31 December 2010

2010, You've Been Fab!

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

Thank you for following my adventures through Blogland :)

[image: tumblr]

Wishing you and your loved ones a spectacular 2011!

XO Laura

27 December 2010

Searching For Santa At The North Pole (Really!)

[image: Ric Rac And Buttons]

It started out as a joke.

'Honey, can you believe people in England go to Lapland to visit Santa for the same price as going to the Caribbean in December?' Sounded ridiculous (plus I'm allergic to the cold). But instead I received a 'We should look into doing that' from my husband (!). Um, really? Our oldest is almost 10 years old, so it was now or never. 

So before I knew it, we had tickets in hand to go to Finland ON THE DARKEST DAY OF THE YEAR to visit Santa and his crew.

I love sneaky surprises, so we kept it a secret from the kids. Unexpectedly I got all misty-eyed from watching 'The Polar Express' which led me to spill the beans that we were going to visit Santa in 2 days.

In those 2 days, a lot happened. England received another snow storm that closed the major airports. My son got a sinus infection. My daughter slept all day with a high fever. Suddenly, I was actually praying that we would go to the North Pole (!).

My daughter also complained of nausea. So thanks to the good advice from my friend Miss S, I had a whole bunch of Ziplock Bags in my carry-on 'just in case' we got to see breakfast a second time. Turned out Miss S had a few Ziplocks tucked away for her son too on her travels.

Although I felt guilty that we would be spreading a virus, not just Christmas cheer, to our airplane mates, it didn't matter because it turned out everyone had a virus to share too. A flying petri dish. I'm not sure there was a healthy child on that flight. How many moms had Ziplock Bags stuffed in their carry-ons too?

Anyhoo, regardless of security breaches, the flight attendants invited all children to the front of the plane to sing carols into their intercom phone. Toy Story 3 played on the screens. We were off to the North Pole in search of Santa for the next three days!


Okay, not the actual North Magnetic Pole - a moving target due to the changes in the magnetic forces in the earth's core. It is found in the Arctic Ocean, amid floating sea ice (according to Wikipedia).

For this reason, it is a little known fact that Santa has set up shop in Lapland, Finland above the Arctic Circle. Lapland is a northern region that includes Norway, Sweden, and Finland. More reindeer live in Lapland than people.

I'm not going sugar-coat it. It was COLD (-25C / -13F) and it was white. Even the tree trunks were caked with snow.  The Finnish flag pretty much sums it up:

Flag of Finland   [source]

Just snow and sky, like the colors of the flag. I just love flags, and now you won't forget theirs :)

The sun never reached the horizon, so daylight was called 'grey light'. 10:00am sunrise; sunset at 2:30p. The photo below could be a sunrise or sunset - it is hard to remember when they were just a few hours apart!

View From Bus - Truly A Winter Wonderland

The air was so dry, I was gasping for water; the snow was too dry to make a snowman.

All the forests were remarkably dense with trees. The photo below is from our walk in the woods at 3:30p!

Candles In The Snow Light A Forest Path

We were on the lookout for the Northern Lights, but unfortunately we didn't have a clear night.

To prepare for our time in the elements, we were outfitted in special snow suits. I wore a ski parka and more layers underneath the puffy leisure suit. One of the elves nicknamed me 'Miss America'; you can see why ;) I was an American hottie in this get-up!

Me, Bundled

Our Cabin

Sign of Wildlife

I've eaten for many reasons in my life - hunger, comfort, fuel. But never have I eaten just to get warm on the inside. I don't remember what I ate during our trip, but I ate a lot. Because I was very cold.

The purpose of our trip was to see Santa Claus. Our tour guide kept us very busy with lots of activities: sledding, reindeer and horse sleigh rides, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and snowmobiling.

Oh how the husky dogs made us laugh! They barked and howled with such excitement while they waited to pull our sled. Like a child, they were antsy and could hardly stand the wait! And once they started pulling the sled they were focused and quiet.  I felt bad when the ride was over, knowing they wanted to go again and again :) Nothing like a working dog with drive and purpose.

