Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Happy stuff

Let's talk poo for a moment.  As a Mum to 3 kiddos and 1 fur baby, I've changed countless diapers and cleaned up many messes that have caused me to gag over the years, but that's all part of being a parent of course!  Recently though, I've had to deal with way too many poo situations of toilet blocking proportions.  Is it because American toilets are different from British toilets?  I don't remember the toilet ever blocking this much in the UK, or is it that my kiddos are doing something they shouldn't?  Regardless, after spending 45 minutes trying to unblock the downstairs toilet from one of the kiddos this morning, the feeling of elation I had when I was finally successful, led me to shriek with happiness.  Today's tools included the obligatory wire coathanger, baking soda, vinegar, washing up liquid and finally, the plunger.  I hate even touching the plunger because of it's history.  To me, it's in the same category as raw meat.  Shudder.  But in the end, it came through and finally sent the poo of epic proportions on it's merry little way to the Pacific Ocean.  Strange the things that make you happy huh?

Lots of other things have made me happy this week!  Middle son did great at the soccer tryouts and made the team, we are so proud and excited for him.  One of his friends from down the street also made the same team, and they're now thick as thieves which is great.  There are a lot of kids in the neighborhood so there's always someone for my kids to play with.  It was the same in Tennessee, but I was worried there would be nobody for them to play with here - happily I was wrong!

We took a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island and drove from there out to Poulsbo at the weekend, the dog came too.
Riding the ferry
It was a beautiful day and the scenery was amazing.  We considered living out there when we first moved here, but the daily ferry commute for the husband was a bit daunting so we ended up by the mountains instead, which definitely isn't a bad thing.  Bainbridge was gorgeous as was Poulsbo.  We walked on the pebbly beach, found tons of crabs and had lunch outside in the sun at JJ's - Molly too.  It's just a shame that it's taken her till she's 14 to calm down enough to be able to do that with her!  Poulsbo reminded me of Scotland and Cornwall, and we had a wonderful, relaxing day. 
Beautiful Poulsbo

Instead of taking the ferry home, we drove down to Gig Harbor to check it out too.  Another gorgeous waterside town with incredible views of Mount Rainier.  Seeing Mount Rainer as many times as I do also makes me very happy.  It's bleedin' massive.  It doesn't look real, but there it is, sticking way up into the sky.  It's hard to take your eyes off it when you can see it, I'm so lucky to live in this amazing place!

I met up with a friend from Korea for lunch at (of course) a Korean Restaurant in Redmond.   It was so good to hook up again after all these years!  The conversation, the food and the sides were fabulous and I'll definitely take the family back for dinner. 

This past week wasn't all rainbows and unicorns though.  I had the misfortune to meet who could only be described as the most miserable and rude man in Washington in the parking lot of my daughter's martial arts center.  Parking spaces there are pretty tight, and my parking on that day wasn't exactly stellar, BUT, there was still some space between me and the line as you can see in this pic (my van is on the left).
I am not parked on the line!!!!

Anyway, there I was, sitting in the van with the boys, waiting to go in and collect my daughter, when my new friend pulled up in the space on my right.  He opened his door and it banged loudly on my van.  He just looked at me and walked off.  I was a bit disconcerted of course, so got out for a look, and asked him if he'd just dented my van.  He kept walking so I said it a bit louder but with a polite excuse me.  He turned round and started yelling at me, saying he hadn't touched my van, it was just my mirror and that I had no right to accuse him of anything because of my parking.  I was speechless, he'd obviously had a very bad day, but there was absolutely no reason for him to start screeching!  He refused to acknowledge that he'd banged my van,  yelled a bit more, then turned round and stomped right into my daughter's martial arts place.  Not one to remain silent - especially when I'm in the right - I called after him that he was the rudest man I've ever met and that he obviously has a problem.  A lady in the parking lot was concerned about me (bless her) and she too agreed that he was indeed crazy.  I then had to run the gauntlet of walking inside the building to pick up my daughter while he was there waiting for his son.  Ha!  I can't wait to see him twice every week as we pick up our children at the same time and place...

So apart from the miserable b****** mentioned above, it was a mostly happy week!  There are so many things to do around here that we will certainly never get bored, although it could get pretty boring being yelled at in the parking lot every week!      

