Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Grotto

Hi Everyone! I HAD to get this post out before Christmas, as I've told a few friends about it, and frankly, its just too good to leave unshared!

Several friends back in the States have asked if Christmas in London is all classy and traditional and Dickens-ian. To which I reply a resounding NO! So here are a few pics to support my declaration.

This is a house just a minutes walk from us. It just cracks me up to see the decorations stop abruptly at the edge of the townhouse!


However, the following house is the real inspiration for my post! Its just a couple blocks away, on a corner lot, and they take their decoration seriously! There are lights all over the house, on the roof, and they even built a 'deck' for their nativity, since they have a wall that would keep you from seeing it in their yard.





But the kicker is the 'grotto'.

To the side of the house, they have a one-room building that they keep decorated. In summer, it hosts a koi pond and plastic lawn ornaments, such as chickens. (I kid you not, plastic lawn chickens keeping watch over golden koi!) For Halloween, they stuck a life-size Dracula in the corner... which freaked me out a little.

But Christmas is their true love, and they go all out, with a Christmas village, polar bears, penguins, wise men, Frosty, and of course, several Santas (because simply one Santa in the room would obviously be insufficient!) all accompanied by a children's recording of Christmas songs. Apparently, its quite well known/loved among the families in the area. The owners used to decorate the whole house inside and out and give tours before Christmas, until the government decided they were pushing the limits of 'residential' zoning and becoming too 'commercial' in their enterprise. :-) My questions lie less in the zoning, and more in the disbelief that parents were actually okay with children going into a stranger's home for the decorations! I assume the children were accompanied, but still... it rings a bit... strange to me. I leave you to judge for yourselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "The Grotto"



And lest you feel like you're still not fully informed, I took a video for you. (Apologies for the car noises in the background.)

video



I'm sorry, I'm sure they are lovely people, but every time I walk past, I think of this:








** On a happy note, my friend came up with this and I told her I'd post it and make her famous! Don't buy an expensive back-of-seat mount for your iPad for kiddo entertainment. Just make a hole in a gift bag the size of your iPad, slide it in, pull the strings out one side and tie around your headrest! Brilliant!


Friday, December 13, 2013

An Honest Christmas

I have a confession to make: I lied.

Well, not so much lied, as I gave a false impression of the truth. (I know, Mom, same thing.)

But its a Facebook thing, so does that count?

We all know it happens, and I think we all do it at some point or another. You know what I mean- that bit where we take the best of ourselves to post on Facebook while hiding the worst. We post fun, gregarious pictures that make our lives look fantabulous, while in reality, reality is rather mundane. Don't get me wrong- I don't necessarily want to go to a depressing 'realistic' Facebook where everyone posts every bad mood, poor grade, worry, fear, and mess. I've had a few friends who made that their norm, and quite honestly, its depressing. But it's tricky to find a middle ground.

Anyhoo... here's my boldfaced lie:


Looks cozy, right? A fireplace with candles, Christmas decor, and twinkle lights reflecting in the flame. It was cozy, and it did make me smile to see, so it wasn't all a lie. But let me tell you about the reality behind this photo:  the hubby is off to the side (you can see his arm on the right edge), after having just given up on a project that wasn't working for the evening. Me? I'm on the sofa across from the fireplace, where I've been all day with a cold, in my leggings, mens flannel shirt (that I sewed in hopes of looking cuter in it), and knee socks that are bunched around my ankles because they're too tight to go up to my knees without cutting off circulation. My day consisted mostly of fooling around on the laptop, too sick to be very profitable, too stubborn to actually sleep. (Though the hubster did eventually make me take a nap). After minimal food and various glasses of water, tea, and lemonade (the boring British version of Sprite), I ended the evening by throwing up in bed. Don't worry- I had a bucket.

See? I lied. It wasn't a wonderful cozy evening of reading and cuddling by a fire. I was miserable and searching for something to make me happier. And when I found it, I shared it. Trust me, you didn't want to see anything else described in my day!

I did manage to do a little bit profitable. Do you mind if I share? I promise to be honest in my presentation.

I did get a few more Christmas decorations up. I love decorating, especially for Christmas! There's so much potential for sparkle, and lights, and glitter, and fun! But life doesn't always deliver just that.



