Monthly Archive: October 2015

Driving Legally in the UK Part 2

We’re back to {hopefully} finish off how to get your UK license as an American. So you have your provisional license, you’ve signed up for your theory test, and you’ve been studying. If you got the app (which I strongly recommend) and have been taking practice tests, you might find yourself in fits of laughter over some of the questions. These are a few of my favorites:IMG_0605 IMG_0604 IMG_0601 IMG_0603 IMG_0602 IMG_0596 IMG_0597 IMG_0598 IMG_0599 IMG_0600

What did you notice from those? A lot of sheep questions, questions about towing things, first aid questions, and a question about how to drive in an ecosafe manner. What the what? Yeah, your theory test covers a wide range of questions with the likes you’ve never (or would ever) see on a USA driving test. I think you have to apply to get a towing license, but that doesn’t stop the possibility from being asked about it. You also need to know first aid stuff and other random car stuff like how you would tell if your brake fluid is low or how to properly adjust you’re the head restraint in your car. Oh and there are questions about different shifting into different gears and things even if you’re only taking your test on an automatic. They don’t care. Car maintenance questions can be on the theory test, but even more so when you take your driving test. I’ll be back to that.

So you come to take your theory test and it is NOT taken lightly here. You will be checked in with a valid photo ID, sign a form, and then have to put all your belongings in a locker. No jewelry, phones, watches are allowed. You then will be called up again, ID checked again by the receptionist, then go to another women who’s in charge of the room where the test gets taken. She’ll check your ID. Then you have to pull up sleeves and show her your arms, turn your pockets out (literally), and I had to lift my hair so she can see behind my ears and neck. She’ll keep your ID while you go to the computer to take the test. After the test, I think she checks your ID again and you wait for a couple minutes to see if you’ve passed. The receptionist calls you up then and tells you if you’ve passed, and after another check of ID will give you the piece of paper stating you’ve passed. They say you cannot loose this sheet of paper because you need to give it when doing your driving test. Though I did NOT have to have this piece of paper, it’s probably better for everyone if you don’t lose it.

Back to the theory test. It’s 50 multiple-choice questions. You can flag ones you are unsure of to revisit. I think I flagged 5 so I was a little worried, but I ended up missing 3 of them so I passed that. The next part is the hazard awareness driver stimulation part. I’m sad to say I didn’t have to dodge any sheep, but E had two different stimulations dodging sheep. You get points based on how quickly you see a potential hazard. But if you press too soon (before it actually becomes a hazard) it won’t count. You get 5 points for being spot on, and as each second goes down less points. You can click a few times but you can only click so many times (maybe 5?) for the entire video or they think you’re trying to cheat the system. So whenever I would see a hazard I would click, wait a second, then click again because if I was too early it would get me 0 points. You can get up to 75 points total on that part- 14 clips, 13 of them with one hazard and one with two hazards that they don’t tell you about beforehand. E did worse than me and only got 44 out of 75 but still passed…. Have no idea what I’m talking about. Click HERE for a little example of our hazard perception test hell. http://www.theory-test-online.co.uk/free-hazard-perception-test-demo.htm

The day after you’ve passed your theory test you’re allowed to sign up for your driving test. So I passed my theory test on Monday August 10th.   I went to sign up Tuesday morning and the earliest driving test appointment available was November 23rd.  You’re allowed to log in as many times a day as you want and change test dates to earlier if appointments open up, as long as you don’t cancel your appointment less than 24 hours in advance- you’d be charged for that. So I checked the website several times a day and got my November 23rd moved up to November 2nd, and then another jump up to October 27th. At the end of August my driving instructor tipped me off that there was a demand for it so they’ve added a bunch more appointments, I was able to log in and get one of the new appointments for October 1st and then never looked again. But that was over a month and a half after passing my theory test. Meanwhile, I wasn’t supposed to be driving after July 28 and was driving illegally the whole while. NOT IDEAL. But what else could I do…be housebound with the sheep?

I should also note you can sign up to take your driving test anywhere in Scotland. There are two locations near me, by the Bridge of Don (north) or Cove, just south of me. I had always heard Cove was easier so both E and I went there. Apparently you can see pass/fail rates online and someone just told me the pass rates for those two locations are about 50% where as if you go out to Ballater it’s 70%. Something to think about if you’re that scared.

So test day came. E had warned me in advance, “Lauren….I don’t care what you think, tell them you love Disney World.” Because there’s this awful bit that a lot of Brits that come to the USA only go to Florida to go to Disney or go to Las Vegas. And I mean I love Vegas, but I don’t think that’s where you should go coming to America on your only USA holiday. And Disney…I am just not a Disney person. The idea of the hot, acne-ridden, sweaty man hiding behind the mouse head gives me the willies. And the little girls with the princess package…it’s like they come out ready for preemie prostitution tryouts. I digress. Sure enough my instructor did tell me all about his timeshare right outside the gates. And yes, I played along and said how much I looooove Disney! “Oh the kid in all of us, it’s just magical!” Hork.

