Thanksgiving expertise

Today is Thanksgiving and, once again, I have so much to be thankful for. Of course, it’s always a little awkward being overseas on the holiday, since it’s not only not celebrated here, but it’s also not understood. So when my good friend, a primary school teacher, invited me into her classroom to talk with a group of 30+ eight year olds on the topic, I didn’t hesitate to say yes!

And so, I did what most Americans do for Thanksgiving, and took the day off from work. (And I’m taking tomorrow off for graduation, too!)

When I got to the classroom, I was introduced to the children as Mrs Ryan, and was soon swarmed with children wanting to tell me that they’ve been to America or that they know people who’ve been to America. So it was easy to see that I would have a fairly interested audience.

Anyhow, the day was spent reading the children a book about the first Thanksgiving and explaining to them who the Pilgrims were. Then we talked about the feast and how similar it is to a Christmas dinner. And then we talked about the important part of the holiday: Being thankful.

Soon, the children were back at their desks busily writing down a few sentences about what they were most thankful for.

As I watched them write, I knew that I was thankful for being there. I was thankful that I was able to share one of my favourite holidays with a group of eager children.

Of course, later I was thankful for my sister-in-law, Liz, and brother-in-law, John, who had travelled up from England to celebrate my graduation tomorrow. And for our Thanksgiving feast? A nice Indian curry at one of my favourite places in Stirling.

Yes, I have much to be thankful for.

(Want my Thankful stories from past years? Here are links for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2010 again, and 2011!)

Patriotism abroad

Today is Independence Day in America. It is the day when the nation celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. As a proud American, this is one of my favourite holidays (tying with Thanksgiving). It is a day when we, as a nation, celebrate what it means to be American. We celebrate our independence from the United Kingdom, but mostly we celebrate our freedoms and our rights.

All across the land people hold parades and have barbeques. They set off fireworks and they gather to honour those who fought and died to ensure our independence—and those who continue to fight and die to ensure our freedoms remain intact.

This is my first time being outside of America for Independence Day. And it’s weird. It feels as if the day isn’t really happening, even though in my heart I know it is. To be honest, I was a little sad that the day was passing without acknowledgement (well, I did get two text messages wishing me a happy day). But then Rebecca showed up for a quick visit on her way home from work—with an American flag and a pack of flag napkins. So, I did spend a bit of time being a flag-waving American.

Yes, I am a patriotic American. Despite choosing to be an expat. Despite loving Scotland and wanting to live here for the foreseeable future. Despite my occasional disagreement with the way my home country is run. I am an American and I am proud of it.

And now, as promised as part of Dissertation Month, here’s a wee update:

Current word count: 2,843 (only 9,157 to go!)

That’s right, no increase in the word count. It was a busy day with reading though, and I managed to create my library list for tomorrow, too! (And I managed a 4.67 mile run. Yay!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Go to the library for more books
  • Expand literature review section
  • Make an appointment for a hair cut

Memory sparks

Triboluminescence is awesome! It used to entertain me as a child and it still entertains me as an adult. Or, to translate into Plain English: It’s awesome when you crunch on a Wint-O-Green Life Savers and it makes sparks!

That sounds like a random statement, doesn’t it? So let me back up so that you know how I got here.

Several weeks ago I bought a pack of minty Polos from a vending machine. As I popped the first one into my mouth, I was instantly reminded of how we used to enjoy WoG Life Savers as children because of the sparks.

So I posted my random memory on Facebook and enjoyed the back-and-forth comments from friends who 1) always thought it was an urban myth; 2) recalled with joy making sparks of their own; or 3) asked what Life Savers were (they’re America’s answer to Polos).

And then Mom offered to send me some.

And they arrived with an Easter parcel a few weeks ago.

And tonight, I finally broke the bag open.

And I went into the bathroom and closed the door (with the lights off).

And I chomped on a Life Savers.

And I smiled. A lot.

Now the challenge will be to not eat them all so that I can share them with my friends who never had the joy of making Life Saver sparks as children. But I bet they’ll enjoy making them as grownups!

How about you? Do you remember making Life Savers sparks when you were a kid?

Random thoughts: Top 50 no-gos

Random thoughts—Week 1: List 50 things I’ll never do.

  1. Climb Mount Everest
  2. Compete in a sport professionally
  3. Give birth (sadly…)
  4. Celebrate 50 years of marriage
  5. Eat monkey brains (but in general I’m up for trying new/different foods)
  6. Become a nun (but I wanted to at one point in my life)
  7. Go deep-water diving
  8. Have cosmetic surgery (unless, of course, I’m in some horrific accident and need to be repaired)
  9. Buy an iPhone or iPad
  10. Commit suicide (Don’t worry! It’s never been an option or thought!)
  11. Buy a brand new car
  12. Participate in an ultramarathon
  13. Have lasik surgery
  14. Drink tequila shots out of someone’s navel
  15. Be a space tourist
  16. Pierce my nose
  17. Sail the Seven Seas
  18. Join a nudist colony
  19. Ride a barrel over Niagara Falls
  20. Drive drunk
  21. Juggle knives
  22. Watch Battlestar Galactica by choice
  23. Drink Gin and Tonics
  24. Go on a shooting safari
  25. Run with the bulls
  26. Follow the ‘5 Second Rule’ outside of my own home
  27. Back down on a running disagreement regarding my pro-Oxford comma stance
  28. Have a pet monkey
  29. Play golf in a lightning storm
  30. Abandon my faith
  31. Ridicule someone for their faith (or non-belief)
  32. Declare the certain non-existence of extraterrestrial life or Bigfoot
  33. Participate in past-life regression
  34. Cheat on my taxes
  35. Wear an ‘I’m with stupid’ t-shirt
  36. Give up carbs
  37. Become a vegan
  38. Quit Facebook
  39. Cook (or eat) liver
  40. Not vote in an election I’m allowed to vote in
  41. Be ashamed of my nationality
  42. Rob a bank
  43. Drive a train
  44. Drive blindfolded
  45. Turn by back on my family
  46. Wish and hope for bad things to happen to other people
  47. Deny my small-town, redneck roots
  48. Pretend to be dumb
  49. Betray my friends
  50. Be normal (bore-ing!)

OK, wow! That was really hard. And I admit, I’ve really done some reaching on these. Further, I admit that I didn’t put loads of things up that I thought I might ‘be forced to do’ at some point in my life. That said, I can’t be 100% certain that the future won’t bring some strange reality that sees me being forced to rob a bank, drive a train, and betray my friends. But I imagine that if my life got to that point, we’d be facing some apocalyptic disaster or that my friends would be staging a massive intervention!

(Here’s hoping my next random topic is easier!)

Got milk?

If you’re American, you may not realise that milk is a very important part of British culture. From the 1946 School Milk Act (an addendum to the Education Act 1944) to Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher and from breast milk ice cream to the order in which one adds tea and milk to a mug, milk seems to be more than just another beverage.

Which is what this post is about: Tea. Or rather, milky tea.

