A first Friday tradition?

2013.01.04.first-friday-diningIt’s the first Friday of January, therefore the first Friday of the New Year. And a new year is an opportunity for a new start. So, I’ve decided to take advantage of this fact and start a new tradition for myself, since my partner-in-crime has moved away, thus ending the Friday Night Cocktails tradition.

The new tradition? Dinner out. Either alone or with friends. (Alone this time. But maybe some will join me in February.)

I hate dining alone—I always have—but I realise that I am alone now and I have to get used to that fact. Yes, I could just stay home and hide away from the world, but sometimes I feel that I need to face the world with bravery—despite my solitude. It was a bit awkward at first, as dining alone often is, but I was prepared with a positive attitude and a fully charged Kindle—complete with a trashy novel that I found for free on Amazon.

I think the hardest part of the evening was deciding where to go. I’d thought about going to a really nice place for a bit of fine dining, but that would have been the most difficult choice—especially since that’s where the happy, lovey-dovey couples were most likely to be. And I thought about going to a family dining place or maybe out for a nice curry, but that seemed a bit weird, too.

In the end, I decided to go to The City Walls. Its friendly atmosphere with little nooks-and-crannies seemed like the perfect place for my first foray into First Friday dinners. And it was OK. I sat in a wee corner—in a comfy chair near the fire—and I read my book whilst drinking a pint of Belhaven Best and munching on a plate of nachos. And I enjoyed myself.

More importantly, I didn’t feel awkward or out of place; which means that I’ll be more likely to go out for dinner on the first Friday in February, too. And I imagine that I might spend most of these dinners alone, but I hope that I can talk friends into joining me sometimes, too.

How about you? Are you starting any new traditions this year?

New leaves

Graduation is on Friday and I’m really dreading looking forward to it.

Oops, did you catch that error?

Well, if I’m honest I’m not looking forward to it as much as I should. I suppose that it’s yet another reminder that Paul isn’t here to share in my joy. It’s even harder because when I think back to how I always imagined my graduation, Paul and the kids we were meant to adopt were always in the stands.

But life changes. Whether we like it or not, it changes.

So, instead of having Paul in the stands, my sister-in-law, Liz, and brother-in-law, John, are coming up from England to help me celebrate. And after the ceremony, I’ll meet some friends in the pub to celebrate some more.

Of course, all of this celebration means a new dress. Only I couldn’t find one I liked. And so I’m wearing the simple black dress that I wore for Paul’s funeral, with the hope that it will help to give the dress a happy memory.

And since I’m wearing an old dress, it’s only right that I wear a new necklace with it. And maybe it’s fitting that the one I found is a grouping of silver leaves. After all, after graduation I will be turning over a new leaf, re-starting my life as a master’s graduate.

A favoured snack

I have been a good girl all day. I had an oat bar and grapes for breakfast; leftover chicken and potatoes for lunch; and a big, healthy Caesar salad for dinner. Yes—loads of good-for-you foods. And I even had lots and lots of water (and only one cup of coffee) throughout the day.

But I’ve gone and ruined all of that healthiness by making one of my favourite snacks (and pouring a glass of wine). Worse, I’ve had more than my fair share of the snack. (But only one glass of wine.)

The snack is Chicken in a Biskit crackers smeared with cream cheese and topped with pimento-stuffed green olives. And they are delicious!*

The recipe (if you can call it that) was first introduced to our family by my second-eldest sister, Claudia, who learned of the snack from someone she used to babysit for. I was in my early teens, but it quickly became a favourite. I mean, it helped that I already liked all three ingredients separately, so putting them together seemed like a good idea to me!

Anyhow, it’s one of those snacks that I like to have from time-to-time. Sometimes when I’m sick and just want yummy snacks, and other times it’s just because I like them. But you can’t get Chicken in a Biskit crackers in the UK. So when my baby sister, Royann, asked what she could send me, they were on the list!**

So, now I get to have one of my favourite snacks. And I suppose I need to have them every evening until I’m out of crackers now, since they’ll go stale now that the box has been opened. (Oh, life is hard some days!)

I’ve also just realised that my snack doesn’t have a name. I just call them Chicken in a Biskit crackers with cream cheese and olives. And that means that I’m going to open up the topic for discussion and ask you what you think the snack should be called!

* I used to use a whole olive on each cracker (cut in half) but now I slice the olives into 3 (1 olive = 1.5 crackers) so that I have a little bit less sodium. One day, I may need to start cutting them into 4!

** I will re-visit the topic of stuff Royann sent me soon, so stay tuned to find out how awesome she is!

Cheap eats

I like setting budgets for myself because it keeps me accountable to, well, me. And, because I used to have to budget every penny or risk bounced checks, I’m pretty good at it. Better, because I like to come in under budget, it makes me spend less!

For the last year I’ve had a loose budget of £200 (approximately $310 US) per month to spend on groceries. Sometimes I’d go over that, but most times I would be under. But I’ve never been consistent with it. So, I’m going to start holding myself accountable, which means you get to read about my grocery budget from time-to-time!

Budget: £200 per month

In addition to food-based groceries, the following items will be included in the total:

  • Loo roll and cleaning products—but not personal care products
  • Wine, beer, and spirits
  • Lunches bought at work
  • Take-aways or delivery meals
  • Delivery or taxi charges to get the groceries home

Dinner or drinks out with friends do not count as they are in the entertainment budget and any money left over from one month cannot be rolled into the next month. Instead, remaining monies will be split between savings and my entertainment budget.

The idea is that a strict budget will force me to eat healthier—and wiser. I will be forced to think about my meals and plan them out a bit. I will be encouraged to take lunches to the office (often made from yummy leftovers) and I will make things that I like but that I’m generally too lazy to make.

Oh! And it means that I will get to talk about my homemade this-and-that a bit more. Maybe I’ll even get to share some more recipes with you. Or ‘how to’ YouTube videos! Yes, that will be fun!

And since you’re here, I can share with you that, so far, I’ve £68 for the month of August. Which is scary since it’s only the first week, but that included lots of staple items—including a bottle of vodka for my RyanCentric Martinis. Well, that is if you can call vodka a staple.

Stay tuned to find out if I’ve managed to stay within budget for the month! (If you care.)

Spent pennies

As you may know, I like to save all of my ‘spare’ change so that I can cash it in for something fun and frivolous. So when I am out shopping, I never give the cashier exact change, I keep those jingly-jangly coins to feed my coin jar! (And if you’ve ever wondered, that’s where the pennies I pinch from the pavement end up, too!)

Anyhow, after nearly a year of collecting, I cashed in £94 worth of coins today. (That’s about $148, if you wondered.) And there’s still about £15 left in the jar as a starter fund, since there weren’t enough to bag up in all the right denominations*.

After heading to the bank to deposit the coins, I made my way to Falkirk so that I could spend my money! (That was the first £3.50 of my money spent!)

The rest of the money was spent as follows:

A new paper cutter for making my swirl cards: £19.99 (sub-total: £23.49)

Three bottles of Washington State wines from Chateau Ste Michelle: £9.99×3=£29.97 (sub-total: £53.46)

Two pretty new dresses from the 50% off sale rack: £20 and £21 (sub-total: £94.46)

OK! You got me: I went 46p over budget. But I’m going to let that slide since the dresses aren’t really frivolous. They are a practical purchase and will be put to use starting once this week’s holiday is over. (Are you starting to feel a theme to my sometimes-cryptic posts?)

Oh! And you could also argue that the paper cutter isn’t frivolous, since I hope to put that to use for making and selling cards.

The wine, however, is purely for fun.

* In the UK they use little plastic baggies for coins instead of the paper rolls we use in the States. It makes it harder to keep them tidy, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to bag than it is to roll! 

Dissertation month update; Part 4

Dissertation Month is nearly over! Can you believe it? I mean, it’s just been a mad blur of writing and writing and writing!

As you may recall, I have to have a full draft of my dissertation turned into my supervisor by noon on Tuesday, July 24. That means that I have three full days left to finish it up—plus a bit more tonight and a bit on Tuesday morning. But let’s be honest—I’m not getting anything else done tonight and I won’t realistically get anything done on Tuesday. So, I have Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to finish it up.

But that’s OK because I am so very nearly there now! In fact, I’m so nearly there that I’ve decided to mix myself a wee RyanCentric Martini to celebrate!

So here are the stats:

Current word count: 9,476 (Only 2,524 to go! And if I take the ‘+/- 10%’ to heart, I can stop in another 1,324 words!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Print out Findings section for a hand-written review
  • Clean up Findings section, adding in academic references where required and moving sub-sections as needed
  • Begin a solid draft of the Conclusion section

Yay! Yay! Yay! I really feel as if this sucker is coming together now!

A mini-reunion and a catch-up

Oh dear, it’s been more than a week since I last posted. Sorry about that. It’s not that I’ve been sitting at home sulking though. No, I’ve been sitting at home writing essays like a mad woman! So, let me get you up to speed!

School: The past week, as I mentioned, was spent working on final essays for this past semester. The last of them was finished yesterday and turned in—with a bit of time to spare. I’m not feeling too confident about a couple of them, but I’m sure I did OK. I am pleased to brag, however, that I have received a few marks over the past week—all distinctions! Yeah, that’s nice for the ego.

So, the semester is done and that means no more classes. But I do have that dissertation to work on, so this probably won’t be my last school update.

Whisky: On Saturday, I went to the Spirit of Stirling Whisky Festival with a friend, his friend, and his friend’s friend. (Did you catch that?) It was an absolutely fantastic day, and one that probably deserves a story of its own. But, it was a late night with too much whisky and I was in no condition to even think about whisky the next day, so the story has gotten downgraded to an update. (Which shouldn’t be taken as a negative commentary; it was a day of great fun, great whisky, and great company.)

Edinburgh (Or: The Mini Eberle Reunion): After turning in my essays yesterday, I hopped on a train to Edinburgh to meet up with my cousin Rita and her friend, who are in Scotland as part of an organised tour. They had the afternoon free to tour on their own, so I was invited through as a personal tour guide. And since they’d already done the castle thing with the group, I got to show them a few other highlights.

We met along Princes Street then grabbed a coffee (well, I had mint tea) to catch up and chat about what we wanted to do, then we went to see the city. Our first stop—The Scott Monument—was easy enough, especially since we opted to not walk to the top. Then we wandered back toward the Floral Clock. Which we kind of saw in that the workings were sticking out of the ground, but it was in the process of being planted so if you didn’t know it was meant to be a clock you’d have missed it.

Next, we wandered through Princes Street Gardens on our way to Moray Place so that Rita could get a photo of a friend’s first house (No 28, if you wondered) before heading up Heriot Row to see the childhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson. The Queen Street Gardens across from the house were later used as inspiration for Treasure Island. (Apparently.)

From there, we wandered through the New Town on our way back to Princes Street Gardens where we sat to visit whilst Rita enjoyed (or at least took a sip of) Scotland’s number-one selling beverage, Irn Bru. I pointed out buildings and landmarks, explained how The Mound was formed and the Nor Loch drained, and even got to bore my captives with the story of how Paul and I met—and (when we’d made our way to The Royal Mile) I got to point out where we met, too!

Up on The Royal Mile, we attempted to visit The Writers’ Museum (we were 15 minutes too late!) before going in to see St Giles’ Cathedral. Then, it was back to the train station for me.

Of course, since one of the things Rita had on her list was closed (The Poetry Library) I’ve promised to go back and see it (and report back) for her. I’ll even have to stop by the Floral Clock on her behalf.

It was an absolutely fantastic afternoon and I am so pleased that I was invited to be part of Rita’s holidays. We’ve decided we’re going to have to do it again—maybe Rome next time with a private audience with the Pope.

[Photo is of RLS’s house, No 17 Heriot Row. Yes, we’re that kind of tourist!]

An Easter reflection

Easter Sunday is rolling to a close and I’m sitting here thinking about how wonderful my life is because of my Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. I truly am blessed to have the love of Jesus in my heart and in my soul. He has been a constant in my life and my faith in Him and the salvation He offers has kept me going these past few years.

I know, I know: I don’t normally go all Alleluia! and stuff, but it really is there in my heart and soul every day. And it really has saved me from myself since Paul died. That faith has kept me going and given me the hope to continue each day—even when I don’t want to continue; even when I feel like I can’t continue. That faith has given me the hope that life will get better and that, one day, life will be wonderful again.

In the mean time, I’ll pray. And I’ll hope. And I’ll look to the future. And I’ll survive.

As for my Easter, it was OK. It’s the first Easter since Paul died that I made a nice meal. The first Easter after he died, I took a hike to distract myself and last Easter I had my foster daughter for a distraction. I guess I just felt that making a big meal would make the day easier, so I enjoyed a nice meal of baked ham, au gratin potatoes, and roasted asparagus—and a couple glasses of Champagne. Was it the way I wanted to spend the day? Not really, but it beats spending the day sulking around the house. And thanks to an unexpected phone call from my good friend, Joanne, I even enjoyed a wee chat.

And now, it’s back to school work and job applications. Not very Easter-y, but I’ve got to keep focused on the future because I can pray all I want but I doubt Jesus is going to come down and write my dissertation for me!

Happy Easter, everyone. He is risen; let us rejoice!

Whisky hearts

Normally, an empty whisky bottle means a cork without a job. But not today. No, today I decided to rescue the cork from my empty bottle of Glenmorangie and carve it up a bit with my pocket knife. (A tool that every good redneck always has on hand.)

I didn’t have any ink pads (sadly, my craft supplies couldn’t make the journey to Scotland with me) but I had some cheap markers that I thought would work as a pigment, and I think the results are a success.

