Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas In The UK

I have always enjoyed Christmas no matter where we've been living at the time.   Every country celebrates differently, but of course, because I'm from the UK, the traditions from there are the ones I hold dearest.  I do enjoy how America does Christmas, but there are several things from home that I really miss.  I do get asked this question often, so without further ado, here are a few differences between the UK and the US.

No build up to Christmas in the UK is complete without attending your local pantomime.  If you live in or near a major city, then chances are there may be a celebrity (even some Americans) in the cast.  In 2013, Henry Winkler and Pamela Anderson were just two US panto stars in the UK.    It's basically a stage show of a Fairy Tale - Aladdin, Peter Pan etc with lots of laughs and innuendos.  One of the main characters is always a dame who is a man dressed as a woman, plastered in make up.  Pantomimes are supposed to be for children, but there are always smutty jokes aimed at the grown ups that a kid probably wouldn't and shouldn't understand.  They are always cheesy, loud and slightly inappropriate, but usually hilarious.  America should totally embrace the pantomime - it's a lot of fun and I really miss going to one before Christmas!  

A typical pantomime dame

In America, stockings are usually hung on the fireplace and the children come downstairs to find them filled on Christmas morning.  Not so back home.  On Christmas Eve, children put their stockings on the bottom of the bed so they can wake up and immediately get stuck in.  All the big gifts are downstairs under the tree, but I remember how exciting it was to wake up and see a stocking full of gifts on your bed.  It doesn't get better than that when you're a kiddo!  American Santa gets cookies and milk left out for him, in the UK, it's more likely to be a mince pie and a glass of sherry.  If I was Santa, I'd appreciate both offerings for sure.

Christmas Dinner in both countries is based around the turkey, but sides and desserts differ.  A staple in the UK is the chipolata - a tasty wee pork sausage, usually wrapped in bacon.  What's not to love about that!  Sausages over here are pretty tasteless in comparison (sorry America)!  In addition to the obligatory gravy, we also have bread sauce.  I love bread sauce, even though it's appearance isn't overly inspiring.  It's a thick, slightly lumpy, white sauce, seasoned and made with bread.  It looks like the American gravy that is served with biscuits, but tastes so much better with the roast potatoes and brussel sprouts that us Brits also love with our Christmas Dinner!  Yep, brussel sprouts - love them or hate them, we put them on our plate because our families have always done so over the years, so it's what we do too.

Which leads me onto Christmas dessert.  In America, the pie is king.  Pecan, pumpkin or sweet potato.  Not so in the UK.  We usually have trifle, Christmas pudding and mince pies.  Luckily for me, I can buy proper custard at Publix so I can make a decent trifle.  World Market also stocks mince pies and Christmas pudding for a ridiculous price, so I can thankfully obtain the goods, and my lovely Mum also brings over a pile of Mr Kipling's mince pies in her suitcase.  You can never have enough mince pies!   Christmas pudding is a dense, moist, dark, heavy cake full of fruit, nuts and booze.  When smothered in warm brandy butter, it's beyond heavenly.  When made properly, you start prepping the pudding months in advance, slowly adding the alcohol throughout the months until it's fully loaded.  A proper British Christmas cake is made similarly, but it isn't boiled like the pudding.  It's coated in marzipan and then iced to perfection.  To be honest, most British kids hate the pudding and cake, but as we grow up, we seem to embrace it more. Possibly because of the high alcohol content?!

On every British table on Christmas Day, you'll find crackers.  Not cheese crackers, Christmas crackers.  These are cardboard tubes, nicely decorated, containing a plastic toy, paper crown and a bad joke to be read out around the table.  Two people pull the cracker - it cracks loudly and the contents fall out.  If you don't immediately don your paper hat, you will be subjected to a barrage of abuse, so it really is in your best interest to suck it up and wear it, even though it will inevitably fall down around your eyes and make your head itch.  Ah, tradition!

The day after Christmas in the UK is called Boxing Day.  In the US, the day after Christmas is just a normal work day.  Our Boxing day is loosely the equivalent of Black Friday minus the crowds fighting in stores.  It's unknown exactly why the day is called Boxing Day, some people say it is because it's the day that presents are boxed back up to put away, others say it used to be a day when servants in big houses were given boxes by the families they worked for.  Regardless, it's a day to mostly chill out, eat leftovers, watch more crap TV and maybe visit a sale or two.

