Redesign!

The blog needed a bit of an update... newer pictures and a little more color. Y'all let me know what you think!

Mike and I spent the evening at the Foundry, partaking in the £6.99 ribs, chips and beer special for "Grill Wednesdays." A novel idea, if I say so myself. We always have the best conversations over dinner out somewhere.... and I still can't believe he's enjoying drinking Guinness. That boy must have developed some new taste buds in Ireland!



Happy Turkey day to everyone! I'll be spending the day in the kitchen tomorrow while everyone's at work. We have a few friends coming to join us for, what I hope to be, an incredible feast of America's best traditional holiday dishes.


Locks & Rocks

I'm not afraid to admit it. My husband and I locked ourselves inside our house! We decided to make an evening run to the grocery store to get all the necessities for the big Thanksgiving feast we're cooking on Thursday and came home, arms overflowing with bags. Mike got to the front door first and, unbeknownst to me, left the key in the lock, intending to get it out after he'd set down the groceries. I had a couple free fingers and thought I'd be efficient and go ahead and lock the door once I got inside.



When Mike went to go open the door to retrieve his keys, the lock wouldn't budge. Turns out, if you leave a key in the lock on the outside, then lock it from the inside, it stays that way! We exchanged that look that says, "Oh my gosh, did we really just do this?" My initial reaction was to happily state that at least we'd just loaded up on food so if we were locked in for a few days, we'd be in good shape. Then we both considered pounding on the door to get our neighbor's attention, in hopes they might come across the hall and let us out. Of course, I ended up with the most genius idea of rescue, which would have been to order delivery for dinner and have them just, uh, let themselves in.

But my husband, practical engineer that he is, pryed oped the mail slot on the front door and instructed me to fetch a metal coat hanger. So then there we were, both on our knees with our eyes peeping out of the mail slot, prisoners in our own home! He untwisted the coat hanger and managed to stick one end through the key ring and rotate them and pull them out. At the same time, I manuevered the door lock open... and we were free! I am so glad no one walked by, but only since we ended up being successful--if we hadn't been, we would have needed the help!

Before locking ourselves in, and before the grocery store, we'd spent the afternoon rock climbing--something I hadn't done in years. There's a great indoor climbing place in Aberdeen, right by the beach. (It also houses an indoor BMX/skateboard park and cafe.) One of Mike's work buddies, Hans, was kind enough to go with us and, ahem, show us the ropes. He goes several times a week in addition to surfing in the bitter cold water when the waves are good.



After my short stint at Seaworld spent freezing in the icy tank next to the dolphins and Beluga whales despite my being clad in a swim suit, rashguard, wet suit and costume, I just don't understand how anyone would want to be in open-aired water in winter! He says it's "not that bad" but I haven't been a fan of cold water since my synchronized swimming career. It's just not my thang! This was further confirmed when my Masters team and I competed in Vegas last year. We arrived in shorts and tank tops expecting warm weather temps since it was only September, but had to endure 40 degrees, sleet and snow!



But since we weren't in cold water and rather scaling towering walls of fake rocks, it was a great chance to work on my recently acquired discomfort with heights as well as our fitness. My forearms and thighs were killing me! Mike and I are making a point to change things up in regards to our fitness program--he's playing football once a week, I'm picking up spin class and yoga plus our weekly trips to the gym together. We've never been able to be one of "'those" couples that worked out as a couple... and it's really growing on me! I tend to get more motivated when I'm around other people and I may have scared him just a bit when I pulled out the ole medicine ball and demanded three lengthy sets of sit-ups that got me in shape back in my swim days. (Don't worry, I did them too!)

We're certainly ready for Thanksgiving. The turkey is defrosting and we bought a bottle of Jack Daniels, which will have to stand in for the otherwise traditional holiday bottle of Makers Mark. The Christmas tree is lit, my mom sent me American canned green beans and French's fried onions for green bean casserole and we're renting Varisty Blues for a fun all-American movie feature.

I hope to keep the blog udpated a bit more often, I really enjoy writing it and hope to hear comments from any and all who might be reading it now and then. I spent some time researching Paris this afternoon and am so looking forward to all the sight seeing and history we'll be enjoying during our long weekend vacation. If anyone has any tips, please share with us. For now... au revoir et salut!

Home Sweet (Far Away From) Home


Today we've been missing home a lot. So I'm writing this blog update for any fellow expats that might be reading along now--or in the future--as I'm thankful for some helpful advice from former expats on what to expect when you get a case of the homesickness blues. It's been about three months since our plane wheels left the ground of the Lone Star State. There are certain things we've come to appreciate about the Scots and life in Aberdeen, but for every single we thing we like there are at least two or three things we miss about home. Right now, as I type, we're blaring some Texas Country from my laptop and savouring the cozy blue jean quilt (handmade by my mom) that we forced the movers to find room for in the last box.

