Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Balmy trip to Norway...including gluten free eating

At the beach on the Oslo fjord in Norway

Oslo, Norway

The Scream by Edvard Munch.
I am an American of Norwegian and Swiss descent (as in my family came here around 1900, so we are only 4 or 5 generations of Americans).  I grew up hearing my grandparents speak Norwegian and eating Scandinavian foods (in the Midwest- Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas, especially have TONS of Scandis)and you could buy this stuff in any grocery store.  Every wedding had polka music/dancing, my grandfather played the accordion, and rosemaling was ubiquitous.  When I moved to Southern California after college (where Mariachi bands and Southwestern food is common), for the first time, nobody could pronounce my last name and I couldn't find lefse in the supermarket.  It was the first time I realized that my Scandinavian customs were not common throughout the U.S.  There was a dearth of Scandinavian people where I lived, and it was a culture shock.

Having already traveled to Switzerland, I've always had a desire to look up my roots and go to Norway.  I'm glad I waited to try Ancestry website, because now there is so much on my family tree (painstakingly researched from my relatives, no doubt)!  I did a bit more digging and found that my great-grandma's farm where she grew up was near Lillehammer and she also lived in Bodø, a fjord area.  So, my Marine and I took a week (while we are still on the E Coast, closer & less jet lag) to visit Norway.  (In preparation, we watched the acclaimed Lillehammer series on Netflix- about a New York mobster who ratted and chose to relocate to Norway since he remembered how beautiful the women and country were from the Lillehammer Olympic Games on TV).

I've always heard about and believed Norway's fjords should be on every traveler's BUCKET LIST.  This trip reaffirmed that!  Plus, had I known it would be between 65-76 degrees F, I would have gone much sooner!  The long hours of sunlight were fantastic, since (unlike the U.S.) museums were open past 5PM, and parks with sculptures until 11!  It was a tourist's dream.  Well, except for the price.  Norway is one of the world's richest countries (it didn't go in for the whole Euro thing, and avoided the whole financial crisis), and it is quite pricey.  To stay at airbnb in one room of someone's home it was $125/night (incl taxes,fees), and a tea was $6, and chicken fingers at TGIFridays were $33 (we didn't get them).  But, Norway is the most efficient place I've ever traveled (everything on time and easy to navigate- perhaps because it's lead by a woman, lol)!

ITINERARY:  Flew to Oslo (museums,Syttende Mai parade, fjord, ferry to peninsula for more museums, parks) for a couple days, then Norway in a Nutshell*highlight- recommend the comfort car upgrade*train/flomsbana/ferry tour to Gudvagen (Naerefjord and Sonjefjord), 1 hour bus to Voss (1 night motel stay on fjord), then kayak one day on Hardangerfjord/Eidfjord *highlight*, then 1 hour bus to Bergen (gem city, known for Rainbow-row like beauty and rain, great shopping,dining,*funicular tram, *Lungegardsvana Park) for a couple days, then take $20 flight back to Oslo for last night before home. 

FJORDS:  The fjords were majestic, dynamic (constantly changing views as you moved along past one folded ridge to reveal a waterfall, etc.), and they just called to be photographed.  The 2-3 hour fjord cruises and Norway in a Nutshell (a must-do tour that combines a train and ferry- buy minipris for discount) were the first time I've been somewhere where EVERYONE is taking pictures constantly, without sitting down.  As soon as you see a waterfall, then it's gone (another fold in the landscape or a tunnel on the train closes the view like a curtain) so you have to be quick, but then there are up to 200 waterfalls on a fjord, so you just catch the next one.  There are green layers of trees below snow-topped layers, and hamlets/villages (with grass-roofed houses) in-between.  Kayaking on the fjord was something I will NEVER FORGET.  It was a "pinch-me" moment.  The waterfalls were so numerous, and the landscape was so gorgeous.  Fjords are narrow, so you are surrounded by the beauty, 360 degrees.  It was so warm out, but on one of the scenic train stops as the train ascended, it was snowy and people were skiing.  We threw snowballs and saw a dogsled team running.

  • reindeer pelts for sale
  • ski-skaters 
  • Røss- high school graduation right of passage 3 week spectacular participants all over
  • natives rarely dine out in resaurants, so they are mostly empty, even in downtown of cities and our host said that's what he envies the most about Americans, eating out cheaply and frequently w/friends
  • police- they don't carry guns
  • shower/washing machine bathroom setup: small, weird to have it all together w/shared floor
  • grass (turf) roofed houses
  • although there was some graffiti in cities, it was very clean (compared to Europe in general)
  • efficient lockers, even see-thru ones at museums everywhere to store your stuff while you tour
  • we never had to wait! when we got off a ferry, the bus was waiting there, for example.  Everything is VERY efficient and you don't have that "hurry up and wait" feeling common to travel.  There are tunnels to make travel through the watery fjords efficient, and even the rural roads are wide enough for tour buses.  Plus, there are no "siestas" or poorly-timed business closings tourists find annoying and they have dinner early, like Americans do 

LANGUAGE:  I had taken 10 Norwegian lessons, but the Norwegians all speak perfect English and were perplexed as to why I would attempt to speak Norwegian when they spoke English so easily (efficiency culture).  The language, although Germanic, sounded sing-songy and very lovely.  People were shocked to hear me say even the smallest phrases in Norwegian, but I could tell my pronunciation was not up to par.  They did assume my Marine (a red-head) and myself were Norwegians and would be surprised when we spoke English, especially in non-touristy areas.

