Thursday, May 31, 2012

Woman of Leisure

I don’t hear the term housewife thrown around a lot in Scotland. Instead, when I reply ‘no’ to the question of whether or not I am working, I usually get an exclamation of “Oh, so you’re a woman of leisure, then? That’s great!”
I’m really liking the term ‘woman of leisure’. It implies days of novel reading, blog writing, dog walking, yoga posing, bible studying, tea drinking, and nap taking. It also omits things like toilet scrubbing, dish washing, poop scooping, laundry folding, grocery shopping and floor mopping.
Yes, I definitely like the sound of the leisurely life, and the gym we just joined is going to help me brush up on my chillaxin’ skills. David Lloyds is a health club in Aberdeen that includes an extensive gym, several group classes ranging from yoga to cycling, indoor heated pools, indoor tennis courts, fancy locker rooms, and my personal favorite- a steam room. For my Lafayette readers, it’s very similar to Red Lerilles.  It also includes a little café with a spectacular view of the Dee River. The café serves food ranging from light snacks to hearty meals and also includes a coffee shop.
I envision that many a leisurely morning will be spent perfecting my yoga poses, followed by a nice steam, capped off with hot chocolate while I contemplate the awesomeness of my life while in view of a gorgeous river.  Then of course I’ll be snapped out of my leisurely daze by the fact  that there is a sink full of dishes to wash and a house that frankly isn’t going to vacuum itself. Just like yoga, it’s all about balance, right?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Air Shipment Delivered

Well our air shipment was finally delivered last night. Woohoo! Happy Dance! It felt a little bit like Christmas morning unwrapping all the goodies from our previous life.
Now that I have the first 2 seasons of Gilmore Girls, I can finally start settling in here in Aberdeen. Priorities, right?
Already, our guest room bedding is making our temporary master bedroom feel more cozy, especially due to our silky sheets and fancy pillows.
Better than any Christmas gift is definitely the Vonage equipment. Now, just as soon as I figure out how to work it, I’ll be able to call home to the States. Me and technology don’t always get along, but I’m pretty determined to get this working, so I just might surprise myself on this one.
The dogs went into a frenzy when they spotted jumbo packs of rawhides and retriever sticks. I hate to break it to them that these items are as precious as gold and they definitely won’t be getting the handfuls they were used to getting every time I left the house in Houston.
Other items in our air shipment were fluffy towels, DVDs and books, our Wii for streaming Netflix, extra clothes, laundry detergent, our wireless printer and more dog related items. After taking inventory of what I had packed and thinking ahead to what we prepared in our sea shipment, there are definitely things I would have brought and others that I shouldn’t have stressed out so much over. But that’s another post entirely. For now, I have some unpacking to do and some very important phone calls to make. Happy happy happy dance!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Adventures in Cooking: Chicken Parmesan and Homemade Breadcrumbs

After I tackled the exhausting task of replicating my Lasagna recipe, I thought I’d go a little bit easy on myself and attempt the much simpler Italian dish of Chicken Parmesan. The recipe calls for 6 basic ingredients which I figured would be easy enough to find. Wrong.

One of the main ingredients is Italian breadcrumbs, and if they exist at an Aberdonian grocery store, I have yet to find them. When I asked a grocery worker where they could be found, she fixed me with a blank stare, which usually means they don’t have it or they call it by some other term that we’ll never in a million years be able to communicate to each other even though we “speak the same language”.
Refusing to admit defeat, I looked up a recipe for homemade breadcrumbs, and just like that, my simple, throw-it-together recipe turned into a 2 hour labor of love. Making breadcrumbs is easy enough if you have a food processor or even a blender. However, if all of your kitchen appliances are in a shipment container somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, it can become a bit more labor intensive. It is still possible to make them by hand; it’s just going to take all afternoon.
All you do is toast 3 or 4 slices of bread (more or less depending on how much you need) and then crumple them into the smallest pieces you can. Then place them on a cookie sheet and sprinkle them with any spices you choose. Since I was aiming for Italian, I added basil and oregano. Place the bread into the oven and bake on 250 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the bread is completely dried out. Then, grind the pieces of bread into the finest powder that you can by using whatever kitchen tools you have at your disposal, preferably a food processor.
The best resource I had available was a water glass. Grinding bread crumbs by hand takes about two hours and will replace any triceps workout you were thinking about doing for the day. Ouch. And it’s not a task for a slightly OCD perfectionist because every stubborn crumb that refused to grind down into a finer powder would annoy me to no end. I’m seriously still having nightmares about it. It's also quite a messy process.

