Celebrating the 4th of July in the UK

I logged into my WordPress account and saw that I had started this blog post right after the 4th. I had completely forgotten about it, but I still wanted to share it, even if it is a bit late.

The week of the 4th of July brought absolutely beautiful weather to us in England. It was glorious! The sun lover in me was in heaven. I actually felt like we were on holiday sitting out in our garden, enjoying juicy watermelon, and taking in the view. It was absolutely wonderful and my mood got a much needed boost from the sun.Abersoch1

With the weather as good as it was, we expected it would carry on through the weekend, so we made plans to go to Abersoch for some family time and to have our own little 4th of July celebration. The weather unfortunately cooled off, which for me was disappointing, but I am sure for the rest of the UK was a dream come true.

However, we still managed to enjoy our weekend by the sea, even if the weather wasn’t as great as we were hoping it would be. We filled our weekend by walking to the village and to the beach, watching our girl explore the beach and collect every seashell she could, and eating delicious burgers and sausages hot off the grill. If we couldn’t be in the U.S., then this was the next best thing, and it was honestly a perfect way to spend the 4th of July. As I told Richard, “It just doesn’t feel like the 4th without a barbecue by the beach or a pool.”

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Oddly, the 4th of July is one of the U.S. holidays I miss the most. I’m not sure if it is because it was always about spending time with friends and family or that it was the one day a year when everyone would come together to celebrate our country no matter their political affiliation. For me, it is a day about being proud of where you come from and celebrating that with those you love the most. Although we didn’t have any U.S. flags waving here in the UK, I definitely felt a sense of pride for my home country. I was glad I shared a relaxing 4th of July weekend with my little family, and I hope that in the not-so-distant future I can show both Richard and our girl what it’s like to celebrate the 4th in the U.S.

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{We Do: Travel} Life as a US Expat in the UK

Hello to all of you who have made your way here from The Charming Blog! I’m Becky, and I’m a U.S. expat living in West Yorkshire, England. I moved here in September 2011 and haven’t left! (There is so much behind-the-scenes in terms of visas and logistics that has allowed me to stay here. I don’t plan to go into that in this post, but if any of you have questions about those details, please don’t hesitate to email me.) I hope you enjoy my post and that you’ll stick around to read more from me!

When I found out from Amy that I would be contributing to the We Do series by writing about life as an expat, I was equal parts excited – because I have the opportunity to share about a topic I know well – and nervous – because there is just so much that can be shared. I really had no idea where to even begin, so on the advice of my husband and my mom, I went through some of my old blog posts for ideas. They are smart ones, those two! I stumbled upon this paragraph from this post I wrote in February 2012:

Sometimes, I feel there is an assumption that when you move abroad your life will immediately be more glamorous and full of adventure. I admit that is an easy trap to fall into; wishing that every day I had some incredibly amazing story to tell. And yes, sometimes my life here is more glamorous than my life in the US (and I love those times too!), but it’s the every day that has become so meaningful to me. The mundane to me is the perfect.

Even after I wrote that post, I had only been living in England for just over five months, so I still found myself feeling as if every day should be full of adventure. One of the great things about being an ex-pat is that you can truly find your own place in whichever country you choose to make your home. So, although you might not think your life abroad as an expat is all that exciting, it actually is pretty great. It’s almost as if you know you have really assimilated when life in your adopted country seems normal to you. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly when the tourist feeling finally went away, but at some point it did. It was then that I truly realized that my life here in England is perfect as it is and that I could call myself an expat without feeling like I was pretending.

BoltonAbbeyExploring Yorkshire landmarks much older than any building in the U.S.

So, what were some of the things that made me realize I was no longer a tourist? Although I honestly could write so much more on this topic, I have chosen to share some of my favorites today.

Shall I just swing by the chippy? My husband, Richard, will sometimes ring on his drive home from work and ask me that question. The chippy is the fish and chip shop. Oh, the fish and chips of northern England are most definitely done right and so delicious! They are often served with mushy peas, which are essentially mashed peas. I have texture issues when it comes to food, so I wasn’t sure if I would like them, but I definitely do. This simple side dish is the perfect accompaniment to the fish and chips. When we return to England from a trip abroad, Richard always likes to have fish and chips for our first dinner back. I used to poke fun at him for it, but now I actually look forward to it!

