Posts filed under 'expatlife'

A Horsey Update & Request

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted (I have started my Indonesia recap I swear!) but nothing like some time sensitive material to push me on a typing frenzy. I wanted to do a horsey update…because behind the scenes it’s been a hell of a journey. If you follow me on Instagram you’d be at least somewhat aware that Hamish got injured. In fact, he got injured the day after I posted my last horse post (Finding the Perfect Horse). Reiterating there is no perfect horse, all horses are stupid, and save yourself the heartache and trouble and just light a wad of £5 notes on fire anytime you’re yearning for a beast of the equine variety.

On May 20, the night before I was leaving to my girls trip to Portugal (recapped here), I was called out of my manicure appointment as I was walking into it, that Hamish was cut and bleeding, it looked quite deep, and the vet was called out. By the time I made it there, the staff was already doing a trot-up with the vet (of course he gets hurt the one time I’m in town with 5pm rush-hour traffic). The vet was hopefully at first that since he didn’t seem too lame, that perhaps it was just a cut. But because the cut did go all the way to the bone, she wanted to follow up the next week with X-rays.

horse fractured cannon splint bone

After unsuccessful attempts at giving him stitches (regardless of the amount of drugs we pumped into him, he wouldn’t keep his leg still) we did what we could with staples, and wrapped him up. This starting the first of twice weekly vet callouts to check on Hamish’s leg, and redress it. Not to mention the 3 (or was it 4?) rounds of X-rays and the taking out and putting back in of staples for said x-rays and 6 weeks of box rest. Box rest that was supposed to go on another 2 weeks but by this point, my newly turned 6 year old was doing more damage to himself by absolutely losing his shit, trying to canter and buck in his stable, kicking doors, and scalping himself along the top of the stable door. Truth be told, I was elated he was deemed too crazy for more box rest because by this point, I had become terrified of my horse.

“Why would you be scared of little ole me?” This was within the first week of box rest when he was slightly amused with being an inside pony.

So what happened? It seems he was kicked in the field by one of his mates at such a force his two leg bones (the cannon and splint) knocked together and chunks of bone fractured off of each. There were 3 little chunks, and one big one. Over time the little chunks absorbed and bone re-grew where the biggest chunk was taken out, but the biggest chunk that came out wouldn’t absorb. Last we saw, it had floated around to the side of the cannon bone and calcified itself onto that. Visually, he has a lump and would never win an in-hand show. But somehow, after 2 months off, and then a slow 3-4 weeks of building him back up and into fitness, he’s better than ever!

“Of course I am better than ever, I am SUPER HAMISH!” Seriously though, this was his get up on competition morning to keep his corn rows in place, his legs not bloodied, and his body kept overall white-ish.

And why was I scared of him? To be fair, Hamish was a star at box-rest…especially considering he just turned 6 in his 2nd week of box rest. I did my best to keep him amused. I used a treat ball for him to kick around and get treats out of (may or may not have been the reason that large chunk of bone moved), I hid carrots in his hay nets, I put apples in his water bucket, I gave him a saltlick…. but my normally cheeky wee chap became a bit of an angry, aggressive, lunatic by the end. In the second week when we realized it would be awhile, we took his shoes off…but I still needed to pick out his feet because he’s standing in wet bedding. (He got mucked out 2-3x a day, but he’s still going to be standing in wet bedding a large amount of the time in box rest.) The last 2 weeks, that didn’t happen at all because he would try to slam me into a corner and was threatening to kick. I couldn’t even turn my back on him mucking out the last 2 weeks because he would put his head down, shake it from side to side like a wild man, and start “skipping” (to me it was less skip, more bull charge) towards me to “play” (kill me.)   It doesn’t take a genius to see that this would knock a first time horse owner’s confidence. I was convinced he’d never be the same again and all the hard work of the past few months were lost.

Pissed off, over box rest, and really over people messing with his leg despite pretty bandages.

It also didn’t help, that I rode the first 2 weeks he was injured, than took a month off riding. I was too tired from being a slave to his box rest and vet appointments…then when I started riding again (on school ponies) I was a timid, weak, pathetic, ragdoll…. a passenger my instructor would say. Poor guy- it took some deep talks to get my head out of my ass, grit my teeth, and man up.

But after all that…. Hamish and I competed in our first dressage test! We didn’t even get last!! When I got a horse, I didn’t really have competing on my mind…I just didn’t think it was something I’d ever be good enough to do. Let alone the logistics… but low and behold, we entered the lowest level (Intro Dressage) which is just walk and trot (good thing because I actually wasn’t cantering on him at that point) and we get a 62.17%. I know if you’re not horsey, that sounds awful…but Charlotte Dujardin won gold at the Olympics with 93.857% and silver was 89.071%…no one is batting 100’s.

A brief glimpse into why I didn’t score better- Hamish decided he was a giraffe with his head.

We certainly do look the part at least.

The day after my dressage competition we’ve started cracking on cantering, and are looking at the next level up tests- Prelim. Not sure when I’ll have the confidence to compete but I like having a goal and working towards it. It’s definitely filling the void marathon training has left.

Supper chuffed with my boy!

So that’s my horsey update….now for the request. I have been nominated as one of 3 female finalists to be the Brand Ambassador for Country Ways. Country Ways is a country/equestrian store in Aberdeen Scotland.   The final decision is based on votes though- so I need your help. All you have to do is a) Have a facebook account and b) Like my picture from the following link: CLICK HERE

This is the picture that you need to like on facebook!! Photo by: Christine Jackson Photography

 

You don’t even have to like the store Country Ways! Easy peasy. If you could help me out and like the picture of me & Stella…and even share the post if you can, encouraging others to vote for me- I’d really appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

Girls weekend in Porto

Man, it’s tough committing to blogging. I’ve got an injured pony (more on that in another post), an injured body (damn my chronically dislocating shoulder) and a lot going on…but damn it, I’m going to keep trying. If not for anyone else but my mother who persistently asks me where’s my next post.  So here it is…which is some text, yes, but a whole lot of pictures.  That’s what happens when you go on a girls trip with a bunch of photogenic gals, one of which is an actual photographer (Check out Christine Jackson Photography HERE and get excited because we’re having a family shoot in the fall with her).  Needless to say, she wasn’t in most pictures but taking them…but if it’s just a shitty iphone pic it’s mine.  I tried not to steal her gorgeous normal pictures but just ones of me cheesin’.

