Sunday, January 27, 2013

Radio Silence

"You know it's nothing new, bad news never had good timing..."- John Mayer

My boys.
There may be radio silence on my blog for a few days. I got the news this morning that my Grandpa Lee unexpectedly passed away overnight, just one day before he was set to be given a clean bill of health and discharged entirely from the hospital. 

We are all in shock and struggling to process the turn of events. Two weeks ago we were preparing for this exact news, but after his swift recovery we let our guards down and are therefore even more heartbroken at the loss. 

Today has been a frenzy of making arrangements. Changing flights. Booking car rentals. Making reservations for the dogs. Flying home in an emergency situation is an expat’s worst nightmare. I just want to be home and never has that felt more far away. As much as modern technology helps us stay connected, nothing can substitute for the comfort of a hug or just the peace of being in the presence of those who feel your pain

I’ll be bringing my computer to the States as I visit for the next 3 weeks, and I will try to update as often as I can. For now, I’d really appreciate any prayers that you can spare for our grieving family, and for smooth travel as we all make our way to Missouri in the next few days. Thank you, friends. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Phone Photos: Nighttime Rituals

Whenever we don’t have plans, our usual nighttime ritual is to eat dinner and then watch TV for a few hours before putting the dogs to bed and reading a bit before our own bedtime. We are firm believers in kennel training which means that our dogs eat and sleep in their own designated space. However, we aren’t always so consistent with the ‘not sleeping in the bed with us’ aspect, which is why, every night after potty time, Bailey runs straight to her kennel but Samson sits by my side of the bed flashing me the most pitiful puppy eyes on earth. 
He stays right there, staring me down, the entire time I’m washing my face and brushing my teeth. It’s so heartbreaking that Jonathan and I usually rock/paper/scissors about who has to be the mean parent who actually commands him to go to bed. 
Last night was my turn, and I thought I’d capture the puppy eyes on video for your viewing pleasure. Because he doesn’t stop trying after we’ve given him the ’go to bed’ command...
His motto is ‘never give up’ and he flashed me those sad brown eyes no less than 5 times in the 10 feet from our bedroom to his kennel, as if to ask, “Are you sure Mom? How could you do this to me? I promise I will snuggle your feet all night and I’ll try to keep the snoring to a minimum”. 

At which point I turned to Jonathan and asked “Are you sure he can’t sleep with us? How could you do this to him? All he does is keep your feet warm and occasionally snore like a dragon”. Parenting is hard y’all. 

Samson isn’t the only pitiful pup in the family. Bailey got a 6 mile snow run yesterday which meant she was pretty tuckered out afterward. While we watched Raising Hope she slept like a baby…or perhaps an adult woman. 
Yep, this is my exact sleeping position. We couldn’t stop laughing, which woke her up for about 6 seconds before she promptly fell back asleep in this position:
We couldn’t stop laughing, which woke her up for about 6 seconds before she promptly fell back asleep in this position:
We couldn’t stop laughing, which woke her up for about 6 seconds before she promptly fell back asleep in this position:
We couldn’t stop laughing, which she took as her cue to come over to our couch and crawl into her Daddy’s lap for a snooze.
Such a sweet sweet pitiful girl. Parenting is hard, but it has its rewards. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Weekly Pinterest Project: Pumpkin Shortbread

One of my favorite things about our weekly Mahjong meetings is that everyone pitches in to bring a sweet or salty snack. It’s the perfect opportunity to practice my baking without having 2 dozen cookies leftover at my personal disposal.  Since this week falls in the middle of all the Burns Dinner festivities (more on that little tradition later…), our hostess Vicki is making a traditional Scottish lunch. She asked us all to pitch in by bringing something typically Scottish. 

I signed up for the dessert column and got to brainstorming. I immediately settled on shortbread. I had a successful go at millionaire shortbread for our Scottish themed book club back in July and thought I might try again. However, as I was skimming pinterest for other ideas I spotted this recipe for Pumpkin Shortbread. 
Source of Original Recipe and Photo
Usually I am stingy with my canned pumpkin, but I feel a bit more secure since we have a trip back to the States next week where I can pick up a few replacement cans. 