Fancy a cuppa? After much practice and instruction from my husband, I am able to make a mean cuppa the proper way – milk and sugar (if you like), but always milk. Previously, I found it so strange to put milk in my tea, but now I find it odd to drink my tea without milk. Also, I look forward to a cuppa before bed with my husband while we’re winding down from the day. In fact, we’re watching MasterChef (a BBC classic) and enjoying our teas as I type!

IMG_3272What’s better than tea and cake in the afternoon?!

The pub. Most people know that the British love their pubs. They are everywhere making them an easy meeting place when you want to catch up with friends. Even in our tiny village, I can count four without even thinking about it. The best part about the pub though is that many of them are family establishments, which is not something you would find with bars and pubs in the U.S. Yes, everyone loves a night out just the adults, but we have a little one now so it’s nice to know you won’t get the side eye from the other patrons if you bring a baby with you. In fact, she is usually the star of the show when we take her with us! Also, this was the first Christmas since we’ve been together that we have actually stayed in England as we usually spend the holidays in the U.S. We went to the pub before dinner on Christmas Day and I didn’t think twice about it. My parents were visiting at the time, and they thought it was the funniest thing!

Hiya! You okay? This is a common greeting when you see someone you know. To be honest, it got on my nerves when I first arrived, but now I often catch myself saying it to friends as we’re greeting each other with a quick kiss on the cheek. I find that it just fits into the flow of conversation here.

The ‘x’. With close friends in the U.S., I would sometimes end emails and text messages with xo. The in the UK is a bit of an institution. With friends and family and even some people you aren’t that close with, every email, text, and greeting card will be signed with at least one x symbolizing a kiss and the end of a thought. At first, it felt forced and I would often find myself asking Richard when it was appropriate to use the x. However, it has become second nature. I’ve even found myself signing professional emails with it (and thankfully catching it before I would click send!).

The ‘wrong’ side of the road. For the first 2 1/2 years that I lived here, I did not drive, which was odd for me because like many others from the U.S., I had become reliant on having my own car. I could have driven legally on my U.S. license for the first year, but in all honesty, as a newbie to Yorkshire living, it was fairly nerve-wracking. We live in the countryside with narrow roads that sometimes are only wide enough for one car and left me holding my breath as a car approaches from the other direction. Because of that, I was content taking public transportation (which thankfully is quite good) and walking everywhere. However, public transportation is not as easy with a baby in tow, so I was keen to pass my test. (It’s funny to me that she spent the first few months of her life taking taxis with me!) I applied for my provisional license in March 2013 and began driving lessons in July. In March 2014, after two failed attempts, I finally passed my UK practical driving exam!

The exam here is nothing like the U.S. exam. Yes, you take a theory and a practical exam, but that is where the similarities end. In fact, I’m fairly certain I ran a stop sign on my U.S. test when I was 16 and still passed while that would be an automatic fail on the UK exam. (If you have a few minutes, I’d highly recommend reading this article written by an American describing his experience with the UK driving exam. My experience was nearly identical!) The fact that I now drive here on the opposite side of the road and from the opposite side of the car has been a massive factor in making me feel more settled. It’s so nice to be able to pop to the shop or catch up with friends as I please. It’s hard to remember what it was like before I drove. (I will be blogging about the entire process in the next few days, if you want to hear more about this, then be sure to check back!)

IMG_2900I’m pretty proud of that certificate!

Shall I just pop round for a quick catch up? Just reviewing this post, I see a number of words and phrases that I either didn’t use or never would have felt comfortable saying or typing prior to settling into life here…a bitring (as in call on the phone), poke fun at (as opposed to make fun of), cuppa, was keen toand pop to the shop. They now just seem to roll off the tongue when I’m speaking and writing. Here are a few more that I catch myself using:  have a thinkpop round, and watching some telly. I’d definitely recommend you read this great post written by another US ex-pat on some common British phrases and how they fit into conversation. She also mentions some words that don’t seem to sound right in an American accent if pronounced the British way, and I wholeheartedly agree with her point of view on tomato and aluminum. I’d like to add basil (pronounced bah-sil) and oregano (pronounced or-a-gan-oh) to that list if I may!

