Friday, March 28, 2014

Favorite Photo Friday: The Seagull in Venice

Have you ever had one of those times when you were in the right spot at the right time to take a pretty cool picture? That happened to me last weekend in Venice, Italy (many times actually).

While standing on the Rialto Bridge taking pictures of the canal over people's heads, I spotted a couple leaving a perfect picture taking spot. I jumped right on that, but when I walked up, my spot was taken by a seagull. At first I was like, "Darn you seagull! You're in my way!" But then I realized, this is actually one of the coolest pictures EVAR!
After taking a few pictures and giggling about how funny the moment was, swarms of people started snapping away as well. It's times like these that I will never forget!

Luke and I took over 1,500 pictures during our 48 hour time period in Venice.
This seagull picture is one of many favorite photos from Venice. More to come.

Monday, March 17, 2014

States Visit #2: Louisiana

Actual date of this event: 3-7 March

We planned our visit for early March for two reasons: 1.) It was Mardi Gras, so the majority of the family would have some time off of work and school during our visit allowing us to spend more time with them, and 2.) It was crawfish season! While in Louisiana, we got to spend more time with some of our family than we expected, but we didn't get to see a few people at all. We were definitely bummed about it, but we know that even people who live in the same country don't get to see their families every year, so it isn't abnormal, I guess? That's not an excuse, and we don't default to that though. We try to see everyone, but it doesn't always work out :-( Fortunately, for the folks we did see, we spent more of our time hanging out at the house rather than running around town like we did in Houston. We got to relax, and play, and eat and drink. Have you been to Louisiana? It's all about the eating and drinking. We love it!
{I'm not sure what is going on with my hair here????}

-were practically greeted with a cold Michelob Ultra (at 2pm... on a Monday... we were the last to start drinking in case you are wondering) by Luke's mom, "first" sister, brother-in-law, two nephews, "third" sister, and "first" brother (have I ever told you that Luke is the oldest of seven?)
-played with the kiddos
-played with the kiddos
-ate Chicken and Sausage Gumbo (thanks for gumbo, Chase!)
-played with the kiddos
-hung out with some friends and other family members
-ate King Cake (yes, I had a piece)
That was Monday. So the next day was Mardi Gras! We:
-hibernated all day as the trees were iced over in 28*F temperatures until around 2pm when it started to melt, in the meantime, we
-played with the kiddos
-played with the kiddos
-went to DI's for crawfish (thanks for dinner, Julie!)
-played with the kiddos
-watched 12 Years A Slave
-ate King Cake ice cream (one of us had to giant bowls)
-were all pretty much in a food como and headed to bed pretty early
Ash Wednesday is back to reality day in Louisiana, we:
-played with the kiddos
-played with the kiddos
-played with the kiddos
-packed up and headed to Lake Charles to see Luke's dad, stepmom, "second" brother and "second" sister

-were the first ones to arrive as everyone else was at work or school, but they arrived soon after
-ate Shrimp Scampi (thank you, Sara and Andy!)
-ate a carbon copy of a Ruth's Chris Salad (thank you, Sara and Andy!)
-ate Steaks and asparagus (thank you, Sara and Andy!)
-ate Bread Pudding (thank you, Sara and Andy!) (seriously, best cooks ever!!!)
Food como once again, so on Thursday, we:
-slept in
-went to the mall and had me an Auntie Anne's pretzel (OMG sooooo gooooood!!)
-ate a Darrell's Special Po-Boy at Darrells'
-drove around in Lake Charles and gawked at the houses on the lake
-cracked open a cold one
-enjoyed the peace and quiet backyard along the river until everyone got home from work/school