I decided to experiment with the recipe, but bought a few boxes of Marks and Spencer Millionaire Shortbread just in case it didn’t work out so well. When it comes to baking, I always have a back up plan! 
I had to alter the recipe a bit because: 

1) it called for the use of a tart tray and the cutting of finished shortbread into slices. I’m not neurotic about too many things, but I tend to prefer my shortbread cut into squares. I figured it wasn’t too big of a deal to switch up the shape of my cooking instrument and final presentation. 

And 2) We don’t have access to pumpkin pie spice here in the UK, so I just threw in some cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and called it a day. Ideally, it would have been nice to have some cloves on hand, but hello it is snowing buckets and it simply isn’t worth getting out on those roads when the recipe calls for 1/100 of a teaspoon of the stuff. And plus, I needed something to place the blame on in case it turned disastrous. The fact that I was missing 1/100 of a teaspoon of cloves could be my perfect excuse.  I’m telling you, when it comes to baking, I’ve got my bases covered. 

First let’s start with a little vocabulary lesson. When an American recipe calls for ‘powdered’ sugar, what you’re looking for in the UK is ‘icing’ sugar...I think. That was my best educated guess anyway, and it looks like the same thing. And when it calls for corn starch, you can find that in the box labeled ‘corn flour’. 
Moving on…. 

First you mix the dry ingredients together (flour, pumpkin pie spice, corn starch, and salt) and set them aside. Easy peasy. Then using a hand mixer, mix the room temperature butter and powdered sugar until smooth. Now, this was my first time working with powdered sugar. You have probably not come this far in life without using it in a recipe, but if you have….might I suggest manually mixing the ingredients together a smidge before setting a hand mixer to them.
Powdered sugar everywhere. Good thing I cleaned the whole house earlier today…Once I re-adjusted for the amount of sugar lost in the tragedy, I tried mixing the two ingredients again before adding in a ½ cup of pumpkin. 
Once this concoction was mixed, I added in the dry ingredients little by little until everything was combined. Then I smoothed the mixture into a greased SQUARE pan and baked it for 63 minutes at 300 degree F/150 degrees C. 
And then came the hardest part. The waiting. I had a sinking feeling those store bought millionaire shortbreads were going to come in handy… 

Then about 30 minutes into cooking, the most pleasant smell that had ever passed through my nostrils started wafting through the house. It was like a perfect autumn scented candle.  I started hoping against hope that perhaps my mahjong treat wouldn’t just be edible, but possibly even delicious. 

When it was time to pull the shortbread from the oven, it was golden but not quite ‘firm’ like the recipe foretold. I let it cool in the pan for a few minutes before panicking and went to work making the icing. 
The icing consists of two ingredients: milk and super messy powdered sugar. At this point I began questioning the logic behind re-cleaning the kitchen before the icing was made. Poor decision making on my part. Luckily the process of making icing just involves manually mixing together powdered sugar and milk so the mess was contained to a small spot on the kitchen island. 
Hey, I’ve already cleaned the kitchen countertops twice today, what’s one more time? 

Once it was all mixed together and the shortbread had a chance to cool down and firm up, I glazed the homemade icing over the top. 
And I thought powdered sugar was messy… 

After letting it set for about 15 minutes, I cut my shortbread into squares, just how I like it. I performed a taste test, and even though they aren’t the most beautiful things on earth, they sure do taste pretty. 

The recipe recommends serving the shortbread immediately, but instead I made it the night before, stored it in an airtight container and served it up the next morning. Which might be my perfect excuse for why it’s terrible if it turns inedible overnight. I’m crossing my fingers that’s not necessary, but I gotta have an excuse ready at my disposal just in case… 

If you are interested, you can view the full recipe here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

January Snapshot

Despite another coating of snow this morning, today is back to business as usual in Aberdeen. Sam has been walked, and Bailey has been jogged. Bailey has also used her backyard time as an opportunity to sneak into the neighbor’s garden.
Such a prankster! 
The roads are still pretty treacherous out there so it’s still considered a ‘snow day’ in my book. However, today I have donned my pajamas and traded up for yoga clothes and instead of lounging by the fire I am hoping to get 90% of my weekly chores done by the time Jonathan gets home. My favorite ‘chore’ is blogging, so let’s get going so I can scratch something off of my to-do list. 