Yes, these is me cheesin’…but aren’t we adorbs?

 

Can you believe this was my first ever girls trip? If you know me well, that’s actually not too surprising. I’ve never rolled deep with a posse of ladies but rather like to keep my friends separate (I’m an extroverted introvert and groups of people make me feel like I need to perform). We had a group of 6 ladies for a short weekend trip (though slightly adjusted a day because of flights) flying out of Edinburgh to Porto directly on Saturday evening, and getting back late Tuesday night (11pm arrival, and then the 2 hour+ ride home to Aberdeen). It was a good mix of ladies, 3 moms and 3 unspoiled by motherhood (ha!).

This was my second time to Portugal (see first time recap HERE) and I was excited to see another part of the country. I’m actually going for my 3rd trip to Portugal this fall with E and my mother back to Lisbon…there’s just a lot of love about this country so I’m not minding the duplicate trips at all! Porto as a city is just as hilly as Lisbon, and like Lisbon is against water (though the River Douro, not the Atlantic) and maintains a quaint feel with pedestrian only streets and tiled buildings.

 

This trip we had a secret weapon…Lillian, you might know her from The Smalls Abroad, who is actually Portuguese. Born in Canada, but her extended family is in Portugal she holds dual citizenship, and her parents still own a house there, and her fluency was so helpful! It’s just nice to feel like you aren’t getting ripped off for being a tourist when you have a native speaker with you. Which reminds me that this is actually the 2nd time I traveled with a secret weapon native speaker…but the last time I have YET to write about (2 years post)…our trip to Croatia. Alas…

The Smalls Abroad and Hot Dogs to Haggis

 

Porto is obviously known for making Port wine. And while the port wine is made a bit further away from the city centre of Porto, planning in some winery tours is a must. We booked a private tour through EcoTours Portugal for 71 euros a person, which had one poor man drive our gaggle around, hitting up two wineries with lunch in between (lunch wasn’t included in the price but tours and tasting were).  Even if you don’t like Port…you’ll learn a lot and the views are amazing.

Our very lucky tour guide!

 

What a view, huh?

we cheese so well!

I have to say, I wasn’t ever a fan of port before, but the trip changed my mind a bit. I think a combination of trying new things as well as a phenomenal dessert pairing helped. In the end, here’s what port I found I liked.

  • Rose’ port – because I’m totally a #basicbitch. Rose’ and Slay all day!
  • P&T – I’ll never abandon gin, but a white port and tonic is a refreshing drink.
  • Graham’s 20-year port – Was it the dessert I had with it? Was it the 7 bottles of wine before it? We’ll never be sure, but I thought it was delicious.

Diane was also quite fond of Graham’s 20 year

Unfortunately for our little jaunt, we got in late Saturday night and because we didn’t know when we’d be checked in and all that, didn’t have a dinner reservation so unfortunately had to wind up eating at such a tourist trap of a place…. the food wasn’t awful but it was just meat and cheese and over priced sangria. Tip: If you’re in Porto, when go down to the main square on the river, while looking at the river, the places to your right tend to be more authentic (They are up on a ledge from the river) while to the left with their seating at river level are more touristy. Portugal has a great food culture but our only two dinners being on a Sunday and Monday night really limited where we could go eat, as those are the days most restaurants are closed. We even had a difficult time finding a little grocery store that was open on Sunday to get our breakfast essentials.

Even though it was over priced, they lit our sausage on fire so points for that.

We ended up eating at Vinhas d’alhos on Sunday night after we had walked past it on Saturday night trying to find anywhere that would take us. Most nights (perhaps every) they do a live Fado. Now what’s Fado? The google tells me it’s popular folk music originated in Portugal. It’s included as a UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. Fado comes from the Latin word fatum (fate in English). It is most commonly performed over dinner and bounces between love and death and sadness…with silly little songs. A great experience to say the least.

Another reason I would recommend Vinhas d’alhos (specifically if you’re a group of ladies) is it seems they only hire cute male servers. I mean, they’re little men (I am a strict 6’3” or above type of gal) but when you’re sitting down you can’t really tell their height and they are all just so charming and cute. The food was good, not mind blowing, but they made great wine recommendations, you have a view of the river, and we got a welcome drink of Port and tonic.

Our last night we went across the river, which actually isn’t in Porto, but across the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia. In this area there are a lot of Port Cellars and while we originally planned a tour + tasting…bagged it and just went for the meal. It’s kind of like whisky distillery tours…once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen em all. I have to say, the food here is amazing, and the view is even better as you’re looking over Porto from high above. There is a big patio that hosts some couches for pre-dinner drinks, as well as has a glassed in section with tables for dinner. It got a bit cool at night, but I believe you could open up the doors/windows on a nice night and be practically eating al fresco. And to be fair, the interior it top notch…but since we’re stuck inside Aberdonians, we wanted out! This was a pricey (for Portugal) meal but I thought it was excellent…and even with about 5 bottles of wine, an appetizer, main and dessert (2 desserts for some as previously mentioned), AND port pairing with dessert, AND tip (which isn’t necessary in Portugal but for such good service we went with it) it was £70 a person.

We had perfect weather.

