Monday, May 2, 2011

New Blog!

I've decided, with much encouragement from friends and family, to start a photography business. After creating a website, I decided to attach a blog to it. I've discovered that I prefer WordPress for my photography site, so instead of keeping two blogs, I've decided to move over there. I hope you will continue to follow me!
Here's the new link. The adventure continues!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In Bruges

Props to a good friend, Lori Martin, that filled me in on a great town in Belgium about 12 years ago. Bruges. Or Brugge. Depends on the mood - feeling French or Flemmish? Either way works. I had mentioned to her that I wanted to see Brussels one day and she told me to skip Brussels and go to Brugge. Great advice!

Brugge is supposedly one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe. I would have to agree, and it was evident when we were there. Our trip was during an off-peak month, and the extensive amount of preservation that they do during those times was everywhere. But, not enough that it ruined sightseeing for us. Mostly the roads is where the work was being done. All cobblestone and all still laid by hand. It is very much a pedestrian town - in fact in a lot of areas it's hard to distinguish the sidewalk from the street. Of course, you could always travel the Belgian way and hop on a bike. You would be in company with most of the city.

On this trip, we decided to take the Eurostar from London. After this trip, this is now my numero uno form of travel. We took this train directly to Brussels with a few short stops in between. It was fast, fairly smooth and the staff are courteous.
Once we arrived at Brussels, we were to take another train to Brugge. This is where we hit a couple of snags. We found the correct platform but somehow ended up on the wrong train. We got on a local train - meaning it stops at every single stop. Luckily it was going in the right direction and we were able to get off in Ghent and switch to what we thought was the right train... only to discover later that it was the local train from Ghent to Brugge. So, what was supposed to be a 45-minute train ride became a 2-hour ordeal. I will say that these trains gave me a not so great first impression of Belgium. The trains felt very soviet - and the people didn't look happy, so that added to the feeling.

Here's one other thing that made me go, "Hmmmmm..." The Belgians have made the stations very handicap accessible. Lifts at every single platform. Great for us, because we had a stroller to get up to the platform. However, unlike England, the trains are several steep steps above the platform. So, the ease of getting on the train just flew out the window. Also, the train cars are not stroller friendly. Basically, you have to take you baby out and fold your stroller and leave it in the boarding area before entering the car. Things that never would have crossed my mind a year ago, but irritate me now. Oh, and just to let you know... we did catch the right train on our return home. That train is much nicer and only has ONE stop at Ghent. So, if you go to Brugge - and it looks like your about to board the rundown train. Stop. You're on the wrong one. Just ask someone, most people speak English and speak it very well.

Our hotel was fantastic. Small, newly updated, personal service and friendly staff. I highly recommend Hotel Prinsenhof.

So, our first EVENING in Brugge (I say it like that because it was evening when we finally arrived) was spent walking the main square and finding a place to have dinner.
Most restaurants all serve the same menu. The fluctuate very little. I'm sure because this is a tourist area of the city, but we found one and had a little bit of the Flemmish cuisine. A bit pricey, I thought... but, again it was vacation. Still, it was delicious and the Belgian beer was tasty. And a medium beer is really big. I thought only in the US were portion sizes out of control. Of course, generous portions only applies to beer, the food was normal portions.

Day Two included more walking and hitting all the spots on the map. Also did the river tour, which I recommend. It's worth getting up early to do this as Brugge is a spot for Day Trippers. They seem to start arriving around noon. When they started filtering in, we decided to stroll the back streets and take in the hidden parts of the city. Also, I'll mention that we were close enough to our hotel at all times (it's not that large of a place) so that we could run back there for diaper changes and feeds versus trying to find a family bathroom or cafes with highchairs.

