Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday...

Today is one of my favorite days of the year.  Happy Turkey Day everyone!  My kitchen smells of sweet potato casserole and home-made gingerbread.  Roll on dinner time! 

It may seem bizarre that given I have only celebrated Thanksgiving for the past 10 years of my life, that it would be my favorite holiday.  But it really is!  Too many holidays are becoming overly commercialized, but Thanksgiving has (for the most part) retained just being about family, good food, and a little gratitude. 

Tomorrow is a different story, as the crowds take over the stores for bargain deals on Black Friday.  If today is about being thankful and having good manners, then tomorrow is the polar opposite!  (And that is why my xmas shopping is ALWAYS completed well ahead of December!)  Rude people really get on my nerves.  And crowds tend to freak me out.  So put my in a crowd of rude people, and I am not a happy camper (unless I come home with my 42 inch plasma TV for $199!) But somehow I don't think I'll be camping out at midnight for any goodies this year. 

Given the current state of the world, I really do have so much to be thankful for!  It's been a good year for me, and I am well aware of how lucky I am  :)  I met the love of my life, adopted the worlds most adorable dog, will get to fly to see my family in less than a month, have a job that I adore, spend my days surrounded by wonderful friends and coworkers, and make a significant difference to the world each and every day!  What is there not to be thankful for?!? 

To all of my family and friends, THANK YOU for enriching my life.  Now go enjoy your turkey dinner! (Unless of course you are in the UK, in which case, you'll need to drool and wait for Christmas to enjoy your turkey dinner!)  All the same, we can all find a little something to be thankful for, and we should each and every day. 

Mina is thankful for sweet potatoes!  :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The would be vegetarian who doesn’t like to eat vegetables

I’ve always said that I’d like to be a vegetarian if only I actually liked to eat vegetables!  That throws a bit of a spanner in the works!  To say that I was a picky eater as a child is putting it mildly.  Just ask my mother.   You are talking about someone who avoided yellow foods until the age of nine (just on the off chance that it was an egg).   No joke.  Good thing that yellow foods don’t make up the bulk of a healthy diet.  And no, I am still not fond of eggs.  But, banana yogurt, corn and mango have now found their way into my diet. 

I would have avoided these foods at all costs as a child!    

It took me years before I would eat a Cadbury cream egg.  I loved them for a while, until I choked on one once and had to have the Heimlich maneuver done on me.  Now they just make me shudder. 

I’m not nearly as picky now as I once was, but even to this day I still find my mother trying to sneak non-preferred foods into my diet.  It’s not so much that I don’t like the taste; I just have some really odd food texture issues.  I should have had occupational therapy as a child!  But instead I’m trying to get over some of my picky issues without professional help!  And thus, the girl who doesn’t like to eat vegetables decides to go on a plant based food kick…

My Mum used to feed me and my brother “rainbow potatoes” (aka mashed potatoes with a generous sprinkling of colorful mashed up veggies).  I saw them being prepared once when I was about five and then refused to eat them ever again!

I’ve been pondering switching to more of a vegetarian/ vegan-ish diet for a while now.  I say “vegan-ish” because the thought of going without dairy makes me want to cry a little.  A life without cheese?!?!  No more fro-yo?!?!  Goodbye ice cream?!?!  Oh hell no!!!  I mean I know that they make the non-dairy equivalents, but in the words of U2 – “ain’t nothing better than the real thing”.   So hence the “vegan-ish” which is limited dairy versus none at all. 

I like the thought of eating a whole foods plant based diet.  In theory I think it sounds fabulous that if you eat all these wonderful wholesome foods then you will live longer, be healthier, and generally have oodles more energy.  But in order to gain the benefits, you first have to eat the healthy foods.  I’m the girl with a 30+ year aversion to foods that are green and leafy.  But I am up for a challenge, so here goes!!

Day 1 of the healthy food kick: 
Okay, well technically today can’t really count as day one, as I went to Souplantation for lunch.  But in my defense, I ate a big salad and only had four slices of delicious cheese sticks.  This afternoon I went to see Forks Over Knives and that has really spurred my healthy food kick.  After the movie I was highly motivated to go shopping in Trader Joes and purchase lots of healthy veggies.  Jon just watched with a bemused expression and commented “you’re really going to do this aren’t you?”  Meanwhile I was zipping around the store like a little energizer bunny stocking up on all things healthy and wholesome (so, ironically purchasing the equivalent of rabbit food…) 

For those of you who have not heard of this movie, Forks Over Knives is a documentary that explores all the reasons that people should switch to a whole foods plant based diet.  I’d highly recommend that you take the time to go see it. 