Of course, I loved BAKEFRI, the 100% gluten free bakery/deli in Oslo.  I ate gluten free waffles every day (they eat them cool with brown cheese ((very popular, I loved it! Tastes like butter with a kick)) or jam) and danishes, cakes, sandwiches (freshly baked gf baguettes), quiche, brownies, and soups.  You can pre-order gluten free lefse.
Peppe's Pizza was a tourist trap, but alas, they had gf pizza.  It was ok.  $40 for a personal size pizza.
Burger King- had gluten free burger buns and preparation, a whopper alone was $15, but yummy.
Cafe Celsius- Lovely, upscale outdoor dining in the perfect 70 degree weather- a few gf menu notations-gluten free mussels with sauce, gf chocolate mousse, and strawberry sorbet.
*many museums and cafes had gluten free cakes, muffins, and desserts and most Norwegian people had a good understanding of what gluten free is and which foods were gluten free.

GUDVAGEN- after the fjord ferry cruise from the Nutshell tour, there is a store and cafe, where you eat right on the fjord and they had gluten free chicken, rice, and salad plate.  What a pleasant surprise.

Baker Brun- the chef whipped up a made-to-order sandwich (I chose shrimp and cucumber) on gluten free bread with poppyseed crust- yummy!
Pengvinen- hipster/quirky affordable Norwegian food restaurant with 3 or 4 gf menu options: horse, whale, etc.  I got the whale (to try Norwegian fare) and it was tasty, but chewy.  A little went a long way.  My bf had the fish stew and enjoyed it, but he said he still prefer's Shepherd's pie (he is of Scottish ancestry).
Bryggenstuen- upscale, traditional interior- you can request to sit upstairs for a great view of fjord- I had a burger on gf bun, and my bf (not a celiac) had a gluten burger and we both got sick.
Rimi supermarket- had LOTS of gluten free foods that I stocked up on to take with me during the museum days and the airport/flight home, such as ham, Schar buns, brown cheese, a fake gf Kit-Kat.  We often had picnic lunches at our favorite park, Lungegardsvana, where there was often music playing and a lovely fountain and scenery.



SYTTENDE MAI 200th Constitution Day Parade and Celebration:  We saw the royal family and the parade of children dressed in the traditional bunads (similar to Scottish kilts, the designs vary by region).  Norwegians eat lots of hot dogs (often wrapped in lefse instead of buns) and ice cream on this day, and eat out in restaurants (which is not common in everyday life).  Little girls in the parade had dolls dressed in matching bunads, which was so cute.

Akerhus Fortress- active military installation- dungeon, church, canons, ancient swords, military museum, WWII Resistance Museum

National Gallery:  "The Scream" by Edvard Munch and lots of big-time artwork (Norway $$$)
Opera House- it's shaped like an ice berg and you can walk on top of the exterior of the building- it has a restaurant in there, too.
Bygdoy Peninsula (by 20 min ferry):  Folk Museum *STAVE church, wow!!, an outdoor museum of real buildings from different regions& centuries relocated to this site for all to tour
Viking Ship Museum- 3 well-preserved actual Viking ships that had been buried in funeral mounds with Viking people for use in the afterlife.  Their burial in mud preserved them perfectly since 700-900AD to be dug up in 1960's in a farmer's field!
Akerbrygg- bar/restaurant strip on water with grassy areas, benches, and small beach
Cathedral on Karl Johan Plass
Vigeland Park- lots of giant, nude sculptures, open till 11PM.  We saw Night Ravens- citizen patrol that were made fun of on Netflix show (Norwegian police do not even carry guns!)
Røss- Teenagers (high school seniors) ride around in custom, theme-painted party buses and walk around drinking (age 18 can drink wine and beer) and handing out silly photo "business cards" in a 3 week pre-graduation celebration (this was also on Netflix show Lillehammer)
Finse- stop on train where there was snow, dog-sledders, skiers

BERGEN:  (we were lucky it only rained lightly a few hours one day!  It's notorious for rain, but it's the most beautiful city!  It's on the water and the houses are so lovely, like a more prolific, earth-toned version of Rainbow Row in Charleston)

shopped at Bergen District- Norway famous for wool sweaters/snowflake designs, we bought a reindeer pelt-- apparently if you tour in winter you can hike & camp and they are super warm
saw a church still standing from 702 AD
saw WWII communication hideout
Hanseatic Museum- cool to see origianal ROSEMALING on walls (see link above)
Funicular tram- AMAZING view overlooking the city and fjord.  
Saw everyone swimming and using tinfoil "grills" to have barbeques in the park
saw opening of Music Fest with "Sissel" the singer from Lillehammer Olympics&hip hop dancers
Kode Museums (Four different buildings) with tons of Edvard Munch art, furniture, silver, etc.


We stayed at an airbnb with a 24 y.o. native Norwegian kid in Oslo.  The stylish flat was in a great location near the Sentral Station.  We walked everywhere.  The bathrooms in homes in Norway were small and contained a small washing machine.   The shower doesn't have an enclosure, just a curtain, and the floor is just the bathroom floor. Since they have no clothes dryers, they always have clothing drying in the living room.  Our host, Fredrick, was very nice and answered all of our questions about Norway and Norwegians.  He did, however, have lots of guests to his flat, so we wished we had known we would have to share a bathroom with that many people (we wouldn't have chosen to do so).

In Voss, we stayed at a hostel, but it was $175 a night and what Americans would call a "motel".  It was ON the fjord with a STUNNING view.  We were glad to have our own private bathroom.  The complimentary breakfast smorgasbord was all organic and delicious in the awesome panoramic-windowed breakfast room.  Close walk to and from the bus.  We also saw people ski-skating!