Our meal that evening was at a "snack" place. I saw a few of these around town and we decided to give it a try. Plus, Scott was determined to have fries while in Belgium. I got an assortment of fried things that could all be top contenders at the Texas State Fair. The number one thing was what tasted like a sopapilla stuffed with cheese, breaded and then deep fried. It was DELICIOUS! Drew, forget our other ideas... this is the winner! ;) I'll also mention that the waffles are amazing and of course the chocolate stores are everywhere. If I could suggest a chocolate store it would have to be B by B. Michelin chef turned confectioner. He has some amazing flavor combinations that we are still enjoying.

We wrapped up our evening early as we had a teething baby with us and headed back to our hotel. The next morning was a nice breakfast in the hotel and then a cab to the station.

Bruge, a charming place that I hope to visit again, one day. And I hope you'll put it on your list of places in Europe to see.

Handy links:

B by B Chocolate

Hotel Prinsenhof

Oh! And I guess if you never get to Bruges, but still want to see it AND if you enjoy dark comedy. Be sure to rent the movie "In Bruges." Great flick.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! We are wrapping up the day with full bellies. Full of good luck and fortune. That's black-eyed peas and cabbage for those not familiar with this tradition.

Scott, Will and I are also wrapping up on our three week tour of home. We arrived the week before Christmas and head back to the UK next week.
How wonderful to see friends and family, and sad that we couldn't squeeze everyone in on this visit, but promise to next time around.

We barely escaped the last snow in England. I joked when the tickets were purchased that it would probably snow. The week before leaving, it crept into the forecast and the day before we left, I was getting panicky that we might actually get stuck. I think if our flight had been late that night we would have been out of luck. I'm not even joking about the weather on our return flight.

So what were the top five questions asked of us on our visit home? Here they are:

1. How was Will on the flight?
2. When are you coming home for good?
3. What do you miss most?
4. When are you coming home for good?
5. Have you traveled much?
6. When are you coming home for good?

Okay, though those that have asked probably got an answer already, but I'll still fill you in.
1. Will did really well on the flight. He did not sleep much, but he was very good and played with his rings mostly. We got to Heathrow three hours early and requested the bulkhead. If you have an infant, this is a great route to go. American Airlines offers bassinets for bulkhead passengers and BA offers bouncers. It really freed up our laps for those delicious airline meals. And allowed for a little game time or crochet time to help pass the ten hour flight.
2. Not sure. Scott is going to Seattle on Tuesday to get an idea of our future plans.
3. Scott misses playing tennis and his car. I miss TexMex, tennis, friends & family, Target.
4. Not sure.
5. No we haven't traveled much. Just the day trip to different parts of England. But, now that we know how easy William travels right now, we plan to go places right away. A few friends, Caine, Jeff & Martina will be coming to Paris and Amsterdam in a few months and we definitely plan on making some of the trip with them. That is, if we are invited to. *wink, wink!*
6. Did you hear Will? Hang on, Will, Mommy's coming.

During our trip home, Will has changed so much. He will be five months old in two days. In the last two weeks, he has discovered he likes to put his foot in his mouth. He's been staring at them for weeks, but finally realized that he is bendy enough to get them up to his mouth. He also has learned to roll over. I thought that even when a baby learns to do this it still takes a little while to get the hang of it. No. They are pros. He rolls and rolls and rolls. It's great fun to watch him do this because it is with such ease. He's so proud of himself, too. And of course, we are proud of him. He's much more vocal than he was before we got here. And he's dropped one or two naps during the day. He still likes to stand ALL THE TIME. So, everyone is predicting that he'll be an early walker and we've got a pool going on the date. I'm going with June 22nd. Scott's birthday.

Santa was good to all of us this year. William is set on toys and clothes for a few months. And he still has the things that Santa has left for him in England. Santa brought me a new lens that will be arriving on Monday... can't wait! And Scott got a new gadget, an apple tv. He's been thinking about that one for the past few years, but finally decided we needed one. Yea... more gadgets! I hope this one comes without a cord.

Oh.. I thought of one more question that people asked us and a very important one:
7. What about the dogs?