In the states, coffee tends to be the hot beverage of choice. And not that instant stuff, either. Tea drinkers are a minority group. And then, they’re more likely to want honey and lemon than milk. Oh, and if people do want to lighten/whiten up their coffee or tea, they’re more likely to use half-and-half, not milk. (And then there’s the non-dairy creamer group, but this isn’t about what Americans do, so we’ll just ‘skim’ over that. Skim. Get it? No? Oh, well. Never mind …)

In the UK, however, tea is the winning beverage. It’s very much a part of the culture (more so, I think, that coffee is part of American culture) and it seems that more people use milk here than don’t. I don’t; I drink my coffee strong and black with no sugar and I drink my tea medium and black with no sugar.

And here’s the problem: Since I don’t use milk (with the rare exception of baking or a splurge purchase of sugary breakfast cereal) I never have the stuff in my fridge. Which is OK until someone comes into my home. You see, as part of the UK’s tea obsession, it is customary to offer guests in your home a cuppa. And I’m pretty good at doing that. But the moment I say ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ I find myself remembering that I can’t offer them milk for that tea.

The first time it happened, I was lucky because the friend in question (whilst a bit confused as to my lack of milk) was happy to have Earl Grey tea instead—which apparently doesn’t require milk as vocally as black tea does. The next time it happened, I was lucky enough to have the smallest little drip of milk left over from something I baked the day before. And when everyone came over for Thanksgiving, I made certain that I had milk on hand. Of course, I was then a bit cheeky and let my guests add their own milk and sugar so that I didn’t over (or under) do it.

Which brings me to today. I’ve been having a bit of trouble with the hot water in my flat, so a workman came around to fix it. Now, I don’t know if you’re meant to offer workmen tea, but it seemed rude not to, so I did—since I was making myself a cup of coffee anyhow. And the moment I asked I regretted it because then I had to follow that up with ‘Oh, but I don’t have any milk.’

And my no milk meant that he changed his order to a cup of coffee instead—black; two sugars. I didn’t think it was fair to keep him waiting whilst I made a cafetier of coffee, so I grabbed the instant stuff (that’s not an insult here as it is in America) and fixed a cup for him. With no milk.

I wonder if it’s socially acceptable to offer guests shelf-stable milk for their tea?

So, tell me how you take your tea or coffee. Or better still, tell me what your views are in regards to serving tea or coffee to company!

Making do

Tomorrow, I will be hosting Thanksgiving for the first time since Paul died*. It won’t be as big of a crowd as our last Thanksgiving together, but I find myself just as nervous about the preparations.

In fact, it’s even worse this time around because I’m finding it hard to not think about my last Thanksgiving with Paul. But also because this time around I’m not in a huge house with a massive collection of cooking implements and serving dishes! Oh, and I’m not in America so it’s been a bit difficult to get all of the stuff I need for a traditional American Thanksgiving.

But I’m making do with what I have—and with what I can borrow.

For example, I am borrowing a CrockPot from Rebecca for the stuffing. But since I don’t have a large enough mixing bowl for it, I’m using my new (never used so not cross-contaminated) dish washing basin to mix it all in. (After which the basin will be used as a basin.) I’m also borrowing extra dishes and cutlery, since it seems silly to buy more stuff for a one-off meal.

And since I’m on a budget and I don’t really know how long I’ll be here past this first year, I’ve opted to not buy an expensive rolling pin. Instead, I’ve re-purposed an empty (but clean) wine bottle to roll the pastry for my pumpkin pie. (It seemed to work just fine.) And since I couldn’t find a proper pie pan, I’m using a cake tin for it.

And since they don’t seem to get Washington State wines here, I’ve found an Australian Rosé to serve with the turkey.

Oh, and if any of my guests want a Martini tomorrow, I’ve got a mustard jar (a home warming gift from one of Rebecca’s co-workers) to use a cocktail shaker.

Yes, there are a lot of things I have to make do with right now. But what I don’t need to make do with is friends. No, I have proper ones of those, no making do necessary! And some of them will even be here tomorrow to see just how much food you can prepare when you just have to make do.

*I was in England visiting family and friends the first year after he died, and last year, if you remember, was a bit of an interesting turn of events!

Countdown

As I write this post, people are counting down to Christmas. Really. I mean, it’s not even Thanksgiving and they’re already counting down to Christmas. And I have to say, it makes me a little sad.

I remember when I was a kid and the month of October was dedicated to Halloween. Then in November, we went full-on Thanksgiving. And then—the day after Thanksgiving—it would be time to think about Christmas. Back then (in my memories, at least) we didn’t get Christmas shoved down our throats in the lead-up to Halloween. Maybe—maybe—some places would start in on Christmas before Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t a given.

But now it seems that the Christmas season starts in October, and that just seems crazy to me.

Here’s what I would like to propose: At the start of October, you can start getting (publically) excited about Halloween. You can start decorating a week (maybe two weeks) before Halloween. Then, after you’ve cleared away your Halloween decorations, you can start to get ready for Thanksgiving. And then, after Thanksgiving is over, Christmas preparations can begin.

Now, I understand that people who need to travel great distances need to make plans and arrangements for the next holiday before the current one is over, and that’s OK. And it’s OK to do menu planning and even extend invitations early, if needed. But let’s keep it at that, shall we?

I just feel like we’re so busy thinking about the next big thing that we’re forgetting to take time to enjoy the current big thing.

So, I will not be planning for Christmas until after Thanksgiving is done—which for me is Saturday this year, since it’s not a Scottish holiday so I’ve had to plan dinner around the weekend so that my friends could attend. But come Sunday, I will be in full-on Christmas mode. Well, not too full-on since that is Paul’s birthday and he (not growing up with Thanksgiving) always felt that Christmas needed to wait until after his birthday.

And that means that I am counting down until Thanksgiving right now—not Christmas. After all, Thanksgiving in my favourite holiday of the year. It’s a time for people to reflect on the things they are thankful for in this world—family, friends, good health, and a plentiful harvest.

This year, I will celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday with a small group of Scottish friends. It may not be a holiday of much meaning to them, and they may not be counting down with the same excitement as I am, but I’m so very thankful to have people to share my favourite holiday with. And hopefully, they’ll learn to like my favourite holiday, too. After all, who doesn’t enjoy an opportunity to be thankful?

And if you’re counting—it’s only three more sleeps until [my] Thanksgiving dinner!

The race is on

If you aren’t already aware of it, tomorrow is Election Day in America. And as we all know (or should know!) one of the most vital parts in a democratic society is to go out and vote.

For me, voting is now done by email. So when I received my ballot from the Kittitas County Auditor’s Office a few weeks ago, I happily printed it out, filled it in, scanned it as a PDF, then emailed it back. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Of course, this election will likely have an appallingly small voter turnout. (Heck, even the presidential elections do, in my mind.) This is ‘just’ a local election. My ballot had the mayoral election (one candidate running for re-election, unopposed) and several county-level races (again, mostly people running unopposed) as well as a handful of state initiates. And you may think those things aren’t important, but I think that local and state elections are by far the most important elections you can participate in.

