9-10th December, 2017: Partying with Santa

Saturday, 9th of December

It’s my day off… huzzah!!! And what better way to spend it, than by lurking inside most of the day beneath my electric blanket? Or, better still, a new hobby H and I have picked up that should surprise no one: bird watching in our garden!

As it happens, the UK is experiencing a bit of a cold spell for once. Where normally we hover just above freezing here so close to the water in Scotland, it’s taken a sudden plunge within the last few days. And yet–where I see pictures of England absolutely covered in snow, we haven’t gotten jack shit. It’s rubbish. Honestly! I’ve waited three years for a proper snow, and still am holding my breath, y’all!

Anyway.

This evening I was actually triple-booked for plans if you can believe it. Not only was it supposed to be my work Christmas night out, but it wound up that a friend was having a birthday party, and one of my best lady friends was having a going away party before her return home to Spain for a few months. You can probably guess my priorities. Work shindig? Nahhhh.

Instead I had a lovely night with not one but two different batches of friends, the first with delicious home-cooked food (and the best slaw I ever had), Minion-shaped cookies, and prosecco!

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The second with whisky and dancing and many silly photos, such as this one, which I think rivals a Renaissance painting.

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It was a fantastic night–even with the overwhelming amount of people present on Princes Street for the Christmas market, and even with resigning myself to taking the last train home at 11:33 PM which was a frikkin’ nightmare of people continuing to celebrate all the way home. Honest to god, folks. I’m too old and grumpy for such nonsense.

Sunday, 10th of December

I’ll admit I was dreading going in to work today: that’s because boss-lady “volunteered” me to serve a shift as… get this… a Christmas elf, helper of Santa Claus himself.

I don’t get paid enough for this sort of thing.

My imminent doom plagued me as I made my way through the cold into work. And yet, somehow, it wasn’t so bad in the end. Santa (whose friends call him “Brian”) was a pretty lovely chap, we were set up in a cozy wee cottage, the kids were stinkin’ cute, and the hours actually flew by. Some of the kids even had us in stitches–like, for example, the 2-year-old who upon being asked by Santa what he wanted for Christmas said this:

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Chips. He wanted chips, y’all. *holds hand over heart* I swear I am so down with this kids’ priorities. (That’s french fries for my States readers!)

Anyway, so busy doing elf-related things I obviously didn’t get a photo. But, because of the lingering cold (it didn’t even get above freezing today) and the fact that we finally have a yard without a crazy next door neighbor with a phobia of rats thereby restricting us having a bird feeder out, we got birdy mouths to feed.

Here’s a new face that I am chuffed to bits to see appear in the garden. I love corvids–the bird family that includes ravens and jackdaws, clever birds that are (to my mind) a bit underappreciated. I’ve tried to make friends with this particular type of bird before, but to no avail, as they are rightfully a bit skittish of people–so when I saw this lovely gal appear in the garden I was stoked! I call her, very imaginatively, Maggie Magpie. I love her fluffy white chest that looks soft as a marshmallow!

Look at her in all her glorious plumage. What a dapper gal she is!

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That’s all for now!

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8-12-17 Bobbins and Such

Friday, 8th of December

I have a confession to make. It’s one that started last year, when I had a brief stint doing some lonely work at a plant nursery. I was the only girl on the team, and one of the youngest besides a wee 16-year-old goofy lad. Out in the fields by myself, I ended up making friends the only way I knew how: by luring them to me with treats, of course.

I think I’ve probably talked about the UK’s favorite bird before. And when I say favorite I mean it: they’ve actually voted on this shit. Not that I can blame them. When you’re faced with such a charmer, how can you possibly resist their wee faces and dapper red chests? For whatever reasons these guys even choose to spend their winters in the UK, making them a Christmas favorite for gifts. Ornaments, mugs, clocks, you name it. On a quick google search, they’ve even found their way to other gifts as well.

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Ummmm. You can buy that one if you so desire it on Etsy, knock yourselves out!

Naturally I’m talking about Erithacus rubecula, or, the common European robin. When I realized at my prior job that I could provide little treats (dried mealworms being a guaranteed favorite) and the bitty bops would swoop in to retrieve them, an addiction was immediately born. My reward was seeing them hopping along basically underfoot, and on occasion, providing me with a little warbling whisper-song while sitting nearby. I’ve since left that job and picked up at another, but the addiction remains. Even better, I seem to have this time garnered a truly ballsy little friend. This cheeky guy follows me pretty much everywhere I go–I’ve tried to keep this secret from boss-lady, who I’ve seen shooing my friend away from our potting bench (seriously wtf). She probably doesn’t want him pooping on her stuff, but hey ho. (Maybe she should put her stuff away for once… IDK!)

He follows me for good reason though, as I found a perfect use for a tiny, floral pill-box I ordered online a few months ago. “Just what the heck can you do with that?” H queried disbelievingly upon seeing it. At the time I put one solitary bobby pin in. Just to prove its usefulness, obviously. Now it’s full of suet pellets, sunflower seeds, and dried mealworms, and resides in my pockets for birb-related occasions.

Yesterday at work was no different with my little friend lurking just within eyesight. However, he’s started getting particularly bold, and doesn’t even seem to mind my own, or customer’s, proximity to him. He finally did something I’ve hoped he would do for ages–that is, to land on a particularly adorable bobbin-prop.