So that's it for now, I'm off to have a warm mince pie and reminisce about Christmases past.  I'll be taking a wee blogging break over the festive period, so Merry Christmas to you all and a Very Happy New Year!   Ooh, New Year in Scotland - that's a whole other blog post...!

Monday, December 8, 2014

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year!

I went to the Post Office the other day to mail some Christmas gifts to the UK.  After waiting in line for a long time, which is normal for most Post Offices around the world, I handed over my packages along with the customs forms that I'd filled out in advance to save time.  Imagine my surprise when I was told that even though it was indeed a Post Office, they couldn't actually mail my international packages.  I thought the man was taking the piss, so I politely laughed, but then I realized he was being serious.  Apparently his Post Office is too small to do international packages!  C'mon America, even the smallest Post Office in the Highlands of Scotland can mail things overseas without blinking an eyelid.  Anyway, after wasting a good half hour, I then had to get back in my car to drive across town to the big Post Office that could handle my mail.  "Have a nice day" the man told me as I childishly stomped out of his too small Post Office!

I love, love, love the weeks leading up to Christmas, and because we have 3 smallish kiddos, it's an excuse to go all out.  Yep, the 7 trees are up, the Christmas music playlists are on the computers and the Christmas CDs are in the van despite the protests of my poor husband.  One of our traditions each year is to drive to the Chick Fil A drive thru, order peppermint chocolate shakes for us (so tasty but no doubt full of horrible chemicals) and then pay for the order of the car behind us.  We did it at the weekend.  The kids loved scoping out the people in the car as we drove away, watching them smile when they were told their food was already paid for.  A small gesture, yes, but also a part of the spirit of the Christmas season for our family.

Speaking of Christmas, it's just over 2 weeks away!  My parents arrive soon and we're all very excited to see them.  We are so thankful that they are happy to travel halfway across the world to see us.  No matter where we've lived, even in South Korea, they always visit at least twice a year, spending at least 3 weeks each trip, which really is quality time - making memories and just hanging out doing everyday things.  My parents have an amazing relationship with the kids.  It's always so hard for us all when they leave, but as soon as they get home, they are planning their next trip.  The kids are always getting wee parcels in the mail from them and they talk on the phone regularly which is awesome.  While I love our life and all the traveling that we've done, the hardest part is definitely being away from my family.

So on that sentimental note, I'm off to begin a busy week.  It's time to bake some Christmas crack, make some Christmas cocktails, and no doubt gain a few pounds.  I'll also be finding time to watch my favorite Christmas movie, Love Actually.  I know, it's over the top cheesy, but it reminds me of all things British and I LOVE it.  The tears start flowing as soon as Hugh Grant begins talking about the people at the airport, and it's funny seeing Rick from The Walking Dead all fresh faced and beardless.  I'm sure there's a suitable medication out there to help me with that crying...! 


Monday, December 1, 2014

Chives And Things

At the same time every year, the grass in our yard is suddenly full of patches of chives that grow ferociously throughout the winter.  It must be a Tennessee thing because I never noticed any in our yards anywhere else we've lived in the States.  The only chives in Scotland are in your herb garden (pronounced HERB in the UK, not URB), and every now and then you go snip some off to use in your soup or such.  I don't think I'd want to snip some from my yard here - dog pee and all that, but I do find it strange that chives are so rampant at this time of year.  Not even weedkiller seems to work.  The smell in the air after you cut your grass just now definitely isn't the most pleasant of aromas.

St Patricks Day is celebrated here in the States with much gusto.  But did you know that St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and that we celebrate St Andrews Day on the 30th of November each year as our official national day?   St Andrew is also the patron saint of Poland, Greece, Romania and Ukraine.  The saltire (St Andrews cross), the flag of Scotland is hung from all Scottish flagpoles on this day - the exception being Edinburgh Castle where the Union Jack is flown because of the presence of the British Army.  While we don't normally do too much to celebrate St Andrews Day, there are usually parades and ceilidhs, and Scottish food is eaten just to celebrate being Scottish - which is, of course, the best nationality in the world ;)  

