Thursday, March 27, 2014

Easy Breezy

I've lived here for a while now and have assimilated pretty well (I think)!  I say yard instead of garden, trunk instead of boot, soccer instead of football and I even pronounce tomato and garage the American way.  Mostly, anyway.  It's easy to do so when everybody else is speaking like this, but some things just aren't quite so easy.   Let's start with the positives though, there are a lot of things here that HAVE been very easy to get used to indeed :)

I LOVE THIS!!  In fact, I'm so used to it that when I do go grocery shopping at home now, I'm standing looking around me, not realizing that my groceries are piling up at the end of the belt with nobody to bag them.  Cue red face and mad scramble to throw said groceries in bags as quickly as possible.  Then get charged for each bag.  Not so over here, either the lovely checkout person or a bag packer packs your bags for you and sometimes even offers to take the bags (which are free) out to your car.  Just call me Princess :)

Doing laundry over here is serious business and is actually quite pleasant!  Our machines are MASSIVE and economical and are mostly housed in a laundry room of their own.  At home, our machines are significantly smaller and are sometimes in the kitchen or outside in the cold garage.  I understand how a lot of my American friends struggle with this in the UK now I'm used to my lovely laundry room over here :) 

I'm not just talking Fast Food Drive Thru's either.  When you have 3 young children, convenience is everything.  Sick kid?  Go to the Drive Thru Pharmacy to pick up their medicine instead of having to drag them inside and sit and wait!  Drive Thru ATM's - fabulous!   Drive Thru Dry Cleaning?  Okay, sometimes it is nice to get off your lazy ass and actually go inside, but more often than not, convenience rules.

Goes without saying.  Crazy price difference between the UK and the USA.  For the better over here obviously :)  It's almost twice as expensive to fill up your car over there!

I'm not a fan of bugs and insects, but nothing beats sitting in your back yard watching fireflies on a warm summer night.  Such a beautiful sight, every yard everywhere should have some!

I CANNOT, however, get used to the following things.  Please excuse my tendency to over-dramatize :)

Back home, we have these lovely, orderly traffic lights sitting on the side of the road or mounted on sturdy poles.  Easy to see, always in the same place.  Over here however, the lights hang precariously over the road, dangling from a cable!  I still get freaked out when it's windy and I have to drive underneath these lights, blowing around all over the place!

In the UK, it's easy to buy bedding.  We mostly have cotton sheets & pillowcases with quilts or duvets on our beds.  Everywhere sells bedding and quilt/duvet covers, you can get decent bedding at your local Tesco.  It's pretty cheap, there is a huge assortment of colors and styles and the standard sizes: Single, Double, Queen, King.   Over here?  Forget it!  Even a huge place like Bed Bath and Beyond has a sad collection of duvet covers.  They're usually designer, ridiculously expensive, made of horrid material (shiny, scratchy) and just plain old ugly!  Hardly any nice 100% cotton stuff to be found at all!  You can buy limitless beds in bags however, which is great if you don't care about the scratchiness of the polyester type material against your skin.  These are  monstrous.  I've bought a few in the past thinking they couldn't all be bad.  But they are I say, they're horrid!  The sizes are different too.  Over here, we have Twin, Full, Queen, King and the bizarrely named California King.  California King?  What the heck?!

Now I know this is a Tennessee thing, but I live here and I find it difficult to get used to.  I go to the supermarket to get the weekly groceries.  I can pick up some beer while I'm there, but if I want wine, I have to make a separate visit to the Liquor Store because supermarkets are not allowed to sell the evil grape.   Children aren't allowed inside Liquor Stores.  I discovered this after a stressful day, in the rain when I made the mistake of trying to nip quickly in to the Liquor Store with my children to pick up a bottle of wine.  Could you imagine if the poor children were to witness their parents buying a bottle of wine?  Shocking!!!  Grrrrr.... Yes,I did feel like a criminal.  Nor can we buy wine on Sundays.  Anywhere.  I enjoy the occasional glass of wine throughout the week.  Why can I not just pick it up at the supermarket with everything else?!

Again, this might just be a Tennessee thing, but sometimes I can drive by up to 10 panhandlers in a day by just going to the gym and the store.  They come right up to your car window with their signs explaining why they need your money.  It's horrible and makes me really uncomfortable.   Of course I feel bad for the genuine people who are truly down on their luck but some of them are downright threatening.  You're sitting waiting for the dangling traffic light to change to green and hoping it doesn't fall on top of you.  You're stuck with nowhere to go and the panhandler is glaring at you for trying to look in the opposite direction.  Can't get used to this at all. 

Self explanatory.  If you buy a puppy from some guy's truck in the Walmart parking lot, you need your head checked.  Harsh but true :)

Unless you are a math whiz and can calculate percentages off the top of your head, you have no idea how much something actually costs over here.  There is a price tag on everything, but when you pay for the item, sales tax is added on so it's always more than you think!  Sneaky huh?!  I know, on the flip side we pay more taxes in the UK, but it's so nice to buy something and know exactly how much you're going to pay for it at the checkout!

Yes, at the end of the day, most of these are pretty trivial and I hope they gave you a giggle, but they're different from what I'm used to so please don't judge :)  Time to go see a bloke about a puppy at Walmart...


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Tennessee Sunday

Most Sundays we like to load everyone (including the dog) into the van, drive someplace new, do some hiking and then reward ourselves with some good food and drinkies afterwards.  Because we're not from here, we still feel like tourists because there's always somewhere new to go!  This past Sunday we drove to Edwin Warner State Park near Nashville.  We were originally headed to Percy Warner State Park but we couldn't find the entrance (bloody GPS), so Edwin had to do.  Rain was forecast so we'd picked this place mostly for the tree cover, just in case.  It was a scenic and easy drive up there and the sun was shining.  We parked at the huge nature center, headed into the woods and hiked on some great trails for around 4 miles, stopping to mess around in the river and climb some rocks.  Happy kids and happy hund!   

We planned on going to the Loveless Cafe afterwards, just a few miles further up Hwy 100 and close to the beautiful Natchez Trace Parkway.   It was almost 3pm when we got there and we knew it was likely going to be busy, but there was already a 1 hr 30 min wait!  We messed around outside, tried out the rocking chairs, played some cornhole and bought some bbq rub in the store to kill time.  The Loveless Cafe has been serving food since 1951 and is mostly famous for it's biscuits, preserves, ham and red-eye gravy.  It has won many awards and has even been visited by fellow Brit, Princess Anne :)  There are lots of signed photos of many of the celebrities who have visited in the entryway. 


The time passed quickly and we were led to our table.

