Thursday, 28 November 2013

On Being Thankful

One of my favourite things about November is the general acceptance that we will all be putting on weight this month, whether it's in the lead up to Thanksgiving, the cold and miserable comfort food-eating weather that England has bestowed upon us, or perhaps that it's almost Christmas kind of, so really there's no point in dieting now until January. But food, my friends, is not really what this post is supposed to be about.

My second favourite thing about November is mustaches. Isn't Movember amazing? It's the one thing that makes me wish I was a guy - the ability and social acceptance of mustached men. Don't worry, I can't grow one myself, though if I could, even as a woman, I'd most definitely start smoking a pipe and stroke it in the evenings before shaving and going out for the day. This post is taking a weird turn.

Right, anyway, what I'm here to talk about today is Thankfulness. I love it so much I've made it a proper noun. About 90% of the time I'm very thankful, and grateful, because I know I have a lot to be thankful for. Of course, as I'm sure most of us do, I'm sometimes a bit less than grateful - I'm part of the instant gratification generation, so I have a bad habit of always wanting 'more'. So it's nice to have a whole month to remember just how lucky we all are, am I right? 

I'm thankful for a fiancee who always makes me smile. Even when I'm trying really hard to be mad at her. Thank you Sarah, for loving my extreme holiday participation, and for going along with whatever fancy dress costume I want to put on you. For really appreciating my knack for cooking and baking, and making up for where I'm lacking in tidiness/cleanliness. For making all my bright weird and wonderful ideas happen, with a mind for details and realism, which I do love even though I call you my dream killer. It's in a loving way. Anyway, I don't know where I'd be without you, and I'm so very happy I won't have to find out for a very long time (ever, if I kick the bucket first!).

I'm thankful for my family, immediate, extended, and in-law-ed - this last year has been one of discovering for me, and being pleasantly surprised with how wonderful the people I'm related to are. Whether my parents are going completely above and beyond to help us plan and pay for the best wedding ever, or taking me on the trip of a lifetime for my 25th, or just being there to talk through my questions, concerns, and excitement about all that is going on in my life right now, I'm so grateful to have them so close, despite being so damn far away. Whether its my little brother, who is My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who have all been really accepting and supportive of me and love Sarah. Even my parents, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins -in law, who I never thought I'd get to properly know and love, have been just so incredible to us both over the last six months - without them, we wouldn't have our gorgeous new home! And without them letting their guard down and letting us in, Sarah especially wouldn't be nearly as happy as she is now. We're damn lucky in the family department.

And similarly, I'm thankful for our friends. They aren't many, but they are just so amazing, and we wouldn't have it any other way. We are lucky enough to know some of the most caring and supportive people in the world (we imagine). I mean, one of our best friends lives in Australia, literally the other side of the world, but we talk to her on a weekly basis. And we have people coming from all over the world to our little wedding in the back country of Idaho. There really isn't anything more humbling than that realisation!

I'm thankful for our new home, which is just completely a dream come true. From Sarah telling me (only six months ago!) it will take us 7 years to raise a deposit, to Margaret and Andy offering up the most generous loan, Sarah's sister chipping in, my parents taking the wedding pressure off, and some hardcore savings on our part.... it was made a reality. A real 'it takes a village' moment. It is just incredible that all these wonderful people trust us enough to do this for us, knowing that we will work our not-so-little bums off until we have paid back every penny. And in the meantime, get to slowly make this house our home.

I'm thankful for our ability to work, and that we are both lucky enough to be employed full time in this rocky economy. And that we both like our jobs, and they are able to help us pay back the above and still enjoy our time doing it.

One thing I'm not thankful for? People who have such a dramatic reaction to trying my homemade candied yams that they almost spit it out, in front of a good 10 people. That doesn't make me feel good. Having a sad moment.

Anyway, I brought Thanksgiving to my workplace today, with generally good results. People like cornbread, and my colleague managed to get the sandwich cafe downstairs to roast him a whole turkey. It was delicious, and very impressive. I'm so full, but must do some running around because....