View from Graham’s/Vinum

A much better than my shitty iphone camera skills shot by Christine

And on the subject of food…make sure you try pasteis de nata for breakfast…or snack…or anytime you see them. A flakey shell with a sort of vanilla custard inside…drool.Other traditional foods to try:

Grilled Octopus

Bacalhau (salted cod fish – can be served a 1,000 different ways)

Alheira – a smoked bread and meat sausage, when asked what kind of meats? The response was, “all”

Maybe not traditional, but have you ever seen me so happy? Ice cream for the win!

To me the allure of Portugal is friendly people, warm climate, pretty cities built into hills against bodies of water, good food and wine…. and all that for SUPER CHEAP. I mean, I think I ate more on this trip than any other holiday (some people in our group might have even ordered two desserts on multiple occasions…) and we averaged 7 bottles of wine a day…. AND IT WAS CHEAP AF. And just reiterating, it was really good, fresh, seafood and yummy, local wines. What’s not to like? I’m already looking forward to my next trip.

One more selfie before I go…

The princess, the pea, and long haul flights

I have become one of those people who I used to make fun of. In some sort of defense for myself (that perhaps is actually just stupidity) it took a lot of years. I first traveled abroad at 16 and from 22-29 took yearly trips abroad. But in these last 2 and half years I’ve been flying…a lot. And while not every flight is a long haul over night flight, they are becoming more frequently…several times a year. And with that, I’ve become a princess when I fly.

Well maybe not a princess. That assumes some great amount of privilege/wealth/respect/authority that I don’t have at all. So scratch princess…just a particular bag lady of air travel.

I don’t like flying. I love when I encourage someone to come visit or see a part of the world and they tell me they don’t like flying. Honestly? Does anyone like flying? I mean I know we’re supposed to enjoy the journey and all, but I don’t think they literally mean enjoy being crammed into a flying tin can with 1,000 strangers, confined to a foot-by-foot amount of space, being fed shitty food. And while I’m sure those in first class don’t mind traveling as much as us in steerage… I’m pretty sure there’s about a million things they’d rather be doing. Flying sucks. It it’s a means to an end. And I have finally stopped fighting against an unspoken rule I have in my head that there’s no difference in being utterly miserable and just kinda miserable in air travel.

So here are the changes I’ve made that are making my air travel better.

Headphones – really nice headphones. They were a birthday present and they have now made traveling so much better. I admit I was coming from the ear bud world so there was a lot of room for growth. But now I have Bose Bluetooth noise cancelling headphones. THEY ARE AMAZING. First, my ears don’t hurt from wearing them. Second, they really do cancel out ALL the noise. Third, they have Bluetooth and thus can be wireless. They also do have a cord for watching back-of-the-seat movies…. but it’s great to be wireless when I want to just listen to my peaceful piano playlist and try to go to sleep. But really…the noise cancelling is phenomenal! I wouldn’t wear these running, or walking…but for flights (or drowning out a snoring husband) they are amazing.

Eye mask – I’m not picky here. Fancy satin or a cheapie the airline gives you…essential. Because there’s always that one asshole that leaves his window open just sliver on the other side of the plane that lets in a laser beam of sun right into your pupil an hour before you needed to get up. I hate that asshole. Last year E (without eye mask) asked a flight attendant to get said asshole to close his shade, and she came back to say that unfortunately he was sleeping. I wanted to tell her to wake his ass up. Because there were at least 6 other people suffering for his asshole careless slumber…I digress…

Toothbrush – I rarely brush my teeth inside the plane because the tap water is gross and any water I have on hand I think the priority is to drink it. But it’s so nice to be able to brush my teeth right when I get off the plane. Or if it’s a super late one before I get on (extra bonus I’m deterred from eating gummy bears)

Motion Sickness Wristbands – I don’t get “sea sick” in the air very often at all. But when it comes on, it’s terrible. And it’s always the last 10 mins before landing when we’ve needed to circle around the airport before landing. On the plus side, I normally start yawning immensely right before I get nauseous and these are a serious relief. First string of ridiculous yawns they go on and while it doesn’t totally halt feeling crummy, but it really, really prevents it from making me horrendously ill. Bonus – I carry these in my purse at all times because on Scotland roads…. travel sickness sneaks up on you a lot.

Upgraded class – I can’t afford first class…or even business class. But on any flight over 5 hours, I have made the decision I can definitely afford the extra $100-$150 to upgrade to economy plus. A little more legroom goes a long freaking way. And if you are a frequent flier with an airline, you’re more likely to get bumped up to that new level that floats between economy plus and business…where you don’t get to lie down to sleep but you do get champagne. SCORE!

Lounge Access – You’d think we fly enough to be whatever level needed for lounge access right? We don’t because we use so many different airlines. E has a petroleum card for Air France that let’s us cut in line for security and boarding, but he doesn’t get a guest in the lounge with paying extra. Because we always have at least one 4-hour layover in a flight, we have made the decision to get a CC that gives us lounge access. That’s right…we now have the Case Sapphire Preferred. I haven’t been able to utilize this lounge access yet…but I will be very soon. E has though and he loves it.

 

 

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Butt pillow – Not for the every man, but for me. I cracked my tailbone in high school (official x-rays not taken as my parents were away and we didn’t have health insurance and since there’s nothing you can do about a broken tailbone it didn’t really matter) playing soccer. I did sit on a donut at school and I couldn’t play for weeks. Since then my tailbone would act up maybe before a big storm (my butt could tell when it would rain, ha!) but was fine for about 15 years until last year. I know the exact trip home my tailbone started acting up…I’m blaming long flights, hospital chairs, and I’m sure horseback riding doesn’t always help (especially since I really have worked how to sit the canter well or come down lightly over a jump all the time). Anyway, I carry a butt pillow. I don’t care if it’s embarrassing. Ass pain is no joke.

