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! 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

This Week in America-land...

While out and about, we drove by a billboard advertising a fried bologna velveeta biscuit.  I kid you not.  I thought it was some kind of joke, but nope, it's for real.  Now I know why I never visit Hardee's.  Apparently it looks like this:

I couldn't find it on Hardee's Nutrition Guide, funny that.  Bologna, blegh!!   

We were driving in the countryside at the weekend when we came across a truck with flashing lights in the middle of the road and a bunch of people in florescent vests picking up trash.  On the back of the vests in huge writing was "I am a drunk driver".  It was a group of people convicted of drunk driving doing their community service by picking up trash - what an awesome idea, the UK should practice this too!  But no doubt it would violate some kind of Health and Safety or Human Rights rule...

Almost every time I visit Walmart, I see questionable things.  I normally just keep my head down and ignore, but I was guilty of rolling my eyes at a young man who almost ran me over as he tried to park in the space close to the door for pregnant women.  Huge mistake.  He jumped out and started yelling at me, asking what was my problem.  I then proceeded to break my personal speed record, sprinting for the safety of the store.  A reminder to keep my eye rolls to myself in the future.    

I love my American kitchen tap (faucet).  You can lift the top off of the tap and it turns into a retractable hose.  How bleedin' handy is that?!  If we ever move back to the UK, this is one thing I will miss terribly!

And the last observation this week is that it is always a good idea to know if your tent is waterproof or not.  Make sure that you know this before you go camping with your kids and dog and get hit by a massive thunderstorm.  Yes indeed.  We got absolutely soaked and the tent floor turned into a small lake.  On the plus side, at least the tent didn't blow away in the crazy wind gusts - the water weight probably helped with that.  

Until next time in America-land, folks!

Monday, September 1, 2014

One Word, Two Meanings

Every day, I come across many words with different meanings in the UK and the US.  Here is this week's short list for you :)

CONCESSION.  In the UK, if you get a concession, it means you get a discount.  But here in the States, you visit the concession stand at a game, concert, the movies or a public event to get your hot dog and coke.  Two vastly different meanings for one word! 

TRAINERS.  This is what we call running shoes.  The American term is sneakers.  When I hear the word sneakers, I automatically think of some creepy guy sneaking around in the bushes.  The only trainers in America are personal trainers or big kid diapers (trainer pants).  We actually call diapers 'nappies' in the UK.   

TROLLEY.  I still use this word in the British way which can cause confusion.  To me, a trolley is what you use at the grocery store to put your groceries in.  In the States, that's called a cart.  To me, a cart is a big contraption pulled along by a horse or a tractor!  Anyway, a trolley over here is a tram, hence the confusion at the supermarket when I ask for a trolley.

1ST FLOOR.  Not exactly one word, but the use of this confuses me to no end.  There is no such thing as Ground Floor over here, the floors of any building begin at 1st Floor.  1st Floor in the UK is the floor above the floor at Ground Level.  I get horribly confused in elevators in America!      

POST.  When I talk about going to check the post, or going to post something, I sometimes get blank stares.  Post is mail in the UK.  Over here however, post is only called mail, so I get why people might thinking I'm talking gibberish.

BOG.  "Help, I've fallen into the bog"!  If you heard this at home, you'd more than likely be laughing hysterically that somebody had actually fallen into the toilet.  In the States however, you'd be lending a helping hand to some poor soul who had fallen into a marsh or a swamp. 

So that's it for this week folks, what words with double meanings can you think of? 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wild Thang Race Review

I'm doing a Ragnar Trail Race in November, so when I found out from a girl in our local running group that there was going to be a trail race at nearby Long Hunter State Park, I didn't hesitate to sign up.  While I love running trails, I haven't been able to run them as often as I'd like because I'm not a fan of being out alone in the woods.  In my mind, venomous snakes and serial killers are a dime a dozen out there, even though I've never actually met either on the trail... yet.  But I was excited - I considered the Wild Thang to be a training race for Arizona, even though it was a lengthy 9 miles.    

Fast forward to race day.  Why do I always get so bloody anxious before a race?  It's always the same regardless if it's a half, a 5k or a full.   I was awake at 2.30am, but  lay in bed till around 5am when I got up, put on my race clothes, ate breakfast and enjoyed a couple of strong cuppas.  It was going to be hot and humid so I decided to run with my Camelbak for hydration and packed a couple of Gu sachets in my pocket.  