Tonight we are going to our bridesmaid Alison's house for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner! I'm bringing the rest of my candied yams (which actually are delicious!) and cornbread, my favourite girl, and we'll sleep over with them tonight.

Two Thanksgiving dinners in one day - how could I ask for more?!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, please don't Black Friday shop today.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Are We TOO Different From Each Other??

Laura and I have always come at things very differently; while Laura is more sociable and outgoing, I am shy and awkward. When Laura has the option to get creative on something the end result is amazing, when I get told to get creative I FREAK OUT!
While maths has never been a major strength of mine, I am comfortable with logic. I’ll come up with ideas but they will be based in experience and come with a plan and will therefore take longer to form; Laura’s ideas will come out of left field, right field, just about anywhere and be immediate.
It may explain why our initial meetings started things off badly and meant we came to the obvious conclusion - we ‘just aren't the same type of people’ and should therefore avoid each other unless the situation brought us together.
Thankfully, plenty of situations did bring us together and now almost five years later I am so grateful, we are still very different people in our approaches but rather than that being a bad thing it’s actually a real benefit – especially in life!
Without Laura’s creative, out-there ideas we’d never have goals and do things, without my logic and need to plan and understand everything it may not have turned out very well. I love nothing more than making L happy, but I need to always think of the long term and not just the present when making a decision. I need to know logically any decision makes sense and is well reasoned.
So that brings us to the right-brain / left brain theory – have you heard of it? To me it’s the best way I can explain why we are so different, yet work so well together:

This theory of the structure and functions of the mind suggests that the two different sides of the brain control two different “modes” of thinking. It also suggests that each of us prefers one mode over the other. Experimentation has shown that the two different sides, or hemispheres, of the brain are responsible for different manners of thinking. The following table illustrates the differences between left-brain and right-brain thinking’ – from
Most people have a distinct preference for one of these styles of thinking but some are more whole-brained and equally adept at both modes.

If you want to find out what you are check out the test here:

As much as I know Laura and are perfect for each other already, there is now further evidence to support it. We did the test and Laura came out as 62% right brained and 38% left. I came out as 69% left and 31% right! So as a couple we are 93% right brain and 101% left (yay, extra logical)! Could we be better matched?! (We don't think so!)

Crazy huh! And a real eye-opener for me in the sense that to make things work you really do need to accept and utilise the differences in your partner. I’m just lucky that L is probably more logical than the test shows because that girl can organise WAY better than I can, but maybe that’s because she can multitask and I panic in the details!

Take the test - what side of your brain is most dominant?

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Iceland: Seriously the Coolest.

Here's our recent trip to Iceland highlights.

Iceland was - incredible!

We may have only had a few days in the country but we can understand why it is a place on people's to do lists. We loved it! With great company, great planning and great weather we had such a great 3 and a bit days that we highly recommend visiting if you can. It's only two and a half hours from the UK after all.

We arrived in Reykjavik around lunch time on Friday after flying from Luton airport on-board an EasyJet plane that left at 7:30am- nothing like an early start! The journey was quick, efficient and allowed us to pass out asleep so we were a little more awake on landing. At the airport we found our pre-organised bus and headed for the city.

Most of the time we were in Iceland it never really got fully light, it was either completely dark or a kind of twilight. It meant that we only had a few hours a day to explore things in the light, in some ways that was no bad thing. Driving from the airport the scenery was very much like we imagine the craters of the moon (or, in fact the national park in Idaho by the same name) - mainly rocky and vast. On approach to the city this changed to a hotch-potch mix of colourful houses and modern buildings - Reykjavik is quite the new city!

We arrived at our third hotel- the one we had originally booked through our GroupOn deal had been changed and then the one we turned up at had a leak- so we ended up at the Foss Hotel Barron on the seafront. We even got lucky enough to have a room overlooking the sea! Bonus! Further still, just opposite our final hotel was a highly rated restaurant (in Trip Advisor) - it specialized in typical Icelandic food and we ended up with a mixed lunch of soup and salad but we were... well, hungry afterwards. We aren't really soup or salad people!

