Sunday, October 19, 2014

This week in America-land...

Spotted at my son's soccer game this week, was this slogan on a shirt.  Each to his own and all that, but really?!

I do enjoy a bit on the side.  No, not the naughty, Benny Hill style, I'm talking condiments, sauces and the like.  I still miss the condiments that I love from back home.  Strangely enough, two of my favorites are dark brown in color and very strongly flavored - just like Marmite really, which I've talked about in previous posts.  First up is Branston Pickle.  Dear God, just mentioning this makes my mouth water.  A pickle in America is green, looks like a small cucumber and is very strange tasting.  Pickle back home is dark brown, crunchy, full of flavor, tangy and goes amazingly well with cheese and crusty bread, on a sandwich or with a Ploughman's Lunch.  Most decent pubs at home will have a Ploughman's on offer, I'd take that any day over the American pub favorites of wings, nachos etc.   Another thing missing on the menu over here is HP Sauce.  Brown, fruity, tangy, spicy, I suppose it's the American equivalent of Barbecue Sauce, but it's so very different.  One of the first things I'm going to eat next time I'm in Scotland will be a huge fried breakfast with bacon, eggs, potato scone, black pudding, fried tomato, beans and a huge dollop of HP Sauce on the side.  Ketchup just doesn't cut it! 

My early morning run was rudely interrupted the other day by some JACKASS who obviously thought I needed a drink, so he threw his huge soda cup out of his truck at me!  What the heck?!  I was mad and started gesturing and yelling, but quickly reeled myself back in just in case he turned around and came back with something worse, like a gun or something.  His truck was old and battered and he was obviously kinda redneck.  Oh the joys of road running in Tennessee :)   One thing I have noticed on my road runs is that the preferred drink of choice for drivers or their passengers is Natural Light Beer.  The roadside is usually littered with empty cans of Natty Light, obviously the choice of the discerning drink driver who then chucks it out the window when he's done!  Further adventures in running this week include watching a very obviously drunk/high guy staggering down the road with his butt visible over the top of his pants.  Something I can't erase from my memory unfortunately!  And finally, some character felt the need to stick his arm out his window as he drove by and actually took my photo - this totally freaked me out!  But, another day, another adventure I guess!

Does anybody else enter the competitions on HGTV?  The prizes are just too good not to - homes plus cash or thousands of dollars for home improvements.   I enter each and every one of them to no avail - apart from the fact that I get bleedin' carpal tunnel syndrome from all the keyboard action filling out the entry forms!  C'mon HGTV, give a girl a break (or a prize)!

Anyway, that's it for this week, not too much to report.  I'm going to start taking my phone with me when I run so that I can record some of these incidents that seem to happen on a regular basis!   Stay safe out there my friends! 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Monday Musings

There are many reasons why I love living in America.  One of my favorite things of all time (because I do it every day) is being able to turn right on a red light.  Funny thing is, it took me years until I was confident enough to do so.  I knew it was legal unless there was a sign saying otherwise, but couldn't process in my mind that it was really okay to drive through a red light - such a rule follower.  During my first few years of driving over here, I'd regularly get honked at for sitting at a red light because I was too scared to turn right, even if the road was totally clear.  So, I'd like to issue a thousand apologies if you were one of those frustrated people who had to wait behind me until the light changed to green!

The American "to go box" has always fascinated me, and to be honest, made my stomach churn slightly.  Germs, germs, germs, people!  Think about it.  You get your large portion of dinner at the restaurant.  It then sits on your plate at room temperature until you finish the rest of your food, eat desert, pay your bill, visit the bathroom or whatever else, before requesting your styrofoam "to go box" for what was left over.  Said leftovers are duly placed in this white box of doom as I like to call it, then transported home (spending more time at room temperature) before finally being placed in the refrigerator.  Now I'm neither a germophobe nor a food hygiene expert, but I know this is NOT a hygienic way to handle food.  Thankfully, nobody I know has died or become ill from leftovers poisoning, but I do know several people who eat their restaurant leftovers up to 2 or 3 days after the original meal, which always amazes me.  American friends, I'm not judging or criticizing you.  Honestly, it's just my own personal opinion.  Perhaps because portion sizes in the UK are so much smaller and therefore we never have the need for a "to go box", I'm just unused to this practice.  But needless to say, there has never been one found in the LeBlanc family refrigerator, and there never will be.  Okay, so maybe I am a germophobe after all...! 