I was surprised to see that the UK seems to have adopted the American Black Friday sales shopping frenzy.  I do embrace most things American, but have never EVER gone Black Friday shopping.  I'm not a fan of shopping on a normal day,  never mind having to fight my way into a store and then fight with someone over some deal on something I don't need.  I did, however, get some good deals online whilst sipping on a mimosa, which was rather more enjoyable, although mimosas do make most things enjoyable :) 

Going to the doctor here in the States is so different from back home.  When I was in recently for my annual physical, I joked that the change of season was making me permanently hungry for junk food.  While I do like my doctor, I was shocked that she immediately asked me if I wanted medication for that!  What??!!  I was just kidding, and anyway who knew there was medication for plain old lack of willpower?   

So, today is the 1st of December, and it's actually nice and warm here in Tennessee.  Long may this last, although I know the chances are pretty minimal.  Wishing you all a good week with temperatures as pleasant as they are here.  Perhaps there's a medication for that...!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Toast, Roundabouts & Red Faces

What food item do we eat in the UK for breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner?  We each have our preferences as to how we consume this staple of the British diet, and sometimes we even have it as a treat.  If you have it hot or cold, it totally alters the experience - I'm talking about the humble piece of TOAST people!  My favorite way to eat toast is to let it go completely cold and then spread it with butter so that the butter doesn't melt.  Mmmm.  A close second is to prepare it the same way, but then top it off with hot baked beans (UK style beans, not American style).   It is perfectly acceptable to have beans on toast for any meal back home and it's not unhealthy either, which is good.  The bread over here doesn't really lend itself to be eaten so often though, it's just too sweet.   I'd do anything for a nice loaf of Hovis granary bread, and I probably wouldn't even share with my family.  I'm nice like that!

When visiting Arizona a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that there were a lot of roundabouts (traffic circles), which isn't very common over here in the US.  Americans just don't do roundabouts and they don't enjoy negotiating them when in the UK.  Anyway, it brought back memories of learning to drive in Swindon, when I was a youngster based at RAF Lyneham.  We got to take our driving lessons around this beauty:

Actual traffic sign

As seen from above
I still can't believe they took us there - the driving instructor must have had nerves of steel.  I remember feeling car sick in the back as my fellow students negotiated their way around this so called Magic Roundabout.  I myself stalled the car on one occasion, right in the middle of it, so I'm sure I wasn't the only one who felt sick.  I'd like to say that driving round this monstrosity made me a great driver, but I'm pretty sure my husband would disagree...!

Had a bit of a misunderstanding in Publix the other day.  The customer in front of me on this particular day was being rather grumpy and rude.  After they left, I told the checkout lady "She really was getting the hump, wasn't she?"  Judging by the poor lady's face, I really should be more careful about using British slang phrases in public.  Red faces all round!

So that's it for this week folks, I'm off to have a nice cup of tea and a slice of toast.  The perfect start to any day, even though it is made with second rate American bread ;) 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Every year on the 5th of November, we celebrate Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night in the UK.  This would probably be called a holiday in the US.  It's kinda similar to the 4th of July, in that we have fireworks and bonfires, but there the similarity ends.  Part of our 'celebrations' involve the burning of a guy on a bonfire, which would probably seem quite shocking/barbaric to my American friends!  When I was a kid, guys were made by stuffing old clothes with paper or straw - it would look like a scarecrow of sorts.  Said guy would then be wheeled round the neighborhood by us kids, asking people for a penny for the guy.  The money would either be donated to a charity or to buy fireworks to set off round the bonfire and the poor guy would be perched on top of the fire before being set alight!  Most bonfires were and still are organized by charitable groups, neighborhoods or councils and are usually accompanied by a huge firework display. 

But why, I hear you say?  Well, back in 1605, a young man called Guy Fawkes was arrested whilst guarding some explosives placed under the House of Lords by a group planning to blow up King James I.  People round London lit bonfires to celebrate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot as it was called, and every year after that, the tradition continued, although only in England at that time.  The stuffed guy I spoke of earlier, of course, symbolizes the man himself, Guy Fawkes.  Poor Mr Fawkes was tortured after his arrest and jumped to his death before he could be executed - quite a grisly ending. 