But this election also signals the start of the Big Race. Yes, folks, this time next year we will be voting in the Presidential Election. In fact, we’re already hearing the rumblings of primary races—rumblings that will get louder as we head into the primaries.

As an independent voter, I get pretty excited about elections because they signal an opportunity for change. Mostly, I get excited about the opportunity for the creation of a strong third party in the American political system. But as a citizen of the great United States of America I just get excited about the opportunity to vote.

I’ve made it a point to not get overly political or issue-based here, and I will try to stick to that, but I’ll make no apologies if I do get a bit overly excited about the Big Race coming up.

And if you’re in America—remember to get out and VOTE tomorrow.

Which way?

In America it seems to be fairly straight forward: We move right. In the UK (and potentially the rest of the world?) people seem to move all over the place.

So, here’s the deal as I see it: In America, we drive on the right side of the road. If we’re cycling on the road, we ride in the direction of traffic. If we’re walking or running on the side of the road, we do so opposite of the direction of traffic for visibility purposes. When we’re on a sidewalk (UK translation: pavement) we tend to walk on the right, as we do in corridors and when using stairs or escalators (UK translation: elevators).

As with cars, people will generally pass on the left and we yield to others depending on the situation. It’s really quite civilised and is common no matter where you travel—though in larger metropolitan areas with big crowds, it can get a bit messy.

In the UK, drivers travel on the left. And everyone else just moves every which way. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern at all.

I first realised this ten years ago when I moved to Edinburgh. I was having the hardest time walking along Princes Street and climbing stairs without bumping into people. At first, I was embarrassed because I realised that I’d been moving along the right side of the pavement and stair cases, so of course I’d be running into people because, obviously, people should be walking on the left, just as motorist drive. Right? (Wrong!)

I tried keeping to the left and realised that I was getting bumped into just as much there as I’d been on the right. So I started to observe a bit more to see what sort of cultural clues I could find. But ten years later and I’ve still not found the clues!

What I have learned, however, is that it’s every walker for themselves in the UK. People scatter like ants and giving way is not always automatic. Yes, there is a level of decency and politeness to it all, but it seems (to this outsider’s mind) to be very disorganised and haphazard.

So, how do you do it? How to you navigate the sidewalks and corridors in a nation where there doesn’t seem to be a right-of-way? If you know, please feel free to share your wisdom. Otherwise, maybe I’ll figure it out one of these days. In which case, I’ll come back and share my wisdom with you.

[The photo was originally uploaded to an album on RyanCentric. It was taken at the hotel Paul and I stayed at during the holiday where he proposed. We didn’t agree with what the carving was: He thought it was a random carving, I thought (and maintain to this day) that it’s an abstract arrow. You know, in case you wondered where it came from.]

Times, they are a-changin’

Ah, yes. It’s that magical time of year when the clocks fall back an hour as you sleep. I always liked clock-changing times as a child, though I don’t really know why. Of course, as an adult it’s been a bit of a pain because it means remembering to run all over the house (and cars changing various clocks.

But this year is different. This year I don’t own any clocks (yet) and my computers and mobile phone are all super smart and have managed to update themselves without any assistance from me. And when I first moved into my flat on Monday the clock on the boiler (that’s like a furnace in American speak) was off by 20 minutes so I had to re-set it—and I set it to the soon-to-be correct time so that I didn’t need to remember it today.

Yep. I’ve had a super easy time this go around.

And do you want to know the best part? Of course you do! Well, the best part is that whilst the UK changes times today, the USA doesn’t change until next weekend. And that means that—for the next week—I am an hour closer to my family. (Aw, isn’t that sweet!)

So—Hello family! We’re only seven hours apart at the moment. Yay!!

Trick of the treats

Oh, what a sweet day it is! I arrived home to see that the postman brought me a parcel all the way from America. Oh yes—a parcel filled with yummy candies from the homeland.

Inside the parcel was a selection of some of my favourite American candies—and a sampling of candies I requested for Rebecca, after having a conversation last month about them. (I mean, if my Scottish friends are so kind as to introduce me to their cultural yummies, it’s only fair that I introduce them to mine. Right?)

So, here’s what my wonderful Mommy and Daddy sent me (all the miniature trick-or-treat versions):

These are all great candies that I can’t (seemingly) get in the UK. The 3 Musketeers and Butterfinger bars are great because those have always been my go-to choice for candy bars. The Milk Duds and Whoppers are my ‘nice to have at the movies with a big container of popcorn’ treats. The Smarties and Jolly Ranchers fall into my love of chalky sweets and sucky hard candies. And the Hot Tamales and Mike and Ikes* (whilst also on my go-to list of sweets to buy) are ones that I’m excited to share with Rebecca.

Of course, I did have to laugh since there were no Candy Corns in the parcel. No, Mom forgot to put them in. Or is it that they got eaten before she made a trip to the post office … ? Either way, I’m very thankful to my awesome parents for sending me candy.

Now the trick is going to be not eating the treats until Halloween.

(And if you’re looking for a way to get rid of your leftover Halloween candy, give me a shout and I’ll send you my address… she says only half jokingly…)

* It seems that you can, in fact, get Mike and Ike Tropical flavour here, just not the originals, and since Rebecca likes the tropical ones, I thought she should try the others. And, if you don’t already know, Hot Tamales are actually a secondary product. They are made by re-melting all of the ill-formed Mike and Ikes then they add loads of cinnamon flavour to mask the mis-match of flavours from all of the other candies. Really.

Now about that marathon…

You’d be forgiven for forgetting that I’m meant to be training for a marathon, since I’ve not really brought up the subject recently, but I really am still planning to participate (and complete) the Loch Ness Marathon in Scotland on October 2. And now that I’m an unemployed bum living at my mommy and daddy’s, I’m actually getting some training in!

On Monday I did a four-mile run and today I enjoyed an early(ish) morning six-mile run. Then, when I’m at the ocean for a family reunion this weekend, I will do a 10-mile route—though it’s yet to be mapped out. In addition, I’ve been busy with a million other activities such as packing, lifting, and moving; bike riding; and golf. (In fact, I’m playing 18 holes on Friday at the reunion!)

I’ve also picked out my pre-move last American 10K (Aug 7 in Lacey, Washington, if you want to join me) and have registered for my first-ever Scottish race: A gentle 10K in my future home of Stirling.

Oh! And my marathon registration pack has arrived at my friend’s flat, so I guess I’m really doing this thing!

Boom! Bang!

Today is the 235th birthday of my beloved America. I always get a bit weepy on Independence Day because my patriotism always gets the better of me. Of course, today I realised that next year I won’t be in America for the big celebration, and whilst I’m happy that I’ll be in my adopted home of Scotland, I’m a bit sad knowing I won’t be here to celebrate my heritage. But don’t worry—I will always be proud to be an American!