We LOVED the trip!  We want to go back and see the Lofoten Islands and Northern region, with more Russian influence, reindeer, and the Northern Lights.  The kayaking on Eidfjord, Nutshell tour, Bergen funicular view, fjord waterfalls, and bunad parade surpassed any expectations we could have had.  The people were straightforward and efficient, as expected, and the food was better than we feared.  We LOVE waffles and brown cheese!

I was disappointed that I didn't get to eat gluten free lefse, see my grandma's farm, or buy the bunad that we were able to identify in a bunad boutique that has to be custom made for me ($4,000 minimum for the embroidered wool outfit).  I think I might try to get my mom to make me a knockoff, since I have a catalogue of my great-grandmother's regional design now.  The scenery was breath-taking and the weather was so perfect!  The only ways it could have been better was if the people were more talkative with tourists and the prices were cheaper.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

PCS Military Move update

This is our 4th PCS in 6 years and I still like it.  This is the smoothest one yet.  Our wonderful, hard-working , well-tipped movers ($200 from our pockets) finished yesterday.  Currently we are living in our house for a couple weeks without our stuff as it travels across the country.  It's fun! 
We are camping in our house.  We cook on a few old trays and a pan (microwave gone, must use oven, stove) and will pack them in trunk of car when we ship it and fly over there.  We play hockey with brooms and a tin foil ball in our empty living room and watch Netflix on the iPad huddled together on our makeshift bed.  
There is a lot going on.  For 6 weeks the landlords have been showing our house to prospective renters (they are asking $400 more per month so nobody has bitten yet, lol).  During our house-hunting trip, the first two houses we liked were already processing approved tenants, and a vast majority of the listings (arduous rental  process in Orange Co, CA where rental homes have lock boxes and you need a real estate agent to show you and then submit a 19 page application, then wait for 2 weeks to see if they accept it) don't accept any pets, so the one we got unexpectedly comes furnished. 
This means we suddenly had to tell the movers not to pack most of our furniture and are now selling it via our neighborhood Facebook page and craigslist, along with my 2002 car, and his old Bronco and motorcycle (the military doesn't pay to move any vehicles, except overseas, and it's $800-1000 to move the one we are moving).  It's kind of fun- our Crate and Barrel Bar sold in 1 min on fb to our neighbor and our landlord bought our distressed buffet (for more than half what we paid).
We don't expect everything to go as planned, often the mid-move adjustments turn out even better than we could have planned.  As long as we are healthy and together, we can't and choose not to complain or use hyperbole to escalate common blips to nightmare status.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Friday {Re}flection

My apologies for skipping last week, but we put in our notice to move out and so the landlords have been bringing strangers through this house we rent.  They raised the rent a few hundred dollars for the next would-be tenants and have set lofty expectations of it in the ad so it hasn't been taken yet.  (When I saw the ad, especially the photo taken from afar so that flowering bushes appear to frame the house, I was like, is that the house where we live??)  I dislike having strangers walk through my house.  I wish the landlords would place a fair market and realistic price for this 1960's home so the madness can stop.  Alas....
Daily Diaries with Diaries of an Essex Girl

The beginning of May included the neighborhood ladies' annual brunch, hosted potluck-style at a neighbor's house in her lovely backyard.  Being gluten free and health-conscious, I brought Jell-o in little goblets, and was able to partake in the grits, fruit, and shrimp with cocktail sauce.  The ladies turned up on this warm day in bright springy clothing and it was nice.  I wore an almost flourescent maxi dress with a retro headband across my forehead.  My fine hair goes slack in the humidity, but what to do?
Brunch dress.  Love the dress, it's almost flourescent with pockets and a tribal braided belt.  Not sure about the headband, but my boyfriend likes it.  Sorry, I am not photogenic.  I look so annoyed, lol.

There seems to be a social divide between the ladies who have lived here many years and the ones who have only been here a few years like us.  I met a fun, nice, young professional mom who works for Cartoon Network who said I reminded her of an adventurous friend of hers.  I enjoyed talking to her.  Upon seeing the others and being asked repeatedly where we are being stationed next and telling them about house-hunting in San Diego got really annoying, but oh, well.  Everyone reacted positively about San Diego, but I must say some people showed facial expressions (my law enforcement background at work here) that revealed a sort of envy in a bad way, as if I had inadvertently "one-upped" them or highlighted the mundanity in their own lives.  Thankfully there were a few secure and balanced ladies who seemed genuinely happy for me.  I had wanted Hawaii or Europe, so San Diego was not my first choice, so I was not trying to one-up or brag.
My Marine took me down the road to the annual Lemonade Days in Dunwoody, Georgia.  They had a nice veteran's monument with a glass atrium of flags representing each military branch.  As soon as we walked into the tentapalooza area, someone shouted my Marine's name, and it was a retired USMC General whom we have come to know during our time here through his and my Marine's community involvement.  I felt the need to do a self-check to make sure I was dressed in a non-embarrassing way (no cleaveage, etc.) and was relieved that I was.  I scarfed down a caramel apple (gluten free, very fresh) and we listened to a really good band of gray-haired rockers play acid rock classics.

In anticipation of my upcoming Europe trip, I stayed up one night researching my family tree and ancestry to 7 generations in Norway and found my great-grandma (who died when I was 10 or 11)'s great-grandma's farm near Lillehammer.  It was cool to see some names on the census showing they had come on a boat over here around 1890.  There were a couple guys named Hans and lots of farmers, which I already knew.  Growing up, I heard my grandparents speak some Norwegian, but I never learned it.  I've been taking Norwegian lessons and I was surprised that I was actually able to read some Norwegian text online, for example in the book of farms listing.  My other half is Swiss, but I've already been to Switzerland.  Very clean and beautiful with Alpine mountains, lakes and timbered houses.