OK, I know it’s a bit silly and childish, but it entertained me. And it means that I have a pretty little heart-shaped stamp to add to my slowly-growing craft box. I think I’ll save up a few more corks to make some other shapes, too—stars, dots, horse shoes, etc. I don’t know what I’ll do with them all, but they’ll be a bit of rainy day entertainment at the very least.

(Other ideas for cheap and easy craft ideas are always welcome!)

Spring break

Well, as of 4:00 p.m. I am officially on spring break. Only, that really just means that I’m not going to classes for a week. And, actually, since there aren’t classes on Easter Monday, and I don’t have classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I’m really out of class for nearly two weeks. Yay!

But that doesn’t mean I won’t be busy. Really, really busy.

During my time off, I will be working on my dissertation (I have a big chunk due April 10). I will also be doing my taxes and working on several job applications in the hopes to find a position that will allow me to stay on in Scotland after graduation.

I know that most students look forward to spring break because of the parties and travelling opportunities, but I’m looking forward to it so that I can concentrate on my much-neglected to-do list, and so that I can really ramp up my training. (I must start running more so that my legs and tummy look great for summer shorts weather!)

But, since all work and no play is a silly way to live life, I am going to begin my spring break in style—at The Junk Rooms. Which means I should stop blogging and get myself to town to meet Rebecca.

Happy spring break, everyone!

Ode to a St Patrick’s Day Martini

What’s that? The Martinis! Facebook page is running a poetry competition? Well, how can I resist that?

The entry request was simple: “Let’s see who pays attention… Comment on this status with an original St. Patrick’s Day poem about Martinis!, and we’ll pick three winners to post as our status from now until Saturday. The poem status that gets the most likes will win 3 mini shooters! GO!” [See the full thread here.]

And I entered. And just so that I have more proof than Facebook that I’m the original author (you know, for when this poem becomes famous) I’m sharing it here, too! (Yay!)

Ode to a St Patrick’s Day Martini
by Just Frances

Martini.
Vodka.
Dirty.
Filthy, really.
You bring me joy.
You warm my heart.
I love you.
And your olives.
They’re green, you know.
And that fills the bill.
So long, green beer.
Hello, my lovely,
Deliciously dirty,
St Patrick’s Day Martini.

I [heart] root beer

I love root beer. I really, really do. It’s my fizzy soft drink of choice and I could drink barrels and barrels of the stuff.

Sadly, root beer isn’t readily available in Scotland. I heard a rumour that it used to be sold in UK McDonalds outlets, but I guess it didn’t sell very well so they gave up on it. And that means that it’s nearly impossible to find the stuff.

A few weeks ago I decided that I would make a trip into Edinburgh to pick up some A&W Root Beer from Lupe Pinto’s import shop. Yes, it’s a bit silly to make such a long trip for root beer, but I’ve been desperate. I mean, it’s been more than six months since I’ve had the stuff!

But then I stopped into my local sweetie shop and discovered that they’ve started to sell some American candies and root beer! It’s not cheap (about $2.50 per can!) and it’s not Barq’s but it sure does quench my thirst!

And now that I have a local source for root beer, I guess I can scratch it off of my expat food woes list!

Random thoughts: Simple pleasures

Random thoughts—Week 3: List 31 simple pleasures; pick one and write about it.

Last year I was challenged to write a list of 30 things that made me smile and I imagine that this list may include a few duplicates, but I will try to keep those to a minimum.

  1. Finding coins as I’m walking down the road
  2. Unexpected postcards (heck, even expected postcards!)
  3. Lunch with friends
  4. Internet chats and phone calls with my nieces and nephews
  5. Dirty Martinis
  6. Seeing children skipping down the road
  7. Skipping down the road (yes, even as a full-grown woman, I do that sometimes!)
  8. Hearing a favourite song on the radio
  9. Watching a favourite movie on television
  10. Long soaks in a hot bath
  11. Finding my favourite [whatever] on sale
  12. Smells that rekindle a happy memory
  13. Running
  14. A well-cooked steak (that would be medium-rare, thank you!)
  15. Riding on carousels
  16. Playing on swing sets
  17. The feeling of the sun on my face
  18. Flirtatious encounters with cute boys (even when I know I’ll never see them again)
  19. A quiet night in with some jazz, red wine, candle light, and a good book
  20. Sleeping in on a Saturday morning after a long week at work (or school)
  21. Finding a ‘new’ vintage handbag that I love—and can afford!
  22. Watching (and listening to) a massive rain storm—complete with thunder and lightning
  23. Seeing my friends happy and giddy with excitement
  24. Waking up dreading going to work, only to realise it’s the weekend
  25. Walking barefoot in the grass or on a sandy beach
  26. Gravy style popcorn
  27. Picnics in the park
  28. Finishing a craft project
  29. Weekend city breaks to fantastic places
  30. Finding an out-of-the-way pub that sells great beer—but that no one knows about!
  31. Hugs and kisses from family and friends

Now, I know that I’m meant to write about just one of these things, but it would seem that I had a fantastic opportunity to combine a few in one. So, here’s a wee story about something that happened when I was in Cambridge this weekend:

I woke up early to go for a run on Saturday (No 13). And after the run, I had a bit of time to waste waiting for my running partner (who’d gone off for a longer trek!). So, as I waited, I found myself (literally) skipping (No 7) over to the playground where I plopped myself down on a swing (No 16). And as I swung, I noticed some shiny things on the ground below. Sure enough, those shiny things were coins—33 pence worth of them (No 1)!

Of course, the weekend also included Nos: 3, 12, 17, 23, 29, 30, and 31. And loads of other simple pleasures that didn’t make the list.

Oh! And be sure to check out Rebecca’s blog to see what she wrote for her topic this week!

A birthday in Crieff, not grief

It’s here! It’s here! The start of my 38th year of life is here! (Translation: Yay! It’s my 38th birthday!)

My birthday, if I’m honest, has rarely been a day of great excitement and celebration for me. For many reasons, it’s just a day of stress and upset. And, it would seem, a day when bad things seem to happen! Of course, since Paul died, the day is even more stressful. (For a history lesson, read about my 36th birthday and pre-birthday spa day or my 37th birthday wishes!)

But, as you may recall, I decided to take myself away for my birthday this year, in the hopes of distracting myself from my birthday and in an effort to fall in love with solo travelling again. Yes, I opted for a trip to Crieff to stave off the birthday-triggered grief!

Of course, you may know that the entire reason for this trip was that someone had told me about a sweetie shop that is hailed as the No. 1 sweetie shop in all of Scotland—Gordon and Durward’s, home of the Sugared Mice—and by now you probably know that I love candy. A lot. And when I got there, well, I was like a kid in a candy shop! It was like a little corner of heaven made just for me! And I got to see them making fudge, which was neat. I did manage some self control (I set a budget before I walked through the door) but I also did manage to get a bag full of goodies: Pick-n-mix gummy sweets, three flavours of fudge, a couple candy necklaces, and four sugared mice (I’d have bought five mice, but they were out of green).

After that sweet little visit, I wandered across the road to have lunch at The Lounge. I hadn’t really planned to talk about my lunch, but it was so fantastic that I have to sing some praises. You see, I ordered the Cesar salad because it was advertised as coming with calamari, which is different, and therefore interesting. But what I really enjoyed was that there were whole anchovies on top of the salad! So many places don’t do that anymore. In fact, the last time I had anchovies on my Cesar salad I was in my very early 20s! So, great big kudos to The Lounge! If I lived locally, I’d be back!

When I was done with lunch, I made my way back to the hotel where I treated myself to a spa treatment before settling into my room for a couple hours’ of nothingness. Ah, nothingness! And thanks to television and a WiFi connection, I managed a lot of nothingness! (Oh, and I managed to paint my fingernails, too!)

Next, it was time for dinner. I chose to eat in the formal dining room (a great excuse to wear my pretty red dress!) and am so pleased that I did! Fancy pigeon breasts for a starter; filet steak for my main; and Guinness cheddar on rustic bread for dessert. All enjoyed with a rich red wine and a lovely glass of bubbles.

And now I’m back in my room; I’ve changed into my comfy pyjamas to enjoy a bit of television; and I’m getting ready to enjoy a fluffy lemon cupcake I purchased when in town earlier. (Yum!)

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Has it been a day of complete joy and laughter? No. But it’s been a pretty good day and a nice way to start my 38th year.

Oh! And an interesting tid bit for you: When I booked my room, it was the only room available (a single). Other than that, the hotel was completely booked out. Why? Well, because tomorrow is the World Indoor Tug of War Championships, hosted by the Scottish Tug of War Association. Really.

Cheap [or free] booze

I used to buy expensive booze. I had a collection of fine wines and expensive whiskies. I had top-shelf Cognacs and the best small batch Bourbons. And I wouldn’t have thought twice about opening a $40 bottle of wine for no reason other than I wanted a glass of wine.

But I couldn’t take it all with me, so I slowly worked through my collection before I moved. And I gave the rest to my aunt and my neighbours. (And took a couple of bottles to my folks’ house too, I think.)

And now I find myself in a different booze situation all together.

First of all, I’m in a small apartment that doesn’t have the space for wine storage—not when you like to really collect fine wines at least! But more depressingly, I can’t afford it even if I could store it.

So, I’ve found myself drinking cheap booze again. I’ve found myself choosing wines based on price, not on label/vineyard. And I only buy wine that’s on sale. (I can normally get a ‘nice enough’ bottle on a half price sale, but even that’s not what I’d consider good wine.)

In fact, all but one bottle of wine are screw tops! I know that nice wines are using screw tops these days, but the majority of Washington State wines (which are top-class, premium wines that beat out any Old World wine you can imagine!) have corks.

Oh! And I’ve even stooped to purchasing store brand stuff! Which isn’t necessarily bad but Sainsbury’s vodka has nothing on Grey Goose!

But, thankfully, I’ve got some nice stuff that I’ve gotten for Christmas gifts. (Must send that thank you note to Canada soon!) And thanks to friends and family, I even have three (well, two and a bit) bottles of nice Scotch, too.

It’s not that I’m a raging alcoholic or anything, it’s just that I’ve realised recently that my snobbery when it comes to drink has gone to the wayside in favour of my frugal (and poor) ways.

But my birthday is coming up. And I like Remy Martin and Caol Ila. You know, if you wondered …

Cheers!

Red and rosé

It took a while to convince myself to get out of bed today. I mean, a long while—it was nearly noon by the time I decided to emerge from under my duvet. At first, I wondered if I would spend the day inside. Not necessarily sulking, but sitting around doing nothing. And for a while, I convinced myself that I could do that.

Then, for reasons still unknown, I decided that I should head into town. With that decision made, I hopped in the shower before putting on a pretty skirt and a fun sweater for a quick jaunt into town. I didn’t really know why I was going, but I knew that I needed to get out and stretch my legs.

Anyhow, I looked in the charity shops and even a couple of sales racks in the mall, but didn’t manage to find anything I wanted/needed/that fit, so I went home empty handed.

And now, I’m curled up on the couch with a glass of French rosé, listening to the sultry jazz sounds of Norah Jones, and getting ready to paint my nails a nice shade of hooker red.

I guess I have to say it’s not been too bad of a start to the new month.

Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race

Oh, what a happy belly I have, all thanks to the lovely Burns’ Supper that Rebecca prepared.

Whilst Rebecca made the final preparations, we chatted over a nice glass of wine.

Then it was yummy Scottish salmon and a bit of healthy green stuff for starters.

Haggis, neeps*, and tatties for the main course—with whisky, of course.

And cranachan for dessert.

And did I mention the whisky?

But, best of all, there was me and the amazing Rebecca. I don’t have a photo of that, but that’s OK because I know that it’s because we were too busy laughing and chatting to take a photo of ourselves. Yay!

[Confused about the title? Check out the full Address to a Haggis here.]

* Actually, instead of neeps, it was mashed carrots and parsnips. Still, it was the right colour and it was yummy!

Lovely latkes

I love latkes. They’re amazingly delicious and super duper easy to make; inexpensive, too. And the best thing about them (today) is that they fit the bill for my Dark Days Challenge. (I realise it’s been more than a month since I last posted a DDC meal, but it’s not because I’ve not been eating local, rather it’s because I haven’t been blogging about it.)

Latkes, or potato pancakes, are part of the traditional cuisines of several Eastern European counties (often under different names). I learned how to make them when I was in high school and soon developed my own recipe. You know, because I like to do things my way!

So, what makes this a DDC meal? Well, for starters, I’ve used Scottish-grown potatoes and onions, and Scottish eggs. I used butter from Graham’s Family Dairy, just outside of Stirling, and locally milled flour. I also used a pinch of Maldon Sea Salt and British made crème fraiche. Oh! And the sautéed mushrooms were Scottish, too, with a pinch of English garlic. The wine, whilst not local in origin, fits the organic bill.

Here’s the recipe:

Lovely Latkes

  • 2 cups shredded potatoes
  • ½ small onion (diced)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-4 tablespoons flour (depending on how doughy you want them)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Butter for frying

Mix the potatoes, onion, egg, flour, and salt together in a bowl and let sit for 15-30 minutes. Heat frying pan (I prefer a cast iron skillet when available) and place a pat of butter in to melt. Once melted, drop the potato mixture in by the spoonful. About a 1/4 cup or so of batter should do it.

Fry for three minutes, then flip over and fry for another three minutes. Serve with sour cream and/or apple sauce.

And I’ve had a couple of people mention they’d like to see more videos, so I’ve even prepared a cooking demo for you. Yay!

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!

A slow start

It’s nearly midnight on January 2nd and I’m finally getting around to writing my first post of the year. I meant to write yesterday and I’ve been meaning to write today, but life got in the way.

