Sunday, October 28, 2012

Savory or sweet?

What is my favorite ingredient of the fall season? Why, I am so glad you asked! I could talk about it all day.

It's versatile. 
  • It can be savory or sweet. Add onion and spices to transform it into a savory dish. Add cinnamon and nutmeg to craft a sweet treat.
  • It can be cold or hot. Add cool whip and pudding to mold a frozen indulgence. Roast it in the oven and add to pasta to make a warm comfort-food dish.
  • It is great for kids and adults. Kids do the drawing and carving; adults do the eating. 
This scrumptious, fall jack-of-all-trades (pun intended): pumpkin

This morning, I am savoring a frozen delight: Pumpkin Crunchers.



Thanks to Hungry Girl, I discovered this unique recipe for an ice cream-like treat with five ingredients: pure pumpkin, Cool Whip, vanilla pudding mix, Fiber One cereal, and cinnamon. Fold the ingredients together, drop them in a muffin tin, and pop them in the freezer. Hours later, you have a sweet, healthy treat that will give you that pumpkin dessert fix without any hassle.

Other pumpkin favs:
  • pumpkin bread
  • pumpkin ravioli
  • pumpkin chocolate chip cookies
  • pumpkin pie
  • pumpkin cupcakes
  • pumpkin curry
Pumpkin dishes I want to try:
  • pumpkin enchiladas
  • pumpkin soup
  • pumpkin muffins
I hope you enjoy this fantastic ingredient and use it to the fullest as the leaves change color and fall truly settles in!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sunflower oasis

This evening, I took a walk after work to unwind from the day and spend some time away from the computer. There is a wooded preserve nearby that I frequent when I feel a need to get away. In this preserve, I find green grass, tall trees, and cool shade. I also find fellow wanderers, others who are looking for a brief oasis from the work-a-day world. Even if we don't speak, I feel a kinship with them - a sense of knowing what we're each searching for in this wooded escape.

On the way home from my journey tonight, as I walked along the sidewalk barrier between the preserve and a busy street, I came across this gem:

Sweet sunshine
Stopping to take a picture, I wanted to capture the beauty. Even in such a busy, fast-moving, crowded environment, this sunflower blooms. The more I thought about it, a passage about flowers and how God cares for them came to mind:

"Has anyone by fussing before the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? If fussing can't even do that, why fuss at all? Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don't fuss with their appearance - but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don't you think He'll attend to you, take pride in you, do His best for you?" (Luke 12:25-28, The Message). 

How beautiful is that passage? What a sweet reminder of His love for us. Note the paraphrase "If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen..." Isn't that true? Do you sometimes come across something in nature that you wonder if anyone else has ever seen? Stop and think about it. There is detailed work underpinning all things. Who but God could be so creative? So dedicated? 

So let us remember that He will attend to us, take pride in us, do His best for us.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Welcome, Fall!

Definition of fall: honeycrisp apples, driving with the windows down, and a season of thankfulness. 

There is just something invigorating about fall, isn’t there? Especially in Texas. On the heels of a scorching summer, fall creeps in and with it brings a cool breeze that runs its fingers through your hair; leaves that mingle with each other as they float to the earth; and sweet and savory pumpkin dishes that fill kitchens with a distinctive autumnal perfume.

                                

At this time more than any other throughout the year, thankfulness is on our hearts. The cool weather ushers in a season of appreciation and gratitude – a time when people make a deliberate effort to be patient and considerate. What is it that arouses this attention to the needs and feelings of others? Is it the holiday season in general? Is it because the year is drawing to a close and our thoughts turn to a desire to end well and start fresh?

Consider this: We are called to be peaceable, considerate, and always gentle (Titus 3:1-2) – not just during the holiday season. Our words should be pleasing to the Lord (Psalm 19:14). What would it take to keep this frame of mind throughout the year?

A few years ago, I started a practice of writing down at least three things I am thankful for every day. When I first started, I had lofty goals of writing eloquent, spiritual things like salvation and grace and forgiveness. Yes, I am thankful for those things every day! But there are also little things I am thankful for that remind me of the God who sees me (Genesis 16:13). I am thankful for safe travel and fuzzy house shoes. I am thankful for velvety smoothies and windbreakers. I am thankful for long conversations with good friends and for a place to lay my head at night. I am thankful that He delights in the details of my life (Psalm 37:23). 


For these things and so much more, I am thankful. Perhaps starting a daily “I Am Thankful For…” list could help put your life into perspective. It has done wonders for my outlook and my attitude.

And so, I challenge us all to “[b]e thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:18).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Attitude: It's a Choice


Change: It’s inevitable. It’s unavoidable. It’s constant. It’s relentless.

Growth: It’s possible. It’s productive. It’s beneficial. It’s necessary.

Attitude: It’s a choice.