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As I was taking pictures (as you do when presented with such a treat), a little customer lady wandered over with her eyes fixed on bobbin disbelievingly. I revealed my secret stash, and she said, “Oh, you’re not supposed to feed them!” but then when I revealed it was actually bird food, she lingered on, laughing as she watched me toss a few treats his way for the next 5 minutes or so.

Later on, as I was down by the donkey area assisting some children with the careful art of carrot-feeding (donkeys open mouth, child places whole hand inside, or as the wee girl did upon being handed a carrot, hurled it into the pen) I noticed my little friend hopping about behind me. “Here’s my other friend, but he’s not from the sanctuary,” I laughed. The kids were just as amazed by this birb weighing approximately 1 oz as they were by the 500lb donkeys, and asked eagerly for some pellets to throw his way. They then shook my tiny pillbox in amazement, like it was some sort of musical instrument rather than something that cost about 50p.

Somehow or another, I think boss-lady will eventually find out my secret if I’m not too careful! Ah well, worth it for my cheeky-wee friend!

27th-30th of September, 2017: Salty Lakes

Wednesday, 27th of September

Farewell Moab, hullo Salt Lake City!

Despite this being another necessary-evil driving day, thanks to Roadside America I had a list of potential stops for us to peep to keep us occupied during our route. (Honestly that website is a game-changer for long hauls!) That said, we had a surprisingly eventful day cavorting across southern Utah.

First stop: Green River, Utah. Home, obviously, of the world’s largest watermelon slice.

But of course you knew that. Maybe you even knew Green River in a roundabout way. Ever seen An American Tail: Fievel Goes West?

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Chances are you have, but like me, remember very little of it. Something about Jewish mice moving to America… because they thought there’d be no cats there? I may or may not have that story straight. Regardless, a wiki of Green River, home of the world’s largest watermelon slice, revealed that in the fictional American Tail, Green River was their new chosen home.

Funny that eh?

Despite its animated claim to fame, Green River is a wee place that like other wee places has an oddly specific festival. (Think RC Cola & moonpie festival, slug burger festival, soybean festival, you get the idea.) Green River has, of course, a watermelon festival!!! Which we missed by a few days I think–major bummer.

But we still got to see the watermelon, left abandoned in the parking area of some sort of museum. We were the only people there to pay it homage (again, it was pretty early but I doubt many others even know about the glory to be found), and we located it pretty quickly based on its sheer size, and the small structure built around it to protect it from the elements.

Here’s Haitham being appropriately awed by the sheer majesty of it.

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(We didn’t stop to get any watermelon though. Gutted.)

Our drive continued for an hour or so until we reached our next stop of the day: Spanish Fork, Utah. The drive to reach it, unsurprisingly, continued to be absurdly beautiful. I still stand by my awed perplexity at just how it was Utah escaped my notice in all my years of living in the States. I always sort of imagined it much like Kansas I guess–flat, and empty. But it’s the polar opposite.

Here’s a photo of drive scenery, for example.

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So what drew our attention to Spanish Fork, you may ask? Well, it was a Buddhist temple. I know, right? Utah=Mormons. But Roadside America had drawn my attention to this place, which also featured an Indian veggie buffet, so what better place to stop and get lunch (and potentially see some llamas)?

We walked in the door right at noon, and were greeted by an older (surprisingly) white woman. She had a wee African grey parrot on her shoulder who peered at us from his perch. She asked, a bit brusquely, what she could help us with (the woman, not the parrot). We said we were just passing through and hoping to get some lunch. She waved a hand and said, “Oh, it’s not ready yet. It’s not even lunch time.” I glanced at my watch, eyebrows raised, and said, “Oh, really? But it’s noon… that’s okay though.”

“Oh, is it?” she said vaguely. “I had no idea that was the time. Well, go on then. I’ll ring you up here. It’s just five bucks for the both of you.”

While we waited several eternities for her to ring us up, as she kept getting distracted and letting the card reader time out (haha), I asked if I could snap a quick photo of her and bird. She looked up, sort of surprised, like she’d forgotten he was even there. She explained that his name was Ramu.

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Lunch there was delicious, but also sort of an experience. We were the only people in the entire place besides the actual staff, and this lady and her bird (who disappeared shortly after). Here’s a photo of Haitham enjoying his meal–notice the massive bird cages in the background. Ramu seemingly has friends!

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After a quick wander, one small purchase, and donning our shoes again, we headed outside to scope out the grounds. When we wandered a short distance to some trees nearby, we began to hear a riot of noises–whistles, “Hello!” and squawks. Lo and behold, we encountered Mr. Ramu back in his outside home, and he was feeling super chatty. He’s apparently learned that when people stop showing him attention, hollering and making loads of racket well bring ’em curiously back round to investigate. We were certainly no different, charmed by the variety of noises he was able to make, and even better, his friendliness. He would pop up a little foot onto the bars so he could stretch his neck out to you for a scritch. Be still my frikkin’ heart he was so cute!! I’ve never met a bird I wasn’t afraid was going to nip the tops of my fingers right off so much as look at ya. But Ramu was a special wee guy.

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Here’s the temple. It’s called, for the curious, the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple. At least according to Google Maps, anyway.

