Monday’s Musical Musings – Playing with Celtic Waves

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The movers are here now, being very efficient, so we are trying to stay out of their way as much as possible.  My mom took the older five to the park, and baby is still sleeping at 11:18am (I should be too, but, alas, I was up at 8:22 for the movers.  This is my longest stretch of sleep normally – the part up until noon – and today it was 7:30-8:22, curtailed by about 4 1/2 hours.  Hoping to catch up with a nap later on…)  Now that we’ve finished a lot of the scrambling around – getting things out of their way that they shouldn’t pack – I am free to write up my post for the day until baby wakes up 🙂  I still have to go through the kitchen and our bedroom, as well as all the clothes in the house, sorting stuff out that we need to put in the suitcases, etc.  Planning on that for tonight’s fun activity 🙂

So a bit of a flashback today – I wanted to post about the concert I was privileged to play with a great Celtic band in Hawaii last summer – Celtic Waves.  They are a fiddle, guitar, drum (sometimes bass), harp, and flute.  The flute guy also plays whistle sometimes.  They invited me to play as their guest artist last July right before we left Hawaii, on whistle and smallpipes.  My smallpipes had already been packed and sent off with the movers to England by then, so I borrowed a friend’s Walsh Shuttle Pipes.  Pretty fun to play actually 🙂

Here’s a good shot of the pipes:

Something that made the concert so much fun was the friends in the audience!  We had a few couples from church – David and Evelyn Sinclair who are originally from Northern Ireland (hence: lovers of a band like this), and Doug and Julie Thurston (I think Julie took these pictures.)  Here’s one she took of John and me:

The first time I heard this band I really fell in love with their sound.  They perform each Sunday afternoon at Kelly O’Neil’s in Waikiki and every few months at Wards Rafters, an eccentric little venue near Kahala Mall in Honolulu — it’s the third floor of the house in which lives Jackie Ward.  She and her husband started it as a live jazz club way back when, as they had previously traveled Europe with his jazz career.  Shortly after opening their own venue, he passed away, but her son still lives in the house and helps her run the place.  They have live music several nights a week and run only on donations.  It’s really cosy, so you feel like you’re just in a session.  So much fun.

Here we are playing “Sally Gardens Road” and “Musical Priest” with me on a D Pennywhistle.  This set is one I often played with Doolin Rakes, so even though Celtic Waves didn’t play the two tunes together, they did for me 🙂  The Celtic music community in Honolulu is pretty small, so we all ran into each other at this event and that, and they had heard me play with Doolin Rakes as well as with the Celtic Pipes and Drums of Hawaii, and some solo piping.



Here’s another video where I play on the shuttle pipes – a rendition of Mason’s Apron into Red Haired Boy.  They sing a silly song called “One More Chorus” in which the band is begging the people trying to close up the pub (I think it’s some policemen) to give them time for “one more chorus” – and so the people trying to make them leave say “Play the Mason’s Apron it’s the only song we know” which is when we obviously break in to Mason’s Apron.  Up until that point, the song is a little hard to follow because the lyrics aren’t all that clear, and the music isn’t too exciting.  But if you persist (or just skip to maybe around 1:30 in the video), it gets better 🙂

So that’s about it for today. I can’t give you any current pictures from the movers because it is so crazy, but maybe in a few days…tomorrow I’ll do a trip report on Bath – with all the details instead of just the sketchy ones from the other day 🙂

Do any of my readers play an instrument? Play with a band still? 

What’s a city in the United Kingdom you’d like to visit? (I can do my next trip report on that city probably, since we’ve traveled through Wales, Southern Ireland, Scotland, and England in our short year here…)



Monday’s Musical Musings – no baby news yet!

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I may as well get on with our regularly scheduled programming since I don’t have a baby to talk about yet!!  John was bit by the “pregnancy craving bug” today in the same manner that I am usually affected — he was reading a book (Game of Thrones), and someone fed a whole roast chicken to his wolf under the table, and it made him want Kentucky Fried Chicken 🙂  So he quickly ran out with Claire and got us all some of that for lunch.  Yummy!  We keep thinking each night might be my last night of real sleep, so again he slept in the room with Greer allowing me to sleep in.  Good thing, because she apparently woke up crying around 5am, but with John in there she managed to go back to sleep til 8:30am, so that’s good.  I didn’t get up til after 10, having woken up a few times and then rolling over to go back to sleep. So nice.  Pretty soon here I’ll be up half the night, Lord willing, for a few months at the least, so I am happy for any sleep I can get!!