After lunch we strolled around the city making an effort to work our way towards a church that provides the best views of the surrounding city and bay area. Thankfully the very modern church had a lift to take us up the tower but nothing protected us from the blasts of very fresh air at the top. We did have a chance to warm up in the main part of the church listening to the magnificent organ playing. As we hung our hands out of the top of the steeple to take pictures we really got a sense of just how condensed the community is. 65% of Icelanders live in Reykjavik.

After refreshing at the hotel we took a stroll down towards the modern theatre building and came across an art exhibition and a number of interesting shops where we found books telling us how friendly Iceland was to the LGBT community - including having a lesbian Prime Minister - and how 75% of Icelanders believe in 'hidden people'. There are actually areas that they aren't allowed to build on because these hidden people are said to live there. Laura even found a book about the 13 Christmas trolls of Iceland - traditional folklore!

Our first dinner was at a restaurant that we found on TripAdvisor - it was a tapas restaurant (appropriately called 'Tapas!') that served a mix of Spanish and Icelandic food and was delicious. It was a popular place - we were sat by the door and they turned away over 20 people in the hour and a half we were there. Well worth making a reservation for!

Our second day was mainly spent at the Blue Lagoon, a 45 minute drive by pre-organised trip, from Reykjavik. The natural hot springs have been turned into a plush resort with spa facilities and a pool that allows you to access a sauna, steam room, steam bath as well as mud so you can give yourself a facial as you relax. It was a beautiful clear day when we visited and we spent the entire trip hoping it stayed that way into the evening as we had booked on to a Northern Lights tour.

The Blue Lagoon was about £25 a person but well worth the visit although we did find out there were several local 'natural hot springs' near to the city centre - none nearly as impressive, though!

Once we were back from the Blue Lagoon we had a few hours before setting off in search of the Northern Lights. We headed into the town and found our way to the 'world-famous' hotdog stand visited by Bill Clinton and Madonna. That's right, Reykjavik is allegedly famous for their hot dogs. We dropped our vegetarian friends at a crepe cafe where we later returned for a dessert pancake - chocolate and strawberry! Delicious (and also rated in TripAdvisor (that website has signs everywhere!!!!). The hot dog stand had little protection from the elements, but was well worth it - we can honestly say these were hot dogs to remember! At best guess, they had honey mustard, onions, and something sweet and crunchy on them - very different, and very good.

The Northern Lights tour departed at 8pm from our hotel. Our mini-bus dropped us at the main bus station and we boarded a coach, there were around 600 people setting off on the search on over 10 coaches as it had been unsuccessful the night before. Our coach drove 45 minutes towards a beach at the Easterly point of Iceland where forecasters had predicted clearer skies. We got off the coach and joined hundreds waiting at the sea wall, thankfully we were dressed in every item of clothing we had packed as two hours later we were still standing in the same spot without a sighting. We had become great fans of the moon, the stars and the American standing next to us who said 'right' after every sentence! (side note, has anyone else noticed that Americans tend to say 'right' after every pause of someone telling them a story? We noticed Laura's brother doing it, then a few others when we were there in September, then this poor guy, who was the only only one talking as we were freezing!)

After two hours in temperatures of -2 degrees and losing hope and feeling in our extremities we boarded the coach as our tour guide had received news saying the lights could be seen in another location. No sooner had we boarded the coach than we were being told to jump off as the lights were visible. We stood no more than 10 feet from the coach as the Northern Lights started. They danced, they changed colour, they looked like curtains, they were everything we had hoped and more. They were magnificent! Although in all honesty until they really started dancing I had to ask what I was looking at. I thought it was just clouds! To be fair, they weren't as green as they look in photos. It was different though, more magical, more surreal, more impressive!

The Northern Lights lasted for almost two hours - far longer than we expected - and we didn't get back to the hotel till nearly 2am! It meant that our plan to pick up a hire car at 8am was a bit ambitious - especially as our hotel breakfast was AMAZING! And involved at least 3 courses. (oh, the waffles!)