Sadly, yesterday’s lack of writing was due to the sad parts of life. Everything is OK, but I think that a bit too much Champaign the night before led to a sulky-feel-sorry-for-myself kinda day. Yes, I was pretty pathetic to be honest. Got out of bed around 8 but was too upset and teary to face the world so I went back to bed until nearly noon. Then I finally got up and sat on the couch sulking all day.

I know it sounds like a miserable start to the new year, but sometimes my mind goes into sulky mode and I just can’t bring myself out of it. On the plus side, however, I did manage to roast a chicken for an early dinner and even managed to boil up the leftovers for a big pot of soup. So at least it was a semi-productive day!

But today was better. Today I actually got up and took a shower and left the flat. In fact, I was out for longer than I’d expected! And it was a nice day. I went up to the Wallace Monument with a couple of friends, then we had lunch in Bridge of Allen, stopped by Doune Castle (you know, the one from Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and finally made it back to Stirling for a couple pints of beer and a football game.

And when I got home I swirled. And I packed a small suitcase. Because I’m heading to England tomorrow to see my in-laws for a few days.

So, this post is really to let you know I’m alive and to also let you know that if you don’t hear from me for a few days, it’s because I’m down south doing fun things. Which will be even better since my sulky mood has passed.

I hope your new year is off to a less-sulky start than mine!

Steak and potatoes

OK boys and girls, today is my first meal prepared for the Dark Days Challenge. Not that I haven’t been eating some local foods all along, but tonight’s dinner is special because it’s all about the local stuff!

Now, I like to pride myself in purchasing locally grown produce whenever possible, but I must admit that much of the other groceries I buy come from all over. I mean, it’s a little difficult to find local olive oil when you live in Scotland! But, I did some research and managed to find a few local (Scotland or elsewhere in the UK) staples to keep on hand—many of which will make appearances not only in my local-only meals, but in my every day meals as well. Those things include a Scottish cooking oil, UK-sourced sea salt, and Scottish-milled flour—to name a few. I won’t go into all of them today, but will try to tell you a bit about them as I use them. Or, at the very least, I will link to them so that you can read more if you want.

And with that, here’s what I had for dinner:

My main course was pan-fried minute steak from Puddledub Buffalo Farms. I had wanted a fillet steak, but they only had large packs available by the time I arrived at their stall on the market, so I ended up with a less-than-ideal cut. But, cooked with a bit of Maldon sea salt, it was pretty tasty! I also made a small potato-shallot-and-cheese concoction using Scottish-grown potatoes and shallots, layered with a strong Scottish cheddar. I baked it in a small dish that was coated with Summer Harvest rapeseed oil (made in Scotland) and a light sprinkling of sea salt. Oh! And some lightly boiled Scottish-grown carrots for my veg.

Oh! And I can’t forget about the wine now, can I? I don’t generally buy (or drink) fruit wines, but Cairn o’ Mohr always has a booth at the Stirling Farmers’ Market and curiosity (and the need for local!) got the better of me. So, I bought a bottle of their Bramble Wine. And it was very nice. Maybe next time, I’ll try one of their whites!

Anyhow, I’ve learned a lot this week about the foods that are available locally. This has also been a great excuse to experiment with food—which is what the potato thing was—and a great reminder about what a good cook I actually am. (But I wish I made a bigger pot of the potato stuff. That was way-yummy!!)

Of course, I seem to have forgotten to get myself something for pudding. Darn! Maybe next week…

A thankful weekend

Well, my Scottish Thanksgiving weekend has come to a close. Yes, the original planning process was difficult, and I found myself having to make do with all sorts of things to pull it off, but I think I can fairly call it a success.

The weekend began on Friday with some food prep followed by dinner and drinks with Rebecca. Then Saturday saw me waking early to get the meal ready. I chopped and sliced and diced and mixed for quite some time before it was all ready to go. In fact, by the time Rebecca showed up to help, I was nearly done which meant that we got to sit around and chat instead of run around and cook.

Our additional guests showed up within a few minutes of each other—Martin first followed by Paul and Eleanor with their wee girl. It was one of those wonderful moments where a home goes from quiet to filled with laughter as Rebecca and Martin greeting Paul and Eleanor for the first time in 20 years. (It was my first time meeting them.)

It was a fun-filled evening as I shared my Thanksgiving with my guests—their first Thanksgiving. And, I’m pleased to say, everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves.

By the time this morning came around, my mood went from elevated to deflated as I marked what should have been My Paul’s 50th birthday. But I was cheered on and distracted by a visit from Rebecca this morning (who also did the lion’s share of the clean-up whilst I sat in the living room drinking my coffee) followed by an afternoon trip to The Burgh Coffeehouse.

Now I’m sitting here for these final few hours of the weekend working on an essay for school and revelling in the high points of the weekend.

And now you can see some of those high points! I admit it’s not a full photo account of the weekend because I was having too much fun to think about taking constant photos, but I hope this selection helps to show you what a fab weekend it was.

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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!

Warming up

I’ve been upset about Thanksgiving for a while now. Like really, really upset. I know it’s silly, but that’s the way it’s been. (As I’ve said.)

But all of the sudden, it’s getting better. It seems that there has been a late-comer (or two or three) to the party and Thanksgiving will maybe feel a little less like just having two friends over for dinner (not that having two friends over for dinner isn’t something to be thankful for) and a little more like a proper Thanksgiving. Well, as close to it as you can get when you’re not in America.

So now I’m getting all warmed up and I’m trying to figure out just how to get it all done. I’ve got pies to bake (will anyone like pumpkin pie?) and bread to rip (you know, for the stuffing). And I’ve got dill pickles to find and serving dishes to sort. In addition to regular dishes and chairs and stuff.

Oh, and drinks. Must figure out drinks. And I should decide what vegetables to serve. And I should try to find fresh cranberries so that I can make sauce.

But don’t worry—I have the olives (all the way from America!) and even noticed today that they’re jumbo-sized so they’ll fit on adult fingers. Because you have to put olives on your fingers for Thanksgiving.

Oh! And to add to my renewed interest in Thanksgiving, I’m totally pleased that Das Gute Essen linked to my bladenda post in their Thanksgiving post today. Yay, yay, and yay again!

[The picture with this post is of our Thanksgiving table from 2008. What a wonderful memory that day has left for me!]

Good ol’ goulash

I love goulash. Growing up, I was always happy to see it on the dinner table. Later, as a grown-up, I loved going to my folks’ house and seeing leftover goulash in the fridge—and eating it! But I realised that I’ve never actually made it myself. I guess it was one of those meals that was never prepared when it was my turn to help in the kitchen.

So, when I decided I wanted to make goulash, I had to stop and think about what was in it. I knew it was simple, but wondered if I could replicate it.

I don’t know if I used all the same stuff my folks use, but it seemed to taste like theirs so I’m calling it a success.

Just Goulash

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 4 (or so) cups cooked macaroni pasta
  • ½ chopped onion
  • Chopped garlic
  • Oregano
  • Fresh ground pepper

Whilst the pasta cooks, brown the ground beef then add garlic and onions to sauté. Add tin of tomatoes (do not drain), oregano, and pepper to the meat and heat through. Add cooked and drained pasta to pan and mix together. Serve and enjoy!

The entire thing cost about £4 to make, and provided tonight’s dinner plus three portions for the freezer. So, £1 per serving. Unless you include the glass of wine I had with it, which was from a £5 bottle (actually, an £8 bottle that was on an incredible sale!). Figuring four meals per bottle of wine (I’m a light weight!) that means £1.25 per glass, bringing the total cost for tonight’s dinner up to £2.25. That’s pretty good, especially when I think about the limited food budget I have at the moment.

Of course, the best thing about budget meals at home is that when I go out to dinner (like I’ll do tomorrow) I don’t feel guilty! (Yay!)

Guy’s night

Last night was Guy’s night. Guy Fawkes’ Night, that is. (Well, it’s more often called Bonfire Night in Scotland, but that doesn’t make for as fun of a post title!) And to celebrate, Rebecca and I went to the Bridge of Allen fireworks show.

It was, by far, the largest bonfire I’ve even been to. Both in the size of the fire and the size of the crowd.

It was a fantastic firework show, too!

Oh, and in an effort to support the local economy, we had to swing by The Junk Rooms on the way home. (I know it wasn’t a Friday, but I think that’s OK.)

So, yeah, girls can have fun on Guy’s night, too!

One man’s junk

We’ve heard it a million times before: “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” Well, let me just say that I’ve found a treasure in amidst the junk—The Junk Rooms, that is. And now, it’s become a Cocktail Mecca for me and my friend, Rebecca, who introduced me to the place.

The Junk Rooms is filled with, well, junk. It’s a mismatch of jumbled tables and chairs with trinkets, nick-knacks, and pictures all over the place (most of which are available for sale). Once you ascend the stairs to the main dining area, you feel as if you’ve entered your grandmother’s attic (in a good, nostalgic way; not in a bad smelly old person way).

But there is no culinary junk! No, the food is fabby. And the cocktails are even fabbier. (Is fabbier a word?)

Anyhow, last night was Cocktail Night and I really had a fantastic time. I don’t know if it was the martinis, the company, or the fact that the owner had just gotten several boxes of old books from an estate sale and we found ourselves sorting through the paper treasures most of the evening. Actually, it was probably a combination of all three.

I know this sounds like a sales pitch. And I suppose in a way it is—after all, one way to ensure a business you like stays in business is to make sure they get business. But I promise if you go, you’ll not be disappointed. (If it helps: The staff are not only friendly, but they’re easy on the eyes, too.)

A word to the wise, however: Be wary about having that third drink—no matter how lovely it sounds at the time. It might make your Saturday morning a bit groggy. (Thankfully I wasn’t silly enough to go for a forth!)

[Note: The photo is one of my homemade martinis. I was too busy enjoying myself last night to snap a photo!]

Coming home

I got the keys to my new flat this morning and have spent the day traipsing up and down several flights of stairs to get my belongs moved in—and more trips up and down to get groceries and bedding and a few other bits-and-bobs in.

There’s still lots and lots of unpacking to do. And there is still lots and lots of stuff to buy to make this place a home. But I’m sure it will be fun getting it all put together.

It’s a bit strange being in my own place now, but I think it’s going to be OK. Of course, since Rebecca is just around the corner, it’s not like I’ll be living in isolation!

I am going to resist the urge to write a long and boring description of my new flat. Instead, I’m just going to let you see it for yourself! And whilst you’re doing that, I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine to celebrate coming home.

Budgeting

Before I graduated from university money was tight. My adult life, until shortly before I got married, was spent not spending money. No, really. Money was so tight that a $5 banking error could have meant complete destruction. I relied on the good will (and good cooking) of family and friends to pad out my grocery budget (I rarely turned down a free meal!). On more than one occasion, I had to call the power company to get my electricity turned back on. I had to cancel my phone. I didn’t have cable TV. I didn’t own a car for a while.

Or, to put it another way, I lived on such a meagre income that there wasn’t even enough money to make a budget, let alone live by one!

But the lessons I learned about pinching pennies and denying myself luxuries like haircuts, clothes, and shoes meant that when I finally had a healthy income, I had more money than I knew what to do with. And that meant that my savings account grew, and that my spending increased. Oh yes, I had disposable income. And I used it!

And when I decided to quit my job and return to Scotland for graduate school, I used those early penny pinching skills to pad out my savings account. Of course, now I’m back in scarily familiar territory again: I’m poor! I have no income and I have a limited budget. So, once again, I have to pinch pennies and deny myself luxuries.

Thankfully, I’m prepared. For nearly two years I’ve prepared myself emotionally and financially for this adventure. But I fear that no amount of preparation will stave off the fears I have about things not working out the way I want them to.

I am constantly fearful that I’ve done the maths wrong or that I’m kidding myself about how much things will cost. I am also aware that, with no income, the money I spend will not be replenished and I fear that watching my bank balance decrease over the next several months will cause me to be a little over cautious with my money. Yes, I fear that I will start denying myself too many things, in an effort to hold on to as much of my money as I can!

All of that said, I am not broke. I can afford this adventure. And if everything does go wrong, I have the option of moving back to my parents with my tail between my legs.

And so, I’ve managed to work out a new budget for the next year. And I’ve done it in part by looking at emotional triggers. Like I knew that living in a squalid rat trap would make me sad, so I’ve put a bit more money towards my housing budget than I originally planned. And I know that I like some of the finer foods, so I’ve increased my food budget so that I can have fresh salmon and quality steaks for dinner from time-to-time.

But those higher budgets mean that I have to sacrifice a bit elsewhere. I will have to scrimp on things like weekend city breaks. My clothing budget has been slashed (not that it was ever that high in the first place). My booze budget is almost gone—no more fine wines, premium beers, expensive Scotch (sorry, whisky), or fine Cognacs.

It’s not really a complaint. I mean, I’m the one who chose this path. I’m the one who made the decision to give up her middle class lifestyle. I’m the one who decided to take this adventure out of the dreaming stage and into reality. And I’m mostly excited about it. I just need to re-learn what it’s like to be on a strict budget. And I need to try not to let it make me sad!

As I said, I’m not really broke nor will I be forced to eat rotting food ‘salvaged’ from back-alley Dumpsters. It’s just that I can’t decide—on a whim—to buy the latest-and-greatest gadget or that really pretty green dress that’s not even on the sale rack.  And I will be looking for occasional work to help my budget—and to allow me splurges from time-to-time. [I’ll put in a quick plug for my freelance gig. You know, just in case you have someone to recommend me to!]

