Tuesday, March 31, 2015

So Far In Seattle

It's been a busy week!  We drove 2400 miles, settled into our temporary apartment downtown, applied for driver licenses and WA vehicle registration, set up our utilities and registered the kids in their new school.   When we registered for school in Tennessee there was a permission form regarding your children being paddled.  Although I myself was hit with a ruler and a belt on my hand at school, it's not the practice to hit a child nowadays right?!  I was shocked to read the form and I thought it was a joke, but as I looked around the classroom filled with other parents scribbling away, I realized that it was for real!  Needless to say, I declined to sign my kids up for paddling in Tennessee.  It was nice to see, when doing the paperwork here,  that paddling is not an option and in fact, isn't even mentioned.

This place is pretty similar to back home in the UK in many ways.  You can buy wine in grocery stores for starters - yippee!!!  No more dragging the kids into the liquor store if I'm picking up a bottle of vino for dinner, and getting frowned at for doing so.  This is life changing, people!  When you're grocery shopping, if you don't bring your own bags with you, you are charged 5c per bag, which isn't a bad thing at all and will encourage me to try and remember my own bags next time.  It definitely costs more for groceries here though.  It also doesn't rain here all the time contrary to popular belief.  The weather has been lovely, t-shirt weather in fact, and it's only rained once so far.  

Gas is 70c per gallon more expensive than it was in Tennessee.  That's going to be a shock to the system.  We've already experienced Seattle traffic at its worst, but because it's still new to us, we were quite content to sit in the van, and admire the scenery.  I'm sure that'll get old soon enough though.  The husband will be the one dealing with city traffic while the kids and I spend our days in and around our new abode close to the mountains. 

We now live 25 minutes from a ski resort!  Granted, the snow season hasn't been great, but we're that close to stunning, craggy mountains that we can enjoy year round which is pretty cool!  The view from the kids' new school is Mount Si, which is pretty spectacular.  They can also see  Mount Si from their bedrooms.  I don't think we've ever lived anywhere with such amazing views.

Recycling wasn't really a big thing in Tennessee.  Here, however, it's highly encouraged and even compulsory, which is great.  I'm still learning though, it took me an embarrassingly long time to sort out our lunch trays at Panera after we'd eaten.   Hopefully I'll get used to that quickly!

So that's it for now, just a quick blog until I have more time.  Our stuff arrives tomorrow so chaos will ensue for a few days, but it's one step closer to being settled.  We're really looking forward to our new life here and so far, so good.  Molly has had a few walks around the city and has even visited her first Starbucks.  She did so well traveling in the van for 4 days to get here, and now has yet another trip under her collar, making her a very well traveled dog indeed.  I'll blog about our mega road trip soon!

Monday, March 23, 2015

My Robin Is Cuter Than Yours, But Your Badger Is Scarier Than Mine...

Things in America still surprise me on a daily basis.  As a lover of the outdoors, I used to think I was pretty good with my nature recognition - until I moved here.  When I saw my first American Robin, I was surprised.  Yes, it has a reddish breast, but it's kind of scraggly and big.

Now THIS is a proper robin, all cute, plump, and heavily featured on British Christmas cards.

Call me shallow for judging things based on their appearance, but the British robin is very much prettier than its American counterpart :)

Even a simple thing like the oak leaf is completely different over here.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the British oak leaf, all round edges, cute (for a leaf anyway), and instantly recognizable:

The American oak leaf, however, looks like this.

What the heck!  It's all spiky!  I would have no clue what tree this belonged too, were it not for all the acorns on the ground below.

I bang on a lot about all the scary animals over here in America-land, bears, mountain lions, snakes and the like.  But one animal that is supremely more scary over here in comparison to it's British relative, is the badger.  Just look at this beast, it's pretty bloody terrifying if you ask me.

In comparison, here is the bonnie British badger, aw, just look at his cute lil' face...

I did try to get a fierce photo of a British badger, but this is as scary as it gets, which isn't very scary at all really, compared to his American counterpart.

Anyway, I know what badger I'd rather encounter when out hiking in the woods, so yes America, you win the battle of the badgers.  But us Brits definitely win the battle of the birds, the cute ones anyway!   

Monday, March 16, 2015

Cream Cakes and Brussel Sprouts

I spend way too much time at the grocery store.  Luckily our local store is pretty awesome.  Free cookies for the kids, lots of food samples, great bakery & food choices, a British section, and lots of lovely people who work there - two of whom are now my friends.  Because I go there a lot, I'm now so used to the American way that I'll probably be a hot mess when I go to the supermarket (UK speak for grocery store) in the summer.  See, even the name of the place is different!  In fact, the whole grocery shopping experience here is completely different from back home.  While at home I'd say "I'm going to get my messages", here it's "I'm going grocery shopping". 

