Monday, July 30, 2007

Party of the Year! Pt. 1

The week leading up to June 30th was one of the most stressful times in recent memory. Andy and I needed to get ready for a huge weekend party in which our dearest friends and family would meet us in Perthshire, near Glenlyon, to celebrate our union.
Yes, Andy and I were married officially back in December but many (esp. family) wanted to see and participate in a wedding.
I was against the idea for a number of reasons at first. One of the strongest reasons was that I didn't want to deal with the burden of decision. We would have to decide who we could invite and who we would not invite. Andy and I are broke-ass people and now that we have a newborn, our budget is ever tight. I have seen people get their panties in a bunch over not getting invited or not being asked to be maid-of-honor and other stupid crap like that. People have a way of making you feel like YOUR wedding is really about THEM. I hate that crap.
Honestly, if we were rich, we'd have the wedding to invite everyone. As it stands, we kept it small. Only our nearest and dearest.

But for what we could do, we wanted to do it right. So, it wasn't about the wedding or the wedding day but more about the sharing of love, music, fun, culture, and food for the last days of June. Andy and I were quite meticulous about every detail of our wedding weekend. Every flower, each song, every color, meal, decorative plan was carefully thought of, discussed and executed by us.

Most guests were to arrive Thursday morning at Glasgow International Airport to be picked up by us in a shuttle bus. We had friends and family flying from as far as Brazil and as nearby as the next neighboring house in the village. Generally, my guests were flying overseas, from the US and Latin America. Andy's guests came from various parts of Ireland and Britain.
There were a few glitches. Bad weather on the east coast of the US caused horrible delays and even a few cancellations of flights.(Oh yeah, not to mention that bomb scare at Glasgow airport on the big day).
Eventually, most of our American and Caribbean guests made it Friday if not Thursday afternoon (two couldn't make it at all, sadly). Friends and family stayed in the beautiful, and tiny village of Kenmore..housing at Scotland's oldest inn, Kenmore Hotel.

Here's a brief of the weekend (most pics are from friends and family and from our AMAZING photographer Caroline of Candysnaps):

Thursday, we picked up my American guests from the airport and took a nice, leisurely scenic tour up to the Highlands. That afternoon was simply for our guests to check in to the Kenmore Hotel, get over jetlag, meet new friends or catch up with old ones and if they still have the energy, do a little exploring of the beautiful Perthshire countryside.

A few friends who were delayed overnight due to ridiculous airport issues finally arrived. Some, unfortunately, had nothing but the clothes on their back because the dumbass airlines lost their luggage for DAYS! Amazing as they are, they checked their attitude at the door and immediately don bright smiles and got ready to party. The male guests from my side went to get their kilt attire. Renting, as we say in the US, was pre-planned and so off on a field trip to Pitlochry they went.
The ladies joined me for a nice British tea at the Fortingall Hotel. Rather than have a "hen party" or a bachelorette bash of tasteless, mediocre fun, I settled for relaxing with my girls over tea, scones, salmon sandwiches, and lovely cakes.

Andy was off making sure that the sound and lighting folks were able to set up and decorate the village hall stage for our reception performances.
He and I went for a quick wedding rehearsal and met up with everyone back at Kenmore Hotel for the Friday night dinner/dance mixer.

In a private room, we and our guests dined on Haitian and French Caribbean-inspired dishes. After that, those of us who knew how to dance various ceilidh steps taught me and my people. Then we taught everyone else how to dance salsa. This was all in preparation for the two bands we hired for the reception dance. Folks stayed for impromptu Jamaica dancehall and Haitian "kompa" music and dance. When we couldn't stick around there, everyone just moved over to the hotel bar for continuous merriment.

Final touches and details were added to the village hall and Fortingall hotel garden with the gracious help of friends and family. Friends helped me get dress and apply makeup, do my hair, as well as tend to Ruben when I was busy running around acting like a chicken with its head cut off.
I didn't want to buy a wedding dress that would cost hundreds or thousands of pounds...esp. now that we have to watch our budget with a baby to feed and clothe. The dress was simple and I could wear again if I wanted to. My jewelry were elegant pearl necklace and earrings--not a matching set but suited well enough. I loved my shoes the most!
Beautiful, comfortable and god-awful cheap!
Jim, our hired florist from the neighboring town of Aberfeldy, hand-delivered my bouquet--Red Grace peonies
We hired buses to carry our guests the few miles from Kenmore to Fortingall church. At the appropriate time, guests were invited to enter before Andy and I made our appearance.