We have some fun musical activities coming up in August – but until I’m actually making music again once the pregnancy has passed, I will talk about the past 🙂  I’m sure by now if you’re someone who doesn’t know me personally you probably have read that I play the bagpipes.  I started playing on my dad’s recommendation –  which he made at some Highland Games in California when my family and I were there supporting John’s brother and father as they ran the “Armstrong Clan Tent” – about 6 years ago.  I was 30 and had just delivered baby number three a week earlier, and for some reason the idea caught ahold of me and wouldn’t let go.  About 5 months later, John bought me a practice chanter for Christmas, and I started going to lessons (for which my parents even sent money to help encourage me) twice a week with the Pipe Major of the Monterey Bay Pipes and Drums.  I have played the piano since I was four, and the flute since I was ten, keeping up with both over the years, occasionally playing for weddings, playing at church, etc.  So in about a month I started bugging my teacher to help me order a set of pipes, and at the same time he let me start trying to practice on an old set of his pipes.  Four months into my lessons I was playing my first solo gig at a Navy function on base, and then about a month later competed in my first Highland Games with the Monterey Bay Pipe Band.  I competed another month later with the band at the same games where, a year before, my dad had had his bright idea 🙂  Only by then, I was a few weeks pregnant with number four, and my enthusiasm started to wane 🙂

As soon as I had baby number 4, the desire was back, to practice and play as much as possible, and I marched in a Memorial Day Parade up in Rhode Island about 6 weeks after I had that baby.  We moved to Hawaii right afterwards where I marched a week later in the Fourth of July Parade in Kailua with the Celtic Pipes and Drums of Hawaii.  I played with them for the next three years, dropping down on my piping again when I was too far along in number five’s pregnancy to really pipe well.  I taught beginning piping lessons as well and really enjoyed encouraging people to finally get after their life-long dreams of playing the pipes!!  After being in Hawaii a year, I ran into an Irish rock band in one of the downtown Irish pubs, and after a few months of talking about it and practicing with them, I eventually started playing with them on Wednesday and Saturday nights at two different Honolulu Irish pubs.  I picked up the Irish whistle as well, in order to be able to play along with them on more tunes, since the pipes are rather limited in their range, and they only play truly in one key, and can play in other keys with a bit of discordance.  I bought a special pipe chanter to have my “A” be a true “concert A” pitch in order to play with the band, along with a clip on mic and such, since playing with a drum set and electric guitars meant we actually had to mic the pipes!!

Here I am with the band at our Saturday night venue – O’Toole’s Irish Pub in downtown Honolulu.  The other place we played was in Waikiki – Kelly O’Neil’s.

So I thought I’d link to a few videos of the pub band this week – Doolin Rakes, they’re called, after the Irish town of Doolin – and then next week I believe I have a few videos of the Celtic Pipes and Drums.  If you’ve known me a while then you may have seen some of these videos already through facebook or whatever, but in place of cute pictures of a newborn baby (now three days “overdue!”) these will have to suffice to make my post a bit more interesting today 🙂

This first video might be the only song some of you might recognize — It’s called “Shippin’ Up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys, a band out of Boston.  We taped several videos in June, 2011, about a month before I left Hawaii, so I think all four of these are actually from that night.

This next one is a slow waltz called “Si Bheag Si Mhor” – it has various spellings, but that’s one way to do it.

We really had fun with this one, but the guy holding my video camera was standing really close to the drummer and occasionally got too much of the drumset, and he sometimes just looks like he got distracted 🙂  There are two instrumental tunes on which I’m piping, and then the band sings “Rising of the Moon,” a popular Irish song, while I’m on the whistle.

One final tune – a slip-jig called  “Butterfly,” on which I play whistle and our bass player breaks out the mandolin.

Hope you enjoyed!  Better yet, maybe I’ll get to start playing again soon with another fun band like this in South Carolina, and we’ll have some newer videos! We shall see!!

Monday’s Musical Musings and a missed run :(


Going to run tomorrow, regardless of the weather – I promise! But today, after just about 4 hours of sleep, the cold house and freezing cold, rainy, gray weather outside (on July 2, mind you, in the southern part of England) was enough to convince me to lie on the couch as much as possible 🙂  [Note: Not complaining about the weather – considering the Colorado wildfires and the huge East Coast storms and all sorts of other terrible weather things going on – just chronicling it!)  Stephanie, our once-a-week mother’s helper, was scheduled for today, so I knew I only had to make it til 10am when she got here, and then I could relax (Greer got me up at 6:52am this morning, after I had awoken at 5:30am and probably didn’t fall asleep til around 2:30am — the joys of pregnancy!).  So that’s what I’m doing – relaxing 🙂 John left for Normandy this morning, so Stephanie is also coming 8-11am Tuesday and Wednesday morning before her other nanny job just to help me out to keep me from going into labor before he gets back!  So I will run tomorrow morning we she is here.  She just went to the store for me (and took the baby with her) to get a replacement electric kettle because I just broke ours last night, and it is the source of all my yummy iced tea that I drink all day, every day.  She also picked up a few groceries and a decaf frappucino to get me through to naptime today when I will be sleeping for sure!!

So my musical account today is about the Purple Ball which I mentioned we went to over the weekend.