My lovely, supportive family got up early and drove me to the start line where I picked up my race t-shirt and timing chip and paid the first of many visits to the bathroom.  None of the usual race porta potties here, we had the use of the state park facilities which was very nice for a change - even if the ladies did run out of toilet paper!  Everything was very well organized and there were lots of friendly volunteers around from the Nashville Striders who organized the race (and organize many other races too).

Beautiful Percy Priest Lake, Long Hunter State Park
There were only 136 runners, so the start was pretty calm, easy going and not too crowded.  I met up with my trail training partner Aly.  After the gun went off and the race began, I was excited to get on the trail.  Unfortunately, however, the first mile was on the road.  Road running with trail shoes hurts!  I probably started too quickly (my first mile was 8:56) but soon enough, we were running on dirt.

Looking way too happy at the start!  Next to me is the lovely Aly who told me about the race in the first place.

The trail started out pretty easy, but soon I was leaping over rocks and avoiding tree roots, which is challenging but so much fun!  The one time I looked up from the trail, I almost bit the dirt, so my head stayed down for the rest of the race.  Believe it or not, my neck was sorer than my legs the next day!  There were a few folks who did fall but nobody was badly hurt thank goodness.

We ran mostly through the woods alongside the lake which was beautiful.  The shade kept the heat down a bit, but it was still boiling hot and the sweat was pouring off me.  When we ran through clearings, the sun was really beating down on us.  There was a great atmosphere as we all shouted encouragement to each other.  I chugged a Gu around mile 3 and managed to put the sachet back into my pocket without having to stop.  I was feeling pretty steady, and when I hit mile 4, I knew that the halfway point was coming up pretty soon.  But of course, when you have those kind of thoughts, the reality is always different.  For some reason, mile 4 to 4.5, seemed forever!  I stopped at the hydration point for some gatorade which I never usually do.  I hate stopping at all when I'm running, but because of the heat, I thought I probably should.  I stopped for a couple of minutes and downed a gatorade and a couple of waters before getting back on the trail.  It was hard getting back in my groove again, I remembered why I hate stopping when I'm running.

I could feel my pace was a lot slower by now, but I was still pretty steady.  By the time I got to mile 7, my legs were feeling a bit shaky but hey, only 2 miles to go, keep going!! I hooked up with a lady who was running the same pace and we chatted for the last mile or so.  At 400 meters, there were a couple of volunteers yelling "C'mon, just 400 meters to go"!  Ha, like I have any idea how far 400 meters is!  As we approached the finish line, I saw my kiddos running through the trees yelling for me which was the best feeling in the world!  My running partner sprinted for the finish and I tried to catch her, but was 1 second behind.  Turns out we were both in the same age group and she was 3rd (which wins a prize), so I just missed out!!  But she was a very nice lady, so it's all good :)  It did, however, make me determined to finish stronger in my next race!
Me and my new friend :)  I'm looking a bit tired by now! 

Immediately across the finish line, there was a volunteer to cut the chip off your shoe.  I hate this, it's hard to stop so abruptly after running 9 miles!  I staggered off to the side, hooked up with my family and downed some water and a couple of welcome ice pops.  The Striders had put on a free BBQ for us runners and our families which was amazing - especially considering the race fee was a mere $20!  This included t-shirt, running chip, hydration at the mid point, drinks, ice pops and food at the end. 

The scores were up on the board pretty much straight away.  Although I wasn't exactly Speedy Gonzales, I finished in 1:36 which was 24th out of 65 females, 78th out of 136 runners and 4th out of 9 in my age division.  I was really  happy because I'd intended on treating the race as a slow training run, but I ended up pushing myself and even getting a wee bit competitive!  Still got a lot of work to do before Ragnar though. 

So that's my recap of the Wild Thang, it was an amazingly well organized but small race and I'd definitely recommend it to anybody who loves trail running!  I had a blast and best of all, I didn't see any critters or serial killers out there :) 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mind Your Manners

When I was leaving the kids' school the other morning, a lady kindly held the door open for me.  I took the door from her, gave her a smile and thanked her.  Her response was "mmhhmm".  Now this isn't the first time somebody has said this to me in America, but each and every time, I'm speechless - whatever happened to saying "you're welcome"?  I must add that not everybody over here does this, but I definitely have never had anybody say "mmhhmm" to me in the UK. 