So, now that I’m just over a week away from moving into my new flat, I need to really remember to stick to that new budget! And that’s where you come in! I’d love to hear any great ideas for living on a budget—including ideas for entertainment and home decorating. And great ideas for recipes for cheap food that looks and tastes expensive!

Yeah, I’m looking forward to having a proper income again so that I can splurge on things like name brand shampoo!

Olives

I love olives. They are very much a part of my life. Olives for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Olives for tacos and nachos and pizza. Olives for tuna noodle casserole and olives for eating all on their own. Oh, and olives for martinis, of course. Only the world of olives in Scotland is not the same as the world of olives in my part of America.

To start with, there are black olives. You know, the ones that you get in a can (sorry, in a tin) in the states. They are in a mild salt brine and are very mild in flavour because of it. These are the olives that children put on their fingers for Thanksgiving and Christmas and are what we use for tacos, nachos, and pizza. Only where you have several options in the states (small, medium, large, extra large, whole, sliced, chopped, diced, and more) in Scotland you’re lucky to find them on the shelf. No, instead you need to search them out. (I did find some that are ‘close enough’ at the farmers’ market in Stirling—they are simply black olives in oil, and they’ll do until I find the ‘right’ ones.)

Then there are green olives. You know, the ones in glass jars with red pimentos—standard green olives. Growing up, there was always a jar of these in the fridge and, again, when you went to the grocery store you had a wide selection of green olives to choose from. And, of course, every bar in America has an ample supply of these lovely little guys on hand for drinks. Dirty martini with extra olives? No problem! But, again, that’s not the way of the world here. I first noticed it a couple of years ago when I was handed a martini with Kalamata olives instead of green ones, but it was a modern-y fusion-y place so I thought they were just being pretentious. (Of course, you could argue that ordering a dirty vodka martini is pretty pretentious, too.)

But I’ve been here just long enough now to realise that my sort of green olives aren’t as easily found here as they are in the homeland. In fact, a week ago I went out to dinner with Rebecca and ordered a dirty vodka martini, but then was told there were no green olives, meaning I had a mojito instead. Then last night we went back to the same place and I ordered my favoured drink again. Only—you guessed it!—no green olives! So I had a margarita. (OK, I had three. It was a Friday night, after all!)

Now, in fairness, Scotland does have an ample supply of all of the other sorts of olives that I love. So it’s not like I can’t get olives here—it’s just that the world of olives is different here. And this means that I will have to work harder to find my mild black olives. But it also means that the next time Rebecca and I go into that fabby little olive-less place for dinner and/or drinks, we will bring a jar of olives. Just in case!

And if you want to offer tips as to how to find those little black olives that I love so much, I’d appreciate it. After all, I’m hosting Thanksgiving and my guests will need olives for their fingers in order to partake in the full-on American experience!

An awesome Monday

I’ve had a pretty awesome Monday, if you wondered. It started when I woke up at 6 a.m. and checked my email. That’s when I learned that I’d been awarded a £2,000 Scotland Saltire Scholarship toward my tuition at the University of Stirling. Then I went for an eight-mile run, where I shaved two minutes off my time on the same route last week.

After cooling down with some refreshing mountain water and a cup of coffee, I decided to call HM Revenue and Customs to sort my UK tax refund. Only I read the wrong number from my list and called my sister-in-law in England instead which meant a nice, unexpected chat with Liz, after which I called the tax man. And the tax man agreed with me that there was an error on their end and is sorting out a cheque for me for nearly £700.

By this time, it’s only about 9 a.m. and I’ve already managed a successful training run and have increased my bank balance by £2,700! Then about 40 minutes later, my eldest sister showed up with her daughters so that we could all head up to Tumble Creek for a round of golf. It was potentially the longest game I’ve ever played—despite us playing a scramble format—but it was so great to play with the girls!

When I finally got home (around 5 p.m.?) I got the chance to relax for a bit before my friend, Marv, arrived for a trip up to Fifty6 Degrees for a wee dram of single malt. (We chose Talikers; yum!)

And now I’m home again and ready for bed. It’s been an active day, but an awesome one. Thankfully, tomorrow appears to be considerably less active, but also enjoyable since I have a lunch date with Jennifer!

At the beach: A holiday recap

I suppose it’s time for a holiday recap, since my Washington Coast holiday is over. So, here goes!

Day 1: I arrived at Copalis Beach, Washington, where I was attending a fun-filled family reunion, with more than enough time to eat food and visit with loads of awesome Eberles. Because I was playing in the family golf tournament the next morning, I stayed sober and went to bed early. Because I was staying in my sister Jessica’s tent and everyone else was staying up late drinking, I didn’t actually sleep. But I suppose that’s OK because everyone was having fun.

Day 2: Up bright and early, I loaded up my niece Cassandra (13) who decided to golf with us at the last minute, then stopped off to pick up Celeste’s kids, Flik (14) and Haden (12) who had also signed up to golf. Once we got to the course, I learned that Cassandra had only played miniature golf. I also learned that Haden and Cassandra would be on my team with Cousin Jack. Yeah, by the 9th hole it was just me and Jack. Haden called his mom for a lift and Cassandra went and read a book. It was also at the 9th hole that my completely rubbish game turned to just a half-way rubbish game. [Flik’s team, for the record, won the tourney. And Flik won the ladies’ long drive competition. Yay Flik!]

After golf it was off to the Ocean Shores senior centre for a BBQ potluck with 100+ cousins. At some point, Daddy and I went out to map out a 10-mile run for me to do in the morning. Of course, after not getting a good night’s sleep the night before, I opted to crash on the couch at the cabin my folks and sister, Celeste, had rented instead of back at the camp site with Jessica and the cousins. It was another early night, but what a great night’s sleep it was!

Day 3: Yes folks, it’s 10-Mile Run day! Daddy got up early with me to take me up to the start line for my run. The weather was nice and cool and there was a nice foggy mist for the first nine miles, which made for a cool and enjoyable run. Even better was that Dad showed up on his trike around mile 3.5 with a bottle of water then paced me until mile six when he rode back to meet me at the finish with his car. I had originally hoped for a two-hour finish, but was very pleased to have finished in 1:46:44—about a 10.36 minute mile, which is great for a training run!

After my run (and shower) it was back to the senior centre for more BBQ and potluck followed by a photo scavenger hunt that my team won. I’ll spare you some of the carry-on that ensued to make that happen, but I will share with you the names of Team Awesome: Me; my awesome baby sister, Royann; my awesome niece, Flik; and my awesome cousins, Carson and Dylan. Oh yeah, we had a blast! (And did I mention that our team won? Well, we did!)

And after that fun, it was back to the main camp ground for a dinner BBQ and potluck with more visiting with cousins. Only this time, I was drinking. And one of the cousins was making martinis, so you know I was happy! (Thank you, Flik, for your idea that we sleep in the car that night instead of in the cold tent. I was far too drink-filled to crawl into a tent anyhow!)

Day 4: Yeah, one too many drinks the night before, so I was a bit slow for day 4. Still, I managed to make it through. Most folks were heading home, but my folks and Celeste had their cabin for one more night, so Uncle Mike (who’d ridden over with me) and I decided to stay one more night, too, pitching our tents in a site just down from the cabin. Oh, and my baby sister’s kids (Adrian, 12, and Brendan, 7) were left off with my folks, too.

Once camp was set, we walked to the beach to fly kites. Only, Uncle Mike had these massive, fancy kites with loads of lines to operate and I just wanted a little pretty thing on the end of a single string. Thankfully, Brendan let me use the kite he was flying, so that made me happy. And after kite flying ended, it was back to the folks’ cabin for pizza before heading to the tents for some much-needed sleep.

Day 5: It’s leaving day, which means packing up the rigs. Only all of the sudden I had two more passengers (Adrian and Brendan) who needed a ride home to their mom. And that meant figuring out how to get all of mine and Uncle Mike’s gear back, since the back seat was no longer an option. Luckily, the kids’ legs were short enough to use some of their floor board space, and the folks had a bit of space in their rig, too. (My golf clubs appreciated the lift!)

Once on the road, the kids and Uncle Mike napped whilst I drove. Then it was a quick(ish) stop at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Tacoma before giving the boys back to their mom. Then it was on to Cle Elum to where Uncle Mike loaded his stuff into his rig and drove off whilst I warmed up LittleGreen. After all, I knew that you really wanted to know about my holidays. (Yay!)

[I’ll post loads of photos later. In the mean time, here’s what you’re looking at for this story:
Day 1: Camp fire at Echoes of the Sea, Copalis Beach, Washington.
Day 2: My golf team, Team Awesome, with members Cassandra, Jack, Haden, and me. [Photo by my niece, Flik.]
Day 3: Me, at the five-mile mark of my 10-mile run. (It was more fun than my face may let on!) [Photo by my Dad, Roy.]
Day 4: Brendan flying the fun kite.
Day 5: Me, Daddy, Mommy, and Celeste in the face-in-hole cut out at the camp grounds. [Photo by The Jeanne.]

Taking stock

I have an alcohol problem. A big, big alcohol problem. But it’s not because I drink too much—it’s because I drink too little!

You see, Paul and I began this amazing booze collection when we got married with the idea that any time we had guests we could offer them a drink and we’d have what they wanted on hand. We had a well-stocked bar indeed! Ouzo, light rum, dark rum, a variety of schnapps, vodka, gin, bourbons, whiskeys, Scotch, mixers… And then there was the wine collection.

Sure, I’ve had a few drinks since Paul died, but I continued to save the ‘good wines’ for special occasions and have just bought mid-range ($25 or less) wines when I fancied a glass. And I’ve bought a bottle of vodka for my Martinis—but I don’t seem to be drinking mixed drinks now that I have a foster kid in the house. Which means that my fancy drinks are just sitting there waiting to be loved.

And now I have loads and loads of booze and there is no way I can drink it all in between now and my departure.

So I took a quick scan through the collection to determine what to do. And I’ve decided that I’m going to start enjoying my fancy wines a bit. I’m not saving that $80 bottle of awesome Washington State wine for a special occasion because I don’t plan to be here long enough for a special occasion. And I’m not going to save my collection of ‘favourite’ Washington reds for a friend’s visit, because I don’t expect any friends to visit.

Please don’t think this means that I’m going to become a raging alcoholic. No, I don’t plan to increase my consumption; I just plan to start consuming the good stuff. And I’m going to start with the best and work my way down the ladder. And how lucky am I that all of my booze and wine is good stuff because I’m a bit of a drinks snob?!

What does all of this mean to you? Well, it means if you want to drink some of my best booze and wine, you’d best come visit! And if you’re one of the people waiting for me to leave in the hopes of inheriting my stash, just know that you’ll be getting the bottom of my barrel.

Sláinte!

Why today is awesome

St. Patrick’s Day is awesome because everyone one wears my favourite colour and that makes the world really pretty.

And St. Patrick’s Day is awesome because of all the yummy corned beef and cabbage which also means lovely Rueben sandwiches with the leftover meat.

And St. Patrick’s Day is awesome because of the yummy Guinness and Irish whiskey and green beer that flow freely.

And, of course, St. Patrick’s Day is awesome because it’s a great excuse to eat green-frosted graham crackers and watch my favourite Sean Connery movie, Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!!

Friday eve

Friday eve is here and I’m celebrating with a cold bottle of Pyramid Brewery’s Haywire Hefeweizen and a bowl of pretzels.

It’s strange because, if you didn’t know, I’ve been teetotal since the end of January. Not because I have a drinking problem and should be teetotal, but rather because I’ve been very stressed lately and that stress has made me unhappy. Added to that, I’ve not been sleeping well. And let’s face it: booze + stress + sadness + insomnia does not equal a good idea!

Also, I try to stay away from salty snacks. Having kidney disease means that I need to maintain my blood pressure and salt is not a friend of low blood pressure. (Then again, neither is excessive amounts of alcohol!) And as pretzels are extremely high sodium—even compared to potato chips—they are a rare treat indeed!

So why am I lapping up the beer and salt tonight? Well, because I’ve had a pretty good week that has seen some of my stress [temporarily] melt away. And it’s because for two weeks now, my blood pressure has been around 115/75 which is pretty gosh-darn-good for a woman in her [late?] 30s with kidney disease.

Oh, and I guess I’m also having a mini celebration because I had my dental cleaning and check up today and am cavity free. Not bad for a candy addict, huh?

So—Yay for Friday eve!

