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  :)  

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! 

Monday, October 6, 2014

It's Fall Y'all!

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

Ugh, no thanks!

Oooh, yes please!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, September 29, 2014

This week in America-land...

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

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


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

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

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fish 'n' Chips & Ice Cream

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

Puckett's Boathouse

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

The local chippie back home in Nairn :)

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

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

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

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

Sheer perfection

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

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

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

This oyster doesn't smell of fish ;) 

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


Monday, September 15, 2014

This Week In America-land...

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

3 lovely shades of Andrex :)

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

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

This is the definition of 'hard'!

The best cider!

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

Monday, September 8, 2014

Trekking Expedition To Nepal

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

Part of Hong Kong's beautiful Maclehose Trail

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

Crazy yogis

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

Extreme poverty

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

The 'runway' at Lukla

Happy to be alive!

Kids playing on crashed aircraft at the side of the runway

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

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

The team

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

Two of our happy porters

One of many scary bridges we crossed!

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

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

Acclimatization hike in the snow

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

The stream running through the center of Namche

Namche Bazaar market

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

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

Yaks on the trail

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

Incredible views.  Cairns for fallen sherpas and climbers.

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

Tengboche Monastery

Outside the appropriately named Yak Hotel in Thukla

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

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

Mount Everest above me, Base Camp below

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

Our guide Chong and his family
Inside Chong's house

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

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

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

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