Dinner number 1:  A vegetarian garden salad with a pesto-balsamic homemade dressing and a side a hummus and flatbread.  It was good!  I was pleasantly surprised.  Maybe I can actually do this eating greens thing.  We shall see…  So far I’ve got so say I have way more energy than is usual for this time of the evening, and I feel good!  I wonder if that will carry over to getting me through an entire busy Monday…??? 

Who knew that rabbit food could taste so good? 

To be continued…. Wish me luck!!! 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Go adopt a shelter dog. Like now.

I adopted a dog this month.  Because when moving into a new place, adopting a dog before you finish unpacking is a splendid idea!  I have had my little Mina for less than 3 weeks, and quite honestly I couldn’t imagine life without her.  She is a little nine year old Maltese with a great personality, peppy energy levels, next to no teeth, and a slight Napoleon complex around big dogs.  Oh, and she is a bit of a nutcase.  So we get along great!  I got her from the Irvine Shelter (which I HIGHLY recommend to anyone looking for the perfect canine companion).  She was a dirty, matted little stray with horrible dental issues who clearly had been neglected over the years.  But I still fell head over heels for her the first time she bounded up to me and licked my nose!  For those of you that think that adopting from a shelter means that you are guaranteed an animal with issues, then I am here to prove you wrong.  Yes, there will be some out there with separation issues, trust issues, or some other problem, but that is all easily put to bay with lots of unconditional love and consistent use of behavioral strategies (hooray for ABA!!)  

My little malteaser!

Prior to adopting her, the shelter wanted to know my experience with dogs and background with training them.  I was like “I have a masters degree in clicker training for humans!”  Well, it’s true… I pretty much do!  Although I have found that I can train kids with special needs far faster than my dog!  The irony is not lost on me that I can toilet train a kid with autism in two days, and my dog still attempted to poop on the carpet this morning.  But we are getting there.  Accidents are now becoming few and far between.  Although last week two days in a row she decided that my workout mat looked like a really great place to pee.  Hey, at least it wasn’t the carpet!

Day One of Dog Ownership….

I took Mina home on February 1st and we had an uneventful first evening.  The next morning I rolled out of bed at 6am, threw on my knock-off Ugg boots over my PJ’s and grabbed my leather jacket to take her out to go pee.  While I’m standing in the freezing cold (well, by Californian standards anyway) she refused to do anything other than sit on the grass and stare at me.   So up the stairs we trudged to go back inside.  It was at that point that I realized that my door locks from the inside.  Having just moved in, I was not aware of that fact.  I had locked us out.  At 6am.  In my bright red tartan PJ’s.  To say that I was not a happy camper at that point is putting it mildly!  After uttering quite a few choice words, and unsuccessfully trying to use my body weight to ram the door open (yes, in my desperation I actually attempted this!!) I accepted the fact that we were well and truly locked out with no phone, no key, and no means of breaking in.  Thankfully my new next door neighbors are early risers and rather amazing people, and they let me and Mina camp out in their living room for almost 2 ½ hours! 

A little bit of advice for people who get locked out:  1) Don’t lock yourself out in the first place, 2) Give a friend a spare key and 3) if you do have to call a locksmith, then ASK them how much they will charge ahead of time!  My locksmith who claimed that he would be there in 20 minutes took over 2 hours to show up.  Evidently I was not the only stupid person to lock myself out that early in the morning that day!  It literally took him less than a minute to open the door, and I got charged a whopping $200 to get back inside my house!  Let’s just say that my behavior has been well and truly shaped, and that I will never be repeating that mistake!

Happy to see me?!?

The most hilarious thing about Mina is her reaction when I get home.  Whether I step outside for a minute or an entire day, she is beyond excited to see me! She runs around in circles like a little nutcase, randomly leaping at me like a flying squirrel to lick my face, and then continues to spin in circles!  She is also very jealous of my iPhone.  If I am mid-text and she has not had at least 5 minutes of undivided attention yet, then I am not getting access to my phone!  She is hilarious! 

Extreme Makeover Doggie Edition… 

When I first took her home, I was told that she wasn’t allowed a bath until her stitches came out from her spay surgery.  So I’ve been living with a smelly little scruffy dog for the past 2 ½ weeks!  She got a MUCH NEEDED grooming and bath yesterday.  That made her happy and me equally as happy!  Ah, a nice smelling dog!  She is so soft and fluffy and white!  I’m wondering how long that will last for…

Bad hair day!