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After taking photos of llamas, the scenery, and attempting a few videos of Ramu speaking we finally wrenches ourselves away from the adorable little featherball. Time was a’wastin–and our next stop was a scenic drive, spotted online, that everyone crowed about.

The drive itself was the Provo Canyon Scenic Drive, or simply the 189. And while it was perhaps even more gorgeous that the folks online crowed about, it was also super narrow and wiggly, leaving me more than a few times clutching the panels of the Mustang in abject terror as someone else shot around a tiny corner just ahead of us. (Channeling my best mom impression from my learning-to-drive days!) It created a bit more stress than I think was warranted for the route–perhaps this was why the guy at the rental car place had suggested a Jeep–but the scenery was totally stinkin’ worth it.

This was, if I remember correctly, not too far in when we’d just pulled off to a gravel bar on the side of the road. Check out those stunning fall colors!

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We pulled off again not long after to take in an aspen grove. I wondered if I could just build a cabin somewhere and stay there forever.

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We finally made it to a scenic overlook–uuuuuuughhh. I even managed to convince H to stay still long enough for a photo of the two of us.

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We eventually stopped at a wee state park called Cascade Springs, which at the time I couldn’t recall why I had listed in our itinerary at all. That’s the trouble with doing your research in advance–sometimes you can’t even remember what the heck they were down for.

H, by that time, was feeling a bit stretched thin. Here’s where I asked him to pause for a photo. Remind you of anyone? Like, maybe a 5-year-old? ^_____^ Bless him. He did drive the entire way.

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We navigated oh-so-carefully down out of the mountains and before the sun was even setting we were tucked up in our airbnb. With time to kill, of course a wander in downtown Salt Lake City was in order.

Salt Lake City is a curious, but surprisingly awesome, place. For some reason I believe my gal pals and I had stopped there once on our long road trip coming home from California–but I only remember passing through salt flats and stopping at a small, twee place. It must not have been SLC because this place was a sprawling mass of a city. Surprisingly clean and modern, but also just really pretty.

Here’s a photo of the downtown area, featuring an excellent reflecting pool, and a bridal gown unveiling photoshoot. I waited for ages for the groom to turn around to see his bride. D’aw!

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And here’s a photo from our wander back home, that sort of encapsulates SLC. Very straight roads, all navigating from the big church (mormon tabernacle?) heart, and mountains encircling it all. A lovely place. You gotta hand it to Mormons–they may have their own controversies, but they certainly know how to build a city!

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Thursday, 28th of September

Our full day in Salt Lake City started off with a nip of cold in the air. Unsurprising, considering our location surrounded on all sides by mountains, and the higher elevation. Though we had plans for later in the day, we decided to get an early start (per usual) and headed out after a nice breakfast (and for me, a latte with a smiley face foam art, awesome).

Our destination was the Red Butte Gardens. Which we took a lot of pleasure in by mispronouncing butte literally every time we said it because we are children. Despite that, it’s a lovely place–even on days it feels overcast and in the grips of winter. It’s also quite high up, creating a setting for excellent views!

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Although I could have spent a long time in the gardens, we ended up doing a quick lap of the place (I think we saw about 50% of it) before some of us began whimpering from the cold. Couldn’t possibly name names though.

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After a quick snack and a disappointing tea in downtown SLC (who serves hot tea in a glass cup anyway?), we rendezvous’d for the real excitement of the day: our first Segway tour. I tried to keep my nerves under wraps, the remnants of my vestibular neurosis and general clumsiness on my mind as I thought, “If something could happen to anyone on a segway, it would definitely be me.”

Here’s H taking to his mechanical monstrosity like a seal to water.

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It was a great tour. Our guide was the happiest chap, full of geeky humor but absolutely brimming over with knowledge of SLC (and a bit of inside info on Mormonism). He was also highly skilled at guiding us on our way–however, I’ll be the first to admit this didn’t stop me from crashing my freakin’ segway. This was maybe 30 minutes in, going up a inclined, zigzagged section of path where I clipped a wheel and went down like a sack of potatoes. I got up quickly but already knew I’d twigged my foot–I shook it off and we continued on our merry way, even if I favored my left foot which I could already feel swelling!

The rest of the tour was just lovely though. Check it out–here’s the Salt Lake City White House, or rather, the state capitol. Impressive eh? Or is that just those two cool kids out front you’re ‘mirin? Lucky you can’t see the pain hiding behind my sunglasses!!

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After our tour we decided to take a quick trip up to see one the highest points in SLC, Ensign Peak. It was at that point as my limp became a bit more pronounced that we decided (or rather Haitham insisted) that we just settle for the viewing platform below the peak itself. Fair enough–it was still lovely!

At that point, after eating some leftover curry in the parking area, that we decided we didn’t know what exactly to do next. My aching foot meant any walks were just about out. Our guide had mentioned a place you could drive about on the long stretches of salt flats, but it was just a wee bit further than we were prepared to drive, but it sounded cool enough to be bummed about not being able to visit! So instead we decided to drive about 30 minutes to the Great Salt Lake Marina to take in, ya know, the lake. Despite its semi-questionable reviews (weird), we headed out, and in no time at all we were traipsing around on the beachfront.

It was positively lovely. The water was so reflective, there were people kayaking, it was just cracking.

