Thursday, February 28, 2013

Clachnaben Take Three

Our good friends Debbie and Luke are being relocated to London in a few weeks. I haven’t mentioned it yet, because I’m pretty stinkin' sad about it and still a tad bit in denial. I was just getting over Tanvi and Ram’s departure when Debbie announced that they too were leaving Aberdeen. I’m starting to feel mighty abandoned. 

Anyways…since Debbie and Luke ended up living in bonnie Scotland for a total of 7 measly months, there is still a lot that they want to see. Debbie, in particular, wanted to climb Clachnaben before moving, which is how I came to climb this hill for the 3rd time. 

I decided to leave Bailey behind today so that I could focus on girl time rather than nagging my Brittany Spaniel every 30 seconds to ‘PLEASE STAY WITHIN 100 YARDS OF ME’. 
Up and down the hill is about 6 miles total. The first leg is mainly uphill, so it’s quite the workout. Luckily me and Nary were on the same page with taking ‘breathers’ so while Debbie and Jillian hiked at a world record pace, we took a more leisurely stroll to the top. 
I like taking my time because it allows me to soak in the scenery. Once you get near the summit of Clachnaben, the scenery opens up to 360 degree views of snowcapped mountains and picturesque farmland. 

It never gets old. 

Each time I climb Clachnaben, it’s my tradition to take a picture of the final rock tor from the same angle. I like to go back and look at the difference that the season and weather can make in the same photo. Here is an example in October
and February: 
Once at the top, Nary, Jillian, and Debbie scrambled up to the top of that very tor, while my scared-of-heights butt stayed on solid ground and took photos. 
Though we were quite warm while making the ascent, the freezing temperatures and high winds at the top coaxed us to start our descent back to the car. I always forget how stinkin long this hike is. It’s like a Disney World line. As soon as you think you’re almost to the front, it winds around and you realize you’ve got a good 30 minutes to go. 

All I could think about was sitting down and eating the fish and chips that Debbie requested for lunch. But fate had other plans. When we got to the car, Nary realized she couldn’t find her phone. It had been in her jacket pocket and must have fallen out along the way. I went with her to try to hunt it down on the trail, but after backtracking a mile without success, we had to admit defeat. 

I was really bummed for her. I know how devastated I would be if that happened to me, but she kept her usual cheery attitude and we headed  on to Stonehaven for fish and chips at The Bay. 

The Bay was just named ‘best fish and chips in the UK’ which is a pretty big honor here in the kingdom. We were arriving for our sample when they were putting out a sign listing their newest accolade. 
Once we got inside, we saw several other awards mounted on the wall, including a few for ‘Young Fish Fryer of the Year’.
I gotta kick out of that one. But jokes aside, The Bay serves up some pretty stinkin’ good fish and chips, y’all. 

The fried haddock was superbly crispy without being greasy, which is the optimal balance I want from a good fish and chips platter. Young Fish Fryer of the Year indeed. 

Too bad I insulted all of Scotland for asking for a heaping side of ketchup to go with it. At least I had the courtesy to act sheepishly embarrassed as I flaunted my Americaness. I ain’t eatin no fried fish without some ketchup, y’all. Don’t you shove that vinegar and tartar sauce at me. 
Yummy perfection. 

And as if stuffing our faces with a plate full of fish and French fries weren’t enough, we decided to pop in next door at Auntie Betty’s for some ice cream. 
Have I told you how amazing the dairy products are here? Amazing. So rich and creamy. Anytime I go for ice cream (which is like 3 times a year because it is always cold here), it takes me about 20 minutes to narrow down my flavor decision. 
This time I went for Buckie’s Bounty which was described to me as ‘a coconut ice cream with chocolate chunks’. You had me at ‘coconut’. 
It was so stinkin good. 

So that’s the second late lunch I’ve had this week which has made it impossible to eat my supper. Four hours later and I am still stuffed to the max. 

