Monday, June 30, 2014

The 4th of July

One of my favorite American holidays is just around the corner - The 4th of July aka Independence Day!  Yeah, yeah, I know, it's a celebration of American declaring it's independence in 1776 from Great Britain (this date is imprinted on my mind as a result of having to study to get my American citizenship), but why shouldn't there be a celebration?  I love this all American holiday!  It's everything you see at the movies.  Family get togethers, barbecues, parties, parades, pies, flags, red white and blue things everywhere, baseball games, fairs and of course fireworks.  I wish there was a day like this back home, it's actually quite moving seeing the patriotism and just general American-ness (is that a word?) everywhere!

My kiddos have been scouring Pinterest for all things red, white and blue for our 4th of July celebration.  Our menu this year includes blue tortilla chips, red salsa & white sour cream, red white and blue cupcakes, strawberry pretzel dessert decorated to look like a flag, fruit salad with watermelon stars, blueberries, strawberries and pineapple stars, fruit punch for the kiddos with more fruit stars and sangria for the grown ups - of course with the obligatory fruit stars.  Burgers and hot dogs will also be on the menu if we have any room after all our red, white and blue items :)   
Some of last year's creations

I already mentioned fireworks, but man, it gets really crazy here at night on the 4th of July.  In fact, it usually starts getting crazy a couple of weeks before the actual holiday.  Huge tents are set up in parking lots selling all kinds of fireworks in addition to the already ridiculous amount of firework stores along the Interstates.  There's no way this would fly at home and it just looks so dodgy and unregulated to my British brain!  Health and Safety?  Ha, what's that!  Although there are usually some rules regarding where and when you can set them off, nobody seems to care.  
Because you need to be able to buy fireworks 24/7

Massive amounts of massive fireworks!
You start hearing bangs over a week before the 4th, my poor dog starts to freak out, refuses to go outside for her last ablution of the day and starts sleeping in our closet.  I did buy her a thundervest and it does seem to help her anxiety a bit, but last year, it was so bad that the vet had to prescribe her some tranquilizers.  Hopefully it won't come to that again this year!  People set them off in their yards, out in the street - just absolutely everywhere!  I still remember the adverts from when I was a kid in the UK warning of firework danger.  Because of these, it makes me really nervous watching the husband nonchalantly set off these huge things out front of our house.  Although, like I said, over here this is totally normal!  Anyway, the fireworks displays, either organized or unorganized ones are usually spectacular and SO AMERICAN!!  I LOVE IT!!!

So, like millions of other Americans, I'm looking forward to hanging out with my family on Friday, eating lots of red white and blue food and watching some fireworks.  Wouldn't it be nice if we did this back in the UK, just to celebrate being British?  Have a good week y'all! 


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Faggots and Grits

There are a lot of strangely names foods over here and also at home in the UK.  Without further ado, here are my US and UK lists. 

Sloppy Joes.  Sounds disgusting but is actually kinda tasty and certainly very easy to make (I'm all about being lazy when it comes to cooking).  The kids always scoff this but will turn up their noses when I make something fresh that takes a long time to prepare.  So annoying!  Basically you brown some mince, add a can of the ridiculously named Manwich sauce, chuck it in a roll and dinner is served!  

Sloppy Joes

Grinders.  This is really just a sandwich so why not just call it a sandwich?  A Grinder does not sound remotely appetizing. 

Sliders.  Again, just another strange name for a sandwich really.  But this time, it's served in a small roll.  According to Wikipedia, the name Slider name may have originated aboard U.S. Navy ships, due to the way greasy burgers slid across the galley grill while the ship pitched and rolled.  Who knew? 

Corn Dogs. Sausage on a stick, covered in corn batter.  The kids love these, me not so much!

Corn Dogs

Grits.  Looks kinda like porridge, but is actually ground corn.  Even though I live in the South and will probably be blasted for this, I'm not a fan.


Rocky Mountain Oysters.  These are basically just bull testicles with a fancy name.  Again, not a fan!  

Raw Rocky Mountain Oysters

Marshmallow fluff.  This very sweet concoction looks just like it's name says, but it's basically just a sweet spread. It's very similar to the filling inside a walnut whip which is one of my favorite treats back home :)  

When I think about it though, we have some foods in Britain that probably sound downright bizarre to my American friends.  Here are a few examples:

Toad In The Hole.  My mouth is watering just thinking about this dish.  Sausages cooked in yorkshire pudding batter, served with onion gravy?  Yes please!   

Toad in the Hole

Faggots.  There are a few different ways to make faggots.  Normally, they're made from offal, pork liver, heart and bacon all minced together, sometimes with added breadcrumbs or herbs.  You eat faggots with mashed potatoes, peas and gravy.  I'll pass on the faggots though.  


Cock a Leekie Soup.  Just a funny name for chicken and leek soup really!  Mostly the soup also has barley in it, but there is nothing sinister or disgusting about this dish :) 

Cullen Skink.  This delicious soup is made from smoked haddock, potatoes and onion.  It usually is also made from water, milk or cream.  We do like our soups in Scotland :) 

Spotted Dick.   Spotted dick is a traditional British pudding usually made from suet and mixed with baking soda, flour, molasses and nutmeg. Raisins or other dried  fruit are also added, creating the spots.  The pudding is steamed or boiled and served with custard.   
Spotted Dick and Custard
Black Pudding.  I miss black pudding!  We mostly have this with breakfast in Scotland.  Not so healthy but oh so delicious :)  Yes, it's made from pig blood, but it's also mixed with oatmeal, spices and onion.  Grilled or fried, it literally melts in your mouth.  In my opinion, a fry up is incomplete without it!  

Black Pudding

Haggis.  Although the ingredients of haggis don't sound very appetizing, it's actually a very tasty Scottish dish.  For real!  It's made from sheep's innards (liver, heart and lungs) mixed with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt.  Then it's put inside the lining of the sheep's stomach and simmered until cooked.  It can also be put inside sausage casing should you not have the sheep's stomach handy.   In case you didn't already know, haggis are not wee creatures that run around Scottish mountainsides :)


Jellied Eels.  This is an English thing.  Yep, it's exactly what it says it is and yep, it's DISGUSTING!!! 

Jellied Eels

So there you have it. I know there are a lot more strange sounding foods on both sides of the Atlantic, but this was just a wee sample for you.  What's the strangest sounding food you've come across?    

Monday, June 9, 2014

Birth Stories

The husband and me have 3 beautiful children.  Our daughter A is 10 (going on 16, rule follower and animal lover), our middle son C is 8 (soccer mad and tender-hearted) and our youngest son L (aka the Royal Prince Baby) is a 6 year old homebody who likes nothing more than to stay home and snuggle on the sofa.  Each of them have completely different personalities and birth stories.  I will spare you the very gory details so don't be afraid to read on :) 

I had 2 early miscarriages before I finally became pregnant with A at the ripe old age of 35.  We were living in Minot, ND.  I'd never been around babies and knew nothing about them, hence not being ready to have one till I was "ahem" older!  Although I didn't feel old, as soon as I tested positive I was classed as high risk due to my advanced maternal age.  Pfffft.  My whole pregnancy experience with A was thankfully event free and painless although we were constantly worried because of the previous miscarriages.  Seeing as it was my first pregnancy, I took it as a license to eat unlimited Oreo Blizzards from Dairy Queen.  I gained a whopping 65lbs!!!  Her due date was actually on my birthday in December which was rather exciting, but what babies ever actually arrive on their due dates? 

Fast forward to December, the day before my due date.  I went to see my doctor who gave me the usual tests, everything looked fine.  Later that day, I got a phone call from the nurse telling me that my protein levels and blood pressure were very high indicating pre-eclampsia (which can be dangerous for both mother and baby).  She told me to come in and pick up a large container in which I had to pee for the next 12 hours, then bring the contents back to the hospital in the morning when they would start to induce me.   The only thing they can do for pre-eclampsia is to get the baby out ASAP.  I did as they asked, but around 2am I started getting contractions, at least I thought that's what they were!   The husband took Molly (our dog) to boarding, then off we went in -20 degree temps to the hospital with my bucket in hand.

The hospital took said bucket and told me to come back in a couple of hours, so we hit up a local diner for my last meal before baby.  I wasn't allowed to eat much, so toast and tea was it for me.  It was hard watching the husband tuck into one of the diner's finest and largest breakfast plates.  How thoughtful of him...!

Back to the hospital where they confirmed that yes, my levels were very high and they whisked me upstairs to get the process started.  Although it was painful during the contractions, we actually had a fun day!  I gorged myself on jello and frozen popsicles, the nurses were lovely, we were having a good laugh and it didn't seem like there was anything to worry about.  That is until around 10.30pm.  I'd been pushing all day and suddenly A's heart rate dropped.  The atmosphere changed immediately.  We didn't really know what was going on, but I was rushed to an emergency operating room so they could get A out as quickly as possible.  The husband who had been with me all day long, was left on his own in the birthing room, not knowing what was going on and not allowed in the OR because it was an emergency.  All we knew was that it was going to be an emergency C-Section.  I remember lying there feeling them cut into me (sorry to my squeamish readers).  They realized that I could feel it happening so they put me straight to sleep.  Next thing I knew, I woke up in a dark room.  The husband came through the door with our baby A, but because I was still so woozy from the drugs, I could hardly see her and thought that she had pointy elf ears :)  She was born around 11.30pm - on my birthday!  How cool is that?!  

To cut a very long story short, my pre-eclampsia didn't go away when A was born.  My blood pressure, which is usually very low, remained at a dangerously high level so I was put on bed rest for a whole week.  The doctors couldn't understand why this was happening so it was pretty scary for us, not knowing what exactly was up and why I wasn't getting back to normal.  To add to this, we were moving to Germany in a matter of weeks so it was a pretty stressful time.  We were lucky enough to have our own room in the hospital the entire time though, so we had plenty of time with A, although I was pretty much a mess.  The husband stayed with us the entire time.  When I was eventually allowed to leave (the temperature was around -30 deg), it was all systems go to get ready for our international move which involved first driving to CA where it was warm enough for Molly to be able to fly with us!  A few thousand mile drive with newborn and crazy dog?  No problem!  But that's another story... 

We were in Germany when C was born.  There was no room at the local military hospital so all my care was at a local German hospital.  What a great experience!  My doctor looked like Starsky, never wore socks with his Birkenstocks and would tell me "You must drink the German beer at least once a week because it is good for the baby"!  Ha!  While I never actually indulged in this, I was tempted, but I guess it's ingrained in me after reading too many pregnancy books that it's not quite such a good idea to do so. Most of the hospital staff spoke some English, but I was thankful for my high school German, although the nurses did seem to laugh and giggle a lot when I spoke!

Again, this was a pretty smooth pregnancy although obviously, I was a bit older than last time.  My doctor, being German, was into everything being as natural as possible.  He decided that I could try for a natural birth this time even though I'd already had a C Section.  He was so laid back about the whole thing that I was in agreement.  I got very sick towards the end of the pregnancy so my wonderful Mum came from Scotland to look after me and A because the husband was crazy busy with work and school.  Anyway, C who is also pretty laid back, still showed no signs of appearing - even 2 weeks after his due date, so they scheduled me for a C Section.  We showed up at the hospital and within a couple of hours we were in the OR.  The husband was allowed to accompany me this time which was great.  Again, it was a very jovial atmosphere with lots of banter and joking which relaxed us both.  Everything went smoothly this time and out popped C, a huge, chilled out baby!  Again, we had our own room to bond with him and spent a few days recovering and relaxing.  It was a Catholic Hospital so I had several nuns taking care of me and bringing me food which was a lovely experience!