Spotify Premium – In total transparency what I am insisting you have to make your travel more enjoyable, I no longer have. But if you have Spotify premium and can download playlists so you can listen to them without wifi…most importantly, said Peaceful Piano playlist, life is so much more enjoyable. Or maybe it’s a Home Coming playlist that you like to hear to get you in the mood to that beautiful Chicago skyline as you land…I did have premium for 5 months of so…but then I got a horse and E said we needed to cut costs. So my great sacrifice was Spotify Premium…my friends think this is a very funny exchange but shhhh, it seems E hasn’t run the numbers yet.

Neck pillow – I don’t always carry this. To be honest, the ass pillow takes up a lot of space. And if for whatever reason it’s a packed flight and I can’t get a window seat I don’t bring it. And if I am flying with Stella…no way. Because airlines do provide you with a little pillow…but bliss is a neck pillow with the addition of leaning into the little window nook. But to be honest, I brought a neck pillow ONCE last year. Though now I judge less when I see people with them.

So that’s my list of the little things that make a flight that much more enjoyable tolerable. As I stated, I don’t have all the things on the list for every hour flight down to London. It depends on the time I’m traveling, duration of flight, where I’m going, the company I’m with…. but I am over being embarrassed for being a bag lady if that’s what makes god awful air travel more tolerable.

What are your must haves for a long flight?

Behind the Scenes

Wanted to gloss over the bits of life that have taken place in the last 10 months or so (ha!) that won’t make it into a blog post.  Looking back…it seems I really fancy a costume/themed party.

End of June – one of my best friends Merima came to visit.  Expect to see more of Merima on my Croatia recap post.

 

July – We attended a surprise America themed 30th for her husband – hoodie hoo!

July 8 – My cousin and Uncle come to visit.

Have you noticed we take everyone to Dunnottar Castle?

August 28 – We had a Guns n’ Grilling party!  Had a whole mess of us (18?!) go to clay pigeon shooting and then back to our house for a lot of grilling and booze.  Unfortunately, didn’t take any pictures so these I stole from some of our friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 4 – Erik and Aaron ran their 2nd Inch by Inch Swim Run in Loch Lomond

November – Whilst home in November I spent some quality time with family and got to meet my new little niece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 10 – Made it to the last Aberdeen Perry’s Christmas Party. (They’re moving this summer.)

 

December – Goodbye Hussars.  Ah the downside of expat life.  This was our first friends we were reaaaaally close to that left.  I cried.  It sucked.

The longest, saddest brunch.

December – Enjoyed our time back in the states for Christmas.Dec 29 – Made the trek back to Scotland.

Dec 31 – NYE watching the fireballs in Stonehaven again (see previous year’s blog post here)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by: http://christinejacksonphotography.squarespace.com/

Photo by: http://christinejacksonphotography.squarespace.com/

Jan 27 – Burns night!

2nd year in a row for a monique lhuillier WITH POCKETS!

Some of the girls – we had 2 tables.

 

 

Feb 4 – AWA’s Mardi Gras Party – we were the pajama themed table.

 

March 4 – Our friends Lillian & David hosted an epic 80’s party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 24 – We celebrated our friend Seth’s birthday with Curling and Karaoke

Victory!

The person who fell the most was the Scotsman.

Didn’t fall at all this time!

My sweeping partner cared more about posing than sweeping!

 

March – I really started to learn why grey horses suck.

Spring – Lotta horse time.  Luckily, it’s not all lessons and hard work.  I’ve been super lucky to have some friends trust me with their ponies to go on hacks and enjoy the Scottish countryside.

Spud and I taking a break in the River Dee

 

The Posts Ahead

Even in my blogging hiatus I have thought often about writing, content, etc. And I do have some blog posts already written and ready to go (maybe should take the lapse in time to actually proof read something), as well as quite a few I have wanted to write for some time now. If only I was able to record my thoughts to writing when I was running.

  • A brief overview (mostly in pictures) of what we’ve been up to in the months without blogging.
  • A round up of my favorite cafes’ in Aberdeenshire
  • Carry On Travel Tips
  • Crisp way of life: the UK’s love of potato chips
  • My love-hate relationship with Air BnB
  • 2 Weeks in Croatia
  • Long weekend in Skye
  • A Weekend in Northern Ireland
  • The long horsey road that left me with Hamish
  • The expatriates: expectation vs reality
  • The trailing spouse’s need for an independent life
  • Being an Air BnB host– why not try to make up some of that lost horse money
  • Horsey posts….there’s bound to be loads more horsey posts.

Anyway, I wanted to give a little teaser on the posts that will be coming up in the next few weeks and months. Hopefully this gets you excited and tuned back into Hot Dogs to Haggis, hopefully I start to get some followers back that have forgotten about me, and of course, I hope to get some new followers.

Now those aforementioned are the posts I’ve already written, or are long over due. In addition to those…I have some fun times coming ahead this year and am sure more than a couple blog posts will be coming from them.  So am hoping these adventures on my calendar result in good times and entertaining blog posts if nothing else:

  • A girls long weekend in Porto, Portugal (3 moms + 3 non-breeders = how will our worlds collide)
  • A girls weekend in London (me + 2 single ladies…bound to get into trouble)
  • 2 weeks in Indonesia in August!!
  • My mom’s visit in June with a weekend in Glasgow
  • My father-in-law and brother-in-law visiting in July
  • Wedding in Copenhagen + a uni reunion
  • A weekend on the Isle of Eigg
  • My mom’s return visit in October with a trip to Lisbon
  • A possible weekend up north to Ullapool & John O’Groats
  • 3 Weeks home for Christmas & Megan’s wedding
  • Jumping Hamish – right now we are a LONG way out, but really just looking forward to growing and progressing with Hamish. And I think Jumping him in 2017 is a good, acceptable goal.

And I’m already looking forward to next year’s hols (British slang for holidays). In early chats with some stateside friends about a girls trip- location TBD but there is a lot of Switzerland chat. Along with a possible sailing adventure with other couples around Italy or Greece which is E’s dream. And a frosty trip up to the Shetlands in January for a fire festival. Wanting to come visit us? Time is running out and 2018 is already getting booked.

