Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dear Zahara: 4 Months

Dear Zahara,

Happy four-month birthday! I can't believe another month has already gone by. This was a jam-packed month for us. We spent a lot of it traveling--a whole week in south England, and an overnight trip to London. You did so well on both trips. It is remarkable what a difference it was from our last week-long trip to Scotland. This time we could actually drive more than a few miles at a time without having to stop and change you or feed you. We still stopped pretty often, but you were much more content than before.

Note: while driving Zahara is always in her car seat!

We also had some fun seasonal activities. We visited the Masham Sheep Festival where you met your first sheep, and we had an early Halloween celebration at a pumpkin patch.

This month you've continued to build muscle strength in your arms and legs. Though you're probably a few months off, it looks like you're preparing to roll, and even crawl! You move your body all around and are starting to get some traction. You really love standing on daddy's lap while he holds your hands. This is daddy's favorite thing to do with you because he loves how proud of yourself you are when you stand. You smile and giggle and melt our hearts.

You are very inquisitive. You are happiest when you are interacting with the world--whether it's seeing new things on our trips, or watching the cars go by from our window. You love being in the Moby now that you can hold your head up and look around.

Are you teething? You are drooling a ton (that's an understatement!) and putting anything you can reach into your mouth. Current favorites are Sophie the Giraffe, muslin squares, and fingers (yours, mine, daddy's...it doesn't matter).

You're turning into quite the swimmer. You love kicking your little legs and are getting better at going underwater. We've had a few opportunities to swim with you while on vacation and at our regular class. Hopefully next month you'll get to swim with G-mom and Pop-Pop in Dallas.

Your very favorite activity is still singing. You love any song we sing, but are especially fond of "Wheels on the Bus;"  and "Itsy Bitsy Spider." Funnily enough, you go crazy for some songs I learned in my high school Spanish class. We sing the Spanish alphabet and Central and South American capitals.

I think this month has been my favorite so far. Daddy and I love you very much and can't wait to see what the next month brings!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Wasabi Sushi

A few weeks ago my friends and I were in Leeds and we saw a sign saying Wasabi was coming soon. I'd never heard of this chain of restaurants, but Nick said he'd seen it in London and that it is awesome. I can now confirm that Nick is not a liar. Wasabi is, in fact, awesome.


The concept for the restaurant is sushi as fast food. Each piece of sushi is individually wrapped; literally every piece--not every roll. Items are pretty cheap, usually 2 for a £1 or 75p each. The quality was surprisingly good, too. Dan and I gorged ourselves on an embarrassing amount of sushi when we were in London getting Zoey's passport. There was a Wasabi branch at King's Cross, so we grabbed some before our train back home. For only £20 total, we were stuffed to the gills. I had several individual pieces, but also a salmon nigiri box set.


I cannot wait for this to come to Leeds! Who wants to join me for some awesome sushi takeaway?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Final Days Down South

All good things must come to an end. After a week in southern England, it was almost time to return home. First though, we toured the Eden Project and Torquay. The Eden Project is absolutely fascinating. It is huge complex with two massive biomes containing thousands of plants. The project started with a reclaimed clay pit and set out to prove that it is possible to turn an industrial wasteland into a thriving, lush ecosystem. Today you'll find all sorts of fruits and vegetables growing, including coffee and banana in the Tropical biome; and olives and grapes in the Mediterranean biome. Outdoors, corn, hops, sunflowers and lots more grows beautifully.

Admission is a little pricey, but it was definitely worth the money. I imagine that in the summer or spring this place would be even more spectacular surrounded by blooming flowers.

We spent our last night in Torquay. I really loved the picturesque boardwalk and its ferris wheel. We didn't explore the town too much, but it seemed cute. The sunset was absolutely spectacular! And I would definitely recommend the B&B we stayed in. It is called the Exton House, and owners Julie and John were just lovely. Definitely good value for the money.

It was a terrific way to end an epic trip. I really had no idea that England had white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and wild ponies. Cornwall and the rest of south England was such a pleasant surprise!

Read about our other stops in south England:
Waterfalls and Castles
Cruising Around Cornwall

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cruising Around Cornwall

Our next day in Cornwall was spent exploring some of the beach towns and the Minack Theatre. Situated 15 minutes from an adorable little town called Mousehole (pronounced Mowzel) and overlooking the stunning Porthcurno Bay, Minack Theatre is Cornwall's most famous open-air theater.


Porthcurno Bay

The theater has a really cool history. It was built and financed by one woman, Rowena Cade. She literally built the theater with her own two hands. Click here to read the whole story.

Minack Theater

The theater is impressive, but what is most impressive is the view. My favorite part of the visit was sipping a hot chocolate while looking at this:

I didn't know water in England could be that turquoise. I absolutely love it! After a quick visit to the beach--Zoey's first sandy beach!--we made our way to Land's End.