Never will these pass my threshold!

Me, to the white box of doom

Much confusion at a school event the other day.  I had to make a list of all my son's classmates' names as they were standing in line.  I knew most of their first names which was great, but then began the confusion.  When I asked what their last names were, I drew several blank stares.  I asked again, nothing.  I then asked what their surnames were - yep, the same response.  Thankfully, another Mum realized my dilemma and jumped in by telling me the proper term over here is actually "last name" so now I know.  I suppose it makes more sense, first name then last name, so that should be easy enough for me to remember.  My poor children though, I'm sure I will embarrass them a lot more in the future :) 

My favorite TV show The Walking Dead is finally back on Sunday nights!   Yippee!  I've been waiting for what seems like forever for it to return.  Anyway, this means that the kiddos will be rushed to bed early every Sunday night so that the husband and I can watch Rick, Daryl and Michonne do their thing.  We then have to watch Talking Dead for what could only be described as therapy to analyze what just happened.  (Total TWD junkies).  Afterwards, I lay awake for the rest of night with my wheels turning, worrying about what is going to happen next week, so I get absolutely no sleep.  Anyway, here I am, Monday morning, yawning my head off, but it was totally worth it :)  Have a great week folks! 

Monday, October 6, 2014

It's Fall Y'all!

Fall, Autumn, whatever you call it, is my favorite season in America.  Come September, pumpkin flavored food and drink items are everywhere.  On offer are pumpkin lattes, teas, cookies, cakes, breads, nuts, pies, cereal, coffee creamer, chocolates, beer, wine, desserts and pop tarts.  You can even find pumpkin air fresheners for your car or for your house.  

Ugh, no thanks!

Oooh, yes please!

I don't think I'd ever even tasted pumpkin before I came to the States.  Recently, an online rumor started, saying that Durex had produced a pumpkin flavored condom, but it turned out to be untrue.  Had it been real, I'm sure those condoms would have flown off the shelves.  Americans (and me) are crazy for pumpkin!
A hoax, but funny nonetheless :)
Craft Stores are full of Fall themed decorations from wreaths to yard decor and cute scarecrows to stick in your garden.  Places like Hobby Lobby are a sensory overload right now.  If you happen to venture in during this season, you will not leave empty handed unless you have a will of steel.  Yes of course you needed to buy those cute pumpkin decorations...! 

In most neighborhoods, homes, entryways and yards are adorned with colorful Fall decorations.  Some people turn their front yards into huge Fall displays complete with hay bales.  Orange and yellow chrysanthemums are everywhere and piles of pumpkins arrive in the supermarkets.  Even Halloween costumes, candy and decorations start to appear in the stores at the beginning of September. 

Farms offer hayrides, pumpkin patches, Fall activities, playgrounds made out of hay and Fall food. Corn field mazes abound and while the kids love these, I'm not a fan and would rather sit on my butt drinking a pumpkin beer with a slice of pumpkin pie in my hand.  

All this Fall enthusiasm sure is contagious.  Autumn at home is so much simpler.  The leaves start to turn and quickly fall, the air is chilly and damp, and the winter coats come out of hibernation.  We do like to complain about the weather in the UK, so Autumn is the perfect time for us to do so.  I don't think I've ever seen any Fall decorations in the UK bar the odd scarecrow.  I know some Brits will read this and think "What a lot of fuss over a season", but I disagree.  Why the heck not?!  I love that Americans embrace and celebrate the change of season - Fall here is fun!

Obviously both countries are beautiful as the leaves change color and start to fall.  My favorite Fall destination in the USA is the spectacular Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota:

And in Scotland, I miss walking or driving through the countryside on a bright, Autumn day enjoying views like this:

Believe it or not, South Dakota and Scotland have many similarities scenery wise. 