The husband and me had been before for breakfast, so we were looking forward to trying the supper options this time.  I was excited to see Mimosa in a Mason Jar on the drinks menu, I can't say no to some champers whatever time of day it is and a mason jar isn't exactly small :)  Thanks to the husband who volunteered to drive home!  
We were brought our plate of free biscuits (kind of like salty, moist Scottish scones) and homemade preserves as soon as we sat down. The kids demolished those, the husband and me hardly got a look in. 
They were really excited to watch the chefs out back in the kitchen make the biscuits, they're served up all day long and absolutely delicious.
They sure don't get that excited watching me cooking at home of course!   I ordered the bbq turkey breast with corn pancakes, hash brown casserole and coleslaw
and the husband had the bbq pork chops with fries and coleslaw, it couldn't have been better.   A nice touch on the kids menu was that after they colored the pictures and turned them in to the gift store, they got a piece of candy.   Molly got some leftover pork and turkey, so she wasn't left out :) 

I'm going to head back to this Park to run the trails when I start training for my next Ragnar which is a Trail Relay in AZ.  I'd recommend today's day out to anybody with kids and dogs, Tennessee is beautiful, but even more so when the sun is shining!  So grateful that the forecast rain didn't appear.  Looking forward to continuing our Sunday tradition of hiking and eating our way round Middle Tennessee :)

Monday, March 24, 2014

It's Electrifying!

Power, electricity, whatever you call it, it's everywhere and we all need it in these modern times.  But over here in America, IT'S BLOODY DANGEROUS!!!  In the UK we're brought up hearing "Don't take anything electric into the bathroom or you'll get electrocuted and die"

Sounds kinda harsh huh?  That means no hairdryers or straightening irons in the bathroom, nothing.  You want to beautify yourself in the UK?  Do so in the bedroom or someplace else with a mirror.  Otherwise, you'll die, I tell you!

UK plug sockets are strongly fixed to the wall and grounded.
You plug something in, it's in.  You can't wiggle it around, it's safe and secure.  If a child sticks his little finger into the socket, nothing will happen.  It couldn't be safer over there.  Unless of course, you get water near it, then INSTANT DEATH!!! 

Now you've got the background, you can imagine my shock when I arrived in the US and saw not one, but several electric outlets (plug sockets) in the bathroom.  Not just in the bathroom, but right next to the sink.  Water + electricity = instant death right?!  My heart jumped and my instant reaction was "There's no way in hell I'll ever plug my hairdryer in to any outlet in any bathroom."   No sir.  The husband, who luckily is used to my verbal tirades, patiently listened as I ranted on about how dangerous this was and how in the UK...blah blah blah.  You get the picture.  To make matters worse, American outlets do not seem to be sturdily built or attached properly, but the worst thing is, when you plug something in or unplug it, you see sparks!!!!  SPARKS!!!!  It always makes me think of this song: 

Love this video :)

Not once in the UK have I ever seen sparks come from an outlet.  Here, it happens every single time you use one.  Although I've lived here for a long time now, my anxiety hasn't lessened every time I plug or unplug something.  America is a modern country, why aren't the safety standards for electricity as rigid as they are back home?   I will probably never know as I'm not very technologically aware and I probably wouldn't understand anyway, but it just doesn't seem right!  I have to confess though, nowadays, my hairdryer is plugged into the bathroom socket.  I guess beauty comes first people :)  But I am sure to dry out the sink before I use it so that no dangerous water drops find their way towards it causing a catastrophic explosion or electrocution resulting in my death.

Ironically, when I was writing this post, we had a power outage.  Perhaps the 'powers' that be weren't amused ;)  Till the next time people, just as long as I'm not electrocuted first...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

#tbt Alta Via 1

Around 15 years ago, the husband, my brother and I decided we wanted to do a long distance drinkathon hike in the Italian Dolomites.  We booked time off work, bought cheap Ryanair tickets to Venice and started researching using mainly these publications:
The books were pretty old but informative.  We decided to do part of the Alta Via 1 starting at Lago di Braies and finishing at Zoldo Alto (although the whole route goes as far as Belluno).  I planned how long it would take us to do each section, booked bunks at Rifugios (mini hotels/huts on the mountains accessible usually only by a path or by helicopter), planned what food we should carry and much to the boys' disgust, made a packing list to include sleeping bags, carabiners and slings (because I'd read in the book that we might need them)!  Our backpacks were pretty huge and heavy as we were carrying everything we were going to need for over a week both during and after our hike.  I was a wee bit worried how it would be carrying them along narrow mountain trails.

We flew to Venice and caught the train to Villabassa, via Verona. 
From here we took a bus to Albergo Lago di Braies which is situated on a beautiful turquoise lake surrounded by forests and mountains and is the starting point of the Alta Via 1.
It wasn't tourist season when we arrived so the hotel was spookily empty and reminded us slightly of The Shining.  Our rooms had balconies overlooking the lake and the owners opened up the dining room especially for us which was nice but still, it was kinda eerie!  We got a glimpse of how difficult it was going to be for my brother (who is a vegetarian) to get much to eat along the trail that didn't involve meat and also how difficult it was for the husband (who speaks fluent Italian) to get the Italians to understand that my brother really didn't eat meat - put it this way, vegetarianism isn't very popular in Italy!  Luckily he didn't starve, there was plenty of pasta pomodoro and bread to be had along the way :)

After a good night's sleep and a morning cup of coffee laced with grappa (a strong Italian liquor), we set off bright and early.  The coffee with grappa became our morning tradition during the hike.  It wasn't long before we realized that the quality of our maps wasn't great.  Countour lines and distances were not very accurate at all and we reached our first Rifugio way before we'd planned.  After stopping here for something to eat, we decided to keep going to the next Rifugio which didn't look too far away, but yes, it was indeed much farther away than depicted on the map!  We didn't have bunks booked but were hopeful that they would have room for us.  The scenery was amazing and constantly changing from mountains, rocks, forests and moors.  Although the trails were steep and narrow, they were not too difficult.  We eventually arrived at Rifugio Pederu  and got a fantastic room in the attic all to ourselves complete with fresh, clean bedding.  No sleeping bags required here :)  We spent the night eating and having a few beers.

The next day began with the customary grappa laced coffee followed by an almost vertical climb.  We were pretty tired by the time we got to the top and even though our planned destination Rifugio Lavarella was closer than we'd thought, we decided to stay there anyway.    We were surrounded by stunning mountains, scenery and lots of trails, so we hiked around, ate a huge lunch and messed around at a nearby lake.  The signposts along the trails were great, probably better than some of our maps!
Again, we had a private room with bunk beds which was quite luxurious (and very cheap) and again, our sleeping bags remained in our backpacks as did the food we'd been carrying for lunches and snacks.  The food here was fantastic.  The menu consisted of several courses in typical Italian fashion and there was also a great bar.  Yep, although we were walking up and down mountains every day on this trip, I still managed to gain a few pounds!