*Side note- That eucalyptus hanging is from the Pinterest post that said if you hang it in your shower, it makes your bathroom smell nice. They lied.


Okay, so for the sake of honesty, I admit. I edited these pictures. Trying to photograph a room by Christmas light makes it all weird and orangey-yellow. Oh, and windows... yeah. Not black and lovely, just a mirror for everything else in the room that distracts from the main subject. 

Honestly, I'm pretty happy with our decor this year. It feels cozy and warm. And there's a bit of nostalgia with the paper stars, glittered leaves, and cranberry/popcorn garlands. But can I tell you a secret? I wasn't necessarily going for the vintage look. (I just posted an article about hipsters faux nostalgia). In truth, we have cranberries, leaves, and paper because they're cheap. Christmas decor is stinking expensive until after Christmas, which wasn't an option for this year! So we made do... and its enough.

In fact, that's what I'm working to learn right now-- that concept of 'enough'. I love The Nester's philosophy that "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful." I want to believe that. But in a day of Pinterest and Facebook and my natural perfectionism, its darn hard!!!

And by the way, a London Christmas doesn't look like this:


Right now, our London looks like this:


Yep- cleaning crews blowing damp leaves off the grass and cement. Did you know that London doesn't get snow? It'll snow once or twice a year, making the roads a muddy slushy mess before melting away.

Fortunately, we do have pretty things like this house-way, and December blossoms.




Its been an interesting holiday season. I've known about the 'real reason for Christmas' for years and years. We've read Luke 2 every year for as long as I can remember. But still, its so easy to yawn through the story, complain about a Christmas Eve/Day service, and then race back home for the 'real' fun. **Can I admit it, I still LOVE getting presents!** But I feel like this year, God's asking me if He's really the most important. If there's no snow on the ground, no family on Christmas Day, and if my homemade gifts/decor really aren't super impressive and Pinterest-worthy, can I still be joyful? Can I still praise Him? Can I still be thankful for the blessings he's giving, materially and spiritually? To be honest, I've not done so great this year. I've found myself 'bah-humbug'-ing a few too many times.

But I AM blessed. I have family at home who loves me a lot, and technology means I can call them whenever I want. I have old friends and new friends here in London who have opened their lives to us, and invited us to share houses, meals, and parties over the holiday. I have a sweet, newly renovated home, and a church that let me borrow craft supplies to decorate cheaply. I have a Christmas tree with white lights and sweet decorations from our pasts. I have the love and care of a godly man who seeks to serve me and make me smile on a daily basis. And I have the gift of salvation- bringing joy and comfort to my darkest days. His word and His Spirit never fail, never disappoint, and provide peace beyond December 25, if my heart will seek Him.

So here's to an honest Christmas in London, where its grey and wet and 53˚, and God is teaching me about joy more than ever!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sheer Terror

Yesterday, I experienced my greatest London trauma to date.

I rode a bicycle on the streets of London.

Well, on some side streets in a residential borough of London. My hubby has been riding his bike for months now. Cyclists are everywhere. It can't be that hard, right?

Let me elaborate on my reality:
1. I borrowed a friends bike. (Not just any bike. An adorable vintage style bike that looks basically like this.)
I know, right? Seriously, how could this not turn out amazing? I imagined riding along in a cute sundress, with a basket of flowers, and my hair blowing in the wind. Then I remembered its November, so I re-imagined myself riding with a cute winter coat, skinny jeans, fingerless gloves, a hat, and my scarf flying in the wind. Still pretty exciting.
However... its heavier than most bikes, and the curved handlebars and basket make it a bit more wobbly. Also, said friend is a bit taller than I-- something I hadn't notice till repeatedly trying to get up on the (unpadded) seat. My bum is still complaining today.
2. Traffic is on the wrong side of the road. Ok, the left side of the road. This one I'd prepared for. I've worked hard to notice traffic patterns and intersections. However the idea of opposing traffic making right turns (ie: left turns in America) still frightened me.
3. I haven't ridden a bike in over a decade. Unfortunately, I didn't remember this till after my excursion. If I had, I might have taken some more time to practice. They say it all comes back to you.

They lie.