During our activities, we met delightful elves who gave suggestions on where we might find Father Christmas.

Reindeer Sleigh

The reindeer were smaller than I imagined they would be. Their backs probably weren't even chest-high to me.


We had outside activities all day. 
Warm fire and hot berry juice at every stop.

Warming Tipi

We visited the Toy Workshop, the Elves' House, and the Post Office. Below are the post boxes that were full of letters to Santa from around the world delivered by reindeer. So cute and clever!

Incoming: Letters For Santa From Each Continent

Santa reading my children's letters
After a drive and snowmobile ride, we finally found Santa's house the last hour of our tour. He had a magnificant view of Lapland from his home (we were sworn to secrecy on his location, so no photos). 

We saw some of our favorite elves again, played games, and met Mrs Claus. She said she knew we were American when the kids told her they leave cookies for Santa every Eve (the English leave mincemeat pies). 

After our chat with lovely Mrs. C, she took the four of us behind a moving bookcase(!) to a secret staircase(!) which led us to Santa. We were thrilled, and quite frankly, in awe.

When the four of us entered his room, Santa immediately greeted my kids by name. He held up the actual letters they sent weeks ago (the kids' eyes so wide!) and gave them an early present from their list! Santa Claus was the gentle soul you would expect him to be. 

The kids went to bed exhausted with smiles on their faces. We had an unforgettable, magical trip to Lapland.

It felt like an old friend stopped by on Christmas Eve Night. And he had.

Honey, can you believe people go to the Caribbean for Christmas, when they could visit Santa?

May the Christmas spirit be with you all year long,

XO Laura

26 December 2010

The Various Meanings of Boxing Day

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

Yesterday our Christmas was quiet with just the four of us in the house. We had the typical excitement with Santa's goodies and presents from under the tree. A few gifts still wait at the post office because I was mistaken on the closing time on Christmas Eve. And other presents are still in transit due to the snow storms over the past few weeks. 

[image: Paper Crave]

But the truth was, it didn't matter. Fewer gifts made the kids less overwhelmed. They had time to play significantly with each new present and each other.

Christmas Eve my husband whipped up a gourmet meal (he's so good) while I made cookies with the kids for Santa. Since we've all come down with colds, we had popcorn for Christmas lunch and soup for Christmas dinner. We watched the movie 'The Santa Clause' as a family just before bed. It was a simple yet lovely day.


Today is Boxing Day in the UK, a secular holiday celebrated in many countries around the world (not in US). 

Historically employers gave bonuses and 'boxed up' leftover food to employees on this day. It was the time to give an 'Alms Box' to the poor.

It also has been the day for the Boxing Day Hunt. Fox hunting dates back to the 16th century in England. Controversially, fox hunting has been banned since 2004.

[image: Daily Mail]

Today for many, it is the busiest retail day filled with shopping and sales. Think 'Black Friday' in the US after Thanksgiving.

But to us it is another day of being together right here
(with snotty tissues in hand)

Happy Boxing Day!

Content: Wikipedia

XO Laura

24 December 2010

Merry Merry Christmas!

Little Finnish Santa
Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

This has been a unique Christmas season for us! Not only is it our first Christmas in England, but we just got home last night from visiting Santa in Lapland, Finland!  

Granted it would make THE perfect Christmas blog post, but I have so many photos to share and stories to tell, that it won't be up in time. In the meantime, here are just a few photos from our trip.


It was cold, it was dark, and it was FUN!

We have a tradition of watching Santa on the NORAD satellite as he makes his way around the world. You can track him here too.

Wishing you the joy and magic of the Christmas season this year!

Sending the love,

20 December 2010

'The Holiday' With A Twist

'Tis the perfect time to confess that one of the reasons I moved to England was that I was hoping to live in or next to this...

