right now.

I am sure that when Solano Avenue was constructed, no one expected it would be used by other than pedestrians.

But, every day, I see pedestrians, joggers, people walking their dogs, mams with prams, people in wheelchairs, people using canes or walking frames. In many places, the sidewalks are too narrow and broken for more than single-file passage. Yet, the skateboarders trundle up and down.

Obviously, they and maybe most of Albany residents don’t know about City Ordinance 9-8.2 Roller Skates, Skateboards and Toy Vehicles.

Anyone can read Albany’s Municipal Code and Charter. It’s available online at

Chapter IX deals with Motor Vehicles and Traffic, and 9-8.2, Paragraph-a  says:

No person shall ride upon a skateboard, roller skates, or coaster or propel any such device on the street portion of Marin Avenue, San Pablo Avenue or Solano Avenue east of Adams within the City limits, except when crossing at a crosswalk.

So, it is clear that people ought not to ride skateboards at all on Solano.

Safely riding on a skateboard is addressed in Paragraph-d:

No person shall use a skateboard, coaster, or other similar device at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the street or sidewalk, or in any event at a speed which endangers the safety of any person or property.

I have seen skateboarders coming down the sidewalks of Solano at aggressive speeds, jumping and twisting, with no due regard for anyone’s safety, even their own.

Right-of-way is addressed in Paragraph-e:

Any person (rider) riding a skateboard, coaster or similar device shall at all times accord the right-of-way to any persons on foot. Without limitation of the foregoing, whenever any of the following conditions exist, a rider shall dismount at a safe distance and proceed on foot until such condition ceases to exist, which distance must be equal to or greater than fifteen (15’) from such condition:

1.  When the rider approaches any pedestrian and there is insufficient area for the rider to pass such person safely;

2.  When the rider approaches any person who, due to apparent physical condition, disability, or frailty, may be intimidated by the approach or passage of the rider; or

3.  When approaching two (2) or more persons on foot who are within ten (10’) of each other.

I started to write my thoughts on this because of my own disability (cerebral palsy) and because I am intimidated by skateboarders on the sidewalks of Solano Avenue.  I don’t expect anyone to call the Albany Police every time they encounter an errant skateboarder, but if skateboarders are made aware of these City of Albany codes, we should all be able to share the sidewalks safely.

Margaret A.M. Tong  © April 25, 2011

Posted in Living | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

4 Months No Blog

Posted by berkeleyscot on April 5, 2010

In my last blog I said that I was considering giving up blogging. My 4 months’ silence would suggest that I have, but my blog is back.

I’ve been living ‘virtually,’ for most of the winter. It has been colder than usual for longer than usual and I’ve been arthritically stiff more than I want to be.

So I spent a lot of time on the Internet. I joined Face book. I found old friends already there and I made new friends. I found a page there that is devoted to ‘The Doric,’ the mother tongue of the North East of Scotland, where I am from. It has been a delight to converse in my ‘comfort language’ and to see the growing interest in Sots dialects.

In December, I celebrated my 60th birthday, quietly, but very pleasantly, at home, with Richard. There really was nobody else to celebrate with, but good friends sent cards, telephoned and sent email greetings.  I’m not without friends. They’re just not here. But, because so many use the Internet, it doesn’t matter where they are. We communicate more frequently than we did BI. (Before the Internet)

We took in the New Year, on Face book, with a friend in Peru. We were all listening, via the Internet, to Robbie Shepherd presenting BBC Scotland’s New Year Party from the BBC Scotland studios in Glasgow and toasted 2010 at ‘The Bells,’ even though it wasn’t Midnight either in California or Lima.

So the year 2010 and my 60 years means we have been in California for 32 years. That’s over half my life. Is it strange that, while I became a US citizen in 1991, I never became an American? I consciously use American vocabulary, but my accent hasn’t changed and I’m still asked where I’m from.

We didn’t come to stay. We came for two years only.  I never left my culture behind and I didn’t adopt a new one.

I’m beginning to wonder if we stayed too long? I can’t think of anyone who would miss us if we weren’t here and I can’t think of anyone who is longing for us to go back.

But I do notice that I’m missed if I’m not communicating with my Internet friends.

We tell each other what our local weather is like, what our plans for the day are. We share personal information.

We don’t plan to meet face to face. But, if we did, we’d talk to each other the same way as we have typed.

Some people differentiate their Lives On Line and Real Life. I see no difference. Real time passes. I communicate with real people.