Not wanting to leave the dogs out of the feast, I picked up two fancy dog cookies at the ice cream shop. 
They are so funny in how differently they consumed their treats. Bailey scarfed hers down so quickly that I thought I might have to give her the Heimlich maneuver. 
Samson, on the other hand, savored his. It probably took him a total of 5 minutes to completely finish, while poor Bailey had to jealously look on. 
Had it not been for Nary losing her phone, it would have been quite the perfect outing. Luckily, when she got home, she called her phone and someone answered. Apparently they spotted it on the trail and picked it up. She’s picking it up from them tonight. 

Scotland is full of great Samaritans. Both its people and its scenery make it such a beautiful place to live. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tea Time with the Birthday Girl

Yesterday was my friend Pam’s 1st anniversary of her 29th birthday. Since this anniversary is such an important landmark in one’s life, we decided to celebrate the occasion all British-like and meet for High Tea at the sophisticated Marcliffe Hotel and Spa. This is where my girl friends and I went for my past birthday as well and it was a fancy affair both times. 

I love the atmosphere of their tea room. It’s full of plush couches and fireplaces, perfect for a cozy afternoon of girl talk and birthday spoils. 

For traditional afternoon tea, you have your choice of several very British sandwiches in addition to your choice of tea, a plate of scones, and a 4 tiered display of various desserts. Since I was in an especially fancy British mood, I ordered a sandwich that only an anglophile could love: Cheddar and Mayo. I was picturing slices of creamy cheddar topped with decadent mayo (kind of like a sophisticated grilled cheese), but instead I got what looked like a cheese and mayo food-processed concoction. 
It was whipped. Straight up. That’s the last time I experiment with obscure tea time sandwich varieties. When in doubt, just order ham and cheese. Lesson learned. 

But the warm scones more than made up for my ordering indiscretion. 
Slather some clotted cream and jam on those babies, and I was a born again anglophile. Seriously America: *Scones*. It’s where it’s at. 

And then there was the 4 tiered dessert tray which contained  individual sized sweets for each of us.
Perfection. Too bad I was so stuffed by the end of our ‘afternoon snack’ time that I couldn’t eat dinner until 9 that night. 

After we had our fill of dessert, it was time to shower the birthday girl with gifts. 
In keeping with the British birthday theme, we decided to get Pam a pair of Hunter ‘wellingtons’ and matching ‘wellie socks’, an accessory I’d never heard of until moving to the UK. Thus, us American girls rang in a new decade for Pam in true British fashion.   
P.S. Have you read Pam's blog? I almost hate to send you over there, because her blog is sooooo much better than mine. So you can only follow this link if you promise that you won’t abandon my blog in preference of hers. Just kidding, I’m sure there is room in your heart for both of us. She’s hilariously witty and poignant at the same time, and it makes my day when I see a new post from her. Happy reading!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Nerd Alert

Only five more sleeps until our week long ski trip! While my friends are busy fitting in extra leg work outs in preparation for long days on the slopes, I’m busy putting together my reading list. I have a feeling I’ll be doing more reading than skiing next week. 

For someone who describes herself as athletic, I’m just not much into skiing. I like my sports and exercise just fine, as long as they aren’t life threatening. I just don’t have that adrenaline gene that motivates me to speed straight down a mountain. 

Instead, my game plan is to take the ski lift up the mountain, take the easiest path to the cafe, and curl up with a hot cocoa and a good book. Sounds like an ideal ski trip to me. All that’s missing is a good book. Got any in mind? 

You all know that I am very involved in the American Women’s Association here in Aberdeen, and belong to various activity groups within the club from hiking to mahjong; from lunch bunch to book club. 

I’m very grateful for this group of women and how warmly they’ve welcomed us and how easy they’ve made this transition into expat life. Because of this gratitude, I started putting feelers out for ways that I could help out more. At the time, all that was available involved either party planning or super-human organizational skills. Neither skill-set fell on my resume. 

But when our book club leader started studying for her Masters in addition to working full time, she was looking for someone to take over her duties. Since there is hardly anything in this world that I love more than talking about books, it was absolutely the perfect role for me. 
Most of my responsibilities as leader include sending out evites and organizing hostess’ for each month’s meeting. But every 6 months or so something magical happens: We pick a new book list. And all the women personally send book requests straight to my email account. And I’m like a kid in a candy shop. 