-ate Chicken and Sausage Gumbo (thanks, Sara and Andy!)
-played ping pong on the kitchen island
Friday was departure day, so we :
-packed up our heavy bags (full of Sam's items)
-had lunch at Luna (thanks for lunch, Sara and Andy!)
-headed back to Houston to have one last Pappasitos meal by the airport where my whole family joined - they drove way out of the way just to come see us once more! (thanks everyone, and thanks for dinner dad!)
-discovered that we somehow purchased "extra leg room" seats originally (which were actually the cheapest option when I booked - weird??) and were slightly more comfortable in the overbooked flight back to London
-lastly, I got to watch The Book Thief which I was super excited about, but it wasn't anywhere near as good as the book (in fact, I felt it was quite different)
-got stuck on a stopped tube train for an hour on the way home, so it took us over 2.5 hours to get home (not cool TFL, not cool)

Even though our trip was short, we had a great time! We enjoyed our snuggles and playtime as much as possible! And due to all of the eating, Luke and I have become a bit too pudgy, so we are on the ├╝ber diet right now. We hate to say "see ya later" to everyone, but it isn't so bad when those words mean "in a couple of months". Plans have already been made and the talks have started of seeing a good number of our family members in the next few months on the European side, and its so comforting to know that it wont be long before we see them again!

Thank you, everyone, for all that you did to make our trip home a great one!

One US vs. UK difference that really stood out to me on this trip is bathroom privacy.
UK stalls: private little rooms with zero visibility from the outside
US stalls: half-inch to one-inch gap around the whole door, loads of visibility from the outside
I know that no one is looking in, but it's still very awkward.
(Thanks, Pam, for bringing this to my attention :-])

Friday, March 14, 2014

States Visit #2: Houston

Actual date of this event: 26 Feb to 3 Mar

It had been nine and a half months since our last (and first) visit back to our home country. During that time, we had seen all of our parents and some of our siblings. With Skype and FaceTime these days, it really feels like last week that we saw each other. Sometimes, Becca (my sister) and I spend a little too much time on FaceTime... our record is around 1 hour 32 minutes or so. Oooops! :-) Anyway, our main goal during our visit was to soak up as much nephews and niece time as possible since we hadn't seen them in the meantime, plus they change way too quickly!! The jet lag was (and still seems to be) really lagging but those kiddos kept me going! 

-started with eating Tex-Mex at Pappasitos
-played with the kiddos
-stayed up until 10pm on our first night (that's 4am GMT!!)
-spent way too much money at Sam's and Target (thanks for tagging along, Becca!)
-had Schlotzsky's (Debbie) and Freebird's Burritos (Luke) (thanks for lunch, Becca!)
-attended my dad's retirement party at his office (so proud of you, Dad!) 

{apparently Zoey saw Freddy Krueger behind the camera and Cooper was trying out for a rap video}
-played with the kiddos
-ate Tex-Mex at La Brisa with some folks from my dad's work (thanks for dinner, Dad!)
-played with the kiddos
-listened to Cooper read me a book (he is learning to read!)
-did a medical exam which is a requirement every two years while we are living overseas
-ate at Buffalo Wild Wings
-played with kiddos
-ate at Rudy's BBQ with the whole family (thanks for dinner, Dad!)
-played with the kiddos
-watched old videos of Becca and me doing gymnastics (we were da bomb!)
-took shots of Pinnacle King Cake vodka (thanks for the vodka, Eric!)
-drank PJ's King Cake Coffee (and brought some back with us) (thanks for the coffee, Eric!)
-played with the kiddos
-wore shorts to the park to play with the kiddos (watch this 6yr old and 3yr old swing!)
-ate at McAlister's
-played with the kiddos
-visited with friends and their kiddos over dinner (thanks for coming to dinner, friends!)
-visited with other friends over drinks at Cedar Creek (thanks for meeting for drinks, friends!)
-did two loads of laundry in 2 hours!!!!!! (love you, American full-size separate washers and dryers!)
-had lunch at Chilli's (thanks for lunch, Dad!)
-wore shorts while outlet mall shopping
-played with the kiddos
-played with the kiddos
-played with the kiddos
-bundled up due to a major temperature drop while doing more medical check-up stuff
-ate at Pappa's BBQ