But on to the rest of the story…

I decided to kidnap my 12-year-old nephew, Haden, for a few days. I figured that since I still had a couple of days left on my four-day weekend and since my folks would be arriving on Wednesday to help with packing, it would be nice to have the company and the extra set of hands.

Of course, once we got to my house I realised that I wasn’t prepared—I mean, there were no fireworks at the house! At first I wasn’t worried about it because I knew that we could watch the other fireworks going off, but I quickly noticed that Haden was looking a bit sad. So I went across to the neighbours’ to see if they had things to blow up. And it turns out that they had loads and loads and loads of firecrackers on hand.

When I returned to tell Haden that I had a plan, his face lit up! Once we arrived on the neighbours’ deck, his face lit up even more—I don’t know if he’s ever seen so many firecrackers in his life! So, with the supervision of four adults, Haden spent the evening throwing firecrackers off the deck whilst we all watched the most amazing small-town firework display I’ve ever seen!

I’m sad to know that I’ll never see another firework show on the Palouse, but I’m pleased that I had such a fun-filled 4th of July with my wonderful neighbours. I just wish Paul could have been here with us.

Tomorrow Haden and I will go for a three-mile run before dying our hair green. Then we’ll be busy packing. Haden knows I’ll spend a bit of time crying but I think he’s OK with that. In a way, I think that Haden’s sad, too. He knows that this is [likely] his last trip to the Palouse and he knows that I’m leaving soon—and I think he’ll miss me, just as I’ll miss him.

But at least he’ll remember that his second (and hopefully not last) 4th of July at Aunt Frances’ was a banging good time!

Happy birthday, America!

[That’s a photo of Haden throwing a firecracker, if you wondered.]

The last long weekend

I’m in the homeland enjoying a four-day weekend before the start of my final (three-day) work week. And as it happens to be Pioneer Days Weekend (in celebration of Independence Day) there is lots going on!

Yesterday was an annual barbeque at my eldest sister, Veronica’s, house—made so much better because it was the day after my 15-year-old niece, Krystyne’s, last radiation treatment! I can’t tell you how happy I am that my favourite Bug is cancer-free!

Then today I ran the Runner Stumbles 10K with my 12-year-old nephew, Haden, whilst my sister, Celeste, and 14-year-old niece, Flik, did the 5K. It was a bit of a hard race for me since I’d not run at all (bad girl!) since the half-marathon distance I did just over a month ago, coupled with the fact that I’m not long out of a two-week battle with an upper respiratory infection—which meant I did a lot of coughing on the route!!

But still, Haden and I managed to run the entire race. And whilst I was disappointed with my slower-than-desired time, I was so proud of Haden for coming in first in his age group (under 14). He’s a bit bummed that he was the only person in his group, but I reminded him that whilst loads of kids his age did the 5K route, he was the only one who had the courage and determination to do the 10K. And he ran the whole thing. A feat to be proud of for sure!

[See more of my races here.]

Then this evening, I grabbed Flik and Haden to head out to the old South Cle Elum train depot where my 16-year-old nephew, Nick, was playing with his band, The Blast-Ended Skrewts. The band has been together for about eight years and really do rock! (The YouTube video below should serve as proof to that statement!)

I’ll head home tomorrow and will hopefully find some nice local fireworks to watch. Then on Tuesday I will head out of a quick training run on the last day of my four-day weekend. A day that I’m also realising will be my last day off work—since you can’t count it as a day off work when you’re unemployed. Which I will be as of 5:01 p.m. on Friday, July 8.

Wow! I’m beat just thinking about all the activity of the weekend and coming week!

For love of country

This weekend, families around America will gather for barbeques and picnics. Campgrounds and parks will be filled to capacity. Parties will be held; laughter will be had. Yes, Memorial Day Weekend has become synonymous with the start of the summer season!

But let’s take some time to remember why we won’t be at the office on Monday. Let’s remember why the schools and banks and post offices will be closed. Let’s remember why the flags will fly at half-mast and why cemeteries will be blanketed with mums.

It’s not because of the barbeques or the picnics or the camping and hiking and dancing and laughing.

It’s because of all of the men and women who fought and died to keep our nation safe and free. It’s because of the men and women who fought and died to ensure our rights—and the rights of all of those residing in the great United States of America.

They fought and died so that we could safely and freely barbeque and picnic and camp and hike and dance and laugh. So please, enjoy the weekend. Please enjoy your family. Please enjoy your freedoms.

And please, take a moment to remember all of those brave men and women who made those freedoms possible.

For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.
~ James Abram Garfield

[Photo is close-up of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Olympia, Washington. Photo credits to the amazing Missy Humphreys. Missy’s husband, an Englishman by birth and an American by choice, is currently serving in the United States Army. Thank you, Missy, for the photo. And thank you Neil, for serving and protecting our great nation!]

Expat food woes

I think that one of the worst things about the life of an expat or repat is dealing with food let-downs. Or is that just me?

You see, when I first moved to Scotland (expat) I really missed certain American foods: Root beer; [proper] hotdogs and corndogs; saltines; Butterfingers; and others. But then I returned to America (repat), leaving behind all of my new-found foods: [Proper] fish-n-chips; curry take-aways; Love Hearts; and various ‘biscuits’ [sweet and savoury].

Anyhow, I’m super-happy about my return to expat life where I will no longer miss my lovely British (and Indian) foods. But I’m starting to realise that I’m going to miss my American foods again. And the more I think about it, the more the list grows! So far I have:

  • Hotdogs and hamburgers
  • Corndogs
  • Root beer
  • Chicken strips
  • Ranch dressing
  • Butterfingers
  • Three Musketeers
  • Root beer (it deserves a second mention)
  • Ranch dressing (it also deserves a second mention)
  • Saltines
  • [Americanised] Mexican food
  • General Tso’s Chicken
  • Pioneer Coffee
  • Jelly beans
  • [Double Stuff] Oreos
  • Basic black olives (the kind for tacos and nachos)
  • Taco Bell and Taco Time (I know these are restaurants, but I will miss them!)
  • Rye bread
  • 1000 Island dressing
  • Many, many more!

Oh! Then there’s the ‘you can find them but they need to be tracked down at specialty import stores’ list.

But you know what? I am willing to make these sacrifices. After all, Scotland is home to deep-fried pizza and Mars bars. So I’ll just console myself with those. [Note to self: Get gym membership!]

For the record

I picked up my medical records today so that I can give a copy of my medical history to my new GP when I arrive in Scotland. I’m a little nervous about passing them off, however, and have decided that I will scan them all before I leave so that they’re not lost in the system.

Now, I have to say this next part carefully, because one of Paul’s old school friends* works for the Scottish health system and knows something or other about how medical records are transferred and blah, blah, blah. We once had a broad conversation on the topic and I don’t think we agreed with each other’s views. Mostly because I was right and he wasn’t. [Enter cheeky grin here.]

But it must be said: I don’t have full faith the UK’s medical records system.