100 random things

My friend posted a list of 100 random things her daughter wrote about herself out of boredom and I thought I’d give it a shot and create my own list. So, if you’re not already bored, this should help…

100 Random Things about Just Frances

  1. I am the preantepenultimate Cook Girl.
  2. I enjoy showing off my vocabulary skills.
  3. I cringe when I see incorrect grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But I only correct errors when I’m being paid to do so. [To clarify: I generally correct the errors in my mind, but only tell people of the errors when I’m paid or otherwise requested to do so.]
  4. I think that demonstrating the ability to change a vehicle’s tires and oil should be a compulsory part of passing a drivers’ license test.
  5. I wear glasses and will never get eye surgery because I like that the glasses obscure the fact that I don’t wear makeup.
  6. I’m a distance runner. (Well, I dabble in the sport at least.)
  7. I am Catholic.
  8. I joined the school cross country team because the coach asked me after church in front of my dad and the priest. How could I say no?
  9. I have never felt at home in my hometown.
  10. I am proud of my small town red neck roots.
  11. I found my true place of belonging in Scotland nearly 10 years ago.
  12. I am returning to Scotland later this year!!
  13. I am rubbish at math[s] and I don’t care.
  14. I am correct handed (also known as left handed).
  15. I believe that there is a conspiracy in the works by right-handers who are jealous of us amazing lefties. Even pens are made with righties in mind! (But not all of them!)
  16. I have hazel eyes that are more on the green end of the spectrum, but wish that I had truly green eyes.
  17. I pretend to be happy even when I’m sad.
  18. I can’t fake tears; I’ve tried.
  19. I am dyslexic. (Yet I edit things for a living. Ironic!)
  20. I had speech therapy as a child.
  21. I am the co-inventor of the term SUBS Syndrome and hope that one day the term is widely used to describe the condition of sudden, uncontrollable bursts of sarcasm.
  22. I honestly believe that the media is helping to perpetuate ignorance in our society. The biggest culprit being the “news” media.
  23. My master’s degree will be in media and culture, so I’ll get to do a lot of research on this very issue!
  24. I once sang on stage with Pat Benatar who was opening at the Gorge Amphitheatre for the Steve Miller Band. Really. True story.
  25. I’m a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll all at once.
  26. I like candy, but I could live without chocolate.
  27. I love to fly!
  28. I prefer the aisle seat on airplanes.
  29. I say a prayer asking God to guide the hands of the crew and to keep us safe in our journey; and I ask that if His plans don’t include our survival that He comfort our loved ones. I do this for every take off and landing because something compels me to.
  30. I try to order low-sodium meals on the plane and drink lots of water so that I’m refreshed and non-puffy when I arrive. I even wash my face 2-3 times on long flights to/from the UK. I think it helps the jetlag. But that might not be true.
  31. I can’t decide which movies I like better: The Godfather series or the Monty Python movies.
  32. I have polycystic kidney disease. It’s a genetic condition with no cure. But some smart people are working to find a cure!
  33. I have a blood disease called idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura. Even the haematologists who study it don’t know much about it. Which sucks for me.
  34. Despite my medical maladies, I think I’m mostly healthy.
  35. I dream that my doctor will one day say “To live a long and healthy life you must eat lots of good steak and salty, deep-fried foods, drink lots of wine, and smoke.” Of course, if I hear those words I know it’s time to find a new doctor.
  36. I cry myself to sleep at least once a week.
  37. I recently ended a friendship that I didn’t want to end. I’m sure it will be one of the reasons I cry myself to sleep over the next few weeks.
  38. I haven’t slept through the night since Paul died.
  39. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever sleep well again.
  40. I thought that I was ugly growing up because one of my sisters told me over and over again that I was. (Funny, we all look alike!)
  41. I thought that I was stupid growing up because a couple of my teachers said I was.
  42. As an adult, I’ve learned to love myself and know that I’m good looking and intelligent.
  43. One of my Paul’s friends told me that I’m a great person and I’ll find someone new when I’m ready—but that I’d have better luck if I’d dumb it down a bit. (Said person has likely never been married for a reason.)
  44. Several of Paul’s friends have become my friends and I don’t think I could have survived the world without him without them.
  45. I didn’t go on my first date until I was 20 years old.
  46. I married my first true love.
  47. We were a month shy of our 4th anniversary when he died.
  48. I try to be happy and enjoy life because I know it’s what Paul wants for me.
  49. I sometimes think that I’ll meet someone new and fall in love and get married again and I know that Paul would be OK with that. But I can’t be bothered to date because no one is good enough for me.
  50. Thinking that no one was good enough for me is what gave me a reputation for being an overly-picky dater in my 20s.
  51. Being an overly-picky dater meant that when I did land a man, I got the best one on the market!
  52. A stupid woman once told me that the reason I can’t have kids is that God thinks I’d be a bad mom.
  53. I have been a foster mom for a little over six months now—so at least the State of Washington thinks I’d be a good mom!
  54. Paul and I planned to adopt two adorable children before he died.
  55. Sometimes I’m heartbroken that I may never get to be someone’s mom.
  56. I have 17 nieces and nephews and 2 great nephews.
  57. It irritates some of my sisters that their children want to be so much like me.
  58. I’ve had green hair. And pink, purple, blue, yellow, orange, jet-black, and bleach-blonde. Sometimes multiple colours all at once!
  59. My favourite colour is green.
  60. My first car was a 1978 Ford Granada.
  61. My friends and I sanded it down, primed it black, and then painted a big yellow smiley face on the hood and flowers and peace signs all over the body. It was awesome.
  62. I passed my driving test on the first try.
  63. I taught Paul how to drive.
  64. I’ve taught some of my nieces and nephews how to shift gears. (But please don’t tell their moms!)
  65. I have a fascination with butterflies and have since I was a young child.
  66. I have a butterfly tattoo.
  67. I played clarinet in the school band.
  68. I am training for the Loch Ness Marathon.
  69. I am a Pisces.
  70. I was born in the Year of the Tiger.
  71. I don’t believe in astrology stuff.
  72. I will be 37 years old on Monday.
  73. I don’t really like to make a fuss about my birthday.
  74. I have read dictionaries and encyclopaedias for entertainment since I was in junior high.
  75. I don’t like romance novels because they make me uncomfortable.
  76. My friends think I am a prude.
  77. I try never to use profanity because I think it’s vulgar and shows a lack of respect. (But sometimes it slips out in a heated moment of upset.)
  78. I taught myself how to knit and crochet but can only make basic things like scarves and afghans.
  79. I like root beer.
  80. I don’t really care for Coke or Pepsi.
  81. When I was in my late-teens and early-20s, I’d hang out at the local 24-hour diner with my friends drinking coffee and eating cheesy fries with ranch dressing. It was awesome!
  82. I am considered a computer and gadget geek by my family and friends.
  83. I love Doctor Who, but I hate SciFi.
  84. I define SciFi as anything I don’t like.
  85. I always like to have the best gadgets in the room. Sadly, some of my new friends are gadget geeks with better incomes so this is hard to do now.
  86. I love my family.
  87. I am going to miss my cat, Schrodie, so much when I move to Scotland.
  88. I am going to miss my family so much when I move to Scotland.
  89. I used to have Mork & Mindy suspenders (braces) when I was a kid and I wish I still had them now.
  90. I loved Weebles as a child. They were awesome they way they weebled and wobbled but didn’t fall down!
  91. I always wanted tassels on my handlebars when I was a kid. But not so much that I got them as an adult.
  92. My favourite toys growing up were a telescope, a microscope, a rocket kit, and an electric circuit board kit.
  93. I don’t like gold-coloured jewellery.
  94. I like dirty martinis with extra olives.
  95. I drink my coffee strong and black with no sugar.
  96. I am excited about starting grad school in September.
  97. I am afraid that I am ruining myself financially by going to grad school.
  98. I am convinced that going to grad school will fix me emotionally and mentally.
  99. I am excited about my future for the first time since Paul died.
  100. I feel guilty for being happy about this new life, even though I know Paul would be happy for me.

Wow! That was hard! Are you still reading? You deserve an award for that!!

Edited to add: Since folks have been asking where/what their award is, I feel it’s fair (OK, not fair but cheap) for me to say the award is knowing me that little bit better. Sorry it’s so lame! (But thanks for reading!)

Fannies and haggis

The second annual “Freeze Your Fanny and Burns’ Supper Extravaganza” weekend is officially over and I think it was a great success! There were 18 of us for dinner all together and everyone seemed to enjoy the haggis!

I realize that there is so much to say about such a fun-filled weekend, but rather than a big story, I’ll just give some of the highlights then you can check out the photo gallery and YouTube videos for more details. So, here’s how the weekend went:

  • Most everyone arrived Friday evening and we had a blast playing games and visiting.
  • My 11-year-old nephews, Haden and Adrian, and I ran the Freeze Your Fanny 5K on Saturday morning where Haden took 2nd place in his age group and Adrian took 3rd. This was Haden’s second time running the race and Adrian’s first-ever race. (Final times: Haden: 30:04; Adrian: 33:04; Me: 36:50, which isn’t bad since I’d just come off bed rest and took it easy.)
  • Flik and Dad had a Scrabble re-match where, though Daddy won, Flik showed a vast improvement to her skills. (Final score: 226 – 281)
  • Various sisters, uncles, and nieces hiked Kamiak Butte on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Celeste, believe it or not, hiked Kamiak twice in one day!
  • Jessica won the Hula Hoop competition.
  • With all of the food served throughout the weekend, I didn’t wash a single dish! (Thanks to my awesome sisters!)
  • I also didn’t peel any neeps or tatties!
  • Everyone tried the haggis and most had at least a second serving if not a third. In fact, many people even had fried haggis for breakfast on Sunday!
  • Saturday’s dinner ended with Flik playing Auld Lang Syne on her trumpet.
  • Sunday ended with my foster daughter very upset over saying goodbye to her new best friend, my niece Cassandra. (They’ll meet again, for sure!)
  • We laughed and laughed and laughed and had a lot and a lot and a lot of fun all weekend long! (Except for the goodbye tears.)

Check out photos from the weekend here!

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And check out some fun videos from the weekend below!

And I didn’t fall once…

Well, I’m back in America now. But not home. I’m still working on that. So, I’ll save the trials and tribulations of my homeward journey and instead just share yesterday’s super-happy day in Canada with you. (Yay!!)

The day started with a great night’s sleep—for the second night in a row. And it was only made better when I descended the stairs to be greeted by my friends once again. (I was even momentarily mistaken as Rebecca, which I think of as a great compliment!)

After breakfast, we loaded into the car and drove to the wine shop where us women folk bottled some wine whilst the boys popped into the local bike shop. When we finished, the boys drove the wine home and we girlies took a bit of a wander along the water.

Later in the afternoon, we loaded the car again then headed to Cypress Mountain to participate in the Lantern Ski. The last time I went skiing was with my friend, Roach (really), about 12 years ago, and it was down-hill, so I did find cross-country skiing a bit difficult. But, I am pleased to say, I didn’t fall ONE time. [Enter cheeky smile here.]

It was a fantastically-fun day. But a fantastically-long day, too. Which is why I’m posting this now, and not last night when I was too tired for a second cocktail, let alone playing on the computer! (Plus, my tail bone was very sore, since I didn’t fall once, and I just wanted to rest!)

So, those are the highlights from my last full day with great friends in Canada. This morning was a bit sad as I said my goodbyes, but knowing that I’d see everyone in the summer helped ease the tears of separation.

And then the travel trials began…

The highlights are that 1) it took twice as long to get to my foster daughter from Canada to where she was staying and 2) the roads over the mountain pass were too bad to continue after collecting her so we are crashing at the home of an old classmate who happens to live near(ish) the base of the pass.

We hope to continue our trek in the morning, and I promise to share the story when (if?) we make it home.

I miss dinner parties

Shortly after we got married Paul and I started a new tradition of monthly dinner parties. Parties to which we were the only guests. It began with Paul’s birthday when I asked where he wanted to go for dinner. And he requested a five-course meal at home. I think he was shocked that I agreed to it, since it was a lot of work, but I was happy to oblige.

That first dinner (if memory serves correctly) included a nice insalata caprese; French onion soup (with vegetable stock, of course); broiled portabella mushrooms with fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil, served with asparagus and red potatoes; melon and port; and a cheese and fruit platter. We will have started with a cocktail then paired wines with each course. The entire meal took more than four hours to enjoy.

The next month we enjoyed a Christmas feast. In January we had a fancy Burns’ Supper. Then in February we had a five-course Valentine’s dinner. After enjoying fancy dinners four months in a row, we decided that we’d keep it up. And we always dressed for the occasion—me in a fancy dress and him in a shirt and tie.

After a while, we gave each dinner a theme. We’d have French food one evening and Greek food—complete with Ouzo—the next time. It was a great way to try new recipes; which could be tricky since Paul was a vegetarian, but I love a good challenge—and good food! And whilst I did the cooking, Paul would sort out a great selection of music and light the candles.

Yes, we were oh-so-la-de-da. But we enjoyed our special evenings.

Our last fancy dinner was Easter 2009; just two weeks before Paul died. My last fancy dinner was November 2009 when I went to his university reunion; which made me smile because when he first suggested a fancy dinner for his November birthday four years earlier, he used those university dinners as his inspiration.

Anyhow, I miss those evenings of too much food and too much drink; those evenings where we just relaxed and had fun and enjoyed each others’ company. But I’m glad that I have the happy memories to look back on.

There’s no real point to this, sorry to say. But if you’re looking for someone to join you at your next dinner party, just drop me a line!

Pizza, pizza!

My foster daughter had a visit with her mom tonight which meant I was on my own for dinner. So, I decided to stop into The Green Frog in Palouse on my way home to grab some grub to-go.

On Friday Eve, they do pizzas. (That’s Thursday nights, if you wondered.) It’s a fun and funky hippy(ish) restaurant about nine miles south of the small town I live in. Though with a population of about 1,000, you could argue that Palouse, too, is a small town. But I digress…

Their pizzas are basic and rustic—with an interesting array of toppings. Of the nine varieties, only two have meat! Their lunch menu is equally vegetarian-friendly, which is a bit unique in a farming community. [She says digressing again…]

I couldn’t decide what to get, so decided to get two pizzas: The Sparky and The Lola.

The Sparky is described as having ‘Fire roasted tomato sauce, mozzarella, and ham, ham, ham.’

The Lola boasts ‘Pesto, spinach, tomato, feta, toasted walnuts, grilled garbanzo beans [chickpeas], mozzarella, black olives, and basil ribbons.’

I would add the following description to both: ‘Yum, yummy, and yummy-licous!’

Oh, and to wash it all down I got a Deschutes Brewery Inversion IPA. Yum!

Yay! for solo dining evenings! And Yay! for left-over pizza for tomorrow’s lunch!

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.

Fire and wine

It’s been a very long week. A very, very long week. But whilst last Tuesday ended with my going to bed sobbing and crying, this Tuesday is ending with me feeling happy and having a smile on my face.