Living Across Two Cultures. Aside from the every day, there are so many things about being an expat that excite me. I enjoy the ease with which we can travel to continental Europe as well as a number of other places that aren’t as accessible from the U.S. I love that our daughter, although she will spend most of her younger years in the UK, will grow up with traditions from both sides of the pond. I find it funny that although the Yorkshire accent is slowly rubbing off on me, I’m still a bit of a novelty when meeting new people. I like to talk about where I’m from, but I also like to see people smile when I say I love living here.

RBParisParis is just a quick plane ride away!

All of this is not to say that I don’t still have moments that leave me frustrated or asking Richard way too many questions about why things happen the way they do. Being an expat is most definitely a continual learning process, and I enjoy being a student in my own life. I feel it is natural to still have moments when I find myself pining for things in the U.S. There are times when I desperately miss my family and friends in the States, despite the fact that my friends and family here are all incredible people. This is my home now though and it is hard to imagine life any other way. Life as an expat is about finding a balance between learning to love your life in your new home whilst still keeping a place in your life and heart for your home country. So, although the adventure isn’t always apparent to me, it is definitely still there!

countrysideIt’s hard to imagine living anywhere else, especially on days like the one pictured above!

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A Yank in Yorkshire – Life as an Ex-Pat – An American in England
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Happy 4th from across the pond!

It’s tough to believe that today is the quintessential summer holiday in the U.S. while it is overcast and gloomy in England (and also lacking in American flags waving triumphantly). I love living in England and moving here to be with the Brit and work on my Master’s degree was the right move for my life, but living abroad has made me appreciate my home even more. I received four texts today from English citizens wishing me a happy 4th of July, and although it feels like just any other day here, those texts meant a lot to me and made me smile and think of home.

Of course, I will miss seeing fireworks, cooking out with friends and family, and celebrating our nation’s independence (funnily from the country I now live in). However, I will still have a celebrations of sorts as friends of ours are having a party this weekend, and when I realized it fell on the weekend after the 4th, I suggested an America-themed party in honor of the holiday. That has transformed into an ‘American Legends’ fancy dress party (costume party in the U.S.), which should prove to be all sorts of hilarious! Stay tuned for photos of that!

So, I hope you all have a happy 4th of July in the good ol’ U.S. of A and enjoy all of the goodness that comes along with celebrating the day!

Edited to add:  The sun came out and we had bluebird skies for most of the evening! It was so good to enjoy a lovely outdoor run with a friend tonight!

My Baby Brother Gets Married, Pt. 3

As I mentioned in this post, Adam and Kayla’s outdoor ceremony was set to begin at 6 PM. We awoke to gray skies and cool temperatures, but still hoped the ceremony could be held outside overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.

The outdoor area, before the rain came, where they were to be married.

The Brit and I headed off on a quick shopping trip with our fingers crossed that the sun and blue skies would still emerge. As we got into my parents’ SUV (4×4 to those of you from the UK!), I had a moment of panic as we both looked at each other and he said, ‘I’m a little nervous about you driving.’ I hated to admit it, but I had to agree and nodded my head. Even though it had only been 4 months since I last drove in the US, I still felt uneasy and found myself second guessing whether I was on the right side of the road or not. This seems odd to me, however, as I do not drive in England (which is actually a story for another day).

We decided to head to a different mall and to Trader Joe’s that morning. We both snagged a few items and wrapped up our shopping trip with lunch at Chipotle. (Yum.) I had to quickly get ready because Kayla’s sister was picking me up soon to head to their parents’ house to be with Kayla and the rest of the bridesmaids. I left myself zero time to properly do my hair and my mom’s makeup, but somehow it all got done just as my ride pulled up to the hotel. (Thank you, Jessi, for being my hair stylist for the day!)