In Norway, we are planning to try out airbnb for the first time, see the jaw-dropping fjords, the Viking historical stuff, Edvard Munch's The Scream, the royal palace and a big festival with revelers in traditional attire, practice speaking Norwegian, and possibly visit a glacier and do some hiking or kayaking.  The temp will be 40-60 degrees, hopefully a welcome relief after the 85 degree humidity we've been having in Georgia.  We chose Norway due to my heritage (my Marine has already been to the countries of his ancestry) and because we wanted to explore a country that is new to both of us.
Me and my bike (picture taken in Virginia)

We hiked at Sweetwater Creek (see blog post here) and we have also gone to ride our bikes on the Silver Comet Trail.  I ride my black and pink beach cruiser with 3 speeds, ringing my bell when I pass children.  Seth has a fancy, expensive, high-maintenance triathalon style road bike that has the weird valves.  Last year we found a great air pump that converts to fit both types of tire valves.  Love it!

In preparation for our pcs (move to California), we've been taking out stuff from the attic and donating things to Goodwill.  I have some "nicer" clothing that I wanted to try to take to a Consignment Shop and PSYCHO SISTERS consignment went through the summer items and chose 6 things and wrote me a check for $42.  Not bad.  Now, maybe I'll try to sell some handbags online....
It's been hot and sunny, so I've been laying out at the pool.  I avoid tanning my face, but since we moved to Georgia my doctor told me I was Vitamin D deficient so I actually need sun.  I'm tan already and I've met some fun people.  My boyfriend (a ginger, aka fair, redheaded man who does not tan) joined me on Sunday and it was nice.  We have heavy duty SPF for him, and there was an umbrella.  He actually gets sunburned through the windshield in his car.
I also took advantage of a complimentary massage at the gym.  She kneaded me to relaxation!
Mother's Day Gift Scarf

Mother's Day Gifts- I mailed them.  We bought them awhile back at an art festival.  We often get the same thing for both of our moms, since they both like jewelry and handmade items.  One year we got them interesting bracelets made from fancy buttons, and this year we got them each a "scarf" that is made out of ribbony fabric.  We avoid buying them dust-collecting knick knacks and they don't really like spas or lotions.  Both of their birthdays are coming up, and I may make them paintings (I dabble in black ink sumi-e) or paint a ceramic serving dish my mom requested.

I have been a little slow this week, as I ate something (possibly gluteny?) that bothered my stomach earlier in the week.  My boyfriend has been out of state at a conference, so I'm looking forward to his return.  I have kept up my 5x/week workouts, including a 5 mile run on the indoor track and a 5 mile hike with the hiking group at Lake Alatoona this week, where afterward we ate lunch at Swheat where I ate gluten free chicken tenders (a bit dry, but a tasty honey-mustard sauce) and sweet potato fries.

May has several birthdays and other important events in my life such as:
+Military Spouse Appreciation Day May 9 (see my blog post here)
+Celiac Disease Awareness Month
+Teacher Appreciation Day (as a former teacher, I enjoy saluting other teachers)
+Syttende Mai (Norwegian Constitution Day- the second largest celebration in the world is in +Wisconsin where I have family, I also used to teach my students about our language, food, music, history, and traditions)
+Mother's Day
 +Memorial Day (where we plan to attend a local Veteran's celebration where the guest speaker happens to be a retired General who actually bought my Marine his sword as a prize for being the best at something when he was commissioned into officerdom).  Small world.

This weekend, my Marine gets back and hopefully he won't have to work too much.

Military Spouses Inspire Me

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not that enthralled with celebrities.  I don't buy gossip magazines and whenever CNN is airing "news" about celeb weddings or twitter wars, I abruptly change the channel.  Maybe it's the sociology major in me coming out, but I find inspiration in all kinds of people wherever I happen to be swimming around.  Listening to their tone of voice and word selection, watching their body language, observing how they prioritize their time...these are the clues that allow their values to surface, allowing me to read between the lines and see their authentic nature.  When you listen to the clues instead of the chatter, you can feel their struggle, admire their strength, revel in their successes.

Thanks for your help
As I've said, I didn't fully understand what it would be like to have the responsibility as the Commander's "other half".  But, before I came, the teacher/researcher/learner in me asked an experienced Colonel's wife about how to be helpful to the other spouses when I got here.  The important thing she said to me was to be open about how I'm dealing with being new to this duty just like they are or have been.  My opening line was often, "My sig other is the Commander, so what does that make me?  ...Unemployed."  And I asked the spouses here for help finding a job and received it from an awesome spouse in the criminal justice field and then I helped another spouse in the same arena.

Thanks for being a role model
The same Colonel's wife and her husband were role models to me in the way they were so genuine.  They were not condescending or narcissistic as one might fear they could be.  They actually were upfront about how it was a critical time in the Colonel's career, as he had been passed over for promotion to General and didn't have much time left to see if it would ever become a reality.  You could see how his better half was toughing it out and having the attitude of "let the cards fall where they may, we'll still be ok".  He ended up not becoming a general, and retiring.  We enjoy their holiday cards, explaining about his new career and their son joining the Marines.