Our next destination was Rifugio Lagazuoi, situated at 9,028 ft on top of a rocky crag full of caves and  tunnels that were carved into the mountain below during World War 1.   We hiked for a long time before we reached our planned lunch stop Rifugio Scottoni which was about half way.  Scottoni is situated in a huge meadow/valley surrounded by rocky peaks.  We could smell it before we saw it, the scent of roasting meat was amazing.  Lunch here was a great experience, surrounded by beautiful scenery, drinking big beers and eating tasty barbequed meat.  It was hard to get going again, in fact we should probably have just stayed here for the night but we pressed on.  Onwards and upwards, we climbed for the rest of the day, it was brutal!  All the time we could see Lagazuoi in the distance, never seeming to get any closer.  This part of the hike was all rock and scree and it was tough going to be honest.  We finally reached the Rifugio, checked in and dumped our stuff on our bunks.  This time we were sleeping in a large dormitory with 17 other people.  Cheap again, but not too luxurious :)  The 360 degree view from up here was spectacular.  You could see for miles.  We were surrounded by sheer cliff faces and jagged mountains and the drop directly below the Rifugio was steep and scary.
Dinner here was the food of the day which was tasty and of course, full of meat :)  They assured my brother that one of the courses was meat free, but there were very obviously wee pieces of the red stuff in his dish :o  Anyway, we ate like pigs and all enjoyed the red wine on offer before retiring to the dormitory with it's snoring occupants.  We didn't sleep so good that night, it was rather noisy.

The next day after our grappa coffee, we climbed around some of the rocks and explored the labyrinth of underground tunnels inside the mountain with our headtorches.  It's hard to believe there were men (Austrian and Italian troops) fighting battles here, although the scars on the rock give you some idea.  You can read some information about it here. It was steep, rocky and crumbling and here is the husband giving me a heart attack :)
Sometimes we'd arrive at a hole in the wall which gave way to a sheer drop to the valley below.

We made it down to the bottom after a lot of fun scrambling and had another coffee with grappa.  As we were sitting enjoying our drink, a man sat down next to us and asked us if we could show him the receipt for our drinks.  Apparently he was a plain clothes policeman trying to catch out the owners of the cafe for tax dodging.  We thought at one point that we were in big trouble too, but he let us go after warning us about obtaining proper receipts.  Crazy!  

Next up was another huge climb towards the massive Cinque Torri.  We were getting used to blasting up trails now so it wasn't a problem although the boys were giving me a hard time about the lack of use and the weight in our backpacks of the unused carabiners, slings and sleeping bags!
The view from the top was amazing.  We hiked for the rest of the morning stopping for a picnic lunch and finally ate some of the food we'd been carrying.  Eventually we reached Rifugio Palmieri, a lovely place next to a lake.
There were a couple of strange characters that we kept bumping into along the way that showed up here too.  One of these guys kept trying to follow us around, talking constantly, but after a few beers, we didn't really care any more.  Most of the people we met along the trail were really nice and from all over the place.  I was amazed at the amount of older people hiking up and down the mountains, I hope I'm like them when I'm their age!  We had a hike and messed around at the lake here which was nice and relaxing.  A historic moment happened here, this was where my brother tried his first Prosecco :)  Another historic moment was when I woke up in the morning on my dormitory bed with a used bandaid stuck to my cheek.  We had gone to bed in the dark the night before so I hadn't seen it before lying down.  Shudder!   The accommodations here were probably not the best we'd stayed in so far, plus it was very busy, but the food, the drink and the surrounding area more than made up for it. 

The next day after a couple of grappa coffees and a huge breakfast, we traversed trails through forests and across rock faces.  It was spectacular.  We could see were were slowly losing height and decided that we would stop our hike in Zoldo Alto at the Albergo Bosco Verde where the husband and I had stayed before on a ski trip.  We also knew that we could easily get a bus from here down to Belluno and then continue by train to Pordenone to stay with a friend who lived close by.  We had a nice, hot shower, stuffed our faces, drank too much and all had a fabulous night's sleep in huge, comfy beds :)

So that's a brief summary of our Alta Via 1 experience taken from my fuzzy memory.  It was one of the best holidays I've ever had and I would love to do it again one day. I've probably forgotten a lot, but this would be a very long blog post if I posted everything, so think yourselves lucky :)   Our very last journey here in Italy was on a water taxi from Venice across the lagoon to the airport as the sun was setting, such a beautiful and poignant way to end our trip.  Happy travels y'all! 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hollywood Nights

I know, every country is different and we all have our own strange way of doing things, but the movie ratings over here quite simply blow my mind.

I don't watch many R Rated movies.  The first R Rated movie I saw in a US movie theater was 28 Days Later which was several years ago.
In the theater, there were not only several babies in the audience but also toddlers and children.  BABIES AND TODDLERS AND CHILDREN!!!  This is a zombie movie people!!!  Before the movie even began, my head was spinning in disbelief, kinda Exorcist style.  Do these people know what kind of movie this is?  Why in the world are their young children here to watch it?  Are we in the wrong theater?  Nope.  This movie disturbed me.  While I am admittedly easily disturbed, I was freaked out by the whole storyline.  The blood, gore, violence and just the general scariness of zombies.  Some of the toddlers were running up and down the aisle, everything on the screen fully visible to their little eyes and brains.  I think this disturbed me as much as the movie.  I must add, I don't know any of my American parent friends who would disagree with me here. 

Other R Rated movies include Saw, The Evil Dead, Chucky - you get the picture.  Here's what the R Rating in the USA actually means, taken from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) website:

R — Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian. An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children. Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures.

So, basically it's not appropriate, but parents are still allowed to bring their children to these movies should they so choose.  In comparison, here is what the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) in the UK say about their 18 rating for 28 Days Later and other 18 rated films:

18 - Films rated 18 are for adults. No-one under 18 is allowed to see an 18 film at the cinema or buy / rent an 18 rated video. No 18 rated works are suitable for children.

All the R Rated movies I mentioned above are classed as 18 movies in the UK.  Obviously, the UK ratings are what I'm used to and this is probably why I am always shocked to see children here in theaters watching movies directed at people way above their age level.  At home, if the movie is unsuitable for children, then quite simply, they don't get in, accompanied by a parent or not.  Yes, yes, I know, different strokes for different folks and all that, but nothing could persuade me that any  R Rated movies are either suitable or appropriate for children.  There simply is no credible reason for them to watch these movies!  I can't believe that children are allowed in to see them at all and it still blows my mind when I see it happening.  I've been to very few R Rated movies since 28 Days Later, but without fail, there have always been children in the audience. 