To organize their suggestions, I broke the 24 book recommendations down by genre, and asked the ladies to vote for their favorite in each category. 
To aid them in the process, I created a document with a synopsis of each nominated book. 
And that’s where I got into trouble. As I read through the descriptions, I just couldn’t wait for the democratic process to dictate which book I should read next. Nope, I had to read these books NOW. I started with The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman, which happens to be the current frontrunner in our Historical Fiction genre. 
I’ve already told you it’s fantastic. I’ve already told you to stop what you’re doing right now and go read this book IMMEDIATELY. 

After finishing this novel I moved on to The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which is currently in a neck and neck race for our book club’s contemporary fiction choice. 
I read it in one sitting, which I never ever do. Granted, that one sitting was a 9 hour flight to Amsterdam and the TVs were broken on the plane, but I was so captivated that I think I would have chosen to read it straight through anyway. It was a super great book. 

And now, after months of being at the top of my personal list, I am finally reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which looks to be a shoe in for our Mystery/Thriller winner. 
I’m halfway through, but so far it is living up to the hype. 

Anyway, my problem is that all I have swirling around in my head now are book club suggestions. While I don’t mind re-reading these books when the time comes, I’d like to delay my gratification and wait to read them in the weeks leading up to our book club discussion. So I’m looking for about 4-5 books to load on my Kindle for my ski trip. 

Any of y’all have any recommendations of something you’ve read lately? What books are at the top of your wish list? I truly appreciate your help. 

And if you’re ever stuck for what to read next, check out my reading log in my blog pages for a glimpse of what I’ve been loving (and not loving) lately.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Monday Montage

Welcome to Monday Montage, where I narrate the weekend via photos from my iphone. Most of these have been photoshopped via instagram. Are you on instagram yet? If not, I highly recommend it. It’s a free app which allows you to use all sorts of cool effects to make any normal photo look more interesting.


If you aren’t following me yet, why don’t you start? My profile name is lainemichelle. Following me will allow you to see additional photos from our adventures in Scotland and also get a sneak peak at pictures before I post them on the blog. On to the weekend…

On Saturday, we had lots of errands to run so we got up fairly early to get in some exercise before hitting the road. As I was getting dressed, Jonathan jinxed all of Scotland by saying, “I feel good. The days are getting longer. The temperatures are getting warmer. I think we’re done with snow and winter for the year.” 5 minutes later, Bailey and I were getting pummeled with hail and snow while on our jog.
Luckily after about 20 minutes it cleared up and we were blessed with some sunshine for the rest of the day.
That night we had plans to attend Culinary Caravan, an AWA activity group that consists of sampling restaurants around town. Yes, a whole club for going out to eat. My friend Jillian does a great job of organizing and we all had a yummy meal at The Stage Door. My favorites were the duck spring roll appetizer and the hazelnut brownie dessert.

I was super impressed with this long strand of spun sugar…
...right up until it got stuck in my long hair.
After dinner, a few of us decided to go out for a nightcap at Under the Stairs, a cozy little pub tucked under the streets of Aberdeen.
We only stayed for one drink because we were both yawning by 10 pm. It had been a long week! The next morning we woke up early, with plenty of time to walk the pups before church. We headed to Countesswells for a nice sunny morning excursion.
a 'sunny' day in Aberdeen
My favorite trips to Countesswells are when the Scottish ponies are close to the fence.

They are super friendly and will come right up to you for a sniff.
Our pups are equally interested in these large-dog-looking-things and it’s fun to see the two species sizing each other up.
There were lots of full sized horses on the trails with us, which is always fun to see, although it involves a lot of self-control (aka distracting with treats) for our dogs to be courteous and let them pass without trying to say hello.
It was a beautiful morning and a nice outing with my little family. After church we had a pretty lazy Sunday afternoon which started with naps and ended with starting Season 5 of Breaking Bad. How was your weekend?