A few years ago, I would have said that the one thing I avoided most in life was change. I had my routines like everyone does, and I had plans for the future.

Then, as New Year’s Eve 2008 approached, my dad challenged me to establish a motto for the year. A one-word theme. His suggestion: be flexible. This word is a spot-on characterization of my parents. In their lives, flexibility appears in such things as an awareness of opportunities to serve others and a willingness to set aside their plans. They see a need, make a plan, and take the initiative to act. Countless times, they set aside what they’re doing to listen, support, encourage, and commit acts of service. As the years have gone by, I’ve realized what a blessing their flexibility is, how rare it is in today’s society, and how fortunate I am to see it modeled firsthand.

As I considered this one-word theme for the year, I realized it could very well transform my outlook on life, if I allowed it to. Somewhat cautiously, I made the commitment.

During that year, God gradually softened my heart and clearly showed me that His ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). My response to changes in my plans was up to me. Would I have a positive attitude about it, trusting God with the outcome? Or would I stomp my feet and complain?

Through a number of circumstances since that time, God has continued to remind me that, while it is good to make plans, He determines my steps (Proverbs 16:9). This is a beautiful truth that relieves the pressure I tend to put on myself to always be prepared. Believe me, this is an ongoing process of submitting my will to God’s will. I’m constantly identifying areas of struggle and trying to learn from them.

He determines my steps.

So in a world of continuous change, what can we rely on? We can always count on this: God never changes (James 1:17).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Indian food coma


DAY SEVEN - 5/3/12

Last day in Scotland. I slept in this morning until a leisurely 8:45am. Maybe that will help me get back on the right clock. Tomorrow, my flight leaves at 11:50am UK-time, so I need to tell myself it’s 5:50am at take-off. It will be a long day of travel, but do-able. I took my time getting ready this morning and even started packing. Lora and I had discussed leaving around 10am, so when I realized it was 9:45 and I hadn’t gone downstairs yet, I thought I should check in. I know she’s a late-to-bed-late-to-rise person, but she’s been up before me every morning so far. This morning when I walked down, and she was still in her pajamas, I knew I was okay. We decided to wake up to the news before eating. Lora’s go-to? Fox News. We watched Bill O’Reilly and then saw a quick run-down of UK news on the BBC.

This morning’s breakfast: porridge. Since I’m such a huge oatmeal fan, it was a winner with me. I added some blueberries (I think I’ve eaten a pint of blueberries during my stay since I’ve added it to cereal every morning!), and it was delicious. We discussed the day’s plans, which included an hour and a half drive to Glencoe Lochan where we’ll walk the trails and take pictures of some unique scenery. While Lora got ready, I made us some sandwiches to take along the trail. For my last dinner in Scotland, we’re going to eat at Lora’s and Graham’s favorite Indian restaurant in Methven. We figured a light lunch would leave plenty of room for a hearty dinner.

We left around 12pm, picked up some sunglasses for Lora at a local outfitters, and settled in for a long, scenic drive. Now, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, besides driving on the “wrong” side of the car on the “wrong side of the road,” driving here is SO much different than in the States. There are few stoplights because of the round-a-bouts. I think I may be close to figuring out this system of driving, but definitely would not feel comfortable navigating a vehicle by myself at this point. In the towns, the government has put in place a number of “traffic calming devices.” These range from random median blocks in the road that force drivers on either side to slow down to avoid messing up their tires, all the way to purposefully offering fewer parking lots so that drivers have to park on the narrow streets (hence leaving not enough room on the streets for two cars to get by and therefore causing cars to slow down and take turns). One of the most notable differences is the size of the lanes. Well, not necessarily the size of the lanes (though they do seem smaller) but rather the size of the shoulders – if they exist, that is. Most of the driving we did today was very wind-y – lots of twists and turns, going around curves and under bridges where you can hardly tell if anyone is coming in the opposite direction. In fact, one of the funniest signs we commented on essentially said “Beware of oncoming vehicles driving in the middle of the road.” Basically, some of the bridge crossings are so very narrow that vehicles have to merge to the center to get by, making it impossible to pass. It really is quite different over here. And to be honest, Lora drives a little on the edge for me. I was gripping my seat pretty tightly a few times today!


Glencoe Mountain

As we neared our destination, we stopped off to take a picture at Glencoe Mountain. It is home base for serious hikers/walkers and in the winter, skiers. There is a little white house that is dwarfed by the huge mountain range that is a picture point (In fact, Graham took a gorgeous picture of the house and range, and it is featured at Charleston Steading – all of his great photographs are blown up and mounted on the walls like a gallery; http://www.ghgraham.co.uk/). Then, we snaked our way further until we reached the city of Glencoe. After scarfing down our sandwiches and grabbing some quick directions, we arrived at Glenchoe Lochan Trails. It was one of the most gorgeous walks I have ever been on. We took a trail that ultimately led us around the loch, and it was so picturesque I doubt any of my pictures captured it properly. It wasn’t a long walk, but the scenery we saw on the drive to and from Glencoe was part of the journey. After finding our way back to the car, we headed out with Indian food on our minds (and stomachs).