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Elk, Cherry Pie & Soccer

This place amazes me every day.  On the way home last week this happened:

Right next to the road.  Yes, I pulled over like a tourist and took a photo, but wow, who gets to see an elk herd this close up?   They might look like gentle giants but somebody's dog was actually attacked by one of them at a nearby lake yesterday, so I'll be keeping our Molly on a short leash when I'm up there!

We had family visiting over the weekend and it was so much fun being tourists.  We hiked locally to Teneriffe Falls on Saturday.  The trail was pretty challenging for the kiddos towards the top, but it was so worth it to see the Falls.

So steep!

We rewarded ourselves afterwards at Twede's Cafe in North Bend, famous for being on Twin Peaks and for having the most awesome cherry pie.  I can confirm that it was indeed the best cherry pie I've ever eaten - crust and all - which is really something because I usually don't like pie crust! 

After we cleaned up from hiking, we drove to Seattle to drop a small fortune on buy shirts and scarves for the Sounders soccer game that we were going to the next day.  Mission accomplished, we took a walk around the waterfront for some people watching, a scenery fix and a Rachel's Ginger Beer to go.  I'm still getting used to all these imaginative ways to park downtown and get around.  We used Zirx for our parking.  You tell them your whereabouts, some nice man shows up and takes your car away and then keeps it someplace safe until you're ready for it later on.  No matter where you happen to end up later on, they will deliver it back to you!  It's pretty cheap too!
Daughter in crow pose with a view :)

We decided we wanted to eat Korean BBQ, so we uber'd it out to Shoreline where the only Korean restaurant in Seattle with grills at the tables is situated.  It was well worth the trip out there.  The taste of bulgogi, kimchi and mandu transported us back to Korea, minus the nasty smells of Songtan of course.  OB beers were consumed and a bottle of soju purchased to take home.  Only the husband partook in the soju though, I'm still scarred from drinking one too many soju slushies when we lived there!   The staff were lovely, helpful and we will definitely return in the future.  If you fancy giving it a try, here's the link: Old Village Korean BBQ
Korean BBQ

Sunday was game day.  We arrived pretty early at the stadium, but there was already tons of people milling around.  The Seattle Sounders/Portland Timbers rivalry is serious, some drunken 'lady' was yelling swear words at our kids while we were looking for our friends.  Normally Americans are so nice that it was a bit of a shock to be honest!  The atmosphere in the stadium and the game itself were FANTASTIC!!!  We ate authentic Scotch pies, rather expensive, but they were the real deal.  The stall also had sausage rolls which I will definitely try at our next game.  We yelled ourselves hoarse, learned some of the team chants and watched the Sounders win.  We also met up with 2 friends that we haven't seen since our wedding, many years ago!  They were supporting the opposition, but still hung out with us for a while even though we were decked in Seattle shades of green and grey :)  Middle son was in heaven seeing two of his soccer idols, Dempsey and Martins and it was so exciting when Dempsey scored. 

Rocking our Sounders scarves :)

Speaking of soccer, this week middle son started tryouts for select soccer.  It's a whole different ball game up here (pardon the pun) from how it was in Tennessee.  The pressure on the boys here is enormous.  My son is 9 years old and awesome at soccer, but there is a good chance that he might not get selected.  I can't even imagine how rejection would feel for a kid his age - not good obviously, and probably very spirit crushing.  There were a lot of boys there for the first session and to me, it looked like not enough coaches taking notes on the boys trying out (but that's probably just an over anxious Mum thing)!  All the kids out there were awesome, the competition is high and this isn't even premier - a whole other level higher than select.  I don't want my son to be mollycoddled at all, but I also think he's kinda young for all this pressure.  One more session to go and then we find out who  made it.  Please cross your fingers for my wee lad! 

Otherwise, things are going great here.  There are so many things to do, see and eat.  I miss our friends from Tennessee of course, but we're starting to make new ones here in WA.  I've even seen the sun A LOT contrary to popular belief!  I'm also happy to report that I haven't bumped into any bears yet, let's hope that streak of luck lasts.  And of course, you can be sure I'll tell you all about it, were it ever to happen! 

Friday, April 17, 2015

7 things

I would like to share some new (to me) things this week. 

Number 1:

My Washington license plates!  No more Scottish flag on the front of my car (sniff), but I guess I won't be so easily recognized on the road any more, which probably isn't a bad thing when I may be having a bad driving day. 