As is the British way, I apologize a lot for things that aren't my fault.  Somebody bumps into me?  I immediately say sorry.  Somebody steps on my foot in a queue?  Yep, I apologize, although inside, I'm screaming to myself what a jackass the foot crusher actually is.  I may even tell them it was totally my fault.  When I return something to a store, I apologize profusely.  It's just what Brits do.  

Mostly, we are unfailingly polite.  In restaurants, I sometimes double please.  "Could I please have the taco salad please?"  I know this isn't correct English, but as my children will be happy to tell you, I'm a bit of a Nazi in the manners department.  Over here, it's the norm to just say "I'll have the taco salad."  So although I do like to blend in with my surroundings as much as possible, I just can't bring myself to order anything without at least one please!

Brits are also a nation of thankers.  When I was issued a speeding ticket a few years ago, I know I actually thanked the police officer for it.  It's what we do.  We also don't really like to complain (unless we're talking about the weather).  If we get a bad haircut and are asked if we like it, usually we reply "Oh yes, thank you" whilst gritting our teeth, desperate to rush home to try and fix it.  We're polite.  It's what we do. 

I'm not saying that Americans don't have good manners - of course they do!  American people are very friendly, helpful and courteous.  Both countries just do things differently.  And of course, I'm not perfect.  If I open doors for others and they walk on by without acknowledging me, I like to loudly say "you're welcome", just to make my point that they didn't thank me.  Unnecessary probably, and somebody might just take offense one day and punch me for being rude!

So anyway, if somebody could please enlighten me as to where the mmhhmm comes from, I'd be most grateful.  I may even thank you more than once for explaining it to me! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Breakin' The Law

There are several things I can do in the States that I wouldn't dream of doing back home.  It always makes me feel slightly rebellious that I can do many of these on a daily basis, knowing I won't get into trouble or face any consequences. 

When I run in the early hours or in the evening, I carry my runner's mace.  It gives me a (probably false) sense of security that should somebody with unfriendly intentions approach, I can give them a quick spray and sprint off safely into the distance.  I'm glad to report that I haven't used it yet, but I'm also glad that I'm allowed to carry it should the need arise! 

We don't watch too much TV in our house, but I'm always shocked at what is considered to be daytime viewing in the States.  Swearing, violence, commercials for erectile dysfunction, you name it.  If I didn't have children, this probably wouldn't seem as shocking to me, so I love that the UK has the 9pm watershed on the major TV channels.  This means that shows with inappropriate content are generally not shown until after 9pm.   

I was driving on the freeway the other day.  The 2 fast lanes were going pretty slowly and I was in a wee bit of a hurry, so I overtook on the inside lane.  THE INSIDE LANE people!  Although this is perfectly legal here, I rarely do it because it always gives me major feelings of guilt and wrongdoing.

Us Brits don't really like to complain or cause a fuss.  We like to adhere to rules and regulations.  When we return items to stores, we mostly have our receipts in hand and our feelings of guilt for causing a fuss.  Over here though, it's no big deal.  No receipt?  No problem.  Returning something months after you bought it?  Again, usually no problem.  The customer is always right.  Thank you America!   

During my time in the RAF, I always enjoyed when we got to play with train with our weapons.  On the firing range, in the classroom, in the field - what a blast!  (Excuse the pun).  But after each training session or exercise, our left over ammo and empty casings were handed over and counted.  We were inspected to make sure nothing had fallen into our pockets or boots.  We had to make a special statement saying that we had nothing left in our possession.  Guns are illegal in the UK so it amazes me that you can go into your local Walmart, outdoors or pawn store and walk out with a gun and a bunch of ammo.  A new law was just passed here in Tennessee allowing people to carry loaded guns in their vehicles - even if they don't have a carry permit.  This I find really crazy.  I'm not judging anybody nor am I going to launch into a debate about gun control, because I do have several friends who are (what I would consider) responsible gun owners.  They have even changed my opinion slightly about the general public possessing guns, but again, because I'm just not used to it, gun laws here will probably always seem shocking to me.  At least until the zombie apocalypse starts and then all bets are off...

It's funny, because I've probably spent half of my life living outside the UK, but I guess because I was brought up there, the laws and feelings of British-ness will never leave me.  This isn't a bad thing, I'm very proud to be Scottish (okay, British) and it gives me a laugh every day at the differences between the way things are done both here and back home.  Incidentally, did you know it's illegal in the UK to put a postage stamp on upside down if it has an image of the Queen on it?  It's actually considered an act of treason!  Have a good day y'all, God Save the Queen :)