Glencoe Loch

Around 7pm, we made it to Lora’s recommended Indian restaurant in Methven: Chatni. Oh. My. Goodness. Indian food coma. I was intent on ordering Chicken Tikka – my favorite. However, I was encouraged to try Chicken Shiraslik, which is basically Chicken Tikka with peppers, tomatoes, and onions. Ok, I thought, I’ll try a spin of a favorite…as long as I get a nice big piece of naan bread with it! Let me tell you – I was STUFFED. I cleaned the plate, and the serving was generous. I even ordered an extra side of naan to go (so I could eat it when I got home and started packing). So full. What a great meal!

So now, I’m back at Charleston Steading with the task of packing and preparing for tomorrow in front of me. I have devoured the last bit of naan (and I’m hoping I can move well enough to pack!), checked in for my flights tomorrow, and all I need to do is stuff everything in my suitcases and head to bed. Easy enough, right?

Lora gave me a brief run-down of all the counties/shires I have visited during my stay:

Perthshire
Peebleshire
Argyle
Bute
Kingdom of Fife
Sterlingshire
Midlothian

I’ve made quite a trek, haven’t I? We’ve got a running list of things for me to do with them next time I come. I’m already looking forward to it! 

Cheerio, Scotland! Until next time…

Monday, October 8, 2012

You call this a quesadilla?

DAY SIX - 5/2/12

What a beautiful morning! The sun is shining through the windows, and I think it’s time for a run. I headed out this morning with a plan to run the equivalent of a 5k by going up and down the .5 m driveway a few times. However, with the music on my iPod going and the gorgeous weather, I was inspired to run a personal best – about 5 miles! The terrain in Scotland is much different, so I got some good incline work done.

After my run, I washed up, ate with Lora, and we piddled about until around 1pm. Then we drove out to Dunkeld Cathedral. What a beautiful area. The cathedral was nestled up next to the River Tay and a striking bridge, surrounded on either side by luscious greenery. We headed straight for the water to take a snap of me in the lovely pink sweater Mom sent with me to Scotland – perfect for this weather. Lora settled down on a bench, and I took off to explore the cathedral. A majority of the building was ruins in repair, so there was a great deal of scaffolding, and I couldn’t go inside. The outside of the cathedral was impressive, and I captured a few memorable shots. We then headed back to the car, as it was late afternoon, and we were getting hungry.

Dunkeld Cathedral
Settling in for a twenty-minute drive, we ventured toward Pitlochry – another small town, but a bit bigger and more tourist-friendly than Dunkeld. We ate at Victoria’s, a favorite of Lora’s and Graham’s. She had stated a number of times how the Scottish attempts at Mexican food are subpar, but she had a craving and ordered “quesadillas.” As a backup, though, she also ordered her favorite: French toast (yes, the combination of quesadilla and French toast in her order made my stomach turn, too!). I ordered minestrone soup and a chicken sandwich. When the “quesadilla” arrived, it honestly looked like a chicken wrap. She tasted it and scrunched her nose. No fajita seasoning, no spice, the salsa was more of a relish, and it was just not pretty. The rest of the meal was great, so when the waitress noticed the quesadilla had barely been touched, Lora had a chance to describe the rich flavors of true Mexican cooking. Kindly, the waitress took the quesadilla off our bill, and we were on our way. We spent the rest of our time in Pitlochry stepping into souvenir shops and walking the streets. Around 5:30pm, we started back towards Charleston Steading, both looking forward to an evening at home.

I spent a few hours working, and Lora caught up with her mom and with Graham, and we both looked into our plans for tomorrow (which was supposedly going to be quite nasty on this side of the country). Maybe we’ll head west to follow the sunshine tomorrow.

Dinner was a spur-of-the-moment feast. Lora whipped together some honey chicken, poached asparagus and carrots, and two types of potatoes on the fly! We enjoyed a leisurely dinner, talked about families, etc., and then I headed upstairs to bed. I’m hoping to finish Catching Fire tonight, so…more tomorrow!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

"See you next time, hen!"

DAY FIVE - 5/1/12

Rise and shine! This morning, I got up early to take a walk and listen to some praise and worship music. As easy as it is when you’re really busy to think that you’ll have no trouble finding time to spend with God if you could just get away for awhile, we always seem to find ourselves preoccupied or busy (even with relaxing), don’t we?