Anyway, I'm not saying that everything in the UK is perfect.  I may or may not have managed to blag my way into the pub when I was younger than 18 (legal drinking age in the UK).  Actually it was probably easier to do that than get into a movie that was rated as too old for you!  Pub age in America is 21.  In the UK, most of us already have a few pub years under our belt by then, but that's a whole different blog post :)    While I'm not naive enough to think that my children won't watch something R Rated before they turn 18, I most definitely will not be accompanying them to watch ANYTHING R Rated at the theater before they do so!   

Friday, March 14, 2014

Getting Away With It...

It's easy to live here.  There's no pressure to always look groomed, dress in the latest fashion, or even to be on your best behavior at all times.  Unless you happen to be one of my children and then I make you wash your face, brush your hair and put on clean clothes before you leave the house :)  Don't get me wrong, I'm not always a mess and I do make an effort (mostly) when I leave the house, but it's so nice to know that I won't get judged when I don't. 

My first close group of girlfriends here in America used to laugh at me spending hours ironing.  When I met these girls, the husband was in Afghanistan for 6 months, I had 3 children all under the age of 5 (one of which was a newborn) and a dog.  We were also pretty new in town so I was rather busy.  Every night, after I'd put the bambinos to bed, I'd pour myself a glass of wine and get started on the ironing.  I didn't iron underwear or bedding, but I did iron everything else.  They thought it was hilarious to iron a 1 year old's jeans, but it was just something I did because I had always done so.  My new friends told me that if I would just chuck everything in the dryer, shake it and fold immediately, our clothes would look just as smart and I would have a lot more time to relax.  I was skeptical to say the least and too scared to try.  But after weeks of nagging, I took the plunge and followed their instructions.  I could still see some creases but what the heck, surely a few creases were worth being able to relax and put my feet up at night?  When we left the house, nobody commented on our crinkly clothes.  That was 6 years ago now and I kid  you not, I haven't touched an iron since.  How liberating is that?!   Nobody's ever told me how scruffy I look and I've gained back so much time.  So a heartfelt thank you to Kherdine, Michelle and Jerri for freeing me from the iron :)  My poor Mum does complain when she comes to visit as I don't even possess one any more, but I haven't given in.  I get away with it every single day!

Another thing I get away with, living here, is going to the store, the post office and the doctor in my workout clothes with no makeup.  Back home, I wouldn't dream of crossing the threshold without at least my mascara on, but here, nobody bothers if you look less than polished.  I love this!  It took me a while to get used to, but now I embrace it and yes, I get away with it.  Before you start worrying, I'm not a leggings and Tweety Bird t-shirt kind of girl just yet, I just make the most of being able to run my errands before or after the gym, looking less than my finest without anyone noticing or commenting.  I do shower and dress in proper clothes when I get home :) 

My accent, of course, has been very advantageous in getting away with a lot of things over the years.  Yes, I have probably abused this on occasion!  If I've done something wrong or I'm in a place I'm not supposed to be, I can usually claim ignorance because I'm not from here and mostly, I get away with it.  If I'm having a bad day and get somewhat snippy, sometimes I'm not understood and people just think it's my cute accent - this can be a lifesaver.

I also think that people might laugh at my  jokes more than they would at home, quite possibly they don't understand me so they just laugh to make me feel good. I'm probably not that funny at all!  Sometimes we all say stupid things.  I do this quite often (and have been told in the past that I have verbal diarrhea).  Again, a lot of the time, people don't understand what I just said so, I GET AWAY WITH IT!  

Needless to say, none of this would roll back home.   Enjoy the vid, this is one of my all time favorite James songs.  Let's hope I can keep getting away with it :)


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

America - 5 things.

I'm often asked what are my favorite things about living in America.  So, without further ado, here are my favorites and least favorites, not in any particular order :) 


1.  Beer!  We're spoilt for choice over here.  The price is right, the taste is good, drink up!!  American beer has such a bad rap overseas but it's totally unwarranted in my opinion.  So many craft beers to choose from and even most of the mainstream ones are fantastic.  My personal mainstream favorites are Boulevard, Shocktop and Blue Moon.  The photo above may or may not have been taken on a Tuesday afternoon in SD spent with one of my besties.  Please excuse the random Coors Light at the end of the row, we'd run out of the good stuff :)

2.  The respect that most of the general public and the media have for the US Military.  When I was in the Royal Air Force (many moons ago now) this sure was not the case in the UK, although it may have changed by now.  People over here thank soldiers for their service and routinely buy them meals in restaurants if they're wearing uniform.  Back in the day in the UK, people were more likely to try and pick a fight with you if they knew you were military.  Either that or the IRA were trying to blow you up.   It does upset me that the majority of people in the States know next to nothing about the IRA's terror campaign.  I remember having to hide our RAF uniforms and having to check under our cars for bombs in the UK, but now I'm digressing from my Top 5...

3.  Mexican food.  The ultimate comfort food and so tasty.  You can even kid yourself it's healthy if you add some delicious fresh salsa and guacamole :)

4.  The Great Outdoors!  So many State Parks to choose from with amazing camping, mountain biking, water activities and hiking.  We're really spoiled for choice over here.  Want to rent a boat, a jetski or whatever you want for the day?  No problem, it's so easy to do these things over here and there's so much space to be able to do these activities safely! 

5.  American people.  Well, I did marry one!!  Friendly, generous, kind-hearted and honest.  People overseas tend to think of Americans as narrow minded, this is so not true.  I have found most of the Americans I've met to be adventurous souls with a huge interest in the rest of the world and what's going on out there.  I love that Americans can tell you where the last several generations of their family came from.  In the UK, we don't really bother to find these things out.  It does make me laugh though whenever somebody tells me they're from Scotland.  Were you born there?  No?  Then sorry, but you're not from Scotland :)


1.  Billboards.  So many amazing views in this country are spoiled by huge billboards alongside the road.  These big monstrosities are everywhere.  The only ones I don't mind seeing are for Wall Drug.  These are posted regularly along the I90 between Sioux Falls and Rapid City and promise homemade donuts & pie, 5c coffee, free ice water, jackalopes and even a dinosaur.  These particular billboards do help to break up the monotony of prairie driving for several hours :)

2.  Commercials.  I don't watch much TV but when I do, it's usually been DVR'd so that I can skip through the commercials.  Seriously, sometimes there are mere minutes between them.  So annoying!  Although on the plus side, when I'm watching The Walking Dead, it's less scary when every scene is followed by some banal commercial for male erectile dysfunction or other similar affliction.  One of the most annoying commercials for me, has to be the Scotts Turf Builder guy.  I googled him and apparently he really is Scottish but man, his accent is soooo exaggerated that it makes me want to throw things at the TV.   Completely unrelated and random, but did you know that the GEICO Gecko voice is done by the actor who played Max Branning (Jake Wood) on Eastenders?
   'E's a geezer... 

