Dancing Kilts

As promised, I wanted to include a post about the Dinner Dance at the Ardoe House Hotel last night, what fun! Mike had thought about hiring (renting) a kilt but decided he'll wait to do that when we go to a Scottish wedding in July. So he went with a suit and tie, very dashing and handsome as always. It was fun to get dressed up and wear heels! I have not worn heels in about seven months, it's nearly impossible to get around on them in the winter with all the snow, and if it's not snow it's the walking required. Luckily all I had to worry about was getting a little snow in my shoes between our flat door to the taxi.


The Dinner Dance is an annual event hosted by the Woodgroup and the Ardoe House Hotel & Spa—a four-star Victorian 19th century mansion, inspired by the Balmoral Castle—was a beautiful choice of venue. It's hidden away in a densely wooded area of the countryside, not far from Aberdeen's city centre, with a stately curving driveway and tall rectangular windows golden-lit in the night. It looked more like a small castle, spires announcing its rich and storied past and tartan-patterened decor inside, a roaring fireplace and weathered wooden bars—giving away the slightest hint at its age.

THE ARDOE HOUSE HOTEL & SPA DURING THE SUMMER

The ballroom for the main event was very elegant, decked in dark purple linens and a Celtic-inspired theme that included centerpieces of rustic foliage and four pillar candles each, and even two Medieval suits of armor set by the stage. The band was great too, their first song was "Brown Eyed Girl" and later they busted out a little country with Shania Twain!! It was so cool to two-step after we had watched a bagpipe band perform some amazing music beforehand, kilts and all. Speaking of kilts, we spent a good bit of time sipping our wine and people watching on the dance floor. I can honestly say there's nothing more entertaining than watching a middle aged man in his full kilt get-up boogie dancing to the Black Eyed Peas.


I'd mentioned several times I was afraid haggis would play a large role in the dinner, but was relieved that the only appearance it made was in the form of fried haggis balls served alongside a variety of hors d'oeuvres during the opening reception. The main course included a steak (which actually was braised and closer to brisket but still very good) and a variety of vegetables, apparently also referred to as rumble thumps a la the menu provided on the table. Trust me, we were expecting something much different than carrots, squash and potatoes! 


The whole evening was a really good time and I'm glad we went, I was able to meet many of the people Mike's been working with and I spent some time hearing about a fellow exchangee who spent last year in Houston. He loved Texas! 12 days and counting till we land in the Lone Star State....

My Recipes: Hearty Meatloaf & Breakfast Bonanza

It's been pretty cold outside with lots of snow in the last days so I've been leaning towards cooking hearty dishes that are filling, warming and comforting. I hadn't had meatloaf in absolutely forever, and had never cooked one either, so I decided it was time to try. I dug up a fairly simple recipe online and made a couple of tweaks to it then whipped everything up and stuck it in the oven. I was able to use the leftovers for two more meals as well. Here's the ingredients list and a snapshot of the outcomes:

•2 pounds lean ground beef
•1 cup fresh soft bread crumbs
(***I didn't have bread crumbs on hand, so I buttered and seasoned two pieces of bread, toasted them well then finely chopped.)
•1/2 cup finely chopped onion
•1/3 cup milk
•1/3 cup ketchup
•2 eggs, well-beaten
•2 teaspoons salt
•1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
•1 teaspoon dried leaf oregano, crumbled
(***Didn't have oregano by itself, but I did have dried mixed herbs and used a liberal sprinkling of this.)
•Generous dash of Worcerstershire Sauce
 
Simply mix everything well in a large bowl then spoon into a well-greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 for one hour.
 
 
Served drizzled with ketchup alongside salad, baked beans and some German beer just for fun. :)
 

The next night, I made huge baked potatoes and topped them with crumbled leftover meatloaf, shredded cheese and barbeque sauce. Delicious!
 
This morning, after a late night last night, I wanted a hearty breakfast and decided on my all-time favorite: fried potatoes and scrambled eggs. I had a leftover baked potatoe and sliced it up then tossed it in the pan with about a tablespoon of EVOO, plenty of Lawry's Seasoning Salt and black pepper. I like the potatoes to get a little crisp so I fry them well. Then I mixed three egg whites with about 1/2 cup of crumbled leftover meatloaf, shredded cheese, cracked sea salt and pepper. I scrambled the mixture in the same pan as I'd used the potatoes and sprinkled some dry herbs into it at the end. Grab yourself a big ole bowl and pile in the potatoes topped with the scrambled eggs, then dig in!
 