Good question! Before leaving, we couldn't find any kind of kennel or boarding place. So, we called our landlord and asked what she did. On short vacations, she sent her dogs to stay with someone close by. This seems to be a common thing. People petsit in their own home. On long trips, she called a gentlemen that lives about an hour away. He picks up the dogs, cares for them and brings them back. He also has 10 acres of fenced property for the dogs to run about and play. Don't worry, they aren't outside the entire time, he allows the dogs to stay with him in the house. I'm not positive, but I can almost bet that those two may not want us to come home. 10 acres to run and hunt on??? They won't ever want to leave!! But, we can't wait to see them and hope they feel the same way.

Wishing everyone a terrific 2011 and look forward to sharing more adventures with you!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

It's been over a weeks since snow hit England, and there are still more than traces of it outside. We received about 5" of beautiful white snow over the course of two days. Our road still has traces of ice, and the ground still has some snow. The main roads remained clear due to the amount of traffic. But, the highways seemed to have terrible problems and a lot of trains were running way behind. I even heard of one that was frozen to the tracks. So, it was a good couple of days to stay at home. Where it was warm and dry.

After that, I was ready to walk through mountains of snow if I had to just to go somewhere and see people.

Prior to the snow, the days have still been pretty cold, and a damp cold at that. Most days it stays below forty. So, a coat and scarf is necessary. William gets bundled up in a pile of big blankets or a snowsuit. And Scott and I have gone out to purchase wellies and boots. Oh, and thicker socks. I was always one that never wore a coat, even on really cold days. Why bother? The only time I was ever exposed to it, was the walk from the car to inside the door at work (or a store). I never felt the need to bundle up for a couple minutes exposure to the cold. I feel differently now. Most times parking is such a pain that you would rather just walk it. It's cold, but it's easier.

The feeling of the holidays is everywhere. We went to the tree lighting and parade in Cobham. Had roasted chestnuts and mulled wine to warm the body. Christmas Fairs are popping up in every town. Lights and decorations are on every high street. We went to a Christmas Fair at a Kitchen Garden just outside of town where they released little hot air lanterns. It was a beautiful site and great fun for all the children. I had a blast watching their faces light up.

Just like in the States, the holiday is shoved down your throat when you turn the TV on. One commercial right after the other. I've always said you know it Christmas when the perfumes start advertising on television. Well, it's no different here. Oh, and the M&M's commercial with Santa... "He does exist."
"They do exist."

But, despite the fact that, it does feel more simple, more traditional. I've seen a few people dragging their trees home behind them instead of strapped to the top of their SUV. Only a few of the houses have lights, so far. I know that doesn't sound so festive, but it's a nice change to house after house with perfectly aligned white lights. Oh, and Christmas pudding. Yum! Let me tell you, it beats the socks off our fruitcake. Well, I think anything would be fruitcake, but Christmas pudding and brandy butter is the bomb!

William is now 4 months! He has started teething and I hope it ends soon for him. He's had a couple restless nights and really likes to be cuddled. It's been fun making a list for Santa. William is asking for a few books and toys. And what a coincidence, I have everything he's asked for in a box under the bed!

In case I don't post before Christmas, we are sending warm wishes to you and yours for a wonderful holiday season. Hugs to all!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Three Months Gone

I know that this blog is supposed to be about our move here, my experiences and thoughts, but I had to take time to talk about our boy. He is, after all, part of the experience.

I can honestly say that this has been the fastest three months of my life. I can't believe that it was three months ago that I held William for the first time.
Waiting for a baby seems like an eternity. You have so many questions. What will you be? What will you look like? What will you be like? What will I be like?
When the moment arrives, you're so consumed with shock. It's so hard to take it in, make the memories that you had envisioned. You think you'll have tomorrow, but when they are this small, everyday is huge change. In a matter of days, babies learn something new. One day their only communication is crying. A few days later, they can carry on a 20-minute cooing session. Amazing.

Motherhood is everything I expected it to be and nothing like I expected it to be. You think you know how much joy a smile can bring, but when you really experience it, it's way more joy than you anticipated.