Anyway, I hope you see more of me and my writing, and I hope I hear from more of you. Let me know if you have an idea for a blog post you’d like to see, if you have any questions, or even some shady hate mail. I do love me some hate mail. Just kidding…well, kinda.

You bought a what?

A HORSE!

It’s time to address the elephant, errrr, horse in the room.  Okay he’s not really in the room, but it’s no secret my instagram is flooded with pictures of a certain mischievous, dirty, cheeky wee beastie.

I bought a horse. No seriously, I bought a horse with my Polish Christmas monies. (What you don’t celebrate Polish Christmas? You’re missing out!) Though to be fair, E was as supportive as a man could be letting his wife gallivant around the country trying out horses, obsessively stalking ads online, and making herself sick and hysterical over the thought of actually getting a horse. And ya know…staying supportive as every single horse owner we encountered made comments like:

“You know what’s easier, just dig a hole in your back garden and dump all your money into that. You’re less likely to get hurt at least.”

“You know they live like 25 years?”

“It’s not the horse that’s the problem, it’s all the shit you think you need for the horse.”

“You know what’ll be less hassle. Take all your money out of your bank accounts, put it in a wheelbarrow, and just light it on fire. There, done. One fell swoop instead of slowly bleeding you dry.”

“Hope you like the smell of horse-shit.”

“Say goodbye to a clean house, dinner on the table, or ever seeing your wife again.”

“I’m sorry mate.”

We already knew E was a hell of a guy, but just in case I had any doubts, he encouraged me to get a pony.

Happy wife, happy life

I know I had already teased that I got a horse, but I thought it deserved a proper post on my decision. Because, a lot of people think I’m crazy…and it’s not to say I’m not, but getting a horse wasn’t a decision I took lightly. I actually don’t take any decision lightly, I’m a bit of a head-case.  Even when we got Stella, on the 5-hour drive back to Chicago I cried and called my mom asking if we should turn around and give her back. I feel like taking on the responsibility of an animal is a very serious decision. You should provide the best life possible for that animal! And I was raised with a dog, cat, and rabbit…it’s not like I never had pets. I just don’t take the decision lightly…. probably a lot of insight on why I don’t have kids to be honest.

When I moved to Scotland I said I was going to start riding horses again. (It’s just a shame it got pushed back a year or so for marathon training.) I used to ride when I was young. Starting around 7 years old until about 15. I never had a horse, though I asked for one pretty much every Christmas in between those years. I would go away to Camp Tecumseh every year and be part of their horse program, my last year going on a horse packing trip in PA. So in preparation for summer camp my mom would let me do a package of lessons to get my muscles working again (PS – lessons are the most expensive part of horse-ing) and when I was little I would also insist on a lesson or trail ride (called a hack in Scotland) for my birthday. I loved ponies. Couldn’t get enough. But every year I asked for one, my dad asked with what money would we get a horse? And I would calculate how much he’d save if he quit smoking. It didn’t go over so well.

It’s a shame though really, because had I known that with hard work, I could have maybe bought my own horse, or at least part-leased one as a teenager, I would have put forth the effort. Because believe me, I was a hard worker. And of course, I would have needed some parental monetary support, but I tell you what, having a horse and working to have that horse would have probably kept me out of trouble!

So yeah, not all horses costs 20K it turns out. My horse certainly didn’t cost 20K.  And actually, it’s not THAT much money for livery. Okay, it’s definitely a figure that has to be evaluated and considered, but it’s not like you’re paying rent for another apartment. Hamish lives on a livery yard, which I guess would be called a boarding stable in America. Basically, I pay horse rent for Hamish to live on massive grounds (like 100 acres) and have access to on-site lessons, indoor riding schools, equipment like jumps, and mostly, help and experience from very dedicated and amazing staff. Now Hamish lives out in a field, all the time…which is cheaper than if he lived in a stable that needed to be mucked out, etc. So yeah, if it’s pouring down rain, Hamish lives outside. If it’s snowing, Hamish lives out. It’s not abuse, he’s a horse. He’s livestock. And I buy him really expensive rugs (called blankets in America) to keep him warm and toasty.

The most expensive part of horse ownership is insurance and injury. No doubt. Horses are stupid and built poorly. They tend to get hurt or break a lot so you need to be prepared for it. But I find that like human healthcare, veterinary care in the UK is LOADS more affordable than in the USA.

Then there is all the shit the horse “needs”. Like the aforementioned rugs. The sprays and potions in attempt to get him clean. The supplements. The saddle. The boots. The shoes (did you know horses need new shoes every 4-8 weeks?) The groomer because I pay to get my horse’s mane done and clip (shave) his coat in the winter. Which at current requires sedation because he’s terrified of the clippers. Terrified in a way that makes it dangerous for anyone to be in the stable with him. So the sedation costs more than the hair cut, but I’m hoping by the end of next winter he’s able to relax and not need sedation to be clipped- he’s just a baby! And then there’s paying for someone to ride/train your pony (especially necessary if you got a young/green horse). And lessons with you and your pony. And then there’s all the stuff you need as a rider…. which I’m still accumulating. Do you know a sexy riding helmet can cost like £600?!?!

Anyway…. I guess as the saying goes…. it all adds up. And so because of that, I need to re-state how lucky I am that my husband supports my childhood dream of getting a horse. Because it’s a monthly drain on his bank account, his time (he comes to the barn 1-2x a week), and his pleasant life because I am home so much less, thus making me an even worse house wife, and more so, I obsess over my horse. A bad day with him totally consumes my mood, I over analyze every thing my instructor tells me, I google horse related stuff non-stop…. it’s just all consuming. On the plus side…. I’m in love! Love, love, love. In fact, I have a shit-eating grin this whole time writing this post.