MUCH better! 

My gumsy dog… 

It’s a good thing that I adore my dog, as she has cost me a small fortune over the past several weeks.  Between locking us out, getting groomed and all of her medical bills, it adds up.  But I’m prepared to do what it takes to get her healthy and happy.  And tomorrow that means forking out for more dental work.  Yes, as of tomorrow I will have a toothless dog.  Poor wee thing.  Although I’ve got to say, it’s quite entertaining to watch her attempt to eat little pieces of dog biscuits! 

I’m grateful that the shelter took care of most of her medical needs before I got her, and they refunded me my adoption fee when I told them about her ongoing dental issues.  A dog is a big commitment, but in my opinion it is more than worth all of the effort!  So if you have been pondering getting a dog, and you have the time to commit to having one, then I say GO DO IT!  I’m now a doggie person for life.  My little Mina should have a good 5 years left in her, and I know that we are in for some great times.  She is the perfect little companion!  Who needs a man when you have a fluffy wee dog to give you unconditional love?!?!  I pity any of the future men in my life… If my dog doesn’t like you then you are out of luck dude.  And if you don’t like dogs, then I’m sorry, we are not going to get along.  Cat lovers stay clear!!  

Why are you still reading this?  Go adopt a dog.  Like now…  Hello?  What are you waiting for?!? Do you see how happy I am?  That could be YOU!! 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Moving Horror Stories

I ought to be more careful about what I wish for. 

When I told 2011 to “bring it on” I didn’t anticipate just how intently the universe was listening!  We’re not even one month into the new year, and my life is in major flux.  Only a week into the new year I was informed that I would have 60 days to move out of my current home.  After throwing a mild tantrum about this, I came to accept it and went about the search for somewhere else to live.  Being the over-achiever that I am, I found a new place 2 days into my search (I can’t help it - I’m a planner.  I don’t like leaving things to chance!)  Had I known that the universe was accepting requests, then I may have started the new year with wishing for world peace or ending starvation.  On a more selfish level, I may also have asked to become invincible, win the lottery, or have Mr. Right sent my way.  But alas, in my zeal I stuck with BRING IT ON.  And oh boy, has 2011 fulfilled that request already! 

Boxes full of stuff seem to be multiplying like rabbits in my living room.  I am currently in that limbo place known as packing hell.  I typically enjoy packing, but when you get to that point where there are boxes everywhere and yet more stuff that needs to somehow find its way into boxes, you kind of get over it.  With that said, I am an expert packer.  I should be, I’ve certainly moved enough over the years to have plenty of practice!    And yes, I have moving stories to share…

No joke, this is the current state of my living room!

Places that I’ve lived

In my 30 years I have lived in two countries over two continents (the UK and USA), five different states (Kentucky, Ohio, New York, Vermont and California), and ten different cities/towns (I‘m feeling too lazy right now to list them all!)  Phew.  During that time I’ve moved 18 times.  The longest duration in any one place spanning over a decade, and the shortest duration being 6 weeks.   Needless to say, each time that I now move I utter the mantra “I am NOT moving again for a LONG time!”  But, alas life, animal infestations, and month-to-month leases have a way of messing up your plans. 

The Bat Cave

One of my most negative experiences with moving happened while living in Vermont.  When I first moved to the States, the ex and I lived in this awesome loft apartment in a converted Woolen Mill.  (If you know me, you’ll know that I have a thing for loft apartments - case in point, I’m moving out of one and into another next week!)  The apartment was amazing, but it was kind of tiny.  So I pushed for moving into a larger unit in the same complex.  We found one that would work perfectly.  The issue was that it was on the exact opposite end of the building from our current place (and moving from the top floor to the ground floor too).  It literally was a quarter mile walk from one door to the other.  That move took forever!  If I had been wearing a pedometer, I probably would have walked the equivalent of a marathon!  So, we eventually get moved in and I get to work over the next few weeks unpacking and decorating. 

I thought this place was super cool and unique.  My parents, not so much.  My Dad likened it to a prison!