Over the years, the traditional bonfire has gradually changed into an annual party all over the UK.  On the 5th of November, there are bonfires and fireworks everywhere, usually followed by a trip to the pub for the over 18's.  It's mostly cold, sometimes damp and always dark, but it's always a fun night for kids and grown ups alike - albeit a strange thing to 'celebrate'!

Here in America, we have many holidays throughout the year, two of which are for honoring the military.  While I do think it's a bit strange to call Memorial Day and Veterans Day holidays, it's certainly not a bad thing to honor the military at any time.  Memorial Day is at the end of May and is a time to remember military personnel who died serving their country.  It's often also seen as the official start to the summer.  The thing that I find strange is that there are huge Memorial Day sales in stores - how does that honor people in the military?  Then we have Veterans Day in November - this is a day to thank all military personnel who serve or have served honorably in the military during peace or war.  It's mostly intended for living veterans, whilst still acknowledging those who died serving their country.  Many restaurants serve free meals to military members which is fantastic!  But again, there are sales associated with this day too, which to me, just doesn't seem right.  In its defense, America does honor the military every day which is a wonderful thing, but I just can't help comparing these holidays to Remembrance Sunday in the UK, with our poppies, somber parades, placing of wreaths on memorials and church services to honor the dead.  We would never call this day a holiday and it took me some time to get used to Veterans and Memorial Days being described as holidays.    

Anyhow, Thanksgiving is fast approaching and that is the official start to the main holiday season over here.  I can't wait! I fully intend to decorate for Christmas in the next couple of weeks - something that isn't very common in the UK this early.  I love the holiday season here and everything that comes with it.  America really embraces all things festive and I do too - probably a little too much when it comes to the amazing baked holiday treats...  Bring it!  

Friday, November 14, 2014

Ragnar Trail McDowell Mountain Race Recap

The fabulous Team Ragnar Crüe

I returned from Arizona on Sunday night.  Exhausted and a wee bit sore, yes, but also on a complete high.  This was my first Ragnar Trail Race and it was completely different from the Ragnar Relay I did back in February.  Instead of driving between exchange points to drop off runners and navigating through unknown streets, this time we had a base camp where we stayed for the duration of the race.  There were 3 loops that each runner had to complete, all different lengths and difficulties, and all totally on trails.  Our start time was 10.30am on Friday and we would run non stop until we had all completed each of the 3 loops.  It was fun, adventurous and also very sociable!

The finish line :)
We had a few hiccups initially.  Half of our team got stuck in Rapid City the night before the race due to a technical problem with their aircraft.  The four of us who were luckily already in Arizona started running on schedule and ran alternate loops until the rest of our team arrived later in the day.  It was so wonderful to see them and finish the remainder of the race as a team of AWESOME :)  We were also lucky enough to have logistical help from one of our team member's Mom and Sister who live close by.  We really couldn't have done it without them - from accommodating us and driving us around, to gathering the necessary camping equipment.  A huge thank you Kelly and Vickie! 

Even though we weren't going to camp until the first night of the race, we set up our campsite the night before in the dark.  We had 2 tents, a tarp and an EZ up which is necessary to provide shade in the heat of the day.  We were slightly worried that somebody might walk off with our kit, but when we showed up the next day, it was thankfully intact.  We did forget to bring our cooler of food, but thankfully, Vickie drove it up to our camp later that day.  We decorated our campsite with flashing guitars, candles, an American Flag and some rock stage backdrops.  It looked pretty good! We even had a battery operated karaoke machine - a necessity for a race, right?! 

Not our campsite, but this was the main camping area with hundreds of tents!

The center of activity for the race was called The Village.  That was where the transition tent was situated for swapping the running bib with the timing chip between runners.  The race was cupless which meant that  you had to provide your own water bottles at all times.  It was so hot that hydrating was hugely necessary - a couple of us had to do our long runs in the heat of the day and if you didn't have a water bottle at the halfway point to fill up, you would have been in trouble.   We all saw runners with heat stroke and injuries from falling on the rocky trail.  One of our own girls had a bad fall in the night when she was running the longest trail.  When she came through the transition tent, the lower part of her leg was covered in blood and her hands too.  She fell towards the beginning of her leg, but being the hardcore team member that she is, she kept going and went on to run her other legs too.  Beast Mode!!!  

