30 November 2010

Let's Just Call A Spade A Snow Shovel

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

I was going to go to my first outdoor antique market today, but due to the snow (sniff sniff) I am home. Unexpected housebound days allow me to do a little catch-up with a cup of hot tea and my dog on my lap (he couldn't be happier).

You can see why the English talk about the weather a lot - there is a lot to talk about!

A 'London Fog' so famous a coat company made a name for itself. This is what the weather report means by 'white cloud'? I am not accustomed to fog, but it was like driving through a blizzard with dry roads :)

We were treated with 'sunny spells' after the fog. Leaves still continue to turn and cling to their branches. 

A wonderful surprise about autumn - I can better see the view through the trees! Where I thought a forest had a rise, it actually is atop a lovely valley. Lots of charming homes now peek through the forest to my delight. 

(I think I held my camera behind me to take this shot whilst driving, which would explain why it looks like I'm on the wrong side of the road. Or maybe I am) ('whilst', very English)

Look - it is wintry inside our home. See our foggy window panes? I thought this only occurred in fictional drawings.  Now I'm keeping my eye out for a partridge in a pear tree :) Seriously!

Next up, jack FROST brings crunchy white grass and icy car windshields.

And for the last day of November, SNOW! My kids could not be more excited to see the fluffy white reminder of our old home (or more hopeful for a school 'snow day' tomorrow). Light up the fire and crank the Christmas tunes!

Being an optimist (and lover of warm weather), I sold my snow shovel at our yard sale in the US before we moved. Now I know what to put on my Christmas list this year :) 

I keep telling my husband we got off the boat at the wrong port...

Can anyone tell me how to roast chestnuts not on an open fire? I'd really appreciate it ;)

Be warm,
XO Laura

26 November 2010

Friday Fun: What's Your Sign?

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

As a follow up to my post Sign Of The Times, I can't resist photographing signs that are interesting or overly graphic.

I wonder how well attended this church is...

How sweet...

 Friday Fun: What do you think this Belgian sign is indicating below?

Please place your guess (silly ones welcome) in the comment section.
Because it is more fun when everyone plays!

XO Laura

24 November 2010

Ringing In The Holidays

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the US. My kids do not have the day off for the holiday, but I will be in their classrooms to help celebrate this American tradition. 

A few Americans I know will go to the US for the holiday, but most will be enjoying it in their UK home over the weekend or going to the local restaurant that caters to the Americans for this annual meal.

Classroom Thanksgiving Turkey Craft with London Map for Wings

I feel one step closer to the Pilgrims without my pre-made pie crust and other conveniences. And we may be eating chicken instead of turkey due to the size of our teeny weeny oven. The Pilgrims were good at improvising, weren't they? Or was that the explorers?

Anyway, Thanksgiving is possibly my favorite holiday due to its simplicity. No strings attached - just food and family, no gifts or fanfare.

As I reflect on what I am thankful for, the traditional list comes up - good health and friends & family who we cherish near and far. Yet this morning, I surprised myself by being thankful for my massage therapy training ten years ago that quietly transformed my thinking (I was a massage therapist until I had my first kiddo.) 

No. 1: Positive Thinking
One's mind, no matter the message, always wants to prove itself right. No matter what. So if you say 'I'm fat', you will try to make that message correct. If you say 'I'm creative', your mind will try to make that message correct too. Keep self-talk positive, always.

No. 2: Forgive Yourself
So while it may have seemed foolish to have moved that last piece of furniture by myself, which caused my disc to herniate in January, I didn't beat myself up over it.  If I could look into the future, I wouldn't make any mistakes, but not having that superpower and not being perfect, I make mistakes every day. I don't allow guilt to eat at me.

The next holiday is, of course, Christmas. Such a magical time, especially with kids. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Christmas season comes almost a month earlier than I am accustomed to. In the US, the season starts after Thanksgiving (end of November) while in the UK, it is kicked off after Guy Fawkes Day (beginning of November). 

I wasn't sure how I'd feel about having a longer season, but it actually is quite nice to have Thanksgiving in the middle of the Christmas season. I also don't feel as rushed to buy Christmas gifts because I've gained 3 weeks to do so. 

Yesterday a friend and I went to the Cologne Christmas Market in London along the River Thames.