 

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However–however. When we’d been googling about the marina, we’d come up with a bunch of negative reviews from visitors claiming the place stunk. And sure enough–they were so fucking right. The place was mingin’. Turns out, salt lakes are full of brine shrimp–one of the only things that can live in such salinity. When they die they wash up on the shore and as they decompose–oh, my god. There are no words to describe it.

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It wasn’t long (maybe 20 minutes or so) spent on the beach before we’d had right enough. We went back up to the marina parking area and headed for some big rocks upwind of the shrimps. We decided, hell, it was only a wee while before the sunset, so we may as well stick around for that long.

And so we did.

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25th-26th of September, 2017: Moab, Arches

Monday, 25th of September

Next stop: Moab, Utah.

We woke up early in our hotel lodging in Denver, ready to hit the road. Upon peering outside our room it became evident that the weather was much the same as it had been on my birthday: yucky! It was cold and overwhelmingly dreary as we departed, and there was still no sign of the Rockies.

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Fortunately for us, the bad weather seemed relegated to Denver only, and as we headed along the skies began to slowly clear. Finally, the mountains began peaking through–some even capped in snow! (To be fair, it was still pretty dern cold.)

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We very nearly missed our next stop. But thanks to some Roadside America pre-planning on my part (pats self on back), this one came up on our radar. When we passed a sign for the first of several pit stops after initially suggesting we just power through, Haitham shrugged and said, “Why not?” I’m so happy we didn’t wind up missing Georgetown–it was absurdly charming.

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After parking in the visitor center parking where we got a few treats for our gang back home, we scuttled along the road to the downtown area, breath puffing out in front of us, hands tucked away in our meager coats to shield from the early morning cold. It was still early yet and the town seemed mostly asleep–however, we did spot a wee chipper hanging out in front of a bakery. Just look at its little hands!

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Georgetown had the old western feel nailed. Just look at it! It was almost like a movie set. Worth us freezing our asses off wandering from our car to the downtown area for sure, even if most of the shops were still shut for the morning.

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We drove a little further on to see one of a steam train’s landings, but we missed seeing an arrival considering the early hour. Still, the scenery was worth it.

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Eventually Haitham dragged me away from Georgetown, but it probably a total of 15 minutes on the road before we pulled over once more–this time for a scenic viewpoint. Yup! Scenic indeed. Jeez, Colorado. Leave some for everybody else will ya?

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I was thrilled to see we just made it in time for all the quaking aspens to change color. Aren’t they stunning? You could see them blanketing the hills in cascades of yellow everywhere you looked. I even got a necklace from Georgetown with an aspen leaf preserved in resin, a treasure I wore proudly upon my return until it fell apart within a few weeks of our return. Oh well eh?!!!

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After lunch in yet another ridiculously cute town–this one Grand Junction, Colorado–we decided to take a very quick detour to Colorado National Monument. It was worth it. This was part of a section of trail known as Devil’s Kitchen.

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I managed to climb up to peek between some rocks. Again, the view. Hard to believe this is the same state that also features thickets of aspen and pine forests.

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It was later in the day when we neared our final destination, Moab. But what drive out would be complete without a weird little ghost town? We had a very quick nosy at Cisco Landing, but when we heard voices and saw a wee campfire we decided it wasn’t so ghostly after all and got the hell outta there.

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Shortly after our route picked up alongside the Colorado River. After a few dozen more stops along the way just to take it all in (and try and get that perfect photo) we finally reached Moab. A kinda shitty Mexican dinner was in order, and staying the night in a quirky-cute, space-shuttle-esque airbnb. We hit the sack pretty early as we had a big day ahead of us: Arches National Park!!

Here’s a photo of Haitham and the car he very quickly realized wasn’t all it was cracked up to be for driving around the dusty desert. Still, it makes for a great shot dunnit?

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Tuesday, 26th of September

Of all the places Haitham and I visited on our epic return visit to America, the Arches was honestly one of the most jaw-dropping. We took so many photos–the weather was perfect, the scenery was perfect, even the quirky fellow tourists we ran into were perfect. It was an excellent day.

I should repeat again that we took So. Many. Photos. Because of that though, I’ll keep it simple and post just a meager few of my favorites. After all, if we were exhausted after seeing so many arches (we think 13 in total) in one day god knows how any readers of this blog would feel seeing photos of the damn things!

This was the scene when we first entered Arches, almost before the park even opened at 9 AM. The lighting was absolutely gorgeous. Because Arches isn’t necessarily the largest park, before long at all we had pulled off for our first stop of the day: Balanced Rock, the Windows, and the Double Arch. Bam, bam, bam!!

This is what we were greeted with–complete with one of the window arches in the distance. UGH!!!

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We proceeded from there to see so many arches. Some of the ones I remember best were the Broken Arch, Double Arch, and Sand Dune Arch. We did NOT, however, see the most visited, iconic beast of the Arches–the Delicate Arch. It’s featured on everything in Utah from postcards to beer bottles to magazine covers, and yet Haitham and I decided that due to the length of the walk out to see it, and its overwhelming popularity, we would ignore it in favor of ticking off multiple other arches instead.

It’s not mobbed in this photo, but still certainly busier than any of the other arches Haitham and I saw during the day. So I personally am fine with having given it a miss!