After our delicious and gigantic lunch at Pappa's (I forgot how big American meals are!!), we headed to Louisiana to spend the last four days with Luke's family and soak up as much of the other two nephews. As it always is, we had a great time with my family. We really wanted it to be a relaxing time, and it was for the most part. Although it went fast, we got a good dose of hugs and kisses and playtime with the kids, but it is never enough, so until then we will stick to kisses with the FaceTime screen :-) 
{This guy just got his first iPhone!!! Now I can message him AND FaceTime him!!!!}

It cost us about $54 to fill up the fuel tank in the vehicle we rented. Our vehicle in London (which is smaller, but does require diesel) costs almost three times that amount for one fill. Yikes!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Funny Moment: The Party Starts at Midnight

Actual date of this event: Early January 2014

If you missed my first Funny Moment, click here.

The One Where The Party Starts at Midnight

Skiing is hard hard work! It is exhausting, so there is no better way to relax than a few drinks, right? And skiing with a hangover really isn't the most fun experience, so during our ski trips, Luke and I try to keep our nights kinda early. All right, I will admit we keep our nights pretty early everynight.

During our ski trip in St. Anton am Arlberg, Luke and I would go for a few drinks before dinner. St. Anton is a party town with quite a few groups of guys for stag-do's (aka bachelor parties). The ratio of guys to girls was like ten to one. Skiing six hours on the mountain wiped us out, so after dinner was usually ball game for us. Anyway, at one of the bars, we had an interesting, but mostly sad, conversation with an Australian barkeep.

Bar-Girl: "So, have you guys had any wild nights out yet?"
Luke and me: "No, not really."
Bar-Girl: "Well when is your last night? You have to go hard for your last night."
Luke: "Friday."
Bar-Girl: "Well, you have to go to Kandahar! Everyone goes to Kandahar. But don't go there until 2!"
Luke and me: "Oh. Okay." but inside our heads we're thinking, "2am!!?? What!!!!?"
Bar-Girl: "Before that, go to Bobo's, but don't go there until mid-night. It doesn't really getting started until then."
Luke and me: "Oh, okay." but inside our heads we're thinking, "Mid-night!!?? What!!???"
Luke, trying to play it cool: "So where are the good places to go before Bobo's?"
Then she lists a few places, but wasn't as enthusiastic about those. Apparently it's not cool to party before midnight.

We. Are. Officially. Old.
But hey! She obviously thought we looked young and could hang, so that's good!
Or maybe it's a trick that young people play on old people now.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Sun is Shining!

Actual date of this event: 22 February

We were blessed with super sun and a perfect temperature - around 55*F - on a Saturday!! It has been a long time since we have had such a thing, so Luke and I took action!
Our day began in Greenwich since Luke had only been once before back in June.
{The Cutty Sark ship}
We checked out the market which was unbelievably packed, but it is a pretty awesome market! We found raclette which we only thought we could get at Borough Market -- +1 for Greenwich market! They also had Halloumi -- +2 for Greenwich market! And the non-food market part had all kinds of neat stuff that we actually wanted to buy which rarely happens -- +3 for Greenwich market! Apparently, we visited the market the first time we went to Greenwich, but I don't remember that.

After the market, we climbed up the hill because the views are way too amazing to skip especially on such a terrific day! It was really crowded, so we just snapped a few photos then went back down.

Since it was a wonderful day, we decided to try out a few pubs that I had heard were fantastic, and they happen to be along the river. Perfect plan! We headed to the northside of the river by way the DLR.
We started at The Grapes which is apparently the place where Charles Dickens sat and wrote Great Expectations. Or that's what I was told. The current building of The Grapes was built in 1720, and survived the Blitz during the Second World War.