When we eventually picked up the car at 10am we had our entire route around the Golden Circle planned out. My wonderful L did an amazing job driving, her Idahoan driving experience put us in good stead as the snow hit with the gale force wind. She delivered us safely to the Pingvellir National Park and the tectonic plate great divide. Iceland has beautiful landscapes and the car was a great way to see it. Once we had visited the sight of the first parliament and admired the frozen rivers and lakes we jumped in the car and headed to the Geysers.

Iceland has a number of Geysers, some erupt frequently, some don't and one in particular goes off as regular as every 5 minutes. And made us jump every time it went off! The freezing weather together with snow made the 80-100 degree temperature of the Geysers an interesting sight. The landscape was covered in steam and we had to watch every step.

After the Geysers we decided food was in order and L had found us a Tripadvisor recommended restaurant that saved us from hunger. We ended up with a massive pizza - not very Icelandic - but sooooo good! However, the time it took to indulge in our food, darkness had descended and our plans to head to the Fjordlands in the west had to be abandoned. Maybe next time!

We finished our fantastic trip with a celebratory dinner at a Seafood Grill, where... well, we didn't order seafood. But how could they expect us to want fish, if in fact they offer a gourmet cheese plate! Which... we ordered. Though we shared one after our huge pizza earlier in the day!

Hopefully we will get to go to Iceland again. It may not be cheap, but with planning by the amazing Laura we spent less that £200 spending money for the whole weekend. We couldn't have fitted anything more into the time that we had there but we still came back feeling rested, refreshed and buzzing from the incredible experience.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Losing My Best Friend

Today is a really sad day - my beloved dog Abby is being put to sleep. She is 13, so has lived a long and happy life, and I know it's time for her to go, but that doesn't make it much easier. She has a brain tumor, and has been having regular seizures for six months - it's now gotten to the point where her medication is so high that she spends most of her time sleeping, and has lost quite a bit of use of her back legs.

But she's still adorrrrable!
I thought I'd write a little post of all my favourite memories of my lovely girl - we are all going to miss her so damn much.
When Abby was a puppy, we got her from a farm in Star, Idaho - Jason and I had always wanted a dog, so were just too excited. We knew she was ours right away - she was sweet, shy, and had these beautiful golden and brown stripes down her coat. The people who lived on the farm called her Tiger, but we changed it to Abby. We almost took home her brother as well, but it's a good thing we didn't - she was enough to handle on her own! She peed on Mum's lap on the way to our house.

At Christmas one year, Jason made a gingerbread house in school. We stopped to go to the shops on the way home, and when we got out of our mini-van, Abby was in her usual pride of place in the front seat (she permanently called shotgun, and wouldn't let Jason or I kick her out of it!). Upon our return, she was in the same place - it wasn't until we got home and opened the back to learn Abby had climbed over two sets of bench seats to devour every last bit of it, and made her way back to the front no problem!

Another year, Jason had gotten Dad these really expensive chocolates for Christmas, and put them under the tree. As we opened the last present of the year, Jason realised it wasn't there! We searched high and low, and found it wet in the garden, covered in slobber. Jason was SO mad at her - but it was very funny, especially as she hadn't actually eaten it yet!

She loves food as much as I do!

And DC - lady after my own heart!
Abby can be such a wuss at times - she's always been scared of cats, she'd bark at them until they came near, then the hair on her back would go up - as if she was a cat herself! She'd have the most ferocious of barks when someone came to the door, but when it was opened she couldn't wait to greet the new person. Of course, she was deathly afraid of the vacuum, fireworks, and thunderstorms, and would hide in a bathroom until each of those events were over.

But when it really counted, she was so brave. On a hike in the mountains she jumped over a log and managed to slice through her belly - layers of skin and bloody bits were hanging out, but that dog got herself the whole way down the mountain so we could take her to the emergency vet, with barely a whimper - she just got on with it. She was too heavy for us to carry, so we are glad she did!

In her old age, she's become so hilariously stubborn, though still so loving. For the last few years, when mum takes her on walks, they've become more like 'sniff and lie down's - she stops every 10 meters to sniff around, take a roll in the grass, watch a neighbour, while poor mum has to awkwardly stop and wait for her! She isn't moving for anybody.