A good thing about American stores is that you never have to search your handbag for a coin or token in order to unlock a cart (known as a trolley in the UK).  Here, carts are plentiful and easy to access. I'm a bit stressed right now due to our impending move, and believe me, I would KILL for a proper cream cake.  Brits, can you believe there's no such thing here?  How can people live without cream cakes?  We have shelves of the things at home, all light and fluffy, with delicious fresh cream fillings and toppings.  The cream here is overly sweet and just not really used very often in cakes for some reason.  If you asked for a meringue at the bakery here, they would laugh.  Meringues here are tiny little processed powdery things in a plastic container.  At home, they are huge, fresh, crunchy, chewy and filled with delicious fresh cream.  I've been dreaming about fresh cream doughnuts for the last few weeks too.  No such thing here.

It took me a while to get used to the different names used in the USA for everyday grocery items too.  Coriander is cilantro, aubergines are eggplant, rocket is arugula, courgettes are zucchini and spring onions are green onions.  To this day, I still find it embarrassing to say "URBS" instead of the British "HERBS".  If I said that at home, I'd be laughed out of the shop.  I've said this before, but I also can't get used to is calling pasta "noodles".  Noodles are in the Chinese section for goodness' sake!  Pasta is Italian, and it's called PASTA!  Our syrups are totally different too.  When you say syrup here, it's assumed you mean Mrs Butterworth's or Aunt Jemima's, a dark concoction found in a plastic jug that you pour on your pancakes or waffles.  Ha, we have potato waffles at home, I'm pretty sure Americans would gag at the thought of those!  Anyway, syrup to me is golden syrup.  It comes in a beautiful, heavy, silver and green can with a lid that is permanently sticky once opened.  It's golden, it's heaven on earth and mostly used for baking and making puddings, or if you're feeling really decadent, on a sandwich with butter.  But maybe that's just me!

Tate & Lyle golden syrup.  A British icon!

America isn't big on roast potatoes either.  We have them in the frozen cabinet at home, and they are almost as good as freshly made.  I'm not the best of cooks, so I would probably cry with joy if I saw frozen roast potatoes in the freezer here.   Squash?  If I asked for that here, I would be given a large orange fruit.  At home, squash is what we make drinks with, it's a juice concentrate we add water to.  I grew up drinking the stuff and sometimes I wish my kids could too.  Instant coffee?  That's considered slightly ghetto here.  It's either filter, Keurig or it's crap.  There's only a tiny space on the shelf for instant coffee, I almost feel like I'm being judged for buying it!   

The best thing about grocery shopping in the US is the lovely packer who will happily pack your groceries into bags and do a fantastic job.  No tip required.  They will even offer to bring your cart to your car and help you unload.  This makes me feel like a princess, even though I rarely do it because I'd rather struggle by myself than have to make small talk and watch somebody else do something I'm more than capable of! 

Anyway, we move out of the house next week so we're currently struggling to make meals with what's left in our pantry and refrigerator, making my grocery store trips less frequent.  Recent 'gourmet' meals in the LeBlanc household have included quesadillas with brussel sprouts, cereal for dinner, olives on toast, tuna from the can, shake n bake chicken with brussel sprouts, and rice with brussel sprouts - there sure were a lot of brussel sprouts in the freezer and my poor children are probably scarred for life.   To all my readers, whatever you're eating, I'm pretty sure it's way better than what's for dinner over here.  Anyone for brussel sprouts?   




Thursday, March 12, 2015

Letters From The Heart

Warning, this is an overly sentimental blog post, so continue at your own risk! 

I've begun many posts over the last couple of weeks, but there is so much going on that it all sounded very disjointed.  So instead, I decided to write small letters to my family, so that we can remember in the future, how this move felt to us all!

