Friday, August 31, 2012

Highs and Lows

When I was in highschool, I belonged to a group of friends dubbed ‘The Naughty Nine’. Despite later joining  a sorority, the Junior League, and the AWA, this unofficial group of girls is still the strongest sisterhood I have ever belonged to. Even though I don’t speak to many of them on a weekly, or even yearly basis, each one of these women is dear to my heart. They are constantly on my mind and daily in my prayers.

I just love them, you know? They are just awesome, interesting, brilliant, hilarious, unique, kind, independent and strong. We all came together our sophomore year, and for a time, we were positively inseparable. But by the time senior year rolled around, sports, high school sweethearts,  jobs, academics, and driver’s licenses were taking us in a million opposite directions.

Still, we made an effort to get together every Friday afternoon at Hub City Diner for fries, milkshakes and a summary of the week’s ‘highs and lows’.  I think I speak for the nine of us when I say that those Friday afternoons were some of the sweetest moments of my high school career. We laughed, cried, and bonded over fried pickles and curly fries.
Every Friday after school, our booth would be there waiting for us, the wait staff knowing that nine naughty naïve girls would soon be filling the Lafayette landmark restaurant with giggles and gossip.
It was a sweet tradition, but inevitably, we all graduated from Lafayette High and spread out throughout the country to go to College. Our lives continued to spin off in several different directions and staying in touch became a sad afterthought compared to our College lives.

One of my biggest regrets about my time at LSU was not continuing to invest in my high school buddies. I was so consumed with sorority life and fraternity boys that I was eager to move forward and let go of high school. My dad warned me that I shouldn’t take my childhood friends for granted. There is something about people who knew you when you were young that just understand you more, because they know your history without you having to explain it. I don’t have to give them background on my relationship with my family, or my love life, or my embarrassing crushes, or my mean girl moments- they were there for it. They were a part of it.
I was lucky enough to go to LSU with two of my girls, even pledging Delta Zeta with a fellow niner, and my best friend Talia and I stayed attached at the hip despite going to school seven hours away from each other.
But even though I didn’t see Megan, Ashley, Abbi, Aimee, and Katie as much as the other three, I still missed them constantly. You have to remember, this was a time before facebook. A time when I used email for school assignments, and not for personal correspondence. A time when I had a Zach Morris sized cell phone, and long distance phone calls cost more than my meager College allowance. A time before text messaging.  A time before I had ever heard of a blog as a medium for keeping loved ones in the loop. So when facebook came along our junior year of College (eek!) it allowed us to reconnect.

We started a facebook group called ‘Highs and Lows’ and every Friday we would post our weekly summaries. It went pretty strong for a few months, but inevitably we started to only update it more intermittently, and then not at all.

In the 10 years since graduating (eek!) our lives and loves have taken us to opposite ends of the world, literally. Two of us are living outside of the States, and 7 are living outside of Louisiana. Between the nine of us we cover both US coasts, the northeast and southwest, Europe and Australia. Between time zones, kids, jobs, and life in general, it's quite hard to track these girls down for a good heart to heart chat, and getting us all together is virtually impossible. 
Leaving space for the missing 4 at Tracy's wedding.
Last Friday, when I had a text on my i-phone 4 telling me that Megan had sent me a facebook message (seriously, how easy is communication these days?) I thought I knew what it would be. I honestly thought Megan was messaging us to tell us she was pregnant.
8 of us at Megan's wedding last year.
I'm ashamed to say that I had to brace myself for that information. Before I checked to see what the message even said, I had this whole pep talk in my mind: “Okay Laine. This is it. You’re officially the last married person in your high school group to get pregnant. Now just remember, the timing hasn’t been right for you and Jonathan yet, and even though circumstances haven’t been right for you to have a baby, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be over the moon for Megan. So, can you end your pity party/anxiety attack and just put on a happy face for your dear friend? Alright, here we go…”

…and I opened facebook to find this message instead: “Happy Friday. Missing you guys today. Highs and lows?”