John Lennon, reincarnated? 'Peace, man'
When Sarah and I were home a few years ago, we were taking Abby out, and had a huge argument - Sarah went one way, I went the other, and Abby just... sat. She refused to go with either one of us until we made up, and walked the same way. Even when we stormed off together, that wasn't enough - she's a peacemaker!

Keeping couples together since 2000
Thank you my old Flabby Abby Dabby (aka Yoda) for a fantastic 13 years, for cuddles, walks, countless laughs, shared ice cream/hot chocolate/yoghurts, and for being the most adorable part of the Smith family.

What a poser.
We will miss you so much.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Smiths in Israel Part One: Jerusalem!

Israel was, in a word, amazing. It was a place I had wanted to go since my Dad started travelling there for work over 10 years ago, and he promised to take me one day. As a non-religious person, I've always been fascinated with different religions, and so interested in experiencing a place like Jerusalem, where three of the major religions of the world come head to head on a day to day basis. I've wanted to float in the Dead Sea, where it is impossible to sink. I've been excited to see a country that is less than 100 years old - but at the same time, one of the oldest in the world.

So when my parents decided Dad would take me to Israel to celebrate my 25th birthday, I was over the moon. But it was ten times better than I could have ever imagined - probably partially due to my lack of knowledge about the area (so American, I am).

When we arrived in Tel Aviv, it was to a beautiful sunset. Dad and I drove our cute little Hybrid rental car to where we were staying. My parents surprised me with a gorgeous two bedroom flat, with a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea! The flat was so fantastic, and it was a surprise to me that Tel Aviv is on the sea, and not just any sea - the one that Sarah was on the other side of!!

The first day we were there, we went swimming in the sea, and Dad re-taught me how to body board. When we caught a wave that unceremoniously dumped both of us headfirst into the sand, we decided we'd had enough! We went for a morning stroll along the beach front to the old town of Jaffa. Jaffa is 3500 years old! Once we arrived, we went for lunch in the first of many delicious restaurants my Mum had looked up and recommended. In the 35 degree heat, we had delicious calamari, salads, frozen drinks, and I introduced my Dad to halloumi! We then rented bikes and rode back after exploring the town and old port.

The next day we headed an hour on the motorway to Jerusalem. We entered through Jaffa Gate, and climbed to walk around the walls of the city. There were some incredible views up there, and we got to see the city from above. We passed schools of waving kids, nuns hanging their washing to dry, and mosques, synagogues and churches.

The walk ended at Damascus Gate, which is the entrance to the Muslim Quarter. We walked through the old market streets - this was my favourite area of Jerusalem, I think because it was the most authentic. Most tourists don't go to these streets, but they are really missing out. Stalls of spices, friendly Arabic people, and hole-in-the-wall schwarma stands - we had one of our favourite meals here.

We then headed to the Wailing Wall, or technically the Western Wall - this was something I've wanted to see for over ten years. It was just as majestic as I'd imagined - I went into the women's side and marveled at the spectacle. Ladies sobbing and rocking back and forth, praying next to the wall, because its the closest they can get to the Muslim-controlled Temple Mount. I came prepared with my own wish to put into a crevice of the wall, and got a nice tourist to take a photo of me touching the wall without disturbing any worshipers (the first Westerner I asked said she wasn't good at taking photos so wouldn't do it for me).

My Dad had to wear a yamaka to enter his side, which was just adorable.

We then went on a fantastic underground tour of the old city - the Wailing Wall is actually only one third of the Western Wall of the original boundaries of Jerusalem, but thanks to build up over the centuries, it is the only bit that is visible above ground. The history down there is incredible, and I definitely recommend doing the tour if you visit!

We were lucky enough to catch the two hour completely un-signed window that the Temple Mount is open to the public - after a 30 minute wait, metal detector and patdown, and photo ID check (thank goodness I had my paper temporary driver's license!) we ascended, where we promptly found out that Dad's uncovered knees were not acceptable up there. Dad had to purchase a pashmena, which was stylishly fashioned into a skirt. That's fashion, people.

