02 January, 2013

12 July, 2012

Isle of Mull and Isle of Iona, Scotland

Since early on in my time here in Scotland, I had hoped to visit the Isles of Mull and Iona. They are located off the west coast of Scotland and can only be reached by ferry! While my Uncle Mike and Aunt Connie Blesse were here visiting, they decided to take us there to go check it out! They had hired (rented) a car, so on Sunday afternoon we drove to Oban (on the west coast), took the ferry across to the Isle of Mull (about a 45 min ferry trip),

Leaving Oban on the ferry to Mull 
Dunollie Castle ruins in Oban, Scotland
then drove a little over an hour across the island and stayed in Fionnphort (pronounced "Finnafert") at a lovely B&B called Caol-Ithe Guesthouse ("Cool-ee"). We had hoped to drive to the north of the island and see the town of Tobermory, but the road we were taking was washed out from a crazy rain storm last week and we ran out of time. Thankfully the views were gorgeous off the west coast of Mull, so the drive wasn't a waste!

Just before we had to turn around due to road closure, Mull
West side of Mull
West side of Mull
The next morning we went on a boat tour with Staffa Tours (http://www.staffatours.com/boat-tours/boat-tours-from-fionnphort-and-iona/staffa-tour/) to see Staffa Island which boasts of beautiful water, Fingal's Cave and puffins! This is one of the few boat tours I would say was definitely well worth the money! We were given almost an hour to explore the island...and some crazy guy decided to go for a swim!

Uncle Mike, Aunt Connie and me on the boat
Scott with Staffa Island in the background

Fingal's Cave, Staffa Island
My adventurous husband
Yes, Scott did go swimming in the ocean inside Fingals' Cave and it was only about 60 F/16 C outside!
Staffa Boat Tours
35 weeks prego hiking around Staffa Island!
After loads of fun there, we headed back and were dropped off on the Isle of Iona! Iona is known for it's Abbey which was built by St. Columba, a man from the the North of Ireland who became a missionary to Scotland. The water is beautiful and the weather improved throughout the day!

Scott and me at Iona Port

View from Iona Port

Iona Abbey, created by St. Columba

Replica of St. John's cross outside Iona Abbey
We hope at some point we'll be able to go back and have more time to spend on Mull and especially Iona. Iona has been said to be one of the "thin places" in Scotland where people feel like God is a bit nearer. We'd love to be able to go and have time to rest and experience this for ourselves in the future!

The wee Post Office on Iona
Amazing sky and water! 
Amazing views...taken by the fabulous Scott Burns!
Ferry between Iona and Mull
Later in the day we took the 10 minute ferry trip from Iona to Mull, drove back across Mull, took the 45 minute ferry to Oban and then drove 2 hours home to Glasgow. A very full day, but well worth it! Plus, we managed to have two days in a row without rain while away from Glasgow!

30 April, 2012

Learning by Trial and Error

In November 2011, I had the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving with several American and British friends at Brian and Kellie Ingraham's house here in Glasgow. I had signed up to make a couple of apple pies and a couple of pumpkin pies. Since tinned (canned) pumpkin isn't really a Scottish staple I assumed that the challenge I would confront in making these pies was to locate and purchase cans of pumpkin. A local specialty store called Peckham's had a shelf full in stock (for all the Americans), so I had no trouble at all. The pumpkin pies came together like a breeze and then I was on to the apple pies. 

After getting the dough all set for the crust, I began to peel apples and prepare to make the filling. It was then that I realised I didn't have corn starch. Back to the store I went. After searching long and hard for corn starch and asking a store employee, I concluded that the Scottish folks must use another product entirely for thickening. Eventually I found a container of "Thickening Granules" which were white and appeared to be a suitable alternative to corn starch. Satisfied with my find I went back home and finished making the pies. Everything looked great and I was quite happy with the way the thickening granules had worked!

Thanksgiving meal was potluck style and absolutely delicious. Finally it came time for dessert (or "pudding" as desserts in general are called here)! I sampled various sweets and then decided to try a slice of my own apple pie. As I took my first bite something tasted slightly off. I couldn't quite pin it down. I asked others if the pie tasted a little funny, but everyone seemed quite happy with it and ate their pieces without complaint. As I continued to eat the rest of my piece I finally decided that it was almost as though there was a hint of gravy flavour. I thought through how I had prepared the pies and finally concluded that the only thing I had done differently was to use thickening granules instead of corn starch. 