Number 2:

A bunch of reusable shopping bags.  Recycling rules here and I'm getting used to it already.  I used to reuse my plastic grocery bags for poop patrol, but they weren't always reliable, if you know what I mean.  I now buy proper poop bags and don't have to worry about getting poop in my fingernails ever again (true story).   

Number 3:

Bear Spray!!!  Yes, yes, I know I'll probably never need it, but we plan on taking a lot of hikes around here with the kiddos, and you just never know.  Better safe than sorry! 

Number 4:

My brand spanking new bear proof trash can with a locking lid!  Because it's been a warm spring, bear activity has been pretty high around our neighborhood and the surrounding area.  Do I want to get arrested for feeding bears from my trash can?  No sir.  I would rather pay the extra $4 a month for a locking lid to keep my furry friends away. 

Number 5:

Strange (to us) snacks.  I'm in the healthy mecca of America, so I may as well jump on the bandwagon!  I even made raw brownies last week, strange tasting at first, but the whole pan was gone in a day so they were actually pretty good.   No photo of those because they were eaten so quickly!

Number 6:

Every time I look out the window and see this in the yard, I jump because I think it's a bloody bear or something.  It's the husband's shiny new smoker/bbq/thingy and it's absolutely massive.  I have absolutely no idea how it works or what it does.  I only know that it eats wood pellets that look kinda like gerbil food.  The husband assures me I will be enjoying delicious smoked meats soon, perhaps if I'm lucky, it will also do the laundry or help the kids with their homework.

Number 7:

Homework.  In Tennessee, the kids' school had a no homework policy which I absolutely loved.  The kids had lots of time to play outside with their friends and time to do their after school activities.  Here, however, my youngest especially seems to have quite a lot.  I have always had an aversion to maths (sorry America, still can't call it math), so let me tell you people, I've nearly been brought to tears this week by 2nd Grade geometry.  Thankfully my kids are cleverer than me, but I'm glad it's the weekend tomorrow and NO HOMEWORK!!!

So that's it from beautiful Washington for now.  The weather is going to be nice all weekend - it really doesn't rain here all the time - and we're going to go hiking with my bear spray :)  We did a fantastic trail last weekend at Mailbox Peak, which is a mere 20 minutes from the house.  Here are a couple of photos for you.

I am truly astounded by the beauty of this place every time I leave the house and I really can't believe we live somewhere so beautiful!  Livin' the dream baby... well, apart from the homework! 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What's going on

So, we've been in the Pacific NW for over a week now.  The movers came on Wednesday and Thursday, then we moved in to our new house on Saturday after a final breakfast in Seattle at the Portage Bay Cafe.  Man, that place is the bomb.  I had bananas foster french toast, smothered in caramelized bananas, sauce, fresh strawberries and coconut.  I could eat it every day and never get bored.  Perhaps that's why when I weighed myself this morning for the first time since all this moving house business began, I saw that I've gained a massive 10lbs!!!  Eeeek!  My excuse is that we've been eating out for every meal, every day, over the last 2+ weeks, but I don't have an excuse any more, so it's time to get back on the healthy train.

The kids started school on Friday, just to get a feel for it before Spring Break.  I'm happy to say that they loved it and are really excited to go back!  Middle son is doing a UK Elite Soccer Camp all this week, and it's rained quite a bit.  If we were still in Tennessee, the camp would for sure have been cancelled, but here, it's business as usual!  It's the same at their school.  If it rains, the kids still have outside recess.  The only time they don't, is if there is thunder and lightning. Just like back home in Scotland really.  Monday marked the husband's first day of commuting.  He left pretty early and his drive was only 30 minutes, which is pretty good for driving into Seattle. 

The funny thing is, although we've downsized quite substantially from our Tennessee McMansion, we still have to buy new furniture for our rental house.  I thought we'd have way too much stuff, but turns out not so.  Our house is lovely and has amazing views.  There is a golf course out back, we can see Mount Si from the front, and beautiful tree covered hills to the side.  Like the bananas foster french toast, I don't think I'll ever tire of such spectacular views!  Another difference from Tennessee is that there is no air conditioning in most houses here and our rental doesn't even have ceiling fans.  I can't complain yet because it's not summer, but we'll see how that goes...