Um: Low- having a panic attack every time I get a text/call/message from a friend because I just know it’s someone else letting me know that they are pregnant and that I am officially the only socially stunted woman left on the planet. (And feeling incredibly guilty that my first thought isn’t one of overwhelming joy for my friend, but one of selfish panic for myself. Seriously, what’s up with that? I guess God isn’t finished with me yet. )

High- Reading my friends’ highs and lows and feeling like a part of their lives again.
Don't ask...P.s. do you remember fruitopia?
Suffice to say, I thought it was a great idea and I hope we continue to update our highs and lows on a somewhat weekly basis. Either way, I’ll be sharing mine on The Aberdeen Wife every Friday afternoon, and will be moving Phone Photos to another day. 

So why don’t you grab some curly fries and a chocolate shake and get ready to share your own highs and lows of the week. It’s good for your soul, I promise. And plus, I’d love to hear about your week.

Now anyway, back to me:
Lows (I always start with the Lows; get them out of the way): Jonathan was in Poland on business and I was lonely. And bored. Being a housewife without a husband is pretty dull. Of course, I procrastinated all of my chores until yesterday, which leads me to my next low: 7 hours of cleaning house despite it being a beautifully sunny day outside.  Also, being filled with worry over my friends and family in south Louisiana as Hurricane Isaac made landfall. Everyone is safe, but several of them are out of power, and a few of them are flooded.
My Aunt's house:(
Highs: I’ve already blogged about them, but seeing Highland Coos and sampling MacAllan whisky was pretty awesome. I also had a fun girl’s night on Tuesday, listening to live music at Malone’s a local Irish Pub. I haven’t been a fan of the night life in Aberdeen, but I do enjoy a cozy bar with live folk music and Stella on draft. Jackpot! And in general, just feeling like I finally have a group of girlfriends who rival what I had in high school. I continue to be so grateful for the friends we’ve made in Aberdeen.
So what about you? Highs and Lows?            

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bucket List: MacAllan Distillery and Highland Coos

Almost as soon as I had written yesterday’s Bucket List Post, my friend Jilllian and Kasey invited me along for a tour of the MacAllan Distillery. Even though I had a haircut scheduled, I decided my hair could stay long and unruly for one more day in order to knock an item off of the newly penned list. Especially since our friend Nary had just been to MacAllan and had seen some Highland Cows on the grounds. Favorite whisky and long-haired cows? That’s two items off the list already!  I am really on a roll with this whole Bucket List thing.  
We started our morning at Gadie’s café for some scrumptious scones, hot cocoa, and tea. The lovely café is attached to a store called Touched By Scotland which is full of items all made in Scotland. I could have dropped quite  a few LBS in the shop, but since we were in Jillian’s vehicle, I decided it wasn’t the right time to splurge on a vanity set.
I did take the opportunity to spoil my dogs with peanut butter treats, but the rest of the items I had my eye on will have to wait for another time.
After the scones and shopping we made our way towards the Malt Whiskey trail, stopping to see Craigellachie Bridge along the way.
It’s position along the River Spey and the fact that its flanked by wheat fields and surrounded by mountains, makes it a particularly picturesque detour.
We took our time, trying to see the lovely structure from every possible angle.
Once we each took 127 pictures, we decided it was time to switch our photography subject from bridges to coos.  For the past 4 months I have been keeping my eyes peeled for these infamous bovines.
The only two times I have spotted them before, it wasn’t a convenient time to pull over and take snapshots, so I’ve been hankering to spend some quality time observing them. We got to the distillery about an hour before our tour started so we felt no rush and made sure to get our fill of these cuties.
Kasey remarked that they looked like Longhorns, and I agree. The University of Texas should look into officially changing their mascot to these more photogenic longhorns, though I doubt the long haired highland coos would fair very well in the Texas heat. 
After each taking 127 pictures, we showed up at the MacAllan vistor center to take a tour of the whisky making process. This was my third distillery and I continue to be amazed by a few things: 1) How different each distillery is. 2) How complicated it is to make Scotch Whisky. 3) How tipsy I get off of the tasting samples at the end of the tour.  
My dad is a big MacAllan fan and has steered me towards this brand each time I ask his advice for getting Jon a whisky gift.
Though Glenfiddich is a bit more popular stateside, my dad claims that MacAllan is the best because it’s ‘what the Scots drink’.  It’s my favorite of the big names since it’s less peaty than the whisky from Western Scotland. This is because the Highland distilleries use coal to heat their alcohol which makes the whisky sweeter and more delicate, while the Western shires use peat which lends the spirit a smokier yuckier flavor. (p.s. Spell check totally let the word 'yuckier' slide. I had no idea that was an actual word. I would have guessed the correct grammar in this case would be 'more yucky'.)
Here are some other random facts about whisky: 
Triple cask means that the whisky is a blend of spirits which have been aged in three separate Oak casks, all of which have been recycled from other distilling industries: 1 bourbon cask from America, 1 sherry cask from America, and 1 sherry Cask from Spain.  Once the whisky is aged to perfection in 10+ years, they’ll mix the three barrels together to form a Triple Cask Highland Single Malt.
Single Malt means that the whisky has been made entirely at one distillery from pure barley.
Whisky from Scotland is spelled differently from Whiskey made anywhere else. To have the distinction of being “Scotch” Whisky, the spirit must be aged in an Oak barrel in Scotland for a minimum of 3 years, and must contain at least a 40% Alcohol level.
Now, don’t you feel educated? Why don’t you reward yourself with a wee dram of MacAllan?
Don't mind if I do.
Mmmmm… I can see why the Scots perfected this particular brand of alcohol since it really does the trick of warming you up on a chilly day. Of course, while we were tasting our wee drams, the sun came out in all its glory and we were blessed with a spectacular view over the MacAllan estate.