As I walked around the property, the fog was rolling on the hills, and the dew sparkled in the grass and tree limbs. While the sun had risen and morning light was working its way through the fog, the world was quiet and still. I was overwhelmed by nature and the big-ness of God. Do I really confine Him to the God of my surroundings at home and forget that He’s ruler over Scotland? Over Turkey? Over Australia? It’s hard to remember that until you’re there and overwhelmed by it. How could I ever understand Him? How could I ever love Him enough? Isn’t it amazing that He loves me?

After a refreshing walk, I headed inside to clean up for breakfast. I met Lora and Graham in the dining room at 9:00am.

Lora ordered the full Scottish breakfast of sausage, over-easy egg, tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, and toast. Graham ordered porridge. I got a bowl of fresh fruit, dried apricots, almonds, and bran cereal. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, packed up, and headed out to Traquair – the longest continually-inhabited house in Scotland (1,000 years and going). There was so much family history in that creaky old house, including locks of hair from long-ago ancestors, Bibles transcribed in the late 13th century, clothing irons from every generation, and much more. It was a very chilly tour, as there was no heating, and the temperature outside hovered around 48 degrees Fahrenheit. Brrr…(do you sense a theme to this trip?).

Traquair house.
We then headed down the road to a little Indian restaurant. Thankful to escape the wind (though it was not very warm in the tiny restaurant), we ordered some warm food. I got tomato soup, Chicken Tikka, and Naan bread. Oh, boy! That naan bread was fantastic! I ate the whole order.

Feeling quite full, we did a quick drive-by/run-in of Rosslyn Chapel, the chapel featured in “The DaVinci Code.” Graham and I ran in while Lora napped in the car. Our time was limited because we needed to get Graham to the airport for his flight to Istanbul, so he showed me the highlights. The exquisite detail in this chapel was mind-blowing. Chiseled by hand, the stone edifice had intricate, unique carvings of angels, demons, the seven merciful acts, etc. The chapel is undergoing renovations to restore its façade, so we read up on the process of restoring such skilled handiwork. Then, we hopped back in the car and headed to the airport to say goodbye to Graham.

After dropping him off, Lora and I plowed ahead with our day, stopping off to pick up some cat sand at the pet store and her favorite bread at the grocery store. We also grabbed a small bouquet of flowers to give to her friend Nessy, with whom we were going to have tea. We then headed over to Nessy and Frank’s semi (a duplex, of which they owned half). Lora met Nessy and Frank when she first started bowling at the Dunmore Bowling Club. A couple well into their seventies, she described them as sweet, talkative, and generous hosts. She also warned me that Frank had experience a stroke and was therefore difficult to understand at times. From the moment we walked into the house, I was won over. What a sweet couple! She served us tea, pizza, little sandwiches, and small desserts. Pizza and tea, you might ask? I didn’t question, I just ate! The couple house sits dogs when people go out of town, so they had two Yorkshire Terries who kept our attention for a good portion of tea time.

Before we knew it, the time came to head out to Dunmore Bowling Club for a night of bowling. Now, before you start imagining us gathering at an indoor bowling rink, dispel all American understanding and expectations for bowling. The Dunmore Bowling Club is an outside bowling green with four “rinks.” There are no pins involved; instead, there is a jack, a small white ball that serves as the point of hopeful conversion for the “bowls.” The bowls, instead of being equally-weighted bowling balls with three finger holes, are slightly oblong balls that are weighted with one side being heavier than the other and the goal being to have a bias in the weights so that the ball ultimately curves toward the jack, depending on how you roll it. Now the aim is to get your three bowls (or, consequently, your teammates’ other six bowls) as close to the jack as possible by either rolling them to within a close proximity or knocking opponents’ bowls out of the way, etc. After one night of bowling, I am certainly no expert, but this website spells it out, if you’re interested (Dad) (http://www.fedbowls.co.uk/).

When we first arrived, Lora stayed with me and introduced me around. Then, when it came time to draw for teams, I was sure she would ask to make sure we could be on the same team. She certainly didn’t! In fact, she asked around for who was on my team, and while I thought her motive was to switch to get us both on the same team, she just asked the first person who indicated they were on the same team as I was to help show me the ropes. I was surprised and nervous! Thankfully, though, a sweet woman named Christine came to my rescue. She befriended me and talked me through the game, as did two of the other gentlemen playing in my rink. Oh, and by the way, all of the club players were over 55 except for one guy near my age who was aloof and sort of a game spoiler. Anyway, the men on my rink were helpful and silly, laughing at and with me at all the right times and joshing with me as I learned how to play.

Esmie with her third "bowl."
Overall, it was a very fun night, and I would definitely do it again (if I could ensure that I wouldn’t almost get frostbite from the cold!). I have no idea who won or even how the score was kept, but I know I had fun, and that’s all that matters. As we were leaving, one of the men leaned into Lora’s car to say goodbye to Lora and me, and he said to me, “See you next time, hen!” What? Lora later explained that “hen” is the same thing as “girl,” so it was as though he said “See you later, girl!” Okay...another phrase that definitely needed translation!