3.  Dangerous wild animals!  They're everywhere!  Okay, not everywhere but you know what I mean.  Venomous snakes, mountain lions, alligators, scorpions, skunks, (cute but you don't want to be sprayed by one), great white sharks, tarantulas, javelinas, coyotes, bears, the stuff of nightmares!  You seriously have to have your wits about you when you go hiking, to the beach or even just out in your yard sometimes. 

4.  Bread & Cheese.  Sorry America, but your bread and cheese selection is CRAP!!! Oh how I miss proper cheddar cheese.  Sharp tasting and crumbly, but sliceable at the same time.  American cheese has the consistency of plastic.  Seriously.  It's not right, you should not be able to bend cheese.   Hovis granary bread, another thing I'd kill for.  American sliced bread has a sweetish taste and some brands are apparently made with one of the ingredients also used to make yoga mats.  Anyone for Frankenbread?   Some grocery stores here have upped the quality and taste of their breads on offer, but it's just not as good (in my opinion)  as it is back home.

5.  Public Transport.  Unless you live in a big city, public transport is pretty much non-existent and taxis are dodgy at best.  The husband and me always squabble over whose turn it is to be designated driver whenever we go out at night.  We tend not to go out very often because of this, it's easier just to stay in and have a beverage at home.

Anyway, that's it for now folks!  I'm off to enjoy a Shocktop with a slice of orange with my fabulous American husband :)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Murfreesboro Livin'

When the husband told me he'd been offered a job too good to refuse in Murfreesboro, TN, my first reaction was "What/Where/Good Grief/Hell no!"  I couldn't even say it properly and the 'boro' part - surely they meant 'burgh' as in Edinburgh?  It didn't sound very glamorous or exciting at all. 

A couple of months later, we packed up the kiddos and the dog and headed to TN to start our new life.  After looking at around 50 houses (not nearly as fun as it looks on HGTV), we made offers on 3 which were quickly withdrawn after we discovered that Number 1 house was less than half a mile from the railroad (too noisy), Number 2 house showed up as a red dot on the US Family Watchdog website as having a pedophile living there (Eeek!) and Number 3 house backed on to an electrical easement which could have been built on by the electric company at any time.  No thanks.  We got our current house mostly out of desperation.  We had a matter of weeks before the husband's job started and we had to get something!  Luckily we found a great house in a lovely neighborhood with 2 community pools and close to the schools that we wanted.  So, in a nutshell, that's how we ended up here in the Boro as it's affectionately called by the locals.

Although it's not our forever home, we have really enjoyed living here for the last 2 years.  The locals are friendly, straight-forward and down to earth.  Most of them drink beer too which is very important in our book :)  We'd previously mocked country music and all things related but when you live this close (30 mins) to Nashville, you may as well embrace the lifestyle, right?  So yes, we are all into Luke Bryan, George Strait, Jason Aldean etc., and yes, we do all own a pair of cowboy boots! 
It's so much fun taking the kiddos up to Nashville to go line dancing & fried pickle eating at the Wildhorse Saloon or to listen to live music at Legends in the afternoon.  The kiddos love it! 
We've seen Carrie Underwood and Josh Turner at the Grand Ole Opry and Luke Bryan at the Bridgestone Arena.  Yeehaw!!  Nashville also has a fantastic Greenway running alongside the Cumberland River, perfect for long Sunday bike rides.  If you're lucky, the General Jackson riverboat will cruise by and really make you realize that you're in the South.  It's beautiful!

The countryside around Murfreesboro is lush.  We are surrounded by rolling fields, woods, lakes, tiny white churches and rustic barns straight out of a movie set.  Yes, of course there are trailers and a lot of run down places too but I think that just adds to the charm.  We saw this huge roadside sign once saying Go to Church or the Devil's gonna get you.  Southern charm at it's finest ;)  While Murfreesboro itself isn't the prettiest of towns and traffic in the middle of town is horrendous, it does have a lot going for it.  Here are a few of our favorite things: 

We spend a lot of time on the Greenway which runs alongside the Stones River for approximately 9 miles.  We bike, walk the dog and let the kids take their electric scooters on this trail.  There's a huge playpark and a smaller one accessible from the trail so it's perfect for a day out close to home.  We've seen snakes, deer and lots of other critters along the trail. 

One of the most bloody battles of the Civil War was fought on the Stones River Battlefield in 1862 when 3,024 men were killed.  The battlefield has a great visitor center and walking trails but it's a very sombre place when you think about how many were killed right here in town.

There's a brewery here in town called Mayday Brewery.  The beer is fabulous.  They have food trucks and live music when they're open and the owners are welcoming and hilarious.  We love hanging out here on the deck when the weather's good! 
Just outside of town is Arrington Vineyards. Owned by Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn fame, this is a lovely place to go and sit outside, enjoy the views, listen to live music (country of course) and sample the wine.  We're also about 40 mins drive from historic Franklin which kind of reminds me of back home with it's proper High Street & lots of wee shops and unique restaurants. 

There are an amazing amount of sports going on in town for the kiddos.  Ours currently do gymnastics at Elite Energy.  Their instructors are all young, enthusiastic and encouraging.  I spend a lot of time sitting on my butt here, so I'm glad it has a good atmosphere!   We also do soccer through The Murfreesboro Soccer Club.  It's a very well organized program with fantastic volunteer coaches.   My daughter does Yoga at the Yoga Nest - she already kicks my ass on some of the more difficult poses.  I love that she gets to do this at such a young age with such inspirational and encouraging instructors (I know this because they are also my Hot Yoga instructors)!  We also enjoy visiting The Ascent  It's an indoor climbing place with lots of routes and again, is really family friendly. 
There are also a lot of non sporty things for kiddos.  My boys have done Robotic Lego and Engineering for Kids classes this year at the Discovery Center.  There was none of this when I was growing up - I'm kinda jealous that they get to do all of these cool things!

Gold's Gym, my personal favorite!  The Hot Yoga Classes and the Group Exercise Classes are quite simply awesome!  The instructors are approachable and motivating and this gym is the friendliest I have ever been to.  I am here most days and I love it!  The daycare here is also fabulous with lovely staff and great equipment for the kids to play on. 

We love going mountain biking and hiking and there are numerous state parks close to the Boro with tons of trails, waterfalls and caves.

Most weekends we pick somewhere new and take a trip there with either the bikes or the boots.  I can run for miles on the Greenway or on roads from my house.  Road shoulders here are pretty wide so I feel pretty safe when I'm out there, although I do pack my Mace for just in case...!  There are also many places to go fishing, boating, canoeing and camping within an hour's drive. 
5 hours to the east are the Smoky Mountains and 90 mins to the south is Chattanooga.  We are truly never stuck for something to do or somewhere to go. 

So, please don't diss Tennessee, it really is a great place to visit and to live!  Who knows where we'll go next, but we'll definitely have lots of fond memories of Murfreesboro.  Even if I do still struggle to say it properly :)

PS.  As you can see, I've just discovered how to upload photos.  I hope to improve on this and some other blog features soon, but I'm mostly technically challenged so don't hold your breath! 