Anyway, in true American fashion, I'd like to finish up by wishing you all a Happy Fall!  This year, I intend to perfect my gluhwein recipe and to take my dog for many walks in the woods without having to worry about her dying of heat exhaustion.  I also intend to consume as many pumpkin food and drink items as is humanly possible and to then run these off on trails covered with crisp and crunchy leaves :)  Till next time folks!


Monday, September 29, 2014

This week in America-land...

As time goes by, I seem to be becoming more and more Americanized.  Not that this is a bad thing though, and I guess after all this time being married to the Californian husband, not very surprising.  I posted my ice bucket challenge on Facebook a while back, and a couple of my friends commented on how American I sounded.  I listened to it and realized (with an American z) how true that actually is.  I always thought I still had a strong Scottish accent, but I guess I was very wrong.  I now spell color without a u, use z instead of s (see realized as used previously), say "awesome" several times a day, and routinely ask for the check instead of the bill at restaurants.  One thing I cannot, however, bring myself to do is say aluminum the American way.  Don't know why, just can't do it.  I will always pronounce and spell it AL-U-MIN-IUM.       

There are so many churches here in Tennessee, they seem to compete with each other as to what they write on their huge roadside signs.  Some of them are hilarious.  One of the most recent ones I spotted was "Don't run with the Devil if you want to walk with God".  I love how creative and in your face some of these signs are.  Only in America would you see "Go to Church or the Devil will get you" on a huge sign next to the road, or some of these beauties:


It was another quiet week at Walmart, but I did get panhandled by a lady in a car in the Target parking lot.  This is the second time I've had this experience, but last time, my daughter was there, so I had to politely tell the person that I had nothing for them and usher my daughter quickly inside the car in case they got angry.  This time, I realized that I was being followed, so when she stopped and told me pretty much the same story as the last lady, I was ready to tell her to get lost and that she shouldn't follow people to their cars.  I then shakily jumped into the safety of my own car and drove off.  Ugh.  Not a fun experience at all and it seems to happen way more often than it should.   

My blog overview shows what countries look at what I've written.  While I do have lots of friends overseas, I've been been very surprised recently by some of the more unusual places I've been viewed from - Moldova, Tunisia, Micronesia, Ukraine, Israel, Romania and Croatia being but a few.  I also get a lot of hits from Russia and China which to me, is quite surprising.  Anyway, if you are reading this from one of those places, "Hi, and thanks for reading!"

So that's this week's round up of happenings in America-land folks, have a good week and watch out for those bloody panhandlers!  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fish 'n' Chips & Ice Cream

We went to Puckett's Boathouse in Franklin for dinner the other weekend.   I'd been craving proper fish 'n' chips for a while and had read good reviews about this place so we had to try it out.  Total success!  I can definitely say that Puckett's served the tastiest fish 'n' chips I've had in the States.  Thick, battered cod and tasty chips, doused in malt vinegar and salt.  Finger lickin' good!  It tasted like the real thing, even though the fries were a wee bit on the thin side, but I could almost have been eating at the local chippie back home.  The husband said he was surprised I could taste anything due to the large amount of salt and vinegar I piled on, but pffft, what does he know...   My all American daughter had the fried catfish - I'll pass on that thank you.

Puckett's Boathouse

Britain is famed for fish 'n' chips and rightly so.  We have fish 'n' chip shops on every High Street, the queue is always out the door at dinner time.  We just do it right!  Of course, it wouldn't be a good idea to eat here regularly but it's always good for a treat.  You really can't beat a hot fish supper with lashings of salt and vinegar.  A fish supper (or a sausage or any other type of supper) just means it comes with chips (fries).  This is called a combo in America.   Anyway, craving satisfied, I left with a happy smile on my face.

The local chippie back home in Nairn :)

On another food note, ice cream in America is pretty awesome.  The whole experience.  The add-ins, the countless flavors and of course the sizes which are way bigger than back home.  The choices are sometimes confusing because there are so many.  But in an old fashioned British ice cream shop, an American could also be understandably confused.  Like In 'n' Out Burger in the States with it's 'secret' menu of double doubles and animal style, us Brits have our own 'secret' ice cream menu.  You don't get Cadbury's Flakes over here, so there is no possibility of ordering a 99.  Nougats and wafers don't exist in the States either and if I asked for an oyster, chances are I'd get laughed out of the ice cream shop.

