Thursday, 26 November 2015

Thanksgiving 2015 - Always Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving!!

This day is the one I miss home the very most every year. I love the atmosphere in the lead up to Thanksgiving, everyone is so happy and content and strangers are nicer drivers and in supermarket parking lots. And this year Boise has snow!! Anyway.

I make the most out of every holiday throughout the year, even though my colleagues and neighbours probably think I'm crazy. Whether its an office Easter egg hunt, being the only house in my neighbourhood decorated for Halloween, or having sparklers and BBQs on the 4th July (no matter how rainy it might be!) I feel like I do the very best I can to bring the things I love so much about the USA to my life in the UK.

Exhibit A - Halloween 2015
But Thanksgiving is the only one I've really struggled with. Maybe it's simply because my work doesn't just let me have the two days off we get in America to cook and celebrate, maybe its because even if they did, the people I love would still have to work so wouldn't be able to celebrate with me, maybe it's because this holiday is about family, and most of mine are far away. It's also probably because strangers in the street don't know it's Thanksgiving, so the air of love and kindness just isn't there. I think mostly it's that I haven't yet found a tradition Sarah and I can make our own - to do Thanksgiving the 'American and wife in the West Midlands' kind of way.

Sign I came home to from my girls!
So while I'm waiting, and researching, and thinking of magical things we can do each year to celebrate along with my 'Americans in America' counterparts, this year we were invited to the opening of a brand new restaurant in Birmingham, called The Stable! It'll be so fun to have a nice date night in town, and get to sample all this restaurant have to offer, to mark the occasion. We'll post all about it afterwards, so keep an eye out!

Though Thanksgiving is slightly bittersweet for the lone Idahoan of Kings Norton, it isn't lost on me just how much I am to be thankful for.

I'm most thankful this year for my Mum - she has fought pancreatic cancer this year, and after lots of chemo, a surgery at Johns Hopkins, lots of recovery time in hospital, and more chemo, she is officially in remission as of last week! Mum is truly my hero, she handled everything that came her way incredibly well, continued to be the Mum we all love and adore throughout, and never lost her sense of humour. It may not be over forever, but for now, we are all just so grateful and happy.

I'm also so thankful for my Dad, the unsung hero of the cancer fight - he kept Mum going when she was down, made sure she walked and ate to keep her strength up, treated and surprised her to keep a smile on her face, went to so many 6 hour long chemo appointments, asked all the hard questions to all the doctors, became 'Nurse Bob' when he tended to Mum's post-surgery wound, and was the unwavering support we all needed the whole way through.

My wife, who tried to shield me from hurt and heartache every step of the way - from the day I came home from work and had to Skype Dad to find out that Mum had cancer, to driving me to the airport and packing for me to go to Baltimore for Mum's surgery, for holding down the fort while I was away, being my shoulder to cry on countless times and my reminder to stay positive throughout, for always thinking of ways to make my Mum smile from sending flowers and cards to 'take a picture of this, your Mum will like it!', for always knowing when a pizza and movie night is needed, and for being my better half every day!

I'm thankful for the caring and kind people I have around me here, my mother in law for being there for us from the beginning and for giving me a good luck charm I took to Baltimore and will keep with me always, my good friends, in laws and colleagues for checking in and asking how Mum is, but also for distracting me when I needed it with adventures and memories I will keep for a lifetime.

And finally, I'm thankful for this bundle of fur - it's our first Thanksgiving with her, and I can't believe we've had her for a year! She has changed our lives so much for such a little thing, and we can't imagine life without her. I put together a little video of her best bits from her first year, check it out here!

Happy Thanksgiving from my little family to yours - I didn't expect this post to be quite as heavy as it was, but 2015 has been a hell of a roller coaster. Here's to a healthy and happy 2016!!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The LA life! USA Road Trip Part 1

Arriving in LA - slightly tired but super excited, our first stop after baggage claim was National Car Rental. As luck would have it, our delay in Washington DC had meant that we timed it perfectly to get a Mustang! It had been dropped off half an hour earlier so had we arrived on time it wouldn't have been there.

The car dreams are made of!
We were like kids in a candy store when we saw it - jumping up and down - this was the start of our dream trip....the drama of getting there was fading fast.

In other good news, Laura was able to be a named driver which was good for two reasons: 1) I didn't want to do all the driving 2) L has far more experience driving in America so could handle the busy cities.

Thankfully L offered to drive first and I was so relieved as we hit LA traffic pretty quickly. Our AirBnB was only 20 minutes from the airport and was two streets up from the centre of Hollywood. It took us almost an hour to get there though and by the time we had moved all the bags up the stairs, we ready to pass out. However, the desire for food helped us find a Taco Bell and that gave us the energy to drive the Hollywood strip and plan our next day. The quote 'LA is a car park' was ringing true at this point!
Squint and you can see the Hollywood sign on the hill!
I always forget that the USA doesn't have Sunday closing - in the UK shops shut at 4pm, but without that timeline the day was our own. We had brunch at Mel's Diner - an omelette big enough to share and set us up for the day. It was hot - like 35 degrees C hot - so we took our time doing the tourist things. We walked up and down checking out the Hollywood Walk of Fame, we went to the world's largest sweet shop, I ran up and down the musical stairs by the Chinese Theatre and we spent a good half hour in RuPaul's shop 'just for the shade of it'.

We walked in and out of numerous gift stores collecting mementos - it was Hollywood after all, and this is what dreams are made of !