I shop online, I bank online, and I find information online. I say what I want to say online.

This is Easter weekend, 2010. There was a winter storm and so we stayed indoors and I stayed online.

Posted in Living, Scotland | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

New Faces at the Block Party and New Ideas

Posted by berkeleyscot on October 29, 2009

This past Sunday, we went to the ‘annual’ block party to meet our neighbours, old and new.

After 21 years of living on the Avenue, we’ve now become the ‘old ones…’

I remember our early block parties when elderly neighbours would tell us how much they paid for the houses 40 years before. One neighbour said she’d been worried she couldn’t afford the $10,000 her house cost in the 1950s.

Nobody was discussing house prices now…

It was a very cold afternoon, but I seemed to be the only one complaining and muttering that we should have had it earlier in the year. I didn’t expect that there would be many people there and I didn’t prepare ‘proper’ potluck food.

I brought (store bought) Scottish shortbread and we even ate some before we got there. Our new neighbours had made much more of an effort and provided interesting and delicious dishes to share.

However, it’s only at the block party that we ever see most of the neighbours.  Our block is long and even if I walk by the houses, I rarely see the people.

Now, there are plans to turn our small town into a ‘community.’ Some ideas suggested are: taking down fences between properties so that neighbours could communally grow vegetables, car sharing, meal sharing, communal caring of children, elders and pets.

Noble goals, but I don’t see any of it working effectively.

I say this from my own experience growing up in a community that was not planned, but was a community born of necessity and shared lives. The families were all fisher folk. The men were at sea all week and the women were the home support group.

Life was shared fully, in this community. Babies were delivered by the neighbours, who would continue to look after the mother and newborn for as long as necessary. The sick were cared for and nobody was left to die alone.

I remember there was a drawer in our house in which a shroud and white socks were kept for ‘laying out the body,’ when the time came.

That community worked well because all had a common purpose.

I suppose the downside was a complete lack of privacy and as I grew up and prepared to leave home, I became more aware of that.

But in my block, I have all the privacy I want. I rarely see anyone and lace curtains do not twitch as I pass.

I think I’ll keep my fences up, but if a neighbour needs my help, I’ll gladly give it.

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Back at the Gym – Again!

Posted by berkeleyscot on October 13, 2009

I hope I am! I’ve had too many false starts this year and my ambition to ‘get back to the level of exercise ‘I was at before accident and illness seems overly ambitious right now.

My only ambition right now is to actually GO to the Gym, three times a week, if I can, and do what I when I get there.

I like to start on the treadmill and I particularly like the treadmills by the window so I can see people passing. Last year I raised the treadmill to its maximum incline and started at a decent speed. I raised my heart rate to the workout level for my age group and perspired sufficiently to shower when I got home.

Now, my treadmill work out starts very slowly, on a fairly flat’ surface, but I do increase the incline and speed during the 20 minutes.    My heart rate goes up a little, but not enough yet to burn significant calories.

I move to the weight machines, set at a much lower weight than I used to be capable of, but I absolutely do not want to hurt myself or have any more injuries, caused by impatience.

People who suggest I do yoga, palates, or Nia discourage me. Don’t they know my arthritis prevents me from such activities?

A long-time fellow gym member who told me, that in spite of all my difficulties and setbacks, “I keep on truckin”, encouraged me!

I’m not sure what that means, but I have to keep on doing whatever it is that works.

Posted in Living | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Another Urban Myth and Why I don’t Believe It

Posted by berkeleyscot on October 5, 2009

I’m on the emailing list of an acquaintance, who, every Sunday, sends a report of her week.

This week, apart from her usual blether, she had included a report of a ‘scary incident’ that she’d heard about.

Now, she did admit, it was a rumour, she didn’t know the people involved, but she told it as she believed it 100%.

While they were on holiday in France, a couple had taken their young daughter to Euro Disney for the day. The daughter went on a ride, but when the ride stopped, she wasn’t on it!

According to the story, the park security can throw an emergency switch, which closes all exits.

Ten minutes later, the lassie was found, but in that time, her hair had been cut, her clothes had been changed and she was wearing a baseball cap.

“Apparently, she had been snatched from the ride and these organized gangs had had everything ready to change this wee lass’s identity forever…” wrote my acquaintance.

I did not believe a word of this story. Why Not?

I think that, in broad daylight, someone would have seen the snatching, especially on a moving ride.