The next place was The Narrow, which was not quite a pub, it was more of a restaurant. And boy did that food smell delicious! We sat at the bar and had a pint and some chorizo.
The third place was The Prospect of Whitby, which is one of the best pubs along the river, according to a London poll. It claims itself to be the oldest pub on the river, since around 1520. It has gone through several name changes, and the only original aspect of the building is the flagstone floor. The most special aspect of the pub is the hangman's noose  The Prospect of Whitby has a great outdoor space, but if the tide is high, you could get splashed.

 {Hangman's noose - a symbol of the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion to overthrow King James II}
 {This pewter-top bar is said to be the longest in Britain. Apparently these bars were popular in early 20th century, but most have been replaced.}
 {There are signs like these all over the pub that explain history facts.}
The last pub on the my list was across the river, so we headed to the Overground (which actually goes underground haha) to get there. The Mayflower is a really nice pub, but it is kinda out in the middle of nowhere. I visited the pub with my parents back in August after we heard about it during our river cruise. The actual Mayflower ship set sail for America from where the pub sits, but made a stop in Southampton for supplies before continuing on. It also has a really nice deck, but during this time of year, the sun doesn't touch it so it is a bit chilly unless you sit in the heated tent they have set up. The sky was really pretty as the sun went down.

As we walked along the river from pub to pub, it was neat to see Canary Wharf change locations since the river snakes. We could have kept going along the river where more pubs sit, but we chose to go find something to eat in Dalston. It always amazes me how a pub can seem empty from the outside, but it is pretty lively once you get in. It is one of the things I love most about English pubs! Luke and I both agree that the Prospect of Whitby was our favorite - probably because of its history and outdoor space.

Where do you go to relax and wind down for the day?

British public houses began their smoke-free environments in 2006.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

TBTuesday: Mardi Gras

TBT works for Tuesday, right?

Today is Mardi Gras! Happy Mardi Gras!! Today is the day where you can eat a lot and drink a lot and party your way into lent. I am here today to tell you about my experiences of celebrating Mardi Gras while living in the New Orleans area.
Here are some facts that people may not know or realize:
1.) The actual day of Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday.
2.) Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday in French.
3.) The day before Mardi Gras is called Lundi Gras (Fat Monday).
4.) The weeks prior to Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras is the Carnival Season which begins on King's Day. This year's Carnival Season was really really long because Easter is much later this year.
5.) In the UK, Mardi Gras is called Shrove Tuesday... and also Pancake Day - you're supposed to eat a bunch of pancakes or something??

Note: These are pictures are old and not the best quality so please prepare your eyes. :-)

All right all right all right... I wasn't living in New Orleans yet, but I this was my first ever Mardi Gras experience so I had explain where I was coming from.
I was a senior in high school, and a group of us decided to go to Galveston because we heard the Mardi Gras party there was a lot of fun. It was located on The Strand, and we had to pay $20 to get in. I'm not quite sure at what age I became frugal, but it was definitely before I was 18. I was not pleased with this $20 cover charge. To make matters worse,
1.) it was jam packed. Like squeezing-through-the-crowd-cant-move-or-lift-my-arms-in-the-air packed.
2.) I had $20 in my back pocket that went missing because...
3.) I, along with my friends, got groped the whole time. I am not kidding, there were hands all over me from filthy guys. I have never felt so violated in my life. And don't think that me and my friends were "flashing" anybody for beads... we weren't, we were just walking and trying to get to a less crowded location.
4.) I wanted some beads. No one would give me beads because I refused to "flash". How rude! I think I ended up with like four strands and only because a friend (who had giant ta-tas) gave them to me. Sickos.
5.) I ended up with a stain on my jeans, and I didn't even want to know what that was!
Needless to say, my first Mardi Gras experience was the worst, and I never ever want to go back to that hell-hole. And I have no pictures because that was thirteen years ago - wow!

I was living in Houston while Luke lived in New Orleans. I, along with a group of friends, decided to join him the weekend before Mardi Gras to see what celebrating New Orleans Mardi Gras was all about. It had been seven years since my last Mardi Gras party, and I had been told New Orleans was NOTHING like Galveston. And it wasn't. We started at someone's house (don't remember who) for crawfish and pre-party.