When you first arrive in a new country, you're completely distracted by the newness, the excitement and the fun. After a couple weeks go by, you still feel like it's a vacation and that it's probably about time to end. A few more weeks pass and then it finally dawns on you that you're there to stay, and you get mixed emotions thinking about home but begin to become comfortable in your new surroundings. Not long after that, you really start to miss things. A lot. But then you become preoccupied again with visitors and traveling. And so the cycle continues!

The fact that Mike and I have each other helps a lot. And it's important for us to stay busy enough to keep our minds from thinking about home too much. We have been so grateful for every day we get to experience in Scotland--and surrounding countries--and are thrilled that we were blessed with this opportunity! It would be silly for us not to miss home, so we're focused on making the most of our year abroad.

We miss our doggies terribly (any time I mention them is an excuse to post a photo!) and are very thankful that Mike's parents are keeping them for us. Shiner has been busy with the hunting season, and Jersey keeps Shiner in line when he's home, making sure he doesn't nap too long in between play spells. They have been attached at the hip since we brought Jersey home with us nearly a year ago... we absolutely love our dogs.



And we miss having two furball arounds the house, especially since we've had them both for more than a decade. My cousin Sarah and her husband, Scott, are lifesavers for taking in my two cats, July and Snowball. Sarah tells me the kitties have made themselves quite at home in Alabama and are doing well. (These are recent photos she sent.)





We're beyond appreciative of our family and friends who have been so thoughtful in sending us letters and care packages with things we miss from home, like lemonade and butter popcorn to our coveted velveeta and rotel for queso. (Mike made queso at work last week so the guys could try it out. They'd never even seen block cheese before and gorged themselves on the dip, some of them felt sick afterward!)

So here's to country music, fajitas on a stove top grill, the occasional rarely-found Bud Light, visitors and letters from home. They make all the difference!

Dublin

What a crazy weekend! Our excursion to Ireland was the first real "trip" since making ourselves at home in Scotland and it was a blast. Steve and Terri also went with us to Dublin, and we stayed in the Temple Bar neighborhood -- this is where the partygoers and Guinness drinkers congregate for wild nights and fiddle stomping fun!

We flew Ryan Air, known for its cheap flights but not customer service. They tack on so many fees it's unbelievable... £30 to check a bag, £40 if you didn't print out your boarding pass, £5 to check in online (required), £15 if you don't check in early. The list goes on! But we managed to pack light and cram everything into a small carryon each. After scrutinizing our bags and asking us to place them in the measuring box to be sure they weren't too big, we were on our way.

It was very rainy when we arrived in Dublin so even from the top of our double decker bus, we couldn't make out much. But it didn't dampen our first night in town! We checked into our hotel, The Morgan -- a contemporary four-star stop smack dab in the middle of Temple Bar, a great find by Steve -- took a shot of the Grouse we'd picked up at the airport and headed out for dinner. We decided to keep it simple and went across the street to the Thunderoad Cafe, which turned out to be a very similiar feel to Hard Rock (next door to The Morgan). Why they needed a UK knock-off of a nearby US staple is beyond me, but they had Coors Light on tap and good food!







After dinner, it was time for drinkin' and we hit the cobblestoned street in search of something good. We hadn't made it far when the unmistakable sound of Irish fiddle music floated around the corner to greet our ears. It was like a siren had gone off, Mike's head snapped around and he was already headed in the direction of the sounds before we could even register it! For those of who may not know, my husband LOVES Irish fiddle music and breaks into a jig nearly every time he hears it. There's a good bit of red in his sideburns and his goatee and it certainly came into play in Irishland, he fell in with the locals tossing back Guinness after Guinness and even got into a little "jig war" with a fellow barmate our last night.


We found the door that seemed to be the source of the music, confirmed by the man out front who said "Aye lads, live fiddles upstairs!" It was a small bar with low-rise stools and little wooden tables, a guitar player and two fiddlers. Just what we were looking for, the music was amazing and the ambiance perfect. We stayed as long as we could then spent the rest of the night conducting our own pub crawl...

Saturday was dedicated to our one tourist-attraction stop, the Guinness Factory. We walked to lunch at a chipper (fish and chip shop) called Leo Burdock's that claimed to have the best in town. Turns out they didn't, the cod was fried with the skin on and didn't hold much flavour and because there's no table and chairs (common at chippers everywhere) we balanced our giant meals in hand and ate on the sidewalk. It made for a good picture!