Because Fortingall is the home to the Fortingall yew tree, the oldest living vegetation in Europe (5,000 years old), many tourists make a stop for a tour and pictures. It was unavoidable that some tourists stuck around to see the bride and groom walk through the church grounds to enter the holy building. We were received smiles and applause from complete strangers. I felt quite out of my element.

Once inside the church, we were greeted with loving smiles and camera flashes from the people we love most in this world as we made our way down the aisle.

The ceremony was brief but beautiful and all heartfelt. Two of my cousins gave a Haitian welcome and blessing. Valery spoke in Haitian Creole and Nathan translated in English. There was a couple of goofs that left Nathan unable to translate and he said as such--much to the laughter of the congregation. (for example, most Haitian Americans have never needed to learn the French word for Scotland--"Ecosse" and so it threw poor Nathan for a loop)

It was so well orchestrated that the guests thought it was a planned comedy act. It wasn't. We had two musical performances: one by Inge. She sang "Come Join the Band o' Shearers" in the most poignant and moving way. It brought tears to many of the guests.
(when Andy and I decided to include that song, we thought it was a cute idea since I was to become a Shearer and the chorus goes "Bonnie lassie will ye go and join the band o' Shearers". It's normally a bouncy, jolly swing-your-mug-o-beer-and-sing-along type of song. But Inge's rendition was a wonderful and touching surprise)

A dear friend, Diane, recited a poem that Andy picked out. Then Andy and I exchanged vows we wrote. The second song was sung by Nada and accompanied by Angela on piano. My selection was "All That I Can Say" by Mary J. Blige.

No words speak more than how I feel for Andy. We exchanged rings that I designed. One of the things I really wanted was to have my wedding band and engagement ring not slide on next to each other, but rather, fit into each other to become one. I could go into the design of the ring but let me not bore you. I just prefer to have something that is unique to us and represents our relationship. No ring that others could buy out of the box would work. Although we were married in Dec. I continued to wear my engagement ring only.
Next, my cousin, Sabine recited a poem that I had chosen.
The reverend gave her blessing to us and to Ruben (a very nice touch to include him) and we were done.

Everyone followed us over to the Fortingall Hotel for French Caribbean rum punch and champagne cocktails.

It kept drizzling on and off so we spent the majority of the time inside. Smiles and hugs were bountiful. Drinks were consumed in plenty and pics were snapped off most rapidly. Like other brides, I had to make sure not to touch skin too often or all my makeup would rub off. I don't wear makeup often so I was unusually conscious of it.

Of course, we did venture outside for a few pics. Everyone (particularly the locals) admitted that the Glenlyon valley had never seen anything like it. We had such beautiful people from so many places.

We had friends hailing from Ireland, England, France, USA, the Caribbean, four corners of the African continent, and Asia.
And what beautiful people they are! Moreover, all the men in kilts was quite a sight to behold. Men of various skin color, ethnicity, and race made for the most unique and endearing photo.

Course, it didn't hurt that the men looked pretty damn good!

Guests had to make their way to a crabapple tree in the center of the garden to find their place card for table assignment for the reception.

When it was time to head to the village hall for dinner, we assembled two by two and promenaded down the road. We were led by Andy's dear school friend, Gary and his bagpipes
It was a short but scenic walk as we passed the handful of homes that is Fortingall village.

People driving by hastened to pull over and whip out a camera for few shots. It was a spectacular way to arrive.

At the village hall, we had the Haitian flag flying high (can you imagine seeing that in rural Scotland Highlands?!).

The hall was gorgeous and the stage was perfect and ready for the evening's performances.
Planned and surprise speeches were given.

Tears fell from men and women alike.

If it wasn't obvious before, it was definitely clear that we were encircled by the greatest friends and family anyone could ask for.
Each guest had a wedding cracker to pop. Most Americans are unfamiliar with the Christmas cracker tradition here so I thought it would be a blast to some crackin' fun. And so everyone did--streamers went exploding into the air, over people's heads.