When I arrived home later that night I pulled out the container of thickening granules and took a sniff. Sure enough, they smelled faintly of gravy! As I looked closer at the side of the container I realised that it's suggested use was primarily for thickening gravy and soups!!! I'd found the culprit! 

I have since learned that the exact equivalent for "corn starch" does exist in the UK and is called "corn flour." I was reminded of my discovery by trial and error just this past week when I made a couple more apple pies for some friends of ours using corn flour. This time I had complete success! No more "hint-o-gravy" apple pies for me! ;)

10 February, 2012

Our "Skeleton Baby"

As you may have seen via my husband's blog, we're pregnant!!! The fact that we are even pregnant is a huge miracle and is by the grace of God. If you haven't read the full story and would like to, check out http://scottburns.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/i-cant-believe-it-were-pregnant/

Tuesday, we had our first scheduled ultrasound scan as part of our "antenatal" appointment. We were 13 weeks, 2 days at that point and Baby Burns measured 11.7cm/4.6 inches! Bet you can see why we refer to this picture as our "skeleton baby" pic. ;) So happy all the bones appear to be forming as they should! I definitely shed a few tears during the ultrasound as Scott and I saw the work God is doing inside of me in the form of a tiny human being. Incredible! We are officially due on August 12th!

Baby Bump Burns! 13.2 Weeks

While I think I'm past the joys of morning sickness (which for me lasted all day), I do find if I don't eat a snack about every 2 hours I start to feel a wee bit "sicky." Such fun for a non-snacker like me! I already feel a bit like a mom carrying around snacks for her children...except the snacks are of course only for me!

I've been hearing all sorts of interesting ways to guess/determine the sex of the baby over the past few weeks. The most humorous conjecture so far came from my sister Emily. A few days after I had told her we were pregnant, we were skyping and I was describing how hungry being pregnant was making me. She proceeded to declare "If you're that hungry, you're definitely going to have a boy." There was a pause and she added, "Or a very big girl!" I just had to laugh. :) Don't worry, we'll let you know whether it's going to be a boy or a girl in about 6 weeks at our 20 week scan, provided baby cooperates! I am just so overwhelmed by how amazing and creative my God is! More to come!

02 January, 2012

Driving in Scotland!

As the holidays were approaching, Scott and I decided that it made sense to rent a car. With Scott undergoing chemo, we decided it would be best if we avoided virus carriers (a.k.a. public transportation) and had the flexibility to come and go to functions, as well as let Scott sleep in the car if needed. The side benefit was that I would finally get to drive in the U.K.! I'm not sure that Scott actually felt any more rested with the number of questions I asked him about road signs and due to my tragic inability to follow the directions of a GPS, but toward the end of our time with the rental car, he was able to doze off a little more. :)

I had read up on all the paperwork that was necessary to rent a car, so I took a number of documents with us to pick up the car. When we arrived at the car rental company, the British couple in front of us were unable to pick up their reserved car because they didn't have their passports and/or paper counterparts to their license as well as documents proving their address (in addition to their U.K. licenses). I began to get nervous, but when it was our turn all they wanted from me were my U.S. license and passport. They told Scott that since he didn't have his paper counterpart to his license (something they do in the U.K.), he would be unable to drive the car. I was getting worried since I had planned to have Scott drive the car off the lot and take me for a bit of practice. However, Scott (brilliant husband that he is) asked if he could use his U.S. license instead. The woman asked if it was current (which it is), so she said that would work fine alongside his passport! It felt kind of silly that Scott had to use his U.S. license, but we were just happy that he had it!

Thankfully, we had rented a small car called a Nissan Micra (pronounced niss-ann in the U.K.), so it was pretty easy to navigate around the skinny and crowded roads of Glasgow. I meant to take a picture of me driving for the first time, but forgot to take a picture of the car we rented all, though it looks just like the one below.