It was another magical day in bonnie Scotland, and two more items crossed off of the bucket list!
 Whisky Tasting at MacAllan Distillery
Photographing Highland Cows

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bucket List

We’ve been seizing a lot of travel opportunities lately, though I feel like we’ve been a bit passive in our destination choices. So far we’ve gone to Poland and the English Lake District, and we have plans to visit Salzburg, Austria next week. Two of those destinations are simply us tacking on a weekend to one of Jonathan’s business trips.
To be fair, Jonathan won’t be granted ‘ex-pat’ vacation time until 2013 which means we are coasting on just 10 days right now, 5 of which will be used for our October trip to the states. It’s more economical for us to pair a side trip with a business vacation since his company pays for his roundtrip airfare and we don’t have to waste a vacation day on travel.

It’s just that we’ve been so busy with work trips that we haven’t had much time or the energy for personal trips. It all feels very chaotic and haphazard and I’m ready to start deliberately traveling. Does that make any sense? We’re just overwhelmed with all of the options Europe has to offer, that we’re not deliberately choosing where to go- we’re just saying yes to any chance thrown our way. I worry that if we keep going like this, we’ll end up three years down the road missing out on all those things that we really had our hearts set on.

And there’s also the issue of starting a family, which was one of our goals while positioned in the UK. Our next assignment may not be in first world country and so family planning would get a whole heck of a lot more complicated if we waited until then. However, I feel like there is so much travelling we have left to do before we take that step.

A friend of mine suggested that Jonathan and I sit down and make a list of all the things we want to do while in Europe, and then prioritize the ones that we want to do before pregnancy/having kids and save the ones that we wouldn’t mind doing during pregnancy/with kids for the backend of our time here. So that’s exactly what we did.

I’m adding a “Bucket List” Blog Page to keep track of our progress. I’m sure we’ll be adding to this list as we learn more about European destinations, but I think this is a good start. The italics are those we don’t mind doing with kiddos.

Living in Europe Bucket List:
In the U.K.:
Golfing at St. Andrews Old Course (Jonathan specific)
Golfing at Gleneagles (Jonathan specific)
Hiking the West Highland Way
Visiting the Orkney Islands
Photographing Highland Cows (Laine Specific)
Visiting the Isle of Skye
Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Climbing Ben Nevis
Whisky Tasting at the MacAllan Distillery

In Mainland Europe:
Skiing in the Alps
Spanish or Italian Wine Country
Croatian Cruise
Cinque Terre, Italy
Monet’s Gardens
French Road Trip
Lake Como
Brittany Region of France
Things we’ve already crossed off of our lists:
English Lake District (wowza!)
Glenfiddich Distillery
Hiking Loch Muick
We’ve already got a pretty hefty list here and with trips back home and work destinations sprinkled in, it’s unlikely that we’ll cross every item off of the list before our time in Scotland is over. We were all set to visit Auschwitz with a September trip to Krakow, Poland, but it turns out that Jonathan has the opportunity to travel to one of his major lifelong bucket list destinations instead: Australia!