From good news about my future to good neighbours, it’s just gotten better and better since this time a week ago.

And now, instead of tears, I’m spending my evening smiling inside a toasty warm house. I’ve started my first fire since Paul died; I’ve poured a glass of wine; and I’m just enjoying knowing that I have a bright future in front of me, despite the struggles it will take to get there.

And… relax…

It’s snow time!

The National Weather Service has announced a blizzard warning for the Palouse through tomorrow. And let me just say, I believe it! That’s a lot of snow falling from the skies!

After a slow drive home on the barely visible highway, I am treating myself to a nice cup of hot cocoa (with a touch of Baileys, of course).

They say it’s going to be another record breaker. Check out what a Palouse record-breaking snow looked like in 2008/09 on RyanCentric! (Just over 100 inches fell that year. Brrr…)

Yay! for snow and Yay! for hot cocoa with Baileys!

The cure

As a kid, I remember Grandpa Eberle talking about the best way to get rid of a cold: A shot (or two?) of Brandy, a hot shower, and a warm bed. I think even then I realized that he was basically saying: “If you have a couple of drinks then take a hot shower, you’ll pass out. By the time you wake up, your body will have fought the cold.”

As a grown-up, I always relied on the family recipe for help because “cough syrup” really does help. Any time I was sick, Paul would hand me a small glass of the stuff. The heavy liquor would coat my throat, easing the pain, whilst the booze would help me sleep.

Sadly, today was a sick day for me. No work; just rest. (Well, I did check emails from time-to-time, but was really too tired to do much.) Of course, I didn’t have any cough syrup and with the kid around I didn’t think it was wise to medicate at noon anyhow!

But she’s in bed now. And as I was still in need of medicine, I’ve mixed a lovely dirty Martini. A strong one. So now I’m going to turn off the computer, drink my medicine, and read my trashy novel until the booze takes effect and I fall asleep snuggled under my lovely winter duvet (15 tog!) that I’ve just pulled out of storage.

Who needs a doctor when you’ve got such amazing home remedies?!

My favourite things

As part of my effort to take back my lunch time, I’ve spent today’s lunch break composing a little ditty on my laptop just for my awesome readers; who are also some of my favourite things. (Yay! for awesome readers! And yay! for reclaimed lunch breaks. And yay! for whatever else you want to celebrate today!)

My favourite things
as interpreted by Just Frances*

Shiny new gadgets and hooker-red nails
Cool vintage handbags that come in the mail
Pretty red sports cars and fun silver rings
These are a few of my favourite things

Movies with mobsters and friends who are so dear
Martinis and pizza and pretzels and good beer
Acting quite silly and playing on swings
These are a few of my favourite things

Books about grammar and good punctuation
Laughing and smiling and Scotland vacations
Songs that are happy, that I like to sing
These are a few of my favourite things

When the clouds come
When the tears sting
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

• • • • •

[NOTE: Apparently, my laptop is still set to UK English (not proper American English) from working on school application stuff and has therefore insisted that I have favourite things, not favorite things. And I’m totally OK with that!]

* I’m sure you’ve figured it out, but this is to be sung in the tune of “My Favourite Things”. If you need a reminder, here’s a link to a rendition by Pomplamoose. Yay!

Closer to a better tomorrow

Today’s quote from my “Be Good to Yourself” calendar came at just the right time. For a few weeks now I’ve been telling myself to get in gear and start working toward next year when I hope plan to attend graduate school in the UK.

Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow.
~ Doug Firebaugh

I’ve been working on my applications and I’ve been thinking about the practicalities, but I’ve not actually done anything to get me closer to success.

One of the biggest hurdles (other than the required acceptance letter, of course) is the financial side of the issue. In short, I need to come up with about £24,000 ($36,000) for tuition and living expenses. That’s no small task. (In fairness, I’ll have about £9,000 of that once I finish filling out some tax refund forms for the UK, but that still leaves a £15,000 deficit!)

In an effort to curtail spending I’ve cut the cable and have opted to not buy a complete new wardrobe for the year (despite knowing that Paul would want me to) and will instead work with what I’ve got just adding a couple of pieces here-and-there.

I’ve also decided to trim my grocery budget drastically, which is going to be difficult because I’ve gotten used to buying higher-end foods over the past few years. But, I suppose that I need to get into practice if I’m going to be a starving student!

Anyhow, the main point is this:

I’ve just purchased a big container of Yuban coffee. The sale price was $2.99 per pound, compared to the $12 per pound I normally spend on fancy coffee. I have about three days’ worth of Pioneer Coffee left, and then I’ll have to start slumming it. I’m not really looking forward to this part of my higher education goal, but I suppose I need to cowgirl-up and get on with it.

Other money-saving plans include making more soups and casseroles instead of steaks and prawns; buying fresh flowers less often and instead finding pretty leaf-filled branches and other ‘free’ items from my yard to display on the mantel piece; and eating apples, pears, and other inexpensive fruits instead of expensive berries and exotic imported produce.

It feels a bit ironic to be taking the day’s “Be Good to Yourself” quote and interpreting it to mean depriving myself of lovely foods, but I’m playing the long game here so am happy to make the short-term sacrifice!

Tonight’s dinner: Left-over meat loaf w/ frozen veggies. Tomorrow: Beef stew made from a hodgepodge of left-overs from the freezer. Yum!

Fancy hotels

Faithful readers of other rubbish I’ve written since Paul died will remember the struggle I had the first time I found myself having to travel to Seattle for work on my own. There was something very wrong about staying in a 5-Star hotel without Paul.

Before he died, Paul would travel with me when I went away for work. We’d stay in a fancy hotel, go out for a fancy dinner, then sit in the hotel lounge drinking martinis in our best “la-de-da” fashion. The next day, when I was in meetings, Paul would take advantage of the hotel’s gym and swimming pool facilities. Depending on my schedule, we’d meet for lunch and/or go shopping. It was truly wonderful!

I remember my first stay in a fancy hotel for work after he died. It was so difficult; I felt so lost. My second work trip was a bit easier, but still had its challenges; my third was a bit easier still. And now, I’ve created a whole new fancy hotel routine that includes relaxing on a big fluffy bed and ordering room service.

Tonight finds me in Seattle at The Westin. It’s a fantastic room—though not as big and flash as the a-MAZE-ing room I stayed at in Edinburgh a year ago—and the view of the city is truly breath-taking. (If you like the view of downtown Seattle with the Puget Sound behind.)

I looked at the room service menu and was very unimpressed so instead, I’ve ordered a pizza from Pagliacci —something I’ve not done since Paul and I lived in downtown Seattle so many years ago. And wouldn’t you know it? They also had Thomas Kemper’s root beer, too! (Yum!)

So, here I sit eating pizza, drinking root beer, and working on today’s homework assignment for my online silliness class. It’s relaxing and enjoyable. I can’t believe how much easier this hotel stay is than that first one without Paul about a year ago. Though I still wish Paul was here to enjoy a dirty martini at the lounge downstairs.

Great-grandma’s pickles

Yay! Pickle-making weekend has finally arrived. And just in time, as I was out of pickles.

My folks arrived Friday night with freshly-picked cucumbers from Imperial’s Garden outside of Wapato. They also brought with them my 13-year-old niece and 11-year-old nephew. (A couple of hours later, the kids’ mom arrived with beer for me from her man, JohnnyO, who knows I like good beer. That deserves an extra yay*!)

On Saturday, my nephew and I woke up early for go for a morning run through the wheat fields as part of our training for our 10k race that takes place on 10-10-10. We’d expected to come home to the smells of breakfast cooking, but the rest of the house was still sleeping! When they (finally) woke, we had a big breakfast to fuel us for a long day of pickle production.

My family’s dill pickles are the best! We use my (maternal) great-grandma’s recipe – with a couple of minor tweaks because of modern-day USDA guidelines. Despite the government’s intrusion**, they’re fantastic pickles!

My niece and foster daughter helped a bit with sorting cucumbers in the beginning, but spent most of the day hiding in the kid’s room playing. My nephew, however, spent the entire day helping make pickles with an amazing amount of enthusiasm! To reward him for his hard work, he will get to taste the first pickle when they’re ready. To remind the girls that today was a team effort, they did all the dishes whilst the rest of us relaxed in the living room. (This reminder didn’t sit well with the dish-doers!)

I know you wish you were here with us for this exciting pickle-making weekend, so I come bearing fun things for you! Yes! Another YouTube video, a photo gallery, and a recipe! Wow! Totally awesome!

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Want to make your own pickles? Here’s the recipe***:

Mom’s Dill Pickles
(But really, they’re my great-grandma’s)

Put 1 quart cider vinegar, 1 quart water, and ½ cup pickling salt together in a non-reactive**** saucepan and boil for a few minutes. Then pour the mixture over small cucumbers which are packed tightly into jars along with garlic, peppers, and fresh dill. (Ratios to your taste.) Process in water bath for 15 minutes.

Want to try one of the totally awesome pickles that I made? Well, unless you’re a close friend or family member with plans to visit me in the next wee while, you probably can’t. Sorry about that!

Oh! And how about a little lesson, too!?

* I haven’t decided if the extra yay was for the beer or my sister’s arrival.
** We are not bound by these guidelines, but if we want to enter things in the county fair, they must be made to USDA standards. Oh, and it’s meant to be safer.
*** Ratios of water/vinegar have been changed from the original to be in line with what we made. Dad also points out that some of the reasoning for this is that ‘in the olden days’ vinegar was more acidic that it is today.
**** Non-reactive saucepans are a stainless steel, chip-free enamelware pan, or glass pans.

Having a Ball (and a Martini)

It’s pickle season. That means that when I come home from work tomorrow the house will be full of people and pickle making supplies.

Mmmm… Grandma’s pickles. It’s a little piece of sodium-laden heaven in every crunch bite!

I’ve washed my canning jars (wide-mouth Balls, because that’s the best for pickles) and more jars will be arriving tomorrow along with freshly-picked pickling cucumbers.

The kid is excited about making pickles. She’s also excited that my 11-year-old nephew and 13-year-old niece are joining in on the pickle preparations. She talks about the niece and nephew – whom she’s yet to meet – as if they are her best friends. Exciting!

So, pickle preparations are done for the evening; which means it’s time to take the advice of the best parenting author I’ve ever read: Christie Mellor. Yes, she’s all about parents being number one and, more importantly, parents taking time to enjoy the grown-up pleasures of a Martini. (Her “Three-Martini” look on parenting was one that Paul and I agreed with. Too bad we didn’t get the chance to put the theory into action!)

 

 

You just can’t beet this!

I don’t know if it’s because of my family’s peasant, Germans-from-Russia roots*, or because I’m weird (maybe both?) but I really like beets. I do. Honestly!

So when a friend in Scotland wrote a blog post about her ‘fridge surprise supper’ last month, my mind instantly thought that the photo was a big bowl of borscht. But instead, it was a big bowl of beet risotto – with a rough recipe for readers who wished to emulate. And I did. I really, really did.

After a trip to the Moscow Farmers’ Market yesterday (and a second trip to town for the forgotten onions today) I had everything I needed to make my first-ever risotto. (I know! Can you believe that I’ve never made risotto before? In fact, I had to call my mommy to help locate plain risotto in the store. Which is actually called Arborio rice. Who knew? Well, apparently mom did…)

The recipe called for ‘crumbled goat’s cheese’ and I wasn’t certain if that meant feta or chevre. By the time I started cooking I realized that it was well-past bedtime in Scotland, so thought I’d best not send a text. It seemed to me that the less ‘flavorful’ chevre made more sense in this dish, so that’s the type of goat’s cheese I used. (Is it strange that I had two types of goat’s cheese in my fridge?)

The recipe also called for red wine, so being clever I thought I would open a bottle of French wine because of the Auld Alliance with Scotland. Sadly, the bottle I opened had turned and was closer to rancid vinegar than anything else. So I had to open a new bottle, which was OK since the new bottle was a Washington State Merlot and you just can’t beat Washington State premium wines!

The meal was fab! I mean it. It was really good. I don’t know if it tasted like my friend’s version, but I liked it and will be cooking it again!

Oh, I also made a big pot of borscht. I mean, if you’re going to get your hands all stained red with beets, you may as well go whole-hog in the process. Which means that I now have several portions of yummy soup in the freezer. Yay!

I’m tellin’ ya, I’m in beet heaven today!

* The majority of my family emigrated from Ukraine and are sometimes referred to as Black Sea Germans. If you wondered.

And the winner is…

WooHoo! Thank you to everyone who entered* for a chance to win FREE COFFEE! For that matter, thank you to all of my readers. Your support of my ego-driven ramblings means more to me than you may know!

And congratulations to Mark, who has won a $25 gift card to Starbucks!

Here’s a ridiculously silly little video of me doing the drawing. Feel free to laugh at me. I did when I saw it. (Funny, in my mind I look and sound very different. I think there must be something wrong with my webcam…)

Well, I suppose I should answer my own questions now, so here goes: 

1) What’s your coffee order and why?
Tall drip – preferably French roast but any darker, full-bodied roast will do. Strong; no milk; no sugar. Why? There was a time when I drank lattes, but I think I did it out of social necessity – after all, my friends drank lattes so I should, too. I’d order a double tall, non-fat latte but then I wouldn’t drink the whole thing because it was too milky. I was essentially throwing my money away. It just made sense to switch to drip since I knew I’d actually drink it that way. 