Another Colonel's wife, also inspired me by being a warm, caring, strategic, smart, motivated leader of her family.  Her husband was set to retire after 20 years in the military, and he was struggling with it.  In a bad way.  But she had planned well and was finishing her doctorate degree just in time to take over as bread winner.  She was extremely busy and tired-looking (doctoral thesis, while raising kids and supporting emotionally struggling husband...I can't even imagine), but when she hosted the military families for a barbeque, she was the ultimate host and genuinely was interested in what we were all going through.  She was the epitome of taking the bull by the horns, making lemonade out of lemons (her husband...not a source of envy shall I say...), and working hard to make her career aspirations come true.  Eschewing resentment or ruefulness, she appreciated the 20 year military lifestyle that allowed her to be a stay-at-home-mom, world traveler, and student, and patiently waited her turn for a dream career, all with a sense of balance and class.

Thanks for being there
Simple things can mean a lot, and I truly appreciate the sassy military wife who, no matter where she moves, she offers a standing invitation to all the military ladies to coffee at her house on a certain morning of the week.  She doesn't care about rank, age, or which military branch, she is friendly, but real to everyone.  She complains, but in a factual, funny way.  She isn't fake or pretentious or a one-upper.  She says things like, "bitches get sh*t done".  And when I vented to her about another milso (the one-upper, mom-petitive type) who had repeatedly and relentlessly offended me regarding my choice to be a DINK as I just sat there, following the if-you-can't-say-anything-nice rule..., my friend listened and then reminded me about a special place for haters.  (It's rare for me to be speechless, and rare for me to have such a thin skin, but being on the receiving end of non-stop lashing out and judgement was really a shock that I didn't see coming.)  Update:  the offensive woman had been drinking, and actually apologized a week later, to my awe and amazement.  I happily forgave her, but she then kept being publicly rude to me, so now I just keep my distance. 
If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies.  **my surname translates to "butterfly"

Thanks for supporting your Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman, Coasty, or Natty Guardsman
My Marine has been gone this week, and I emotionally ate with gluten free cupcakes.  I have been with him through month-long European workups and a surgery, but not a full deployment.  I give all the props to the spouses and significant others out there who have been through long separations, injuries, and tragedies.  My sister-in-law didn't like Air Force life, so she persuaded my brother to abandon his dream of becoming an officer and get out of the military.  So, to those of you who stay, who embrace change and instability, who are proud of your service member's dedication and achievement, who stay true to yourselves and work toward the fulfillment of your own goals, Rock on!  You inspire me.

*This post is part of Epic Friday Linky Party

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Fake Picnickers at Sweetwater Creek

Me:  on the foot bridge

One thing I miss about living in California, Illinois, and Virginia is riding bicycles.  When we lived in Alexandria, VA,  for ten months,I chose to only ride the Metro or my black and pink beach cruiser bicycle.  No car for me! It was awesome!  It's too hilly in our Atlanta neighborhood for bike riding, so we have to hook the bikes onto the car carrier and drive them to Silver Comet Trail (a LONG trail that used to be a train track- it goes all the way to Alabama!) to ride.  I must say, as a kid I lived on my bike.  Since we couldn't ride in the street until we were 12 years old, we were fortunate to have sidewalks to serve as our bike path.  It's sad that we don't have sidewalks here in our Georgia neighborhood.
Old mill that was burned in the civil war.  

To avoid the bike-car transport hassle, we chose to hike instead.  We went to Sweetwater Creek Park in the southern part of the city again.  It was lovely, breezy, sunny weather, so many visitors were there, including a wedding.  Aside from wedding goers, there were many people wearing fancy clothes.  Women and girls were tramping along the dirt trails in their pretty pastel dresses and there were lots of families in identically matched clothes.  This is also common in Georgia, and it is something I dangle over my Marine's head in case he ever loses a bet or "owes" me in some way.  Matching outfits with me.  In public.  I haven't observed this phenomenon in other parts of the country.
Ubiquitous Georgia Dad and kids in matching striped shirts.

We also noticed a mom, dad, and toddler boy all gussied up near where we had stopped to kick off our shoes and enjoy the cool water.  We joke that the weekend "uniform" for Georgia men is khaki shorts, deck shoes,  and a polo or button-down shirt, and the dad was on point with it.  The family had a photographer lady with them.  It was sad to see the family go to a spot, set up a blanket as if they were having a picnic, bribe the toddler with candy to sit down, and then chat with the photog about where to move on to the next photo spot (a bench this time).  The toddler kept trying to come by my Marine and I, since he saw my Marine skipping rocks across the creek (it's a very full creek, with rushing water at parts) and enjoying the water.  We hope the kid got to play at some point after finishing his photo shoot obligations.  And we hope the family really does have picnics.  Like, where they eat outside and enjoy one another's company...without professional photographers.

Here are some of our pics.  Aside from a quick, "honey, turn around", I try to capture them as they happen naturally, without disruption of real life.  That's just our style.  To each his own.

Toes in the cool creek water.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Gluten Free One-Two Punch: Lasagne and Macarons!

Gluten Free Lasagne from Cibo e Beve restaurant in North Atlanta area.  Bolognese, ricotta.  Pretty good.  I'd order it again.

The frozen mini-macarons I buy at Trader Joe's.  Chocolate & vanilla, so yum!

Macaron Queen at kiosk in Lenox Square Mall in Buckhead area of Atlanta.  Excellent and made with almond flour!  
Once a month, my Marine gets home early (6PM).  And, like tonight, he promptly fell asleep as soon as he sat down to pet the cat.   I "accidentally" woke him up 15 minutes later and we went out to dinner at a place I've been wanting to try.  I found it on the "Find Me Gluten Free" app.  I review LOTS of restaurants on this app, which is the reason I rarely do restaurant reviews on my blog anymore.