In the evening we decided to drive to Malibu and were lucky enough to time it for a beautiful sunset - perfect to watch while eating our California Donuts and revelling in how lucky we were to be there. On the way back we decided to check out Calabasas - or, as we discovered, the gates of Calabasas - the Mustang meant we fitted in well enough but we didn't dare to try and drive through the security-guarded gates!
The best evenings involve sunsets and doughnuts :)
The next morning we decided to get our hike on and headed out to the Hollyridge trail that had been suggested to us on Instagram. We knew we had to start early as it was due to get to 38 degrees that day! We arrived at the area at 8am and found a park - following the instructions we had screen shot, we found our trail and started the ascent. It was steep in places but beautiful and every so often you caught sight of the Hollywood sign. We had made the decision to go to the top of the Hollywood sign and we were so glad we did. It was almost 10am by the time we got there but the view was spectacular - totally worth it. It really gave a perspective on how big and sprawling LA is. It spreads out as far as the eye can see, but while standing there it looked so peaceful.

We made our way down and took a second trail to arrive at a great viewing point for the front of the sign - I was SO excited. To be standing at the sign was such a dream come true. In fact, LA was a dream come true!

We also did a Hollywood homes tour (we were tourists, we had to!) and headed into the hills to spot celebrities houses - to name drop a few, we saw: Quentin Tarantino, Vinnie Jones, J-Lo, Bruno Mars, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Ice T & Coco, the Playboy Mansion, Michael Jackson, Liza Minnelli / Judy Garland, Simon Cowell and Justin Timberlake! Phew!

We also took in Beverley Hills, Mulholland Drive, Rodeo drive and a host of other places including the jail Li-Lo and Paris Hilton did time in. It was just like being on the E! Channel. Sadly we didn't actually 'see' anyone famous but it certainly felt like we were in the right place to.

Rodeo drive had this AMAZING beauty parlour - if only it had been open!
Our time in LA came to a close with a beautiful sunrise before we hit the road to Anaheim and Disneyland.....exciting times lay ahead!!!!

See ya, LA! You were everything we had hoped for and more!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The Worst Start to the Best Holiday Ever

On Saturday 10th October, we said goodbye to our furry little lady, as Sarah's parents had very kindly offered to have her stay while we were away, and we headed to the airport. Couldn't believe the trip was finally here! We had an 8 hour trip, then a 2 hour layover in Washington DC, and a final 6 hour flight to Los Angeles. Easy, right?

It turns out not. When we arrived in Washington-Dulles airport, the place was RAMMED - five flights had just come in at once, and it looked like the customs area wasn't prepared (though surely this happens all the time at such a large airport?). We chose to go into the 'foreign arrivals' lane as it was significantly shorter, as usually we'd use my American passport to go in the faster moving 'Americans' line. And that's where we stood. For an hour. There were so many people, the border control had to ask each one of them so many questions, fingerprint, etc etc - it took so long. There weren't people around to ask what we should do, as our flight was closing imminently, and when we eventually was able to ask someone, we were told that everyone is waiting, and we would need to 'deal with it' if we missed our flight. Well okay then!

When we finally got through, we ran to pick up our bags and drop them off again, as you often do when entering the USA and transferring. 'We can make it!!' We thought. We waited with our bags to be checked for about 10 minutes, then shot off down the hall to make this flight.

Until we turned the corner, and realised we had to go through security again. Even though we were already in the airport! And guess what? That line was crazy long as well. We chugged 3 cans of Diet Coke so they didn't throw away our liquids, and waited for another 40 minutes as we kissed our chances of making our Los Angeles connection goodbye.

When we eventually got through, we went straight to United customer services - absolutely gutted. We were two of MANY who had missed their connection due to this poor organisation, so this line was pretty long too. We were told we could be booked onto the first flight of the next day. We were in tears at this point, as what kind of way is this to start our honeymoon? On top of that, United wouldn't pay for a hotel as they didn't see this as their fault (though it was a United terminal, so they could have planned better than having so many planes come in at once!!).

So we'd paid for a night's accommodation in LA as well as a hire car we wouldn't be able to pick up, and on top of that we'd have to pay for a hotel or spend the first night of our holiday on airport seats. Our only hope was standby on a very full flight later that evening - so we went to wait for it, feeling like the chances were slim to start.

We began chatting to a woman waiting to get on the flight, who was very friendly and wished us luck, We were 2nd and 3rd on the standby list - could it happen? Everyone boarded, and we went up to check the situation a few times. We were told 3 people hadn't yet checked in, and the first standby had been given a seat. Hope!!

We were called up to the desk, so very nervous. We were given the news - there were 5 free seats on the plane!!! BUT. The plane was at weight limit, so they weren't going to let anyone else on. Well, I hate to say it, but we both burst into tears, right there in front of the check in desk. The woman who told us looked at us like we'd grown two heads, and then left the other two to it.

I tried to comfort Sarah, and calm her down as we had made a small spectacle of ourselves. I rung my mum, who very kindly offered to pay for a night hotel for us, and I was just about to agree, when...

The man at the desk came over and asked us to stick around. He said the pilots had ordered a re-weigh especially for us, and there are no guarantees but not to go anywhere. I told my mum I'd call her back, as we waited with baited breath.

A few minutes later, we were confirmed - there was room for us on the flight!! WHAT!! We hugged both the men behind the counter and thanked them, and ran down the hall to the plane, feeling like we'd won the lottery. Sarah popped her head into the cockpit and thanked the pilots personally, and I got a high five from my friendly lady as I headed to my seat.

We couldn't believe it. We were going to be there only a few hours late!! Our holiday had officially STARTED!!! Next stop, LA!!