Mind you, it’s not because I don’t trust the system, but rather it’s because the system is too big and I have no control of my records once they are handed over. (Much like the military hospitals here, I imagine.) Once I hand over my records, they ‘belong to’ the government-run system. I don’t know if I have a problem with this because I have a healthy habit of questioning my government’s actions, or if it’s because I’m an American and my government has no right to own (or to know about) my medical history.

But you see, in Scotland (and the whole of the UK) health care is socialised** and I don’t get to pick-and-chose who my doctors are (unless I pay for private care). It also means that if I move three miles away, I may need to register with a new GP and my medical records will be automatically transferred. The good part of that is that I don’t need to do anything for that to happen. The bad part is that if I feel there are errors in my records, the new GP will have that (potentially) incorrect information. It also means that, when seeking second opinions, medical care providers will have access to records which could inhibit their ability to give a non-biased opinion.

So I don’t know; there’s just something wrong (in my opinion) about my medical records being part of the government’s database and therefore subject to the National Archive’s Data Protection Act. But, I want to move to Scotland and I may will need a doctor when I get there. So I guess that I need to play by their rules. And thankfully, Scotland is one of those counties where I’ll not be executed for having an opinion contrary to that of the government’s.

I wonder if other expats have these concerns, or if it’s just another case of me being a little off-kilter.

Anyhow, I guess that’s one more thing I can check off my to-do list. Sadly, I think I’ve added about a dozen things to that same list in the last week…

(And for those counting, there are only 104 days remaining until I’m an unemployed bum–and only 71 of those days are actually working days. Yay me!)

[Disclaimer: I realise that I do not have a full understanding of the health system in the UK and that my statements and opinions may be grossly unfair. I also realise that there are great differences between UK and US medical systems on many levels and that each have their pros and cons. This post is in no way meant as a political or social commentary on those systems, but rather a commentary on my own personal feelings and insecurities (rightly or wrongly) about handing off my medical history to a system that gives me less control and access to that information moving forward than what I am accustomed to currently.***]

* I say Paul’s friend, but in fairness he is also my friend. Though I bet sometimes he wishes that weren’t the case!
** Apologies again to UK family and friends; the term socialised health care is just what we use state-side to describe government-supplied care and in no way means I think you’re all socialists.
*** Gaining a full copy of my records was as easy as signing my name to a very easy-to-understand form then waiting two days for them to be ready. No fees, no additional red tape, no hassles.

National Grammar Day

It’s National Grammar Day here in the fantastic United States of America. Are you as excited about that as I am? No? Well, I suppose I didn’t expect you to be. But I am super-duper excited!

I thought long and hard about what to write about for this celebratory day but I couldn’t find the right angle. So instead, I’ll just share some random thoughts.

To start with, you’ve maybe noticed that Just Frances is not written in my best ‘grammar-ific’ style. I try to keep it all very conversational here—and that means run-on sentences as well as incomplete ones. It also means that I start sentences with conjunctions and end them with prepositions. And I don’t care!

My decision to write in such an informal manner came as I thought about my audience. Not that I think my audience can’t handle full-on formal writing, but because my audience is family and friends so ‘casual conversation’ just seemed more fitting. Plus that, I’ve been accused of being a language and grammar snob for quite some time, so I thought I’d leave that to my professional life and my linguist forums and blogs where people love my wordsnobbery.

Of course, the awesome thing about being oh-so-casual-and-conversational here is that I can say things like ‘wordsnobbery’. Which is cool. (See, I did more of that casual stuff by starting a sentence with which. This is fun!)

[A note about my professional life for those who care: I am a communications professional and get paid to write and edit. Yes, believe it or not, I really do! I love my job and I love linguistics in general. But this, as I said, is my personal blog so I’m keepin’ it casual. Yay!]

Blah, blah, blah… Let’s move on now.

For a while, I thought about writing about the differences between American and British English. But then I realized that no one who reads my blog probably cares about the differences. So then I thought that, at the very least, I should point out that I’ve decided to work toward[s] incorporating more and more British English into Just Frances—in the form of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well as idioms and word usage. Of course, this just means that I probably seem quite illiterate to some folks. And that’s OK. (My decision to do that is so that I can brush up on the language before I move back over this summer.)

Oh! And I guess that I should devote a paragraph to my mantra about English being a living language. The basic idea is that the rules for grammar, spelling, and punctuation that we use now are not what we used 100 years ago and aren’t what we’ll use in another 100 years. Our language has evolved—and will continue to evolve—forever.

At best, our language is a theory. However, there are certainly rules and best practices in place that should be adhered to. But you can fudge that, too. I mean, I don’t follow all of the rules here and that’s OK. But I wouldn’t dare write like this at work or for any official business. There’s a time and a place to break the rules, after all. So, txt spk on the net all u wnt. However, please refrain from the use of non-standard English when preparing your monthly reports for your manager.

And now, I’m sure you have a stack of sentences you want to diagram and infinitives you want to split, so I’ll leave you with a couple of quick thoughts:

The old rule ‘I before E except after C’ is a lie. There are too many exceptions for it to be a rule. So please stop teaching it to your children.

It is acceptable to use an Oxford comma (also called a serial comma). You just need to use it consistently and in accordance to the style guide approved by your industry or organisation.

And finally, check out some fun language books such as:

Happy National Grammar Day to you!

A dialect vlog

I’ve decided to take part in the ‘Dialect Vlog’* craze so today you get to see me on camera. Yay!

Here’s how it works: I have a list of words to read and a list of questions to answer. The idea is that someone studying linguistics can map the differences in dialect from one region to the next. I’ve included the words and questions under the video for you to follow along—or for you to use in creating your own Dialect Vlog.

[I’ll spare you my ramble about the differences between languages, dialects, and accents—but please know there are differences between the terms.]

Here is a Dialect Vlog from a woman who grew up in the Pacific Northwest! For those linguists in the house who may wonder what the deal is with my dialect/accent, it should be noted that whilst I grew up in a rural community in Central Washington, I suffered through a couple years’ of speech therapy as a child, lived in Scotland for a spell as an adult, married an Englishman, and have a daily influence of British English through my addiction to EastEnders and regular conversations with family and friends in the UK. So, I offer my apologies for skewing the results!

Aunt, Route, Wash, Oil, Theatre, Iron, Salmon, Caramel, Fire, Water, Sure, Data, Ruin, Crayon, Toilet, New Orleans, Pecan, Both, Again, Probably, Spitting image, Alabama, Lawyer, Coupon, Mayonnaise, Syrup, Pyjamas, Caught

  • What is it called when you throw toilet paper on a house?
  • What is the bug that when you touch it, it curls into a ball?
  • What is the bubbly carbonated drink called? soda
  • What do you call gym shoes?
  • What do you say to address a group of people?
  • What do you call the kind of spider that has an oval-shaped body and extremely long legs?
  • What do you call your grandparents?
  • What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?
  • What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining?
  • What is the thing you change the TV channel with?

