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  :)  

Monday, October 27, 2014

This Week in America-land - Sex, Drugs and Funerals

If you watch American TV for any amount of time, you are guaranteed to see at least one commercial for prescription drugs with the tag "Ask your doctor for ...whatever said prescription drug may be".  I always react the same way, with a loud "Eh?" whilst throwing my hands in the air.  The husband who is used to such gestures from me, just shakes his head.  At me, not at the commercial.   I can't get my head around this stuff at all!  Viagra, depression, you name it.  At home, it's the doctor's job to tell you what kind of medication you should take, not the other way around.  After the commercial tells you to ask your doctor for said drug, it usually goes on to list the possible side effects - which sometimes include death.  Yes, death!  The side effects can take up to a minute to be described, all whilst some actors frolic and play with their pets in the background to cheesy music.  It's both hilarious and disturbing at the same time. 

I am guilty of having picked up the phrase "Oh really" from America.  The first time somebody said it to me, I thought they were being rude.  It sounded almost like a challenge, or that they didn't believe what I'd just said.  But the reality is, it just means they like what you said and are showing an interest.  I say it a lot now, hopefully nobody will think I'm being rude and deck me when I'm back in Scotland next time. 

Whilst driving home the other day, I saw a strange sight coming towards me on the other side of the road.  At first I didn't realize what was going on - flashing lights on top of what looked like a small limousine?  Some kind of reality show or publicity stunt perhaps?  Nope, it was actually a funeral procession.  Some hearses over here are so jazzy!  Back home, funeral processions are stately, sedate affairs and the hearses look like, well, hearses.  Over here, they look very similar to what us Brits would call an estate car.  Not only that, but I guess some hearses also have lights similar to police cars flashing away.  The hearse is then followed by the family members' vehicles on the road.  So yes, I know the lights are to warn cars to pull over and not overtake or cut into the funeral procession, but surely just the sight of the hearse alone should be enough?     

When I first moved to America, I loved the amount of restaurants that were everywhere.  But that was back in the day, before I realized they were mostly chains and franchises.  These restaurants are the same wherever you go, and usually offer the same kind of food.   It's hard to find places that are unique, with fresh ingredients and menus that differ from the usual offerings.  But, I recently visited a new restaurant here in town with some friends, called The Curious Kitchen.  It was beyond amazing and so much like being back in the UK!  While the service was understandably slower than in Chili's/Red Lobster/all the usual suspects, it was more than worth the wait.  I would always rather wait for freshly prepared food than have a bunch of cheesy mush with fries rushed out to my table in a couple of minutes.   The service was personal and the food was delicious.  The portion sizes were perfect, so no to-go boxes were needed, which, as you know, is a plus in my book.  I will definitely return here in the future. 

Anyway, I'm getting ready to leave chilly Tennessee behind for a few days, to hook up with some fantastic girls and run the McDowell Mountain Ragnar Trail Race  in Arizona.   So, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, javelinas and scorpions notwithstanding, I hope to return safely and blog about our experiences.  Till next time, friends!   

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!