We got home around 10pm tonight. Since we really only had snacks for dinner, Lora fixed me up another snack to take upstairs as I got ready for bed: Seed Sensations bread, smoky garlic cheddar cheese, and fresh strawberries. I worked on email some, loaded pictures from my camera, and charged my iPod.

Time for BED! What a good day. Cheerio!

Yum!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Bacon foam...

DAY FOUR - 4/30/12

Another sleep-ful night. The alarm clock I brought ran out of juice the first night, so last night I downloaded a new app on my Blackberry as an alarm. I awoke to some sweet jazz music this morning – sweet jazz, some drizzle outside, and cold toes. Crawling out of bed, I pulled on a thick sweater, layered some leggings under my jeans, and washed up to head downstairs. Lora had mentioned she’d let me borrow her straightener, which she bought from a Turkish man at the airport recently, but the prongs on the plug were for an American outlet, not a UK outlet. She called Graham in to help us figure out what to do, and after some investigating, we discovered that all we needed was the adapter, not the transformer. In Scotland, it is illegal to have power outlets in a bathroom, so I ended up straightening my hair in the laundry room!

We gathered back around the fire and lounged around for a bit - Lora and Graham worked on their laptops, and I curled up on the couch with Catching Fire. Isn’t it delightful how wrapped up you can get in a book? The world around me disappeared, and I got lost in the world of Katniss and Peeta and the Hunger Games.

Later, Lora and I retreated to the kitchen for some breakfast (Graham had eaten his toast earlier, as his body tends to follow the Turkish timetable, which is two hours ahead of Scotland). I had cornflakes with blueberries, and this seems to be my go-to breakfast during my stay at Charleston Steading. Lora surprised me by heating up a bowl of mushroom soup for her breakfast. I remember her saying she preferred savory for breakfast, but I was not expecting soup! We visited over the breakfast table for a few hours while Graham worked in the living room. She told me more about her work experience, starting with a stint in the Marine Corps. I had no idea! Conversation moved from her job to mine, from her family to mine, and on to our plans for the next two days. Tomorrow night, we’re going bowling, and I confessed my concern that my shoes would not be appropriate for the venue (outdoor bowling). She took a look at my ballet-like flats and rendered a semi-positive verdict. I hope they work okay - that they don’t tear up the lawn and that they provide enough support! Guess we’ll see tomorrow night.

We settled down in front of the fire again, all on our laptops, and bided our time until lunch. Lora made us a Mediterranean risotto and sautéed wild mushrooms – yum! She had calamari with hers, and while she gave me a ring of it to try, I only ate a polite bite before easily allowing her to take the rest off my plate. After lunch, we headed out for our next adventure: an overnight stay at the Cringletie House Hotel, an almost 2-hour drive from Charleston Steading. Upon pulling up to the old house, I decided it was more like a mini-castle. Tucked away from main road and surrounded by rolling hills, this gem of a home is the perfect getaway. Ultimately, the service was excellent, the views unforgettable, and the atmosphere serene. My room was the perfect single with a love seat in a rounded cove that begged me to curl up with a book. I could have spent the whole day in that tiny, cozy room with a book and room service. Instead, I met Lora and Graham in the drawing room for tea, and then we took a walk around the grounds. Although still quite chilly, it was not as cold as St. Andrews. After the walk, I went upstairs and read until dinner.

A walk around Cringletie House.
Dinner was quite the experience. We met downstairs in the bar, where we were served an appetizer of sorts. It was a small plate with a tiny ball of pan-fried haggis (a bon-bon, really), a shot glass of asparagus soup (it was quite a bit more involved than soup, but I can’t remember the name of the dish), and a small bite of crab salad. It was downstairs that we ordered our dishes before heading upstairs to our table. After asking a number of questions about preparation, etc. I decided on the following menu items:
  • Fresh English asparagus with a cheese and arugula salad
  • Grilled halibut fillet with golden chicory, red cabbage marmalade, smoked potatoes, and bacon foam
  • Banana ice cream
Yes, I’m sure you’re a bit surprised that I didn’t ask for any alterations (seeing as how that is my M.O. – asking for substitutions and the like). Once the bacon foam was explained as an emulsification (is that a word?) of bacon which has had the fat removed but still retains the flavor of the bacon, I decided to leave it as-is since I was told it was a critical part of the flavoring of the potatoes that are served underneath the halibut and foam. The bacon foam did, in fact, make the dish. The red cabbage marmalade looked like little raisins dotted around the plate. The potatoes were thinly sliced and sat underneath the chicory, which is a fibrous, woody vegetable, and on top sat the crispy-topped halibut under the bubbly bacon foam.

I cleaned the plate.