Dawn with the moon still in the sky

There were all the usual porta potties, nice and clean at the beginning of the race, but gradually becoming more and more stinky and full of unmentionables as the race progressed.  At the village there were also some water stations, a food truck, fire pits with s'mores, Ragnar Store, Jamba Juice, bands, beer tent and even a movie screen.  The lines for food and coffee, however, were ridiculously long and we were grateful for the food and snacks that we'd packed ourselves.  One of my friend's husbands lent us a tiny stove with a tin cup so I was thankfully able to have my usual cup of tea, otherwise I may have whined a little.  At night, the run into the transition tent was lit up with fiery torches - I felt like I was an extra in a movie! 

The Village
The most important things though, of course, were the trails themselves. 

The loops were colored in order of length, red being the longest

Amazing trails! 

There was a shorter loop (which I did in the dead of night so didn't see too much - apart from the mountain lions stalking me in my imagination), a medium length loop which involved ascending a very steep and rocky hill then running down it on the other side, and a long loop that started off with a 2 mile ascent and included a long run along a dry, sandy river bed.  The trails were all rocky and sandy, hilly, and of course, lined with many cacti.  We had been warned to watch our for the legendary jumping cholla - luckily none of our team was tagged by any.  Another runner, however, was more unfortunate:

This cholla really did jump

At night, the light from our headlamps lit the trail and the reflective signs.  Apparently several runners missed some of the signs and got lost, I'm so thankful this didn't happen to any of us.  It's scary enough running on a dark trail in the desert at night, never mind being totally lost!  We could hear coyotes howling and other sounds - which were probably just fairies and unicorns watching out for us...!  The scenery was AMAZING at all times.  AMAZING.  The desert landscape is so beautiful and the mountains majestic.  It really took my breath away at times.  Another bonus was that none of us saw any wildlife other than lizards - no rattlesnakes, javelinas or mountain lions.


So that's my rushed version of events from the race this past weekend.  Some of the photos I took myself and some were taken from the Race Facebook page.  I would love to do another Ragnar Trail Relay, it was an awesome experience that I will never forget.  I was lucky enough to do it with 7 amazing girls that I love dearly and I'm very thankful that my first Trail Relay was with the fabulous Team Ragnar Crüe.  Till next time ladies!!!  

Awful photo, but hey, I'm smiling :)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Weird Expressions

It's been a busy week, so I'm taking the easy way out for this week's post and elaborating on some British words and phrases that my American peeps might not understand.  Most of you already know that I say "Cheers" frequently.  No, I don't have a beer in my hand all day long (although that would be nice), I also use this word to say thank you and sometimes goodbye. People react differently when I say cheers.  Some love it and return the greeting, while others look scared, like they think I'm some kind of nutter that they should run away from immediately.  But anyway, here follows a wee list of some of my favorite expressions that can easily bamboozle.

Cream crackered.  Cockney rhyming slang for knackered, meaning I'm totally exhausted.  Sometimes I may also say I'm shagged, which has the same meaning, but I have to be careful where I say that one for obvious reasons. 

Jammy.  Jammy is another word for lucky.  Not covered in jam (which is confusingly called jelly over here). 

Knees up.  If somebody invites you to a knees up, don't panic, it's just a party or a get together :)

Gets my Goat.  If I happen to mention to you that something gets my goat, it's just a different way of saying something really grips my shit or annoys me - you get the picture!

PC Plod.  This one comes from an old TV show back home called Noddy.  PC Plod was the policeman in Noddy, so us Brits sometimes say this when referring to the police.

Chin wag.  I guess your chin kind of wags when you're talking, that's where this gem comes from.  If you're having a good old chin wag, it simply means you're enjoying a chat.  

Dog's bollocks.  We used this phrase a lot in the RAF.  If something is the dog's bollocks then it is quite simply, superb.

Scrummy.  If something is scrummy, it tastes really good.  If you describe a person as scrummy, it means they are rather foxy or good looking.

Having the hump.   This could sound a bit rude I guess, but if I talk about somebody having the hump, all it means is that they are a bit upset. 

So there you have it my American friends, I hope to hear you all practicing these phrases in the future, now you know what they mean!  At the very least, you might now be able to understand me a bit more  :)