Tuesday, 27 April 2010

10 Things I’ve Found I Can’t Live Without Or, Be Thankful For the Little Things

Now, before I get to the list you have to know that these do not include the obvious things like my husband, family and friends (or chocolate or ice cream—too easy!). OF COURSE I couldn’t live without those, just as I couldn’t live without air or water! And when I say, “can’t live without” well, of course I could exist without most of these things but is that “living”? These are the things I enjoy; I use a lot, indulge myself in, miss terribly when I don’t have them or really have to have.

Some of these things I’ve discovered while I’ve lived here in Scotland and some I’ve always found necessary. Ben once told me he didn’t find a past post as interesting to him because it was mostly talking about food and had recipes in it (I think if was the "chicken pie" blog post). I told him that, first of all, knowing me, that shouldn’t come as a surprise, but mostly it’s because my “job” now includes doing a lot more cooking than I used to and I spend a good part of my day thinking what to have ready for Robbie for dinner when he comes home. So, sorry son, this might not be your “cup of tea” (ahh...another food reference!) but you can think up your own list!

Also, one more thing I do need to say, and repeat over to myself, is these are things I am grateful to God for giving me. I try, but I need to be more thankful for the little things that make my life good. This list was partly a product of trying to list all the things I’m grateful for and thank God for.

So...here goes, in no particular order:

1. My “Little Oatie Scrubbers”
This is what I call my granola bars (usually Nature Valley). At my time of life I can’t live without fiber! When I was working it used to be easier to eat a granola bar with my coffee rather than sitting down to a bowl of cereal—you can hold it in one hand and get ready with the other. That’s when I got hooked on them. I’m glad I can find them here too. In Scotland they are very serious about oatmeal—their “porritch” but eat it with salt which I can’t really get into. I like my oatmeal with brown sugar which I guess is a real “no-no” here. All I can say is that my life is a lot easier with my “little oatie scrubbers” working on cleaning out my insides!

2. Red, Green and Yellow Peppers
Why did I not know about these before? Well, I did know but I used to dislike green peppers so I never really opened myself to red and yellow ones. Now that I’m married to a man who will eat anything I’ve been more adventurous about my cooking. Since we don’t have Mexican restaurants readily available here (I never thought I’d LONG for Taco Bell!) I’ve been trying to replicate my favorites with very mixed results. The first time I tried fajitas from a kit, Robbie brought me home a pack with a red, yellow and green pepper each in it. I sautéed them with onion, garlic and chicken breast and it was wonderful! Now I try to find things to put them in and always try to keep some chopped in the freezer. I love the colors and the yellow pepper is essential for my chicken curry.

3. McDonald’s
When I was back in the US I was so sick of McDonalds’ I don’t think I would have crossed the street to eat there. Here it’s my restaurant of choice! I love being able to go there and everything tastes the same as it does back home. Now they do have some different menu items here (check out http://www.mcdonalds.co.uk/ for menu differences) that they don’t have in the States but as long as you stick to the basics you could close your eyes and not know you’re far, far from home.

4. Cheddar Cheese
I think I have talked about the wonderful cheese over here. I’ve always been a cheese lover in a big way and am happy with cheese in or on nearly anything. The cheddar cheese here is like nothing I’ve ever had before. It’s sort of a combination of sharp cheddar without the bite and with a creaminess to finish. The good stuff just crumbles and you don’t really have to shred it. It can be difficult to get some of it to melt when you cook with it (and sometimes I do miss American cheese and Velveeta!) but I’ve been learning to make a pretty decent cheese sauce. What we in the US would pay top dollar for as specialty, gourmet cheese is just the plain old, store-brand cheap stuff here. Lovin’ that!

5. Stock Cubes
I know I’ve talked about these before and it’s another thing I don’t know how I didn’t know about. I know they have a Knorr brand of these in the US and might even have OXO by now. I don’t know if I’ll be able to cook without these ever again. I really can’t get cans of chicken broth here like you can over there so if I want chicken flavor I have to use the chicken OXO cubes crumbled and dissolved in water. I use them in the water I cook rice in rather than salt.I love to add the pork cubes to a can of green beans because bacon here doesn’t give as much taste. And anything I make with hamburger has to have additional beef flavor with the beef cubes. It really adds a deep flavor to spaghetti sauce or chili which I have to make by scratch now.