Lora ordered the lamb. On the menu, it listed lamb and then sweetbread, followed by some vegetables, etc. Now, I knew from watching Food Network that sweetbread is not bread, but the gizzards of some animal. I wasn’t 100% sure how this would be served with the lamb. I mentioned it to Graham, but he and Lora were certain it was a type of “sweet”bread. When the host came out to take our order, he did in fact confirm that sweetbread is not bread but IS the thymus (throat, gullet, or neck) or the pancreas (heart stomach or belly) of the calf or lamb. Interesting….Anyway, so Lora got the lamb and Graham got pork.

The dining experience was very up-scale (or as Lora would say, “foo foo”). Each plate was delivered with care and described to each individual by the server as it was placed before them. The presentation of each plate was splendid. Small portion sizes, but filling enough to satisfy. Dinner lasted almost two hours, and was full of interesting tastes and good conversation. It all made sense to me why Lora wanted to make sure we spent plenty of time at the hotel (check-in to check-out). This is not the sort of hotel where you check-in and then go out to find something to do in town.

Now, I sit here, comfortable in my bed, and I’m prepared to read some more Catching Fire. Another fantastic day in Scotland.

Enjoying a world-class dinner.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Haggis, 'nips, and 'tatties

DAY THREE - 4/29/12

Ten hours. Ten hours of silent, deep sleep. Did I move during the night? Doubtful. Did I hear a single sound inside or outside during the night? Not a peep. I’ve never heard such silence. You can’t get quiet like that in Plano, TX. I was sure I’d wake up early or in the middle of the night, but I woke up to Lora giving me my wake-up call at 8:50am.

Now, a little word about the house. It is a gorgeous home, as I’d mentioned. One disadvantage is the bone-chilling cold. Yes, they have a heater in each room, towel warmers, and electric blankets, but when I got out of bed….brrr! After fiddling with an unfamiliar shower set-up, I hopped in, enjoyed the very warm water, and scampered about to get dressed and warm again.

After getting ready, I headed downstairs and grabbed a quick breakfast: wheat krispies with blueberries. Ready for the days’ adventure, we headed out to St. Andrews. About an hour from Charleston Steading, we followed winding paths and passed fields of rape seed, rolling hills, snow-capped mountains, and quaint country towns. On the way, we stopped for a few pictures in the Kingdom of Falkland (Falkland Palace and a cute little cottage). Then we headed on to St. Andrews. As we rounded the corner into the town, we saw hundreds of students playing football (i.e. American soccer). Graham drove us through the town, pointing out university department buildings and eventually pulling into a parking spot so that we could get out and walk around. Brrr! They warned me it would be cold because St. Andrews is close to the North Sea and the wind would blow up off the sea, but it was bitter cold! Lora suggested wearing my hat and taking ear muffs. Boy, was she right! First, we made a mandatory Starbucks stop to pick up some warm drinks. I got a delicious vanilla rooibos tea – perfect for warming me up to spend the morning/afternoon outside.

We then walked to the golf course. Apparently the 18th hole is a pretty big deal, so Graham took a picture of me and Lora in front of it. Next, he took some pictures of me on a small bridge that is in the middle of the course – the most famous bridge in golf. Since there were no buildings to block the wind, it was one of the coldest points of the day, but worth the shot! Moving on, we walked the streets, taking shots of unique apartments, buildings, and homes. After working up some empty stomachs, we stopped in a small restaurant called Little Italy. Thankful for warmth and cover from the wind, we dined on minestrone soup, garlic bread, pizza, and grilled chicken.
Bridge near the 18th hole at St Andrew's golf course
For our last stop of the trip, we went to St. Andrew’s Cathedral. I was expecting an indoor visit with informational bulletins and prayer vigils. No, St. Andrew’s Cathedral is in ruins. After burning in a fire, the ruins that stand are a crude representation of the once beautiful edifice. Needless to say, the wind whipped around the nooks and crannies with such cruelty that we took a few “snaps” (the way the Scottish refer to taking pictures) and hurried into the visitor’s center. We took cover for half an hour or so, and then braved the weather to make it back to the car.
Ruins of St. Andrew's Cathedral
Lora and Graham said it is rare for St. Andrews to have weather much warmer than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which would only take place in July or August. All in all, we went on a relatively good day, seeing as how we didn’t experience any rain. On the ride home, I was again lulled to sleep, still adjusting to the time difference and jet lag. Upon arriving, I decided it was time to take a jog – get away a bit for some alone time. My route consisted of the front drive of the house – to and from the railroad tracks. It was chilly, but the sun had been out at Charleston Steading all day, so it was a bit warmer than St. Andrews. After a vigorous jog, I showered and came downstairs to sit with Lora while Graham napped. With Fox News (Lora’s favorite) on tv, we both caught up on email.