Where did the hair cutting and clothes change take place?

The lass was found within 10 minutes. Seems she was found alone. Where was the organized gang?

I’d neither heard nor read anything in the news about this alleged incident, so I goggled ‘Euro Disney kidnapping,’ and found this article in the Times of London.

I’m not making light of real kidnappings and the terrible suffering of abducted children.

Just saying why I didn’t believe this particular story.

Posted in Living | Tagged: , , | 12 Comments »

A Usual Saturday Night in Albany

Posted by berkeleyscot on October 3, 2009

Albany is a quiet town.  Someone recently described it “The place where white folks with kids, live.” I suppose that is mostly true and families are attracted by the local schools, which have a good reputation.

Albany is a ‘walk able’ town. Shops, restaurants, parks and farmers’ markets can be accessed without a car.  For the most part, Albany is considered to be a safe place to live, although it is situated near a freeway ‘corridor’ between well-known high crime and drug dealing areas.

But, we, the residents, only read about the crime and the bad guys in the police report that is published in the local paper.

But, that changed on Saturday night and we witnessed, a police car chase that ended in a neighbour’s drive!

I heard brakes squealing as a car approached the STOP sign at the awkward corner by our house. The road bends to the right, but not in a straight line and the street lighting is insufficient.

I just KNEW a crash would follow and I was already dialing 911 before I heard it.

The driver lost control of the car and skidded into a drive where 2 cars were parked, one behind the other. The force of the impact demolished the first car, pushed it into the car in front, which rammed the locked garden gates and pushed them open.

Police cars blocked the street; their flashing lights making it look like a fun fair.

I wanted to go outside and join my neighbours, in their dressing gowns, but I stayed indoors, peering uselessly through the windows. Trees and bushes obscured my view.

I got up early the next morning to be nosy and learned from neighbours that the chase involved a Berkeley police car. The crash was a long way from Berkeley.

It was obvious that the chase was heading either towards San Pablo Ave or the Freeway.

It was completely daft to conduct a chase in a residential area. Police car chases are daft anyway.

So many times, an innocent person is killed or injured. In fact, when I heard the crash, I thought it was a head –on collision. That would have been a tragedy, but to demolish two innocent cars belonging to innocent people, asleep in Albany, was just plain stupid.

I have no idea if the driver suffered an injury. I heard no ambulance, but only the ‘beep beep beep’ of the tow truck that hauled his car away.

There was no report in the local news or paper.

Why would there have been? No one was injured and nothing happens in Albany, anyway!

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Now That My Appetite Has Returned, What Do I Eat?

Posted by berkeleyscot on September 29, 2009

I’m still not hungry, but I can finally eat and know I must.  Yesterday, I resumed eating and had a banana. Later, I ate some fruit yogurt. Invalid food, indeed!

Today, I made my favourite breakfast smoothie.  That’s a blend of soy protein powder, fruit yogurt, and bananas and fruit juice. I make a batch sufficient to last 2 days. Sipped through a straw, breakfast takes less than 5 minutes!

Tonight, I had a little ravioli with pesto sauce.  From surviving only on sips of water, I think I’m dining well!

Posted in Living | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

I Have Not Blogged in Weeks, Because…

Posted by berkeleyscot on September 26, 2009

… I have been ill. It was not officially confirmed, but I had all the symptoms of the H1N1 Virus. When I spoke to my Doctor, he said they were no longer testing for the virus, because, by the time the results came back, most people had recovered.

I am not fully recovered.

I have fatigue and loss of appetite. Food does not interest me at all. So far, I’ve had no ill effects from not eating, but I will be getting a medical check-up soon.

I feel the fatigue lifting and it does help to make myself get up and get involved in my activities.

The flu brought gory details, which I’m not going to share!

It’s the most unpleasant, debilitating illness I’ve had in a long time and it lasted far too long!

I spent far too much time on my own, having dark, flu-like thoughts…but these have lifted and I’m coming back to good cheer and optimism.

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Small town feeling?

Posted by berkeleyscot on June 1, 2009

We participated in a seminar yesterday afternoon, discussing the future of the small town in which we live.

The facilitator asked us to share why we liked living in our town.

Most people said, “Because of the small town feeling…”

But, apart from two immediate neighbours, we knew nobody else.

In fact, we were asked to wear nametags.

If it’s a ‘small town,’ shouldn’t we already be knowing everybody?

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