"There is one thing more exasperating than a wife who can cook and won’t and that’s a wife who can’t cook and will."
~Robert Frost

Mom's Blogging!

I wanted to share my mom's brand new (and first ever!) blog with everyone, I helped her choose and install a design yesterday and it's such a cute site. My mom has kept a journal every year for as long as I can remember, and as a teen I used to love going back through them and reading about my childhood and looking at pictures or mementos she'd stapled to the pages.



Her blog, Linda's Life Journal, is a sort of continuation of her pen-to-paper method. I know that all my creative inclinations and love of reading and writing certainly comes from her! I think it's very admirable that she's mastered so many facets of technology, we keep in touch on a daily basis through Facebook and email and occasionally chat on Skype and she's been a devoted reader of my own blog since Day One! Thank God for moms, they sure make life wonderful, don't they?

Pimp, er, Print My Blog

I just discovered one of the niftiest little tools and had to share real quick. I'd been wondering how I'd keep the blog posts I've made about our life across the pond as keepsakes whenever we move back to the US. This answers it: Blog2Print.



It lets you select which posts you'd like to print, along with comments and pictures of your choosing, and turns it into a professionally printed book! You can even upload specific photos for the cover and add a dedication at the beginning. I think this tool is really handy for many in the blog community, so I wanted to share -- you can create memorable souvenirs about recipe posts, chronicling about kiddos, trips, interior design, fashion blogs and more. Let me know if you have found a similiar program or have used this one before since I have not yet tried it. And get blogging!

Creativity Strikes Again

Good news! I've received a bucketload of editorial assignments from a local wedding magazine and can't wait to get started. The hitch is that the deadline falls during our trip home to Texas, which means I'll need to get them wrapped up before we leave. The second hitch is that I've got more assignments coming in soon from other mags. The third hitch is that I'm running out of time as I write this! And the fourth is that I've still got my part-time job as marketing coordinator and I'll be putting in extra hours before our trip as well. But back to the good news, which is I'm going to be busy as a bee and doing something I love. :)

So you might not see too awful much of me on the blog for the next week or so. If we do anything exciting, I promise to make at least a quick post... like our dinner this Saturday with the husband's company. That should be interesting and hopefully I'll get some pics of guys in kilts.

But in the vein of all that's creative (and to give you something to read while I fire up my speedy writing streak), one of the adorable blogs I follow, Kevin and Amanda, posted this adorable interior design web site that's sure to inspire desire among any interior savvy folks. And if you're not so savvy like me, well, the pictures are just plain pretty to look at! You can click on the labels menu to the right and select color schemes, rooms and more and TA-DAH, an entire list of beautiful picture-perfect photos appear.




The icing on the cake? The Inspiration for Decoration blog author also has a new food blog with mouthwatering snapshots and temptational recipes. Enjoy!

Burns Supper

Today is Robert Burns Day! Read more about it in this post from a couple weeks ago. We'll be dining in his honor this weekend and I might be required to taste some haggis. Stay tuned!




Luxury Link Me!

I love vacation packages. It just takes all the guess work (and some of the work) out of vacation planning. Simple, easy and wonderful. That's what I like. The husband and I have booked just about every single one of our recent and upcoming UK and European trips through Expedia.com, which has been a wealth of information when it comes to cultural tips, customer reviews, pictures, maps, etc. It hasn't steered us wrong yet and the package rates for hotel and flight combinations are unmatched. But we've also been keeping up with luxurylink.com.



I highly recommend this web site if you're looking for a nicer vacation package or simply ideas on where to travel. The world is your backyard! Though we haven't yet booked a package on the site, we visit it regularly to read reviews, look at pictures and sift through all the handy info listed about various cities, areas and properties. We hope to book a package during our Italy trip, maybe this one....



Or this one...


If you're thinking about visiting Scotland, this site comes in handy: undiscoveredscotland.co.uk. It lists about every doggone town you could think of visiting, where to stay and what to do/eat there, as well as an exhaustive countrywide category search for distilleries, castles, restaurants and more.