What struck me the most about the evening was the super-cheesy music that was played most of the night. And it was FUN music.  It was so completely British in a way that I will try to describe.  I mean, there was a crowd sing-along at the end of the Royal Ascot races, and seeing Mamma Mia! in London means spending the last 20 minutes standing and swaying with the singing crowds of Abba lovers.  I know people tend to think of Americans as being more open and outgoing than the British – but when it comes to singing, out loud, and around other people – the British have us beat, hands down.  I went on that pipe band trip to Nice a while back, and we spent about 3 hours (they stayed down there for a few more but I went up to bed) singing, in the common room of the hostel, bothering all the young folks who were trying to get their drink on in the adjoining bar or were trying to quietly converse in the tv room.  One song after another – old Irish and Scottish tunes, patriotic songs, bawdy songs (ummm they also have bad hand motions to “Swing low, Sweet Chariot” that I could have lived my whole life without seeing performed by my fellow band members).  They even coerced me and the Scot who had lived in the US for a while into singing the American National Anthem.  At our band Christmas party two brothers who are drummers and probably in their 40s or 50s got up and did a silly singing skit, complete with props and the words they passed out so the rest of us could participate in the singing and sound effects when required.  It’s just a lost art in America, I observe, the art of making a fool of yourself in public without the necessity of alcohol, through song and dance.  My extended family always breaks out into show tunes when assembled, but I find this to be rare.  Think: Benny Hill – you know, British humor is just a bit different!  Here at Christmastime they have “pantomimes” – shows which have traditional characteristics: the baddie, the person dressed up as an animal, the goodie, people cross dressing, signs for audience participation (or they coach you ahead of time) when you’re supposed to boo the baddie or cheer the goodie, etc.  Lots of singing and dancing, and produced for children and adults.  The children’s cartoons are even strange to me, full of adults being foolish for an audience of children (I know there are a few of those shows in America, but there are many more here.)

Here’s the crowd enjoying a band:

So anyway, at the Purple Ball, they had two huge buffet lines, several bars going all night, wandering appetizers – and no formal sit-down meal, even though tickets were 75 pounds apiece.  And let me tell you, this worked well because people could start having fun – ie dancing, and singing their little hearts out to the tunes familiar to us in the US about….10-60 years ago!  You know – “I get knocked down, but I get up again…” right after “Come on baby, do the twist”, all sung by the same band.  They had 3 or 4 bands on throughout the night to mix it up, and the dance floor was almost never empty.  At all of our formal military events in the states there is a “program” starting with cocktails, then the sitdown meal, a speaker or two, formal and informal toasts given, and then dessert and dancing.  Usually we leave around when the dancing starts because a lot of the people are drunk by then and it’s usually around 11pm and we need to take off to get back to the babysitter.  This event, though, was just fun all evening – and was called “Purple” because that is the British military term for “joint” (ie: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, all together at a function) and the theme was the “QEII” – the cruise ship “Queen Elizabeth II”, in honor of her diamond jubilee.

The central ballroom was made to look like the place on the ship where you board and have the nice sweeping grand staircase up to the rest of the party.

This then led to some creative entertainment throughout the night – it started with a four piece jazz/ragtime band playing while we were coming across the gangplank, putting you in mind of the Titanic.

Then we transitioned into modern cruiseliner – Vegas showgirl type dancers.  Some of their costumes were a bit….showy.  We were pretty sure you’d never see anything like this at an official American military function without reading about it in all the newspapers the next day (yes, they were wearing thongs. covered in some scanty fringe.)

As part of the cruise theme, they had a “spa” which opened at 10pm where I got a foot massage 🙂

There was also a casino with play money, and, get this, a shisha tent.  Yes, people sitting around smoking some kind of weird tobacco out of what we would consider drug paraphernalia in the states, having their hot coals replenished while they comfortably reclined and relaxed.  I mean, wow. Just wow.  Any of you military spouses/active duty reading this — can you imagine this taking place at your next Navy Ball???

They also had an “Irish Bar” set up serving Guinness on tap, some performers from the official Military Wives choir that is so famous over here, and bumper cars in a pavilion outside. For real.

There were other outdoor games – giant Jenga, giant chess, etc – but it was drizzling all night, so we didn’t really venture outside.  The program for the evening ended at….4am with breakfast being served!!  There was a Hog Roast and a Lamb Roast – and they started at 11pm.  We left shortly before midnight, and I can’t imagine having stayed there all night long!! I guess it would have been superfun with friends and not 38 weeks pregnant (a lot of people invited friends and family instead of just attending themselves.)  We had a great time, though, even though we left early 🙂 Now I think I’ll go take my nap 🙂

Monday’s Run and Musical Musings…

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Just recovered enough from the run to sit up and “relax” a little while longer on the couch before getting to work on the homemade pizzas that are for the freezer (and for dinner tonight! Yum!)  Recovery included collapsing onto my bed for about 45 minutes while in the process of changing out of my running clothes, so sitting up is a big improvement 🙂  I just read a great blog post about monitoring your exertion during pregnancy over at nycrunningmama.  A lot of people (doctors included) are going off very far (30 years almost) outdated information (and where they got that from in the first place, I have no idea) recommending that pregnant women not allow their heart rates to exceed 140bpm during exercise, and not to exercise over 15 minutes at a time.  Someone my husband works with even had the random number of 26 weeks in mind and asked John, “Aren’t pregnant ladies not supposed to run past 26 weeks?”  Anyway, in case any of you reading my blog have been at all concerned about my continued running, please check out this post, as it is extremely informative, and all her sources are referenced.  [Monitoring Exertion During Pregnancy]