I'm loving being able to buy beer AND wine in the grocery store, and even better, you don't get asked for your ID every time you do so!  It's the small things!   My freak magnet is still drawing them in though and I did have an encounter in the Safeway bathroom yesterday.  I was waiting for my son and trying to avoid eye contact with some lady who was literally just staring at herself in the mirror and poking her forehead.  She then asked me if I shopped at Safeway or QFC the most.  I said Safeway to be polite, she then launched into an angry tirade about how people at the other grocery store are so much nicer.  As soon as my son was done, we were out of there at top speed.  I guess being approached by strange people isn't just a Tennessee phenomenon. Otherwise though, I'm happy to say that everybody I've met so far has been really friendly! 

Anyway, sorry this was very mixed up and random, but I've been too busy to sit down and think about writing a proper blog post!  Hopefully normal service will be resumed once the kiddos are back at school next week.  Till then! 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

So Far In Seattle

It's been a busy week!  We drove 2400 miles, settled into our temporary apartment downtown, applied for driver licenses and WA vehicle registration, set up our utilities and registered the kids in their new school.   When we registered for school in Tennessee there was a permission form regarding your children being paddled.  Although I myself was hit with a ruler and a belt on my hand at school, it's not the practice to hit a child nowadays right?!  I was shocked to read the form and I thought it was a joke, but as I looked around the classroom filled with other parents scribbling away, I realized that it was for real!  Needless to say, I declined to sign my kids up for paddling in Tennessee.  It was nice to see, when doing the paperwork here,  that paddling is not an option and in fact, isn't even mentioned.

This place is pretty similar to back home in the UK in many ways.  You can buy wine in grocery stores for starters - yippee!!!  No more dragging the kids into the liquor store if I'm picking up a bottle of vino for dinner, and getting frowned at for doing so.  This is life changing, people!  When you're grocery shopping, if you don't bring your own bags with you, you are charged 5c per bag, which isn't a bad thing at all and will encourage me to try and remember my own bags next time.  It definitely costs more for groceries here though.  It also doesn't rain here all the time contrary to popular belief.  The weather has been lovely, t-shirt weather in fact, and it's only rained once so far.  

Gas is 70c per gallon more expensive than it was in Tennessee.  That's going to be a shock to the system.  We've already experienced Seattle traffic at its worst, but because it's still new to us, we were quite content to sit in the van, and admire the scenery.  I'm sure that'll get old soon enough though.  The husband will be the one dealing with city traffic while the kids and I spend our days in and around our new abode close to the mountains. 

We now live 25 minutes from a ski resort!  Granted, the snow season hasn't been great, but we're that close to stunning, craggy mountains that we can enjoy year round which is pretty cool!  The view from the kids' new school is Mount Si, which is pretty spectacular.  They can also see  Mount Si from their bedrooms.  I don't think we've ever lived anywhere with such amazing views.

Recycling wasn't really a big thing in Tennessee.  Here, however, it's highly encouraged and even compulsory, which is great.  I'm still learning though, it took me an embarrassingly long time to sort out our lunch trays at Panera after we'd eaten.   Hopefully I'll get used to that quickly!

So that's it for now, just a quick blog until I have more time.  Our stuff arrives tomorrow so chaos will ensue for a few days, but it's one step closer to being settled.  We're really looking forward to our new life here and so far, so good.  Molly has had a few walks around the city and has even visited her first Starbucks.  She did so well traveling in the van for 4 days to get here, and now has yet another trip under her collar, making her a very well traveled dog indeed.  I'll blog about our mega road trip soon!

Monday, March 23, 2015

My Robin Is Cuter Than Yours, But Your Badger Is Scarier Than Mine...

Things in America still surprise me on a daily basis.  As a lover of the outdoors, I used to think I was pretty good with my nature recognition - until I moved here.  When I saw my first American Robin, I was surprised.  Yes, it has a reddish breast, but it's kind of scraggly and big.

Now THIS is a proper robin, all cute, plump, and heavily featured on British Christmas cards.

Call me shallow for judging things based on their appearance, but the British robin is very much prettier than its American counterpart :)

Even a simple thing like the oak leaf is completely different over here.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the British oak leaf, all round edges, cute (for a leaf anyway), and instantly recognizable:

The American oak leaf, however, looks like this.

What the heck!  It's all spiky!  I would have no clue what tree this belonged too, were it not for all the acorns on the ground below.

I bang on a lot about all the scary animals over here in America-land, bears, mountain lions, snakes and the like.  But one animal that is supremely more scary over here in comparison to it's British relative, is the badger.  Just look at this beast, it's pretty bloody terrifying if you ask me.