Anyway, we did not have a reservation but were easily seated outside on the patio near the parking lot. Buckhead is full of parking lots and garages, so not so shocking.  Anyway, the service was friendly and knowledgeable.  There was no gluten free menu, but the server and hostess (as well as the app) recommended the lasagne, and so my arm was twisted.  I had an aperitif of Moscow Mule (Oprah's favorite drink) made with ginger beer and vodka, obviously of the gluten free varieties, and served in a chilled copper mug.  The drink had a slush inside and was not full very full for $10, in my opinion, but it was good.  The best one I ever had was in a posh sports bar in Chicago, but alas, Oprah probably goes there.
Moscow Mule in chilled copper mug just like Oprah makes.

The lasagne was tasty.  The sauce was very tomato-y and I could taste a meaty, bolognese flavor.  The cheese noodles, however, were the texture of tofu.  All in all, it was good and I'll go back again.  I forgot to bring along a piece of bread (Against the Grain baguette, anyone?), but next time I shall.

Afterwards, I wanted to hop over to Lenox Square Mall to test out the real French Macarons at Macaron Queen (a chain?) in a kiosk there.  It seemed a bit disorganized, with an abundance of flavors randomly mixed in bags of 3, 5, and 8.  I bought a bag of 8 but had no idea which 8 flavors would be in there.  After taking a bite of each one (classy, I know), there was a red one with a white and red cherry filling, a mango or fruity something that had a swirl of red on the orange color, a brown sugar or burnt caramel flavor, a white super-sweet one, a pink, and a yellow lemony one and...
My 3 faves were:  a green one (pistachio?) with lemon filling, a red one with white filling (red velvet?), and a beige one (caramel?) with crystal sugar sprinkles on top.
The most exquisite French Macaron I've ever had...it was at Epcot's French Cafe in  Disney.

Did you know real French macarons are made with almond flour (not wheat flour) so they are naturally gluten free as long as nobody cross-contaminates them?  Same with real chocolate mousse, creme brulee, real hot water corn bread, etc.  Like many French confections, they are difficult to make.  I've tried.  The pastry chef on YouTube said it took her a few tries to get macarons right.  The trick is to get the "feet" on the bottom (it looks like dried foam) and have them be slightly puffy and crisp on the outside and soft on the inside with a small amount of cream in between, Oreo style.  The Macaron Queens passed the test.  However, my all-time favorite French Macaron is from Epcot at Disney.  Ahhh-mazing!  Exquisite!

Gettin my Dance On at the Black n White Birthday party for Niese! I was the only one in solid white, Go On wiff my badd self!

Friday {Re}flection

Linking up with UK Kate today to share the past week's happenings.

Black & White Dress code birthday party was fun!  The guest of honor did a great job of looking surprised, although she admitted that she had an inkling about it.  She and her husband sat at thrones!  I danced a bunch, but my Marine was too busy conversing to dance.
    Awkward moment:  They had a photo area with a professional photographer capturing a photo of each group of guests (you buy the pictures after the party).  Being that it was almost all African Americans at the party (there was one Asian couple and us), the photogs must have had the lighting set in such a way that it ....didn't quite work out for us.  It was AWKWARD when they, cringing of embarrassment, showed us our pic and we appeared...well appeared is a strong word.  You could barely see us.  I believe they call it 'over-exposed'.  Heck, we looked like spirits.  Now that I can laugh about it, I kind of wish we'd have bought it before the swiped it away and made us take a new pic with adjusted lighting (at this time many guests were leaving and I think they may have presumed we were being finicky and forcing a re-shoot.
**gluten free note- the dinner was a buffet where I wisely chose to eat baked chicken, salad (no croutons) (Kraft dressing bottles were there so I could read label!), and fruit.  I googled Ciroc Red and found it was gluten free to drink.
Our Cat, Dahlia, with her stitches, as a result of Mr.Mittens attacking her on our porch.
Our cats enjoying the backyard, healthy cats.

Stitches.  They had to shave away her brilliant, shiny fur.  (The cats are brother and sister, half Russian Blue, which are known for their beautiful silky fur.  Hers is amazingly silky, a trait of RB fur, while his is the gorgeous blue coloring.

KITTY DRAMA:  Mr. Mittens (scroll to bottom for pic) is an orange tabby cat with white feet (hence the mittens moniker) belonging to the neighbors behind us.  He is talented, as in the way he jogs behind his owners on their morning walks, but infamous in our neighborhood for terrorizing other cats and dogs.  Our cats usually hiss him away, but Saturday, he ambushed Dahlia (we had just let her outside on our patio and seconds later heard screeching, only to look out and see Mr.Mittens fighting something, which turned out to be her, underneath him).  We chased him away, but she had to get stitches.  When the Marine found out his "baby girl" had to wear a kitty cone around her head, he was beside himself.  It was quite sad to see her banging around the hallway with it, trying to bang it off.  She did leverage it off once, but has since resigned herself to it.  A pristinely groomed cat, she is having a tough time not being able to lick her fur into it's normally ebony sleekness.  She is healing ok and we expect to take the cone off in 2 weeks.

Looking for hidden eggs
Eggs dyed with blueberries

Easter Loot

Sunday:  EASTER:  We enjoyed the sunny day in our big Georgia yard with our cats helping us hide and search for Easter eggs we hide from each other.  I dyed the eggs by placing frozen blueberries (I have on hand from making smoothies) and vinegar in the water while the eggs boil.  They looked cute!