William is beginning to enjoy a lot of activities. He loves his activity gym and several different toys. He has a crib toy that will keep attention for a good half hour. He's just amazed by it. He's starting to reach for things. Before it was kind of luck that he might grab a toy, but now I think he's really going for it. He's really doing well at holding his head up and sits in his bumbo while I am in the kitchen. We bought a door bouncer for him and though he's not really bouncing yet, he enjoys slobbering on the fabric bodysuit. He's also "talking" a lot. It's great! Scott and I always exchange glances and smiles when he does it. I hope we always find these things so sweet and adorable.
And you parents with two-year olds... don't tell me any different.

William and I attend a playgroup once a week. I've mentioned my NCT group before. We six couples attended a prenatal class together. We were all due about the same time and did deliver all within two weeks of each other. Well, with the exception of Gemma. She delivered on the day of our second prenatal class!
I enjoy the weekly gathering with mums and babies. It's nice to compare notes and have support. We're all first-timers and I'm not sure about the other ladies, but I know I can use all the advice I can get. Not to mention adult company. William has reached the age that I think he enjoys being around other babies. They all seem to be very interested in looking at each other.

My mother was here for almost three weeks. Mark came for the first week, and she remained the last two. I'm always glad to see her and have her help. She's an awesome grandmother. She came with a suitcase full of clothes and goodies for William. Already spoiling him rotten. But, I can't say that I would have it any other way. During their trip here, we went to Windsor, again. And we also drove to Brighton. I think it's the Coney Island of England, but was later told that the shopping in Brighton is excellent. So, I plan on going back.

Oh... and a tip. If you ever think you will visit any castle more than once, read the back of your ticket. Most will stamp it allowing for free entries up to a year.

Well, as we enter the William's three month birthday, I can't wait to see what it hold in store. I'm sure you'll be reading about it - you know, if I can stay on top of blogging. Material is running low!

Pics above are William's 3-month photos at Esher Common and the NCT group that we attend each week. Starting counter-clockwise with William, we have Freddie, Huw, Sophie, Ben and Kiana.

Hi Jay's Mum!

Our good friends Jay and Jen introduced my blog to Jay's mum. Jay's parents live in England and Jay's mother is English. She replied to my last blog about our house and also gives me advice on places to shop and washing detergents (several posts back, or possibly an email forwarded by Jay). So, I started to answer her reply and found it to be extremely long. So, I deleted it and decided to make it my most recent post. It contained some bits of history that I thought might interest some. Maybe. You know... if anyone reads this thing. ;)

Here's Jay's mum's reply:
I'm Jay's mum. We live in Norfolk, about 80 miles or so north-east from London. It's considered rural but, like everywhere, it's getting crowded. Your house is adorable; looks like it was renovated to a very high standard. Obviously, your bathroom was originally a bedroom; you don't get one that size in a newer house. And what a nice outlook, I assume that's a common across the street.
I thought I'd comment on a couple of things you talked about missing. We spent 11 years in Germany, so I can empathise with things being different to what you're used to. Large Tesco stores are usually open 24 hours and they sell just about everything! Sunday opening hours for stores are set by law - 6 hours only. Up until 20 years or so ago, nothing was allowed to be open and there was a big campaign called "Keep Sunday Special" that fought to keep it that way. (A few places such as those in tourist locations were exempt but they could be prosecuted if they sold regular groceries so if you ran out of butter or sugar on a Sunday, you were out of luck until Monday - but you could buy an ice cream!) I recently read that commercial interests are trying to get the 6 hours Sunday trading extended to the same as the other days of the week.
I'm surprised you get to keep your baby's medical records; most people never see theirs, let alone take them home!
I've never seen a separate kitchen sink sprayer over here, but depending upon the type of tap you have, you may be able to fit an attachment that swivels and lets you choose between a straight flow of water or a spray. I got mine from a mail order place called Lakeland - they have shops too. Their catalogue is full of neat gadgets and equipment.
The EU won't allow the importation of USDA beef because of the use of hormones and antibiotics, etc. British beef, because of the mad cow episode a few years ago, is now considered the safest in the world. (Saying that, I have noticed some "strange" behavior in my husband who regularly eats beef, but that could be due to advancing age!)
I hope you enjoy the experience of living here and the few differences that are left. I often feel that it would be less "Americanized" if the language were not the same but, good or bad, the British character retains its originality.
Susan Weidenbach