This, my American friends is a Cadbury's Flake. 

Fantastic when eaten on its own, but even better in an ice cream cone!

The flake is a fantastic addition to an ice cream cone.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the single 99 which can also be ordered as a double.

Sheer perfection

And this, is a double nougat which is the British equivalent of an American ice cream sandwich, but in my opinion, so much better :)

Filled with mallow.   Chocolatey and crunchy at the same time. 

You can either have a double nougat or just a single, where the bottom of your sandwich would be a plain rectangular wafer.  Pure heaven.  Or you could get really fancy and go for an oyster!  I always felt very grow up when I was a kid and ordered an oyster.

This oyster doesn't smell of fish ;) 

Why I write about food sometimes, I'll never know.  It just makes me hungry and homesick.  But hey, at least now I know where to get decent fish 'n' chips in Tennessee :)


Monday, September 15, 2014

This Week In America-land...

I've lived here for a while, but I only just realized that you can't buy colored toilet paper in the US.  Or at least, I haven't seen it anywhere.  Does anybody know why?  If so, please enlighten me!  In the UK, we can adorn our bathrooms with many pastel shades of loo roll.  We have pink, peach, blue, green, yellow,  you name it, readily available at the supermarket.  The only color I've seen here is boring old white.  While I realize it's not exactly a matter of high importance or anything to complain about, I do find it interesting :)

3 lovely shades of Andrex :)

Two out of three kiddos have gotten sick recently, so we've been regulars at the doctor's office.  While it's never fun to visit the doctor, it's so convenient over here.  They have walk in appointments, people!  Yep, you just show up between the hours of 7.30 and 9.00am, wait for a short while, and walk right in to see your doctor.  When you have three children, it doesn't get better than that.  If you take one child in who needs medicine for something and the other child catches the same thing the next day, you don't need to take the second child back.  You can call the office and they'll simply put in a new prescription.  I LOVE THIS!!  Thank you for making this Mum's life so much easier, America!

I'm starting to see proper cider in the stores now, which is great, although it's usually described as 'hard' cider.   Ha, ain't nothing 'hard' about cider over here unless it happens to be a Diamond White (responsible for a few memory losses in the past...!)  I believe Diamond White is around 7.5% vol, so although it tastes delicious, it has more than a kick.  Most of the ciders I've tried here have been a bit too sweet, but better than nothing I guess.  I would kill for a Magners though, either apple or pear.  Please feel free to buy me one when I'm back in Scotland next summer :) 

This is the definition of 'hard'!

The best cider!

I know y'all wait with bated breath to see what happened on my weekly trip to Walmart, but this week, I actually have nothing to report.  Of course, I saw the usual visible ass cracks and sprinkling of Tweety Bird T shirts, but otherwise, nada.  That was indeed, a very good day!  So I bid you farewell for now.  See y'all next time in America-land :) 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Trekking Expedition To Nepal

A long time ago (20 years ago to be exact), I was lucky enough to be selected to go on a Royal Air Force expedition to Nepal.  The selection process involved trekking in the mountains above Hong Kong where I was stationed at the time, and bivvying out overnight to weed out any lightweights.  I love doing this kind of thing so it was pretty easy, and I was excited when I was picked to be part of the team.   Several more training hikes around the Hong Kong Maclehose Trail later, we were finally ready for the big trip.   

Part of Hong Kong's beautiful Maclehose Trail

First stop was Kathmandu.  Dirty, stinky but incredible Kathmandu.  Everywhere you look, there is something amazing to see - both good and bad.  Poverty, ancient buildings and temples, crazy traffic with cows walking between said traffic, cuter than cute children everywhere - most of them filthy, modern hotels, monks in orange robes, half naked yogis - some of them seemingly crazy, people bathing in the dirty, brown river as upstream, bodies burned and cows waded.  Some of the children we met had holes cut in their pants so they could just go to the bathroom wherever they were.  I'll never forget some of the sights and smells I experienced there.  We stayed in the city for a couple of days, sorting out our trekking permits to enter Sagarmatha (the Nepalese name for Mount Everest) National Park and making sure we had all the necessary equipment.  We ate German and Nepalese food, visited the Monkey Temple and just started getting to know each other because we were to spend the next 3 weeks together.
Fine dining in Kathmandu