Iris's Cottage from 'The Holiday'
[from Chalk & Talk Blog]

Do you remember this cozy cottage from the film, 'The Holiday' (2006)? I have visited Shere in Surrey several times [here], where portions of the movie were filmed, but I've never seen this house. (Otherwise I'd be writing from there now)

It's not too late to rent this delightful romantic comedy starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet to put you in the holiday mood. In a nutshell, their characters swap homes for Christmas - Winslet flies to Diaz's modern Southern California home while Diaz tromps off to Winslet's English country cottage. A classic chick flick.

A few yummy scenes / eye candy from 'The Holiday' (via Cote de Texas):

This last photo makes me laugh because I really did sleep in my big parka and scarf just last week! These old homes are so cold and drafty. If I could knit myself a nose hat, I would. 

Now for some photos from the movie set in Shere. I believe a lot of these photos are from the DVD's Special Features. All photos below are from Hooked On Houses.

Blowing Fake Snow For Wintry Scenes

This is the High Street in Shere. If you go for a visit, you'll see the yellow door on the right for The Lucky Duck Tea Room. The pub in the movie, The White Horse, will be up ahead on your right, past the stream with ducks. No need to bring in the Hollywood snow right now - there's plenty of it!

Ready for a little twist? Here are more photos of my old, charming 17th Century cottage, in the making...

Unbelievable, I know - a bit of a heartbreak. Thrown up in just a few weeks in a field (and since torn down). Now I  know why I couldn't find that cottage! But here's the good news. 

There is a cottage in the Cotswolds for rent that may have been the inspiration for this movie.

Slatter's Cottage, Cotswolds

The Lounge and Bedroom 2 are similar to the movie
Slatters Cottage

And the other good news is I know I can hire a movie crew to build me a charming 17th Century English cottage one day :)

Iris's Cottage, 'The Holiday'


(P.S. For more television & movie homes, visit the interesting Hooked On Houses)

XO Laura

Related Posts: 'Crazy Quaint' ShereFilm Locations: The Holiday & Bridget Jones 

17 December 2010

Friday Fun: Colorstrology

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

I stumbled upon Melissa's Canadian blog, Design Box, a few weeks ago. I love what she offers - affordable online decor consultations (love that!) and a fun little blog.

Recently she posted a blog about Pantone's 'Colorstrology' website. For folks like me who are gaga about color, this is right up my alley. This service is from Pantone, the company that classifies colors so that graphic designers, interior designers, etc can speak the same language of color. Each color, hue, and tint has been assigned a number - like the botanic nomenclature for color. 

Anyhoo, here is the result of my colorstrology based on my birth date. I actually thought it was pretty accurate.

I happen to love pink and poppy flowers :) And I'd like to think of myself as easygoing and enthusiastic. Not sure about persuasive, though :)

Check out your 'Birth Color' through Pantone's Colorstrology website here. Enjoy!!

XO Laura

16 December 2010

Inamo: An Unforgettable Dining Experience

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

I have a new favorite iPhone app: TimeOut London (free). I was browsing through The Best of London: Readers Decide (here) and came across the restaurant Inamo.  I could hardly wait to taste their yummy Asian Fusion food and experience the interactive ordering system. They have two restaurants; we chose the Regent Street location.

Inside Inamo - St James

Below you are looking at our table which was WHITE. We played around with the 'virtual tablecloth design'. We looked at the menus (Mr J's hand is on the virtual mouse) and clicked on items we'd like to see a little closer. They magically appeared on our white plate as an image. No waiter appeared to take our order - we placed it virtually. A waiter brought the meal in a matter of minutes.

Menu & Image Of Food On Plate

Projectors Above Our Heads

 Kitchen Cam

Playing 'Battleship' Against Mr. J During Dinner

Inamo met all my expectations - good food and super-fun dining experience. And yes, the St James location would be a great place to take the kids :)

XO Laura

13 December 2010

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

With the darkest day of the year approaching, I can't help but notice that it is dark when I wake the kids for school, and dark again by 4:30p. Did you know London is on the same latitude as Canada and Russia? Thanks to a friendly jet stream, the polar temperatures live further north most of the time.