6. Onions and Garlic
I go through a lot of onions and garlic which surprises me because I don’t remember ever cooking with them as much as I have here. But who can go without using one of these in cooking? Like peppers I use these in a LOT of dishes—more than I ever used to. Just wish we could get Vidalia onions or the like here.

7. Electric Kettles
I know I’ve talked about the wonders of really fast hot water before. I never thought I’d want to waste money on something that did the same thing as a pan of water on the stove but I really don’t think, now that I’ve been spoiled with the quickness of the electric kettle, I’d have the patience any more to wait for that pot, watched or not, to boil!

8. The Internet, especially Facebook, Twitter & YouTube
You’re reading this on the internet and I can find out about what each one of you are doing on the internet. That’s just the beginning of the way I use it and really can’t imagine life anymore without it. I know I’m not alone in this! There have been times we’ve been without service and the difference is amazing. You feel so out of touch, so uninformed, so left out! It’s amazing how many times on the TV they tell you to go to a web site for further information. Many business, or making appointments can only be done on the internet—or at least it’s a LOT easier. Being able to tell people what I’m doing and hearing from others back home is essential and made my move possible. Sometimes I feel like it’s a one-way street, so keep on writing to me—please! I can’t imagine how lonely I’d be otherwise here, so far away.

9. Books, Books & More Books!
Again, any of you who have known me for any amount of time won’t be surprised by this one either. Ever since before I remember learning to read I’ve been a “bookworm”. I don’t really ever remember not being able to read; in fact one of my earliest memories is reading the label on the cleanser can in the bathtub while taking a bath and wondering what “Comet” meant. There are very few occasions that I’m without a book in my hand or in my purse or somewhere around me. Next to the kitchen, I think a library is essential to a home! My idea of heaven is lots of books and lots of good food! So this one, almost like friends, family, air and water is a given for me but I wanted to include it because for the first time in my life I’m living somewhere that the libraries are extremely inadequate! The tiny library here in Fauldhouse wouldn’t even pass muster in an elementary school back home. I’ve always been used to finding pretty much anything I wanted to read at the library and then, if I liked the book or the author or the series, I’d then spend the money on buying a book. I do love to buy books and own them but haven’t always been able to afford them so have always loved going to the library. Here, I don’t have that option and with our budget I haven’t been able to buy a book for nearly a year now. It’s a VERY good thing that I have been able to accumulate a large library of my own over the years so I’m ok—for now...

10. Good Coffee
Good coffee is the one luxury I’ve always allowed myself. I definitely can’t live without it. At first, when I moved here it was difficult to find and it took me a while to even find a filter-type coffeemaker. It seems that they were all either the expensive Italian espresso machines or the French press type. They mostly drink instant coffee here which I think is an abomination! Thankfully, Starbuck’s paved the way for coffee drinks and they’ve become more popular here but the good ground coffee is hard to find in the stores. It’s funny (or rather frustrating) to walk down the aisle and 80% of it is tea, 18% is instant coffees and the remaining 2% of the shelf is ground coffee—usually the Maxwell House or Folger’s variety. For a while I had to order my favorites online and that was fine because it was the same price and if you ordered enough you got free shipping. Now we’ve found that Asda has a really good line of coffees for a good price so we usually make a trip there after my hospital visits. I love my coffee in the morning and my lovely husband has spoiled me by bringing me up a cup every morning. How good is that?!

Well, that's the list of the first 10 things...I'll try to get the next 10 together soon.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

What's The Hold Up?

I have been working on my next post for a week now and have been experiencing distractions and interruptions that have been frustrating me and throwing my mind and energy elsewhere.

I had planned to have my list of 20 things I can't live without up by this past Wednesday which obviously didn't happen. I'm also preparing photos and graphics to make it more interesting (who doesn't like pictures?) so that's taking longer than I've planned also.

One other thing that's gotten me into a funk and given me a great deal of stress is that I'm having to try to iron out some problems the state of Virginia is having with my 2004 tax return. Who remembers that far back?? Plus I certainly don't have any old documents and paperwork here in Scotland! Then, on Friday I got a letter from the IRS with the same problem. So it's all a big mess I've been trying to sort out. It was also around that time in 2005 (which is when I would be filing the 2004 return) that I got so very sick and had to go into the hospital until July. If I made any mistakes then I can believe it, but now I have to pay (literally) the price for it.