If you decide to take part and post your own dialect vlog, please let me know so that I can check out your video!

* I don’t know who started the concept or created the questions and word list and to be honest, I’ve not tried to search that hard. If you know where this started and can provide me with that information, I am happy to give complete credit where it is due.

I’m [not] Scottish

I am American, born and bred to American parents. My ancestors are Germans from Russia. This means that I am not, contrary to the insistence of some, Scottish. (But I hope to be one day!)

But I have a great affinity for Scotland because it’s the one place in the entire world I’ve ever felt truly settled—the one place I’ve ever felt that I truly belong. Paul wasn’t Scottish, either. No, contrary to popular belief, he was English. (From the North East, if you wondered.) But Paul shared a passion for Scotland and when he moved there for university he stayed put until we settled in America. Because of our shared love for Scotland, we incorporated the traditions of our adopted home into our lives. After all, home is where the heart is.

But now I have a foster daughter who knows several things to be true: I speak with a funny accent; I lived in Scotland; I want to return to Scotland; I have lots of friends in Scotland (and family in England); and that I think Scotland is the greatest place in the world.

She also assumes several things and just won’t believe me when I tell her otherwise. Mainly that I am Scottish. I’m not; but she just shrugs her shoulders and says I seem Scottish to her.

Well, now that I’m in the midst of planning Burns’ Supper, my foster daughter is learning loads of great things about Scotland and Robert Burns. And she’s even more insistent that I am Scottish.

So today when she was in the computer lab at school, she saw a link on one of the school-sanctioned websites about Robert Burns. She clicked it and started reading everything about the man then recognized a link as a song we listened to on New Year’s Eve, so she printed out the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne. Then she had to explain to her teacher why she was wasting resources.

Apparently, the teacher is familiar with Burns’ Night and was very excited to hear about how the kid’s ‘Scottish foster mom’ is having a big Burns’ Supper complete with haggis, neeps, and tatties.

You know how they say if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? Well, I can’t seem to beat this Scottish wrap, so I may as well just brogue up and break out my Harris Tweed and shortbread!

Tearful but thankful

Well, it would seem that I wasn’t meant to have a proper Thanksgiving this year. I wished for one, and even invited family and friends to join me, but no one was able to come. So instead, I decided that I would make the trip to my homeland to share a traditional turkey dinner with my parents and one of my sisters and her family. (Though between us we’d decided that our ‘traditional’ dinner would be eaten out at a nice restaurant in town followed by desserts at my sister’s.)

Whilst I’d really wanted to host dinner this year, I was happy with the plan because it would mean that I could run in a local 5K race with my nephew on Friday and, more importantly, that I would be able to visit Paul’s grave on Saturday for what would have been his birthday.

We tried to make it, but once I finally got to I-90, the roads were just too slick for safe travel. It’s funny that the rural farm roads I’d been on for nearly 60 miles—which were covered in drifting snow so bad that you couldn’t actually see the road—was a more pleasurable experience than the freeway! So I had to make the difficult call to turn around and return home. Back home where food would need to be scrounged because we’d eaten the fresh stuff in the days before; anticipating being away for a few days.

My foster daughter seemed to handle the disappointment OK. Maybe that’s because upon returning home she instantly went out sledding with her friend; which worked well for me because I needed to be a complete sobbing mess for a while and I couldn’t do it in front of her. And I sobbed a lot after she went out to play. But thankfully I regained my composure and came up with an alternative plan for us before she returned.

When the kid arrived back home we got into our jammies and I started to prepare a feast of grilled cheese sandwiches, saltines with peanut butter, oranges, microwave popcorn, and stale peanut butter cookies for dessert. All to be enjoyed whilst curled up in front of the fire place watching Stuart Little.

But just as the pans for grilling the sandwiches were ready, there was a knock at the door. It seems the neighbours noticed my car was home and knew that meant I didn’t make it to the homeland after all. So they brought loads of food for us—apologising for not noticing sooner or they’d have had us over for a proper meal! An invitation for a post-feeding visit was extended, which we happily accepted.

So, as we sat down to our lovely meal of ham and turkey—with a big plate of desserts tucked away in the kitchen—we sat to reflect on how our miserable Thanksgiving was a day to be thankful for, indeed!

And after partaking in delicious desserts that our wonderful neighbours brought, we wandered through the snow over to their house for a visit. The kid played with the kids; I sat and shared a bottle of wine with the Mrs.; and the Mr. kept the kids in line and the fire stoked.

I’m still very sad that I didn’t make it to the homeland and suppose that it’s partly because I can’t be there to take flowers to Paul on his birthday now. But still, I am thankful today.

I am thankful that despite the bad roads I made it safely home.

I am thankful that my neighbours, whom I barely know, were so kind and thoughtful and not only shared their food but opened their home to us to share in the evening.

I am thankful to be warm and toasty in my own home as the kid sleeps soundly in her bed.

I am thankful that even when everything seems so sad and low, things always seem to work out with the grace of God.

And I am thankful that today, all the way in England, my great-nephew, Travis, was born. A Thanksgiving baby is always something to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for…

This Thanksgiving I have much to be thankful for. I have amazing parents; five sisters who’ve supplied me with loads and loads of fantastic nieces and nephews; wonderful in-laws; and terrific friends. I have my health. I have a job. I have a nice house. I have a car that runs well. And I have the best memories of the best husband in the whole wide world.

But there’s a special group of people that I want to thank today, because they have been such good friends to me for many years, even though I’ve never met them.

Yes, I want to say thank you to my ‘make believe’ friends. They’re a special group of people whom I’ve only ever met online—mostly through online forums for expats and repats or linguist snobs.

From the start, these friends have been good friends. Yes, our relationships are not typical and, yes, our relationships are not fully-formed, but some of those forum-folks are just amazing! We have so much in common yet we’re so very different.

There are teachers and airplane engineers; flight attendants and professional athletes; book editors and web designers; unemployed bums and retirees. They’re rich; they’re poor. They’re well-educated; they’re high school drop-outs. They’re married and moms and dads; they’re habitually single and childless.

We have nothing in common and everything in common all at once.

But I’m not thankful for those traits or those commonalities. I’m thankful for that subset of my forum friends who are real friends, too. Many of us found our way to FaceBook from our forums and have regular contact there. We read each others’ blogs. We review each others’ resumes. We help each other with anything we can.

Long before Paul died they were there. But what has meant the most to me is that the moment my sister sent an email about Paul’s death to the group on my behalf, their love and support started to flow in. And it hasn’t stopped.

This group of make believe friends are there for me every day. They cheer for me. They root for me. They care for me. And they support me. Emails, text messages, phone calls, Skype and FaceBook chats, real cards and real letters in the post. All from people I’ve never met.

I try to tell them when replying to posts and emails how much they mean to me, but this is my public announcement of that fact.

To my amazing ‘make believe’ friends: You’ve all meant so much to me over the years and I honestly don’t know how well I would have fared without your love and support.