I survived, which is a sort of success. And I reminded myself (about every 100 feet) that everyone has to have a first time. And God was gracious enough to give light traffic most of the ride. But it was terrifying. Every stoplight meant having to reprocess traffic laws, remember which side of the road to turn onto, get back up on the (hard) seat, straighten out my front tires so as not to hit the parked cars in front, swerve violently to avoid the cars careening up behind me, and then remember to continue pedalling. It was exhausting. I also realised about halfway through my journey that the bike was in high gear, which probably contributed to the botched cross-traffic turn I couldn't get up to speed for, which resulted in my facing the lane of oncoming traffic till I frantically waved at the oncoming car and promptly took myself and my fancy bike to the sidewalk, where I walked it for the remainder of my journey.

I'm still trying to decide whether or not to try it again.
:-)



On a happier note, here are some pictures from the hubby's birthday week! Much fun was had by all!

A big shout out to Rodrigo and Isabella for a great lunch out! It made us laugh that 2 Brazilians and 2 Americans were being served by an Italian waitress at a Cuban restaurant in England. It sounds like a bad joke!

Then the birthday boy and I made potica- a traditional Slovenian Christmas sweet bread recipe passed down through families. Its a November tradition!



Love you, baby! So glad to celebrate another birthday with you!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

For the Geeks

Last week, I went for a walk in central London. I had several errands to run (which, by the way, is an expression foreign to the Brits), and I wanted to end up at the National Portrait Gallery, on Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar is one of my favorite spots in London, as it boasts some of the most spectacular views of the city, is central to so many historical places, and provides hours of people-watching entertainment.

Anyhoo, my time at the gallery was lovely- crowded, as it was half-term and full of school children on break, but lovely. However, the highlight of my day was the mile walk between Great Portland Street and Trafalgar. I had no idea I was walking past so many amazing places, so I kept smiling with delight at all the treasures London's streets had to offer!

Not pictured is when I passed Oxford Street, then Berners Tavern- where apparently, George Clooney dined the other week. The name 'Tavern' is misleading though, as its actually a super-swanky restaurant with soaring ceilings inlaid with elaborate moulding and glittery chandeliers. Not exactly a classic English pub. Still cool to see.

A few blocks later and BOOM! Chinatown! I found it ironic to see so many Asians taking pictures of the three block imitation of their home.


Before I knew it, I was in the heart of Soho (known for its theater district and, um, its interesting nightlife. Look it up for yourself.) However.... I turned the corner and saw chocolate!!! Chocolate everywhere!!!! Colorful candies in piles and piles!!!!! Ok, that's a lie. They're all neatly stacked it tins and boxes and bags, or in color-coded machines that dispense chocolatey goodness at the touch of a £5 note! How did I not know there was an M&M world only 30 minutes from my door?!


Apparently, the M&M corner is better known as Leicester Square (pronounces Lester Square). Its a pretty famous place, but I've only been at its tube stop 60 feet below ground.

I finally arrived at Trafalgar Square, where I always climb the steps of the Portrait Gallery, even if I don't plan to go in. The view is exceptional. This is how it looked when I went in the Gallery.


And this is how it looked with the sun setting as I left. (Which, by the way, was only at 4:00. I didn't realize how much farther north we are here. Apparently, by late December, the sun will set at 3:30. I'm preparing myself for SADs.)


It was a fantastic day with lots of surprises. I love this city and can't wait to share all of it with you!











****** Geeks keep scrolling. The rest of you can stop here.******






















****** Keep scrolling....******

























******EASTER EGG!!!!******

Congrats to those of you who have scrolled this far and haven't lost interest. By this point, I assume you either truly consider yourself a geek, or just have nothing to do today besides scrolling down a silly blog.

Therefore, I reward you geeks with.......

....

....

....

....

a Tardis!!!!


You're welcome!









For those of you still reading. Check out this spot on Google maps. http://goo.gl/ePKSxW  The user reviews will keep you nerds occupied for hours!














Still here?


Okay, fine.







And for the Harry Potter nerds.....
I give you....
....
....
....

Muggle Quidditch!