Anyway so at Cove you go into the building and you’re the only car in the lot and the only person in the waiting room and you just sit there and wait and it’s weird. Finally the instructor comes out and you head outside where you have to read some license plates that are zip tied to the fence to make sure your vision is alright. Then you get to the car and you are asked a “show me” and a “tell me” question. Word on the street is if you don’t get these right, you fail automatically and don’t take the test. E’s questions were show me how to turn on your fog lights and tell me how you’d use your horn. My questions were tell me how you’d know what your tire pressure should be and show me how you’d correctly set your head restraint. You can see the whole list here but this is where you need to know some stuff: how to check your oil (and maybe more so hot to pop the hood of your car!) and the exact way they want you to answer the question.

In the test you can have 15 minor errors, but there are a list of things that if you foul up will be an automatic failure. For example: improper signaling in a roundabout equals automatic failure. Driving over a curb when asked to do one of the four maneuvers is automatic failure. I think I was told if you happen to drive past a car in the right lane (fast lane) from the slow lane it’s an automatic failure. Even if that person is going 15 mph below the speed limit, you are NOT allowed to be passing (or overtaking as they say here) from the left lane. All kinds of random stuff. And if you do one minor thing more than 3 to 5 times, that counts as a major and you’ll be automatically failed. Like if you pull out from a random pull over (which they’ll have you do at least 8 times) and don’t turn your head to look in your blind spots. Get that wrong 3 times and you could fail. I also heard they don’t tell you you’ve failed until you’re all done, which sucks.FullSizeRender (11)

So I got 3 minor errors on my test. In the maneuver I was asked to do (back around a corner) I hit the curb. I thought that failed me but I didn’t drive over the curb (it’s spelled kerb here just FYI) so I guess that’s why I passed. But I got two minors for that, I think 1 for hitting the curb and one for lack of control in reverse since it obviously went narrow. I just straightened the car out and then backed up again. I also had one deduction for mirror use- not sure when. But they want you to constantly be using your mirrors…when you take the test just move your head around like a parrot on crack.

FullSizeRender (10)The test lasts about 40 minutes. Afterward I wasn’t sure if I passed or failed due to the curb. In fact I spent the last 20 minutes of the test doing a pep talk in my brain not to cry, that it’s okay, I’ll just take the test again. So we pull back into the center and he (I think) says I passed, but then starts talking about all the stuff I did wrong. And then he mentioned something about doing something wrong at the roundabout, but I got stopped by the light, and if I hadn’t I would have been endangering lives and would have automatically failed (oh yeah, life endangerment is automatic failure) but I was able to correct whatever it was I did wrong when I got stopped.   No idea. But then I really thought I failed, but next thing I knew he was filling out my Test Pass Certificate.   I got that and had to turn in my provisional, but in exactly 2 weeks my real license came in the mail.

HALLELUJAH!

So that’s the process…let me know if you have any questions. I’ll also be providing a little tips/tricks/lessons post for UK driving next week.

A Homesick Recipe

I’m calling it homesickness, but it’s mostly just that I am just over Scotland right now. Well, that’s not exactly right either. I am annoyed at expat life (on several different levels), this is the longest I haven’t been home, I missed the excitement of the cubs in the playoffs, I missed my nephew’s birthday, I need a bunch of stuff I have to wait for until I’m stateside…I just want to go home. I am counting down the days already (6 weeks exactly!) which isn’t a good sign.

The sucky part of homesickness is you’re kinda stuck with it. Or, to fix it, it’s really expensive. I mean your options are flying home, having people fly out to you, or buying a bunch of American shit to surround yourself with in hopes of feeling less homesick. All expensive options. Seriously. Even if you’re thinking I just want to eat Lucky Charms for breakfast and Velveeta Mac n Cheese for dinner for my comfort food. IT’S EXPENSIVE.

For example. On rare occasions I do get E one box (of the 3 out) of Lucky Charms from the back of Tesco in the “American” section next to a random selection of foods, some American some not. (In case you’re looking, there is Gatorade there!)   The cost for a standard box of sugary crap.

uk lucky charmsLucky Charms = £5 = $7.63

ON ONE BOX OF CEREAL. That lasts E MAYBE 4 breakfasts.

Or today, with Halloween approaching and plans to eat candy with friends (no one trick or treats out in these parts of the country), I went to pick up some at the ASDA (UK Walmart). What is Halloween to me? Reese’s and peanut m&ms.

uk mandm10.5 ounce bag of peanut m&ms = £1.80 = $2.75

uk reeses

bag with 16 MINI reese’s cups = £2.30 = $3.51

 

$3.51 for 16 MINI REESE’S CUPS. What the efffffff.

So last week we were having a little party and I’m blaming homesickness, but I was dead set on making Hanky Pankys. Hanky Pankys mean different things to different people. To me and my people, it means little party rye breads with a pork sausage/ground beef/Velveeta mixture on top. I wasn’t raised in a house that had Hanky Pankys, I actually wasn’t raising in a house that ever had even Velveeta in it. But my nextdoor neighbors….they were a Hanky Pank and Velveeta loving house that I benefitted from.