Thank you, my ‘make believe’ friends! And have an amazingly happy Thanksgiving!!

Scotland: A rocky start; but home for my heart

It was September 2001. I was 27 years old and travelling off of the North American continent for the first time in my life. No, that’s not true. I had just been to Hawaii a few months prior. But I digress… It was my first time using a passport at least. I can’t recall if I got a stamp when I transferred in Amsterdam, but I do remember grinning from ear-to-ear when I got a stamp in my passport the first time I arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland. …I digress further…

I remember being so excited—giddy, really—as I walked out of customs at the Edinburgh airport. This was to be an adventure of a lifetime!

My eyes scanned the area just past baggage claim. I had signed up for a meet and greet scheme offered by the university. The letter I carried with me very clearly said that I would be met outside of baggage claim by a university representative who would escort me to my new flat.

But there wasn’t anyone there. Instead, I saw a booth that had a general sign regarding study abroad students. So I walked over there and asked about the meet and greet. But they didn’t know what I was talking about. Instead, they pointed me to a payphone.

Luckily, I’d entered the country with a bit of sterling, so quickly broke a note for some coins then went to make a call.

Now, this wasn’t a proper payphone. No, it looked funny and certainly didn’t operate like any payphone I’d ever used. And the phone numbers I had were not working. So I had to ask someone how to dial. (Country codes, city codes, and a funny + sign were very confusing to this small town American girl!)

I finally got someone on the phone and was told that students attending [Edinburgh] Napier University were to make their own way to the main campus building. Which meant I needed to either figure out the bus system (again, small town girl with no real public transportation experiences) or take a taxi. (The woman on the phone said this expense would be reimbursed, but I failed to get a receipt.)

I get in the taxi and tell the driver where I want to go. He dropped me and my bags at the curb and drove off. I walked to the door to find it locked. But this is definitely the right address and there is even a sign on the door telling me I’ve come to the right place.

By now, I am tired, I am hungry, I am nearly 6,000 miles from home, and I’m in a foreign country with no clue what to do. So I started to cry. Then I told myself I was being silly, regained my composure, and started down the road with my two, very large bags. (Yay! for wheeled luggage!)

On my way, I stopped a woman to ask for directions. She pointed me to where I’d just left and I started to cry again. She then remembered that there was another entrance on the far side and walked me over there. (About two blocks away, if you wondered.) As we rounded the corner I saw several people milling around. Yes, this was the place!

Once inside, I gathered the keys to my flat when I ran into another American student—who had just collected keys to her flat, which was right across from me. So we shared a taxi to our new homes. (And we chatted: It seems that all of the international students were promised someone would meet them at the airport, so at least I wasn’t alone!)

Finally, I walked into my flat on Morrison Circus. And I found it mostly bare. There was no bedding. No crockery. No cutlery. Just a spattering of inexpensive furniture. All of those items were meant to be included for international students. But it wasn’t there. I made a quick trip across the hall and learned that my taxi-mate’s flat was fully stocked. So it was just me going without! (My three flat-mates, whom I’d not yet met, didn’t arrive for a couple more days.)

So I made a call to the university’s housing office on the payphone around the corner. (I’m a pro at these funny, foreign machines by now, you know!) But, oops! They forgot to drop off my ‘international kit’. But they would bring it by the next afternoon. Which meant I had 24 hours before I’d have dishes or a blanket (or, rather, a duvet)!

I unpacked a few things then found my way to a little shop on Dalry Road to get some dinner. Of course, I had to pick carefully because I couldn’t cook and didn’t have utensils. So I ended up with a lunch-portion of macaroni salad (chosen because it came with a little plastic fork), a pack of ready-salted crisps (because I’d never heard of ‘prawn cocktail’ flavour before), a pack of shortbread, and a bottle of water.

Then I went back to my flat where I cried wondering just what the hell I’d gotten myself into. What I’d thought would be an exciting and fun trip for a redneck hick-chick who was anything but worldly was one mishap after the next.

But have no fear! By the end of week two, I knew that my heart had finally found where it belonged. I was home in my beloved Scotland.

(If you wondered: I didn’t meet Paul until several months later. And I met him in a tourist shop on the Royal Mile. After all, I needed a souvenir, right?)

YayDay! countdown

Yay! It’s just 89 days until YayDay!!

YayDay! is one of my favourite days on the modern calendar. It’s a self-created holiday that I’ve been celebrating since I first began working proper office hours. (Which was better in Scotland where my day ended at 4:30 instead of the typical American 5 o’clock stopping time I have now.)

But what you really want to know is what YayDay! is all about.

Well, YayDay! is the cold, dreary winter day when the sun doesn’t set until after 5. And this winter, that day is Monday, February 7, when the sun will set at 5:01 p.m.—one minute after my work day is over. (Which is just two weeks before my birthday, when sunset will be at 5:22 p.m., if you wondered.)

Yay!

I don’t know what I’ll do to celebrate this year. In the past, celebrations have included going out for dinner, enjoying a bottle of Champaign at home, or heading out to the pub. Last year I wasn’t really in a celebratory mood so simply marked the day by remembering past celebrations with Paul. I’m open to suggestions—no matter how silly!

Your YayDay! might not be the same as mine because your location will determine your sunset times. So check out the US Naval Oceanography Portal’s website to find your magic YayDay! [Not in the USA? Check out this site instead.]

Happy 235th birthday, USMC!

Since 1775, the United States Marine Corps has been winning battles and defending our nation.

On what marks the 235th birthday of the Corps, I want to say that I am proud to be the daughter of two amazing Marines. I am proud of my amazing niece who is serving our country today. I am proud of all my family and friends who’ve served in the past and who will serve in the future.

Thank you for your service and thank you for protecting my freedoms.

Blagenda

WooHoo! I made a trip to the homeland this weekend to make blagenda with my folks and one of my sisters. Her kids and my foster daughter got in on the action, too.

We used an old family recipe that was brought over from Ukraine when my family emigrated/immigrated* a couple of generations ago. I don’t know just how old the recipe is, but it’s certainly a traditional dish for people of ‘Germans from Russia’ heritage.

If you’re wondering, blagenda is essentially a pumpkin turn-over or tart. It’s a basic short pastry filled with grated pumpkin then it’s baked for a bit. Growing up, we always had it as a savoury even though some families would add sugar and cinnamon to make it a sweet dish. This year, we gave the sweet-side a try and made a few with cinnamon and sugar ourselves.

We made more than 260 of the little guys in total. That’s a lot of pastry rolling and my arms are very, very sore now, having been the main pastry-roller-outer. In fact, I was so busy rolling pastry that I didn’t end up touching any of the pumpkin prior to it being placed in the pastry shells. (The task of peeling, chopping, and shredding pumpkin went to Mom, Celeste, and the kids.)

The recipe we followed is one that my Great Aunt Mary wrote down—but who knows how many times it was copied before then. If you care to give it a go, here’s a copy of the recipe for you, edited for grammar and clarity because it’s what I do!