In comparison, here is the bonnie British badger, aw, just look at his cute lil' face...

I did try to get a fierce photo of a British badger, but this is as scary as it gets, which isn't very scary at all really, compared to his American counterpart.

Anyway, I know what badger I'd rather encounter when out hiking in the woods, so yes America, you win the battle of the badgers.  But us Brits definitely win the battle of the birds, the cute ones anyway!   

Monday, March 16, 2015

Cream Cakes and Brussel Sprouts

I spend way too much time at the grocery store.  Luckily our local store is pretty awesome.  Free cookies for the kids, lots of food samples, great bakery & food choices, a British section, and lots of lovely people who work there - two of whom are now my friends.  Because I go there a lot, I'm now so used to the American way that I'll probably be a hot mess when I go to the supermarket (UK speak for grocery store) in the summer.  See, even the name of the place is different!  In fact, the whole grocery shopping experience here is completely different from back home.  While at home I'd say "I'm going to get my messages", here it's "I'm going grocery shopping". 

A good thing about American stores is that you never have to search your handbag for a coin or token in order to unlock a cart (known as a trolley in the UK).  Here, carts are plentiful and easy to access. I'm a bit stressed right now due to our impending move, and believe me, I would KILL for a proper cream cake.  Brits, can you believe there's no such thing here?  How can people live without cream cakes?  We have shelves of the things at home, all light and fluffy, with delicious fresh cream fillings and toppings.  The cream here is overly sweet and just not really used very often in cakes for some reason.  If you asked for a meringue at the bakery here, they would laugh.  Meringues here are tiny little processed powdery things in a plastic container.  At home, they are huge, fresh, crunchy, chewy and filled with delicious fresh cream.  I've been dreaming about fresh cream doughnuts for the last few weeks too.  No such thing here.

It took me a while to get used to the different names used in the USA for everyday grocery items too.  Coriander is cilantro, aubergines are eggplant, rocket is arugula, courgettes are zucchini and spring onions are green onions.  To this day, I still find it embarrassing to say "URBS" instead of the British "HERBS".  If I said that at home, I'd be laughed out of the shop.  I've said this before, but I also can't get used to is calling pasta "noodles".  Noodles are in the Chinese section for goodness' sake!  Pasta is Italian, and it's called PASTA!  Our syrups are totally different too.  When you say syrup here, it's assumed you mean Mrs Butterworth's or Aunt Jemima's, a dark concoction found in a plastic jug that you pour on your pancakes or waffles.  Ha, we have potato waffles at home, I'm pretty sure Americans would gag at the thought of those!  Anyway, syrup to me is golden syrup.  It comes in a beautiful, heavy, silver and green can with a lid that is permanently sticky once opened.  It's golden, it's heaven on earth and mostly used for baking and making puddings, or if you're feeling really decadent, on a sandwich with butter.  But maybe that's just me!

Tate & Lyle golden syrup.  A British icon!

America isn't big on roast potatoes either.  We have them in the frozen cabinet at home, and they are almost as good as freshly made.  I'm not the best of cooks, so I would probably cry with joy if I saw frozen roast potatoes in the freezer here.   Squash?  If I asked for that here, I would be given a large orange fruit.  At home, squash is what we make drinks with, it's a juice concentrate we add water to.  I grew up drinking the stuff and sometimes I wish my kids could too.  Instant coffee?  That's considered slightly ghetto here.  It's either filter, Keurig or it's crap.  There's only a tiny space on the shelf for instant coffee, I almost feel like I'm being judged for buying it!   

The best thing about grocery shopping in the US is the lovely packer who will happily pack your groceries into bags and do a fantastic job.  No tip required.  They will even offer to bring your cart to your car and help you unload.  This makes me feel like a princess, even though I rarely do it because I'd rather struggle by myself than have to make small talk and watch somebody else do something I'm more than capable of! 

Anyway, we move out of the house next week so we're currently struggling to make meals with what's left in our pantry and refrigerator, making my grocery store trips less frequent.  Recent 'gourmet' meals in the LeBlanc household have included quesadillas with brussel sprouts, cereal for dinner, olives on toast, tuna from the can, shake n bake chicken with brussel sprouts, and rice with brussel sprouts - there sure were a lot of brussel sprouts in the freezer and my poor children are probably scarred for life.   To all my readers, whatever you're eating, I'm pretty sure it's way better than what's for dinner over here.  Anyone for brussel sprouts?