So I swung by the Aberdeen store that I’d been told had American food (specifically Velveeta) last week and was told they didn’t have any of their overpriced Velveeta in stock. I was pretty annoyed but oh well, for I’m sure a little more I can get it from Amazon. I go home and first off, I couldn’t even find plain Velveeta. Secondly, what I did find, was UNGODLY expensive.

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£19 = $29

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 8.03.51 PM£39.99 = $61.03

NO F*CKING WAY.

But I wanted hanky pankys! I was already making my own pork sausage (okay just ground (or mince as they say here) pork with seasoning). And had already spent £9.90 on some weird German pumpernickel bread to substitute for party rye that I had to throw all away because it tasted like ass. These Hanky Pankys were becoming the most time-consuming, expensive appetizer ever. But how hard could making homemade Velveeta be?

So without further rambling or ado, for my homesick American expats, here’s how I made Hanky Pankys.

IMG_1963Expat Hanky Pankys*

  • 1 lb mince hot pork
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 2/3 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 lb mince beef
  • 1 lb Faux-veeta**
  • ¼ ounce unflavored gelatin
  • 6 tablespoons dry milk powder
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 16 ounces mild Scottish shredded cheddar
  • ½ tsp. Fennel SeedIMG_1990
  • 1 tsp. Oregano
  • ½ Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • ½ tsp. Garlic Salt
  • 2 loaves strange rectangle rye bread, each slice cut into thirds

Make Faux-veeta the night before.

Line a small loaf pan with plastic wrap with extra plastic wrap hanging over the sides. Put gelatin and milk powder in a blender, add 1 cup boiling water and blend until combined. Add in the cheese and puree until mixture is well blended and smooth. Immediately pour/scoop cheese mixture into loaf pan, spreading the top layer so it’s even. Wrap completely with excess plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 hours. And there you have Faux-veeta. This makes more than 1 lb so be sure to weigh the final product before using it in the Hanky Panky.IMG_1950

Add mince pork to a skillet and add salt, paprika, garlic powder, 1/3 tsp fennel seed, ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cooke until browned. Drain fat and set cooked pork aside.

Brown mince beef. Drain fat. Add in 1lb Faux-veeta, ½ tsp Fennel Seed, oregano, Worcestershire sauce, garlic salt, and browned pork. Stir until combined and Faux-veeta is melted.

Spoon onto bread and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes in a 204 degrees C (or Gas Mark 6) oven. Enjoy!

I actually made the Faux-veeta a couple days before and made the entire mixture of stuff the night before and left it in the fridge. It’s really easy to prep it all early and just spread the mixture on bread and toss into the oven.

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*Hanky Panky recipe from The Seerups

**Faux-veeta (or homemade velveeta or make at home velveeta) recipe courtesy of The Brown Eyed Baker.

Driving Legally in the UK

Hey, hey, hey future (or current) UK expats! How’s driving on the wrong left side of the road? And more so, should you actually be driving at all? I’ll share what I did, what I recommend you do, and the laws and tips and tricks as best I know them. This will be Part 1 of 2 in posts concerning getting your driving life sorted in the UK, aka getting your UK driving license as an American…the only country I can speak on behalf since I’m American.images

First things first, REGISTER FOR YOUR PROVISIONAL DRIVING LICENSE ASAP. The sooner the better. Like As soon as BT sets up your home Internet. Why? Because the whole process can be a very long, super pain in the ass and you could wind up either driving without insurance illegally or being on house arrest. Not so bad if you live in the hopping downtown area of Aberdeen, but if you have more neighbors with four legs instead of two, it’s a bit of a problem.

Coming from America with a valid American drivers license, you can legally drive in the UK for exactly one year from your visa’s date of entry. Getting insurance is a whole different issue. We were lucky in that we get one company car that the company takes care of insurance for us. I have no idea what company they use and how they go about it, but they were able to insure us with our American license info. For our other sweet little hatchback commuter car, we had to insure on our own. In the UK car insurance doesn’t work the way it does in the US. Your insurance is specific to who is driving the car (and possibly even down to what days the respective person drives and what distances). You actually can’t just let your friend drive your car and have your insurance cover them- the insurance is person specific. So both E and I had to be individually insured on the car.

So, it should be noted in this process, you need to get insurance after you buy your car, before you can drive it home. If you buy it from a proper car lot they probably won’t let you drive it off the lot until you come back with proof of insurance. Something to consider.

I was told that only Geico insurance would accept our American license numbers and driving histories. Now I’m hearing differently, but regardless several expats did recommend Geico to us and it was easy (and cheap) enough. But I’d advise to use a quote comparison site (very common here) like GoCompare.com and perhaps reach out to Geico independently as well to get a quote. And don’t be concerned when your quotes for insurance are from the grocery store and post office…everyone offers every kind of insurance here.