Once the breadcrumbs were made, cooking dinner was easy breezy. The most painful part about it was tossing the leftover breadcrumbs away. Absolutely excruciating. Fortunately, a lady from the AWA (American Women of Aberdeen) tipped me off to a place called Wowzie that sells American products. I went in looking for graham crackers, which I didn’t find, but I did a happy dance when I spotted these on the shelf.
And as a bonus, I splurged on some sour patch kids as well.
Below is the recipe I use for Chicken Parmesan, which my dear friend Kathryn shared with me during a girl’s weekend on Lake Conroe. I don’t have my recipes with me, so I’m writing this from my not-so-precise memory. Remember, cooking is an art, not a science.
Kathryn's Chicken Parmesan
Chicken Breasts
1 cup Italian Breadcrumbs
1 Egg
½ cup Parmesan Cheese
Pasta Sauce
Spaghetti Noodles
Pound the Chicken Breast to about ¼ of its original thickness.
Mix breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese in a Ziplock bag.
Dip chicken breasts in beaten egg and then shake in ziplock bag until chicken is covered in breadcrumbs and parmesan mixture.
Bake on 325 degrees for 25 minutes.
Serve over pasta and Spoon Pasta Sauce on top of the chicken.  
It’s wonderfully healthy and delicious, and easy enough as long as you don’t have to make your breadcrumbs by hand.
And in other news: Our Air Shipment is being delivered today. Woohoo! I'm going to be sleeping like a baby on some Egyptian Cotton sheets tonight. Take that, JetLag!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Weekly Update and Slains Castle

I’m temporarily suspending Monday Progress Reports which is a great sign that life is slowing down. My to-do list this week does contain some moving related items such as getting signed up for National Health Service and hopefully unpacking our air shipment, but mainly it just includes things like laundry and vacuuming. Rumor has it that our air shipment arrived in Aberdeen on Thursday. We’ve heard it takes about 2 days to clear customs so I’m optimistically awaiting a phone call to set up a delivery time for today or tomorrow. I said that last Monday as well though, so we’ll see...

Mainly I want my Vonage equipment so that I can hear the sweet voices of my family and friends back home. I can’t believe I’ve gone three weeks without talking to my Mom. I’ve been getting by with scraps of information via email, but I’m definitely ready for some phone dates.
For the past week, the weather in Aberdeen has been perfect. Pure sunshine and warm temperatures. I’m a little disheartened because the locals assure us that this is a fluke and never happens. I was hoping that summer would come to visit a few weeks out of the year, but evidence is pointing to the contrary. We’ve felt a lot of pressure to get out there and enjoy the weather while it lasts, so we spent the weekend exploring the outdoors and increasing our chances of contracting skin cancer.
Friday we headed up to Cruden Bay to do a hike around the coast and to see Slains castle. I found this hiking website, Walking Highlands, which has already become a dear friend to me. It was hard to pick just one hike for the weekend, but since Jon’s a sucker for coastlines and I’ve been hankering to see Slains castle ever since reading The Winter Sea, we decided that this would be a great choice for our inaugural Scotland hike. It took us about 45 minutes to make the drive to Cruden Bay, and about 2 hours to make the hike, which included a picnic lunch midway.
We started off from a parking lot across from a famous and beautiful golf course in town and followed a wooded trail beside a stream. We ascended a hill which lead us to a clear view of the ocean and our first glimpse of the castle.

The seascape is full of majestic cliffs which is why we decided to leave Bailey behind. I have nightmares of her chasing a bird or a rabbit straight off of a cliff face. There was actually a story of a dog that did just that and somehow managed to survive the plunge into the ocean. I bet you can’t guess what kind of dog it was. I’ll give you a hint: spotted spaniel. I’m just saying…for now, we are excluding Bailey from any hikes near cliffs.
Slains Castle is a bit rundown and appears to have been abandoned by the Scottish Tourism board. It’s fenced off, but with a gate for easy access. The inside of the castle is full of litter and graffiti which is really sad to see. It definitely took away from the atmosphere, but we enjoyed a look around anyway.
It’s easy to imagine that in its day, the castle was quite a fortress. The plot of real estate alone is incredible (Jon wants to buy it and rename it Laine’s CastleJ). At certain points, it appears that the castle is built right into the cliff wall, and from the windows you look straight out onto the ocean.
Our walking guide encouraged us to keep walking along the coast beyond the castle, and we were rewarded with spectacular ocean scenery including natural arches and blowholes.