So I started this blog with the intent of writing about how I came to the decision to get a horse, and then the process that led me to my horse…HAMISH.   But as this is already pretty lengthy, I’ll just end up with why I did decide now was the right time to get a horse.

Well, there’s obviously more pros than cons….and we know which won. I got a horse! The biggest negative of my current situation is that we can’t live here forever which forces a decision sooner than most people who buy a horse expect. In anywhere from a month- to at most a couple years I will either have to sell my horse, or light a whole new wheelbarrow of money on fire to move him. I went in to this trying to hypnotize myself that horses are not pets, they are a leisure item. They are akin to a bicycle or boat. Not a dog. But I know (as does E) that I’m not always the most practical and the heart wants what it wants. So that being said, I cannot for sure say either way what will happen to my horse when we move. And to be honest, I would only be able to make a decision when the time comes because there are a variety of factors that will influence his future.

But the biggest persuasion of getting a horse now is that livery yard/support network I have here. I had been riding at Aberdeen Riding Club for over a year and a half and working there Friday mornings for a year. I had made horsey friends who would help, the manager of the livery yard was helping me find the right horse for me so I didn’t die, and everyone was there to guide me in the right direction. I’d never have more help getting a horse for the first time. And since one of my biggest fears is killing the damn thing (maybe a little dramatic, but that’s me), I knew the yard wouldn’t let that happen. My horse and I would be in good hands.

Overweight Baggage Check: Guilt

Wow, a lot can happen in a month. A lot has happened in my last month. My mother in law passed away, I met my new niece, I ran the NYC Marathon, I’ve been to 3 countries, and I bought a horse. In my husband’s last month he probably spent the equivalent of 5 days worth of air travel time. We’re all exhausted. But I wrote this post on my flight back to Scotland the day after my MIL’s funeral (when I was utterly exhausted but couldn’t sleep). I’ll do my best to get fill in the big gap of how the NYC marathon went and how did I think now was a good time to buy my first horse. Spoiler alert: his name is Hamish, he currently has a cut above his eye, and he really fancies a fur trim hood.15259712_10108084046792289_7333331409225187347_o

When looking to title this post, I found this WSJ article that makes me feel a bit better…that I’m not alone in this.

Although it may be difficult for others to understand or agree with our choices, and we expats may feel guilty at times for missing out on important events back home, the decision to return can only be made by us, those living this unique lifestyle. As Ms. Clark says, “Guilt is a natural part of life, a result of making decisions that are best for you but cannot please everyone. As an expat, this guilt may be heightened because we already get a sense from some people that living away from home is in itself a selfish choice. But you can’t please everyone, so I try not to dwell on the guilt.”

It isn’t the long flights (and accompanying jetlag and dry skin), it isn’t the different time zones with late night and early morning calls (and accompanying bags under the eyes), it isn’t the weakness of the dollar compared to the pound (and accompanying credit card bills), and it isn’t saying goodbye to friends at a summer camp rate (and accompanying hangovers, heartbreak, and tears).

By far, the worst part about being an expat is the guilt. The guilt of leaving your family.

I can only speak from my experience. And my experience is that I lived roughly an hour away from my parents for the better part of my (albeit short thus far) adult life. And my experience is that my father passed away leaving my mother living alone. And my experience is that they found a tumor in my mother in law a few months before we were set to move, and the subsequent 2 years or so she fought, and eventually lost a battle with cancer. And my experience is that if I hadn’t had become an expat there’s a possibility that I would be living an hour away from my little niece and nephew. And my experience is that although both E and I have some years, miles, political views, and lifestyle choices between our families… we are very close to them.

And that’s why in my experience, the hardest part of being an expat is the guilt. Whether or not that’s all self imposed or there’s influencing factors, it’s there and it’s hard. It’s hard when someone tells me they could never be abroad because they’re close to their family (as if I’m not.) It’s hard every time we say goodbye (even if I’ll be seeing them in less than a month). It’s hard when we miss important days or can’t be there where someone needs us (it’s not FOMO, it’s wanting to be there for those I love to celebrate the good and comfort in the bad). It’s hard being happy and loving life abroad (because it feels as though it diminishes our longing for and missing of those we love). It’s just hard.

Expat life seems like a dream. The possibilities of great travel, new and interesting friends, changes in finances, sabbaticals from work, finding yourself. But there’s a price to pay. And although I can only speak from my experience…I don’t know anyone that isn’t a little sad when they say goodbye.

Edinburgh in August

Another option in Edinburgh (August or otherwise) is a free walking tour with Sandeman! Highly recommend it.

Another option in Edinburgh (August or otherwise) is a free walking tour with Sandeman! Highly recommend it.

When we moved to Scotland just over 2 years ago, I had heard something about the “Royal Tattoo” and how it was this crazy big show of bagpipers and performers that only takes place in August at the Edinburgh castle and I realllly wanted to go. But there was about 2 weeks left of the show and the mark up on tickets/available dates were sure to make that impossible.

To top it off, when my mother was going through my dad’s office after he passed away, she found a file on Scotland that he had started for a trip they had been planning to take. On a sheet of yellow legal paper (typical Ray fashion) was the word TATTOO. Obviously, it had to be done. So we had planned my mother and her friend Pat were coming to visit in August and we would start the journey in Edinburgh. (It helps that in the summer there is a direct Chicago to Edinburgh flight). But when my mom came last year I never blogged about her trip. I was a bit overrun with things (also never blogged about my 2 weeks in Croatia…it’s coming I swear!): mainly visitors and vacations. And despite the fact that I’ve been a less than stellar blogger lately…I’m attempting to make up for it. So here’s a little combo post about why you should totally visit Edinburgh in August.