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It was pretty late in the day when we our arch enthusiasm began to finally peter out. We thought we could knock out just a few more and call it quits. Luckily, our last arch was a total stunner.

Ladies and gents, the Delicate Arch!

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Finally we extricated ourselves from the labyrinth of arches and desert to return to Moab, where we had a lovely (and massive) meal at the Moab Brewery. And yet, somehow, we weren’t quite done. Based on the advice of an old man and his wife  we met randomly at a pull-off along the side of Colorado River a few days before, we decided post-lunch was the perfect time to check out a trailhead featuring, yep, you guessed it, yet another frikkin’ arch, this one outside of the Arches. It was called the Corona Arch, and the hike up to see it featuring some clambering up ropes and steep steps and such. It was honestly great–kudos to that man, who I imagine had an epic time himself as he was towing a massive dune buggy behind his truck.

Here’s the Corona Arch, with a strong man for scale.

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Turns out Haitham even recognized the behemoth, from this video online:

Needless to say, we didn’t do anything nearly so exciting. And so our Moab/Arches experience drew to a close–honestly, it was amazing: 10/10 would recommend!

31st of October, 1st-3rd of November: New Tidings

HEY Y’ALL I’M STILL HERE, SURPRISE!

Obviously things have sort of taken off for Haitham and I in the weeks since we came back from America. Moving house does have a way of taking over your entire life for a while. But, with the internet re-established in our place, it’s time for me to resume my duties: a photo/blog a day!

Tuesday, 31st of October–friggin Halloween, y’all

Holy guacamoleeeeeeeeeeee. It’s Halloween!!!

Admittedly I felt a bit resentful at work that no one wished me a Happy Halloween. Me, the token American! At least one of my coworkers showed up wearing a spooky skeleton arm which appeared to be creeping out of her collar. Awesome.

No matter though, because boy were we in for a treat when we got home. I rushed in the door and straight to my beloved pan of brownies that I had made the previous night. I threw those puppies into some clingfilm, lit a candle inside my first ever holiday decor in the new house (a ceramic pumpkin), and turned the porch light on. Then I waited.

Before Haitham had even gotten a chance to set foot in the door, I had my first pair. A teeny weeny girl and her brother. The boy told me a Sean Connery joke. I thrust two brownies into their bags.

Haitham arrived home after, towing a bag of candy he was lucky to have gotten–the Tesco staff had been already switching over the Halloween stand into full on Christmas. Halloween wasn’t even properly happening yet. For the love of god, people. Don’t you know how to half price stuff here???

By the end of the night I was over the moon. We’d had around 20 guisers in total (guising = Scottish word for trick-or-treating), including toddler Pablo Escobar who sang a song about monsters through his tiny gray mustache; a wee girl who sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star; a few roll-your-eyes inducing knock-knock jokes; and a trio of girls who showed up with a weenie dog and westie in their arms, both also wearing costumes.

It was the best. Honestly, American Halloweeners should take note. It’s just so much more fun making kids awkwardly engage in a horrible joke for their treats!

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(Those are not my pumpkins, mind. I just stole them off the internet cause they’re frikkin gorgeous.)

Wednesday, 1st of November!!!!

And just like that, October is over. It seems like it passed in the blink of an eye: on minute we were flying out from Vegas, the next moving, and then bam. November.

I mainly stuck to the house today, as it was drizzly and cold and things were expected to take place that I should be around for, ie, the cable guy was finally coming!! Huzzah, huzzah. He was a nice lad (nice enough to warrant my giving him a leftover brownie saved for my coworkers), and in no time we were hooked up. But not with a wireless router mind you: no, that I had to drive in to Falkirk for and pick up from the post office. Strange.

It feels strange to have the internet once again. Admittedly I took full advantage by stalking through my Goodreads to figure out what books to feast on next, posting holiday photos to Facebook, and just general internet-based loafing from my living room Ikea pouffe.

I did discover the culprits for who’s been massacring my suet balls. I only just put them out a few days after moving in, and already we’re down to crumbs. I noticed a wee cheeky robin come for a quick snack, and ran up to grab my camera, hoping he would land on my gnome for a photo op. When I came back I was greeted with a whirlwind of feathers: a whole hoard of sparrows had descended upon the feeder! They arrived as a pack and left as a pack several times as I watched. I know sparrows are “ordinary” in bird-land, but I’m still delighted by their presence–and my lack of rat-phobic neighbors to forbid me from putting out bird feeders!!!

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Thursday, 2nd of November

Another day, another dollah. I didn’t take any photos and managed to stay busy enough around the shop.

But here’s a funny wee thing I noticed in Tesco on sale. I suppose this is the UK equivalent to Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

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Other UK names for American cereals: Cocoa Pops (Cocoa Crispies), Frosties (Frosted Flakes), and Sugar Puffs (Honey Smacks). Sadly missing from the shelves: Captain Crunch, Trix, and basically all the cereals I never would have actively chosen for myself but would in a heartbeat now just because I miss them terribly!

Friday, 3rd of November

Today I made a middle-aged woman at work mad when I asked her to stop screaming “NO!!!” at the kitten living in our break room every time it approached the door. This was during my tea break, after I walked into the room to hear her crooning, “Oh, good job, good girl” as the cat took a dump.

Literally. What is work even, really, except a place for a bunch of mental people to gather together because they have to in order to get paid?