Off we went to see the bride and as soon as we got into the house it was just calm. Kayla was completely fine with the fact that the venue had called and said the ceremony would need to be held indoors. And, I was really surprised by how relaxed it all seemed, not that Kayla is a tense person at all, but she was a bride on her wedding day. However, you could tell she was just ready and really content. She asked me how Adam was, and although I hadn’t seen him, I had spoken to him on the phone twice, so I told her he seemed really good and was hanging out with his groomsmen and friends playing hacky sack. (I seriously thought this game went out of style years ago, but it somehow made a resurgence on their wedding weekend!)

The bride sitting pretty!

All of us were making sure the bride’s hair was how she wanted it and that she was happy with how she looked in her dress. I get teary-eyed thinking about it, but Kayla looked so much like herself and was smiling ear-to-ear…just how a bride should be on her wedding day! There is something to be said for playing Just Dance on the Wii, having your friends and family do your hair, and doing your own makeup on your wedding day — right, K?!

The limo pulled up and we had a quick photo shoot before we were off to the ceremony….

With her parents

Kayla’s sister, the lovely bride, and me.

Once we got to the venue, the rain had started and everyone was thankful the ceremony was being held inside now. We had a short wait while the final guests arrived and found their seats and then it was time!

As is customary in the US, the bridesmaids enter the ceremony one at a time before the bride walks in with her father. (I’ve seen it done in the UK with the bridesmaids entering both before and after the bride.) I managed to avoid eye contact with Adam as I walked in as I was sure to lose my cool and cry, so I’m sure I was smiling awkwardly and looking either to the side or just above people’s heads.

The ceremony was short, about 15 minutes, but it was extremely heartfelt and touching as the pastor who married them has known Kayla since she was young and is a friend of her family. And just like that, they were Mr. and Mrs.!! (All of our photos from the ceremony are blurry because of the lighting, so you’ll have to imagine it!)

Then, it was time to party…and wow, can this group party! In between the ceremony and the reception though, we had photos taken and munched on some appetizers with the immediate family and wedding party. Soon, it was time for the evening festivities to begin as all of the wedding party plus the parents of the newlyweds were announced and entered the venue once more to watch them share their first dance.

Then, the maid of honor and the best man both gave fabulous toasts as we enjoyed some bubbly. (I had the honor of being the only one to have read the best man’s speech before the wedding and even though I had read and re-read it a few times in the months leading up it still left me in tears — well done, Jon!) We had a nice meal that even featured a Maryland specialty, crab bake, which was delicious. (For those who might not know, Maryland is known for the Chesapeake blue crab.)

Another great cake!

With some of my favorite people!

Immediately after dinner, the bride danced with her dad and Adam danced with our mom. (Best mother-son dance song ever…Sweet Child of Mine by Guns N’ Roses. Oh yes, they did!) And then, the drinks started flowing and the bride and groom got the dancing started and the dance floor was packed for the rest of the night! It was such a great time as is evidenced by the photos below.

My beautiful mom and my handsome brother.

Doing their dance to Dueling Banjos…you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy!

The Brit, me, Dad, and Mom — we had our dancing shoes on all night! (Photo stolen from my cousin — thanks, Erica!)

My beautiful cousins and the best man!

We rock the self portraits…classy!

When we got back to the hotel that night, the emotions of the weekend and of the day just hit me. My little brother was married. When did he grow up?! And, I’m thankful it waited until just the Brit and my parents were around because they understood the tears. It was a fabulous weekend celebrating an even more fabulous couple! I am beyond honored that they asked me to be part of their wedding party as well, so thank you both for allowing me to be part of it.

And, as they say in England, I am absolutely chuffed to bits for them!

Big love and many congratulations to Adam and Kayla! Love you both. xx

My Baby Brother Gets Married, Pt. 2

We left off with the Brit and I zonked out after an exhausting day of travel and a fun reunion with family….

Regardless of how tired I was, I woke up ready to conquer the day at about 6:30 AM. Unfortunately, no one else was as eager as me to start the day, so after I texted everyone to see if they were awake and got no replies, I headed to the hotel gym in hopes of working out some of my unexplained energy. It did help quite a bit, but then I returned to our hotel room and proceeded to munch on Starburst jelly beans, which I’m sure had nothing to do with my hyperness. (Right.)