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Peekaboo, I see you!

Wikipedia: A toilet is a sanitation fixture used primarily for the disposal of human urine and feces. They are often found in a small room referred to as a toilet/bathroom/lavatory.

What Wikipedia doesn't go on to say, however, is that a toilet should be a 'private' place where you go to use as stated above.  That's my opinion anyway. 

Wiktionary: private (adj.)  Not accessible by the public.

Now we're clear on the meanings of toilet and private, let me begin.  I loathe American public toilets.  LOATHE I say!  Said toilets are everywhere.  Parks, Restaurants, Stores, Malls, Schools, Gyms, you name it.  We all have to use these facilities at some time or another, so why, I ask you, are the toilet doors never big enough?  Is there some kind of strange regulation that says there must be at least a half inch gap between each side of the door and the supporting wall/stall and that there must also be at least a foot gap between the bottom of the door and the floor?  If I can see folks waiting in line or washing their hands clearly through the gaps when I am inside said toilet, then they can see me too.  This really freaks me out people!   I almost feel like getting lengths of toilet paper and hanging them over each side of the door so that nobody can see me through the gaps, but nobody likes to spend more time than they have to inside the toilet, right?  Plus, it might slide off and make my cubicle more noticeable due to the activity behind the door.  No sir, that would not be good.

I have visited many toilets in my life.  I slipped and fell into a squatty potty in Italy.  Not an experience I'd like to repeat, but hey, at least nobody saw me do it!  I have done my business through a hole in a wooden shelf on the side of a mountain.  The wooden shelf had 3 walls round it and a door that closed to prevent anybody from seeing you - positively pleasant!  The only people who could see you from the wall-less part would be the birds.  I have spent lots of time pondering the computerized consoles around Korean toilets, wondering what each button was for - but in complete privacy because the door closed properly.  By the way, some Korean toilets have an Etiquette Button which when pressed, will make background noise so nobody outside the cubicle can hear what is going on inside - PURE GENIUS!!  On Cheung Chau Island, the toilet was a long, deep trough, but the cubicles were private.  Although people waiting in line could see what went into the trough (nice), they at least couldn't see anything from your ankles up.  The toilets in China were the worst.  Not only were they squatty potties, but most of them did not flush and everything was just left in there until somebody came and cleaned it out.  I'm gagging just thinking about those and you know, thinking back, I can't actually remember if the doors there were big enough or not.  I was in and out of those as fast as possible.

So in summary, I'm not vain or silly enough to think that anybody would actually want to watch me in action while I'm inside my private cubicle and I don't exactly want to watch anybody else while I happen to be waiting for a free cubicle.   Let's face it, who in the world would?   So why does the gap around the door have to be so huge?!  Perhaps I'm being overly dramatic or perhaps I'm visiting the wrong establishments, but when I do have to use public conveniences, it would be so nice to do so in PRIVATE!!!

Disclaimer:   In no way am I saying that British toilets are much better but I'm pretty sure most of the doors there fill the gap properly :)  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Are you from England?

I get asked this all the time. I guess my accent has faded and been mixed up a bit over the years.  It goes without saying that if somebody had asked me that when I lived in the UK, I may or may not have given them a Gleska Kiss.  Okay, probably not, but you know what I mean.  Once we clear up where I'm from, the other questions start.   "Do you like it here?" "Is it a lot different over here?"  "Do you miss home?"  "Isn't the food in Scotland horrible?" and lastly, these 2 nuggets: "Have you ever tried coffee before?"  and "Have you ever seen a train before?"  Seriously!! 

Before I came to America, I'd spent a lot of time traveling around Europe and Asia.  America never really appealed to me until I met the husband and decided to give it a try.  I had the usual stereotypical view of America and Americans that a lot of Europeans have (please don't take offense my many American friends, I love it here now!)   When we first moved here, I had massive culture shock which you wouldn't expect moving to another English speaking country.  I was horrified when I first watched Fox News which is fair and balanced apparently.  The astounding amount of TV channels, most of them useless, overwhelmed me.  The whole cell phone thing - here in the States, a pay as you go cell phone is not the norm like it was in the UK.  I found banks over here very old fashioned and difficult compared to the UK which was a surprise and I couldn't believe you couldn't just call overseas without first having to be approved by your telephone company.  People would say to me "I can tell you're European because you don't wear sneakers with your jeans."  I was horrified by people having dogs but leaving them outside in their yards all day and night.  The most difficult thing perhaps was not being able to walk anywhere due to lack of sidewalks.  I remember saying to the husband that I wanted to go to a store just across the road (a dual carriageway).  He laughed when I started walking.  I could see the store, it was a few hundred yards away, but there was no way I'd safely  make it across the road.  We had to drive!!  Across the road!!  The ovens here don't have a grill, you have to broil it (just the word sounds scary).  The grill is the BBQ.  Confusing at first :)  Massive sodas with unlimited refills, cheese with everything...  I'm not saying this is all bad, I just wasn't used to it.  It took me a long time to get used to America.

So, back to the normal questions.  Do I like it here?  Yes!  I can't believe how different it is in each State that I've lived in and visited.  America is beautiful.  Even the places which don't conform to standard beauty are amazing in their own way.  North Dakota - flat as heck - but amazing to see.  So desolate but the sky goes on forever.  The people - friendly, helpful, kind, family oriented, generous, non judgemental (mostly)!  At home, I wouldn't go out dressed the way I do here, but I love that!  At home, you're sometimes judged negatively if you go out in non smart or non fashionable clothes.  Here, it really doesn't matter.  People don't care what you look like!  It's actually very liberating!

Is it a lot different here?  Yes! It's massive!  At home, we moan if we have to drive a couple of hours to get to Glasgow.  Here, it's the norm to drive for days to go visit somebody or go on vacation.   Everything is bigger here, it's true.  Stores, roads, houses.  Of course, bigger isn't always better - I'm not a fan of Walmart even though I seem to spend a ridiculously large amount of time there grocery shopping. People here are a lot more religious than back home.  I think this is a good thing.  There are a lot of old fashioned values alive and kicking here in America.  Some good, some not so good, but mostly I like old fashioned values - being of a certain age myself now :) 

Do I miss home?  Yes I do.  A lot.  Scotland is such a beautiful, small place.  And of course, my family are there.  I speak to my Mum every day.  Where my parents live, you can walk to a gorgeous, clean, white sandy beach, walk up the river and catch a fresh salmon, drive a short distance to historic castles and battlefields, see dolphins or drive into the most amazing, rugged mountains to go mountain biking or hiking.  All close by.  It seems cleaner in Scotland.  The water, the air, the sea.  I do miss it!  I miss shopping for clothes in smaller stores that I know instead of in huge department stores that seem to have jumbles of clothes on racks that I can't be bothered sorting through!  I miss walking down the High Street and I miss going to the pub.  Bars here are a whole other different blog post! 