This morning I drove down to a recently found trail that I ran about 10 days ago and was looking forward to running again for increased motivation (ie escaping the boredom of my normal 3 mile route) – but when I got down there and started running, I never really felt that good.  It was tough to keep going the whole time, and my overall pace was 12:20 per mile.  I didn’t have any times during which I really picked up my pace, and I generally felt uncomfortable the whole time.  Perhaps I could have sped up, but my level of exertion seemed high enough at that pace, meaning that I was a bit winded and hot the whole time, and it was a pretty shady trail.  When I finished up, though, since I had driven out to the run I now was in my van ready for a special treat!  Meriwether was home watching the children, so I went to the drive-thru Costa Coffee nearby (first time to give up on my Starbucks and willingly choose a Costa because I wanted a fruity iced drink and had researched it online last night 🙂 )  Anyway, I got a Mango and Passionfruit slushy drink with lots of yummy ice for me to crunch on (I asked them to only blend it halfway so I could have some ice chunks!), a latte for Meriwether, and a sort of Moroccan chicken salad sandwich with raisins and curry.  By the time I made it back and upstairs to change, I was wiped out from the run and full from the yummy food and drink which is what led to my crashing on the bed for a wee bit 🙂  Now the baby is down for her nap, we just ate leftover lasagna, and I’m about to get started on the pizza-making party.  But first, I’ll see how much of this post I can finish in my last 10 minutes of couch time!

Today I wanted to share a few pictures and words about my time here with the Reading Scottish Pipe Band.  I have really enjoyed this group of people, even though they are often hard to understand, because most of them really are Scottish! I’d say it’s about 60/40 of Scots to Brits, and when the Scots all get to talking together, I truly struggle to make out what they are saying.  Our Pipe Major is a Scot as well, and when you add the strange musical terms we don’t use in America (anyone for a hemi-demi-semi quaver?) to the British slang and his Scottish accent, I am just lost 🙂  They were very welcoming to me, even knowing that I would only be able to march with them for a short time since I’d probably be pregnant while here, and knowing that I wouldn’t be taking part in events on Sundays.  I learned most of the tunes really quickly, they issued me a uniform worth about $2000-$2500 US, and they even started including me in little ensembles if I was able to learn the tunes for those special things.  This may be my only chance to wear “Full Regimentals” – ie the “Number 1s” I mentioned in last week’s post about going with the band to Nice, and I got to travel around with them quite a bit and experience lots of people and places that I think other Americans out here with the US military would not usually see.  Here I am in my No. 1s playing with a small ensemble for a Christmas concert:


I’m the second piper from the left (the shortest one I think :)) It’s now 10pm at our house, and we just finished up with the pizza making/eating/wrapping/stuffing into the freezer excitement.  Man am I tired.  I’m going to put up just a few more pictures from my time with the band and then call it a night 🙂

The reason there’s a brass band behind us is because it was their Christmas concert, so we did a few numbers on our own and then played a few with them (most notably “Highland Cathedral” which moved most of the audience to tears and a standing ovation 🙂  We had to play an encore of it!

Here’s a video my dad made that is just about a minute and a half of what our band practice looked like.  It’s us marching back and forth playing “Cock O’ the North.”  I don’t know how to embed a video from youtube yet, so I’m adding the link and attempting to post the video.

Band Practice “Cock O’ the North”

Why would my dad be over here from America making videos on his iPad of something like band practice?? Well, he also used to play the pipes (back in college) and is a lover of all things related to the bagpipes.  Here’s a picture of him back in the day:

Isn’t that cool?  We staged the one of me on the right so I could send it to him for Christmas this year 🙂  Speaking of Christmas, here are a few last shots from me playing with a few different ensembles at the band Christmas party.

That’s me in the boots playing “Steam Train to Mallaig” with a few others.  We got to see the train track that the steam train to Mallaig actually travels on when we were up in Scotland in April, and you may recognize this picture of a bridge it crosses from the Harry Potter movies, since they use a steam train on this route for Hogwart’s Express.

Here’s another playing a few tunes from The Nutcracker with a fellow piper (who is playing bassoon obviously in this picture, while I am playing the flute.)  And one last one, of a few of us playing “Hellbound Train.”  There’s a video floating around somewhere, but I have yet to get my hands on it 🙂  If you like piping music, check out this tune (“Hellbound Train”) on youtube played by any number of famous bands 🙂

The thing I like about band practice here is that we have a break for tea in the middle of it (only in England!!) We have our chanter practice first and then have tea and biscuits (ie cookies) for 30 minutes then play our pipes for 45 minutes, finishing up at 10pm.  If this were America, we’d skip tea and all just leave 30 minutes sooner – instead, the Pipe Major makes sure that the guy responsible for making the tea leaves the table a little early so he can have it ready on time 🙂  Like I said, a very fun bunch of people, but also a dedicated group always interested in improvement 🙂  All for now – probably Wednesday I will post photos from the pizza party tonight, along with my pizza crust recipe, but for now I will go crawl into my bed to recover from it!! 🙂

Tuesday’s Run and Trip Report – Nice and Menton, France


Been a busy day around our house, so it’s 9:30pm now, and I’m just sitting down to write this post! (only 4:30pm on the East Coast, though, so hopefully you haven’t missed it yet! 🙂 )  I started out with a 3.2 mile run in the nice, bright, beautiful sun – very slow at 12 minute pace exactly, but just what I needed.  When I came home the babysitter had to take off right away, so on her way out the door she snapped this picture for me  🙂

Looking and feeling every one of those 36 1/2 weeks! (Check out those chubby cheeks – and I don’t just mean on baby Greer!)