BALVENIE CASTLE


 BENROMACH DISTILLERY

Traveling Europe and the UK can be overwhelming with a dash of tricky. We've narrowed down some of the most effective places to shop for flights and trains, which include thetrainline.com, ryanair.com, easyjet.com and flybmi.com. Rail tickets can easily add up but so can the flights. When we first got on Ryan Air's web site (whose flight service rates pretty low on my totem pole), we were thrilled to find flights for £17 one-way. But after we added the return flight, check-in fees, baggage fees and taxes, it was well over £100 per person. Not so cheap anymore. So the bottom line for you folks that are originating from home base in the US is to spend $$ not ££. Which brings us full circle back to Expedia, or even Priceline or any other travel service you prefer that can get you overseas for American money. I've also checked out cruise packages on Expedia just out of curiosity. They seem to be a great way to see several destinations but can easily get pretty expensive. And I don't have the best tolerance for boat rides, so I think we'll hold off on those for awhile. But I know several people that have thoroughly enjoyed recent cruises and seem to favor all-inclusive packages, so it's just all in how you slice it.

Another good idea is to carry your GPS. We've packed ours for every trip we've taken, whether a two-hour drive or a flight to Paris (we used the GPS to find our hotel once we got off the rail--life saver!). Even if we're not using a car, it helps you get your bearings for nearby attractions and transportation and you can even use it to look up food and entertainment venues when needed. Mike was able to borrow the UK/European GPS card from one of the former exchangees that lived here in Scotland and we've been so grateful. I'll try to post more of our travel tips as we go. Since we have so many place to visit this spring, I'm sure we'll start racking them up pretty quick.

Do you have any go-to travel web sites?

Ninja Cat

This weekend has been mostly quiet, hanging out at our flat and spending a couple hours at Steve's yesterday with some adult beverages. Mike and I have been catching up on our 24 episodes, we're nearly through season 4 and keep hearing that season 7 was one of the best yet. We've been hearing about the show, Dexter, and might have to check it out after 24. I have also watched both seasons of True Blood over the past few months and have to admit that I'm pretty hooked now and will likely tune in for season 3. But I don't think I'll be watching any other vampire series, modern day TV has gotten pretty vamped out as it is and there's more vampire movies in the making!

If you're living abroad like we are, it's helpful to have internet sites that stream all your favorite shows from back home. Friends and The Simpsons are really popular over here--we even watched The Simpsons in French while in Paris--but many Americans movies and shows either aren't available or don't make it over until much later. We use both of these sites regularly: tvduck.com and free-tv-video-online.info. The first one is best for television shows and the second one is great for movies. It makes it easy to catch up on your favorite series on your own time, and without commericals!

What are some of your favorite TV shows? Do you have any go-to websites for streaming TV or movies?

Mike and I caught an episode of Rude Tube on TV this weekend, it's like Scotland's version of America's Funniest Videos. I do love my kitties and I laughed so hard when I saw this video of the "Ninja Cat" since mine do this to me all the time!

Ninja cat approaches

Freddy Four Fingerz


MySpace Video

My Recipes: Texas Throwback

I love baked BBQ chicken, its full of taste and a great Texas kinda meal. I made it the other night for dinner along with red kidney beans mixed with hot sauce and jalapenos and Jiffy cornbread. (The cornbread was the last of our stash that my mom mailed from the U.S., just what we needed!) The BBQ chicken is sooo easy to make, I recommend it for a fast no-hassle dish when you need one. I place 2-4 chicken breasts on a baking sheet then cover liberally with my HEB Chicken Fajita seasoning--it's a favorite of mine and I brought several bottles with me to Scotland, but any fajita seasoning should do the trick. Coat with a thick layer of your favorite BBQ sauce, which keeps the chicken moist while it bakes and packs in the flavor. Stick the chicken in the oven at about 425 for 15-20 minutes. When you cut into it and there's no pink in the middle, it's done. Easy and delicious!



We've also been enjoying Bordeaux wines lately, not only does France have exceptionally good wine (we can confirm this after our trip to Paris!) but their Bordeauxs are just delicious. One of my favorite snacks/light meals these days is a good bottle of red and assorted crackers, cheese, meats and marinaded garlic cloves. Easy to share and tasty to eat!!


Shop Talk: Smart Buys

For any fellow trendsetters, shoppers and fashionistas that are reading, I recently joined this blog and have browsed through the first couple posts and think it's full of savvy fashion $ense. I haven't had time yet to really dig through the archives, but I'm always a fan of someone that takes care of the legwork and simply tells you where the good deals are!