Yes, my wizardly friends, with minimal effort, and what I assume is a nominal fee, you can head over to Hampstead Heath, just below Parliament Hill (which for the history geeks still hanging on, is where Guy Fawkes' compatriots assembled to watch Parliament NOT burn), and involve yourself in a rousing game of Muggle Quidditch. I can't tell you anything about the game itself, as all the players were sitting in a circle on the ground for the entire time I was in view. Apparently, quidditch is substantially less entertaining once you lose the brooms.

All righty, folks. That's it for this blog post. Thanks to all you nerds and geeks for hanging in there. I really have a special place in my heart for each one of you. Check back again for less entertaining posts here from the heart of Britain!







No, seriously. It's done now.








Go home.




Friday, October 25, 2013

Autumn Adventures (Hint: It includes a high-flying sofa)

Its a beautiful autumn day today. I went for a walk this morning and took the shortcut through the park, noticing the rows of pillars and doorsteps shaded by colored trees, while falling leaves blow across streets still wet from last nights rain. It's everything I imagined autumn in London would be. My husband brought me to such a nice city. Isn't he magnanimous? I love his beneficence!

On a more.... exciting note, we've moved! Our flat is (almost) finished, and we've made the transition from ground floor to top floor- which is so exciting! They still have to finish up some fixtures and a few other details, but for the most part, we're settling in and finding landing spots for everything we own. Its so nice to be here- knowing that we're here for a while, making a home.
But... not everything went up easily. We had a few large pieces that couldn't make it up the narrow stairwell. The only alternative? The window. Yep. Three stories up. For reference, see below.


That would be Aaron hanging halfway over the roof (you can't see Matt behind anchoring the rope.) Richard and I are hanging out the windows, trying to finagle it into the right window.

A few people totally freaked out when they saw it. One girl walked right under it with headphones on, oblivious to our warnings and the danger she was in. :-)

Our neighbors moved their car, which was probably wise. But in the end, there was no major damage done. So all in all, things went pretty well, I'd say.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Extra Credit Opportunity

So last night, we went up to check the progress on our soon-to-be flat (which, by the way, is looking fantastic and making me all excited and stuff!), and looked out the window to this sky.
Seriously gorgeous!


In other news, I saw this video last weekend. Its fast, so turn up your sound and hang on, but CGP Grey does an awesome job explaining the differences between the United Kington, Great Britain, England, and all the hullabaloo that confuses us Yanks.


And, if you're really going for the bonus extra credit, or just a geography nut, here's another of his videos on the difference between The Netherlands and Holland, which makes the UK drama look rather staid.


You're welcome. :-)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Ramblings and Such

While my friends across the pond are experiencing the angst of a government shut-down, we're waiting with anticipation for the completion of our upstairs flat. Today the painters arrived, signaling the transition from building to finishing! We're so excited to really settle in, and I can't wait to show you all the process. I've taken some pics along the way, so perhaps I can post a timeline when its finished!

In the meantime, here are some shots of our last few weeks.

Our sleepy Saturday morning. Breakfast casserole & french press coffee are always a good way to start out the day!

Last night, the hubby got a hankering for some prawn crackers (or shrimp chips!) If you've not had them before, they look like little glass discs (see the bag in the foreground), and when you put them in hot oil, they *poof* up and look like colorful, bendy, fishy, styrofoam, which is basically what they taste like. (Though he'd probably argue with me on that one!)

Last week, another Auntie stopped by for a few days. I'm loving all these family visits! We took a few hours and visited the Columbia Road Flower Market. It was jam-packed, shoulder-to-shoulder scuffle down a crowded quarter mile, whilst vendors yell out their sales, competing for buyers attention. I'm convinced the two men competing to sell orchids are actually brothers out-bidding each other to make twice the profit! ;-) (But I won't spill their secret!)
We picked up a lovely bouquet of drying hydrangea. This is it, a week after purchase, drying out, but keeping its color beautifully. And I'm so excited to have a plant I can't kill, as its already officially dead!


Auntie and I went to Buckingham to try to see the Changing of the Guard. We arrived a half hour early to find crowds already lined up at the gate. We pushed in, and got glimpses and peeks, but watched most of it through the raised iPhones in front of us. Basically, if you come to visit me and want to see the changing of the guard, we'll plan to pack a breakfast and be there all morning. :-P Still fun to say I've done it, kinda sorta.