For dinner, Lora fixed a Scottish classic: haggis, nips, and tatties (haggis, turnips, and potatoes). Although I was suspicious, the meal was decent. She formed the ground haggis into meatballs about the size you would see in a bowl of pasta and pan fried them with a breadcrumb coating. The mashed potatoes were plain, and the turnips had been mashed and mixed with butter, ginger, salt, and pepper. It was a good comfort meal on a cold, windy day.

By the time dinner was over, it was 9:00pm, and I headed up to bed after nibbling on a lemon cookie. Time to hop into bed with my electric blanket, crank out some emails, and enjoy another nice, quiet, long night’s sleep.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Am I going to make it?!

DAY TWO - 4/28/12

And I’ve arrived! It was quite a trip. So…on the descent, I found my iPod buried in my backpack under the laptop charger. I’d had it with me all along. Oh, well! I got a solid 3 hours of sleep, which is actually pretty good for me on an overnight flight. When we started the descent into London Heathrow, I started to get a little more anxious about making the connecting flight to Edinburgh. With only an hour between landing and taking off (and knowing I’d have to clear customs and security at Heathrow), I made a point to ask the nearby flight attendant about my odds of making the second flight. Her first response? It would be tight in a normal flight situation, but we were facing an additional challenge: the London police were going to come on board to escort out an unruly passenger. Apparently, the guy had brought his own alcohol on board and had a bit too much to drink, creating a “situation.” All other passengers had to stay in their seats until he was taken care of. Eek! I knew I didn’t have time for that! The very second we got the green light, I booked it off that plane.

THEN, I had to figure out how the heck to get where I needed to go. Thank goodness for the helpful airport attendant who pointed me to the lift. I took the lift downstairs to the train, took the train to the correct terminal, got in line and waited to go through customs, only to be told I was in the wrong line! I scurried over to the correct line only to find the flight attendants on the first flight had neglected to hand out the claims cards. So I scrambled to find a pen and fill one out while I waited in the new, shorter line. When it was my turn, the girl at the counter (I say girl because she was definitely m y age) glared at me as she perused my card and asked for the address where I was staying. I had no idea! I mean, I have Lora’s address somewhere, but not anywhere accessible. The girl proceeded to chastise me for not knowing where I was going and required I provide a phone number (which, thankfully, I had written down on a pink notecard and stuck in my backpack).

After clearing customs, I rushed back upstairs thinking I was done, only to find I had to go through security again. Nightmare! Made it through and rushed back downstairs (up and down….) to the cattle yard…errr…waiting area…to look for a board that would tell me the gate for my flight. I found it and ran/waddled/bounced to the gate (which is hard to do when wheeling a small suitcase and wearing a backpack), arriving as practically the second to last person to board. Oh my! Whew!

The flight to Scotland was quick. I worked a little more on reading Catching Fire, and we arrived in Edinburgh in no time. Cool. Called Lora and Graham, and they were about 15 minutes away. I calmly went to the Baggage Reclaim to pick up my suitcase and stood in the herd to wait.

And wait. And wait…No bag.

As the single, last suitcase went ‘round and ‘round the turnstile, mine was nowhere to be found (as was the case for four or so other passengers who had been on the DFW-Heathrow flight). We went to the Baggage Facilities desk only to discover that our baggage did not make it on the flight we ourselves barely got on. It would arrive at 1:00pm in the afternoon. The attendant would need our addresses to have the luggage sent to the residences where we were staying. Not the address again!

Right about that time, Graham called and walked up behind me. Whew! He gave the required information, including his phone number because the attendant promised to text a notification at 1:00pm when the luggage arrived. Lora and I exchanged hugs and she officially introduced me to Graham. Ah, that familiar, soothing Scottish accent. He was born and raised on Glasgow, so he’s got the real thing. We decided to head out for lunch and hang around the city near the airport so we could stop by ourselves to pick up the luggage (apparently Graham’s been in this situation before only to have his luggage delivered at 1:00am). We went to a great little pub about 15 minutes away, right near the Fourth Bridge. Lora and Graham ordered the full Scottish breakfast, complete with haggis and black pudding (look it up :/). I ordered a Mediterranean vegetable sandwich with some kind of fantastic smoked cheddar. We ate a leisurely breakfast/lunch and then headed to the airport. We were skeptical because by 1:45pm no text had arrived, but we parked and started walking in. As we walked, Graham got the notification text. Yay! I exchanged currency, we picked up my suitcase, and we loaded into the car for the hour drive to Charles Steading (their house).



What a gorgeous drive! Green trees and meadows everywhere. Golden yellow rape seed flowers filled the fields. The countryside is simply lovely. As we neared their house, I got my first experience with their gates. You see, there is a railroad track that runs parallel to the house, and there are gates on either side of the tracks that have to be opened and shut for the car to cross the tracks. But first, you have to call the railroad station on the nearby phone to tell them you need time to cross. So, you ring them, tell them you need two minutes, and they say “Alright – you’ve got two minutes, love!” Then you open both gates, get back in the car, drive over the tracks, get out of the car, close both gates, get back in the car, and head on your way.