I’m not going to post a recipe today because I’m saving what I made for the freezer (and for our dinner tonight) for my post tomorrow.  This is because tomorrow I’m going away for the day for something exciting (hint: horses, the Queen, and a hat), but I want to save that post for next Tuesday’s Trip Report, so I’ll post my yummy soup tomorrow night when I get back 🙂

For now I wanted to put up a lot more of the pictures of all the neat scenes from Nice and Menton with the Reading Scottish.  I will throw in a few of the pipers for good measure, but it’s mostly going to be pictures of the other performers at Carnival with minimal interruption from me.  Hope you enjoy them!



Not quite sure what these guys were supposed to be — just some wacky dancers?














Beautiful ladies riding horses – and yes, they had someone picking up the poop so we didn’t have to march in it 🙂








Here’s when the Drum Major and the Caveman switched weapons – mace for club!




For some reason there were lots of guys there in drag, and they all wanted pictures with the bagpipers. (?)



Here’s my friend Karen posing with one of the float people – they wore these on top and sort of wobbled along the route.  We were right behind a display of multiple floats in honor of the United Kingdom, these soldiers being among them.

A good picture of the piazza buildings behind us.

This one is so you can see the float behind us — a giant caveman holding two women dangling in the air, by their hair.  Not sure of the significance of this float, but it’s where that earlier caveman was hanging out 🙂


Our Drum Major getting some poor innocent child back for silly spraying him.




I just like this picture of a spot where the crowds had cleared a bit 🙂



Kate and William were on the back half of the float (not the real people of course)

Another float that people were walking inside during the parade.

The next day we finished up with our fourth parade of the weekend at the Citrus Festival in Menton, France.  Floats were made entirely of oranges and lemons!







These feathery girls were wearing CRAZY high heels – and marching 3 miles in them. Crazy I tell you.



There was a large static display of fruity things as well –

I didn’t take my nice camera to Nice with me because we were really limited with space and obviously had a lot to pack in the way of our pipes and uniform items, so I stole all these pictures from my friend Karen.  A lot of the ones during the parades were taken by our “handlers,” who were kind enough to spend most of the parades snapping pictures for us 🙂  I can’t say much about Menton, because I basically only saw two streets in the town, but I LOVED Nice and would go back in a heartbeat.  Gorgeous place with Old World charm 🙂


Monday’s Musical Musings – and a meaty meal!

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I want to continue to talk about musical pursuits on Mondays if I have something to say, so I thought I’d post a few pictures of the trip I took to Nice and Menton in March with my Pipe Band, the Reading Scottish.  There will also be a quick crockpot meal afterwards, to keep any of you foodies interested hahaha 🙂  Tomorrow in my Tuesday Trip Report, I’ll finish up the trip with more specific pictures of Nice and Menton, but today I’ll just post a few of the band itself.

There is so much silly string being sprayed at all the parade goers during Carnival – the performers and the spectators alike – that we can’t wear our “feather bonnets” (made Ostrich feathers) when we march or they would quickly be ruined.  Other than that, though, we did all the parades in what is called “Number Ones” – the full Scottish Regimental Dress.  It’s the outfit you might be used to seeing if you’ve ever seen a pipe band on parade — the big tall black hat (but not in this case), the fly plaid, that spats over black shoes, a doublet.  In the states, though, very few bands actually wear No. 1’s, so I was pretty excited to find a band close to me (about an hour drive) while I’m living in the UK that wears them, has a busy performance schedule, and still competes in the World Pipe Band Championships and other competitions during the year.  I hoped to play with them this August 12 at the Worlds up in Glasgow, but, unfortunately for me (and exciting for them) they are the band playing in the closing ceremonies of the Olympics in London on Sunday August 13, so they aren’t going to the Worlds this year.  I won’t be playing with them at the Olympics either, though, because there are mandatory rehearsals going on all through June, July, and August, and I am due with my baby July 14.  I don’t doubt that I’ll be up and piping just fine by mid-August — but I wouldn’t be able to make any of those rehearsals, and I normally don’t pipe on Sundays anyway.  On to the No. 1’s in action…

That’s me, to the right of the clown.  This is the nighttime parade we played in Nice for Carnival (the second largest in the world behind Rio de Janeiro)  — We played one in the hot afternoon sun earlier that day and then recovered (me, back at the hostel in my dark room resting in bed – the rest of the band at a local bar all day) and met back up for dinner at 7:30pm, with the parade starting at 9.  It was absolute insanity.  Our first parade of the trip was the first night we arrived at the Citrus festival in Menton, FR, and that seemed a little crazy.  But there were barriers up between the crowd and us.  Then there were barriers at the Nice afternoon parade, and the crowd was probably a bit more subdued because of the heat.  But at night they really let loose, and the silly spray never stopped.  The crowds were loud the whole time, but they absolutely went crazy for the bagpipes 🙂

Here’s one of the Tenor drummers on the left with the Pipe Major, waiting for our afternoon parade in Nice to start.