Monday:  SPONTANEOUS BALLGAME:  I saw Chipper Jones (legendary Atlanta Braves retired baseball player) post on twitter that he was going to the game.  It was a gorgeous evening, partly sunny 70 degrees.  The game was to start at 7PM.  At  6:06 PM I texted my Marine (who usually works til 8PM or later) if we could go, figuring it would not happen.  Well, he said yes!  We arrived at the ballpark, got tickets at a deal ($17 for 2nd level), and were walking in at 6:50 PM.  I ate at the GLUTEN FREE CONCESSION STAND, which is still in section 112.  Each year the offerings are different and this year I had a Turkey Club sandwich (tasty and good texture, soft bread), a hot dog (yummy dog, poor dry bun), and a brownie (interesting texture, chalky outside, soft middle, good cocoa flavor, but not fudgy).   The game was tied and The Braves won in the 10th inning with a homerun!  I also learned Turner Field is nicknamed "The Ted".

Gluten Free Turkey Club Sandwich at Turner Field

TUESDAY:  I didn't feel well from eating the gluten free food at the ballgame last night.  But, I still did 50 minutes on the elliptical machine at the gym.
gluten free seared,baked chicken with salad and spaghetti squash (with olive oil, spices, parmesan)

WEDNESDAY:  WINNER, WINNER, CHICKEN DINNER    I exhausted myself during a 3.6 mile run in my neighborhood.  There is a big uphill at the end.  My boyfriend happened to be driving home and saw me running, lol.  So, he made dinner (we usually work together to make dinner, but he made it ALL and cleaned, of course).  He seared gluten free chicken thighs in a pan and then baked them with spaghetti squash and salad.  The chicken skin was SO crispy and delicious, he made it again on Thursday.  Funny, because we don't eat fried chicken, mainly skinless chicken.  Chicken is not my favorite.  I'm a seafood girl.  But this was FAB.
The Assailant:  Mr. Mittens

THURSDAY:  POOL DAY  I exercised in the water (G.I. Jane crawls, ouch!) at the outdoor pool on this 82 degree sunny day, and who comes over to me?  The neighbor (owner of Mr. Mittens who injured my cat).  She said she owes me a check, and proceeded to needle me about when I'm moving (everyone ALWAYS asks us that, since we're a military family, the same people here in Georgia have been asking since we got here 3 years ago, they ask every time we see them) and how long I've belonged to this gym (well, she did say it as if it's HER gym and how did I get in).
I had emailed her when our kitty went to the vet and she offered to pay half of the $315 bill, which was fine, even though I told her at least 2 more vet appts were required (follow- up and stitches removal).  However, she still hasn't paid.  This is the same woman who loudly (so everyone at neighborhood gatherings can hear her hospitality) says she's going to invite us to dinner next week EVERY TIME we've seen her for the last 3 years, yet she never has ACTUALLY invited us.  It's not our dream to go to her McMansion for a meal (anyone who is gluten free knows the fright incurred by a dinner invitation), but we feel awkward and annoyed like she's looking for appreciation for a fruitless, feckless even(?) offer.

FRIDAY:  We plan on a simple dinner at home followed by planning our European vacation.  This weekend I plan to attend the annual neighborhood ladies' brunch.  Anything else will be spontaneous.  It's supposed to be gorgeous, summery weather.

Enjoy your weekend! ”Daily

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Real Military Housewives of Blogland

Mal Smiles

Cheers to linking up with The Real Military Wives of Blogland hosted by Mal and Samantha today!   I'm so pumped to support them in their mission to dispel the stereotype of what a military spouse is by enlightening people with our actuality with an introduction, a blurb of our military journey, and one thing we'd like people to know about military life.

Raised in the Chicago area, below the poverty line by a divorced mother of 3 (she was 18 at my birth), I am the first person in my family to graduate from college (Bradley University, Go Braves!).  (My grandparents only attended school until 8th grade, but my parents finished high school.)  I was the only girl in my neighborhood not to become a teen mom, and was looked down upon by the other teenagers for not having my own baby, smoking, or skipping school!  

My mom always believed in me and told everyone I'd grow up to be a stock broker!  She and I always knew I was focused on obtaining a great education, helping disadvantaged kids, and moving far away.  At age 21, with a B.A. in my pocket, California recruited me to teach there.  I had a long, successful career teaching at-risk kids for 13 years.  I bought my own home at age 24, made a killing selling it, then waited until the market became more affordable to buy an "average, not fancy" home in my dream neighborhood.  Which, of course, is when I met my marine and, a year later, chose to rent my house out and join him on his military adventure.
Yes, I went into the bedrooms of convicted felons (yes, murders, too) to check for contraband.  Yes, I carried a firearm, handcuffs, and taser, among other tactical items.  Yes, I wore body armor.  Yes, I served warrants at 2AM and arrested people.  

Something I recommend for every military spouse/sig other:  In Georgia, I chose not to teach.  I have another degree, in Sociology, that I chose to use to become a Georgia State Parole Officer.  Yes, it was a 2 month hiring process of a criminal justice test, background checks, and a polygraph, but the part I recommend is that I went away for 9 WEEKS to the GA State Public Safety Training Center and my Marine had to MISS me, hold down the fort without me, etc., and worry about me (ie. during firearms training).  Our relationship has never been better!  I've felt a new sense of appreciation from him ever since, even 2 years later!      P.S. I knew it was wearing on him when the Sergeant Major texted me and asked when I was coming back, lol!  Guess he was a bit grumpy.