Hi Jay's Mum Susan! I've been wanting to travel to your side of the country. It looks so lovely on all the shows we watch (Countryfile, Hairy Bikers, etc). I love road trips and we'll have to do one to your side soon. If so, we'll have to meet the people that brought us our good friend, Jay. ;)
Our place is newly renovated and unlike other places we looked at, I would say it was definitely done to a higher standard. One day, shortly after our move, our landlord had a painter come over to touch up some of the exterior windows. He was very meticulous about his craft and did an excellent job. We are lucky to have landlords that seem to appreciate quality even on a rental. Also, they live close by so we always feel comfortable calling them if we have stupid questions about how to operate something that is foreign to us. At first our landlord had a hard time believing that we don't have radiators in Texas. It took Scott, me and my mother to convince him otherwise. Ha!! That's okay... I have a feeling we would have to explain A/C to him if he were ever to move to the southern part of the US.
One of the girls in my NCT course told me (and you probably know but I'm going to fill in for anyone else that might read) that what we live in is what was called a "two up, two down." So it was two bedrooms upstairs (not a bath) and two rooms downstairs (living room and kitchen). Over the years, a kitchen and bath were added downstairs and a bathroom upstairs. There is a new book out about the history of the Tilt. This is the area of Cobham we live in. We met some older gentlemen at our farmers market that are raising money to preserve areas of Cobham and told us quite a bit about it. Apparently the Tilt was used as hunting grounds by King Henry VIII. I find it to be fascinating that I am living so close to history. Hampton Court (his home) isn't that far way by car, but can't imagine that it was a day trip for him by horse. Maybe he camped right where our house stands! Where we live is I guess a Common. It's not called that, but there are other commons around. If memory serves, someone called it a conservation area. Not sure the laws, but I'm guessing that prevents any construction and might limit what can be done to an existing structure.
There is a Tesco that is somewhat close. It's actually in Byfleet... well, Weybridge... actually Brooklands. Ha! I say this because it's kind of in the middle of these areas. But, about 15-minutes from us (if no traffic). It's connected to a large M&S which also has a large grocery and stays open until 10PM (surprisingly).
Sunday here reminds me of Sunday in Texas. Stores were not open on Sunday until the mid-80's. They call it the "Blue Law." Now stores are open on Sunday (not sure if their hours are limited), but they are not allowed to sell beer and wine until noon. No hard liquor sales on Sunday at all. Also, car dealerships are required by law to be closed one day a week. Most choose Sunday, but some will close on Saturday to be open on Sunday.

As far as the baby's records. Maybe the clinic keeps track of the records, too? What I was given is a red book. I take this to each appointment and they record his weight, shots, etc. for me. It also contains notes from the midwife and healthcare visitor. I think this book also goes with us if he were to be registered for school during our time here. I guess it's proof of immunizations and age. I also wonder if it's a county thing? All of the girls in my NCT group gave birth at another hospital, but have a red book, too. Either way, I hate having that kind of responsibility. Ha!! Most days I'm lucky if I can locate my keys.

I'm going to check your suggestion for a sprayer. I looked at our local Robert Dyas, but it's fairly small and has a limited selection. Oh, and speaking of mail order... I'll take this time to give mad props to the Royal Mail. On more than a handful of occasions have I ordered something online and received it the very next day! Scott does remind me that usually most things have a shorter distance to travel. But, still. It's great! I also find it refreshing that some companies still use their own delivery service versus going through the post or UPS/Fedex. I wish that US companies would go back to that.