Here’s the afternoon parade in Nice — I’m the second piper from the right in the front row.  That will be my spot in every future picture 🙂

The evening parade in Nice.  That’s our Drum Major up front, and you can’t see it here, but the night before in Menton some tv news guy with a video camera wasn’t paying enough attention to where he was walking and backed into the Drum Major, breaking off the bottom 2 feet of his mace.  Needless to say, he was pretty mad, and a fight almost ensued right in front of us as the D.M. pushed the camera man back into the tightly-packed crowd, and we continued to march, almost running over the whole scuffle.  Strange happenings!

At night, turning into the main piazza really amped up the crazy-meter.  Lots of lights from the video cameras, giant screens, tens of thousands of people….

The people in red were responsible for hyping up the crowd even more, and as we gained center stage basically, they escorted our drum major into the limelight and wove in and out of our ranks.

A good shot of the huge crowd – but most of the people were along the parade route, harassing the performers 🙂

With no parade barriers, at times we were essentially marching through swarms of people, all armed with confetti and spray.

This was the end of a very long day since I had started it with a 5 mile run along the boardwalk and then marched the hot, long parade midday, and then this long crazy one at night, all 5 months pregnant.  By the time we finished up with an even hotter afternoon parade in Menton the next day, I was wiped out (as was the rest of the band) as seen here:

So that’s enough about piping in France for now 🙂  On to the food in a second…

Today I had to take one to the dentist for a filling and then myself to a midwife appointment (iron levels are good finally!), so I deemed it a non-cooking day and will get back to the regularly scheduled program of stocking my freezer tomorrow.  So for now, here’s a recipe from last week.  We ate this when I was wiped out from all the cooking I was doing and from heading to the midwife and for a long run, etc, etc.  Having dinner come from the crockpot that night was a Godsend, and thankfully we even had brown rice in the fridge from a few nights earlier!

I made this recipe up with a bit of knowledge from previous recipes floating around in the back of my head and with the desire to use some organic cubed stewing beef that I had bought a while back and had in the freezer (and needed to thaw so that there’d be room for all my recent freezer meals!)  It turned out to be a yummy addition to my crockpot repertoire (there are very few things that we really like that come from a crockpot, so new recipes are always welcome.)  It wasn’t everyone’s favorite necessarily, but all five children and John approved enough to finish their food without much encouragement, so it’s a keeper.  The full recipe will follow the pictures as usual 🙂

If it’s not already cubed, cut up your stew meat into cubes.  Then you need to brown it in some hot oil before putting it into the crockpot.  For this step I first dipped (and let it sit maybe five minutes) the beef into a mixture of 

buttermilk and soy sauce, and then into a bowl with flour, salt, and a blend of red pepper and black pepper called “Hot Shot.”  The pieces cooked about 3 minutes and then I flipped them gently.

I then placed the meat into the crockpot and softened up the onion and garlic in my skillet with the drippings.  I also added 1/4 cup of sherry, some tomato paste, 1 beef bullion cube, all the spices, and 1 1/2 cups of hot water.  I let that simmer down a few minutes while I loosened up the meat chunks on the pan.

In the meantime I was chopping up a few carrots which I placed into the crockpot on top of the meat. I also added a drained can of black olives (another thing it’s hard to find in England – American style black olives.) Now it was ready for me to pour the “sauce” on top.

I’m going to kill some space here while I add the other pictures and say that this will end up being a saucy meat topping that you serve over rice (or, I suppose, pasta, but brown rice is the thing we used.)  So it won’t be a “stew” to eat in a bowl with a spoon.

Perhaps if you wanted to eat it more as a stew you could add potatoes to the crockpot before dumping the sauce over it, but either way, the sauce will have enough flavor that it needs a starch or it will taste too salty on its own.

Pour the skillet mixture over the crockpot, adding an additional 1 cup water, and cook on low 6-8 hours, or until your meat is tender.

I wanted to put broccoli in it as well, but I didn’t want it to cook all day long.

After I deemed the concoction “cooked” and had given it a stir and a taste test, I turned it to High and added the broccoli, cooking it another 25 minutes.  I stirred the broccoli in as well, so it boiled in the sauce a bit.  Here’s what it looked like before we served it:

I realize that the broccoli looks lifeless and overcooked, so I was worried until I took a bite and found it still as firm as I like it.  It was just the sauce giving it that dim color 🙂

Here is the recipe, for which I must now devise a name….

Sherry Stewed Beef and Broccoli

Prepare about 1 pound of stew meat:

Cube meat

Dip into mixture of 1/2 cup buttermilk with 1 Tbsp Soy Sauce

Dip into flour mixture of 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 tsp “Hot Shot” (ground black and red pepper), and 1/2 tsp salt.

Brown the meat in hot olive oil about 3 minutes and then turn and cook another 3 minutes.  Transfer the stew meat to the slow cooker.

Add to the meat skillet and cook until softened:

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

Add remaining “sauce” ingredients to the skillet with the onion and garlic:

1  1/2 cups hot water

1 beef bullion cube

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1/4 cup sherry

1/2 Tbsp toasted cumin seed

1/2 Tbsp coriander seed

1  1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp Oregano

1/2 tsp pepper

Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer for a few minutes.