Cologne Market with Big Ben in the Distance

If you are needing some 'cheer' while you are there, you can grab a cup of Jagermeister with Red Bull (Jager-Bombe). It tasted like cough syrup, but we had to give it a try. (Being explorers, not Puritans)

My favorite stall sold handmade Lithuanian houses. Smoke comes out of the chimney from a lit candle inside. I wish I had bought a whole village of them, but I'll have to settle for a photo of one. So adorable, don't you think?

So here is our current 5 day forecast. I think it is so interesting that 'white cloud' is a possibility. I've always smiled at their expression of 'sunny spells' and 'sunny intervals'.

We haven't had any snow yet - I hear the whole city shuts down with even the smallest amount because they don't have the equipment to care for the roads and train tracks. Apparently many cars here do not do well on ice or snow either. Another week of adventure ahead of us, now in the weather department!

Wishing you a very Happy (warm and cozy) Thanksgiving!!! Sending you the love...

XO Laura

20 November 2010

Interesting Places To Store Your Vino

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

source: GailWrightAtHome

This week I went on a wine tour of Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, Surrey with some girlfriends (hi y'all!). Complete with a tour, wine tasting, shopping, and lunch in the panoramic Gallery Restaurant, I learned that this vineyard is the largest in England, grows 10% of UK plantings, and was established just in 1986. Its similar geography to Champagne, France was the reason this property was purchased in the first place. 

In the beginning, neighbors thought it was a cucumber farm when they first starting planting their puny 2 year old grapevines. Today Denbies mostly makes white wines, many of which have won awards putting England on the map in the wine world.

Denbies Wine Estate

Now the plot thickens as I share a few interesting places to store your precious wines in England...

WW2 Air Raid Shelter

Locke-King Vaults

During WWII, Brooklands in Weybridge, Surrey was a hub of military aircraft manufacturing, and therefore a prime target. One of the UK's largest surviving air raid shelters was built there and now has become a perfect underground vault for wine storage just 40 minutes outside London. 

Remaining sealed and unspoilt for almost 60 years, many original artifacts such as posters and signs remain in this cool, dark, and constant environment. The EHD redevelopment team has been very mindful of the war effort and will erect a plaque in the vaults in their honor. See Locke-King Vaults for more details. 

Old Stone Mine

A Bath Stone Mine

This vast underground complex deep beneath the hills of Wiltshire was originally a quarry of famous Bath stone from 1868 to 1934.  The Corsham site was then taken over by the Ministry of Defense to use as a munitions storage facility with impregnable security as it is deep underground and encased in stone (bomb-proof too!). These qualities have been capitalized on by Octavian Vaults's Corsham Cellars.

(In fact, many stone mines were used as Cold War nuclear bunkers)

Sea Floor

Champagne Bottles On The Titanic

Perhaps old shipwrecks inspired French wine buffs to think of submerging their wine bottles off the coast of Normandy, France. Currently certain winemakers, such as Louis Roederer, are experimenting to see if the gentle rock, constant temperature, and lack of light underwater will make a superior wine. 

I have such an appreciation of new twists on old ideas :)

 XO Laura

18 November 2010

The London Buzz

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

This week has been filled with excitement around the premiere of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part I. Here the movie will be in theaters tomorrow (films usually come a few months later than in the US). 

Daniel Radcliff (aka Harry) and Emma Watson (Hermione) were interviewed by my local radio station on my way to school! Too cool!

Emma Watson at Harry Potter London Premiere

Emma is wearing a red poppy, the symbol of The Poppy Appeal and Remembrance Day of the Armed Forces. Everyone in my part of town wore one last week.

View video interviews of Daniel and Emma here. Emma talks about not being allowed to cut or color her hair (thus the new 'do), get a suntan, or snow ski because of her constant role as Hermione Granger over the last ten years. 

The other exciting news is the engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton. I think the general feel here is the country has a deep fondness for Prince William due to the early loss of his beloved mother. And while the English seem to like that they have royalty, they also feel it is a huge financial burden and a bit out-dated.

Newly Engaged: Prince William and Kate Middleton

In comparison to the US, UK tabloid newspapers are much bigger business here. Not only are there more of them, but they are published daily (or even twice daily) instead of weekly. My guess as to why is many people use public transportation, like The Tube, and have more time to read. 

Today the radio reported that Kate was seen leaving Westminster Abbey and therefore will probably be having the wedding there. Their engagement has certainly added fuel to the tabloid fire!