Land's End was a total disappointment. I was excited to see the "end of the world," but it has turned into a total tourist trap. You have to pay to get in and then pay to get your picture taken with the famous sign. All around are touristy shops selling the usual garbage. And the view was not any better than what we saw at the theater. I would definitely not recommend taking a special trip to see it.

Far less disappointing was St. Ives. Though it is a little commercial, I liked the feel of this beach town a lot. We had a fun meal at Portmeor Cafe and a delicious cream tea at The Tea Room. The cafe had a great view overlooking the water. The tapas were pretty small, but my "roasted beetroot, green beans, feta, toasted seeds, and soft herb salad" was very filling. And the tea at the Tea Room was one of the best cups I've had in a while. Almost as good as Betty's. :) Zoey even had a nice nap while Dan and I relaxed.

Another successful day in Cornwall!

Read about our other stops in south England:
Waterfalls and Castles
Final Days Down South

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Waterfalls and Castles

On day three of our epic drive through south England we visited Docton Mill Gardens. The only reason we stopped here is because Tripadvisor lists the tea house in the Gardens as serving the best cream tea in Devon. Since Devon is known for its cream teas, we couldn't possibly pass up this opportunity. You know what? The cream tea was pretty darn good. The jam wasn't as good as yesterday's whortleberry, but the scone itself was flaky, warm and so delicious.

What surprised me, though, was how much I enjoyed the gardens and surrounding area. We took a hike to the coastal waterfall--wow! What a sight! I loved the dramatic sheer cliffs and the gorgeous turquoise water. It helped that we had incredible weather.

Next we made the long drive down to Penzance where we were staying for the night. We stopped at St. Michael's Mount first though. This tidal island is so cool. To get to the castle, you either have to use a boat during high tide, or walk across the causeway during low tide. We went about an hour before the tide was due to come in. It was fun seeing the water slowly covering the path.

People actually live on the mount. It is mostly people involved in caring for the property, but there are several families including small children. We spoke with a caretaker who told us that when the water is rough the children don't have to go to school. Can you imagine?

Read about our other stops in south England:
Cruising Around Cornwall
Final Days Down South

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Exploring Exmoor

The second day of our trip down south was another long day of driving as we made our way through the Exmoor National Park. I am constantly amazed at how quickly the scenery changes in such a short span. Exmoor was so dramatic, with its sheer cliffs, rocky beaches and ponies!

Porlock Weir

Portlock Weir had some really cool views, but my favorite part was the "toll road" right outside the city. You pull up to a gate, get out of your car to open the gate, then deposit two pounds into the hole in the door. The sign read: "Place toll through this slot. Please only ring the bell if change is required. Thank you."

It was so weird, but totally worth it. The road was amazing! We twisted, turned and wound our way through the woods, eventually joining the main road heading to Lynmouth. Nestled in the Valley of the Rocks, the Victorians called Lynmouth "Little Switzerland." We didn't spend a lot of time here, but it was pretty.

A few minutes outside of Lynmouth is a National Trust site called Watersmeet. We stopped there because we saw the sign for its cafe. Now, I've eaten a lot of scones in my time, but this scone was one of the best. What made it so good? The whortleberry jam! I'd never heard of whortleberries before, but they're a wild bilberry (similar to a blueberry) that grows in Exmoor. I could eat a vat full of this stuff. It was sweet and fruity, with whole chunks of whortleberry. YUM!


On our second toll road of the day we finally saw the famous Exmoor ponies! This unique breed, now listed as an endangered species, has been in Exmoor since 50,000 BCE!!! They were hanging out in a parking lot and were just as interested in us as we are in them.

The views down to our hotel in Ilfracombe were spectacular, even if the weather wasn't.

Read about our other stops in south England:
Waterfalls and Castles
Cruising Around Cornwall
Final Days Down South

Monday, October 21, 2013

Driving Down the Romantic Road

While we are waiting for Zoey's passport and British visa, we are not allowed to leave Britain. We're (hopefully) close to finalizing her paperwork, but in the meantime we've been satisfying our need to travel by exploring more of England. Last week we went to the Costwolds and Cornwall, which was absolutely amazing. It is gorgeous down south! I love living in North England, but I would not complain if I saw this every day.

Porthcurno Beach

We started our trip with a drive through the "Romantic Road." It was a lot of driving, but it was definitely worth it. The scenery was fantastic, and Dan had fun driving down the tiny, windy roads.

We stopped every couple of hours to explore the small market towns (and feed Zoey). I particularly liked Cirencester, a town whose name I still cannot pronounce. When we asked a local how to say it, he gave us a whole story about how his family, who have been there for generations, say it one way while other families say it a different way. Neither pronunciation was what I thought it would be. Apparently this is a well-documented issue going all the way back to the Normans.