And since his business trip is only for 2 days, and he’s not traveling all the way to Australia without scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, he’s going to use up a few of our Christmas vacation days on that. But plans are in the works for an Alpine ski trip in Spring of 2013, so hopefully that item will be crossed off the list soon enough. And my parents wanted to meet us in Europe for a couple’s trip next Spring as well, so a little trip to Lake Como and the Italian wine region might be in order.

Are there any European items on your bucket list? Any that you think should be added to ours?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fried Chicken Substitue

There is something you should know about me. I love fried chicken. I mean, I absolutely love it. But due to its major unhealthy factor, I only allow myself the pleasure about once a year. Jonathan always wants to take me somewhere fancy for my birthday, but every year I insist: Popeye’s is just fine.

You couldn''t possibly know this by looking at this picture, but it was taken in front of a Popeye's. How do I remember that? Because it was one of the best meals of my life. So good, I documented it in film. It happened to be on a certain holiday. The earrings should give you a clue as to which one.
However, since my fried chicken binge only lasts for one day of the year, it leaves me craving this favorite treat for the other 364 days. A few years back, my MawMaw Fern (MawMaw= what southerners call their grandmothers) taught me a recipe for Potato Chip Chicken in which you coat chicken breasts with sour cream and crushed potato chips and then bake it in the oven. True, it isn’t the healthiest chicken option, but it mimics the texture of fried chicken without the massive amount of guilt. And you can substitute some of the ingredients for more healthy options so it ends up not being so bad at all.

The most fun part about it is switching out the potato chip flavors. There is such a variety out there that you can prepare this recipe once a week and still not get tired of it. And with the plethora of unique Scottish crisp flavors, it has opened up a whole new world of Potato Chip Chicken goodness weirdness.
Last week I experimented with Mackie’s Haggis and Cracked Black Pepper flavored chips, and even though it sounds super disgusting, it was. so. good. You should totally give this recipe a try, and afterwards, you can contact me for my MawMaw’s address so that you can send her a thank you note.
Her version is much more detailed than mine, but since I’ve made this recipe so many times, I have personalized it to my own finger-lickin-chicken-lovin standards. I’ve also whittled it down to serve just two people, but it’s easily doubled if you need to feed more.
Potato Chip Chicken:
2 chicken breasts
1 (8 0z) container sour cream
About 3 handfuls of potato chips/crisps of your choice
¼ cup butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (230 Celsius). While oven is heating, pat chicken breasts dry with a paper towel and then coat with sour cream.
2. Crush about 3 handfuls worth of crisps into a ziplock bag. That’s right, I’m an avid follower of the shake’n’bake cooking school. Once the chicken is coated with sour cream, toss them into the bag and shake. Pat extra chips onto chicken breasts for even coverage. No one said this wasn’t messy. 

3. Put chicken onto a well greased cookie sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degree F (190 C) and bake for 12 minutes. Meanwhile, melt butter and mix with garlic.

4. Remove chicken from oven and increase heat back to 450 degrees F (230 C). With a spoon, drizzle each of the chicken breasts with butter. Return to oven and bake for another 5 minutes or until chicken is golden.
5. Top with salsa and serve with a baked sweet potato. The baked sweet potato is optional, but really, why would you want to serve chicken with anything else?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Exploring Scotland: St. Andrews