It ushered in the time for drinking and dining.
Dinner was a buffet, comprising of Scottish and French Caribbean dishes. More details on the food will come in my next post.

Next, was the cutting of the cake and then we cleared the tables and chairs back for a night of abandonment and dancing. Besides jamming to hiphop hits through the trusty iPod, we had two bands- the Ceilidh band, Squashy Bag Band and Cuban salsa band Asere.

In the US, we have our reception after a wedding. That incorporates the dinner and the dancing. As I've learned, in the UK there's the dinner and then there's the reception in which it is common to invite more guests just for the drinking and dancing portion. I hear this comes from the tradition of having only a small group for the wedding, usually the family, and then friends come for the party after that.
That's just not done in the US. It's considered rude to not invite someone to the wedding but only to the festivities later in the evening.
But so it goes! We mangaged to keep everyone happy for our "reception" started at 4 p.m. and didn't end till 1 a.m.

Andy, Ruben and I left to head back to Fortingall for a partial night's sleep (as much as one can have with a newborn) while our guests were getting dirty groove lessons from Asere!


We all headed back to the village hall for a grand bbq! The weather was typically Scottish again and so we stayed inside most of the time. Sunday was everyone's time to just relax, eat, and talk more to new and old.

While most guests left by Monday, some dear friends stayed on for several days as an extended vacation which couldn't have made me happier. Darling Courtney must have been sniffing glue when she decided she'd spend an extra week with us and help me with Ruben. Bless her soul for that.

I was exhausted after that weekend and did need some extra help with Ruben. But Courtney extending herself just to help me was just the typical thing that my friends do for me.

Honestly, that's why the wedding was so fabu--not just because we had an entire weekend to allow everyone to really meet and party. It was because of the people that love me the most in this world came all this way for us. Yes, the food, music, dancing, ceremony was wonderful. But only because of the extraordinary friends and family Andy and I have.

The next post will highlight the food from that weekend. For many, as we were told repeatedly, it was the best they've ever had at a wedding!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Another Step Toward Settlement in Scotland

Man, what a crazy month June was for me! I had a party to plan (more on that in my next post) and still learning how to deal with a newborn who will NOT stop nursing and worse--I had to study and take my "Life in the UK" test.
For those who don't know, there are a series of hoops one must jump through in order to settle in the UK. Some of you know from a post last year, Andy and I had to produce a ton of documentation just to apply for my fiancee visa. After receiving it, I was allowed to marry. I thought that was that! Married to a Brit, so I can stay, right?
Next thing I knew, I had to apply to settlement in the UK. If accepted, I may remain in the UK for 2 years, work legally, and THEN I may apply (without necessarily being accepted) for citizenship.

But before I could produce another boatload of documentation to apply for settlement, I had to take the "Life in the UK" test. And what a procedure that is!
This 45 minute computerize test had me stressed out! I could barely find time to study because taking care of Ruben is sooo demanding.
There is a Life in the UK Test website that details everything--all the what, when, where, how, why one needs to know this form of adult torture. The whole experience threw me back to my days of high school multiple choice exams.
The worst is that most Brits couldn't answer many of the questions. I agree that much should be known if you plan to reside or become a citizen, but damn it, some of them were just plain stupid.
Seriously, how many born and raised UK folk can tell me what year British women won the right to divorce or what year they could claim property?? How does that make you a better citizen if you did know??

I ran many of the sample test questions past my UK friends here and nearly all of them failed! Many of the questions required you to memorize years, percentages, proportions, various differences of the UK's regions (Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland).

The test costs 34 pounds. There are 24 questions and you must answer at least 18 correctly in 45 minutes. The questions cover such topics as:

Children, family and young people
The regions of Britain
Money and credit
Travel and transport
Looking for work
Equal rights and discrimination
At work
Working for yourself
Childcare and children at work
Migration to Britain
The changing role of women

If you failed, you are more than welcome to take the test again as early as 7 days later (if you can get scheduled that soon--which you can't). And of course, you have to pay again.