One of the pitfalls of snow days is that I don’t gather any interesting information or experiences to blog about. Since I don’t want this to be blog post # 5 about how magical it is to watch the snow spiral down to the ground while I sip my hot cuppa tea, I figured I’d revisit the ‘snapshot’ idea and give you a quick glimpse into our lives right now. 

Reading: I just finished Book 2 of the Game of Thrones series. 
I feel like when you finish a 1000 page novel, you should be given a medal. I can’t believe there are 5 of those bad boys left. 

Yesterday I started The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. 
Wowza. I’m only about 75 pages in, but it is so stinkin good. I’m actually praying for more snow days so that I have an excuse to read for hours on end. Gosh I love when I fall head over heels for a book like this! 

The premise is a couple who live alone on an isolated island off the coast of Australia who are unable to have children. One day a boat washes ashore with a dead man and a live infant. The novel follows their decision to keep the baby and the implications of that back on the mainland. Not only is the plot gripping, but the prose is absolutely gut-wrenchingly beautiful. 

Watching: ‘Breaking Bad’ season 2, which is a bit dark, so when it all gets a bit too heavy we lighten up the mood with episodes of ‘Raising Hope’. Have you seen this show? 
It always looked a bit goofy to me but it is slap-your-knee hilarious. Yes, the characters are a bit extreme, but it is such a cute show and perfect for a bit of comic relief. 

Listening to: Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors. Good old Southern folk music is getting me pumped up for my upcoming travels to the US.  This song is probably the best song ever written in the history of ever. And if you replace the word ‘Tennessee’ with ‘Louisiana’, it could be my expat anthem.
“No matter how far I roam, I always belong.” Love!

Loathing: Being cold inside my house. Heating is ridiculously expensive in Scotland. Like 250 bucks a month, and that’s only if you run your heating for a few hours a day. Since all of the homes run off of radiator heat, it’s not the most efficient warming mechanism. So basically we are paying out the wazoo and yet we are still freezing cold and have to supplement with space heaters and our fireplace. Brrrr. 
Loving: Afternoon tea time. It’s tradition that Brits take a time out from their day around 3 pm to have a cuppa tea and a light snack, usually consisting of biscuits (cookies). I have been diligently following this social custom and welcome that comforting landmark in my day.  
Plus I just discovered Chai tea and am questioning how I've lived this long without it. Brew it up in some piping hot milk and suddenly hot cocoa has some competition for my go-to comfort beverage. Seriously yummy! 

Missing: Warm weather. I never thought I’d be homesick for Houston, but there is something to be said for mild winters.
Of course, I’d still take a mild summer/harsh winter over a mild winter/harsh summer anyday. Luckily I will be out of Scotland for 2 weeks in February and then again in March, so I’ve only got about 4 weeks of winter left to endure before springtime shows up. 

Craving: King Cake. I can’t wait to have some of this Mardi Gras treat while I’m in Louisiana! I sure would love a chocolate filled one from Meches (*** hint, hint Mom and Dad***).

Praying: For my grandpa Lee as he continues his recovery. He’s doing really well and looks like his old self again. My dad sent me this picture of him using a smartphone to catch up on my blog. 
Thank you for all of your prayers! 

Studying: I’m still studying the book of James through Beth Moore’s Mercy Triumphs study. It’s mega convicting and is reminding me that faith is not enough. I need to act out my Christianity by serving others. I feel like sometimes I live such a small life without much of an influence outside of my inner circle. As a chronically shy introvert, it’s a bit intimidating to try to live outside of that very comfortable social net. 

I’m slowly coming around though and have been doing some research and praying hard for God to reveal a calling for me that helps me to live out my faith more actively. The whole second Chapter of James is mighty convicting, but the story of Abraham always speaks to my heart:  

James 2:21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[e] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

Learning: The British rules of the road. The UK is full of detailed driving laws that are going to take an awful long time to memorize. I’m supposed to pass my driving test by May 6. I’ve got a lot of learning to do before then! 
Snacking: On Border’s Biscuits (cookies). It’s my go-to teatime snack. And  overall I’m not snacking as much as I am drinking hot tea all day long. I probably have 10 different varieties that I sample throughout the day. It helps to keep me warm in my chilly house. 