One month into our stay in the new place we discovered that we were not the only tenants.  A lone bat appeared one day (in the MIDDLE of the day I might add) and was flying around the living room like a lunatic.  Me (being a girl), did the only reasonable thing that I could when presented with a potentially rabid bat, and ran screaming out the front door.  (The irony that you have to leave your house to feel safe was not lost on me).  I’m not quite sure how the maintenance guys and my ex got rid of the bat, but they did.  After assurances from the leasing staff that this was a bizarre one off, I calmed down and went about the continued unpacking.  One week later, I’m sitting looking out of the window at the torrential rain coming down.  All of a sudden this giant gush of water comes pouring down the hillside heading straight for our patio doors.  And then sure enough it starts to come through the seams on the doors and windows and right into the living room.  The ex is freaking out about the electrics and trying to move them away from the water coming in, and I am just freaking out in general.  I run out the front door to find a maintenance man,  and there is a freakin’ dead bat lying at the front door.  That was it.  I snapped.  “That’s it! We’re moving!  I can’t live in this bloody Bat Cave anymore!”  So that it the story behind how I once lived somewhere for a 6 week period.  There is nothing worse than moving immediately after you have just moved, unpacked everything, and then threw away all of your boxes.  I should know. 

The sign posts that should have lead the way to the "Bat Cave", Winooski, Vermont!

Damn rat ate my Harry Potter book

When I first moved to California 3 years ago the lure of having an ocean view was just too much.  So the ex and I in our infinite wisdom splurged on renting a fabulous place in San Clemente in the heart of the pier bowl.  The first thing that I learned about this is that having a fantastic view makes you lazy.  Very lazy.  Why walk down to the beach when you can admire it from your balcony?  Needless to say, friends and relatives loved coming to visit us, and frequently did. 

Look at that view!  It was a rather amazing place to live... at least for a little while!

All was well, and it was a great place to live until yet again, we discovered that we were not alone.  I was standing brushing my teeth at night when I noticed something moving out of the corner of my eye.  It looked like a snake’s tail.  So, of course I did what I always do when faced with unwelcome little critters.  I leapt on top of the bed and started shrieking like a maniac.  After calming down somewhat and now armed with a pair of big clunky knee high boots on my feet, we discovered that there is a hole under the bathroom cabinet that the “snake” has slithered into.  A call to the landlord and animal control was useless.  It was 10pm on a Saturday night, and nobody was prepared to help until noon the next day.   “Block off the hole” is the only advice that we were given.  So I grabbed some duck tape to cover the hole, and all of my Harry Potter books and wedged them into place until they didn’t budge.  That night neither of us got much sleep.  Our “snake” was a noisy little critter who kept us up all night.  In the morning we got up and looked down at the book barricade, only to see that was no longer acting as a barricade.  The books had been pushed aside and one of my books had been chewed right through.  “Ah, it seems we have a rat” observed the ex.  “OH MY GOD!  We have a rat?!? What the hell did it do to my Harry Potter book?!?!” I shrieked. 

Fast forward a few hours, and we have a rat terminator giving us all sorts of information that we DO NOT want to hear.  Namely, that we likely have a family of rats living with us, and that they are in the walls, and that we just need to set up rat traps and deal with it.  So that’s what we do.  I am now by this time an expert on finding and removing rat poo, and I refuse to walk about in bare feet at any time.  I’m getting so freaked out that I feel like I am going to become a full blown obsessive-compulsive with cleanliness!  Thankfully we were flying out of State for the weekend to go visit the in-laws.  We caught one rat before we left, and were glad to be residing in a rat-free residence for a few days.  Upon return, our flight got canceled and then the next one was delayed, and then our bags didn’t show up.  We got back home at 3am with work to go to in the morning.  Upon entering the apartment we were assaulted with a terrible odor.  “What the hell is that smell?” I asked while trying not to gag.  Yup, it was a dead rat in the bedroom that had been cooped up indoors for a couple of days.  Let me tell you, I had a few choice curse words to utter at that moment.  Needless to say, that we didn’t last much longer in that place, and as soon as our lease was up we were out of there! 

Moving on...

So I am hopeful that my new place will be free from unwelcome little critters.  The only pet that I intend to have is a cute, fluffy little dog.  All I need to do is get moved, settled, and then find one to adopt.  Speaking of which, I really should stop procrastinating and start packing!  I’m moving in less than a week… I have work to do!  2011... Be kind to me please.  I’ve had enough drama so far this month!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy Hogmanay!

If you are Scottish you will know what I am talking about.  If not, then let me explain: Hogmanay is what us Scots call New Years Eve.  It is arguably the biggest party night of the year.  In fact, we tend to party so hard, that we have two days to recover.  That’s right:  January 1st and 2nd are Scottish bank holidays.  My Hogmanay celebrations have tended to vary from awesome to utterly disappointing over the past decade depending on where I was celebrating the New Year.  My first US New Years experience was such a letdown.  But before I get into that, I should explain what it is that makes a Scottish New Years Eve the event of the year.