2) What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever witnessed when at the coffee shop?
It was at a Costa Coffee when I was living in Scotland and everyone in the shop was snickering when we saw it. Two elderly ladies were walking toward the counter; a bit slowly, but it was obviously their turn to order next. This young man dressed in his best chavy Burberry get-up pushed past them and mumbled his order in a way that only a chav can do. The ladies were extremely unhappy to have been cut off so one whacked him on his shoulder with her handbag a couple of times whilst the other berated him for his poor behavior, wagging her finger the whole time. The kid looked shocked and embarrassed and swiftly left the shop. It was great! 

3) What’s your favorite ‘random acts of kindness’ story?
Years ago when I was first diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that meant a low platelet count, I was told that I could still donate blood if my platelet counts were in the ‘normal’ range for at least three months. So when the condition went into remission I excitedly went to the local blood drive – dragging a friend with me, even though she wasn’t going to donate as she was not too keen on needles. When I was told by the Red Cross nurse that, actually, I would never be able to donate blood again because I’m a ‘bleeder’, I was visibly upset. I think I may have even cried.

My friend, the one who was extremely dramatic about her dislike of needles, instantly said “I’ll give blood since you can’t.” She knew that taking over my dedication to blood donation was the best way to console me. It was an act of impulse, but also of kindness. And each time there was a blood drawing in town, she was there giving blood in my stead. And when she was asked if she was interested in being placed on the national bone marrow registry, she said yes without batting an eye. And, eventually, she became a living organ donor. Whilst the last part wasn’t so random, the blood donor part certainly was!

Thanks again for coming out to play! Have an awesome day!

* For reasons not-yet discovered, the back-end system used for Just Frances deleted rather than approved all comments made by first-time posters (on all stories) over a period of about 48 hours, though I did get the email notifications. This means that if you commented, I got it – I will work to manually enter them over the weekend so that everyone can see them. And I’ve emailed all of those people to let them know I know they’ve commented. The system is now up-and-running so any new comments WILL appear on the board. Technology, for all of it’s amazing awesomeness, sucks some times!

A nice cuppa tea and a sit down

When I got home from work today, I realized that I’ve not enjoyed a nice cuppa tea and a sit down after work since my last work day before Paul died. And I realized that I sort of missed that little bit of down time between arriving home from the office and making dinner. So, I filled the kettle and set it to boil…

I’ve enjoyed tea in the past year – but on the weekends when I’m sitting on the couch watching television. This evening was not that. As part of my new cable-free lifestyle, I enjoyed my pot of oolong tea with a couple slices of homemade banana bread whilst listening to the soothing sounds of Miles Davis.

I realized instantly that it’s not as much fun to enjoy a cuppa without someone to chat with, but I’m sure that I’ll soon find comfort in sitting on my own.

In the mean time, I’m going to try to remember that I always enjoyed this part of my day. A chance to unwind and enjoy a nice, hot cuppa tea – and maybe instead of telling Paul all about my day, I can tell Schrodie. I’m certain that she will listen intently and impart words of wisdom when needed…

(Oh no! I’m starting to sound like a crazy cat lady!)

Come and share a pot of tea; my home is warm and my friendship’s free.
~ Emilie Barnes

Cold theory

So I’m sitting here drinking a proper beer with my sister and brother-not-in-law, JohnnyO. (JohnnyO is drinking Bud Light, which is almost proper beer, so that’s OK.) A question of if my beer is ‘ice cold’ turns the conversation to the ridiculous ‘cold activation’ sensor-thingy on the side of a can of Coors Light. [I’m shuddering at the thought of drinking said beverage regardless of the temperature.]

Anyhow, being one of those people who must find an answer for anything, even if it’s made up, I had to answer JohnnyO when he asked “What’s up with that?” with complete disdain in his voice.

And here’s my theory:

You know those people who are really dumb and hold Roman Candles in their hands whilst the fiery balls of flaming sulfur fly into the sky? Or the ones who stop at the gas station because their car is a bit noisy then grab the muffler to see if it’s securely attached to the car? Or the woman (or man) who checks to see if the curling iron is hot enough by wrapping their hand around the barrel? You know, the people who end up at the Harborview Burn Center for skin grafts causing them to lose sensation in their hands?

Well, I think that those are the people Coors is marketing to. The people with no feeling in their hands. And who like cheap, crap lagers. And need a way to tell if it’s ice cold.

When I rule the world, I will make certain that my Drinks Tsar makes eliminating Coors and other icky lagers* a priority.

* Icky lagers are to be defined as those un-liked by me as well as the lucky person who gets to be Drinks Tsar.

Go Wine!

Uncle Mike finally found his way to the Palouse for a day of wine tasting! (Can you believe it!?) He showed up Saturday evening and on Sunday morning we went into town to taste some of the finest wines the Palouse has to offer.

Our first stop was Merry Cellars in Pullman where we had a private tasting with winemaker Patrick Merry. I’d had a couple of their wines before but had never been to their winery for a full tasting so it was a fantastic opportunity to try everything they had to offer. And I think I’ve found a new varietal to add to my “favorites” list: Carmenere. It’s normally used as a blending grape, but I really did like it as a standalone. Yay!

Next up, we crossed over into Idaho to visit Camas Prairie Winery, where winemaker Stu Scott gave us a private tasting followed by a tour of the facilities. I’d been tasting there before and have always like the wines, but after learning that they are a “Clean Green” winery, recognized as a “Pollution Prevention Champion”, I’m even more impressed! Plus, I’m a fan of solar power and enjoyed the opportunity to see the solar panels installed on the roof of the building. [Oh, and Stu is retiring and wants to sell the business. If you want to buy it, tell him I sent you so that I can get the finder’s fee!]

For a third stop, we popped into the tasting room at Wawawai Canyon Winery along the Moscow-Pullman highway. I’d never had any of their wines so it was a real treat for me. Uncle Mike and the winemaker had a nice little chat about vineyards and pruning methods whilst I enjoyed the jazz music they had playing in the background.

Of course, because Uncle Mike is “in the biz” he got an industry discount. I was very pleased to have been extended the same discount for my own purchases, which helped to pad out my dwindling wine collection.

When we finally returned home, I gave Uncle Mike a quick haircut then we enjoyed a nice meal on the back patio with a couple bottles of wine.

The best part of the weekend – other than spending time with Uncle Mike, of course – was that he gave me a bottle of his own wine made with grapes from his vineyard. It’s not ready for market nor does it have a brand and label yet, but it’s some mighty fine wine.

Guess it’s time I head to Walla Walla to visit him next…

A lazy day

I started the day off thinking I’d do some weeding in the garden. Maybe work on my tan a bit. So, I broke out the gardening tools and poured a glass of cheap-and-cheerful white wine. Then Schrodie came by to visit and reminded me it was a Sunday. And as a good Catholic girl, I should know that Sunday is a rest day.

Then I remembered seeing a flyer in the post office for lawn service and I figured that if I’m willing to pay someone to clean my house, I should be willing to pay someone to weed the flower beds.

With that thought firmly planted in my mind, I broke out the patio table and chairs – carefully situating it so that I could sit in the sun whilst the laptop and phone sat in the shade.

And now, with a bottle of wine and a couple of good books waiting for me and The Divine Comedy providing the day’s musical enjoyment, I’m going to sit back and relax.

Ahhh….

Shaken, not stirred

My love for Martinis developed sometime in the summer of 2008. It was a drink that Paul and I spoke about trying for a long time, but we needed Martini glasses and it took us quite a long time to find ones that we liked. (We ended up with very simple Ikea glasses.) Once we had all of the supplies, we took on the task of mastering the perfect drink. It took a while, and we dumped a fair bit of failed liquid down the drain, but eventually we got there and developed our “RyanCentric” Martini.

A RyanCentric Martini is the perfect blend of vodka or gin with dry vermouth, a drop or two of bitters, and as many olives as you can fit on a cocktail pick. (Maybe a little bowl of olives on the side, too, because you should never drink on an empty stomach.) Oh, and a splash or two of olive brine, because I like it dirty… ::giggle::

I used to love coming home after work and Paul would be there waiting to greet me. He seemed to know if I was having a hard day at the office, because on those days he’d greet with with a kiss and a hug – and a freshly-poured Martini. (Hugs and kisses happened regardless of the quality of my day.)

And every four weeks, when the results of my blood work would come in, he’d be ready with a Martini. If my platelet counts were high, we’d have a celebratory drink. If they were low, we’d commiserate with one of those deliciously-salty drinks. (For those who wonder, my last counts were really really good. Tonight’s Martini is a belated celebration of that fact.)

We used to love being all “la-de-da” with our Martinis!

I remember sitting in the funeral home looking at urns a couple of days after Paul died. I knew I wanted something simple – and certainly not something etched and floraly and ugly (as most funereal things tend to be, apparently). The funeral director showed me a few options – one of which was a plain, silver, traditionally-shaped urn. As I held it in my hands, it dawned on me that it was shaped like a Martini mixer – right down to the top “lid” portion. I had to laugh. And for an ironic moment I considered it. But in the end, I went with the simple boxes. Two of them: A black metal one for his burial in the states (it reminded me of a monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and a simple wooden one for his burial in England.

I don’t know that I will ever be able to drink another Martini with at least a passing thought of Paul. But you know what, it makes me smile to think of him. And you should always smile when drinking an extra-large, extra-olive, extra-dirty Martini. They taste better that way.

And when it comes to shaken or stirred, I prefer shaken.

Fictional President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet once said:

Shaken, not stirred, will get you cold water with a dash of gin and dry vermouth. The reason you stir it with a special spoon is so not to chip the ice. James [Bond] is ordering a weak Martini and being snooty about it.

Snooty? Maybe. Pretentious? Probably. Smart? Definitely. In Bond’s case, he could enjoy an extra Martini or two and not be too tipsy for all his spy stuff. In my case, a slightly weaker Martini means I’ll have the steadiness of hand to mix more than one in an evening. (But only one on a school night!)

A weekend at home

Weekends haven’t been the same since Paul died, but I’ve been determined to get back to spending them as normal as possible. Now that spring has finally sprung, I was thrilled to learn that I would have this weekend completely free. No work, no plans, no nothing. This is the sort of weekend that Paul and I liked best because we could spend it doing nothing – which basically meant doing all sorts of things!

Paul used to tell me to sit down and relax, but I just can’t resist working in the yard on a nice day. And then there are all the kitchen chores. And, of course, laundry and grocery shopping and running and… Sadly, now that Paul is gone I have to do his share of the work, too.

Anyhow, I managed to pack quite a bit in to the weekend – even though I didn’t get out of bed until after 10:00 a.m. each day! I’m certain you don’t really care for the details of my weekend, but since this is my blog, I get to pick the topic. And get to talk (or type) as much as I want. To that, I’ve created a photo album so that you can see just how I spent my weekend.

I’ve spared you the little details like checking Facebook every-so-often and personal hygiene tasks because, well, I don’t want to share everything with my fans!

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Retail therapy

I’ve been feeling very sad and lonely the last few days so when my neighbor called to see if I wanted to drive into the city today to cheer me up, I was more than happy for the distraction. What I didn’t realize was that I would actually have a successful shopping day, which was an added cheer for the day! I know that Paul would be very pleased that I bought new clothes – and I even think that he’d have approved of some of it!

My retail therapy actually began yesterday when I purchased a new phone to replace the one I broke whilst on holiday in March. Everyone who knows me likely knows that a cool new gadget is almost guaranteed to bring a smile to my face – which is exactly what my new HTC Tilt2 has done. (Windows Mobile 6.5, if you wondered.)

When we took off for Spokane today, I don’t think that either of us actually planned to buy anything. I think we figured we’d check out a shop or two for plants or garden supplies, maybe grab some lunch, then head home. We got to the Northtown Mall and on our way in noticed a good sale and I was gently prodded to look at the summer dresses – so I did. And I found two that I really liked. And they were on sale. So I bought them.

At the next store, it was my neighbor who had the shopping success having found two great pairs of jeans (one of which was just $5!) and a new necklace. (I found a little over-shirt to wear with my pajamas and a small pair of silver earrings.)

On the way back to the car, we stumbled upon a new store in the mall that sells fantastic business-appropriate clothes and we decided that, as we were pretty much shopped out at that point, that we’d come up some other time to find some nice suits. But I managed to find a pair of denim capris and an amazingly-ugly jacket before we left.

With one more store ahead of us, we stopped in for nachos and margaritas for a re-charge session and to rest up a bit. Then we headed across the road to the golf store where I found a couple of pairs of shoes I like (but I didn’t have the right socks for trying on shoes). I also managed to buy a new pair of golf shorts – they are purple and green plaid and are truly ugly. But I’ve decided that I am going to create a golf look for myself of plaid bottoms and solid-colored tops. I know that I should spend more time working on my swing than looking for ugly clothes, but the swing is never going to improve, so that’s OK.

I really did enjoy the distraction of the day, and while it won’t fix the fact that I’ve come home to an empty house, it did mean that I didn’t sit around the house feeling sad all day. And now that I have all this nice summer clothes, I’m going to have to find excuses to leave the house every-so-often to show them off. I just wish that Paul was here to enjoy the benefit of having a gorgeous, well-dressed, sexy woman on his arm. (Yes, that’s meant to be describing me. I’ve taken a bit of creative license on that one, I know!)

Taste testing

Part of being a redneck means that homemade booze is a fixture in your life. In my case, I don’t make my own booze (any more). I just drink the goods my wonderful mom produces.

A fan of fine Brandy, I was very excited more than a year ago when Mom first mentioned her latest attempt at home-brew: “Mock Cognac”. Well, today was finally tasting day!

With a glass of Hennessy’s VS Cognac in one hand and a glass of Mom’s Cle Elum-brewed brandy in another, I was ready for the challenge. Result: Not bad. Whilst Mom’s isn’t as smooth as Hennessy’s, it’s certainly an improvement on some of the bottom-shelf stuff I’ve suffered.