Anyway, the day involved some shopping because the Brit and I tend to flock to the mall when we’re in the U.S. to save money as everything is so much more expensive here in England. After some fun purchases, we met up with the rest of the family for a late lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings, which is your typical American sports bar. I hadn’t been to B-Dubs (as we call it) since I lived in Indianapolis five years ago, so it made me reminisce a little and miss my Indy friends! (Hi to the few that read the blog!)

Love these people…this photo just makes me laugh as we’re all posed around Jon with his beer.

This lunch was really nice because we all got to chill out and enjoy each other’s company over a few beers (pints?). While checking our IDs, the waitress had a good laugh at the Brit’s hairstyle in his driver’s license photo as she exclaimed, ‘What the?!’ Hahaha! His license was passed around for everyone to poke fun at his ‘Flock of Seagulls’-inspired ‘do in his photo. Ah, too funny. You know you’re part of the family when everyone can openly make fun of your former hairstyle choice!

(Side note:  It is interesting because I have grown accustomed to not taking my ID when we go out in England as it is never checked, so the Brit and I have to make a conscious effort to take our IDs out with us when we are in the U.S. I once made fun of him when we were out for a meal with our friends in Colorado and he didn’t have his ID, so he couldn’t order a beer. Now, I understand why it could be easy not to even consider bringing your ID out with you.)

After lunch, we had some time to kill before the evening’s festivities. This brings us to the American rehearsal dinner. The bane of my existence when American wedding traditions come up in conversation. As I explain it, people nod their heads in understanding, but I can tell they don’t really grasp the concept. Essentially, we have a rehearsal the night before the wedding, so that those involved in the ceremony know what to do – where to walk, where to stand, what to say, etc. It makes for a more seamless ceremony on the actual day.

The rehearsal is then followed by a rehearsal dinner that is traditionally hosted by the parents of the groom. As to who is invited to the rehearsal dinner, typically it is not open to all wedding guests. Instead, it is generally the wedding party and their significant others, the immediate family of the bride and groom, and in our case, some close friends and extended family. I believe it was a total of about 37 people.

The rehearsal is generally held in the actual ceremony venue, but the venue was not available on the Friday night before the wedding, so we had the rehearsal, led by the pastor performing the ceremony, where we had the dinner. Adam and Kayla chose to have have their rehearsal dinner at Dave & Buster’s, which is a restaurant and bar with an arcade attached to it. My parents had reserved one of the function rooms and we had a nice meal (I was impressed with how good the food was!) with delicious cake that had been ordered specifically in honor of the bride and groom’s honeymoon. Then, we continued to party while playing arcade games! It was so wonderful to catch up with family and friends before the wedding. (Truthfully, I think the rehearsal dinner should be adopted as tradition in the UK, but that is just my opinion!)

They are camping and kayaking for their honeymoon – the cake was incredible!

Because the wedding did not begin until 6 PM on Saturday, most of the groom’s side stayed out late! One of my best friends and her fiance were there and she and I haven’t had a night partying for years, so it was really fun for all of us!

It was such a good night with some of my favorite people!

My parents had all of the leftovers from the dinner in their hotel room, so around midnight, we had about 20 people crammed into their room chowing down until the guys (including the Brit who was adopted by all of Adam’s friends this weekend and was called ‘the foreigner’) went to a different room to have ‘bachelor party number two’ while I chilled with Mom and Dad before calling it a night around 1:30 PM.

Adam’s friends won this giant gorilla at Dave & Buster’s. I think they named it Harold, but I could be wrong. That is my dad beside it pretending to give it a Busch Light…so classy!

I promise to wrap it up in one final part…the wedding day!! Hooray!

My Baby Brother Gets Married, Pt. 1

Now that I have successfully completed my final two essays linked to my courses for my degree (YAY!), I can focus on other things for a little while. One of those things is catching up on posts from the wedding weekend we were lucky to be a part of during the last weekend in April.