Browsing the Southbank Book Market under Waterloo Bridge.

Kensington Palace, past home of Princess Diana, and current home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. (I'd say Wills and Kate, but apparently, that's not 'proper'.) We were surprised they didn't come out to say hi and give us a tour, but they did just have a baby, so I suppose we ought to cut them some slack.

I was told a certain aunt of mine loved/loves Princess Diana, so we made sure to stop by the memorial fountain.

Rather puny if you ask me, but Auntie said the queen was pretty peeved at Di for divorcing Charles, so I guess this fountain is all she got.

Crocus plants (crocuses?) (crucusi?) pop up throughout London's parks, showering the ground in a carpet of purple. It's an unexpected punch of color in the usual shades of autumn.

Loving our time in London, and praising God for his continual blessings, both little and big!

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Practical Post (and Other Things)

A foggy day in London-town.....


Actually, did you know that London rarely has fog? Times like this in early morning are somewhat common, but almost never during the day. Drizzly, yes. Smoggy, yes. But neither of those make for such a pretty song, now do they?

And They Said it Wouldn't Last...
As of yesterday, we have officially been on English soil for 2 months now! Its kind of crazy to think about how much has happened, how much we've learned, seen, changed. But in other ways, nothing has changed. It's like any other move: settling back into your normal life and routines. The places and details may change, but the general life stays the same: relationships, conflicts, growth, tiredness, good days, bad days, movie nights, dinners out, leftovers in the fridge... you know, life.

I thought I'd write out a few things about practical life in London. When I was planning to move, I tried to be as over-prepared as possible (blame my mom for that gene!), and I Googled "life in London" over and over looking for info. So now that I'm actually living here, I thought I'd write about some of the practical daily differences, before I adjust and consider them normal. Maybe someone else can benefit from my learning.

The Tube, etc.
So, first thing: everything takes longer. Yes, it's London, and in some ways, life moves fast. If you sit and watch, people rush past, busses whizz by, planes fly overhead, and tubes move silently beneath the surface. But in actuality, getting anywhere takes forever. I live in Islington, which is a central borough convenient for getting about. I also have an app (CityMapper) that is brilliant for finding my way. I type in an address, and it gives me options for busses, tubes, walking, cycling, taxi, catapult, or jetpack, (yep, its cool), along with the travel time, charges involved, and calories burned (equivalent to .6 packs of pork scratchings, or something similar). :-) I love this app. But still, it takes a while. Example: Greenwich is only 11 miles away, but it takes at least an hour to get there by public transport. Tubes are fast, yes; but they stop a lot. Imagine if you drove across town and stopped at every gas station you passed. Yep. Slow. So I keep underestimating my errands. It'll get me in trouble someday.

Shopping
Also, shops here are different. In America, we have Walmart and Target, where you walk in, buy everything you need, and leave. Not in London. In the city, everything is specialized. You have the hardware store (DIY shop, as its called), the clothing shop, the pharmacy, the grocer, the shoe shop, the electrics shop.
So your short shopping list: band-aids (plasters), socks, a lightbulb, and milk... is four separate stops. :-P It takes some walking.

Oh, and you get keys made at the cobbler. Don't ask me why.

Second-hand Living
You can get second-hand items, which I like, as most of my home has always been furnished by Goodwill and Craigslist. They have charity shops (thrift stores), such as Marie Curie and Oxfam,  but they're pricier than most Goodwills.
Online, Gumtree is like the English Craigslist (Craigslist is available, but filled with a lot more junk and inappropriate content). We keep the search field local, but still, pick-up is hard without a big car. People give you funny looks when you carry a dining table down the sidewalk, or wheel a sofa on a trolley (dolly) for half a mile.
And getting a taxi that could fit this armchair (which was admittedly, out of our region) may or may not have doubled its original selling price. :-p Good thing it started out cheap!


My poor husband is a trooper with all my online shopping shenanigans, but I figure we'll eventually run out of room..... right? 

I'm learning and adjusting, and I think someday I'll get the hang of it. After all, its only been 2 months.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Miscellaneous-ness

Yes Mom, I know that's not a word.