Dear L,
You have perhaps grown up the most since we've lived here.  You started Kindergarten here and went from being a baby to being a boy.  You are such a homebody and would be happy for us all to stay home together every day and snuggle on the sofa watching TV.  You are so happy being with our family and your brother is really your best friend.   Our neighbors' girls have also been a huge part of your life here (and all of ours).  I love seeing you play with them and treating them so nicely and respectfully, I truly think they have made a mark on you that will last for your lifetime.  You are not really a fan of the outdoors, but these girls always make you want to actually go outside and play, which is fabulous!  You tried some sports, but are more interested in the snacks than in actually playing!  But L, you are truly AMAZING at building lego and solving puzzles.  Age recommendations are meaningless when it comes to you.  Your concentration levels are incredible and you will sit down for as many hours as it takes to build something.  You excelled at Robotic Lego Camp which you absolutely loved, your attention to detail is so much more than I could ever give.  You are devoted to your big brother, as he is to you.  When he cries, you cry.  When he is upset, you are equally as upset, if not more.  Your commitment to each other always makes me emotional, and again, I'm sure it will last for your lifetime.  At 7 years old, you are already talking about when you and C will live together both during and after college!  Although you have grown up a lot, you are still incomplete without your 'blankie' from Korea.  That brown, furry thing grosses me out, but you are seldom without it.  I love seeing you first thing in the morning, said blankie wrapped around your shoulders.  It has traveled to so many different places with us, probably more places than the average person!  And even though you're not too excited about outdoor activities, you like nothing more than to go camping as a family, and hang out by the campsite all weekend.  It will be tough for you leaving your friends and your teacher here, and I know there will be tears shed, but L, I know that ultimately you will be fine because of your love of us all being together. xxx

Dear C,
My tender hearted boy!  I think it's going to be the most difficult for you when we leave Tennessee.  You have loved and enjoyed all our experiences here and have become a thoughtful, clever and sporty boy.  You are so kind and considerate to everybody.  When your brother hurts, you hurt more because you care about him so much.  You are so concerned about the well being of others and you are equally as happy with your boy friends as you are with your girl friends - especially our neighbors' girls who you love like sisters.  You are the sporty one of the family.  It's true that you can fall over fresh air and are a wee bit clumsy sometimes, but when you're participating in any kind of sport, a change comes over you and you are one with whatever it is you are doing!   Basketball, gymnastics, you name it.  You excelled at soccer as soon as you started playing.  So much so that we signed you up for Strikers last year, something that you love passionately and are totally committed to.  You watch the Premier League on TV, you memorize the pages of the Match books and comics that Granny and Papa send to you, and you can answer any question about soccer players and teams worldwide.  You practice constantly in the yard.  You get so anxious before your games which kills me, as I know how much you actually love playing, but hopefully you will grow out of that!  You absorb everything at school and I rarely have to help you with your homework.  So much so, that your teacher wants to have you tested for being gifted.  You are already sad that you will be leaving your friends, your teacher, your beloved Strikers and your amazing coaches, but I know you will quickly get used to life in Seattle.  Your heart will break saying goodbye C, but you know that at least, you are moving with your best friend - your brother.  I have thoroughly enjoyed watching every one of your soccer practices and games and look forward to more at our new home! xxx,

Dear A,
You have grown up so much since we moved to Tennessee, but thankfully, you are also still my little girl.  You are sweet, helpful and always happy to help around the house.  You love nothing more than to make everyone's beds and make us all breakfast.  You took over responsibility for the dog here - feeding her and taking her outside - not once have you complained, even when it's raining!  Although you do like to wind your brothers up sometimes, I know you love them and always look out for them. They don't know it yet but they're extremely lucky to have you as a big sister.  I love watching you with our neighbors' little girls, you love them like sisters and are always happy to play with them, despite the age difference, which matters not a jot to you!  You would play outside every minute of the day if you could and you just love hanging out with your friends.  In fact, you experienced your first big girl sleepover here with another of our neighbors who you are also going to miss!  We feel blessed that you are such a "go with the flow" girl.  You admit that you're going to be sad leaving here, but you are also truly excited for our next adventure.  You've matured so much since we've been here.  You're very responsible and you actually love going to school - I sure hope that lasts!   Your confidence has also grown here, firstly through gymnastics, and then you discovered something you are very passionate about and excel at - karate!  I'm so proud when I watch you execute your katas and moves, and you pay such close attention to your sensei (unlike your brother)!  You were selected for the Demonstration Team and loved performing your moves at various venues around town.  We so enjoyed coming to watch you!  You also began yoga classes which brought you to a love of yoga, just like your Mummy.  You are definitely a rule follower and everyone you come in contact with, comments on your beautiful manners, your good behavior and your sweet nature.  Daddy has been gone for most of this move and you've helped me out so much.  I will be forever grateful for you A, thank you for everything you do, every day xxx