Click here for more general stuff about me.

(click here for FAQs)
After a year of dating during which we lived over an hour's drive apart (squeezing in dating around his training NATO troops in Europe), I did a trial move (I was not accustomed to living with boyfriends) with my grunt (affectionate term for infantry) to the East Coast while he was at Command & Staff College at Marine Corps University.  He had been under the impression he would be stationed in California for 2 more years, so he was nervous to tell me about unexpectedly being chosen for school across the country.  My stoic, positive, and sometimes excited reaction to his relocation bombshells is one of the things he says "sealed the deal" for him.  He had much more dramatic women in the past to the point where he dreaded sharing his news.

Since 29 Palms (Southern California desert) and Quantico (we lived in the historic and coveted "Old Town" Alexandria, VA), we have been living in Atlanta for the notoriously stressful aka "36 one-month deployments" aka "2/3 of marriages don't make it through these 3 years" that is Marine Corps recruiting duty.  This summer will be our 4th move in 6 years, to Camp Pendleton (San Diego, Southern California coast).

One thing people may not know is that some military jobs come with ACTUAL roles and responsibilities FOR the Marine's significant other!!  BELIEVE ME, I didn't realize it until we came to independent duty in Atlanta.  It was trial by FIRE!
The handbook I was given when reporting in as the CO's  "spouse".  Link below.

My significant other is the Commander of Recruiting Station Atlanta (15 stations and 105 marines that recruit the area covering a large part of the state).  The buck stops with him.  His boss, The Colonel, is in another state.  There is no Marine Base in Georgia.  He is the one who represents the Marine Corps by giving LOTS of speeches and attending many events.  He works 70+ hours a week and for those of you who are military you will understand what I mean when I say there are days that he is literally buried under a mountain of fit reps he must defeat.

Upon our arrival, there was a change-of-command ceremony in a giant park in front of City Hall where 105 Marines were standing in formation and the previous commander handed the flag (guidon) to my Marine, the new commander. The Colonel had flown in to give a speech, during which he welcomed me by name, and the outgoing CO's wife and I were given flowers for our service.  My Marine and I made a list of what our goals were for helping and supporting the military families of the 15 recruiting substations spread out all over.  
The Sergeant Major (a female!), Master Gunnery Sergeant, and their spouses and I became close.  The Sergeant Major asked me to go with her to do a home visit for a struggling recruiter's spouse.  I became part of the bimonthly PAR training and welcome committee for incoming spouses.  A few weeks later, the district FRO flew in and handed me this book, Parade Rest:  Protocol and Social Customs for Marine Officers and Spouses.  He gave a training to the FRAs and there was an entire PAGE in his slideshow presentation about ME.  The senior enlisted spouse also has a page.  There were several bullet points listing my responsibilities in areas such as fostering community and advocating.

 From creating a private facebook group to donating a mattress/furniture to giving a speech at the annual picnic, there are many tasks I have completed in an attempt to fulfill my role.  It would take a couple pages to list them all.  I was further shocked when we attended an event for the Montford Point Marines and The Commandant of the Marine Corps was present (with his wife, who also has many roles as illustrated on her fb page).  I worked full time and arranged my hours to attend events to support the command.  There is even a part of the station evaluation with a box to check as to whether the CO's spouse has undergone specific trainings.

I'm just me.  Being in a 5 year relationship without being truly "married" is a shock to some people in the military community and otherwise.  However, times are progressing and I've met Generals in the same position of enjoying a committed relationship without marriage, while their significant others are respected as such.  Some people cannot help themselves from implying that we should tie the knot, which I do consider rude, however.  Don't even get me started on the children thing.  We are happy DINKS!  Just like the Real Housewives on tv, not all military 'housewives' are married, have kids, have jobs, etc.  Diversity is something to be celebrated!

I'm still not used to it when people seem nervous to speak to me because I'm attached to their husband or wife's boss.  It's startles me when I realize that I'm 'under the microscope', such as when I stand up and turn to face the back of the room (because I've memorized the order of the annual USMC Birthday Ball Ceremony) for the arrival of the cake, and A BALLROOM FULL OF GUESTS take it as a cue to all turn around right after I do.  Once, some young wives/girlfriends scurried over to me at a ball and complimented me on my shoes.  I said, "You can't see my shoes."  They replied, "Oh, we saw when you crossed your legs at the head table."  And then there was the time where a wife was miffed at me that she and her hubs weren't seated with us at the head table.  And I was like, do people think I do the seating, or any of the planning for this ball every year?  I don't.  I do, however, answer to Mrs.  It's just easier.

So, while I'm sure many spouses out there have gone above and beyond what I'm doing, I just wanted to share my experience.  In some ways, we look forward to blending in and not being the Commander at his next duty as an XO.  But as an eternal optimist, I must reflect on this unique experience and admit the upsides.  It has been fun meeting the military husbands and wives, it's been awe-inspiring meeting so many retired and active Generals and their girlfriends/wives (the female General I met is unattached), it's been an honor to attend funerals of the fallen, it's been exciting to see young people sign up for their dream careers and come back from boot camp a new person, it's been meaningful to see my love give rousing speeches, and it's been humbling to see the sacrifice of time and unyielding effort given by these Marine families (many of whom did not choose to partake in 3 years of recruiting duty, especially when this 'sales' job has nothing to do with the Marines' real careers that often involve tanks or helicopters, for example) to make the mission and help these high school young adults achieve the title of United States Marine.

*there is an enlisted wives handbook called Roses and Thorns
*No, we did not choose nor want recruiting duty 

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