I think of the bumpy road the couple has ahead of them. I don't envy them, but I certainly wish them the very best. Weddings are so exciting! Especially of the royal fairy-tale variety :)

Okay, I have to admit I did buy one of those tabloids as a souvenir yesterday :)

XO Laura

15 November 2010

As An Expatriate

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

Would they have yachts? Second and third homes all over the world? How would I fit in? Like the first day in a new school, I wondered what my future expat community would be like.

Vinyl Decal created and sold by Single Stone Studios

One of the hardest parts of moving for me (besides the emotional goodbyes) was that I felt I was on an island. When you are pregnant, you meet other pregnant moms. And later moms with toddlers. But when you are moving to a foreign country, you are on your own.

It felt like uncharted territory with no one by my side doing it too - navigating complicated school decisions, selecting a neighborhood, worrying about moving our dog, and deciding what to take with us. Would our US garden hose fit on a UK spigot?


Yet when we moved here, I quickly met other women who had moved the same week or month as us - we  stumbled through our new country together. Seasoned expatriates were like Bree from Desperate Housewives with a basket of goodies and information, asking me what questions I had. I found the expat community to be very warm, supportive, and down-to-earth. Yea!

Wooly Egg People handmade by and sold by AsherJasper

I love being asked, 'Is this your first assignment abroad?' It sounds like I am with the CIA on an important mission. Interestingly our private expat insurance has a section that describes how much they will pay for each lost limb. There are even security services that will get you out of a country quickly and quietly if needed. We're not in Kansas anymore, baby! 

I quickly fell into the naive trap of asking others, 'Where are you from?' Sounds innocent, but actually it is quite loaded and can grate on peoples nerves. Let me show you why...

One lovely friend is a mum from Lebanon (hi sweetie!). One child was born in Belgium; one in Ireland. Her husband is Dutch and commutes to Switzerland from London. I ask you, how are they supposed to answer the question of where their family is 'from' in just a few words?   Exactly.

[source unknown]

Typically a person's home and car often tell a lot about a person's economic status. But here, if a middle class family has a robust expat package, they could be living like kings. In contrast, a wealthier family may be living in a small home because they have to pay their own way.

Lives can be dramatically effected by the exchange rate too. If one comes from Finland, everything would appear really cheap and one could live a more extravagant life. Yet if one comes from a country with a weak currency, s/he may have a modest house, travel little, and only buy the necessities.

As you can see, natural identifiers of 'who we are' can be shed in the expat world. What crowd you ran with, what groups you joined don't matter here. It is refreshing to just show up as you are. When else does that happen?

Handmade by and sold by Sewn Natural

In case you were wondering, I haven't met anyone with a yacht. It doesn't seem to be in anyone's expat package :)

XO Laura

P.S. Looking for another expat perspective? Check out this fascinating blog written by an Australian expat living in Qatar in 4 Kids, 20 Suitcases And A Beagle

11 November 2010

Happy 'Winds Day' this Thursday

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

Today was the first day of miserable weather - windy, wet, and cold. Truly blustery! Then I thought of English-born Winnie The Pooh, which made me smile. Ah, I am in good company :)

The Kids and Me Walking After School

Pooh tells Piglet, ''I think I shall wish everyone a happy 'Winds Day' ''. Piglet later says, ''I don't mind the leaves that are leaving. It's the leaves that are coming.'' I imagine this uncomfortable weather inspired A.A. Milne to write Winnie The Pooh and The Blustery Day. And it inspires me to write today. It is quite something! 

As I walk through the terrible weather, I imagine a cute little bear and pig right behind me saying 'Oh, bother!', which makes it all better :)

Yahoo Images

XO Laura

10 November 2010

The Milk Man

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

Having a Ben Stiller moment while tripping over rocks and shrubs, I was super sneaky about taking these photos (a few bloody knees to show for it - but worth it!).

A bit blurry as I took this photo in a sprint, drop and roll to the other side of the road :)

This adorable milk truck drives my street each week to deliver milk to the neighbors. I've always had a thing for funky trucks. Isn't it so cute and clever?

I took this photo while peeking out from a bush with my telephoto lens

The crates contain full and empty milk bottles. I've seen a similar open-sided truck at the train station selling eggs (future super sneaky photo sesh).

Can you tell I haven't come off my 
James Bond and European spy theme yet?