Layer these on to the meat in the crockpot:

4 carrots cut into chunks

1 can black olives, drained

Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables in the crockpot along with an additional 1 cup water.

Cook on low 6-8 hours until the meat is tender.  Then add ad cook on high for 25 minutes:

1-2 heads broccoli, cut up

Serve over hot rice or pasta.

If anyone else gives this a try I would really love to hear what you thought!

Be honest – bagpipes  – like ’em or hate ’em??

Ever been to Nice, or to Carnival somewhere else?



Monday’s Musical Musings – Mumford & Wicked!!


Yes, yes, yes. It was Mumford & Sons. They were AWESOME. We loved hearing them so much, that I think I was enjoying myself at times to the point of finding some sort of wet substance in the corners of my eyes…yes, I am strange.

We moved to England late in July last summer, and ever since, I’ve been looking for tour dates for either Mumford & Sons (from south London) or Adele (also British, in case you’ve been living in a hole,) but have been unsuccessful.  Finally, for my husband’s birthday I decided to check “one last time” in case I could score us some tickets for a great birthday gift.  There it was! A tour put together by Mumford & Sons themselves, called Gentlemen of the Road, created to be sort of a “festival” atmosphere, celebrating some more out of the way venues – the towns, their people, and their food, where bands don’t regularly tour, including some more British bands along with an American or two, complete with after parties (where they promised to make some appearances) at a few of the bigger clubs and pubs in town.  What a fun time!  We only planned on going to the concert, though, since we needed to get up the next day to drive home and then into London.



There were a few options for the tour dates and towns – but all were at least 3 hours from us, so we needed to make a weekend of it (which sounded fun to us!)  After my run and a shower and a relaxing room service lunch, we headed over to the festival around 4, not knowing what time Mumford would be on.  We headed straight to the Merchandise Tent to look for long sleeves because it was a bit chilly and threatening rain.  Then we set up our blanket and waited, listening to the other bands and just relaxing 🙂



See the blanket?  It later on became our saving grace as it started raining and the temperature continued to drop.  For a while we were sitting on the blanket with it wrapped around us, huddled together for warmth with the umbrella shared over the top.  Plenty of poor folks had no umbrellas, and no blankets, so there were lots of walking trashbags going around.  By the time Mumford took the stage at 9pm, the rain had stopped, but we stayed wrapped together in the blanket, this time standing up for the show.

I took a few pictures of some odd ones walking around – my husband saw them later getting photos with the band, out of their makeup and costumes, so apparently they are part of the tour…







This is the “Town Crier,” an official position in English towns still in existence today – not some guy dressed in a costume just for this show.  He dresses in this getup every time there is some sort of significant event in the life of a town and rings that bell to announce things (We saw several Town Criers from surrounding towns at the ceremonies last fall when they turned a nearby village into “Royal” Wootten Basset, with Princess Ann in attendance.)

So then came the band.  It was such a fun concert because the audience was there to love the band and to sing at the top of their lungs along with the band, and to dance, and jump, smile, and shout.  The sound was perfect, too, where it wasn’t overwhelmingly loud (since we were outdoors) but so that you could still hear that everyone was singing along.  They did a great job on stage, and everything sounded like we were used to hearing 🙂  They played some new songs, too, which we enjoyed a lot.  Here a few good shots my husband got of the band:



Here’s one where you can see the brass instruments and the violin as well 🙂


So that was it for Saturday night.  My other “BIG DEAL” musical experience for Monday happened to be going to see Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theater with Meriwether!  It was our first time to see it, and my husband watched the children back at the flat so we could have an enjoyable time.  It was a really neat show, and one I would recommend.  More pictures on tomorrow’s Tuesday Trip Report, but for now, here we are outside the theater:

Tuesday Trip Report – Windsor and Eton

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I was thinking about a few themes for posting on the blog each day and decided that since we travel quite a bit, and have travelled tons in the past, Tuesdays would be a good day to give trip recaps.  We’ve been living in the UK since the end of July last summer and will probably be moving back to the Mainland US in August of this year, so we have been trying to squeeze in huge amounts of sightseeing this year.  Now that I’m almost 34 weeks pregnant, our travels will be slowing down, so I will probably recap a trip from the past year in each post rather than a new visit, although this week, I actually have a recent excursion to post about – yesterday’s visit to Windsor Castle!