My one big worry, apart from the financial aspect, is the effect it's having on Ben. I know this has really cut him adrift and I feel terrible for abandoning him in this way. I know he's a big boy now and I know there are people there with him who will take care of him and keep him going if he asks for help. Still, as a mother, no matter how old your children are, you want to do the best you can and give them the best life you can give them. I know my baby bird can fly now (after all, he's an Eagle!) but I still want to be that soft place he lands--as best I can from so far away.

So I wanted you to know why I haven't gotten my weekly post up yet and to let you all know it's still in the works. I'm discouraged with myself anyway so I'm having to fight the "who cares, no one wants to know what you think" syndrome. I'll just put it out there in the digital ether and whoever wants to read it can.

One further note: actually, as I've been getting going with my list I've found that 20 things might have been a bit ambitious so I'm going to break it down to 10 each for each post. Otherwise it's going to be much, much too long!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

More Than You'd Want to Know About the Latest Volcano

First off, some news: On Thursday the 15th all airports in the UK closed and no flights were allowed out of in because of a volcanic eruption in Iceland. I was half asleep when Robbie came in with the coffee and this news. I thought I was having some sort of bizarre dream or I hadn’t heard him right but it’s true. The BBC news that evening said that Thursday was the first time since the Wright brothers that the skies were so empty! People living near airports are hearing birds singing instead of planes taking off and landing.

The cloud of ash from the volcano has been blown this way over Britain, starting at the north of Scotland early Thursday morning and spreading all the way down to England and then on to Europe. Air traffic was first cancelled here in Scotland and now it’s pretty much spread to Europe. Now they’re saying this might be the case for a week or more, depending on how much the volcano keeps erupting and spewing out ash.

Apparently the ash is damaging to jet engines in that it gets sucked into the turbines and heats up and then can make the engines stall.

The ash is high in the sky in the jet stream and really hasn’t come to earth much. Today, Saturday, we’ve got clouds and rain that are under the cloud. Up till today we’ve had sunny skies with barely a cloud in the sky. The only thing we could possibly imagine was a slight haze off toward the hills of the Highlands. The red, spectacular sunsets they thought we might experience have not, so far, been seen and Robbie’s still looking for a “blue moon” (no don’t get him started singing!).

So, if you’re not here already you can’t get here and if you’re here and want to fly out—forget it. People can’t even fly from England to Ireland, it’s back to using boats or trains across the Channel too and as you can imagine, they’re now all crowded.

Personally, as I said, so far, we haven’t had or seen any effects of the ash. They are warning anyone with respiratory problems to take your medication with you and take precautions. Robbie always has his inhalers with him anyway and I don’t think he’ll take up jogging any time soon. Perhaps the ash and dust won’t be good for the cars’ finishes and I might have to dust more often but I’ve been keeping the windows shut anyway (still too cold to open them). Maybe volcanic ash will be good for the gardens...who knows?

This was in the paper Friday that gives some more information:

Q & A

WHAT is volcanic ash?

Tiny particles of smashed rock and glass that are sent into the air by a volcanic eruption and float high in the atmosphere until they are dispersed by winds.

WHY does volcanic ash affect aircraft?

The microscopic particles are very sharp and can strip vital surfaces and clog up the engine, causing the plane to stall and the engines to shut down. Aircraft avionics and electronics can also be damaged.

HAS volcanic ash ever actually crippled a plane?

Yes. in the Eighties mushroom clouds from a volcano shut down all a plane's engines in two separate incidents. In both cases the passengers had a narrow escape after they were saved by the heroics of the crew.

CAN it be seen?

The Met Office says it is unlikely to be visible. But many parts of the country should see a spectacular sunset that is caused by light passing through the cloud.

COULD it damage my health?

Medical experts claim the ash cloud does not pose a health hazard as it so high up in the atmosphere and not at ground level. However, British Lung Foundation spokesman Professor Malcolm Green said: "We would recommend anyone living with a lung condition to carry their medication as a precaution." Professor Ken Donaldson, Professor of Respiratory Toxicology, at the University of Edinburgh, said previous volcanic eruptions had shown few health effects on exposed populations. However, experts recommend that the public should exercise caution if ash does eventually fall to the ground.