There was so much to look forward to for this trip…celebrating my brother and his new wife, spending time with family, and a break from life in England which had been unusually hectic for us. Although the trip was very quick, in that we flew there on Thursday and our return flight left on Sunday night, I knew it would be a nice getaway for the two of us. (When people hear we fly to the U.S. for such a short amount of time, we get the funniest looks! But, honestly, when the Brit and I were living apart, the majority of our visits were like this, so we don’t think twice about it.)

Also, this was the Brit’s first American wedding! There is a good amount of wedding talk in our families at the moment (with his sister getting married in September and us in December).  And, because we are keen to combine English and American wedding traditions into our wedding, I was looking forward to him seeing some of the American wedding traditions in person.

But first, we had to get there. Our flight from Manchester to London was delayed on take-off then we were put in a circling pattern above Heathrow for about 20 minutes. It was neat to fly over London twice. However, panic set in for me. I was NOT okay with us missing our flight to the U.S., which was set to leave very soon. The Brit gets a kick out of me when I hit panic mode for things completely out of our control, but I was so upset because I was ready to be on U.S. soil.

We finally landed and it was a sprint (on my part) with the Brit walking at a normal speed behind me. We made it to the gate just as boarding was beginning, so then I could take a deep breath. We got on the plane and were all set for an on-time departure when it was discovered there were electrical problems with the plane, so it was another 1.5 hours before we left. The key though is that we left!

The best man, Jon, was set to pick us up from Dulles and for some reason the website listing the arrivals didn’t update until about 10 minutes before we arrived, so he’d been waiting for us for nearly two hours. He’s a good one for sticking around! Out we head to the car park and what does Jon notice? Oh, he left his lights on in his Jeep! Hahahahaha! So, after asking at least five people if they had jumper cables, we finally managed to find some good people who had some. Then, we were good to go! We did a quick stop to see his bachelor pad then off to Maryland we went.

Most of our friends and family weren’t arriving until the next day, so Mom, Dad, Jon, Richard, and I went out for a really nice meal. My mom had a glass and a half of wine and was super tipsy, which had us all laughing! We figured we hadn’t had enough to drink, so we found a brewery and had another round of drinks. This was by far the funniest part of the evening as my mom ‘needed some fresh air,’ so she and Dad went outside while the three of us finished our drinks. Mom kept coming right up to the window and waving at us — it was hilarious!

Mom and Jon…you can see the drink in her eyes! 🙂

The guys look nice and I look rough.

By the time we left the brewery, the Brit and I were exhausted, but my brother and Kayla were about 15 minutes from arriving, so I somehow managed to stay awake just long enough to say hi to the two of them, while the Brit had already faceplanted and promptly fell asleep in our hotel room.

The best man prepared for the arrival of the groom with two growlers of beer!

To be continued…. (I know the suspense is killing everyone!)

“What do you miss the most?”

A common question that I’m asked both in England and when I’m back in the U.S. is, “What do you miss the most about the U.S.?” Call me sappy (or soppy, if you’re British), but I always reply with, “My family.”

And then, I usually get a blank stare. Apparently, there is a wrong answer to this question! Who knew?!

Family is not the answer people expect. They are usually wanting to know about foods, stores, television shows, and other things that people get nostalgic about. Of course, there are things that I miss and, truth be told, it is usually food. (Seriously, I love food.)

This past weekend, my awesome parents gifted me this humongous bag of Starburst jelly beans in a resealable bag. My eyes lit up when I saw this because I had never seen this large of a bag, but my dad found it online and I was one happy lady since these don’t seem to exist in England. Thank you, Mom and Dad! You’d better believe those things are already gone…except the red ones, which ended up in the bin because I’ve never liked that flavor.

They also brought us a pound box of chocolate-covered pretzels from the most amazing chocolate shop in my hometown. (They were finished in 2 days. We have no will power when it comes to these bits of chocolatey deliciousness.)

We took some time to hit up Chipotle and Trader Joe’s (yes to almond butter and the most perfectly dried mangos ever). Happiness. On Sunday, my new sister-in-law’s (yay! wedding posts to come!) family hosted a delicious barbecue with burgers fresh from the grill, potato salad, and loads of other foods that remind me of summers in the U.S. All of which was washed down by a cold Miller Lite in a bottle.