Blagenda

Pumpkin mixture:

  • 6 cups grated pumpkin
  • ½ cup grated or chopped onion
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

Mix all together and let set ½ hour. It makes its own juice [NOTE: Juices should be drained before placed in pastry but save them and use them as a great soup base. Yum!]. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Pastry:

  • 6 cups flour
  • 1½ cup shortening
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar

Mix as you would a pie crust, adding milk as needed, and work well.  Roll out as you would pie crust and cut circles 3-6 inches wide. Place pumpkin mixture on half of pastry and flip the other half over to make a tart. [NOTE: For best results, use a bit of water to help seal the edges.] Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes or until a nice golden brown. [NOTE: We baked for about 25 minutes – the size of your tarts will impact cooking time.]

[Side note: I was asked to give proper UK measurements, too, but haven’t got the math done yet. I will try to update later in the week but if you really can’t wait, US to UK measurements can be found here: US cups to UK weights (dry ingredients) and US to UK liquid conversions.]

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And—big surprise!—here are a couple of videos of the process for your enjoyment. (The second one is the best!)

[Another side note: After posting a story and video about making pickles, a friend gave me a bit of grief for not having demonstrated the proper technique for washing hands. I’m not going to do that now, either, but will say that you really must wash your hands before (and after) handling food. If you don’t know the proper technique, you can Google it.]

 

* Emigrate and immigrate have two different but similar meanings, if you didn’t know. Someone emigrates from a location and immigrates to a location. So, to use the terms in sentences: My maternal and paternal ancestors emigrated from Ukraine a couple of generations ago. And: My hope is to immigrate to Scotland in the next year.

Boo!

A few weeks ago I wrote of my apprehension about Halloween’s approach and wondered how I would manage to get through what was once a favoured holiday. And then it dawned on me that I would manage by inviting the kid’s mom to come and participate in the day with us. I’d known that there would come a time when we’d invite her over for dinner and it just seemed to me that this could be a solution for everyone—me because I wasn’t emotionally prepared to take the kid trick-or-treating and them because mom-and-daughter time is awesome!

After a lazy sleep in, the kid and I got up and started to get ready for our company. It was a bit hard to motivate the kid to clean her room, but once she realized that she couldn’t put on her costume until her chores were done, the cleaning went a lot faster. And as she cleaned, I started to get everything ready for a Halloween feast. Creepy-named foods and all!

When 3 o’clock came around, the kid anxiously waited outside for her mom and godfather, who’d volunteered to do the driving. She then gave them the grand tour of the house before we all sat down to visit before dinner.

Just as we finished eating, the first group of trick-or-treaters knocked on the door. Which prompted the kid to put on her mask, grab her sword, and rush for the door to partake in the night’s begging activities—reminding her mom and godfather to remain in the car when she went up to houses. (This is a standard demand from my understanding—though I still can’t believe that it’s become the ‘norm’ for kids to be driven around trick-or-treating!)

When the kid returned her bag was filled to the brim with candy—three and a half pounds’ worth! She even got a couple of full-sized candy treats, glow-in-the-dark stick thingies, and an awesome plastic cup. The kid’s evening ended with a yummy slice of Crazy Cake before our guests departed and I’m now relaxing on the couch where I’ll wait a bit longer for the last of the kids who are still out enjoying All Hallows’ Eve…

Sadly, I wasn’t able to muster the same enthusiasm I once had for the holiday, but I think I managed to fake it well enough so that others couldn’t tell. Heck, I even managed to squeeze in a Halloween corn maze and a fun pumpkin-making activity!

And on the whole, this year was easier than last year so I have hope that one day I will enjoy the holidays with as much excitement as I once did. Until then, I’ll keep faking it because it seems to work!

Oh, and if you wondered, on the menu was:

  • Devilled eyeballs (Devilled eggs)
  • Dragon scales and monster mucus (Chips and dip)
  • Lizard brains (Cherry tomatoes)
  • Bloody guts served over a bed of worms (Spaghetti with meat sauce)
  • Witches’ fingers (Cooked carrot sticks)
  • Wilted brains (Salad)
  • Dragon blood (Cranberry juice)
  • Graveyard dirt (Crazy cake)

It was yummy! Don’t you wish you could have joined us?

God bless the USA

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress of the United States of America signed the Declaration of Independence, announcing their departure from the rule of Great Britain.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…

It was an act of disobedience; an act of war. Some would say war against an absent king; some would say war against ourselves.

It was an act of bravery; an act of independence. It was the first step in the creation of the truly great United States of America. And today, across the nation, we celebrate our freedoms.

In the words of the great Lee Greenwood:

And I’m proud to be an American
where at least I know I’m free,
And I won’t forget the men who died
who gave that right to me,
And I gladly stand up next to you
and defend her still today,
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land
God Bless the USA

Have a happy and safe Independence Day!

American pride

As I was getting ready to head to the homeland for 4th of July weekend, I realized it was high time I switched out handbags. As I’d need to bring my camera and my iPod and loads of candy for the nieces and nephews, I knew it would need to be a slightly larger bag. Opening my handbag closet (yes, I have one) I knew in an instant which one it would need to be.

I got this bag at a funky little shop right next to Fopp on Cockburn Street in Edinburgh. (That’s Co-Burn for my fellow Americans who feel the need to say it out loud – unless you want to be laughed at. Trust me.) It’s one of my “holiday” bags – which is a selection of bags that will carry more than my normal, minimal amount of junk. That way I can put little souvenirs in as I’m wandering around whatever great place I’m visiting and don’t have to worry about my hands getting full.

When I switch out bags, I will often leave little bits in the old one that aren’t needed. I often smile as I go through that rubbish months later because it’s a bit of a history lesson. In this case, I can be pretty certain that the last time I used this bag was late-November or early-December 2008. I know this because there are hand-written notes that I took whilst speaking with our social worker about a couple of young kids that were ready for adoption (sadly, we were not the right match for them).

Of course, I also found a small handful of peppermint candies. So they get to stay in the bag and maybe they’ll finally get eaten!

Yep, another pointless post. To make up for it, here’s a fantastic video to get you in the mood for America’s birthday tomorrow!

Flying Old Glory

With pride and passion, I hung my American flag in front of my home today. With pride and passion, I am remembering our fallen soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines today.

I am proud to be an American – today and every day. When the Color Guard passes by I stand tall and proud; a tear in my eye. When the National Anthem plays I stand tall and proud; my hand on my chest and a tear in my eye. I am proud of what America stands for and what her Founding Fathers had in mind when framing the Constitution. No matter where in the world I may find myself living, I will always be proud to have been born in the United States of America. For it is the land of the free because of the brave.

As you’re enjoying Memorial Day with your family and friends, stop to think of the brave men and women who’ve made the ultimate sacrifices to ensure the freedoms we, as Americans, hold so dear. And if you have the chance, thank one of the brave men and women who are serving today, or who served in the past.

So Mom, Dad, Miranda: Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Semper Fi!