Having become a bit more immersed in the blog world, it's crazy how many blogs actually exist out there. And it's even crazier what some people choose to blog about! The most common blog topic seems to be fashion, which makes sense, and if you check out my list of blogs I follow, you'll see a couple fashion-centric sites on there. I like them for all the pictures that the authors post, makes it easy to follow along and get inspiration for new styles.

But there are also tons of blogs on cooking, a favorite topic of mine! If you know of any good ones, share them in the comments section as I'm on the hunt for a fellow foodie. Then there's blogs on gardening, traveling, book reading, poetry and even people's pets. Like only about their pets. And some pet blogs are written in first person as if the PET is writing it. While I absolutely love my doggies and cats like they're my kiddos, you won't catch me writing their life stories. I suppose it's all in the eye of the beholder. No matter what your interests are, there's probably a blog out there just for you. Or hell, start your own!

What is your most favorite blog and why?

Time to Reminisce

So the husband and I just spent about three hours looking back through photos and videos--and I mean back. I think we got all the way to 2004! We have had some great times, that's for sure. And now we miss Texas even more. All those pictures with Bud Light, hot summer days, dogs running in the field, our trucks... well, you know my story by now. In honor of our damn good memories, here's some blasts from the not-too-distant past.


BBQ AT OUR HOUSE - 2008


CHICAGO - 2008


GOING TO DINNER IN KATY - 2008


GOING TO DINNER IN KATY - 2008



ONE YEAR ANNY IN VEGAS - 2007


COLLEGE STATION - 2007


OUT ON CLINT'S LAND - 2007


MIKE & SHINER - 2007



ENGAGEMENT PICS - 2006


SKI TRIP TO COLORADO - 2006


CRAWFISH BOIL IN HOUSTON - 2006



THE PROPOSAL!! - 2005



HALLOWEEN IN SAN MARCOS - 2005

Alright, that's all she wrote for this one. Funny to look back on the years and remember where all life's taken you, isn't it? I think sometimes we forget just how many wonderful days we've had versus bad ones. I am obsessed with picture-taking but it makes a pretty good photographic storyline of the path we travel. I could sit and look at photos all day long.... and I'm so grateful we've got the chance to take new ones in so many amazing places this year! Take a second and dig through your old snapshots, chances are I bet you find one that just absolutely makes you smile.

Shoop, Shoop, Shoop!

We made it to Braemar on Saturday, fighting severely flooded roads, only to find out that the road leading to the Glenshee Ski Centre was closed! The rain turned into sleet up on the mountain so flooding and blizzard-like conditions were keeping all the potential skiers at bay. We waited in the line of cars for about 40 min. and contemplated driving to a different ski centre,but eventually decided to hedge our bets and book a room at the local Fife Arms Hotel in hopes of better weather. It was £80 for our room, dinner and breakfast. What a good time that turned into! We checked out our room first, which had a charming view of the snow-capped moutains and quaint town homes. Since we hadn't brought many necessities or even a change of clothes, we bought a toothbrush and toothpaste at the nearby pharmacy and then settled in at the hotel bar for a nice refreshing beer. And yes, they had Coors Light... score!




I think it was only about 10 min. before we'd struck up a conversation with some folks at the table behind us and they invited us to join them. They'd also come down from Aberdeen to ski and ended up in the same situation as us: a last minute hotel room with no extra clothes and fingers crossed for ski-able weather on Sunday. In fact, the tiny town seemed to have an overnight population boom since most visitors had gone through so much effort to get there that they didn't want to give up just yet. (It's a good thing we didn't, Sunday turned out to be perfect with blue skies and sunshine and very little wind.) We spent the entire afternoon and early evening on Saturday with our new friends, ahem, at the bar, barely making it to dinner at the restaurant... which was like a million 20 feet away. We ended the night drinking Champagne in one of their hotel rooms before Mike and I had to finally turn in for the night.


I can't believe we made it out of the hotel by sunrise!