The Guinness Factory was really incredible, a very artistically crafted seven-story structure originally built in 1904 and expanded in 1988 and again in 2000. Giant steel beams serve as the support for the building created in the Chicago school of architecture style and based on the idea of a giant pint glass, which begins in the massive circular atrium and stretches up to the top floor Gravity Bar. According to the web site, if the "pint" was filled it would hold 14.3 million pints of Guinness!



We drank our complimentary pints at the end, looking out from the Gravity Bar onto the entire city of Dublin. It was such a cool moment. I still don't have the buds for Guinness--it tastes liked sweetened motor oil--but Mike and Steve had plenty of it all weekend. It must be the draw of the Irish...




Our last night was spent galavanting around town again with several high points in the evening:

1.) I found Bud Light!!! It was my first one in three months and, as you can see, I was beyond excited.



2.) Finding the most delicious Irish stew oddly served cafeteria-style at one of the coolest pubs around, O'Briens.



3.) Getting a giant helping of more cool live Irish fiddle music at the Oliver St. John Gogarty pub. It's a three-story house of fun!



4.) Mike getting into an impromptu jig contest with a Swedish guy at the pub. Hilarity ensued.



Sunday we got some hair of the dog at Hard Rock and enjoyed the beautiful sunny day on the patio before heading to the airport.



We had tons of fun and really got a feel for the local culture. It was also the first time we'd used Euros in the UK, supposedly Ireland is the only area in the UK that doesn't operate on the pound and it's also very expensive. Some drinks were €11! And after hearing both Scottish and Irish accents firsthand, we can now definitely tell the difference between the two. Now if only to decide where to go for St. Patty's Day...


Fiddles, jigs, fish and chip
Cobblestones, pubs and cheer
Memories made on a Dublin trip
Are best with Irish beer!


Remember, Remember...

Today, my favorite readers, you get a bit of a history lesson...

"Remember, remember, the fifth of November."

Sound familiar? You may have heard it before, it's a widely celebrated holiday here in the UK and we were introduced by way of an illustrous fireworks show in Aberdeen. As soon as dusk set (about 4pm), people were avidly setting off fireworks of their own--it looked like the town was spouting colorful electric sparks all night long. (As I write this now, there are still fireworks going off! Someone must not have used up their stash this weekend.) The City of Aberdeen hosted their own nighttime spectacular set to Doric music (local Scottish tunes) around 7:30, which we watched from a bridge over the River Dee.




The holiday also prompted us to look up a few details on the big night and why it's observed. Turns out, it's basically an event celebrating the close escape of a gunpowder plot to destroy the Houses of Parliament in London on November 5, 1605. The attack was planned by a group of Catholic conspirators, which included the most notable conspirator, the legenedary Guy Fawkes -- the holiday is sometimes referred to as "Guy Fawkes Night." It was a compulsory holiday in the UK (until 1859) marking the the deliverance of the King of Great Britain. In addition to fireworks, the Fifth of November was also celebrated by building bonfires and burning "guys" or "effigies" (aka dummies or mannequin-like figures) of Guy Fawkes.


Long ago, kids used to create their own effigies and sit with them on the sidewalks with signs reading "a penny for the guy" to collect coins from passersby for fireworks. But that particular custom has ended, partly because it was seen as begging and partly because children can't buy their own fireworks.


I also knew I'd heard the line "Remember, remember, the fifth of November" in a movie... some of you may have seen V for Vendetta with Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving. It was loosely based on the original 1980s comic book series of the same name set in a dreary UK society in the "future" of the '90s. According to Wikipedia, it's about "a mysterious anarchist who calls himself V, who works to destroy the totalitarian government, profoundly affecting the people he encounters. The series depicts a near-future Britain after a limited nuclear war, which has left much of the world destroyed. In this future, a fascist party called "Norsefire" has arisen as the ruling power. V, an anarchist revolutionary dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask, begins an elaborate, violent, and theatrical campaign to bring down the government. Warner Bros. released their film adaptation in 2005."



Here's one of the classic poems about the holiday:

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,

The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

I shall now switch topics from old history to new buildings... new centres to be exact! Friday night Mike and I made our way to the new Union Square centre. It's loaded with shopping and restaurants and a soon-to-open M&S store (Marks and Spencers, sorta like Macy's but also with a complete grocery store inside). Oh, and there's a new 10-screen Cineworld movie complex as well. I still am at a loss at to how they find so much room for some of these massive buildings, but appreciate it nonetheless. Just about all the same stores and restaurants are doubled just a few blocks away on Union Street, so I'm surprised at how close they are, but they seem to love the same ole stores everywhere -- M&S, Primark, Debenham's, Next, New Look and H&M.