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to successfully post pictures within this post, or if I’ll have to make separate posts, but either way, we’ll get some neat shots up for your viewing pleasure 🙂  Today started off nicely with a 3 1/2 mile run, accompanied by my lovely new friend Meriwether who is visiting from South Carolina for three weeks to help out our family, visit the England, and start off her European travel which continues on the Continent next week.  We enjoyed the cooler weather (it’s actually been pretty hot here for the past ten days, after 6 straight weeks of miserable rain), and I had a respectable 11:22/min average pace.  I run with my Ipod Nano, the older one that syncs up with a Nike chip in my shoe, and lately the Nike site has refused to post any of my runs to facebook, although they do update on the Nike site.  I saw a run tracker on someone else’s blog that looked pretty neat, and really, seeing your runs recorded for all posterity to view truly does help motivate you.  Or it motivates me, at least.  Guess it could be seen as a pride thing, but I think it is more of just enjoying mutual encouragement with others.  Most days when I run I pass sheep, cows, and horses (usually with people posting on them properly in English riding habits – for real), and there are amazing flowers around every bend right now.  Thankfully, my compression socks fend off the stinging nettles for me 🙂

The rest of the day was spent editing my husband’s 15,000 word essay he has due for his Master’s tomorrow (that’s why we are here in the UK – he goes to the Defense Academy of the UK as an international exchange student) and making yummy shrimp and chicken fajitas for dinner.  I must admit that the Mexican food on the mainland (we were in Hawaii for three years before this, and they don’t really do a great job with Mexican food there either) is the thing I miss the most about the U.S., and I cannot WAIT to get back there for a delicious Mexican meal that I don’t have to slave over myself and can just enjoy (along with bottomless glasses of iced tea!)

On to Windsor then – here – let’s see if I can insert a picture…

Here’s a frieze right when you go in the gate of St. George slaying the dragon.  We visited Windsor Castle last summer as a family, and then again yesterday with just my mom and dad and Meriwether.  Windsor Castle was started by William the Conqueror in 1070s, then built of stone in the 1170s by Henry II, and improved upon more by Edward III.  St. George’s Chapel there was started by Edward IV in the mid-1400s, having been completed by Henry VIII, and is the burial place of ten British monarchs.  Windsor is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world!  On our first visit, we stayed at the Harte and Garter Hotel, across the street from Windsor Castle, which is a combination of two 14th-century Inns (yes, built in the 1300s!): “The Garter Inn, named after the Most Noble Order of the Garter, which was founded by King Edward III and The White Harte, named in honour of the Royal Emblem worn by King Richard II. In the late 19th Century they were joined together to form The Harte & Garter Hotel, a building in the Jacobethan style, much loved by the Victorians and reflecting the Shakespearean connections.”  Here’s a picture:
This is looking at the hotel, in the background on the right across the street, where you can clearly see how it used to be two separate buildings.  We took this during the changing of the guard, and this:
While in Windsor we strolled along the Thames River and saw Eton College across the water, making sure to feed the Queen’s swans along the way.
In the city of Windsor are several neat places, like The Crooked House, which happens to be on the shortest street in all of Britain.  We also rode on the Windsor Eye (a giant ferris wheel) and took a few shots of the castle, the Thames, and Eton College.
Above is the beautiful chapel at Eton College (more on that later.)
We had high tea yesterday at The Crooked House, a place built in 1687 which is literally leaning due to its being built with unseasoned green oak.  It comes complete with a secret passage to Windsor Castle, now blocked off.Image
On one previous visit when I picked my parents up in Windsor after they had flown in to Heathrow and taken the train there, we walked over the bridge to Eton to meet up with a friend.  For those not familiar with the British system of schooling, the term “college” could refer to a particular segment of a University, or to a sort of “prep” school – which describes Eton.  It is a boarding school for boys from 13 up through the time they would attend University at age 18.  All of the boys in the Royal Family attend Eton (and one random cousin or some such thing passed by me while I was being toured around) and have attended it since its founding in 1440 by King Henry VI.  You can’t actually tour much of the place, but Jim snuck us (my parents and then me, separately, so someone could stay outside watching the children) into the chapel for a quick perusal whose construction was started in 1441.  The picture of the amazing church from the Windsor Eye is Eton Chapel, and here are my kids chilling outside of it waiting for me to come back out:
Some things I found interesting – there are student pubs on campus, where they each get a pint a day rationed to them, and no faculty are allowed into the pubs.  Also, the faculty all wear caps and gowns like we would see them wearing at a commencement – every day!  Jim is THE ONLY faculty member who gets to go around in a sportcoat and tie each day (I’ll tell you why in a minute…)  The students wear what looks like a TUXEDO with a black vest and bow tie, and long tails, every day to class.  It was amusing to see skinny short 13 year old boys rushing to and fro carrying armloads of books.  Here are a few waiting to cross the road:
So my mystery friend Jim who gets to wear whatever he wants? It’s the Pipemaster for Eton College that gets the special treatment, because the person is traditionally Scottish and is allowed the exception based on that for some reason.  He teaches all the pipers privately and fields a sort-of band (It has no drums, though, because anyone with Scottish heritage sending his son to Eton naturally wants him to learn to play the Great Highland Bagpipes!)  He was the official “Queen’s Piper” from 1998-2003 after serving as a soldier, then a piper, then the Pipe Major with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.  The Queen was so fond of him (He also played for the Queen Mother’s funeral) that she hand-picked him for this post.  We met on his visit to Hawaii to play with my band there at our Burns’ Night Supper, and got to play together on stage on one set of bagpipes, a pretty tricky feat if I do say so myself.  So here are a few of Jim with our band in Hawaii, the Celtic Pipes and Drums of Hawaii, and one with him on stage at the pub with me after the official part of the night was over (I played there – O’Toole’s – every Saturday night on the pipes and whistle with Doolin Rakes.)
Signing off right after the photos – hope you liked the little run down about Windsor!