We have odd traditions…
It is not enough that we like to party into the wee hours of the morning.  There are some set customs that are typically followed.  For example, steak pie is usually served a little before midnight (or “the bells” as it is also known).   People eat, mingle, bleather, drink copious amounts of alcohol and generally have a good time.  Usually the TV is playing on the background with dedicated Hogmanay TV shows.  (Rikki Fulton’s the Reverend I.M.  Jolly is hands down my favorite!  I was lucky enough to be in the studio to see him film this segment one year.  RIP Rikki – you were a comedy genius).  Anyway, I digress.  As it approaches midnight some of the guests may be flung outside in the cold to ring in the New Year outside. Why do we do that you may ask?  Well, it’s a Scottish tradition known as “first-footing”:  it is good luck for the first person to cross your door to be tall, dark and handsome.  They are supposed to bring a gift to bring good luck suck as coal, shortbread or whiskey.  More often, they drunkenly stumble over the door shouting “Happy New Year!!” and hugging everyone in sight.  It is also customary to sing Auld Lange Syne.   This is a more widespread tradition is several countries now, but the song is originally based on a poem by Scottish poet Robert Burns (who actually has his own day on January 25th known as Burns Night – note: this is the only day of the year that you will find Scottish people willingly eating haggis).  The Hogmanay festivities continue until the wee hours of the morning, and then people finally crash and sleep until noon.  

If you haven’t ever tried steak pie, it is beef and gravy incrusted in puff pastry and is typically served with mashed potatoes and veggies.  It is delicious!

Some alternative Hogmanay celebrations….
If you are not celebrating at a party in a friend’s house, then perhaps you are being hardy and braving the cold to celebrate the New Year in the city center.  In Glasgow, people crowd into George Square to listen to live music and watch the fireworks go off at midnight.  I did this one year, but it was so incredibly cold, that I’ve never been compelled to repeat this experience! 

Fortunately, being packed in like sardines helps to keep it a little bit warmer!

Another alternative Hogmanay celebration involves a good old fashioned céilidh (pronounced “kay-lee”).  This is a traditional Scottish dance set to Gaelic folk music.  There are several traditional dances.  There are couple dances, “set” dances (with four couples dancing together in a square formation) and progressive couple dances performed in a ring around the dance floor.  If you ever have the opportunity to attend a céilidh then you will have one of the most fun evenings of your life!  

How to people know how to do these dances?  Well, aside from the band giving the crowd a refresher on all of the dance moves, most Scottish people have been taught these dances at some stage in their life.  For example, during the wintertime, gym classes in Scottish high schools teach “Social Dance” AKA every teenager’s worst nightmare.  While I would love to have these lessons again now, at the time I hated social dance.  The boys would have to ask the girls to dance and vice versa each week throughout the winter months.  Being a socially awkward kinda geeky teen (this was a time prior to nerds being “cool”) I never got asked to dance by anyone that I actually wanted to dance with.  Instead I got the guys with two left feet, and the ones that smelt funny.  But anyway, now I have an appreciation of having a glimmer of memory of how to dance to the “Gay Gordons” or any of the other oddly named dances.  

Last Hogmanay I got to go to a céilidh with my parents and my Gran.  It was the most fun night of 2009 for me hands down.  I don’t think I sat down all night – I literally danced the night away!  Now THAT is how you are supposed to celebrate New Year’s Eve! 

Me and my Mum having a blast!  I forget the name of this dance, but it was so much fun!

An American New Years Eve by comparison…
As I noted earlier, my first US New Year’s Eve was a huge letdown.  Sitting up watching the ball drop on TV in NYC while sipping a cup of tea is not what I am accustomed to.  Even when I transplant family over here in the hopes of livening things up, it just isn’t the same.  I remember the year that my parents and brother came over for the holidays and we went to the festivities in downtown Burlington, Vermont.  “First Night” promised us fun, fireworks and more.  In reality it was colder than Siberia, boring as all could be, and a bitter disappointment.  As summed up by my little brother: “First Night?  Load of shite.”  

This Hogmanay I’m doing something a little different:  I’m heading to the OC Fairgrounds to see a variety of cover bands and a demolition derby!  Unfortunately, my jet-lag is seriously getting in the way of my Hogmanay plans.  At this rate I will be lucky to stay awake until midnight.  The prospect of sitting at home with a big mug of tea watching the glittery ball drop in New York is suddenly very appealing.  How very unpatriotic of me!  I’d better caffeine up and go celebrate the end of 2010 with a bang!  

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy 2011.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!