As we turned the corner to face the drive leading to the house, I was stunned. What a lovely house! The driveway is about a half mile, which allows plenty of time to take in the lovely house, steading, and plant life on the grounds. We parked next to the steading (their offices) and brought my things into the house. The room I’m staying in is absolutely delightful. There is a large oak dresser that stands from floor to ceiling. Two of the ceilings are slanted over a nice, tan leather couch. The bed is HUGE and tall, and I immediately notice a heated blanket – I’m going to be spoiled! When I peek into the bathroom, I notice the towel rack is heated, too. Talk about luxury (and necessity – it’s a bit chilly, you know).

Lora and Graham left me to get my bearings. I took to hanging my sweaters and unpacking a bit. Then I cleaned up and went downstairs. We visited in front of the fire and then decided to head out for dinner. They took me to this lovely little hotel restaurant called East Haugh Country House Hotel and Restaurant (by Pitlochry, Perthshire, PH16 5TE, Scotland). I ordered a delicious Grilled Fillet of Atlantic Salmon with Grilled Mushroom Cap, Graham got fish and chips, and Lora ordered her favorite scallops and a creamy risotto. We visited for a few hours over dinner, and I can tell any ice is broken – we’re all comfortable with each other now. I thanked them for dinner, and we headed back to the house. I missed most of that drive as I nodded off in the car. Now, back in my room, I’ve cleaned up, and I am ready to catch up on some sleep! It’s been a great day, and I’m looking forward to seeing all there is to see of St. Andrews tomorrow!
Cheerio!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

My journey to Scotland and back


Well hello, blog-o-sphere! I have finally joined your world, thanks to my good friend Dennis Smith. As I stare at this blank screen, brainstorming how best to break into this new realm, I've decided to start with a flashback to my recent journey to Scotland. I can't wait to share my adventures with you!

Here we go!

DAY ONE - 4/27/12

And I’m off! Headed to Scotland for a much-needed vacation. It was just a year ago that I crossed these same waters to explore London with my parents. Just a year ago…and a whole year ago. In some ways, it seems like yesterday that Prince William and Katherine Middleton were preparing to wed. And in other ways, it seems like forever ago – so much has happened since then.

And yet, I feel like it was just yesterday that we were riding the Tube, visiting Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace, grabbing an “American” snack at KFC, sleeping on the trundle bed, watching the changing of the guard, and walking circles around London.

This trip will be much different: I’ll be with natives who know the ins and outs. We’ll drive in a car (on the “correct” side of the road) and take shortcuts. No more paying for public transportation or waiting for the Tube. I’ll get to see the day-in-day-out of life in Scotland (including the lovely rain and cold weather that comes with the month of April).

       

I got to DFW in plenty of time – early enough to take a lengthy walk around Terminal D and observe. People-watching is a favorite past-time. The neat thing about Terminal D is the mix of cultures. As the hub for international flights, my fellow passengers are not all like me – traveling on “holiday” to a foreign country – but many of them are returning home from this foreign country. I spoke with a guy at my gate who was returning home to London after completing a grueling work assignment: laying off a team of finance professionals as part of his company’s downsizing. Rough week. Despite the tone of his trip, he was kind enough to calm my fears of missing my connecting flight at London Heathrow on the way to Edinburgh. He said it should be simple and quick, and I should have no problem with the slim one hour between landing and taking off. Crisis averted (or so I hope).

As this is my first time traveling abroad solo, I’ve been a little anxious about booking the flight and selecting a seat. I didn’t know how easy it would be to select a seat 24 hours before take-off. While there was the option to pay for a pre-selected seat, I took a gamble. When I logged on to choose my seat last night, lo’ and behold! I found the perfect seat. It is directly behind the emergency exit row that has only two seats. I’ll have plenty of leg room, an easy out to the toilets, and a panel to lean against when I *try* to sleep.

So, I totally scored. On a less exciting note, my row was one of the last called, meaning my options for storing luggage were slim pickings. Well, even though I am not sitting in First Class, my carry-on suitcase is! Great...except for the fact that I think I put my iPod in my suitcase instead of the backpack I have at my seat. I don’t think I’m allowed to go into First Class to get it (and I would be embarrassed to pull it down to look and then not be able to find it). So, I’ll be music-less for the next 10 hours. That’s okay, though. I’m choosing to view it as a good time to reflect. My seat is very near the wing, and I can hardly hear distinct sounds around me, so in some ways I feel like I’m alone. I’ll read a bit, do some Word Finds, maybe watch a movie, and then spend some time in thought as I try to get a little bit of rest. The next week is going to be full of excitement and relaxation and memories. I can’t wait to get started!