WHERE will the ash cloud go?

It is predicted to go south through the UK and then east across Scandinavia and northern Continental Europe.

HOW long will the cloud last?

It depends on the weather. The Met Office says it may stay over the UK until the end of today. But its impact on air travel could be more long-lasting.

WHAT will it cost the country?

Experts say the dust cloud will cost the economy billions by wounding airlines, stopping business travel and impeding the vital movement of goods.

WILL the ash damage my car or garden?
The ash will not settle in the UK as the cloud remains high up, according to experts.

So I'm sure that's more than you've wanted to know about the recent volcano and its effects on us here. I'll write soon about some more personal things like: Things I’ve Found I Can’t Live Without.

Oh and if you haven't heard the name of the Iclandic volcano is: Eyjafjallajokull I'm not kidding!

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Best Compliment I’ve Ever Gotten:

Wednesday evening we were eating dinner as usual. Lately I’ve been cooking meals using either chicken or hamburger (or mince as they call it here) because they are about the most inexpensive and dependable—as far as flavor is concerned—meats I’ve found so far. Wednesday was chicken. I was going to make it into a chicken curry which we both really love but I had made chili Tuesday for our dinner so two spicy dishes in a row might not have agreed with us so I just decided to make a simple fried chicken and mashed potatoes and corn dinner.

Now my Robbie isn’t one for compliments on the food. He usually just puts his head down and eats whatever you put in front of him. When we were first married it used to bother me that the best he could come up with was, “Nice.” Everything was “Nice.” I rarely heard him doing “yummy” noises and if he did it was the highest of praise.

So Wednesday, when he was finished and his plate was empty he looked up and said, “Have you ever had one of those meals where you don’t want it to end because you don’t want to stop eating? Well that was one of them!” Calmly, poetically and with a smile he gave me the best compliment I’ve ever had on my cooking. But that’s my Robbie all over: out of nowhere he’ll come up with something wonderful I can remember forever.

The latest good news is that the weather seems to have turned and we’re finally getting spring. I’m almost superstitious about saying that because the last time we thought that—last month—we ended up getting hit with a huge blizzard! So we’re quietly optimistic and hoping the weather will stick around for a while. We sat out in the sun Saturday and yesterday (Sunday) and now today there doesn’t look like there’s a cloud in the sky!

I do miss spring back home, though. We were watching (well Robbie was, I just hadn’t gotten out of the room yet) the Masters golf tournament last night and I saw all the beautiful azaleas and dogwoods. Boy do I miss the riot of color the azaleas make in Hampton Roads! And dogwoods, especially pink dogwoods, have always been my favorite harbinger of spring since my grandma had one in her side yard. So all of you who have those take a moment and really enjoy them for me!

Last Thursday was a big day for a homebound person such as I’ve become. We had to again go into Glasgow for biometrics all in pursuit (still) of my visa. For those of you who haven’t heard, last month I got a letter from the Border Agency telling me that my application had been refused—AGAIN—and this time it was because page 12 was missing. They sent back all my documents, passports and paperwork and included a new application form. The letter did say that if we applied again within 14 days the money we’ve already paid will roll over to the new application. So I filled out the new papers, put all the documents and passports in a mailer envelope and sent it off again on March 15th which happens to be Robbie’s birthday.

Oh, and of course, when we got the new application the first thing I checked was the offending “page 12”. All it was is the continuation of some information you have to fill out if you’re also applying with children (which I’m NOT) and the rest of the page is instructions for the upcoming section. So it really wouldn’t have hurt my application by not including any information they would need to have. We’re not sure why it was missing. Robbie filled out the latest application which was my second try so we don’t know if he just didn’t include it because it doesn’t apply or it got lost along the way. Nevertheless, whatever the applicability, as you can expect with most governmental bureaucracy, you have to dot all the “i”s and cross all the t’s so because it was missing the whole thing got kicked out of the system. Wouldn’t you love the job of counting all the pages of application forms?