XO Laura

09 November 2010

About That Guy

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

I have been full of excited anticipation about my first Guy Fawkes Night in England. I'd read about Guy Fawkes's unsuccessful assassination of King James I and attempt to blow up the House of Lords in 1605 (aka The Gunpowder Plot).

Each November his failure continues to be celebrated with fireworks, bonfires, and his burning effigy. Could it be a joyous occasion?

It was!

Fireworks at Local School

Naturally Britain has no independence day, once 'owning' 1/4 of the world's population (wow). My English friends claim they have no patriotic day. Yet Bonfire Night is celebrated collectively in England and felt patriotic-ish to me :)

Friday night we went to our local school's celebration filled with carnival rides, live band, and food & drink. The firework display was quite impressive, with Katy Perry's song 'Firework' crooning in the background. 

For some reason I got a little teary when they played the theme song to James Bond - it was just too cool to be in England with that soundtrack and the fireworks (and a cup of mulled wine). Perfection. 

Neighbor Lighting Fireworks In Backyard

Saturday night we were invited to our neighbors' celebration in their backyard. There were so many fireworks going off in the neighborhood, it felt like 'Battle of the Bands' [he confirmed it was].

Having fireworks in November (instead of July in the US) means the weather is cooler, and there are no fire bans. Huge benefits! Our kids had never played with sparklers until that evening. They LOVED them!

Burning Guy Fawkes

My neighbor got the bonfire started by fueling up the effigy and torching it. They added to the fire throughout the weekend to burn and 'tidy up' the backyard of old branches and fallen leaves. [So practical] They were even burning the wood from their old kitchen walls!

The bonfire was so warm and cozy with an air of friendship and bonding by the fire. We had more hot mulled wine (spiked with brandy), chili, and roasted marshmallows. Yum

Warming Around The Bonfire

This smoky weekend unofficially marked the beginning of winter here. Retail stores are definitely focused on Christmas now, as there is no other holiday until then.

To continue on the firework theme, I'd like to introduce you to one of my [and my daughter's] new favorite songs titled 'Lights' by English singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding. Enjoy!

XO Laura

05 November 2010

Tromping Through Autumn

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

The last few days have been really warm (big smile), so I grabbed my furry photographer assistant, and he brought his very happy tail. We tromped through the woods together and got lost. But only a few times. A healthy lost.

I think the Autumn Show is at it's peak right now. Here are a few pics...

Local House: So I have a crazy big love for this house. I don't know who lives here or anything about it. I just know I love it every time we drive by it {sigh}. I may need to Christmas carol or trick-or-treat this house just for a closer look :)

Local Woods: I found this grove on Wednesday, and had a hard time finding it again yesterday. I really do believe that if there are fairies, they live in England. It feels so magical here.

Can't you just picture fairies hiding and giggling behind these trees?

Local Park: I don't know if you can see the elderly couple sitting in the chairs. I hope this is my husband and me when we've lost our teeth but not our spark.

Local Landscape: The English call this season Autumn, not Fall. 

Local Drive: Goofy me sticking a camera out the window while driving. I just couldn't help myself! (Out of view, you can't see the mothers with babes sprinting to safety when they saw me coming)

Somewhere I read about a book called 'A Field Guide To Getting Lost' by Rebecca Solnit. I love the irony of the title :) Perfect for my lostness in the woods and when driving around town. Hey, I even get lost in the grocery store just looking for mustard (above the frozen goods, of course)!

What would the title of your 'field guide' be?

XO Laura

03 November 2010

I, Spy

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

So here's my funny little story. We went to Belgium a few weeks ago via train. Just yesterday I said to my husband out of the blue, 'You remember that couple sitting next to us on the train? I totally thought they were spies'. And my husband said, 'I absolutely knew you would say that'.

This is hilarious to me because

1) He knows me so well (How could he have known I would say that?!)

2) He reminded me that my spy-o-meter experience is limited to Hollywood espionage movies. Good point, but don't lots of spies take the train in Europe? And spies go on vacation too, right?

So here is my little spy 'get-up' collage I created in Polyvore, which I have been excited to play around with...

Imagine the infinite 'spy' possibilities with that adorable Kate Spade keyboard bag! And although no spy should be noticed, I would be and therefore I'd be the sneaky 'reverse-psychology spy' :)

What kind of spy would you be?

XO Laura