Monday, September 29, 2008

Aaaand they're off

Initiate SkyKennel Acclimation Procedure:

SkyKennel Acclimation Procedure at 50% completion:

SkyKennel Acclimation Procedure 100% complete:

Ready for lift off.

Today the kittehs take off into the wild blue yonder and will meet us on the flip side in a couple of days.  Due to some shady dealings that one of them tells us he got into in Mexico way back before we adopted him (nevermind the fact that he could barely walk before we adopted him - we've found it's best to humor them...), we've all taken on secret agent names that we'll be using during the transition (Operation code name = The British Invasion).  Elwin is P.G. McGillicutty, George is Prince Charles, Jason is Lars Barr and I'm Noodles Mahoney.  Shhhhh, no one tell H0m3Iand S3curity.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The fashion mistress officially gives up on the women of London

Dear Women of London, 

I quit.  You have finally pushed me over the edge.  I will say this one time and one time only so LISTEN UP and LISTEN GOOD:  

No matter how thick or high denier they may be, tights are not, I repeat not, a substitute for trousers.  Tights are meant to go UNDER a skirt or dress.  Tights are an ACCESSORY.  Tights are NOT a standalone wardrobe piece.  Therefore, when you wear them as though you think they are an acceptable bottom covering, I can totally see the seam that runs up the middle of the rear end of them, the diamond-shaped gusset in the crotch of them, and your big white M&S knickers under them.  

Go ye therefore and buy trousers immediately if not sooner!


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Musical bliss brought to you by Jason Mraz

Tuesday night we headed out to the Royal Albert Hall to see Jason Mraz perform one last time in London.  He never disappoints.  Ever.  

We even got a little sneak preview when he came out to perform with his opening act, Ingrid Michaelson.  (Who, by the way, totally knocked my socks off.  Loved her!)

He brought out an amazing gospel choir for "Live High" and then went into a cover of "Oh Happy Day" with them.
Packed to the rafters at RAH.

There were so many highlights.  A mash-up of "You and I Both" and "Sleeping to Dream", a cover of "Build Me Up, Buttercup", a Bob Marley sing-along in the middle of "I'm Yours", everybody dancing to "The Dynamo of Volition", the unexpected change of tempo to a reggae beat on the chorus of Clockwatching,...  I can't pick my favorite moment.  

Every time I go to a Mraz concert, I leave feeling emotionally refreshed and let me tell you, if I ever needed emotional refreshment, I needed it now.  With the big move quickly approaching, I was feeling overwhelmed, overextended, and generally over it.  But I got some of the best advice I've ever heard... and I won't worry my life away.  No no no, not today.

Monday, September 22, 2008

One last fashionate affair

Back from Scotland and I've never been more grateful for 4 days away from the madness... Yes, I will be hating it tomorrow when I'm more stressed because of the loss of those 4 days but it was so worth it. For now, I'll leave you with my most recent and final London museum adventure.

The Barbican had an absolutely amazing display on the 15 year history of Dutch fashion design team Viktor & Rolf. It was truly stunning. I almost hesitate to call them fashion designers because they are so much more than that. A Viktor & Rolf fashion show is more like performance art. They are true visionaries and artists...

(Although I have to admit, the doll's faces on all the mannequins kind of freaked me out.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Over it.

So much to blog, no time to blog it.  

My mind is being pulled in about a billion different directions and I can't complete a single thought without another one overtaking it.  I am officially overwhelmed.  Moving sucks.

Please excuse us for a short hiatus while we take a little trip to Scotland this weekend.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Boyz II Men were right

It is so hard to say goodbye to yesterday. Especially when yesterday was probably our last time getting to hang out with Ted and Geo.

Goodbyes are no fun at all.  You guys hold it down in London-town!

Monday, September 15, 2008

The final countdown

Our second-to-last weekend in London (we're in Scotland next weekend so it doesn't count) was very kind to us.  Lots of sunshine.  Bright blue skies.  Nary a raindrop in sight.  So on Saturday, we had breakfast at our favorite cafe, Love Food and then headed down to the farmer's market to pick up ingredients for my spectacular aubergine parmigiana (Although I suppose it's Mario Batali's spectacular aubergine parmigiana if I'm being honest).  We also stopped by the stand where two American guys sell their amazing baked goods.  We picked up a slice of cake for dessert, two muffins for Sunday's breakfast and a cheese scone just for funsies.