So after I had sent in my third (at least I think it’s the third, it might be the fourth by now) try I got a letter telling me I had to go for my biometrics again in Glasgow. After calling two different numbers and being on hold for almost an hour I got confirmation from the Home Office that yes, I did have to go in again and do it all over. When the previous application was rejected and sent back to me all the information was purged from the system. I did, however, confirm with them that our fees would carry over although sometime in April the cost will go up so we might still be required to pay the difference. As you can imagine, Robbie was not happy to hear that last part.

Thursday April the 8th was the first time we could get an appointment to go in since the Easter holidays took up a big chunk of the start of the month. Over here most people get Good Friday and the Monday after Easter off and that made a really nice long weekend for Robbie and me (the weather was foul and we didn’t go anywhere and do much of anything but that was allright too). Thursdays is also the day I have to go to the clinic at the hospital to have my leg looked at and bandaged. My appointment time for the biometrics was 12:30—or you may as well say 12:00 because you’re supposed to get there a half an hour before—and my usual appointment for the clinic is 7:30pm. We also had planned, since we knew we were going to have to be out and about that we would stop at Asda (WalMart) to get the things we needed and Robbie could get the car filled up. They seem to have the cheapest petrol (gas) here.

Now you would think, since we’d been there once before, it would have been easier to get to the offices this time and we wouldn’t get lost. (If you haven’t read it you can read all about our getting lost in Glasgow in my previous blog entry) But nooo...we got lost once again!

We had our directions from last time and our map and I was determined this time to be navigator and get my husband going the right direction. We got off the motorway, got in the right lane, and actually got over the Clyde making the correct turns, which was further this time than last time. I said, more than once, reading the MapQuest directions, “Continue on Morrison St. until you turn right onto Harvie Road.” So what does my driver do? Turn right at the very next street! By this time I’m shouting, “Is this Harvie Road? Why are you in the right turn lane? You don’t know if this is the right road yet! Get over! Don’t turn here! Harvie! Harvie Road! No! Do not turn here!” His excuse was that he was in the turn lane but I had tried to get him to get over and even looked back and there was no traffic behind him that he couldn’t get over and not have to turn! Complete frustration and now we’re again lost because rather than immediately turn around or make some kind of a u-turn Robbie just continues on and on looking, I suppose for that perfect (??) turning place or that Harvie Road has somehow magically appeared in front of us. It doesn’t help that a lot of Glasgow streets in the center of town are one way so it makes going around the block difficult. Luckily my sense of direction kicked in and it would have helped it Robbie had listened to me!!

Don’t ask me how, but this time we again found our way back on to the map and found a way to get to where we were supposed to be. Robbie comforted himself with the statement that, “At least we weren’t lost as long as we were the last time” but it somehow didn’t make me feel any better. The most encouraging sign was when we found the Burger King we had lunch at the last time because we knew we weren’t too far away.

This is a link to a video of Glasgow and some of the sights we saw unwittingly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JVkzIzcvOw

If you go to the video you’ll also see a Part One that shows the Quay area later in the video. That’s where Burger King and a cinema and other restaurants are.

When I showed up at the gate and at the office everyone remembered me from the last time but I didn’t really want to go too much into why we were here—again—and they really didn’t ask again. I did have to apologize a couple of times because we were so late. By the time we got there it was nearly 1:00 so twice they couldn’t find my name on their current page and had to flip back to the previous one! Oops. It was all the same: metal detectors, baggage check, fingerprints not coming out (granny hands still), and picture as before.

When we got out of there we were starving and went back to the Quay where Burger King was because there were lots of other restaurants in the same complex. At first we had planned to go to Chiquito’s a Mexican chain but at the last minute we changed our minds and went over the Frankie and Benny’s which is called a “New York Italian Restaurant and Bar”. So, not bad Italian food and a decent burger and a sort of familiarity for me. http://www.frankieandbennys.com

I won’t make this any longer by going into details about what we ordered or our shopping trip to Asda or my trip to the clinic. I will just say that things with my leg are still doing well and I’m actually starting to grow some skin again! Yay! And Thank God! Even though this is Monday and Robbie’s chess night which means he won’t be back until late this evening I can’t justify to myself sitting in my pajamas in front of the computer all day—it’s too nice out and I want to try to “catch a few rays” while I can!