We’ll do another taste in about seven months before she wraps it up for Christmas gifts, so there’s time for it to age and improve a bit more. In the mean time, I will start looking for some good cocktail recipes for when I get my share of the liquid gold…

Walla Walla wines

I went to Walla Walla this weekend to visit with some family and friends and participate in a Saturday wine tour – a hobby I enjoy but don’t do often enough. A friend from high school works in the wine-biz in the Seattle area and I promised her a review of the wineries, so here you go!

The first stop was Bergevin Lane Vineyards. Most of their wines are priced in the $25 – $55 range but I felt it was fair pricing for what you get. I especially liked their 2008 Viognier (Columbia Valley; 90 Points; Wine Enthusiast); their 2005 Oui Deux Syrah (Wahluke Slope; “Best of Class”; S.F. Chronicle Wine Competition; January 2009); and their 2006 Intuition Reserve (92 Points; Wine Spectator).

Next up was Patit Creek Cellars. All but one of their wines were priced under $30 but, again, the prices were fair for the product. I was extremely impressed with their 2007 Zinfandel (Walla Walla Valley; 93 Points; Wine & Spirits). Their 2007 Roux Bordeaux Blend (Columbia Valley) and their 2008 Chardonnay (Red Mountain) were also excellent wines. I was also very impressed with their 2008 Semillon Ice Wine (Columbia Valley) but being cheap and not really being a fan of dessert wines, I couldn’t bring myself to spend $59.00 on it (though if you really like ice wine, this is an amazing price for the drink!)

Finally, we went to Waterbrook Winery where we took a full facility tour, including barrel tastings, before heading to the tasting room to try their current releases. Their wines are mass-produced in state-of-the-art facilities, which mean they have a lower price point than the first two wineries. With rare exception, their wines are all under $20, but are surprising good when compared to other wines in a similar range. I really liked their 2007 Pinot Gris, 2007 Sangiovese Rose, 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2005 Meritage (all Columbia Valley vineyards).

There were only two wines I didn’t care for throughout the day, and that was because they were too sweet for me. No one else agreed with that opinion, but that was OK with me!

(Note to self: Go to Walla Walla to visit Uncle Mike more often. The wine is fab and the company is OK, too!)

Going green

Across America, people are going green. Not in an effort to be more sensitive to the environment but rather in an effort to get in touch with their inner-Irish. Regardless of family ancestry (mine being Germans from Russia) every American is Irish today. Or is that Oirish?

Traditionally a Catholic holiday and feast day, St. Patrick’s Day, like many other holidays, has been overly commercialized and Americanized in recent years. Our “Irish” traditions are very different than those celebrated by natives of Ireland, living in Ireland, but they were probably loosely based on some village traditions brought over by Irish immigrants then morphed as other cultures began to participate in the hype.

From parades and municipality-sponsored events to pub crawls with green beer and Baileys there are events for everyone! School children wear green to protect themselves from being pinched; families feast on corned beef and cabbage.

Me? I totally get into it! I have special socks and a selection of fun and funky hats and headbands. I wear green clothes and green jewelry. I eat Irish-themed foods (or dye them green if I can’t spin it Irish any other way). This was all very much a culture shock to Paul – the son of an Irishman who grew up in England – but he went along with it because his kookie American wife was going to be Irish on March 17 whether he played along or not.

Of course, as it’s Just Frances now, I didn’t have anyone to buy a St. Patrick’s Day card for. And I didn’t feel like making a big corned beef. And, well, being alone on these holidays just reminds me that I’m alone every day, so this year I scaled back the celebration. I still wore the socks and green clothes of course; I just didn’t go all crazy in my normal style.

But I did need dinner. Potatoes are very Irish, so chips were on the menu. And beer. Green beer. It’s the Oirish in me that insisted on that one…

Building strong bones

Growing up I was told to drink my milk because it was good for building strong bones. I attempted that at the weekend by purchasing a half-gallon of 2%* to enjoy with a box of Cap’n Crunch Berries. (Yes, I intended to eat the entire box over the course of the day. Do you have a problem with that?) Sadly, by the time I went to get the milk from the fridge, I realized the fridge might be on its last leg as it wasn’t as cold as it should have been.

The contents of the fridge were all cool at best, and not wanting to risk anything because of underlying health issues, I threw out most of the lovely food I’d purchased the day before: Fresh chicken, salmon, steak, eggs, and the milk. Hard cheeses and beer got a reprieve and I cranked the thermostat to super cold in the hopes of giving the ancient appliance a few more weeks until her inevitable death.

So, no milk to grow those strong bones… What will I do now?

Wait! Have no fear! I’ve found a solution!

Whilst reading The Scotsman online this morning, I found an interesting article on recent research conducted at the University of California claiming that beer – yes, beer! – may possess bone-strengthening properties due to high levels of malted barley and hops, which are rich in silicon.

Now, not wanting to be one of those people who think that you can build strong bones without calcium, I decided that drinking beer alone would be a silly way to attempt at staving off osteoporosis. No, I would certainly need a combination of beer and calcium.

This is why tonight’s dinner is pepperoni pizza** and beer: It’s a healthy living thing.

*2% milk in America is about half-way between “Whole” and “Semi-Skimmed” in the UK, if you wanted to know that useless bit of information.
**You could argue that eating meat actually increases your risk of osteoporosis, but these claims have yet to be scientifically proven and are still being debated by several legitimate research groups.

Black pale ale?

Over the years, I’ve determined that I’m really not a Widmer Brothers fan, with the exception of their amazingly delicious Hefeweizen. It’s not that I don’t like Widmer beers; it’s just that I have a list of three other brands I tend to prefer. However, I was intrigued when I saw their new Brewmasters’ Release – Pitch Black IPA – on the shelf. (The fact that it was on sale may have helped the six-pack find its way to my cart.)

According to the label:

A pinch of black malt and splash of roasted barley break this IPA apart from tradition. Cascadian Dark: Join the shady revolution.”

I was a bit curious how you could make an IPA (India Pale Ale) into a ‘pitch black’ beer, but I’m a fan of both IPAs and dark beers so, taking into consideration the great sale price, I thought I’d give it a try.

The result? WaHoo! Score! Great brew! Me likey!

I won’t get into tasting notes and crap because, unlike wine and whisk(e)y, I don’t really do that for beer. But I will say it’s good and completely worth it. In fact, I would likely buy a sixer again even if it’s not on sale. You should, too, but hurry – the release is up in April!! Drink fast!

I may have to try a few more Widmer brews now. You never know, I may have found a great new brand!

Must go do a bit of quality control now… Cheers!

Yorkshire

I’m well into my second full day in the UK now and while I know I’m just on holiday, I feel as if I’ve come home. I really like how at ease and at peace I feel when I’m here. It’s a feeling I first had a few weeks after moving to Edinburgh and it’s never gone away. I guess it’s true what they say: “Home is where the heart is” and my heart has been here for nearly 10 years now.

It’s been fun seeing it all through Mom’s eyes. She seems to be enjoying herself and is enjoying the company, too. She’s still a bit jetlagged, but she’ll soon get used to the new time zone. After all, a proper cuppa will fix whatever’s ailing you, right?

We spent yesterday playing around Wakefield before heading over to York where Mom got to enjoy her first pub lunch. And her first pub dinner. This morning, we woke up and enjoyed a proper English breakfast – complete with heavenly British bacon. (If you’ve not tried bacon on both sides of the pond, you may not know what I mean. If you have, you understand the love affair I have with the UK stuff!)

After breakfast we went into town to see the York Minster, enjoyed a nice tea at Betty’s (where else?), then toured around the medieval city center with a stop at St. Margaret Clitherow’s Chapel on The Shambles. Mom’s now resting while I play geeky-gadget girl (and check up on work emails) before we head out for the family dinner later this evening.

I’m enjoying showing Mom around my lovely British Isles, and I think she’s enjoying being a tourist – but with the added bonus of traveling with someone who has the inside knowledge!

Now, back to my lovely cup of tea…

The problem with Seattle*

It’s Monday night and I’m busy getting ready for my holidays: Doing laundry; packing; cooking up ‘leftover stew’ with the contents of the fridge to put in the freezer (can’t have spoiled food when I return!); and reassuring Schrodie that I really do love her, despite the fact that I’m abandoning her yet again…

The frustrating thing is that I don’t actually leave until Wednesday, but because I’m flying out of the Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) I have to leave a full day before. It’s a nearly six-hour drive to the airport from my house – IF there’s no traffic and IF the mountain pass is clear (February? That’s a very iffy if!). And so, I’m getting ready tonight so that I can drive to my folks’ house tomorrow (that’s about four hours away) then on Wednesday morning, Daddy will drive me and Mom to SeaTac.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do like the idea of flying out of SeaTac. As the largest airport in the state, it offers non-stop flights into Europe, where leaving from Spokane (which is only an hour away) would mean a stop somewhere in the states – and an added 5+ hours to the journey – for international flights. You could argue that I’ve already used up that time by driving clear across the state just to get to the airport, and you’d be correct! But, since I’m taking this journey with Mom, a long drive one way or another just had to happen.

But here’s the problem as I really see it: I like to have every bit of clothing cleaned, and freshly-made beds before I leave. In a world where I left my house straight for the airport, I would do laundry before bed so that the only dirty clothes being left behind were my jammies and unmentionables (::blush::) from the night before. However, in this scenario, I will be leaving a complete outfit as well as my jammies and unmentionables behind. OK, this really just means an extra pair of trousers, an extra top, and a pair of socks, and that there won’t be time to make up the bed with fresh sheets AND wash the old ones before I leave, but it’s just enough to cause my obsessive-compulsive issues (did I mention I have those?) into overdrive.

(A saving grace: The housekeeper will be in a couple of days before my return, so I can have her take care of the bed for me. But there won’t be enough dirty clothes to warrant her doing the washing.)

(A second saving grace: Thanks to the inspiration of a friend in Scotland, I am enjoying a Hefeweizen (or two) whilst packing. Yes, on a school night!)

Oh, and a random memory of Paul as I look at the photo with this story: Last February as I packed for a trip to the UK with Paul, he noticed for the first time that I actually have a well-organized packing list which I use for travel – tick-boxes and all! He laughed and laughed and laughed. But when we got  to England, I had everything I needed. Lucky for him, I did his packing, too. (I know, I truly am OCD!)

*OK, the title isn’t fair. It leads one to believe that there is just one problem with Seattle (or the greater Puget Sound area, really) and folks from “The 509” know that there are certainly many more problems than that! I’m quite certain that if you stick around, there will be more complaints offered about the Wet/West Side of the state!

Happy birthday to me

Today is my 36th birthday and to celebrate, I’ve opened a bottle of bubbly and I’m feasting on caviar, wild salmon, and Alaskan king crab. The house is empty, save for me and the cat. There is soft jazz playing in the background and I’m admiring the way the light glistens off of the lovely ring I’m wearing; a birthday present I purchased for myself at Macy*s.

It seems that the last year went by so quickly. On my 35th birthday, I sat right here in this very living room with Paul. It’s strange to think that I only had Paul with me for about two months of my 35th year. And it’s sad to think that I won’t have him at all for my 36th. If he were here, he’d have left a card on the mantle place for me to open when I woke up and he would have bought me the perfect gift – he always did. We would have argued over what to do for the day. I would have wanted to stay home and cook a nice meal; he would have wanted to go out somewhere to celebrate. “I’m not having my wife cook on her birthday,” he would argue.

I had all intentions of sitting around the house doing “nothing” all day but had a last-minute change of heart and instead went to Moscow Wild at Art to decorate some pottery. This was a positive decision for several reasons: 1) It’s not good to sit around and sulk on your birthday; 2) Arts and crafts are great therapy; 3) Spending at least part of your birthday with other humans is always a good idea; and 4) The delay in popping the cork on the bubbly means there won’t be as many Mimosas (Buck’s Fizzes) throughout the day, which means less of a headache tomorrow.

Of course, since my pottery piece of choice was a cat food bowl, and I did a really lousy job at it, Schrodie will not be too pleased that I went and did something. (Goodness, the last time I painted pottery was more than 20 years ago. I feel so old!)

Up next: I’m going to put on my jammies and curl up on the couch for a six-hour EastEnders marathon, enjoyed with a gorgeous piece of mascarpone cheesecake and maybe a big bowl of popcorn. Because it’s my birthday and I can do whatever I want on my birthday.

A day at the spa

I’ve just returned home after enjoying my first-ever spa day. It was pure heaven and I can’t believe that in my nearly 36 years of life I’ve never done it before. In fact, other than haircuts and a couple of years when I had fake nails in my 20s, I never had any treatments at a spa or salon until about two years ago when I got my first facial. My second facial didn’t happen for more than a year after the first. But who cares about then? This is about today…

Can I just say “WOW!”? I started off with a full body treatment (which is essentially head-to-toe exfoliation) and a massage. Then I had my eyebrows shaped (for you men, that’s code for waxed) before having a full-on facial. All of this (except for the eyebrow part) was calming and relaxing. I was able to just rest there in a state of calming bliss while someone else worked to make me beautiful.

Finally, it was time for my manicure and pedicure. These are two treats I’ve been receiving regularly since Paul died. It started because I couldn’t manage the simple task of self-grooming in the early days, but continued because I always feel so wonderfully happy and de-stressed after spending an hour or two being pampered by the lovely Nichelle.

Now I’m home and enjoying a relaxing evening on the couch with Schrodie and feeling beautiful. I’ve rewarded myself with Mimosas and caviar; after all, I was very well behaved all day. I really must treat myself to these little pleasures more often; I deserve it!