This is also the same woman who, upon my first meeting her, said, “Why would you move to Scotland?” followed by, “I would never travel to America. The portion sizes are too big.”

So, there ya go ladies and gents.

I did take a photo on my cycle ride to work tho. Darn is it a perdy ride.

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Although since the clocks went back, when I come home on the same route it’s fully dark. Thank goodness for my bright front light and the current full moon which helps prevent me from falling into the canal going about corners! It was ultimate hard mode tonight because as I was coming back home tonight there were fireworks going off all over the place–it being the weekend before Guy Fawkes Night… remember, remember and all that! Hard to mind where you’re going when you have the attention span of a gnat and giant explosions are happening nearby eh?

 

22nd-24th of September, 2017: Arkansas, Denver

Friday, 22nd of September

First full day in Little Rock, Arkansas! Here’s a tubby kitty to start us off. Hilariously, Willow decided several times during our visit that Haitham was not her cup of tea. She would clap eyes on him, then within about 10-seconds of feline consideration, would dash at top chubby kitty speeds out of the room.

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And a wee’yin, blissfully unaware of all the Scottish tat he had been put in (notice small highland coo booties on his feets!).

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Did you know that Little Rock is home to the Cornbread Festival? I didn’t–and obviously I’m freakin’ devastated I didn’t time my trip more accordingly! They still had some good cornbread-related murals for us to appreciate, though. Here is a cornbread in space, summoning his fruit and veg battalion with a song.IMG_7241

Next stop: a visit to Garvan Woodland Gardens, which ticked all my boxes in the best way. I could have happily geeked out in the heat all day exploring every nook and cranny, but we had things to do, and Haitham later told me, “I’m glad we left when we did. I had enough of seeing flowers and stuff.”

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Ladies and gentleman, I think a divorce is imminent. Well, I obviously enjoyed myself immensely there anyway!

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Despite what you may think though, just going to see a beautiful woodland garden wasn’t the main reason we ventured out. It was to see this thing: the Anthony Chapel. Walled in wood and glass, and with fully functioning AC! What a lovely thing. I can imagine any weddings that take place inside are absolute stunners.

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When our tried and true hosts had enough of the heat and flower-gazing and were appropriately full of Mexican food for lunch, they headed on back to Little Rock to give us some time to explore downtown Hot Springs ourselves. When we drove in initially I oohed and aahed out the window, thinking how properly charming it looked. But upon wandering through, it does seem to have less substance than Little Rock for sure, and had the sort of done-up air of a tourist town.

We did manage to locate one of my Roadside America quests: this truly magical portrait of a highschool-aged, dough-faced Bill Clinton. Worth the trip for that bad boy alone, folks!

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After we headed back to Little Rock and later in the evening, we hit the downtown area with our hosts to have some drinks on the town. I took very few photos naturally, but even the ones I did turned out semi-rubbish because I had accidentally engaged my shutter speed, set to sloooow. Whoopsies!

We did walk to this cool bridge though.

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And got to see downtown Little Rock from the river. Awesome!

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Saturday, 23rd of September

What better way to experience Arkansas than by going hard-mode? Today’s jaunt: going up Pinnacle Mountain via the East Summit Trail, basically 1.5 miles of scrambling up giant rocks in the heat. Nbd.

Just to add a little extra hard-mode on, cyclists had taken over the roads on the way in. One of them stretched out full-body in a very spot-on impression of a dead body in a parking pace where we needed to be; as a result we had to park farther away than normal from the beginning of the trail. The boys (smh) decided to hike through the weeds to reach the base trail. Us girls wisely decided to travel along the tracks. We both arrived at the same time, but guess who had less briar scratches on their legs??

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Although I did feel as though I was gonna die by the time we reached the top, reach it we did. The evidence:

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Thank goodness we decided to make our descent the “easy” way–down the Western side. Shoo-wee!!

That evening we took it easy, dropping off our rental car at the airport (some shenanigans involved there), going out to pickup delicious cheese and light snacks for dinner, and just relaxing for the rest of the evening. Not a bad way to spend an evening, especially when you have to wake up at the butt-crack of dawn the following day (whose idea was that anyway? Oh yeah it was mine). And so, more or less, our time in Arkansas came to a conclusion. We had an absolute blast though, and are looking forward to seeing our excellent hosts across the pond next time so we can shower them in hospitality (hint, hint!!!!).

Sunday, 24th of September

My birthday!!! The big 3-0. Which we got off to a fantastically early start at around 4 am to reach the airport, waking up everyone in the house in the process. (Was this really my idea??)

Thankfully, being up so damned early meant we were landing at 11 AM in Denver, Colorado. I have very fond memories of the place from my only visit there once before–being able to see the Rockies in the distance, the sun shining down, the clean and pretty streets.

And yet Denver totally had other plans for us on this day.

Our first (and possibly only clear view) of Denver that day upon descent.

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Having been spoilt with the sunny, unseasonably summer-like weather so far in Tennessee and Arkansas, I was super disappointed to find out that Denver was experiencing Scotland-like weather. It was cold and dismal, with visibility next to nil everywhere you looked. Trying to make the best of it, we determinedly hit the streets to have as best of a wander as we could. And indeed, we did run into some things along the way.

Like this guy here.