Anyway…while you can continue paying your car insurance premiums after your year in the UK (Geico isn’t going to stop taking your money) if you get in an accident, you won’t be covered. When the claim comes through they will say, “Sorry, it was up to you to get a UK license and alert us to it, you’re no longer a valid driver in the UK. Not our problem.” Don’t expect anyone to chase you down to get a valid license. Although, E’s company did email us telling us the month before our year mark that after 30 days we’re not allowed to drive the company car until we send them our UK license info, but insurance providers won’t.

We had actually started the license process before we got that email (like a couple months before), but even still we didn’t get our UK licenses in time. And I’m not too proud to admit that we were driving illegally for some time. E for a month and me for about two months. Luckily, nothing happened…but if we did get in an accident we would have been screwed.

So you should notice that timeline of a couple months over the year mark despite starting the process a couple months prior. This is a shining example of how unlike the states this process is.

So what do you need to do? You need to first and foremost, apply for your provisional license. You do this online here and it costs £34. You’re thinking oh, this is easy, you apply online and they send you your license. But you’re wrong. In 2 weeks time post applying, you’ll get a form in the mail that you’ll have to fill out and mail back in with your passport/visa. That process takes another two weeks. But what if you have a trip coming up? Well, you can’t risk your passport not getting back to you in time so you think okay I’ll send this in next month. BUT, you only have two weeks time to send back in your paperwork and passport since applying. So you’ll then have to call and get an extension, which is what I had to do because I was going to Portugal. I WENT TO PORTUGAL IN JUNE. I DIDN’T GET MY LICENSE UNTIL OCTOBER 1. TAKE NOTE.

So getting the extension was easy enough. So E mailed his passport and paperwork back in. In two weeks time (everything runs on two weeks time almost exactly to the day in this process) it came back to him and was explained he had to re-fill it out and submit because he sent in his current passport, not the expired one that has his visa on it. So he just lost two weeks in error and had to resubmit sending BOTH passports. When I returned from Portugal I sent filled out the paperwork and sent in my passport (which is current AND holds my visa). But two weeks later I got it sent back saying that I had to resubmit the form because my signature strayed outside the box. Seriously the bottom of my “B” dipped below the box and it was declared invalid. So lessons you can take away from this: you’ll need in extension if you’re traveling, send in visa and current passport if they are different, and do not, even just barely, cross the parameters of the box in your signature.

Okay so if you do it all correctly you get your Provisional Driving License back. Hurrah. Now what?

First things first, sign up to take your theory test. It generally takes about 2 weeks (there’s that number again) to 4 weeks to get a slot to take the provisional test. You can’t register to take the test until you get your provisional driver’s license number. You can sign up here and it costs £25. I think it’s beneficial to have been physically driving in the UK prior to taking the test. And in all honesty, you should get behind the wheel pretty soon after moving here. Yes it’s scary and takes a lot of concentration and reminding yourself, “left, left, left” every time you pull out onto a road, but bite the bullet and dive in. Everyone else does it, don’t be a Nancy. You’ll figure it out.

57887_signsIt is also THOROUGHLY recommended to get driving lessons. Some expat packages include this, ours did not. I protested to driving lessons kicking and screaming. I am GREAT (taxi-style) driver in the states! I’ve been driving for 15 years! Why would I need a lesson?! Um, I actually needed about 3 lessons. Driving is different here.  Trust me.  And I would NOT have passed the driving test if I didn’t have them. If you’re in Aberdeen I have a great instructor that I’ll be happy to pass on. His lessons cost £30 an hour and most lessons are booked for an hour and a half. More on physically driving in the UK in Part 2. Not only driving here prior to the theory, but I would also recommend having 1 driving lesson before taking the theory test. Not mandatory, but I think it only helped.

Otherwise, in terms of studying for the theory test there are two options. There is the official book or you can purchase the DVSA Theory Test Kit App which cost about £5. I kind of used both since the book was given to me (which I paid it forward giving it to someone else) but the reason I passed was because of the app. I read through the highway code on the app, but liked to study the signs with the book and with the important numbers and stats you need- it was nice to bookmark them in the book. But the book includes all like 1000 questions you MIGHT be asked on your theory test. You’ll never get through them and know them all. The app does practice tests. I took 10 and scored passing in all 10. That signified I was ready and saw a nice mix of questions. The app also has the hazard perception test. You read right. Hazard perception. You do driving stimulation and have hazards jump out (literally in some cases when they throw sheep across the screen) and time how long it takes you to respond. I’m not joking….

9780115532313_1 Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 9.04.45 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I’ll give you a minute to catch up, sign up for your provisional, and start studying before part 2 (hopefully next week). In the meantime, if you’re still under that year since you came into the UK, you can drive as normal. If you’re over that year, the provisional is like your learner’s permit in the states. You can only drive with someone who has their UK license (and has had it for over a year!). It does not matter that you’ve been driving all around the country for a year already. You are now unfit to drive alone and your insurance might not cover you.

Friday Faves 10.16

Bringing my weekly blog post count up to what it used to be! The Indian Summer has pretty much continued in Scotland. The evenings get cold and there’s frost, but every day its been sunny and warming up to the mid-50’s…which is the equivalent of mid-70’s in Chicago.