Having never driven in the U.K. before and managing a manual transmission decently well with my left hand, sitting on the right hand side of the vehicle, while driving on the left hand side of the road, I feel an overall sense of accomplishment. I even managed to parallel park in some tighter spaces! We'll just forget that I ran a red light (pedestrian crossing), had to go around one roundabout twice because I missed my exit and went around a small roundabout in a car park (parking lot) on the wrong side! No one got hurt and no scratches or dents were added to our rental car or anyone else's car, so I'm happy. Now, if I can just master those blasted roundabouts in the future, driving in the U.K. will be even more enjoyable!

29 December, 2011

Wall of Frames

At least a year ago now, Scott found a DIY project that he really liked on a blog, so he shared it with me and we decided that at some point in the future we'd undergo the task. The idea was an entire wall of differently shaped and textured, white picture frames with various pictures and memorabilia in them. Several months ago, we stumbled across an advertisement on Gumtree (like Craig's List) of 50 odd picture frames going for £10. Then about a month ago, I picked up white paint, sandpaper, and paint brushes so we'd be ready when we actually had some down time!

With all his chemo treatments lately, Scott's immune system has been down, so he's had to stay in the house and away from crowds. He became extremely restless last week and was wishing aloud that he had something to do, so I suggested he start on the Wall of Frames project we had talked about doing. He jumped at the chance to have something to do and began the task with a vengeance!

Our kitchen was soon overrun with the project (which was not my favourite), but I had a happy, busy husband which was worth the bother of a crazy kitchen! Scott sanded and painted the majority of the frames and I helped with a bit of painting and touching up and also washed and dried the glass for the frames. One night Scott couldn't sleep due to his prescriptions, so at 4am he painted more frames! It was about a 3 day process since most of the frames had to be painted with 2-3 coats and all the frames had to be hung.

In order to organise where we thought each frame should go and minimise the number of holes in the wall (I'm sure our landlord will be grateful for this), we measured and cut out cheap wrapping paper and blue tacked it to the wall. I have to say, it is wonderful to have a husband who likes to do things well!

Once the frames were all painted, we matched their sizes to the wrapping paper cutouts and began to hang frames in place on the wall. Several frames were the same size, but had different designs which were seen through the paint, so we spent quite a lot of time organising where everything looked best!

We had decided the wall would be one of memories and places we love rather than pictures of us or of other people, so once the frames were on the wall, we were on the hunt for things to fill them with! The first several frames were easy to fill, but as we got toward the last few, it was more difficult to decide what should go in them. Some of the things included on our wall are ticket stubs and program from our first official date at the London Theatre, scenic pictures of Trillium Lake and Hume Lake, ballroom dancing, our favourite movie: August Rush, as well as a few fun random things we liked the look of!

While all the frames are up with pictures in them, the wall is still definitely a work in progress. You may have noticed one last piece of wrapping paper on the wall awaiting it's frame and picture. Scott fell in love with a black and white sketch of Glasgow University that our friend Nichol Wheatley http://www.perfectcircleart.com had done, so it will soon be living on our wall. The larger blue picture will soon be replaced as well. Other than that, all we need to do is get white picture mount for a number of the frames and we're set! We LOVE our new wall decor!

So, what would you do if you had cancer and were undergoing chemo? :)

24 December, 2011

My Long Lost Olives!

I was at Tesco yesterday (kind of like super-Walmart, but a little nicer) doing my grocery shopping when I stumbled across a tin (can) of olives that appeared to be "brine-free!" Now, if you know me, you have heard me complain a few times that too many things in Scotland are preserved in brine. This isn't such a bad thing when it's something like tinned tuna, but it is NOT nice in my opinion when black olives are soaked in brine. It changes their flavour completely!

Ever since moving here over a year ago, I have been on the hunt for olives that taste like the "normal" ones I love and eat often at home. I've searched at specialty shops and all sorts and until yesterday had not managed to find anything remotely similar! Though it cost a whopping £1.50 ($2.50) for a single tin, I decided to take the financial risk...and boy was I rewarded! They taste very similar to what I'm used to back home! Thank you Spain for your olives that taste like the ones from California!

So, if you're from a country that has tinned olives in normal salt water and you've struggled to find somethings similar in the U.K., try Fragata brand Black Olives at your local Tesco! I don't think you'll be disappointed!