Dear J,
I'm not going to lie, I was very skeptical about moving here when you retired from the military and took a job with Amazon.  I'd never even heard of Murfreesboro and didn't really know much about Tennessee apart from country music and Nashville!  It was kind of scary that we were going to be miles away from the nearest base and there would be no more shopping at the commissary or the BX.  But...  I can't even begin to say how proud I am of you and how grateful and happy I am with our life together.  You sucked up several months on night shift which was hard on all of us, but we managed and made the most of it.  Daytime dates were actually fun!  We had fantastic weekends exploring the countryside in and around Murfreesboro and took the kids on several hiking, boating, camping and mountain biking adventures.  You would always surprise us with some new place you wanted us to visit, and we have had so much fun being tourists and exploring.  You have worked your ass off (as usual) and you were promoted after your first year with Amazon.  You then went on to be promoted again just before Christmas last year which led us to this move to Seattle.  You are so committed to us, your family, that it still amazes me.  We are truly a team and I love that our best friends are each other.  Although I'm sad to be leaving our friends and our life here in Tennessee, I am also excited for our new adventure - and we have already been amazingly lucky to have had so many adventures in our life together!  I've missed you over the last month and I'm so excited for us all to be together again and begin our new chapter.  Love always xxx

So my friends, there you have it for this week.  Yes, I'm an emotional wreck!   Tennessee friends, thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the amazing friendships and experiences we've had with you all.  Not only have you made this place one of our most favorite places we've lived in, you also made our transition to life in the civilian world so very easy, thank you so much!  We love you all and hope to see many of you again in the future.  Till next time... xxx

Monday, March 2, 2015

Bears and Angry Birds

Regardless of where you live, when you move house, you take into consideration all the usual things like schools, location, walkability etc.  But when you move anywhere in America, it's a good idea to research the local wildlife too.  The scariest things here in TN are without doubt, the snakes, and unfortunately I've seen too many of those!  Apparently in Washington we won't have to worry about venomous snakes.  They do however, have bears and mountain lions.  Shitballs!  Do you play dead or act big and loud when you see a black bear?  I have no idea, time to do some research I guess.  Apparently we have to use special garbage cans in our new neighborhood to stop the bears foraging for food in your trash.  Yikes!  But truly, this is part of why I love living over here, there's definitely never a dull moment!

The kids and me went out for breakfast recently.   It's always a struggle to order tea over here.  Servers rarely understand that when I ask for milk on the side, it means I want it at the same time as my tea.  My tea duly arrived minus the milk.  I asked again.  And again.  15 minutes later (yes I'm sad, I timed it), my milk was brought to the table, but of course by now, my hot tea was bloody freezing.  I waited another 10 minutes for fresh, hot water, but I did eventually get my nice cuppa.  By the time our food arrived, I was kind of frustrated after the tea debacle, but looking forward to eating.  Ha!  Middle son ordered a pancake with a smiley face made out of fruit.  We were all about to get stuck in when the waitress decided to become Chatty Kathy.  She started talking about the pancake face and told my son that if he moved the apple slices, it would look like an angry bird.  I was looking like an angry bird myself by now, hungry and fed up waiting for my tea for so long.  I was about to say something when she took it upon herself to use her long, nasty fingernail to move my son's apple slices to make the angry bird face.  Ugh!  I told her we were in a hurry to eat, so she left and I removed the apple slices before I let my son eat.  Yes, worse things happen to your food while it's still in the kitchen, but I'd rather not see people touching it with their fingernails!  I wasn't feeling very generous by the time we left, so Chatty Kathy's tip wasn't very large...

This little episode reminded me of an experience we had in Korea.  The husband and me had popped in for a coffee somewhere and I ordered a latte.  The server was lovely as are most people there who work in stores, restaurants etc.  She was chatting away, we had no idea what she was saying but we nodded politely and smiled a lot.  Until... she was in the middle of making my latte when she took the spoon out of the mug, put it in her mouth, sucked it and returned it back into my mug.  For real.   She then presented it to me with a huge smile, like it was something very special.  Yes, it was indeed very special and there was no way in hell I was going to drink it.  I waited until she wasn't looking and dumped it into the trash can before slinking away silently.  She was such a nice girl that I really couldn't get angry, but man, how gross is that?! 

Anyway, eating out here is usually a good experience, so you'd think that by now I'd have learned to be more patient with the tea thing.  But nope, I still get a bit grumpy when it happens again and again.  Tea is very important to most of us Brits you know!  I did spot a Tea and Crumpets Cafe in Seattle when we visited, so I'll definitely be going there for a taste of the homeland when we live there.  Speaking of which, it's less than a month to go before our mega-drive to live in the land of bears!  Till next week folks!