Anyway….things that made my week:

  1. THE CUBS BEAT THE CARDINALS!! Hell yeah this makes it a good week! Even if you’re not a Cubs fan…come on…every dog deserves their day! And for Ernie Banks damn it!  So happy for the Cubbies.1976965_10153533749145659_2173506493715307459_n
  2. Hilarious children’s costumes. If I had a kid, one of these would definitely be going down.  Any great costume idea is even better when used on a baby/child.halloween-costumes-for-kids-6 halloween-costumes-for-kids-7 halloween-costumes-for-kids-36
  3. My new riding crop. 3rd Anniversary gift is leather and E delivered. Good thing too because it was I was on Dixie today at the stables…worth it’s weight in gold to get some respect out of that horse.
  4. Having a fireplace in our new (very old) house (church). Even though we’ve had great weather lately, there’s a nip in the air and we got to use our fireplace. Lot more of this coming.IMG_1699
  5. This little article on “What Your Go-To Workout Says About You” – Mainly because it makes me feel like I have a split personality disorder….as I speak I have golf clubs, running shoes, gym bag, and riding hat/boots/gloves in my car. What does that say about me?

Ben Nevis

Yesterday was our 3rd wedding anniversary….here enjoy some photos from my favorite day of life:love this glatl0517 glatl0559 ohhhh but i also love this one... glatl1052 glatl1047

Last year for our anniversary we had decided on a weekend getaway to the west coast to do our first proper hike. We did the Pap of Glencoe.  Which wasn’t even a munro (a mountain over 3K feet in Scotland), but it was hard. Maybe it was because it was the first real hike, or maybe I was really out of shape, or who knows but it was hella hard. But we love the west coast (as does Stella girl) and really wanted to continue the anniversary tradition and head out there. We also know we might not be here next October (although, I am hoping we are) so we’re starting to think about our Scotland to-do and to-see list and getting things checked off. So we decided to head back on over to the west coast and take on Ben Nevis, which is the biggest mountain in the UK standing 4,409 feet.

From last year’s trip and the Cairn Gorm climb where we (either Stella or us) almost died, it would seem I’m a glutton for pain. But hiking is pretty rewarding, there is a clear start and end, and the views and scenery are amazing. And Stella loves it. Like LOOOOOOVES hiking. And it’s Scotland! This is what you do in Scotland. Had I ever really hiked in America? Nope. But I’m not in America. And if you’re signing up for expat life you have to embrace what your new home offers. And it’s hiking here! I got waterproofs and hiking boots and a head torch and rucksacks all since I moved here, and I aim to use them.

happy dog

happy dog

We did decide it wasn’t really necessary to take off any extra days. We headed to Fort William on Friday afternoon (its about a 3 ½ hour drive) and checked into the Lime Tree Hotel- a small place (about 10 rooms) with a good restaurant, breakfast included, and they are dog friendly. Bonus: it’s right in the center of Fort William and about 10 mins from the starting point of Ben Nevis.

Friday night we dealt with another 30 min drive from the hotel to the Clachaig Inn for dinner. Both trips we tried to stay here but they’re always booked! It’s alright because they were a little far from Ben Nevis, but definitely worth the trip for dinner. And of course, they’re dog friendly. Even the restaurant. E and I both had the Smoky Pork & Chorizo Chili and it was really, really good. I know a lot of people who have stayed and recommended it, and while I can’t say I have, if you’re traveling with a pup it’s a great dinner option at the very least.

Saturday morning we had breakfast at the Lime tree and made our lunches, packed our bags and headed out to the hike. As I said it was about a 10 min drive, so easy peasy. There is a big parking lot (£3 for parking all day), the actual center that we didn’t go in, and restrooms- PH33 6PF. Definitely go potty there because the problem is not only are there tons of people on the hike, but also there is nowhere to hide to loo it up. Even for the guys…just too many people.

Okay so before we left for the weekend, but after we decided to do this and book the hotel and all, I really started freaking out about if I could make the hike or not. I mean it seemed pretty intense. They said it would take between 7-9 hours and the weather could change and be awful, and the top is really cold. I read about all these lists of things you should bring (compass and head torch and lighter and extra shoelaces) and really started freaking out because we’re really amateur hikers and kinda hacks. We packed the best we could…forgot the head torch, but had a lighter and a compass (not that we knew what to do with it), loads of layers, gloves, hats, LOADS of food and water for us and Stella, waterproofs…no extra laces but ya know.

the summit is up there somewhere

the summit is up there somewhere

I had also wanted to start hiking at 8 am since daylight is decreasing and I had visions of it taking 15 hours and getting lost and who knows. But brekkie didn’t start until 8am and I am not missing free breakfast. So we ended up getting the visitor center around 9ish and set off the journey. It seems 9 am is a very popular time to start, though there were some people who must have gotten there at 7 or 8 am, and then bewilderingly we saw some people starting off at about 5. And they didn’t strike me as epic hiking kings or anything. I hope they were prepared or didn’t attempt to do the whole thing.