Isn't the food in Scotland horrible?  Heck no!!!  Every country has it's junk food of course and I miss the heck out of Tunnock's caramel logs, proper fish and chips doused in salt & vinegar, chocolate hobnobs and crunchie bars to name but a few.  But there is so much fresh food available in Scotland - salmon, trout, cod, prawns, scallops, beef, venison, vegetables, haggis (hehe) and so many amazing restaurants to try.  Bakeries abound in Scotland as do local jams, chutneys and other home made foodstuff.  I get fed up with all the chain restaurants here.  It's difficult to find somewhere truly special that serves fresh, local ingredients.  Haggis is awesome by the way :)  Luckily, most major grocery stores here have a selection of British food.  If I want to, I can make a cheese beano with Heinz beans, have some marmite on toast, snack on a Fry's Turkish Delight or  make a trifle with a can of Ambrosia custard :)  It's probably 3 times the price, but it's worth it!

Have I ever tried coffee before?  P-U-LEASE :)  For once in my life I was speechless at this one.  I guess some folks think us Jocks live in caves or huts and drink only whisky.  Maybe in the Outer Hebrides...?! 

Have I ever seen a train before?  I think I just laughed in this guy's face :) 

So no, I'm not from England.  I actually have dual nationality now!  I'm happy and proud to be both Scottish (British) and American, as are all 3 of my children.  It's a heck of a lot of passports to keep tabs on, but it's also kind of cool! 

Have a nice day y'all! 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Weak Sauce

Oh Tennessee.  For what seems like the 20th time this school year (although it's probably really only more like the 5th) we just received a phone call saying that due to the forecast winter weather, school is cancelled for tomorrow.  On every occasion this has happened in the past, there has simply been no weather to speak of at all.  No ice, no snow, no NOTHING!!!  They cancelled in January because it was a wee bit cold and they didn't want our poor little dears getting a chill whilst waiting for the bus.  C'mon people.  I've lived in both North and South Dakota.  They have snow several times throughout the winter, cold temps, the whole shebang.  School doesn't close unless there is 6 feet of snow and the buses simply cannot get through the roads.  I'm quite happy to have my kiddos home for the day and I'm lucky that I stay home so it's not an issue (although it does interfere somewhat with my workouts ;) ) But what about all the working parents who have to scramble to get daycare sorted out for what usually turns out to be a non weather event?   Apparently there are some parents out there who would send their children out to the bus stop in t shirts and shorts in wintry weather, so this is one of the reasons that the school district freaks out and closes school at the slightest chance of inclement weather.  But why should the rest of us be penalized for this minority?

I could get started on the other issues I've had with the school here.  Weekly, they send home information sheets advising us ignorant parents to feed our children healthy foods, lovely wee photos of the food pyramid and basically patronizing us with things that we already know.  So why in the heck do they think it's okay to reward the children in school with things like hard candy and lollipops when they do well?  I'm not a perfect parent, I do have chocolate in the house but I don't ever buy hard candy.  My middle child was given a piece of hard candy in his class for doing well - unbeknownst to his teacher, his baby teeth have decalcification so they are very soft and prone to decay.  He has already had a lot of dental work just on his baby teeth because of this.  Anyway, said piece of hard candy (which I would never have given him at home) took off one of his crowns and resulted in a lot of time off school to repair the damage, not to mention the cost.  Is this normal in schools?  Or is it just a TN thing? They also give out gift cards to places like Zaxby's, Chuy's & McDonalds for good behaviour and if your kid gets an A on their report card, they get a Krispy Kreme Donut for each A.  I looked hard but I didn't see Krispy Kreme anywhere on the Food Pyramid. 

Anyway, time to go play with the kiddos.  There's no rush to get them bathed and into bed early for school tomorrow.  I will, however, probably be mean Mummy and get them up early-ish to go to the gym with me if the daycare is open.  The gym is taking a sensible approach with a "wait and see" policy with the weather. Thank you Gold's Gym!!  If the weather isn't crazy (and chances are, it won't be), the daycare will be open and the kiddos will have fun while I work out. 

Have a good Sunday evening y'all! 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Post Ragnar

I signed up to do the Del Sol Ragnar Relay back in September 2013. My friend Jerri who lives in SD has done several Ragnars and it sounded like a blast.  I wanted the chance to see her and run/drink with her again so we signed up and got 10 other crazy girls to sign up too.  I recruited Cheryl & Melanie and Jerri recruited all the others.  Training was going great.  I was running several times a week, doing Bodypump 3-4 times a week and I ran a half marathon here in town in October with no probs.  A couple of weeks later my left knee started hurting and was still hurting after 2 weeks complete rest, so I went to the orthopedic doctor to see what was going on.  Arthritis and meniscus damage apparently.  He told me I should stop running and stop doing Bodypump because it involved doing squats and lunges which would further damage my knee.  I was gutted, scared and angry.  I called Jerri (who is one of the most motivating people I know) and immediately decided I was not going to stop running at all.  I would cut back on my runs, do hot yoga and spinning and hope that this would be enough to make me Ragnar fit.  My friend Melanie swapped legs with me so I wouldn't have a brutal 4 mile uphill leg (thanks Melanie!) and Ragnar was still on.

Ragnar Del Sol is a 202 mile relay race done by regular teams of 12 and ultra teams of 6 who run double the legs.  In our race, there was an ultra team of 2 blokes who split the 202 miles between themselves.  Hardcore!!  Teams split into 2 vans and take turns to run 3 legs per person.  When you're not running, you're driving to the next exchange to drop off/pick up runners.  You basically live in those vans for 2 days, not showering, changing in the van, eating in the van, sometimes napping and just having a good laugh.  You pack your running outfits in ziploc bags and put the nasty, sweaty used ones back in the bags to take home and open a few days later once they've nicely ripened :)

Fast forward to February.  I'd spent the months in between doing hot yoga 4-5 times a week, spinning 1-2 times a week and running at a pretty slow pace 3 times a week.  My knee was mostly pain free.  I was drinking Shakeology for lunch every day too and this gave me a huge energy boost as well as taking a few pounds off (I've lost 20 so far and still going).  I was nervous but totally ready for Ragnar!  Our team had all been in touch constantly for the few months before the race and even though I hadn't met a few of the girls, I felt like I knew them all.  Banter was good, sometimes dirty (Jen) and totally motivating!  I couldn't wait!