So, I thought I'd just catch ya'll up on the little things I see along daily life that I haven't made into full posts. My poor husband has to deal with my people- watching obsession and play along when I suddenly pull him in and whisper "Holy Cow! Did you see that grandma?! She was wearing 4-inch platform heels!" (No joke, btw. Couldn't catch a picture (yes, I tried), but a 65 year old was wearing skinnies, a shrunken leather jacket, and 4 inch platforms. It was weird.)

Anyhoo.... so begins the post of random shots and the stories that accompany them. *Some of them have been posted on Instagram, but for some reason, my Instagram won't share with Facebook, so I'm putting them here till I figure out how to fix that.


This is a fruit/veg stand just a few blocks from our flat. Though this one is especially packed, places like this are all over the place, with prices comparable to most of the supermarkets. I just love these colors that brighten the city streets.


I still catch myself marveling at the fact that this is my city now. This is where I live. So thankful for the opportunity God has given us!

So this bag was across from me on the tube. I love Asian fashion accessories and their translations. Select quotes from this bag include "Fragrantly Memories", "Haughty Hearing Girl", and "I used to think/ I had the answeet. To everythink/ The dream is sweet."
Classic

So there's a restaurant nearby called The Breakfast Club that supposedly has amazing American-style pancakes. The changing board out front always features something punny and hilarious. The other side of this board featured a great chalk drawing of Pierce Brosnan and the name "Fry Another Day". Last month was Bruce Willis and "Fry Hard". Check out the artist's work on Twitter (I don't have an account either, but its still worth flipping through!) It's pretty much awesome.

This was anchored at Greenwich. I know nothing about it but in the words of Finding Nemo "That's a big butt."

Oh sweet caffeinated mornings!
Most English-folk don't have a drip coffee pot like the Americans do. They'll do K-cups, French Press, or just go out for coffee. In our house, we have 3 modes of coffee making: french press, stovetop espresso maker, and turkish coffee pot. Yes, we're well caffeinated.
However, we're starting to use up the Prelock Blueberry Farm coffee we brought with us, so we need to find another supplier. The hubs wants to learn to roast it himself. I'll keep you posted on that endeavor.

The Borough Market tops my list of London must-sees, for foodies, or anyone who just likes to eat anything whatsoever. You can get anything here- and it all looks amazing! Someday I'll do an entire post on the market. But for today, this 3 foot wok of paella will have to suffice. :-)

Oh my goodness. Have I mentioned London has amazing food?! Boulangeries, Patisseries, and Cafes line the streets and display these sumptuous treats: colorful mounds of meringues, rich Victorian cakes filled with clotted cream and jam, cupcakes with equal parts frosting and cake... in tasty combinations of fruits, florals, and spices. It's pretty much a waistline's worst enemy.  

My sweet hubby and me!
Behind us is Leeds Castle- billed as the "Loveliest Castle in the World". Though is was quite nice, the £21 entry fee puts a sting in the loveliness. However, a day walking gardens with my love is always lovely. Thanks for sharing this adventure with me, sweetheart. There's no one else I'd rather share it with!




Friday, August 30, 2013

The Cotswolds

I apologize for the hiatus, but I have a good excuse--really! My aunt Jen has been to visit, and she took me on a whirlwind tour of the Cotswolds. Well, maybe whirlwind isn't the right term....

The Cotswolds are a lovely region in Englands eastern border. They are a group of small villages and towns that span about 50 miles. Though each has its own unique appeal, the quaint serenity of the region is what attracts visitors from around the world. Jen and I traveled through the northern part of the Cotswolds, walking over 20 miles in the 3 days we were there. We visited Moreton-in-Marsh, Bourton-on-the-Hill, Bourton-on-the-Water, Upper and Lower Slaughter, Stow-on-the-Wold, and Chipping Campden. The weather, scenery, food along the way, and of course, the company, was excellent!

For more pics, check out my Facebook page!


The churchyards were so lovely and full of stories. My dad always loved to walk around old churchyards, and I guess its a family thing, as my aunt and I both made it a regular stop.


This field was harvested within the afternoon. Our trip back found the field half-reaped already.




 The mill at Lower Slaughter was perfectly picturesque!