So we started at about 9:15am and were done right at 5. But E’s little Garmin told us we only were active walking for 5 hours, 25 minutes, and 10 seconds. We had taken a couple breaks on the way up to give Stella water and/or eat a banana, but then we spent quite awhile at the top eating a full lunch, having hot tea (definitely bring a thermos of hot water up there!), exploring, and taking it all in. But yeah, we really kind of hauled ass uphill I think (thanks to my big booty) and definitely took much longer going down. Oh my old aching knees.IMG_1719

We lucked out with great weather on the hike. Although it was freezing at the top. Freezing.  We thought it was a cold so I started with a dri-fit tee, dri-fit long sleeve, and my waterproof jacket…but within a quarter mile took off the extra long sleeve. I kept the water proof jacket on because it was misting for the first bit and I didn’t want to get wet, but it stopping misting pretty soon and I rolled up the sleeves. At the top though…woah it was cold. I immediately took off my sweat soaked tee shirt and put on two long sleeve dri-fit tops, a Patagonia fleece and my waterproof jacket, a hat and gloves. But I still couldn’t get my fingers warm! I wanted to pour the hot tea on them. I also had a scarf that I didn’t end up using but what if I needed a homemade splint or something?! 🙂

IMG_1741

Kept Stella away from the cliffs

IMG_1768 IMG_1767IMG_1722

I also used walked sticks for the first time on this hike! Maybe that’s why I thought it was an easier time up? And even though I still hated the journey down and my knees hurt…maybe they did help them to hurt less and make it easier? Who knows, but I think I would take them again.IMG_1738

The path is EXTREMELY well marked. You can’t miss it (assuming it’s not covered in snow). And we were there in the off-season and there were so many people…we rarely were on a spot where we couldn’t see others. I heard in the prime “summer” months its basically one long line trudging along (because there are parts where the path is slim). You do not need a guide if there isn’t snow on the ground. If there is snow…well hell if I know because I’m not hiking with snow. I do think you should make sure to have lots of layers and water and food, and of course proper attire and shoes. But I didn’t think it was that bad of a hike actually…and I’m really not a hiker. Nor am I in very good shape at the moment. So if you’re thinking about doing it….DO IT! Because then you’ll get to say you hiked to the summit of the UK’s highest mountain! #braggingrightsIMG_1775I hope next October we’re still living in Scotland and will be taking another weekend trip to the west coast to concur a new munro. Until then, I’m really looking forward to some friends coming in the early summer and heading to the Isle of Skye with them for hopefully great weather and gorgeous hikes. Get training Tracy and Brian!

E & Stella dog, contemplating deep deep thoughts

E & Stella dog, contemplating deep deep thoughts

Dhanakosa Meditation & Yoga Retreat

Clearly, I am still not blog focused. I’m pretty much tying myself to my computer right now to type this retreat recap up. I’ve been busy with my client, American Woman’s Association stuff (like prepping and hosting 30 women at my house for breakfast and coffee on Wednesday morning….yes 30), and golf. While the Indian Summer tried to disappear Mon-Wed, it was back today and a couple of us got together and played 9 holes, it short sleeves, in October, in Scotland! How great is that? What wasn’t great…I swear I am getting worse at golf. Oye.

So….my meditation & yoga retreat….IMG_1671

At some point last spring I started googling meditation retreats. I’m not sure what exactly possessed me to do so. But I did use to meditate pretty religiously and even did a couple 6-week block sessions of guided meditation that worked on different techniques. What led me to meditation was my FGM (Fairy God Mother aka shrink) who didn’t think I should just be drugged when I was sad. So I guess maybe I was feeling a bit sad, overwhelmed, run down and thought I should get back to meditation. Or maybe I just saw some Real Housewives of Wherever and they went on a fab retreat….who knows.

I probably was in over my head before I started. I swear when I originally googled only 2 retreat places came up in Scotland that were a reasonable drive. I didn’t want a flight, and I didn’t want a greater than 5 hour journey. Now as I google, man it seems there are tons of these places. And it also seems like there are a lot better options for me. Anyway, the one place originally found was super luxurious and expensive, and the other one, the one I went to, Dhanakosa, seemed more practically priced but no massages. I was okay with that…I thought.

Now maybe I’m using better search terms or have a better understanding of what I’m looking for. But now in the greater google search I have found centers that seem to be fairly priced, more luxurious, not vegan, only 3 nights, AND options not to have roommates. Not sure on the atmosphere, but already these are seemingly better options that what I chose.

I went at it a little aggressive. Doing a full 7-day retreat that focused on yoga and meditation…even though I have no experience of yoga, and do not aspire to be a yogi or supplement a workout through yoga. I am just keen on yoga to help my meditation and help me relax and stretch. I guess I also just had unrealistic expectations. While I didn’t fully know what to expect in this, I was looking at it like sleep away camp or a Natural Helpers retreat…or even a weekend long church retreat. It wasn’t any of these things.