Crazy yogis

Prayer Flags
The river where cows waded, people bathed and bodies were burning

Extreme poverty

Young monks
We split into 2 teams to fly to Lukla (one of the most dangerous airfields in the world) because there wasn't enough room in the tiny aircraft to take us all plus our equipment.  I was in the first team to fly.  It was scary as hell taking off in the ancient propeller plane, surrounded by backpacks and ice axes, but the views of the Himalayas were breathtaking.  I had no idea that the landing strip at Lukla was going to be a dirt track that ended with a cliff face.  I may or may not have screamed when we landed.  It didn't help that there were several crashed aircraft at the side of the runway with children happily playing on them!  The runway has since been paved and is hopefully a bit safer.

The 'runway' at Lukla

Happy to be alive!

Kids playing on crashed aircraft at the side of the runway

Meeting the locals and waiting for the rest of the team to arrive

We got out and waited for the second half of our team, but they were going to be stuck in Kathmandu until the next day because the weather had closed in.  We grabbed all our gear and made our way to the first of many tea houses that we would bunk in while in the mountains.  This one was very clean, the food was simple but excellent and we drank a lot of lemon tea.  Beer was banned until after the expedition because of the risk of dehydration and altitude sickness.  We hung out until finally we were all together to begin our trek.

The team

Porters were hired for the first part of our trek and then we added some yaks at Namche Bazaar.  These dudes are amazing.  It's unbelievable how strong they are and how much they can carry up and down steep trails, wearing what looks like slippers on their feet.  We were to carry our own day packs with clean clothes, jackets, waterproofs, water, poles if required and being a girl, I stuck some toilet paper and baby wipes in mine too.  The porters carried climbing equipment, sleeping bags and spare clothes etc.  It was a lot of kit! Our guide Chong, was a lovely man - friendly, helpful and very talkative.

Two of our happy porters

One of many scary bridges we crossed!

I found out on the 2nd night that the military issue sleeping bag I'd brought with me was no good.  I shivered all night and got absolutely no sleep.  Apart from the fire in the main part of the lodges, there was no heating or electricity.  I decided that when we got to Namche Bazaar, I would rent a good, down sleeping bag from one of the climbing stores there.  Kind of creepy, yes, but I would rather be warm than worry about lice or wonder about what happened to the original owner of the bag! 

We climbed up and up.  You could feel the air getting thinner and our breaths getting harder to take, but slowly and surely we made it to Namche at 11,286 feet.  We stayed here for a couple of nights to acclimatize, taking day hikes up higher, but coming back down again in the afternoon to help avoid the dreaded altitude sickness.   It snowed, so the trails were more difficult now.  The lodges were getting fuller and dirtier the higher up we went, and I had already been a few days without showering, whilst sweating all day long.  Thank god for baby wipes!

Acclimatization hike in the snow

Namche is surrounded by fierce peaks and is a most amazing place.  There were people washing their clothes in the stream, markets with chunks of dead animals laying around in the street and several stores selling climbing apparel and items.  I was chased by a dog with 2 legs which sounds hilarious but was absolutely terrifying!  Rabies, people!  I finally rented a nice, warm sleeping bag.  There was actually some electricity for a few hours each day in Namche, but it was early nights all round which was fine.  We were all pretty tired and some of the team already had headaches from altitude and of course the diarrhea so common in Nepal.  We were presented with scarves that had been blessed, I still have mine to this day. 
Namche Bazaar

The stream running through the center of Namche

Namche Bazaar market

We climbed mostly up, but of course there were also several downs.  The paths were tiny and sometimes on the side of sheer cliff faces and mountains.  It was amazing, exhilarating and exhausting.  We drank a lot of tea and went to the bathroom in some ridiculous places.  When there was somewhere to go, it was usually a shelf on the edge of a mountain with a hole cut out in the middle.  There were sometimes mountains of ummentionables underneath, luckily frozen solid!   But mostly, it just dropped away, out of sight.  Prayer wheels and flags lined the sides of the trails, we all made sure to turn them in the correct direction and say "Namaste" to passing sherpas and locals.  There were stupas everywhere and piles of small rocks which were memorials for fallen sherpas and climbers.  Our yaks were CRAZY.  Put it this way, it is a good idea to stay far away from them on the trail.  