We stopped in an especially picturesque place to have a picnic in the sunshine, before making our way back to the car. It was a nice, romantic outing and a good start to the weekend.
We spent Saturday and Sunday exploring the city and found more great shopping and parks. I also spent quite a lot of time doing this:
I never imagined I’d be able to work on my tan in Aberdeen, but the temperatures in the high 60s were ideal for reading a good book in the sun. Today is our last day of a perfect forecast, so I may put off vacuuming and doing laundry until the clouds roll in tomorrow. I hope Jonathan doesn’t fire me for being the worst house wife ever. Hopefully my nice tan will distract from the fact that there are no clean towels in the house. Oops.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Internet, Air Shipment and Phone Photos

They say that home is where your Internet connection is. Okay, no one actually says that but it sure feels that way to me. We officially have a wireless signal at our house which means we can go beyond the limited usage my cell phone signal has given us for the past two weeks. We also have a home phone line, though without our air shipment which contains our Vonage equipment, it’s not that exciting to us right now.

Our air shipment was supposed to arrive within the first two weeks, and we were under the impression that it would actually arrive within the first few days. When we hadn’t heard anything by Wednesday, Jonathan contacted his relocation counselor to find out that since there had been no room on the original plane it had been delayed and hadn’t been sent to the UK yet. It still isn’t here, and once it arrives, it still has to go through customs.

It will probably turn out that our air and sea shipments won’t be too far apart on their arrival which basically deems the air shipment irrelevant. You recieve an air shipment so that you’ll at least initially have some items that make your daily life feel more like home. It’s not that big of a deal, just a bit frustrating since our movers kept telling us how much room we had in our air shipment, so we took things out of our suitcases and packed them up thinking, “I can live without this for the first week”. So yesterday I bit the bullet and bought things like dish towels, mixing bowls, finger nail polish, etc.

What I’m really missing is my bedding! Our rental bedding is pretty basic and the pillows are starting to give me neck cramps. We packed some fancy pillows and Egyptian cotton sheets in our air shipment so I am really anxious for those to arrive. First World problems, right? I’m reading a book called Dark Star Safari which is a memoir about Paul Thereaux’s overland travel through Africa. Reading about the living conditions of the majority of that continent makes it really hard to complain about my supremely blessed life. So enough complaining and on to the pictures from the week!

The weather has been picture perfect all week, so the three of us took advantage and spent a lot of our time just sitting in the sun.  

I told Jonathan that if it ever hits 75 degrees, I'll ride the roller coaster at the beach amusement park. It got dangerously close to that temperature this week. Close, but no cigar.
Sam's favorite sleeping spot in our new house has been on Jonathan's pillows. Since Jon requested that I not allow this behavior, Samson had to experiment with other napping environments.

Here are some more pictures of the yellow field at Tulquhon Castle.

Last weekend ,we took the pups for a walk along the Dee River. They had an absolute blast and both got in for a swim.

Sans pups, we went down to the town of Stonehaven for a look around the beach and harbor. It's a photogenic town with really good fish and chips, so I have a feeling we'll be making the 30 minute drive down quite often. 

A squirrel made the mistake of coming into our yard, and then Samson (who has taken the knightly vow of protecting our yard from all such animals) made the mistake of chasing it onto a ledge, which he then had to slowly walk backwards in order to get off of. Don't worry, Momma came to his rescue. Of course, that didn't stop him from going right back onto the ledge...three times. He's not known for his intelligence, but he sure is a cutie.
 Jon gets to come with us on forest walks on the weekends. It's a real treat.
And lastly, my honey took me out for some fries for our anniversary and the bottle of wine was a really great Pinot Noir. I'm notorious for forgetting which wines I like, so I made sure to immortalize this one in the blogosphere.
Today we are headed up to Cruden Bay to see Slains Castle. If you remember me singing the praises of the historical novel The Winter Sea, the book is set in this area. It's also where Bram Stroker wrote Dracula, so it's said that Slains Castle was the inspiration behind the castle in the book. Spooky.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Our 4th Anniversary