At my last workplace, I somehow earned a reputation for being infatuated with the British royal family. I think this idea came about simply by me mentioning that I planned to watch the royal wedding between William and Kate.
Didn’t everyone? Does this really justify a label of Brit-o-phile? I admit, when I was younger, I had a small crush on Prince William and entertained Disney proportioned fairytales of him falling in love with a freckle faced girl from South Louisiana. And he did. Only she was named Britney Spears, and thankfully he grew out of that phase pretty quickly. Once he went to University, he set his sights on another lovely freckle faced beauty, and the rest is, quite literally, history.
And since I am a self-proclaimed history buff, it’s natural for me to take an interest in the ruling family of Great Britain and their subsequent courtships. I am in no way obsessed and I DID NOT have a nervous breakdown when my friend Jill’s TV broke in the middle of our Royal Wedding viewing party. In fact I think I handled the disaster with a level of grace that Kate Middleton herself would be proud of. And it’s not like I’m constantly pinning random photos of Prince Harry to my Pinterest boards. That almost never happens.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying: when Debbie and Luke invited us along for a day trip to St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf Will and Kate’s love story, we accepted. The picturesque town is just about 2 hours south of Aberdeen and is known for its brown granite architecture, it’s historic university (where Will and Kate met), impressive castle and cathedral ruins, and most famously, one of the oldest golf courses in the world and the site at which golf was invented.
Our day started out 10 miles south of St. Andrew’s in a harbor town called Anstruther, whose fish bar boasted the best fish and chips in the UK…from 2006-2009.
I don’t know what happened since 2009, perhaps the restaurant changed management or decided to coast on its world famous reputation, but I would definitely not call these the best fish and chips I’ve had in Scotland.

I’d say out of the 10,000+ fish and chips restaurants in the UK, I’ve sampled at least 5 of them. I’m not saying I’m an expert by any means, but I’m pretty certain that both Stonehaven and Aberdeen have Anstruther beat in the fish and chip department. Their ice cream on the other hand, was very enjoyable.
I always have a chuckle at random British Ice Cream flavors. Burnt Cream, anyone? Jonathan bypassed the tempting Burnt Cream and chose my favorite, mint chocolate chip, for us to share.
I just love the look on his face while about to sample his ice cream cone. He is quite smitten.

After lunch and dessert, we headed to St. Andrews to tour the town. Our first stop was the ruins of the town cathedral.
It was quite impressive and also housed the loveliest cemetery I have ever seen.
Among the headstones we spotted a ‘Bayley’...
a ‘Perry’...
and most excitingly a ‘Laine’!
David Laine Burn
(Jon says it's actually Lainc. But who names their kid Lainc? That’s stupid. I just think the middle line of the ‘e’ got worn down over time. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
After spending an hour taking 137 pictures of a graveyard, we left to explore the rest of St. Andrew's, including  the token castle ruins on the beach.

For the next hour or so we just meandered through cobblestone side streets and snapped photos of the castle ruins and the University. I couldn’t miss this photo op in front of the Department of Moral Philosophy:
Though Jonathan thought Logic was more up my alley:
I'm still trying to work out whether or not that was a compliment. We never did find the Department of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Sorry, couldn't pass up the opportunity for a little Harry Potter humor. 

On the roof top terrace of the University Museum we had a great vantage point of the St. Andrews beach.

The boys were ready to talk some smack when they saw this Gator flag hanging in a University window.
I, on the other hand, was excited. After living in Texas for the past 4 years, I've learned to treat all SEC fans like family. Except for BAMA fans, of course. I could meet a BAMA fan in the jungles of the Congo and I’d still mutter some trash talk under my breath.
Once we made the quick tour of the town, we decided to let the boys fulfill their dreams of touring the St. Andrews golf courses. It’s sort of a mecca among golfers and tens of thousands make the pilgrimage to play the Old Course each year. Jonathan definitely wants to the chance to tee off here before our time in Scotland is through, and I can appreciate that.
People have been playing golf on these premises since the 1400s. The 1400s! America was hardly a glimmer in Ferdinand and Isabella’s eye in the 1400s and yet the Scots were playing golf on this exact spot 600 years ago.
While golfing here, average-Joe golfers must end up feeling like pros since there are bands of tourists constantly hovered around the course taking pictures, and running on and off the course between strokes in order to take personal photo ops. Of course, we’d never be caught dead being that pathetic.
(Tourists, *eye roll*).

While Debbie and Luke hung around St. Andrews a while longer, we decided to head back to Aberdeen before dinner. Afterall, we had responsibilities waiting at home for us.

 “Thanks for looking in on us, Aunt Jillian!”