I flew into Phoenix and was picked up at the airport by Cheryl & Melanie, my friends from Korea.  We have a lot of crazy memories and shared experiences together.  One of the most memorable was having to be evacuation ready (with all our kiddos and gas masks for the entire family) when North Korea bombed Yeonpyeong Island in the South back in 2010.  We had also shared lots of  'beverages' together in the past.  
We met up with the other girls at the lovely Kelly's house (Jerri's sister who lives near Phoenix) over the next several hours, hung out and had a couple of beers.

The next day we had a team meeting in the morning (complete with Shocktops) for most of us, did grocery shopping for our vans and eventually drove up to the start line in Wickenburg.  Our team name/theme was Inner Ninjas - we had shirts, magnets (to tag other vans) headbands, inflatable ninjas and a bunch of other items to decorate our vans Ragnar style.  Kelly and Anita generously allowed us to use their Suburbans as team vans so we didn't have to rent - thanks girls!!  We even had our theme song which we blasted out of the windows cruising round the hotel car park to the other teams.  Immature you may say, but SO MUCH FUN!!!  We decorated our vans with duct tape - ninja masks, words, cactus etc and put our names on the windows so we could mark off our legs and our kills (when you pass another runner on the road/trail).   We went out for dinner, we were very loud, we stopped off on the way back to the hotel to ride a stationary jackass (Cherie is an awesome twerker), then went back to the hotel for a few hours sleep before the 3.30am wake up call to get to the start line on time.

First AZ discovery - it's bloody freezing in the desert at night!!!  I didn't expect that at all!  We saw our first runner off (Angie - she of the long legs) and that was it, we were starting our Ragnar!    I quickly grabbed a cup of tea which made me happy.  It's hard finding a decent cup of tea with milk in America when you're a Brit!

Everything was going smoothly, we were rocking our runs and having fun  once the initial nerves wore off.  Danielle (Jerri's other sister) who was in Van 2 had the 'pleasure' of doing over half marathon distance on her first run!!  She was a beast and made it in a fantastic time in the blazing heat.   Once our van was done with our first 6 legs, we had some down time at a High School football field.  We lay in the grass and chilled.  And pissed off some random bald dude who didn't like that we were talking near him when he was trying to sleep.  Miserable git!!  It wasn't an official sleeping area with quiet signs, it was a field and he chose to lie down almost on top of us.  6 girls.  Like we were going to be quiet...  He was grumping and moaning about us to whoever would listen which gave us a giggle.  We started playing a game on Krissy's phone (It's all about you Krissy) and got progressively louder so the grumpy git eventually got up and left which was quite satisfying :)  There were several other people around who were being way louder than we were, the whole Ragnar atmosphere is about fun so he was definitely the exception!

We met up with Van 2 at this exchange and were waiting for Jen (of dirty Jen fame).  Jen rocked her leg but when she came into the exchange, there was something wrong with her foot.  It was totally numb.  Ellie took her to the First Aid tent but wasn't happy with their diagnosis, so they took Jen to the local ER.  More on that later.

Now it was time for our van to start our night legs.  By the time mine rolled around, it was around 11.30pm.  I was totally crapping myself.  2.8 miles of my leg was on a dirt trail, away from street lights and civilization.  AZ is know for it's critters - mountain lions, coyotes, rattlesnakes, javelinas.  Oh crap.  I started off running 4 miles alongside roads that were nicely lit up.  My headlamp was bright, I had on my reflective vest, flashing LED light - I almost relaxed!  There weren't many other runners around but I was hoping by the time I got on the trail part there would be.  I got to the end of the lit up road, there was a right turn and BAM, in front of me was a huge sandy hill to climb.  Made it up slowly but surely.  It immediately dropped down into darkness on the other side.  I couldn't see any other runners in front of me, just total darkness.  I made it down the hill and started running as fast as I could in the dark, very grateful for my headlamp.  I was scared.  I kept thinking about the mountain lion stories I'd heard.  I remembered it was best to be noisy in their territory and to look as big as possible so I threw my arms up cactus style and started grunting loudly as I breathed.  I must have looked so ridiculous but I couldn't care less!!  I ran for about a mile and a half and I saw a blinking light in front of me - another runner!!!  I sped up even more, determined to catch them up and I did!!  I stayed with her while we chatted about how scared we were and then I finally saw lights in the distance and left her.  By the time I got back in the van, I was sweating profusely and shaking - I think I was kind of in shock!!!  I wouldn't say I enjoyed the night leg but man, I was so happy I did it and lived!!!  Dramatic I know, but I WAS REALLY SCARED!!!

I won't bore you with the rest of the race details, I'd be here forever!  But back to Jen.  The hospital thought she'd had a mild stroke and were doing all sorts of tests.  They kept her in until Sunday afternoon and took great care of her.  I was so glad I got to see her before I left to come home to TN.  She didn't have a stroke but has to see a specialist back home in WI to see what happened and how to live with whatever it was.  Jen is an amazing, strong willed lady with a huge smile and a fab sense of humor.  I hope this thing can be worked out and she can recover and get back to running again soon!   Our whole team was amazing.  I'm so blessed to know the other 11 ladies now and count them as my friends.  Jerri, Danielle, Kelly, Melanie, Cheryl, Krissy, Angie, Jen, Ellie, Cherie and Anita.  Every one of us should be so proud of ourselves for those 2 days!!!  We rocked!!!!  At the finish line, they had free pizza and a beer garden for all of us runners.  We got a really cool medal and a fab T shirt too :)  I have to give a shout out to Jerri's Mum Vicki who not only cooked an awesome dinner and breakfast for us, she also volunteered to man a water station on behalf of our team.  Thanks Vicki!  She was able to have a beer with us at the end too :)  And thanks to Kelly's family who let us crash there the first night and thanks to Krissy and her Dad for letting some of us crash there after the race!

The next day it was time to un-decorate the vans, get our stuff together and go home.  What an amazing experience it all was, I'm so glad I got to do it with such awesome girls!!  And I'm so lucky that Jason was happy to take 3 days off work to look after our kiddos :)

Back to the knee.  I really had no issues with it at all!  I was running up and down hills and on a trail, faster than I normally run.  This was supposed to be my last race but there is no way I'm stopping now.  I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing these last months.  Who knows, maybe because I lost weight, it's putting less pressure on my knee or maybe it's because my knee & the muscles round about my knee are stronger from doing hot yoga and spinning but whatever it is, it's working!!!  There's a Ragnar Trail Race in AZ in November, I'm seriously considering it :)

So, that's it for now, I just really wanted to write some of this down so my old lady brain won't forget it.  It's been a week now since the end of the race but I'm still on a high!  The desert was amazing.  I've always been a lakes,  mountains & 4 seasons kind of person while Jason is a beach, desert & sunshine kind of person.  He told me I'd love it in AZ, I laughed and said "no way".  He was right.  The sunsets were amazing and the desert just has a lovely atmosphere.  Can't wait to go back again some day!!