Miracle of miracles, we were all up and eating breakfast by 8am this morning and then headed to the ski centre. It was a beautiful drive through the mountains and Mike and I saw a herd of deer and stags with huuuuge racks on their head, so Scotland-typical! The ski conditions were as good as we could expect, a little icy at times but otherwise okay. We rented our gear with no problems and were on the slopes by about 11. It took a good novice run to get my ski legs back under me (like riding a bike, yeah?), but I was actually most worried about the dang lifts they used. They only had one chair lift (for two people, forget those six-person haulers they use in Colorado), and the rest of the "lifts" were small round pulleys you put between your legs. Then the pulley would take off and jerk you forward and you just had to hang on and hope for the best. It was absolutely exhausting riding those things, more so than skiing the damn mountain! They were hardest for the snowboarders since they were getting pulled up the mountain sideways and the pulley shook and jerked all the way. We saw more people wipe out because of the lifts than while actually skiing.


Our scenic drive to the ski centre.





We did all kinds of runs (green, blue and red), except black. The ice and uneven terrain was a little more hazardous once the fog rolled in, which made it a little hard to see. But Mike and I both did pretty well, he fell twice and I only fell once! And I'll be honest, I was skiing down a black like a pro standing completely still waiting in line for a lift. I just kinda lurched forward and caught enough momentum to smash into the super tall French guy in front of me. Pretty sure my head came up to his knee cap, but no damage done once I re-inflated my pride.



We had amazing views across the mountains, and with very little shrubbery and trees which felt odd.


On the way home we saw a gorgeous male grouse and tried to snap a few pictures but they kept coming out blurry. I only wish you could see its amazing color.

Back on the road, all the flooding had ebbed away and it was an easy drive home. We cranked up my iPod and listened to our favorite Texas Country songs while discussing where we want to eat dinner first when we arrive in Texas... either On The Border or Texas Roadhouse! It turned out to be a superb weekend and a great way to celebrate my incredible husband's birthday (Jan. 18)!!! Happy birthday, Mike, I love you!!!!!




Shop Talk: Winter's Best

Because everything's pretty quiet this week and I've bored you all enough with my constant reminders, lists and photos about our trip to Texas next month, I thought I'd break from the norm and do a more fashion-related post. No, no, no, I don't intend to start a fashion blog or anything like that, but I figured a little variety couldn't hurt. I'm not the most fashion-savvy person on the planet, mind you, but I do feel like I have my own style and I do like to keep a couple key things in my closet that are on trend.

I'd been wanting a white winter jacket but had held off on purchasing one because I didn't want to pay full price and I am also really picky when it comes to coats and winter wear. Lo and behold, don't ya know that you always find something when you're not really looking for it. I stumbled upon a rack with just a few of these white beauties left and on sale for £10!! I love the zipper cross-over and buckle detail on the wrists.




Shoe booties are all the rage these days and I'd thought about getting a pair for awhile now but didn't feel any urgency to find some. Again, I wasn't even looking when I decided to check out a store I'd never been into, Quiz, and saw a whole section of shoes on sale. The black booties were £14.99! The blue snake-skin heels are one of the few pairs of close-toed shoes I've found recently that I actually like and that are comfortable (see my recent post mentioning my dislike for close-toed pumps!). I paid £12 for those and £1 each for the earrings, bracelet and head band. Everything came from Primark except the pumps, which I suprisingly found at Asda/Walmart.



These skinny gray (yes, gray! I am branching out!) jeans were only £8 at Primark and I love them. I also have a pair in black. Add to the list my actual blue blue jeans and my favorite pair of Elle white jeans from Kohl's and I've got a good range of color. So proud of myself!



I steer clear of wearing major studded accessories or punk-looking tops with the skinny jeans 'cuz I don't really care for the emo/punk/rocker/grunge thing going on over here in the UK. I like the skinny jeans for their fashion-savvy look, leg slimming and lengthening effect and their ability to show off any fabulous heels I may be wearing, ha. Sadly that isn't too often at the moment, since we have to walk everywhere we are going--easily 1 to 2 miles--and it's rainy, snowy or freezing outside. I've been sporting flat-footed boots just about every day right now, but at least they are comfy!

Lastly, I found these cool sporty-looking ski goggles at the new sports store on Union Street, and they were marked down to £14.99! I got Mike a pair in black.



We were both in need of some pronto since we are headed to the slopes tomorrow! I also have a new winter/ski jacket last week, it's a really dark plum purple and comes with a detachable fleece on the inside, which keeps me super warm. It was originally £85 and marked down to £35, steal! I don't have any pics of that right now but I'm sure we'll get some while skiing tomorrow. But I seriously doubt we'll be skiing in kilts....


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