Shortly after C was born, we decided we would like to have one final baby.  I got pregnant again pretty easily (there's only 15 months between C and L).  Everything seemed fine until one of my blood tests indicated a potentially life threatening chromosomal defect.  They called to tell me this the evening before our movers were coming to pack up our house for our upcoming move to South Dakota.  We were in complete shock.  The doctor did explain to us that there was a chance that it might be a false positive but that we had to have high level ultrasounds to investigate further.  As you can imagine, it was very stressful going through all this when we were living in temporary accommodation and traveling to a new base in a different country.  When we got to Rapid City, SD, we had the ultrasound which thankfully indicated no obvious problems with the baby, but it was no guarantee that everything was 100%.  We tried not to worry too much even though the husband was going to be gone for the last several weeks of the pregnancy training before deploying to Afghanistan.  It was tough.  He came home for a couple of weeks before L was born, but  left just 6 days after the birth - thankfully L was 100% healthy.

We had scheduled the C Section this time based on the time period when the husband was home.  My parents again came out to take care of the other kiddos and to stay and help me for the first few weeks.  American hospitals, in my experience, are wonderful.  We were looked after from start to finish by lovely, professional staff and again, had our own room the whole time we were in the hospital. 

So that's it, 3 very different birth experiences in 3 very different places.  We are so blessed with these children of ours and every day is an adventure for sure.  Thank you for reading!   

Monday, June 2, 2014

American Pie

Sometimes it feels like I'm living in a movie.  Not an adventurous type of movie or anything, but when I see or hear things that I grew up watching on TV or in American movies, it does make me chuckle.  My, how my life has changed! 

I drive around everywhere in my big ol' minivan.  I spend hours sitting on the sidelines of soccer games on my fold up chair with its cup holder, just like all the other soccer moms.  I have a large assortment of huge, portable drinking cups and an ice dispenser on my refrigerator.  I wait in the school pick up line and hear the Principal making her Grease-like announcements at the end of the school day, this never fails to make me giggle.   Every day I see countless yellow school buses on the roads - just like in the movies.  I love air conditioning and free refills.  I even know some people who have a II or a III after their name.  For real!

Patriotism here is amazing and humbling.  While back in the UK, we are also mostly patriotic, Americans are happy to show their love of their country at any opportunity.  I love this!  Restaurants routinely offer discounts for military personnel and American flags are everywhere.  When the husband was in the military, I loved that every day on base, the national anthem played at 5pm.  The whole base came to a standstill regardless of weather conditions, put hands on heart and faced the direction that the music was coming from.  Even our children knew to do this and it brought a tear to my eye seeing this kind of respect.  In the base movie theater they would also play the national anthem before the movie began.  Again, everybody stood up, removed hats, put hands on heart and stood to attention.  I love seeing such pride in people for their country. 

Proms and High School Graduations - it's just like in the movies.  These are huge deals over here and although it can get a bit OTT, why not? 

Sports clothes, cowboy hats and cowboy boots are worn here every day and for every occasion.  Admittedly I used to think of these kind of things as pretty cheesy, but now I love the passion that people show for these kind of things.  At home, you'd get laughed at for sporting your cowboy duds for sure.  I want to take photos of random people every day, proud of their team, their country or whatever they are passionate about.  They don't care what other people think and why should they?!  I love it!  You see military folks everywhere in uniform too.  Yep, just like in the movies. 

Hot wheels, hot rods and monster trucks on the roads.  I've said it already, but it's just like in the movies, except it's for real!   Chevys, Corvettes, you name it, you see them every day.

Old fashioned diners with malts, milk shakes, burgers in plastic baskets, homemade pies - these really exist.  Especially in small, middle of nowhere towns.  I always get shivers walking into these kind of places that have usually been there for years and are the main place to go in these small towns.

Lastly, how cool are Drive In Movie Theaters?  Especially when you're in a truck and you can lay out in the truck bed chilling, eating your chili dog, drinking your big old coke and watching a movie?  There are two Drive In Theaters close to where we live, I tell you, I'm living in a movie!

So that's it for today folks, I'm off to continue to live the American {movie} dream.  Have a great day y'all  :)