Planning: My trip back home. Right now the plan is to spend a few days in Houston shopping and taking care of doctors/dentists/beautician appointments, before heading to Louisiana to visit family and friends. It just so happens that our trip falls over Mardi Gras, which adds a bit of fun but also complicates the whole ‘driving to New Orleans to visit friends’ plan I had in my head. It’s just a quick two week trip and will hopefully be a bit more laid back than our October homecoming last year. 

Dreaming: of a house in the States.
When we moved to Scotland, we planned to return to the States once a year. However, Jonathan’s job is giving him opportunities to travel back quite a bit. Since I’m not working and have no kiddos, it seems silly for me not to tag along on these work trips. But it stresses me out to have to encroach on others' hospitality, especially when I’m shopping like a maniac and have my stuff scattered everywhere. We’ve talked about investing in a place in Houston, but we just aren’t ready to take the plunge. If we move to a hardship location, we will probably move forward in this direction, but for now we are bunking up with friends and family, crashing on couches and borrowing cars. First world problems...

Well that’s a snapshot of my life lately. What’s going on with you? I’d love to hear what you're reading, listening to, and dreaming of!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Not So Warm and Fuzzy Side of Living in Scotland

I’m one of the biggest advocates the country of Scotland has ever known. It's fantastic. You should quit what you're doing and move here immediately. But it’s not all warm and fuzzy over here. For one thing…it’s not warm. Ever. But especially not in the month of January.

I feel like in the past 5 days I have gotten every type of cold weather element thrown at me, and today I am rebelling. I am staying inside in my flannel and fleece and I am going on strike against the windy, cold, rain/snow/sleet/hail mixture that has been sitting over Aberdeen for the past week. 
Sorry Bailey and Sam, no walks through the forest today. I’m not walking to the grocery. I’m not going for an outdoor jog. I’m not walking Jonathan to and from work and I’m not walking the mile to Falene’s house for Bachelor Night. I’m absolutely not going outside today. 
For the past 5 days I have braved the elements in order to take care of my motherly and wifely duties. The sideways sleet didn’t stop me from taking Bailey on hour long treks through the woods, or Sam for his usual 30 minutes walks in the ‘hood. It didn’t stop me from participating in a 9 mile hike with the AWA Explorer group. And in anticipation for our Sunday day trip to the slopes, we tried to tucker our dogs out on Saturday by taking them to Countesswells wood for a extra long walk. 
At first, the snow was slowly drifting down, swirling all around us.

It was incredibly romantic…until the wind picked up and the snow started pelting us in the face and gathering on our jeans before promptly melting and soaking us to the bone. It was still a great outing, but brrrrr were we cold by the end of it. 

After our ski foray on Sunday, the cold had set deep into my bones. I hardly had the courage to suit up for a jog yesterday morning, but Bailey’s puppy eyes are mighty powerful so I went out and endured snow being blown into my eyes by the heavy winds forecasted for the day. 
Then Samson laid the puppy eyes on me and I was back out for a walk around the neighborhood. At one point, I was walking into such a strong wind that I wasn’t physically moving anymore. Nope, at that point we were just walking in place. 
After getting out last night for Jillian’s birthday celebration, I finally said ‘enough!’. I woke up with Jonathan this morning, made him a PBJ sandwich and then apologetically informed him that I wasn’t walking him to work this morning. Then I apologetically informed Bailey that today I’m using that mega-expensive gym membership I have instead of exercising with her outside. And then I broke Sam’s heart by telling him that he’s just going to have to nap all day long because for now I am out of the dog-walking business. 
Doesn't he look disappointed that he has to stay inside all day?
I know they say there is no bad weather only bad gear, but…hail? What is the appropriate gear for hail? Should I invest in a suit of armor? Wear a hard hat around town? And what’s the right attire for random 50 mph wind gusts? I don’t think Columbia makes a wind breaker that can compete with hurricane force winds. You know what the right gear is for these elements? Fleece and flannel, by the fire, with a good book. 
Problem solved.