Sleep away camp at Camp Tecumseh was the best week of my life every year as a kid. I went knowing no one, had a super scheduled day, rode horses for half the day, made great friends, never had drama….I just always left feeling better and more confident than when I came in. In high school I went to two Natural Helpers retreats (not sure what it is- this site gives a pretty nice explanation) I first went as a student experience it, and then as a senior in high school I was a leader helping other students. Then, in college E and I went as the college leaders. We both loved the program, loved the weekend retreat, created great friendships, grew on a personal level, and came back feeling better than when we left. Even during my brief Jesus-y phase, I went on a couple weekend retreats and drank the kool-aid, made great connections, and left feeling better and more centered than when I came. I just thought this would be the same, but it wasn’t.

A lot of people who were at the retreat (about 25-30 of us) had either been at this center before or been to other meditation retreats before. There were only a couple people who were totally new to the whole process with me. At the end of the retreat, most people talked about how this was the most social retreat they had ever been on…which left me stumped. I wanted to have hugs and a massage chain and write letters to each other about how amazing we all were and we didn’t do ANY of that. What the heck, this isn’t social.   I didn’t even get past surface level stuff with more than 5 people!

The daily schedule was something along the lines of this:

7 Wake up bell

7:30 mediation

8 meditation

8:45 breakfast

10:30 yoga

1 lunch

3:45 optional extra yoga

5 meditation

6 dinner

7:30 Varying evening meditation and/or talk

To boot, I had 3 roommates to share one bathroom with and you had daily chores. Roommates are awkward. Not them as people, mine were actually quite lovely, but having roommates is awkward…especially as grown women, having periods of silence, and sharing a bathroom on an all vegan diet.

I said optional extra yoga in the schedule but everything was optional, you could do whatever you wanted. Only one day did I do both meditations in the morning, because it was just too much. For the normal 10:30 yoga session the retreat was split into two groups, you chose which leader you wanted to go with after they talked about their yoga. It was pretty much a full 2 ½ hours though, all the way until lunch. The yoga group I was in…well it wasn’t the yoga I expected. To kind of sum it up, for 2 ½ hours a day we kind of rolled around on the floor and pretended we were seaweed. Okay, we didn’t pretended to be seaweed the entire time, but that happened daily, and we really did just kind of roll around on the floor for the entire time…trying to feel our bodies and move fluidly. One day I decided to really embrace it hoping for great results…and despite my best efforts, had to ditch the next day on the whole experience because I kind of had enough.

I did do the extra yoga session one day with the other instructor and I liked that. I guess it was Ying/Restorative Yoga where you held a pose for a while and focused on your breathing. That was nice and only an hour long. Lots of lying, no seaweed.

It took me until Wednesday morning to have a really good meditation session, but all day Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning before leaving I was in the zone. Despite going batshit crazy on Thursday evening, leaving the retreat center, and going two miles up the road to connect to wifi and drink two large glasses of wine (sacrificing one meditation session which I think was totally worth it- because I should not there is no contact with the outside world.  Not only is it frowned upon, but I didn’t have any service within a 5 mile radius of the center…I even ran up a mountain to try and get a signal and couldn’t.  It was rough.  I missed E & Stella-girl). But even once I got my meditation on, I just felt unfulfilled. Repeat retreat offenders seemed to really get a lot out of the experience. And a lot came with some pretty big stuff to work through…to come to a big come to Buddha moment. Maybe I just didn’t go deep enough?

There were also 2 days were we were silent from about 8pm until 9:30 the next day, and then another day we were silent from 8pm through the entire next day and then the next day until 9:30am. So like 36 hours of silence. I didn’t expect this, but it actually didn’t bother me in principle. What bothered me was on the 36 hours of silence it was the 5th day there, the temp dropped, the house was cold, I was reading a depressing WW2 book (I guess at hardcore retreats no book or music (I listened to music a couple times on a run) are even allowed), the vegan gruel we were fed was getting to me, I just really felt like a prisoner.

The retreat was a £75 booking fee and then “free” made possibly by other’s donations. On the website it lists suggested donation amounts and explains you’ll have a chance to make your donation on the last full day and they take all forms of payment. But I wasn’t expecting such a hard push for donations, I mean I fully intended on paying the suggested donation amount because after all it was 6 full nights room and board beforehand. I knew they’d say something, but it was a full blown kind of rehearsed super hard push…it was intense. I guess the center is a non-profit and they said it cost £30K A MONTH to run the ‘estate’. I do not see how this is possible. And I asked two different people what do they do and what the money goes to…and the answers were vague at best. After the ask for money, it was immediately followed up by doling out chores from the staff that live there full time…while they kind of stood and watched us all work. This is in addition to the daily chores we had to do. When the time came to donate is when I snuck away to the hotel. So Friday morning I went up to donate and right away there was a, “Oh, you’re Lauren” because they kept tabs on who had donated and who hadn’t. It was just kind of weird and aggressive I thought. And a lot of money that I couldn’t see what it went to…the place is kinda shabby, we did chores, the houses are paid off. It kind of seemed that we are funding a community of people to hang out and not work. I just kind of felt like I was getting jipped. Then after I donated I came down and had MORE chores to do before we left, including stripping my own bed and changing the sheets. The guests did literally all the work. Which is fine…but then why is the donation request so how? Where is the money going?