Then we headed to St. Charles to watch a few parades. Sooooooo different than the Galveston Mardi Gras, you didn't need to pay to celebrate and you didn't need to be a special person to receive beads. The people on the parade floats chunked handfuls of beads to anyone and everyone! And they weren't those rinky-dink ones that you get from the bubble gum machine either!
After the parades finished, which took a couple of hours, we headed to Bourbon Street. Because my husband is a bad-A, we were able to go up to a balcony. Only the rich-and-famous (not seriously) go up on balconies. Unfortunately, we got there quite late, and the hotels shut down the balconies pretty early (like 2am, which is early in New Orleans) to try to clear out the streets. We didn't get to experience the balcony for too long, but it was so much fun!

In 2009, I had been living in the New Orleans area for about six months since I relocated from Houston the summer before. I had experienced Bourbon Street on it's own many many times in the months prior, so I had learned quite a few things about just "walking" down the street. Things like hold your beer really really tight because people throw beads from the balconies and try to knock your beer out of your hand - yes, beads get thrown year round in NOLA. Also, walk underneath the building awnings because people throw beads to try to hit you in the head. Also, watch where you are walking on the streets because there are puddles of water on the ground, even though it hadn't rained in days! And lastly, we knew the best places to party... the places that the "locals" go, not the tourists. And because we lived in the New Orleans area, pretty much all businesses shut down for Lundi Grad and Mardi Gras, but since I was a teacher, I got the whole week off (on top of my usual spring break which was always after Easter, muuuahahah). The BEST day to party is Lundi Gras, so Luke and I planned to stay at our friend Dave's house. We started at St. Charles for the parades, then walked our way to Bourbon Street where we again had access to a few balconies. We went much earlier this time and got to eat from the buffet, drink the drinks, and we were also given beads to throw. Endless bags of beads... to throw! Y'all there is no better way to celebrate New Orleans than being the bead thrower! Just like everyone else, we chunked and chunked and chunked those beads to anyone and everyone. We also started a game to see who could throw beads into windows across the way and who could throw the farthest. It was the best!

We got a little cocky. We were beginning to feel like pros at this New Orleans Mardi Gras thing. We planned again to stay at our friend Dave's house. We did the parade thing and the balcony thing AGAIN (so spoiled, so spoiled). It was a blast, it was all good, we were having the time of our life!! But when I woke up in the morning, I had this really funny feeling. Yes, the hungover feeling, but also a different feeling. The feeling of something wrong. I walked outside, and my car was missing! After going thru a round of "did it get towed? maybe. did it get stolen? maybe. did we drunk drive it somewhere? I dont think so. did we move it? I dont think so.", a neighbor had cameras on his house and we watched a video of a hooded guy steal it. I was almost sick to my stomach (partially due to a hangover), and we could do nothing about this. We tried to call insurance, but since the company was based out of NOLA, we got no help since it was Mardi Gras day and nobody works on Mardi Gras day in NOLA. So what did we do? We walked to a bar to start drinking again :-) All ended well... the car was found two weeks later, and it was totaled which was fine because I didn't want to drive it after someone else stole it from me. But the thief let their hat in the vehicle, so the day we received the check from insurance, we burned the hat in our fireplace!
 {yep, that is what Luke looked like prior to shaving his head}

After our not great experience in 2010, we decided to go skiing in Winter Park in 2011 for Mardi Gras and also skiing in Crested Butte for Mardi Gras 2012. Last year, we were in Aberdeen, and although, we didn't celebrate on Mardi Gras day, Luke and I were crowned king and queen at the AWA Mardi Gras party. That was fun! So what am I doing this year? You will have to wait to find out :-)

The Carnival season in New Orleans was interrupted in 2013 when the city hosted the Super Bowl the Sunday before Mardi Gras.

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