Where we stopped on the Romantic Road

Lower Slaughter was a nice stop off. The mill was very picturesque, and though we didn't do it, I hear that it is a really nice walk between Upper and Lower Slaughter.

I also enjoyed walking around the St Mary churchyard in Painswick. The church is originally Norman, but was expanded in the 1480s. It is famous for its yew trees and unique tombstones. 

Painswick church

After more than two years living here, it is still hard for me to wrap my mind around how old these towns are. Painswick's high street was built around 1428, and there are still some 14th century houses in the town! As an American, it is hard to imagine such a long and well-preserved history of one's country.

We drove through, but didn't stop in Broadway since Zoey had just fallen asleep. The town is listed as one of the more charming in the area though, so if I were to do it again I would get out and walk around. We did stop in Burford for dinner though and stumbled upon a fantastic restaurant called The Angel. It's just a little pub (of course dating from the 16th century), but the food was delicious! One day Dan and I will get to eat a whole meal together, but for now this was my view as I ate:

Dan and Z watching me eat from outside

Read about our other stops in south England:
Waterfalls and Castles

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Indoor S'mores and GIVEAWAY

UPDATE: Congrats to Kristiina who was randomly chosen as the s'mores giveaway winner by random.org. Enjoy! And thanks to everyone for playing!

The weather is turning a bit cooler here, which means our fireplace is getting plenty of use. Luckily Dan makes the best fires. Not only do the fires keep us nice and toasty, but it gives us an excuse to have indoor s'mores!

A couple of years ago I went to a work conference and met a bunch of Australians. The hotel we were staying in had a massive double-sided fireplace in the lobby. I off-handedly remarked that it would be the perfect place to make s'mores. They had no idea what I was talking about. It turned out that they don't have s'mores in Australia. Nor do they have them in England. So sad, right?

So, if you're reading this and wondering what the heck I'm talking about, s'mores are a great American tradition. They consist of roasted marshmallows and Hershey's chocolate bars sandwiched between two graham crackers. Now, if you don't know what a s'more is, you probably also haven't heard of graham crackers. They are, what the Brits would call, a biscuit (cookie) made from graham flour. They are sweet and crunchy. Sometimes the crumbs are are used as the crust of cheesecake.

Here's where the giveaway comes in! I think everyone should have s'mores at least once so I'm going to give someone a "s'mores kit," including a box of graham crackers, a pack of marshmallows, and a bar of Hershey's chocolate. Leave me a comment with your name and the words "Give Me S'mores!" and I'll choose a winner at random. The giveaway is open to anyone in the world and will close at 5:00pm GMT on Sunday, October 13.

Good luck!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Furlough Fun

As you may have heard, the U.S. Government shut down on October 1st. I'll leave my political views out of this, except to say that as an American living abroad it is a huge source of embarrassment. How do I explain to my British friends that my country, which is supposed to be a leader of the free world and an example to other nations, shut down because our leaders can't talk to each other. Partisan politics have gotten completely out of hand. The fact that 800,000 government employees, including my husband, are currently without work is absurd. Since I left my job to come here, it means our family is not earning any money at the moment. Thankfully, we'll be fine, but there are thousands of others who are  suffering.

Most of my friends out here are furloughed as well. It's been a weird, but oddly fun week. Everyone is just trying to make the most of it. Our friends Felicity and Ryan threw a pancake breakfast party and Sarah and Randy threw a frugal potluck lunch where the item you brought couldn't cost more than £5.

Since we had the time, Dan and I decided to take a mid-week trip to the Lake District. We found a great deal on Travelzoo for that night. Windermere is only a couple of hours away, so we were able to leave in the afternoon and get there in time for dinner. The hotel, Hillthwaite House, was amazing. Our voucher included breakfast, a four-course dinner, tea and scones, and a bottle of prosecco. They had an indoor pool and sauna that we took full advantage of. 

She may not look it, but she loves it

Love the sauna!

The greatest part of the hotel was that it had a baby monitor in the room! I've never seen this before, but it is absolutely brilliant! You dial a number on the phone and leave the phone off the hook. Then you pick up a mobile phone from the front desk and can listen in to your room from anywhere in the hotel. Dan and I enjoyed our first post-baby meal alone. Even though I was listening to the phone every couple of seconds, it was so liberating to be on a date with my husband. I miss those days.

The next day we took a drive around the lakes.  The weather was terrible, but we had a great time exploring Keswick seeing the gorgeous scenery.

Keswick is a cute little town with several good restaurants, art museums and shops. We had a snack in an all-vegetarian restaurant called the Lakeland Peddler; and lunch in an art museum. The food was OK, but the desserts looked incredible!

I sincerely hope that Congress can work together to bring the government back online, but until that time we'll just do our best to enjoy our time together.