When my mom and friend came, the 3 of us had the place (a really fabulous and ridiculously expensive Air bnb) to ourselves for Friday and E came down on Saturday for Tattoo. This past weekend, E and I went down to Edinburgh for my birthday weekend getaway and stayed at The Carlton Hotel. Both really nice…but you should know, ridiculously expensive in August. Why?

Just a little wine spill in our Air Bnb

Just a little wine spill in our Air Bnb

We got to enjoy a beautiful fireworks display with our wine at night.

We got to enjoy a beautiful fireworks display with our wine at night.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Aka The Fringe.

The Fringe is the world’s largest art’s festival. It spans for the entire month of August. In 2015, there were over 50,000 performances of over 3,300 shows at 313 different venues. They say the city doubles in size during this month not only with tourists (to see the shows, but also to try and see summer in Scotland) but with all those performers as well.

And Edinburgh is a beautiful city...reason enough to visit.

And Edinburgh is a beautiful city…reason enough to visit.

Edinburgh Castle in the middle of the city.

Edinburgh Castle in the middle of the city.

Last year, I didn’t try to tackle any Fringe shows with my mother and her friend. I’m sure I could have, but there was a lot of the city to see, catching up, etc. It would have made it all a bit more rushed. And in hindsight, I agree with that decision since I knew nothing about Fringe. Now I’ve come back from 6 shows over the course of <48 hours and I think I have my wits about me and would be able to lead the charge for a weekend excursion back. (Which I totally am going to plan for my birthday again next year with some friends). So here are my tips for Fringe.

Fringe for Virgins

  • You can buy tickets the day of, 5 minutes before a show starts (or even possibly be given them for free), but I recommend doing some research and seeking out shows you want to see, and buying those tickets in advance- that you can do online.
  • Shows are split into categories: Cabaret and Variety, Children’s Shows, Comedy, Dance/Physical Theater/Circus, Events, Exhibitions, Music, Musicals and Operas, Spoken Word, and Theater…though one show might be in several categories. They all have a suggested age and a blurb about them.
  • Sometimes you read a blurb and are really interested in it, and then you go to the show and it is nothing what you expected.
  • At the Fringe website, you can sort by date, narrow by time of day, and by category. It’s really very handy in planning a weekend.
  • Unless it’s something very highly recommended and publicized, you can buy tickets the week of. There was one (small) show I had wanted to see that was sold out 3 days in advance. And then there was one larger one that was written up in a few publications as the Best of Fringe 2016 that was sold out at least a week in advance.
  • You can’t print tickets at home, but you just pop into one of the many ticket-printing centers, swipe your credit card, and all the tickets you’ve purchased come out at once.
  • If you’re planning on seeing quite a few shows, definitely pull up the venues on a map. Edinburgh is very walkable, but if you only have 30 mins to get from one show in the Meadows to another show on the North Side of the city…you’re not going to make it without a taxi.
  • Speaking of, there is Uber in Edinburgh. Not a big deal for Americans…a very big deal coming from Aberdeen.
  • There is no assigned seating. And even though we were never early to queue, and actually dead last a couple times, there are really no bad seats.
  • There are no bad seats because the venues are TINY. You will be sitting arm pressed against hot fleshy arm at every venue.   It’s Scotland so it’s never warm out, but underneath your sweater or jacket, have something cool on because the venues are hot. And take off your outer layer as you sit down because you won’t have the room to do it mid-show.
  • Shows are generally an hour. We went to one that was 90 minutes. I really wish it ended at 60 minutes. Make sure you really are keen on it if you see it’s 90 minutes.
  • Some shows really might not let you in if you’re late…generally shows start 2-3 mins late, so a small buffer window. But if you arrive RIGHT on time, you’ll be fine. And no one looks down upon you if you’re clearly late because you stopped at the bar first.
  • There are bars at every venue (pretty much) and you can always bring drinks in. I actually didn’t think the drinks were overpriced compared to something like Taste of Chicago.
  • At one show, the comedian (that I really enjoyed), asked for money at the end. But she referred to some people buying tickets. Which led me to believe a lot of people got in for free. But then I felt weird not giving money because I loved her…but also had paid about £13 per ticket. Just know this can happen, but in 6 shows, only one asked for tips at the end.
  • For dining: unless you’re planning on going to places that are strictly no reservation (El Cartel, Ting Thai Caravan), you need to make reservations. Our plans got slightly shuffled around and were originally going to do El Cartel for dinner, but did them for lunch instead. So for dinner Saturday night we went with the only place we could walk into, which was less than good tapas. Thankfully, it wasn’t our last meal on earth.
  • If you’re going to eat at the aforementioned no-reservation places, pad in lots of time to wait. Or better yet, go at an off time. For lunch at El Cartel, they open at noon and we were there at 12:15, which is early for lunch. But we had gotten up and ran 6 miles that morning so it was a late breakfast for us and we beat the crows and were seated right away. The next day, the same thing where we showed up for a late breakfast (11:30) and managed to get seated right away and beat the lunch rush.
Only at Fringe...Smut while you wait.

Only at Fringe…Smut while you wait.

The crowds are madness in August

The crowds are madness in August

My tops 3 (of 6) performances that I saw at Fringe this year was:

2nd runner up: Amelia Ryan: Lady Liberty (Cabaret and Variety/Comedy)

1st runner up: Andrea Hubert: Week (Stand-Up/Story Telling)

1st place: Love, Lies and Taxidermy (new writing/comedy)

If I had more days I would go see the other performances in the same venues as Love, Lies & Taxidermy – most of which have the same cast. Really cool venue, really liked what they did. Had actually wanted to see Every Brilliant Thing (done by them as well) but it was sold out! Alas…