A friend nearby has 4 hens in her backyard to provide eggs throughout the year. She has a timer on a light to extend their 'daylight hours' so they will continue to lay eggs in the winter. 

Although a few trees still have leaves turning, most have fallen. Evergreen trees, broad-leaf shrubs, and berries provide classic Christmas colors of red and green. The surprise snow from last week has melted. Curiously a neighbor's rose continues to bloom, and the grass is green.  Each morning the pavement is wet, although no rain falls overnight. It is chilly, but not 'shivering cold' like last week.

Christmas time is now in full bloom.

Outdoor Ice Skating at Natural History Museum, London

Regent's Street, London

High Street, Guildford, Surrey

Santa has placed gifts under an artificial Christmas tree my entire life. At first, it was due to my allergies, and then due to my sappy love for trees (didn't have the heart to cut one). But my husband is feeling reminiscent of his childhood days and wanted to have a real one this year. So yesterday we made our way to a local Tree Farm.

My husband told me all Christmas Tree sellers use chainsaws to clean up the tree and a contraption to net the tree for the trip home. I'm not sure all use a 'wand', however :) As a first time observer, I found the whole process fascinating.

View Of Our Christmas Tree From Outside House

It made my husband so darn happy to pick out and trim the tree. I have to say, our real tree smells lovely and looks very pretty. 

FOR SALE: One Artificial Christmas Tree 

XO Laura

10 December 2010

Running With Kitchen Scissors

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

Living on the edge like I do (and having a shortage of food due to being snowed in), I decided to take a culinary adventure in the cabinets last week. Throwing caution to the wind...

First stop - typical English snack of Baked Beans On Toast with cheese

Is this a leftover snack idea from the war ration days? It tasted like, well, toast with beans and cheese. I heard it is considered a comfort food here. Well, I did need to be comforted afterwards (just kidding). It was okay.

Next up - the mythical Marmite Yeast Extract

As recommended, I spread this on toast with a slathering of butter. It tasted NAAASTY. Very salty with an aftertaste of puke. Glad I tried it, and glad I made one point when I made a free-throw into the trash. SCORE! They advertise on their bottle that I also can buy their cereal bars. Really?

This one I discovered my first week at the grocery store. Colman's, you know I love you so. Although you are a smooth spicy mustard with a little zing, you haven't revealed your true ingredients.

My Ode To Colman's

Is that zip a bit of horseradish, my dear? 
You taste so good with brats and beer! 

(And don't be afraid to send me a freebie case for product placement) 

Colman's is lovingly nestled between
Wholegrain Mustard & French's Mustard (which is American, not French, silly)

Another thing I love here is curry. It is hard to describe just how popular it is. Curry tends to be a concept, rather than a strict recipe. It can be Indian food or a just a flavorful stew. Either way, so warming on a chilly night - of which there are many! 

Now I am a real sucker for clever packaging. And I think this box of a complete Indian meal is brilliant. Really delicious too. This is a far cry from the mid-century TV dinners with ''Salisbury Steak'' (notice the quotation marks) and a brick called a ''brownie''. Remember those?

It is disputed that the famous dish Tikka Masala originated in Soho, London - interestingly it has been called 'Britain's true national dish'. Britain exports Chicken Tikka Masala to India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh!  Balti, a South Asian dish on most UK menus, was invented in Birmingham, England. I'm pretty sure an Indian restaurant can be found in every single town.  Lucky me :)

On the flip side, English blogger Toni from Pond Parleys wrote her opinion about the cinnamon obsession in America (here). I couldn't have agreed with her less, at first. But dear American readers, if you were to stock an empty kitchen, you would buy salt, pepper, followed by cinnamon. Right?


We Americans have cinnamon in our toothpaste, gum, barbecue sauce, breakfast foods, and anything combined with apples. In fact, I always use it to cover up the real flavor of most things I make. And cinnamon-sugar-toast is a breakfast staple in this house. Or at least it should be.

Maybe toast with Marmite would taste better covered in cinnamon? Nah.

source: wikipedia.org

XO Laura