The Dome of the Rock was just absolutely beautiful. The thousands of blue and intricate tiles, the huge gold dome - just amazing. Such a shame only Muslim people are allowed inside to see the actual rock, but it was fantastic to see it from the outside. Dad and I pulled our usual maneuver when told the time was up and we had to leave - said 'oh, okay yep on our way' then sped off in the other direction!

Afterwards we again wandered the endless market streets, and after a refreshing DC break, got ourselves to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is Jerusalem's Christian headquarters, as it's on the location where Jesus Christ was allegedly hung on the cross, laid down afterwards, was buried in the cave and rose up afterwards. All conveniently in one little space! So as such, there were tons of Americans - it was like Harrods in Knightsbridge up in there! People were kissing the slab of wood and hole where the cross was, and it was a huge grand church - though, when competing with the Dome of the Rock, it could have been more extravagant!

The next thing we knew, they were stopping everyone from leaving - we rushed upstairs to get a good view of whatever was about to happen. The head of the church came in with some very important-looking people. Two of the crowd below got really excited (the rest of us were just perplexed) so I ran down to find them after we were all let go. Through very broken English, and the lovely excitable woman getting shushed by a church official, we learned that it was the 'Greek Barack Obama' - the Prime Minister of Greece making a national visit! It must have been very cool for them, as we would have FREAKED if we saw Obama there!

We decided we'd seen enough of Jerusalem for one day, so we left the old city and found a lovely cafe to recharge with foccacia bread and a beer while watching modern Jerusalem go by.

Finally, we got the car and headed up to the Mount of Olives to catch a view of the city at nighttime. This was one of the scariest things we did all trip - the Israelis are crazy drivers, and this drive included a three point turn on a VERY busy road, a two way street that had only enough room for one car at a time and was ALMOST COMPLETELY VERTICAL, ridiculous traffic, people walking out in the middle of the road for no reason, and my Dad doing a donut in a car park to try to beat a coach to a parking spot. White knuckled moments for sure!

But the terror was worth it, as the city truly looked stunning from above just after sunset.

On our way home, going through a town, the hundredth man who crossed the road with no warning smiled at us and waved as he went past, as if he was sense our panic. But hey, Dad managed the whole trip not hitting one person - and only swiping two car mirrors haha (with no damage caused!).

I'm going to have to split this post in two because there was just SO much to write about Jerusalem! Tune in next time for the Dead Sea, Masada, Haifa and the rest of our holiday!

Monday, 4 November 2013

The Third (Or Fourth) Annual Rocky Horror Picture Show + Halloween

I should really figure out how many times we've seen this movie together.

At Halloween, my office party went down really well - people loved the apple bobbing without apples or water, the monster cupcakes Sarah made went down a treat as did the three layer graveyard dip with tortilla chips, and my cocktail made from literally all the random alcohols we have in our office actually tasted pretty good. A great time was had by all.

Now, unfortunately for me, not all holidays can go off without a hitch. As much as I try. Sarah told her sister we'd meet at 6:30pm, and I told Alison and Dave 7:00pm, which caused Sarah and I to have a way over-dramatic argument over the phone (while I was on the bus, entertaining the people in front of me with my angry whispering).

Of course, as expected, it turned out fine and we kind of forgave each other over the deliciousness of a 5 person meal at Wahaca (yummm, plantain tacos).

But when we got to the theatre, Sarah looked like she wasn't enjoying it and though it turned out she was but was tired from the really late night I made her have with my cupcake making (fair enough), I didn't ask her and just got annoyed instead so we pretty much ignored each other the whole show, which is funny when you see the below pictures - we knew we wouldn't be mad for long so just took some nice ones.

And then Sarah randomly decided she didn't want me in this photo. I look cool with it.

But despite our joint exhaustion we absolutely loved the show (as usual) - Alison and Dave came as Janet and Brad, and claimed pretty much the cutest RHPS couple in the entire planet award - and Fiona, who had never seen it before, managed to come dressed perfectly as a partygoer and rocking a pink wig. They all absolutely loved it too, which is so great because its my favourite movie of all time!

Can't wait for our fourth/fifth annual viewing!!!