Beyond Fringe

As previously mentioned, in conjunction with Fringe Festival is the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Also only taking place in August, dubbed as the “World’s Greatest Show.” And I have to say…. it’s pretty great. With the magnificent background of the Edinburgh castle, more bagpipes than you can shake a stick at, a supremely choreographed routine that has a different theme each year, representations of many different nations, as well as different kinds of musicians, dancers, and performers, topped off with a stunning fireworks display…. it’s incredible.IMG_1415 IMG_1399
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So if you’re questioning if Tattoo is worth it? The answer is definitely yes! My advice would be to buy tickets as soon as humanly possible to get good seats at a fair price. Though there aren’t any truly bad seats…if you’re not in the Royal Gallery or Premier Seats (we weren’t) you just don’t want to be tucked in a corner, or too low so that you can’t see the whole scope of the arena. Even though we bought tickets months out, a lot of the good seats were sold out the night we wanted to go. I compared scalper-like sites but I found that if I bought directly through the Tattoo, paying a little extra for the ceilidh package, I actually got a better seat for less money than buying a normal ticket from Tattoo or a ticket from a third party. Bonus, we went to the ceilidh afterward, which provided one drink and quite a lot of food included, and my mother and her friend got to watch and learn some traditional dances. It was definitely worth is.

 

 

 

For the love of the ‘Deen

I’ve said this before, but I really love Aberdeen….most specifically, Aberdeenshire, and really, all of Scotland. It’s charming and quaint, rural and majestical. In fact, last month a job opportunity opened up for E in Brussels. It’s always been the goal that eventually we would get transferred to Belgium, but when E mentioned it to me, I started to cry. I don’t want to leave Scotland! At least not yet….and to be honest, even though I know it will have to eventually happen, and I’m excited about the prospect of what the next expat assignment will bring, you’ll probably read about the fact that E has moved me kicking and screaming.

So for this Friday faves, I’m going to share 5 links that help me prove just how grand life in the ‘shire is.  Hopefully, this will inspire you to come visit (next year, fully booked this summer already) or make you a little more excited for your upcoming trip to the North.

  1. Aberdeen is Scotland’s “kindest city” and the third kindest in all of the UK. This was based on a study which “measured the average number of good deeds carried out by residents.” This is no surprise to me. There are so many stories of people helping each other out , from lost dogs to kindly neighbors. In my own time here I’ve been free to go after forgetting my wallet at eateries, given gifts by my neighbors, and had my house called up by another neighbor when there was a bad storm.   The people here are nice. See the article HERE.
  2. Aberdeen is the second cleanest city in the UK in terms of air pollution. Well done ‘Donians! See the article HERE.
  3. There are more castles per acre in Aberdeenshire than anywhere else in the UK. I personally fancy the very gothic castles (Fyvie) or the ruins (Dunnotar)…but there’s a castle here that will take your breath away, no matter what you fancy. See the article HERE.

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    Dunnottar Castle….always breathtaking just 15 mins south of Aberdeen

  4. But somehow Aberdeen still has a bad rap. At least people have fun with it. Check out this Buzzfeed list: 32 Reasons You Should Never, Ever Visit Aberdeen. It’s more than adequate in summarizing why I love it here. Check it out HERE.
  5. And where else can I force my husband to take m on Sunday drives, pulling over and stopping suddenly everytime I see a baby sheep or Highland Coo? As I did a 7 days of Sheep on Instagram recently, I’ll just treat you to some Coo pictures now. 🙂DSC_1032 DSC_1060 IMG_3820 DSC_0104 DSC_0335

Stella in the Country

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I love country living. Even when its flaw (being far from city-centre) becomes more and more abundant (as our social life gets fuller and fuller). I was a little worried initially about feeling alone and closed off- especially when it came to just having contact with people on a day that E is out of town and I have no reason to go into town. I remember one weekend when we moved to San Diego- E had been sent to New Jersey to work and I didn’t leave my apartment from Friday when I got home from work until Monday morning. Hadn’t unlocked the front door! Man, I kinda dream of a weekend like that now with sweet, sweet hibernation.

Anyway. With Stella-dog that’s never going to happen again. But I still was a little worried about actually interacting with people even though I knew I’d be outside. As it turns out- it’s rare that I take a walk with Stella through the woods or down the road and don’t run into anyone. And a lot of time, they want to talk. Everyone is friendly and engaging. Just yesterday I met a 5 year old girl (and her grandpa) who told me all about her new baby brother that’s coming next week, that she wants to be a veterinarian, that there’s a boy in her class that squeezes her hand too hard, and then she likes to feed Disney and Spirit (the horses down the lane) carrots whenever anyone will take her to them. It was pretty delightful other than my worry that maybe Disney and Spirit are getting way too many carrots as I feed them quite often as well and I know of at least one other neighbor that does as well.

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In some ways taking Stella out here is the exact same as taking Stella out in Chicago. Of course we don’t encounter our regular local homeless people or stop in to the same high end shops to get free dog treats (shout out to Lululemon, Barbour, Burton, Brioni, Ugg, Ted Baker, Sprinkles and Ugg), but we do meet and talk with our neighbors, get pets from strangers (more Stella than me), and sniff some dog butts (more Stella than me). There’s just the added bonus of not ever being on a leash, drinking water fresh from the burn, and chasing the occasional deer.

dog water fountain

How stella hydrates: Chicago vs. Scotland

The biggest difference in our typical “go outside” in Chicago vs. Aberdeenshire isn’t the scenery, it’s everything else!

CHICAGO DOG WALKS

ABERDEENSHIRE DOG WALKS

Leash Carrots (for horses)
Standard Collar Light Up Collar or Vibrating Collar (depending on the season)
Poo Bags Head Torch
Money (it always seemed like a good idea to stop at the Sprinkles cupcake ATM) Reflective Vest or Rain Coat
Tennis Ball & Racket Wellies or Hiking Boots
Trainers, snow boots, or flip flops

 

 

I still am loving country living and fear more a re-adjustment to a big city rather than something more rural (I just may eat my words some day). I’m pretty sure Stella has so qualms about her change in scenery either!

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Sheepdog in training.

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