Later we stopped in for a pint at one of our favorite riverside pubs in Richmond, The White Cross and realized we had arrived smack on time to see the Great River Race go by.

I have to say, it's not that often you come across a Confederate flag over here...

As I sat there, watching the sun sparkle across the water, with Richmond Bridge in the background I felt the familiar sting at the backs of my eyelids and the baseball lodging itself in my throat. This has been happening quite a lot lately... One minute I can't wait to be back home and the next I feel like I don't ever want to leave this place.  I can now state with confidence that a pub is not an ideal place to break down into tears.

Saturday evening, we had a nice time eating our faces off and being enthralled by the new Genius sidebar in iTunes.  (This is going to get VERY expensive for us.  Especially when you're a frequent drunk downloader as both Jason and I are.)  Other than Jason giving himself an unintentional paraffin treatment when he tried to carry lit votive candles across the living room, the evening passed without incident.  I, personally, was keen to get to bed early because the sooner I went to sleep, the sooner Sunday Morning Muffin Time came.

Sunday, we set off for King's Road to go to a great store that specializes in antiques from India.  

We got there and they still hadn't opened so we ended up walking down the street and paying ludicrous prices for mediocre food at The Big Easy while we waited.  I mean, really!  I saw on their menu that they charge 8 quid for two Krispy Kreme doughnuts and some chocolate sauce for dipping.  Ridiculous!  Chalk up a point for the "Things I Won't Miss About London" column.  At least they had the USC/Ohio State game on.  I can't wait to get back for football season.

We ended the day by walking up to the top of Richmond Hill and enjoying a couple of ciders.  

Richmond Hill, I think I'll miss you most of all...

Friday, September 12, 2008


So, in these last days of my expat life, I've been starting to reflect on things...  What else am I going to do?  We have no furniture, no Sky TV and a girl can only read so much teen vampire fiction.  (I've never been able to resist a good hype marketing campaign.)

One of the joys of this three year experiment is that I've made some absolutely amazing girlfriends.  Ones I know that I'll keep in contact with.  I arrived here so lonely and so lost, but before too long,  I had my own entourage.  To wit:

By a random twist of fate, I met Monique.  I knew within minutes of our introduction that I liked her.  How can you not?  So genuine, so sweet, and (my favorite thing about her) so innocent that she always prefaces a cuss word with "Now, I don't swear, but..."  She and Murray were our gig buddies.  We always knew that if a concert rolled around that we wanted to see, we should just go ahead and buy four tickets because they were always up for it.

Then came Andrea.  We met for lunch and bonded over our love for the Southern institution of Chick-Fil-A.  Then I invited her to Ascot and got blind drunk but she still liked me anyway.  So I knew she was a keeper.  When you've seen me like that and decide you still want to hang out with me, that's something special.  Plus, it's nice to finally have a friend who is clumsier than me.

Then there was Geo.  Geo who treated me like a minor celebrity the first time we met.  Geo who can always see the good in anyone or anything.  Geo who keeps me in stitches with the stories of her misuse of American slang.  (My favorite being how some headache medicine "knocked her up" instead of "knocked her out".)

Then there was Beth.  My shopping buddy.  My museum buddy.  My theatre buddy.  My tea time buddy.  My "Bring it On" buddy.  My drinking buddy.  My buddy, period.  I miss her desperately now that she's back in the States.  My only regret about our friendship is that we didn't find each other sooner.  We literally lived minutes away from each other for the longest time...

Finally, there was Suze.  Our story is a simple one.  We met at a sex toy party at Monique's flat.  (Maybe not so innocent after all, now that I think about it, hmmmm Mo?)  Time passed.  We started commenting on each other's blogs and emailing and then we realized we had met before.  At the sex toy party.  And how can you not love that?  So now we drink together.  It's a healthy relationship.

On the flip side, there's also the friends I left back in North Carolina.

Catherine, with whom I can sit and do Saturday Night Live impressions until we're laughing so hard we can't breathe.  (Ahm Nahncay Graaaaahce.  Congrahdyoolaations.  You're on telahvishuuuun.)  She thinks I'm way funnier than I actually am.  (Now a general prerequisite for future friendships because I thrive on the self-esteem boost.)  She protected me at my bachelorette party.  (From stupid girl drama, but not from the redbull and vodkas.)  She consoled me when I got my first negative pregnancy test.  (Because she knew...oh, how she knew.)  She gives the best gifts and I both love her and hate her for it.  (Jewelry, Sephora gift cards and spa trips, oh my!)