Oooh!  Fancy toilet!
Unfortunately, not quite so fancy on the inside...

Yaks on the trail

Me on the trail, not to be confused with a yak...
Ama Dablam

Incredible views.  Cairns for fallen sherpas and climbers.

One night, we stayed at Tengboche Monastery.  I have never heard anything so moving and spiritual as the monks there praying and singing.  It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I will never forget the sound of the chanting and the bells.  By now, we were mostly sleeping on wooden pallets, all together, dirty and sweaty men and women, inside our sleeping bags.  The warmth from the other bodies was actually nice, strangers or not.   The lodges were usually filled with smoke, so that was another odor to add to our collection!  The food varied, sometimes we ate tiny potatoes still covered in dirt.  It wasn't worth it to peel the dirt off the potatoes because there would be no food left, so generally, you just ate it, dirt and all.  We ate yak burgers, amazing daals, currys and a lot of rice.  By now, the lemon tea was getting old, but it was necessary to drink as much as possible.  

Tengboche Monastery

Outside the appropriately named Yak Hotel in Thukla

After trekking for a few days, surrounded by the most spectacular peaks and dramatic scenery, we eventually reached Gorakshep.  This was to be our last stop before our final push to Base Camp and it was definitely the dirtiest and most overcrowded place we'd stayed yet.  Several of us were suffering, so it was decided that instead of going to Base Camp, we would climb Kala Pattar, a peak of 18,500 ft which would give us the best view of both Mount Everest and Base Camp.  This was my worst night.  I was in a bunk with 2 strange and smelly men and I spent most of the night lying outside on the ground, vomiting and trying to make it to the 'bathroom' with explosive diarrhea. Not one of my finest moments. 

There was no way I wasn't going to push it to our goal though, so off we all went the next morning.  It was more than hard, the healthiest team members were encouraging us sickies, but nobody really spoke much.  Finally, we summitted Kala Pattar.  There aren't enough suitable adjectives to describe how we all felt or to describe the view.  Mount Everest, right there before us, the Khumbu Glacier and Base Camp below.  Lhotse and Nuptse in front, all these names I'd only ever read about.  It was very emotional.  We hugged and took a ton of photos before it was time to head back to the lodge.  

Mount Everest above me, Base Camp below

We trekked down a slightly different route from the way we'd come up from Namche and split into two teams once more.  One team was going to climb Gokyo Peak while the rest of us would slowly head down  to Namche where we would meet again.  We were all beyond happy and most of our illnesses and altitude symptoms disappeared as we headed down.  Our guide took us all into his tiny home in Namche to meet his family which was a very humbling experience.  Nepalese people are so happy, friendly and polite and the children so beautiful.  

Our guide Chong and his family
Inside Chong's house

By the time we made it back to Lukla again,  ready to fly to Kathmandu, we were all jubilant and finally allowed to drink beer!  I really couldn't believe what we'd just accomplished.  It's hard to describe, but my head was clear and I felt truly amazing and refreshed. 

As soon as we hit our hotel in Kathmandu, it felt amazing to have a shower after 2 weeks without.  My clothes were disgusting (I only had 3 sets) but luckily we had left bags with clean clothes at the hotel.  It felt so good to be back to normal again and to be clean.  More beer was consumed and we did some shopping for rugs and other Nepalese items.  Much food was consumed also!

Finally, it was time for our flight back to Hong Kong, to return to our normal lives and jobs.  I felt truly blessed. Nepal and the sight of Mount Everest will stay with me forever and I hope I can return again one day in the future.

So, thank you for bearing with me as I tried to remember details from so long ago.  I realize that my photographs are not of the greatest quality, but they are all I have left to remind me of one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life (so far).  Namaste friends!