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And we saw some local fauna. Which we proceeded to feed bits of pocket-granola right in front of some parked cops. #thuglife Apparently they are called fox squirrels because of the red in their fur. Adorable, and squishy-fat!

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Here’s one taking a wee snack from Haitham’s hand, something he’ll probably dream about forever considering his love for squirrels. He seriously follows a pet squirrel on instagram. Little does he know what the reality of having a squirrel is actually like!

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This is basically what the whole of Denver looked like the entire day. What you don’t see here is the overabundance of homeless folk that seemed much more numerous than I recalled, and a surprising lack of tourists–guess we were some of the only numpties who just had to tour Denver on a horrible day!

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We even eventually abandoned the idea of finding birthday donuts somewhere and just settled for cake in a cafe mainly because of how dreary the weather was. Inside there I saw this little guy, puffed up against the cold himself. Afterwards we abandoned ship, headed back to the hotel, where we stuffed face full of delivery pizza.

Happy birthday to me!

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19th-21st of September, 2017: Amish Kittens, Safari Shenanigans, Memphis

Tuesday, 19th of September

Our first full day in Selmer–we woke up in Henderson at our fantastically homey B&B, had a nice breakfast with our hostess Diana, and proceeded to roll out. But because we needed snacks/wanted to stop in at an Amish place, we popped in at Ada’s just down the road. Because… why wouldn’t you pop in at the Amish place? Homemade whoopie pies, veggie chips, and assorted other goodies in hand, we headed onward to Selmer.

But not before peeping some little third world refugee kitties hiding underneath the porch of Ada’s!

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Returning home meant hanging out on the porch for chat and iced sweet tea provided by the mum (and also layering Haitham up in bug spray, cause bless him, he is a delicious British feast for the bugs). When Dad later on showed me a photo of all the tickseed growing down at the gully, well, obviously we had to go investigate (Haitham and a pack of dogs dragged along in our wake).

Here’s the mum looking pretty as a picture with a posey of coreopsis!

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It was a warm day, again. Haitham was purdy hot–here he is trying to escape to the shade. Bless his Scotland-adapted heart.

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He wasn’t the only one that was warm though–so was the affectionately-named “Spaz.”

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Some time after our wander, we decided to hit up the multitudes of sights found within Selmer. First up, Dad’s office’s new location, which shares its home with none other than the Buford Pusser museum. Here’s Haitham Godzilla-ing all over McNairy County.

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Have you heard the story of ol’ Buford? Well, if you haven’t, I think this picture summarizes the important bits. You can just use your imagination to fill in the gaps.

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After working up quite the appetite learning about ol’ Buford, next up was the quintessential dining fare of Selmer: a slug burger. They’re honestly so much better than I remember them, and chatting with owner and total sweetheart Pat was just a total delight. Although now, looking at this picture, I can’t help but be puzzled by what a “Slaw Dog” is. I guess a return trip to find out is in order!

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With some time to kill, Dad and I took Haitham to one of my childhood haunts: the firetower. Haitham of course was appalled to learn that I was basically let loose here as a wee’un. But so it goes with a good ol’ southern upbringing!

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We returned home to relax for a while before hitting the long road to visit mom’s side of the family for dinner. Since Tennessee is basically the longest state ever, meeting with them anywhere involved a wee drive on both our ends. They were willing to make the effort, bless them, so we ended up meeting along the Duck River for a nice meal. I unfortunately don’t have any photos, as they were taken on Haitham’s camera and so far he is still busy hoarding them all like the picture-taking-dragon that he is.

So here’s another photo of the Spaz, this time giving mom the most adoring face ever.

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Wednesday, 20th of September

Our last full day in Selmer! Time flies when you’re having fun. With some advice not only from our airbnb hostess but also some of my hometown friends, we hit the roads with a gameplan. Our first stop: to see the Experimental Station in West TN, more formally known as “West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center.” Which, although it was another balmly day, was a total treat. A free garden full of quirky bottle-infused displays? Awesome!

Here’s the wee mom enjoying the bottle wall. (Admittedly, I forced her into the victory pose. She may not actually have enjoyed the bottle wall enough to do a victory pose of her own accord!)

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Even better, Haitham got to experience his first real field of cotton. (We now have a little piece at home in one of my jar collections!)

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However, our real quest of the day was just a spell beyond: the Tennessee Safari Park. Something my friends had suggested we check out, and honestly such a delight to experience. This was the kind of questionable, abolutely no-holds-barred sort of fun that one can only have out in the sticks of Tennessee. When describing the safari to my friends back in Scotland, they couldn’t help but shake their heads and marvel at the idea of even being allowed to feed the animals, let alone let one take a carrot from your mouth (more on that one later).

Having paid for the experience and rolling Dad’s trusty automobile (which was just a little too low for the rolling gravel road and may have bottomed out a time or two) through the dry, open fields, we were immediately greeted by a giant Bactrian camel sidling up to the car. We’d seen one in its own distant enclosure in the Blair Drummond Safari Park in Scotland and marveled at its size and two humps, but nothing prepared us for this massive guy rolling up to the car, looking for snacks.

And snacks did he get!!! Holy cow!!!! I could not stop laughing.