Melanie, who can drink me under the table.  My favorite thing about Melanie is that she names all her possessions....Pearl, her Acura SUV; Keesha, her iPod; Lucinda, her rat tail hair extension...  When I met Melanie on my first day of work at the last job I had in Raleigh, I went home and told Jason "You will seriously not believe the people who are in my training.  This one girl is so loud and she's already giving out weird nicknames to people she just met.  But I think I like her."  My least favorite thing about Melanie is that I just found out that she's moving to Denver, although not unexpectedly, a lot sooner than we originally thought.  And while I understand why she has to go, I'm beyond sad that we're going to miss seeing each other in NC by three days.  Great.  Now I'm crying again.

What all this boils down to is that I love girls.  I need them in my life.  I've gone through a lot of chick drama to get to this point where I have such an amazing network of friends.  I love each of them to bits and I know that no matter how many miles separate us, I'll still count them among my favorite people in the world.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

We've got the right stuff

As I mentioned yesterday, I have a few happenings to report on.  First, the stellar weekend...

Unfortunately, this section will be officially photo-less.  I very lazily didn't take any pictures and I just received the ones Suze emailed me and I guarantee you that they will NEVER EVER see the light of day again.  

Saturday morning, Suze awoke very early (after a torturous and much delayed flight the night before which ended in lost luggage) to drive down from Cheshire for a little leaving lunch for me and Andrea, lovingly organized by Caitlin.  We camped out in a little Lebanese restaurant for hours, laughing loudly (as Americans and Australians are wont to do...) and telling tales and generally merry-making.  Suze and I went back to Richmond (With what was supposed to be a quick pitstop for a manicure, but turned into a grooming marathon for Suze, who finally figured out how to be a real girl.) to prepare for the evening's festivities.  Jason plied us with drink and I used my A-list connections to get us into a packed restaurant.  My A-list connections also sent over copious amounts of free booze so we were all well on our way by the time dessert rolled around.  

Then it was back to the flat for a "friendly" round of Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture Edition.  (Longtime readers will recall how much I f**king RULE at this game.)  I say "friendly", but the truth is that after several homemade vodka tonics, Suze and I were pretty much consistently yelling "Pie me, bitch!" at poor Jason.  

We took a quick break to exchange some super-awesome gifts... a little wedding present for Suze (and Phil) from us and a lovely box of duty-free chocolate cigars and a cookie with something in undecipherable German written on it from Suze to express her gratitude for us letting her sleep in our extra closet.  The only problem was that in all the pre-move shuffling and selling off of our stuff, I had mislaid the wedding card I got for the happy couple.  So I proceeded to rip a page out of my notebook, grab a sharpie and make my very own homemade card. To best express my level of boozed-upness, here is what I wrote inside:  "Hope your wedding isn't shitty!"  We laughed long and hard.  

Back to the game...  Long story short, I was in the lead but randomly passed out mid-turn.  I'm convinced that Jason put something in my drink.

And finally, the hilarious Monday...

Andrea had emailed me last week to ask if I would be interested in going to HMV with her to see New Kids on the Block. My response was something like "Oh SNAP!  I'm so there!"  And so we were.  We arrived at 8:00 since we knew they were supposed to be giving out the wristbands for the signing starting at 9:00.  Even though we had heard some girls were freaking camping out (seriously?), we figured we still had a pretty good chance if we got there at 8:00...  

Jason called me from Sweden at about 7:00 and couldn't believe it when I told him I was walking to the tube.  I told him about the girls camping and said "What kind of a loser do you have to be to be camping out for New Kids..." He interrupted me and was all "Ummm, hello?" to which I replied "Let me finish!  ...for New Kids at this age???  I mean, hello, we are OLD now!"  (Because umm, fair enough, I was 12 once and there may have been some rolling out of bed in the middle of the night and shaking my dad awake to ask him to please go with me to get in line for tickets.  Which he did.)

Well, we got there at 8:00 and lo and behold, wouldn't you know they had already given out the 300 wristbands because they already had well more than 300 people in the queue at 7:00 that morning and they had to get them off the street in front of the store.  So we went for breakfast and coffee and made fun of all the losers who had camped out and generally passed the time until we decided it was safe to go back to HMV and loiter around, waiting for the performance.  We ended up waiting in the Pop/Rock section "F" and had a whale of a time realizing just how many bands there were that started with "F" that we had never once heard of.  Well, that and gaping at all the craziness around us.  

Some of these gals.... how do I put this nicely?  Were freaks.  Clearly of the "obsessed" variety.  I wonder how many of them still have a NKOTB poster or twenty pinned to their bedroom walls.  Or how many still sleep on NKOTB sheets (yes, they exist and yes, I'm pretty sure I had them) or in their Joey-Joe nightshirt (again, yes and yes over here).  Not to mention that many of them had certainly "dressed up" for the occasion.  Boobs pushed up to their chins.  More glitter and sequins than should ever see the afternoon sun.  Enough face paint to supply Bob Ross with a lifetime of happy trees.

With no shortage of entertainment, the time passed fairly quickly and finally the New Kids took the stage.

 And they were..... actually good!  I was honestly surprised.  Donnie does a good bit more singing now and I really like his voice - nice and gravelly.  And Joe still has those Broadway stage pipes.  

At least now I know what kind of nutcase I must have looked like when I was 12 and screaming at the top of my lungs.  Except less cleavage-y.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bring on the trumpets!

Soooooo....I've do you saaaaaaay.......missing?  After a stellar weekend and hilarious Monday (both of which I will report on soon) I've had an insane couple of days.  The Nutshell has suffered severely from good old fashioned neglect.  

So, while I try and get my shiz together, I will leave you with my current favorite ad campaign from the Natural Confectionery Company.  Bring on the trumpets!

Click here to see the other three ads on their YouTube channel.  My other favorite is the posh dinosaur one.  Enjoy!

(As an aside, this is totally the bestest candy ever.  The sour ones are actually proper sour - like Sour Patch Kids!  But better!  Because once you get past the sour stuff, the actual gummy candy tastes like full on fruit juice.  Huh.  Whaddaya know?  When you use real fruit juice to make fruit candy, it ends up tasting like real fruit juice.  Ain't that a kick in the head.)

Friday, September 05, 2008

Wales watching

Thank you to commenter Stephanie Y for being the inspiration for the title of this post. Though she caught herself and figured out I was talking about Wales the country, she originally thought I was talking about whales the sea mammals. Made me laugh out loud when I read that one! I hope you don't mind me stealing your unintentional pun, Stephanie...

We crossed the border into Wales via the gorgeous suspension bridge on the M4 at about 8:30 Friday night. I was all set to try and get my precious and beloved, yet elusive "Croeso i Gymru" sign.

Dammit!! Foiled again! You're a tough cookie to crack you wiley Wales sign. Good thing I've got all weekend to try my hand at this again...

We stayed at a great little place called The Newbridge Inn.

It sits right on this little bend in the River Usk, surrounded by wide open countryside.

"Don't do it! Don't jump! Think of all the kids who need their milk!"

There's something so much more interesting about these iconic phonebooths when they sit in the middle of nowhere. Since most people (me included) associate them with London, they seem so incongruous surrounded by trees and with ivy snaking up the sides...

We saw these "SLOW" signs painted on the roads on our way in the night before but, since we weren't paying close attention, in our minds we accidentally transposed some of the letters in the Welsh translation so for the rest of the weekend, I kept telling Jason to "Aarf down!" on the curvy roads.

First stop was Chepstow - a cute little town with your typical row of colorful buildings...

...and your typical castle ruins picturesquely perched above a winding river.

Temporarily crossing back into England via Gloucestershire. On our drive, we crossed back and forth over the English/Welsh borders loads of times. But no Croeso i Gymru signs! Only ones that welcome you to Monmouthshire. Curses! Foiled again!

Next stop was Tintern Abbey...

...where I took the opportunity to frollick about, since that's kind of my thing. I enjoy long walks on the beach and frollicking about medieval ruins.

Who falls like this? I've never in my life seen anyone fall like this.

The village of Tintern in the background.

Next stop, Monmouth. This is Monnow Bridge, built around 1270 as a defense system for the town. Facts taked from the plaque on the bridge: It's the only surviving medieval bridge in Britain with the gate tower still standing on the bridge. Over the years, it's been a toll house, guard room, gaol (jail), dwelling house and a Topshop. (Totally kidding about Topshop, by the way. It was a Tesco.)

A wheelie-type-thingie depicting the town's history.

Aaaaand back into England, this time by way of Herefordshire...

We made a little detour to visit the 12th century church in Kilpeck.

Accoring to our book, the carvings around this doorway contain "the most expressive church sculpture in all of Britain." It depicts dragons, huntsmen, the personification of sins amongst an intricate pattern.

Next stop was Hay-on-Wye...

...which is famous for its secondhand bookstores.

And Hay Castle...

...which, coincidentally, is also a secondhand bookstore!

An "honesty" bookshop - how perfectly quaint! There were shelves and shelves of books all round the courtyard and a little money box for your payment.

Final stop of the day was Breacon Beacons National Park. We really really really wanted to hike Pen y Fan (the highest summit in southern Wales) after remembering Monique and Murray's post from their Wales trip but we just plain ran out of time. It was about 6:30 by the time we got here.

So we settled for a little walk around instead.

The biggest slug I have ever seen. It was so FAT! Maybe it's hard to get perspective from this photo but I swear to you he was massive - as long as my finger and as big around as a quarter (or 10 pence piece if there are any Brits reading).

We found this small but pretty waterfall.

Hey, look at the heather by the falls...
And Heather by the falls...

And, what you've all been waiting for: Heather and heather together at last!!!! (Ok, for all your sakes, I'm pretty sure that's the end of the series of Heather and heather photos. But I'm not making any promises because I get quite a kick out of it.)

Since it was late in the day, the lake was smooth as glass.

We pulled over to watch the stunning sunset.

This was taken on the drive back to the inn - a little blurry but beautiful color nonetheless.

We had dinner both nights at the restaurant at the inn. The food was AMAZING. But as Jason finished his t-bone steak, he couldn't help but notice that the remains were...well...slightly reminiscent of something...

Enjoying breakfast at the inn on Sunday morning.

I told Jason at breakfast that morning that I was not leaving this country without my picture of the Croeso i Gymru sign. I was on a mission. And finally.....


I went through a whole range of emotions... First was "I love you Croeso i Gymru sign. You're my best friend in the whole world."

Then came "Yeah! Take that Croeso i Gymru sign! PWNED! I just made you my bitch! Ha HA, suckah! You bettah recognize!"

And finally, pure unadulterated joy.

During our drive, I took some photos of Welsh signs that illustrate just how difficult the language seems to be to pronounce. I even had a little guide to pronunciation in our book and I still couldn't make heads or tails of it. I feel like words are either almost all consonants or all vowels. Unless of course, they have different vowels than us. Maybe instead of A, E, I, O, U and sometime Y, theirs are C, D, G, L, H and always Y?

For our last trick, we decided to drive down to the coast. First stop, Mumbles...

...a pretty quiet little seaside village in Swansea.

Worst. Boat. Name. EVER. Seriously? Ewwww.

We paid 50 pence each to walk out onto Mumbles Pier - that's quite a little racket they've got going there!

The lighthouse...

And don't you know I had to get my picture taken with the Welsh dragon. "Please Welsh dragon! Don't eat me! It's not my time yet! I haven't been to Disneyland yet! Halp!"

Coincidentally, here is the first try of my photo session with the dragon. But we thought it looked like something rather naughty was going on so I decided to go for the whole "Please Welsh dragon! Don't eat me!" pose instead.

Jason having a pint on the Mumbles Mile (a string of pubs along the main street though the village).

Then we headed to the coastal path at the tip of the Gower peninsula.

Unfortunately, it started raining as soon as we got out of the car. It was only a drizzle but the wind was so strong that it seemed worse. It only lasted for about five minutes though.

But on the upside, I was able to use my favorite word "craggy" quite a lot.

This is me doing my best "Weather Channel Correspondent in a Hurricane" impression.

We could see the sun starting to poke though the clouds across the bay - see the white streaks along the water in the distance? A photo really couldn't do it justice, unfortunately. It was really beautiful.

Leaving Wales and crossing back into England...

Too bad England is east of Wales. Would have been nicer to be driving west during this sunset.