I had to travel to Dundee, which was my closest test center to Perth. The other test takers were quite diverse: young, old, male, female, of various races and ethnicities. Some were taking it settle and others were taking the test for citizenship. All were just as nervous and friendly as myself and so we spent some time quizzing each other minutes before the test. Funnily enough, when we hit a question none of us could remember the answer to, we tried to ask the attending test administrators--none of who could tell us ANYTHING. They admitted that they could answer most of the questions.
There's something kinda weird about that to me.

The test was nerve-racking and harder than the sample tests in the back of my study guides! I hate that kind of test-taking. Multiple choice questions can never test your intelligence...just how well you are at memorizing stuff.

Anyway, my fellow immigrant test-takers and I all passed that day!

So, now I am allowed to take my test results and make an appointment to provide another encyclopedia-worth of documentation to apply for settlement. And oh yeah, that's gonna cost about 1000 pounds.

Check out some of these typical questions from the Life in the UK test:

Children, family and young people

Do many children live in single parent families or step-families?

When do children take tests at school? How many go on to higher education?
What are the minimum ages for buying alcohol and tobacco? What drugs are illegal?


How many people live in the countries of the UK?
What is the census and how is census data collected and used?
How many people belong to an ethnic minority and which are the largest minority groups? Where are there large ethnic communities?

The regions of Britain

Where are Geordie, Cockney and Scouse dialects spoken?
What languages other than English are spoken in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales?

How the United Kingdom is governed

What type of constitution does the UK have?
What is the Queen's official role and what ceremonial duties does she have?
What is the House of Lords and who are its members?
How do elections for the House of Commons work? What do the Speaker and Whips do?
What is the role of the Prime Minister? Who advises them and what are the main roles in the Cabinet?
What is the Opposition and what is the role of the Leader of the Opposition?
What is the civil service and how do civil servants work with government?


How many people in the UK own their own home?
What do estate agents do? What do solicitors and surveyors do?

Money and credit

What are the values of the UK bank notes? Where can people get or change foreign currency?
How can people open a bank or building society account?
What types of insurance do people buy?
What is social security and who receives it?
How can people get information about benefits?


What is the NHS?
How do people receive medicines from a GP? Which groups of people receive free prescriptions?
What is NHS direct, and NHS direct online?
Which groups of people receive free dental treatment?
What services are available to pregnant women? Which organisations offer information on maternity and ante-natal services?


What are the ages of compulsory education? How does this differ in Northern Ireland? Who is responsible for ensuring a child attends school?
What are the different stages of education? At what age do children leave school?
At what age do children go to secondary school?
How does this differ in Scotland?
What are faith schools? What are independent schools?
What is the national curriculum? At what ages do children take key stage tests in England? At what age do children take GCSEs and A levels?
How is education different in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales?


What is the film classification system? What are the classifications?
What is a television licence? What is the licence money used to pay for?

Travel and transport

Which organisations provide information about trains, buses and coaches? Which groups of people can get discount tickets?
How long can overseas driving licences be used for in the UK?
What is motor insurance, road tax and MOT? Where can people purchase a road tax disc? Who can provide an MOT certificate?
What are the laws covering seat belts, crash helmets and holding mobile phones whilst driving? What are the speed limits for cars and motorcycles?

Looking for work

Where are jobs advertised? Where can people access advice on finding jobs and claiming benefits?
Who can be a referee?

Equal rights and discrimination

Which organisations offer information on law and discrimination?
What can individuals do if they are subject to sexual harassment?

At work

What are the legal responsibilities of employers?
What is National Insurance? How is it paid? How can people obtain a National Insurance number?
What is a State Pension? What is the State Pension age for men and for women?
Who can offer information on occupational or personal pensions?
What is an employment tribunal?
What is redundancy? What is jobseeker's allowance?

Working for yourself

What responsibilities do self-employed people have?
Where can people get advice on setting up their own business?

Childcare and children at work

Where can people access information on childcare and registered childminders?
What is the earliest legal age at which children can do paid work?
What documents must a child have before they can work?
What type of jobs can children NOT do?
What are the limits on working hours and times for children?

Migration to Britain

Where have migrants come from in the past and why? What sort of work have they done?

The changing role of women

Do women have equal rights in voting, education and work, and has this always been the case?