Today Jonathan and I celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary, and I’d like to mark this occasion by taking inventory of our marriage so far. Since we’ve been married we… have lived in 3 houses, have acquired another dog, have travelled to Peru, Jamaica, Scotland, Mexico, San Antonio, Ireland, Missouri, San Francisco, Hawaii, and Colorado.
Some of our most memorable moments have been: eating the best steak of our lives for our 1st anniversary at Bohannon’s steakhouse in San Antonio. Fuming after the LOST finale in Midland. Bike riding in the Gap of Dunloe on our trip to Ireland. Driving Samson home after picking him up from his foster family in Dallas. Watching LSU beat Arkansas at Tiger Stadium to complete their undefeated season. Dancing to Josh Turner on the Midland Rockhounds baseball field.
Those are just a few of the standout moments we’ve shared, but we’ve had countless insignificant nights cuddled on the couch or walking the dogs where I am hit with the realization that I am so happy.
Before our wedding, I was a nervous wreck. I take commitment and responsibility very seriously, so anytime a life changing decision is being made, I ruminate over it for weeks. I was so worried that I was marrying too young, that I was giving up my homeland, that I was walking away from a career, that I was sacrificing too much without a guarantee on the return.
I wish that I could go back and give my 24 year old self a big hug and assure her that her marriage will be blessed. That Jonathan will be a wonderful, considerate, sensitive, romantic, and supportive husband. He will make her laugh when she feels hopeless and lost. He will humor her when she wants to go out for ice cream at 8:30 at night. He will be her support system when she doesn’t know a soul in a new city. He will be patient and encouraging.
I wish I could go back and tell her that those first 6 months that are supposed to be the “honeymoon” phase; those will be the hardest months. But over time her heart will expand and grow until she doesn’t think it’s possible to love anyone more than she loves her husband, and then the next day she will prove herself wrong.  I wish I could tell her not to worry. That no, marriage isn’t perfect. It’s hard, it’s challenging, and at times, it’s exhausting. But there is an intimacy there that will nurture and sustain her as she grows and evolves into who she is meant to be.
Most of all, I wish I could tell her thank you. Thank you for taking that terrifying walk down the aisle; for taking a leap of faith; for risking it all to follow this man down a nomadic and uncertain path. It’s been a rewarding and exciting adventure of a marriage so far. I don't know where we'll be when we celebrate our 5th anniversary, but I’m fairly sure that no matter what, we’ll look back at this next year as one that brought us even closer together.
Happy Anniversary, JonJon! I can't wait to celebrate many more in the years to come.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Tourist Becomes the Tour Guide

We’ve been very blessed this week with absolutely perfect weather, the sort that only Scotland can truly provide. Cloudless skies with temperatures in the mid-sixties, a light breeze making it comfortable whether you are in long or short sleeves. I was doubly blessed that my Mom’s BFF from Nigeria was visiting Aberdeen on a business trip with her husband this week so I had a buddy to go sightseeing with. Since my car has a GPS, I offered to drive which is how I went from tourist to tour guide.
We ventured out to see two castles north of Aberdeen. From what I’ve seen of Scotland, there are two types of castles: ruins and restored. We saw one of each.

The first, Tolquhon, was a ruin in the middle of a beautiful countryside. From the castle, we had an amazing view of a hillside covered in yellow wildflowers.
It was so astounding that for now, yellow has dethroned purple as my most favorite color. That is until I see a field of heather or lavender and then I’m sure purple will claw her way back to the top.

After spending a blissful morning exploring castle ruins and every possible vantage point of the countryside, we headed to the town of Fyvie for a castle of a different flavor.
Unlike Tolquhon, Fyvie castle was a family home until the most recent generation sold the property to the Scottish Trust. We took a guided tour of the mansion and then had lunch in a tea room on the premises. I think my favorite thing about Scottish tourism is the tea room you always visit for lunch afterwards. Nothing caps off a day of history learnin’ quite like a diet coke and ham sandwich. 
The only flaw to my day was when we were buying tickets for entrance into Fyvie, the ticket seller asked the couple in front of us if they were American. The wife gasped and condescendingly corrected him that they were Canadian and offensively explained that calling a Canadian an American was like calling a Scotsman English.

Well it’s not exactly the same thing as calling a Scotsman English since the relationship between Canada and America hasn’t historically involved one country constantly fighting for independence from the other. But thanks anyway for the insult. Needless to say, I was steaming after this comment.  So when the kind ticket seller cheerfully asked me where I was from, I proudly and loudly stated “I’m from the United States.” The Expat becomes the patriot.