Unfortunately, that ending put a really bad taste in my mouth. But I want to end on a good note because it wasn’t an all bad of an experience. I just kind of had to dig really deep to find the good.

Cons

  • Didn’t feel like there was a lot of free time between the schedule and chores.
  • Wasn’t a fan of the yoga.
  • Didn’t feel the leaders “lead” enough. I was looking for more direction and/or feedback.
  • Didn’t have any sort of big come to Buddha moment.
  • Kinda felt I was funding a group of people on extended vacation.
  • Vegan food pretty well sucked about 60% of the time.
  • Midge Bites
    I had over 60 bites...that I scratched so hard in my sleep I bruised. It was miserable.

    I had over 60 bites…that I scratched so hard in my sleep I bruised. It was miserable.

    Midge bites- wah!

    Midge bites- wah!

 

Pros

  • Everyone was super nice. Or at least amused the hell out of me. I couldn’t even be annoyed at anyone because I found them all so delightfully quirky.
    • Even made some new friends who I’d love to see again. Certainly I wish everyone well.
  • Beautiful location.
  • I learned a little about myself.
  • Benefitted from having such a scheduled day after my normal haphazard days.
  • Got back into running- ran 4 times in the beautiful location- even twice at 6:30 am.
  • Had a lot of reading time.
  • Got back to meditation. Not that I’ve done it since, but it can’t hurt.
  • Really got to connect with nature…it felt good.
Sunrise over the loch

Sunrise over the loch

 

My tips for you if you go to this center, or possibly any retreat

  • Get there early for first dibs on beds.
  • Get there early for first dibs on chores.
    • You do not want any dishwashing. Trust me.
    • Toilet duty isn’t bad because you get to choose when you do it.
  • Bring eye mask, earplugs, and drugs to help you sleep.
  • Don’t forget your towels.
  • Bring extra stuff if you’re driving: bathing suit for a morning loch swim, extra deodorant, extra socks, whatever.
Morning run around the Loch

Morning run around the Loch

of course i took pics of sheep

of course i took pics of sheep

5 Friday Faves

I have at least 5 expat related blog posts started….and another 4 post ideas written down…but I just caaaaaaaaaaaaan’t. Can you hear my vocal drain all the way over there? I am just having like spring fever. Is it the gorgeous Indian summer in Scotland? Probably doesn’t help. Is it just that I have too much going on? Yeah, we’re close to lighting both ends of the candle. Or it is just that I am too excited/distracted/interested in too many things? Probably that’s the biggest thing.

I mean right now I feel my brain is thinking of and trying to figure out and plan: horses, running, chocolate, home décor, party planning, my blog, home baking, client work, horses, running, chocolate.

But I need to stay relevant peeps. And I actually pre-planned this and just never carried it out. I have a heading of “lists” which I envisioned to be short little posts containing…drum roll please….LISTS! Like top 10 things I’m missing from America, 5 veg I’m using this week, books I’m extra excited about, goals for the month…ya know. But I always had so much to say…and I still do now, I just can’t focus it. So here we go with a list.

5 Faves from This Week

  1. My momma. It’s her birthday today. I am so lucky that she could come out to visit me in Scotland twice this year! And while I haven’t recapped her last trip yet, here’s a sneak peek of some awesome pictures from it.IMG_1362 IMG_1345 IMG_1495
  2. Carol’s Cookies. For several reasons. A) Because I just gifted a small tin to my momma for said birthday. B) Because they’re my favorite client in the US. C) Because the cookies are amazing and really are still handmade every day. D) Not only are they amazing, they are huge…nearly half a pound.  What’s not to love?!  Seriously, if only they shipped to the UK. I guess my waist is happy they don’t…Cookie piles
  3. Scotland’s Indian Summer. Holy cow this week has been AMAZING with weather. This week for the first time now only did we go outside with the kids in Riding for the Disabled (RDA), which was just so great. The horses are happier, the kids are happier. I was even sweating. But I also got 3 outdoor runs in, have had to wear sunnies everyday, the sky is beautiful, the farmers’ jobs are easier, AND even my riding lesson was in the outside arena today! First time ever and even though there is all kinds of construction going on so it’s not so pretty…it was just so damn nice. And it didn’t hurt that I was on Abby (my fav horse) doing cantering pole work and getting into two-point position. Also didn’t hurt that I got several, “excellent”, “well done”, and “wonderful riding” –s thrown my way.
  4. Getting back on my Fitbit game. It’s been months since I’ve been active. My ugly Fitbit rash has cleared and I’m back in a healthy space running and working out. Watch out friends, I’m gunning for you.

    remember when I ran a marathon?

    remember when I was training for a marathon?

  5. I passed my UK Driving Test!! God, it’s been a 5-month journey and I promise a very informative (and undoubtedly funny) post to help out all future expats going on this journey or a process. And show every a glimpse of the frustrations of systems in other countries. But in the end, I PASSED! Happy girl.

    No more "L" for this girl.

    No more “L” for this girl.