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These animals know exactly what’s up. They know your car holds buckets of goodies, and they know that if even if someone rolls up one window, if they circle around they may sneak into another open one on the other side. Eventually despite all our laughter we realized these (now two) camels were eating all our hard-earned buckets’ contents, so were soon shouting “Go!!! GO!!!!” and rolling up all our windows to escape the persistent beasts.

Honestly, it was like the fluffier version of Jurassic Park!

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We were also perplexed by the presence of so many empty buckets already littering the sides of the road as we entered. “People just chucked ’em when they were done,” was one suggestion. However, we soon learned the truth as a gigantic camel ripped the bucket right out of my hands!! Here’s one right after prying the bucket from Mom’s poor, defenseless hands. Tricky buggers, those camels!

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One by one we all learned the hard way that these animals and their big brown eyes were not to be trusted. Mom and I both lost to different camels. Haitham lost to the creature below: a common eland! I managed to catch it in its lippy act.

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Somehow though, he didn’t even have the decency to look ashamed!

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I think the real treat for me of this entire spectacle was rolling up to this giraffe at the end of the safari enclosure. Dad had managed to hold onto his bucket, and we rummaged just enough of the camel-spilled crumbs in the car to provide a wee offering to this guy. She swooped her long, elegant neck down my way and very gently scooped up the remnants with her freakish giraffe tongue. It was awesome! To think that at Blair Drummond we felt so lucky to even peep a giraffe looking suspiciously out from its enclosure before disappearing back inside within moments. Here, we rolled open the sun roof and the camera shutter was positively flying!

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Naturally that wasn’t all, though. Once we’d pulled the car out of the “safari” bit I spotted a sign for slices of carrots inside the gift shop, specifically for another giraffe outside. Hygiene aside, Dad couldn’t resist feeding it with his mouth when a sign nearby challenged brave-hearted safari attendants to try it out.

Here’s Haitham getting a little giraffe lick to his beard. Just look at that tongue! What the actual heck.

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What a day, y’all! Thanks again Mom & Dad for the special treat–we had such a jolly good time with y’all. ❤ Can’t wait to see you both again!

Thursday, 21st of September

Our last morning in Henderson rolls around. Diana, our total sweetheart of an airbnb hostess, had kindly made us an eggy casserole to send us on our way (and then painstakingly wrote out the recipe for us as we sat chatting in the morning). We discussed our plans for the rest of the trip while also keeping an eye out the window. I’d noticed a mostly empty hummingbird feeder outside the morning before; despite its contents, a determined little hummingbird was still defending its treasure. I’d only mentioned spotting it in passing to Diana, but lo and behold, attentive and excellent hosts that they were, she and her husband promptly went out and filled it up–so we spotted our little friend first thing in the morning! Ugh, cute little stinkers–how I miss them in Scotland!

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We hit the road before the morning got completely away from us–our GPS set first for Memphis for a pit-stop, then onward to Arkansas right across the river. Along the way we decided obviously stepping foot on Beale Street was the thing to do; also, we needed to pick up some bourbon to bring back with us.

Of course no stop at a liquor store would be complete without seeing some Jesus on the horizon.

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After our bourbon stop, we headed towards the downtown area. I don’t think it’s a place I’ve ever actively sought out myself, having only traveled to Memphis deliberately for the mall, museums, or airport departures. I thought it’d be a shame if Haitham didn’t get to experience it even in a small way, and sure enough we did. We trekked along Beale Street marveling at just how touristy it was–nothing authentic or original to the place to be seen. However, when we’d walked less than a few blocks away to reach our lunch stop, we were immediately in a sketchy, run-down neighborhood, one in which our big cameras felt incredibly conspicuous. A man across the street began shouting something as us from a distance; we nervously picked up the pace. The man eventually caught up with us despite our efforts to ignore him as we waited at a stoplight. “We’re not all bad,” he said to us after apparently freaking us the hell out for no reason at all, and tossed some “God bless”es out as we walked away.

I would say lunch was totally worth it though. We got some portobello BBQ burgers (closest thing to veggie BBQ I could find!) and the most amazing banana pudding I’ve ever had. As we headed back to the car after, we stumbled upon the hotel that MLK was shot at, now preserved as a civil rights museum. I wasn’t expecting to see that at all.

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We had no issues retreating back to the car and it was only a few more hours’ worth of travel when we pulled up in the tree-lined, quintessentially American neighborhood Jessica lives. (Haitham totally ate it up; admittedly it was really stinkin’ cute.) Upon pulling up a wee lass ran out to greet me–how big June has gotten, who last I saw at age 3!

In no time at all we had lugged all our stuff inside (June attempted pulling in my massive suitcase, which was probably about 10x as heavy as she is) and all the gifts that I’ve been accruing were slung every which way and direction. Unsurprisingly the one Haitham complained about taking up the most space in the suitcase was the biggest hit–a face painting kit for June!

In no time at all the wee artiste was doing her thing. I even went to dinner with a massive rainbow on my face, as you do. Dinner happened to be at the restaurant I’d spied on Roadside America, and true to their description, my fried pickles arrived via tiny train car running all along the walls. Amazing. And those fried pickles tho. Mmmm, mmm!

Back home it was time for Jessica to face the music and the wee artiste to flex her abstract muscles, this time making a… was it a puppy face? I’m not really sure, but the mustache really brought the whole thing together, for sure.

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Oh yeah. Them’s some good lookin’ gals right there!

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