I find I'm not eating much beef, I'm sure not a terrible thing. I get a veggie box delivered every week and try to make the most of eating healthy. Unfortunately, I'm in love with bangers. I don't know why brats are more known sausage. English bangers are by far the winner. And though I don't cook seafood at home, I enjoy the fresh selections at every restaurant. The fact that it's cheaper than most main courses is a nice change, too. Especially since I love shrimp. Err... prawns.
However, Cobham did just get a new restaurant that serves USDA beef. And I know of one steakhouse in London that serves it. The steakhouse in London is amazing, but kind of a special occasion place - or let the company pick up the tab kind of place. ;) But. you're right, not typically found. That said, I don't mind eating bangers more than one or two nights a week. In fact, it's on the menu tonight. ;)

And you are absolutely right about the few differences. Like the US, I'm sure that the High Street wasn't always the same ten stores. I blame the US for things like this. And like I said, if it were all the same, then I might as well have stayed at home. However, I do occasionally find a locally owned store or restaurant and it's always a real treat. In fact, I buy all my cards at an adorable locally-owned store here.

Thanks for reading my blog! I really am enjoying my time here. Finding a town that suits you helps no matter what country you live in. I do hope that I can meet you before we leave!



Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Our House, is a Very, Very, Very Nice House....

But, instead of two cats in the yard, it's two dogs.
Now that you'll be singing that song the rest of the day....

I never showed you photos of our house, did I?
When I travel, I don't really like to do the attractions. I'll do a few, but my real interest is the local people and local surroundings. What do the houses look like? What do they look like on the inside? What about stores?? And I don't mean the tourist garb, postcard kind of stores. I mean, where do locals shop for clothes, groceries and everyday items. Well, I will indulge you with pictures and a description of our little house to fulfill the voyeur in you.

We're not quite sure the age of the structure. We asked our landlord and he just said it was over a hundred years old. Not much more elaboration than that. And I know that's probably not that old to the English, but to Americans... it's pretty damned old. We tear things down and build newer and bigger without a second thought. But no matter how new or big, it can't replace the charm or history.

That said, charm is getting COLD. Along with a 100-year old structure, we have 100-year old windows. However, the interior has been recently updated and we have all the modern conveniences that a new house might have (except double-glazed windows). There are still period features that make you like the place, but then there are things like a side-by-side refrigerator that make you like it even more.

Our place is furnished almost exclusively with IKEA furnishings. Filling in with things I've picked up at other stores. We didn't ship any of our furniture from home because when looking online, most places were furnished. Leave it to us to go with one of the few that wasn't. Besides, our furniture would not have fit anyway. The rooms are much smaller and I find that big bulky, oversized pieces just don't work or fit. Going from 2,500 square feet to less than 1,000 means I got to buy all new stuff. Ikea was great because it fit the bill. Short-term and cheaper than most. Though, I must admit, I'm really impressed with the quality for the price. And I can now work a hex key like no other (I'm stealing that line from Kai). The only furniture we did ship was Will's crib and changing table. I'm so glad that we did because cribs, or cots as they are called here, are much shorter and styled differently than I had imagined his nursery.

We have what is called a semi-detached house. In Texas, it would probably be called a quadplex. Maybe in the northern states, it would also be called a house or maybe a row-house (think San Francisco or NYC), but not sure. Four houses share one roof. Well, the number varies, but in our case, it is four. Each house is individually owned, and each one has their own front and rear garden space. We are "semi" detached because our house is on the end. Also, I think it is called a house because we occupy both the lower and upper floors. I found out that a two-floor conversion (once a house, now two separate living spaces) is referred to as a flat. Detached houses are not as common, but I've noticed that a lot of the newer structures are detached. In London, detached is very rare and I'm sure for the very rich. In areas like Chiswick, what were once detached houses are mostly two-floor conversions... you know, flats.

We are enjoying our time here on the Tilt... and hope that a lot of you might get the opportunity to see our little place in person!

I'm not sure how many photos I can put on the blog, so I'm attaching a link to my flickr page: