Sunday, December 30, 2012

An Expat Christmas

The Brits don't celebrate Thanksgiving (obviously). 
But, they do get Boxing Day so it all evens out. 

Boxing Day is the day after Christmas and 
means an extra day off to relax in your PJ's and eat too much.

We spent four days on the South coast of England with TE's parents. 
We loaded the car with presents, suitcases and food.  Then made the quick trip to Folkestone. 

It was a great few days with TE and his family sharing all of their holiday traditions with me.
Christmas specials, music, puzzles and food!

So much food!   We decorated cupcakes, which they call Fairy Cakes in the UK.

On Christmas Eve we had a little party with munchies (including queso!) and cocktails.

No matter how much I begged, we didn't open any presents until Christmas morning.   

We all made out like bandits.  I love my new satchel and wool blanket.

We had Christmas dinner early afternoon. 
It was a traditional turkey dinner complete with stuffing, potatoes and cranberry sauce.
My mother-in-law put on a fantastic spread! 

We put on Top of the Pops and popped open our crackers. 
We read out the riddles and the paper crowns remained on for the rest of the day. 
At 3pm it was time for the Queen's Christmas Message.  

It was four days of relaxing around the fire and enjoying each others company.
I'm so thankful to have such a wonderful English family that love me.

But, can I tell you a little secret?   I’m kind of glad the holidays are over. 
It was my first Christmas as an expat.  And in all honesty, it was tough. 

I really struggled with finding balance between embracing the new and craving the familiar.
And, I really just missed my daughter and the rest of my family so much.

So, having recently been through it, here are a few pointers
if you ever find yourself spending the holidays away from home. 

1.     Relax and don’t be too hard on yourself.  Holidays are stressful in the best of times.  Holidays thousands of miles from home, will certainly be a challenge.   And spending a Christmas away from your child is almost unbearable.  Allow yourself to feel those feelings and find positive ways to deal with them. 

2.     Adapt your traditions to fit your new situation and mood.  We purchased a massive, fragrant tree.   But, I just couldn’t bring myself to decorate it.  I hung all of our ornaments from the past year happily.  But each box of older ornaments that I brought out just made me sad.  So, I just put on a few of them.  It still looks pretty.  And watching Love Actually made me cry like a baby.  The scenes from Heathrow Arrivals?  Like a baby!  My suggestion, skip it.  Find a new Christmas movie to had to your annual rotation. 

3.     Don’t spend so much time searching for the familiar that you don’t embrace the new.  I think that’s the hardest part about being away from home.  I just wanted the familiar;  familiar food, movies, music, and people.  I went to a candlelit Carol Service and left after two songs.  Here I was in this gorgeous, old church listening to a children’s choir.  I didn’t recognize the songs and I didn’t want mince pies and tea.  I wanted punch and cookies.  I was trying so hard to find the familiar that I missed out on a wonderful experience. 

4.     Be open about how you are feeling and ask for a little help.  My husband was thrilled to be home for Christmas.  And you can imagine how happy his parents were to have him home.  He was getting all of the familiar things that he has been missing for years.  He’s been in my shoes for years and knew what I was going through.  He even found me a traditional US Country Ham to go with the traditional UK turkey. When I came downstairs on Christmas morning, his mom met me at the bottom of the stairs with the biggest hug and it felt so good.  I'm so grateful that I had them all surrounding me for Christmas. 

5.     Lastly, I suggest that you embrace the fabulous treat that is the quirky UK Christmas Number One.   You haven’t really experienced Christmas until you’ve heard the following festive ear wig.

Do you have any tips for making the best of the Holidays away from home?


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Winter Walk

Today is Boxing Day and we are still in full-on sprawl around the living room, watch TV, eat tons of food, and keep a cocktail in your hand mode. 

The sky is a clear blue and the sun is out, so I think a walk is in our future.  

In the mean time, here are some pictures from a walk we took last week. 
We crossed over tower bridge to see the ice skaters at The Tower of London.
We then popped into a pub for some pie and mash.
My favorite days in London are when we get out and explore. 

Our first stop was a little Christmas Market at The Scoop for some mulled wine.

Tourist posing, pigeons cooing and in the background a 1,000 year old tower.  

We then crossed over my favorite landmark in London, the Tower Bridge.  

"Where's Waldo?!? "

Okay, let's just stop here for a moment.  The picture above has to be one of my favorite photos. 
 This random guy in red and white stripes was just walking along the bridge. 
I wanted to follow him all over London taking pictures. 

By the way, in the UK it's "Where's Wally?"  I prefer Waldo, don't you?

On the other side of the Thames is the Tower of London.

It's a must-see if you are visiting London.  
We visited on my first trip here and it's on my list for a return visit soon.

 Apparently, lions were kept in the Royal Menagerie at the tower.

They've set up an ice skating rink in the tower moat.
We decided that just watching was a much safer option than actually participating.

The Shard is almost ready to open and is now an ever-present part of the London landscape.

It was now time for a quick pub stop.  With a name like that, how can you pass it up?

I'm starting a new blog trend here. 
Instead of perfectly lit and edited pictures of wonderful food, 
I'm just going to post the aftermath of some really great grub.
These are the remains of a chicken and chorizo pie with mash.
It was go-oood!

This church is All Hallows-by-the-Tower is the oldest church in London, founded in 675.
I returned a few days later for a candlelight Christmas service.  It is beautiful inside.

Next to the church you will find one of the cast iron dragon boundary markers for the City of London.

With the sun starting to set we walked back around the Tower.
I never even noticed this iron archer up on the tower until I looked at my pictures. 

I think the best views of The Shard are from Tower Bridge. 

Thanks for taking a walk with me!

I hope you all are having a wonderful Boxing Day!
I'm off to find some peanut butter fudge for Breakfast.

What did you get for Christmas??


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Heartfelt wish...

I keep a little wicker basket on a shelf in our apartment. 
And everywhere we go, I pick up an ornament and add it to the basket. 

My ornament collections is one of my dearest treasures.
It is one of the things that I insisted on shipping along with us the the UK.

As I add the new ornaments to the tree from the past year,
I remember all of the places we've been and the things we've done. 

They are added to a lifetime worth of ornaments that I've collected over the years.  

They include little wood ornaments that we painted when I was a little girl.
And all the crafty ornaments that Jessica created as a little girl. 

I love to cover the tree with so many wonderful memories each year.
It's the perfect opportunity to stop and remember.

 It's been a lovely year full of challenges and adventure.

Of course, the family visits are definite highlights and
I'm looking forward to another wonderful year with more visits!

Merry Christmas and Happy Christmas!

I hope that no matter where you are or who you are with, 
you get a great, big, warm hug from someone you love.  


Saturday, December 22, 2012

I Spy Friday featuring Taste and Tournament

Even when we are home on the weekends, we try to get out of the house and do something.  
With the chill and darkness, the tendency is to hibernate.
But there is so much to do we make ourselves get out.  

We went to the Taste of London over the summer and
decided that we wanted to try the Christmas version also.  

The Taste of Christmas was inside, thankfully.  There were so many booths and a lot of great food. 
We brought home a few things... gourmet chocolate, anchovy paste, gin.  

This was my favorite booth.  Not very gourmet, but who cares. 

 I now have chocolate fudge poptarts, Betty Crocker Chocolate Chip Cookie and Brownie Mix!!

 I would highly recommend the Taste of London and the Taste of Christmas for a fun day out. 

The other event we attended that weekend was the British Military Tournament

It's kinda like the British version of a rodeo, but not really.
Similarities?  Horses, hats and a tractor.  But other than that, it was unlike anything I've seen.

The event raises funds for three charities
that serve the members of the military and their families.
It is usually attended by s few members of Royalty. 
Prince Michael of Kent was in attendance.
(The Duke and Duchess were scheduled for the next evening, but they had to cancel.)

This year's tournament celebrated the 60 years of Queen Elizabeth's reign.
and featured the elite drumming, marching and riding regiments of the British Military.   
Great Britain has three military branches, the Royal Navy (with Royal Marines), the Army and the Royal Air Force

The Household Calvary had a very busy year with the Diamond Jubilee. 

There were historical reenactments, drill displays, and some amazing riding. 

The most interesting and curious display was the Royal Navy's traditional ladder display.  It's like a choreographed rigging dance.  The two teams in white tights high-stepped it into the arena. 

They performed this remarkable display put to music going up, down and through the ladders. 
The tradition goes back to the days of ships with mast rigging.
It was fascinating and a bit quirky. 

One of the charity mascots entertaining the crowd during a transition.

These guns were carried by teams of six horses, led by three soldiers each. 
They raced around the arena in a fabulous display before firing a salute.  

In 1842, Queen Victoria heard bagpipes for the first time on a visit to the Scottish highlands.  
She was immediately enchanted (as I am) and decided to have a
lone piper to play for her each morning.  

Queen Elizabeth has continued the tradition.
Every morning the Queen's Piper plays beneath her window. 
I've asked for my own Piper for Christmas.  TE said he will see what he can do. 

This massed bagpipe band came out of the mist.
I heard them coming and immediately burst into tears.  The sound of bagpipes absolutely moves me.  (TE thinks I'm weird.)

I've always just loved that sound.  And to hear so many of them all together. 
It was so special.  

 Next, was...

Each team has a gun that they have to break down, transport to the other end of the arena, reassemble and fire.
The two teams, "Fearsome" and "Terrible" were fierce competitors and really got the crowd going.  Our team, "Fearsome" won, of course.  

There was also a very realistic modern military re-enactment of a bomb disposal team. 
To be honest, it was a little uncomfortable. 
The reality that this is actually happening somewhere in the world
is not something we always think about.

As a military brat, it was really interesting to see all of this.
The British military is highly respected and supported in Great Britain.

Amidst all of the pomp and ceremony of the tournament,
we were reminded that the military is full of men and women serving and sacrificing.

It was a tribute to them and their families.