There were a few stores not yet open and I'm really excited about those: The Limited and Hollister! UK peeps love love love Abercrombie. A lot of the guys Mike works with wear it religiously... it reminds me of the solid colored t-shirts you wore back in high school with the name "Abercrombie" stitched across the front. Here, it's so in style and they love it. Apparently a lot of folks do tons of shopping when they visit New York (cheapest flights from UK) and that must be where they load up on the look. I haven't seen anything even similar to an Abercrombie store until I saw the sign for the Hollister spot that'll open in Union Square.

Back to Friday night, we decided to try out Frankie & Benny's for dinner. It's just like the name sounds, a sort of Italian-American type place that seems like it was born in Chicago. (I didn't bother looking it up, so just a guess.) We had some ribs and BBQ chicken and jackets (baked potato) but I wasn't very impressed with the food. I was happy to find out they served Coors Light though and enjoyed some with dinner, a little slice of home! Afterwards we went next door to Chiquitos (Scotland's version of a Mexican food joint, the music sounds more like a wierd Mexican jazz) and enjoyed some Mexican beers. You don't get many of those here -- although some of the speciality stores carry them -- but Corona is almost always available anywhere. Another one of those funny things you wouldn't have guessed would be so popular here!





Saturday we went back for some more shopping and discovered that the nearby harbour doesn't lend a very nice aroma to the air. The dock for all the barges and freight ships is literally across the street and a rotten fish smell wafts through the air and easily into the shopping center. Gross!


Today we stocked up on groceries at Asda and browsed all the Christmas decorations, everything's out in full force! We bought a £3 tree, which will be the perfect height for our little flat and I plan to hang some of the Texas Christmas ornaments I brought on it. I also pulled out a few other things I had packed in our shipment and it'll be feeling like the holidays in no time. Too early for Christmas music? I think not!

Slain and the Rain

We survived Halloween! I can't believe we ever wondered if Aberdonians were big on celebrating the holiday -- the streets were packed with costumed partygoers! We barhopped to a couple of places and lasted until about 1:30am, by that point it was taking 15-20 minutes to get a drink and we were catching way too many elbows in the overcrowded joints.

My favorite was at the beginning of the night when we went to Slains Castle, another old church converted into a bar. I've mentioned it before, this one is completely decked out in a Medieval theme so it lent itself perfectly to Halloween! The women's bathroom is a bit of a mystery there, unless you know where it is. There's a wall of book shelves and the door to the bathroom is part of the wall. You really can't see it unless you know where to pull!


Saturday was literally the one and only day it did not rain. It picked right back up again on Sunday, pouring buckets all day and all night. Apparently there has been some really bad flooding in the area as a result, especially in nearby Stonehaven and Huntly. Burst river banks and too much water were to blame, as people were having to be rescued from their homes.


I did start my new job yesterday, Monday. I'm very excited about it! I'm working as the Sales and Marketing Coordinator for h-events, an Aberdeen-based event production and management company. They operate heavily in the sports arena, coordinating a number of events and things for major oil and gas companies. It's a great segue for me into a slightly different career, while still being able to use my skills as an editor. It's only been two days and I know I'll be learning a lot while I'm here, which will be the remainder of our stay in Scotland.  Hopefully there will also be opportunities to attend a few sporting events as well.

The best part of the job is that it's a 10 MINUTE WALK from our flat. It's the absolute wierdest feeling to leave our place and arrive so quickly on foot to my office. Crazy! I will be so spoiled when we move back to Houston, I won't know what to do with all the traffic again. But I must say that I definitely miss my Avalanche, it will feel like driving a monster truck when I finally get back in it. We are used to our tiny Micra now and whipping around little Ford Fiestas and Mini Coopers that fill the streets. I can't imagine what having a real backseat aaannd a truck bed will be like in 9 months!


I also attended an interview last week with the local city aquatic directors and it ended up being a good meeting, I'll likely be implementing a new synchronized swimming program in January! I'd love the chance to share synchro in Aberdeen, they've been wanting to do classes for awhile now but didn't have anyone to teach them. On that note, I need to say CONGRATS to my own team, PTX Masters, for winning silver in the 2009 US Masters Championships in Florida!!! Way to go girls!!!


Other than starting work, this week has been fairly quiet. There's going to be a big fireworks show Thursday night, the city puts one on every year. It's by the beach so we'll head over and check it out. There's also the first-ever Stonehaven Ale Festival on Friday, so we're tossing around the idea of hopping on the train since it's so close. Plus, Mike and I are both up for an afternoon of shopping and a nice dinner somewhere so we'll be relaxing and enjoy some downtime before heading to Dublin next Friday!!!
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