Why does barbecue in the U.S. just taste better?! Yum.

We did our fair share of shopping, too. I know I am going to have to adjust to the prices in England soon, especially because we won’t be back in the U.S. until 2013, but I like to hold off on purchasing things I need (and I know I can definitely purchase at a much lower price) until we are state-side…I’m fully stocked on BareMinerals and summer dresses now and the Brit got some new work shirts and ties. So, I think we are set for awhile now!

So yes, there are things that I miss, but in all seriousness, it is my family that I miss most. They really are the best, and the Brit and I both wished we had another day or two to spend with them during this last trip. I love you, family!

P.S. One day, I will do a post about television shows, not so much about what I miss (Modern Family is the only one, really), but some of the hilarious British quiz and chat shows that I love here (as I type this I am watching Alan Carr…love him).

An American Bridal Shower

I’m back in England after some crazy traveling (delayed and missed flights both ways — fun times!), but all of that traveling was worth it to begin the festivities of welcoming my brother’s fiancee into our family with a good old western Pennsylvania bridal shower!  She is originally from Maryland, so my mom wanted to be sure she was showered with gifts from our friends and family in PA as well.  I must first say that my mom is a rockstar!  The shower was thrown by she and I, but with me being over here (and really not sure until a month before if I could even make it back) she did amazing things getting this party together.

My brother, A, is one of the most laid-back people you will ever meet, and I have to say that he has met his match with K.  The two of them are absolutely great together! In an attempt to let K’s personality and style shine through, my mom wonderfully organized a rustically elegant bridal shower held in a local bed and breakfast with hints of green and brown (their wedding colors) throughout.

Before I show some photos, I have to explain for my British readers (I know I have a few!!) that a bridal shower is not a hen do.  (After seeing some photos, I think the Brit has finally figured out that this is not the time when rude games are played and a stripper is expected…that is a bachelorette party!)  The bridal shower is traditionally a luncheon with finger foods and sweets on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon with all women (grandmothers, aunts, cousins, parents’ friends, the bride’s friends, etc.).  It’s an opportunity for the bride to be showered with gifts prior to the wedding. This is usually when the couple receives many of the household items from their wedding registry (or wedding/gift list).  Some people are now doing co-ed showers, but K and A went the traditional route with A popping up near the end appearing all charming with a bouquet of flowers for his wife-to-be.  (It’s weird to see my brother be romantic, but it makes me smile that he has found someone that makes him this happy!)

Because I didn’t have much to do with the planning leading up to the day, my mom so graciously allowed me to take over on the day of. I really enjoyed it and it wouldn’t be me speaking publicly about someone I love without a few tears as I welcomed K to our family. (You really don’t know how excited we are for it to be official! She is wonderful!)

So, without further ado, enjoy some photos from the bridal shower….

The lovely and delicious cake!

The lovely and delicious cake!

Mom, K, and I

Mason jar wine glasses...seriously hilarious!

Mason jar wine glasses...seriously hilarious!

Delicious cookies homemade by family and friends!

The food spread -- croissant sandwiches, veggies, fruit, salad.

New towels -- that haven't been chewed on by their crazy Labrador retriever!

The grandmothers

The soon-to-be marrieds!!

The soon-to-be marrieds!!

So excited to celebrate with these two on April 28th!!

Christmas Traditions: Miles of Difference

Although this is the Brit and I’s second Christmas together, I’m just now realizing some of the major differences in the Christmas traditions between the UK and the US. So, without further ado, I thought I’d share them….

United States United Kingdom
Santa Claus Father Christmas
Santa Claus comes from the North Pole. Father Christmas comes from Lapland.
We leave cookies (biscuits) and milk for Santa Claus and some leave carrots for the reindeer. Father Christmas is left mince pies and whisky…this just makes me laugh! Apparently, in the Brit’s family, Father Christmas preferred a gin and tonic. Hilarious!
Santa Claus only brings the gifts from Santa Claus. Christmas gifts from others are presented by that person/group of people. Father Christmas brings all of the gifts from everyone on Christmas morning. I was excited because I thought we would get to see the Brit’s godson (along with his little sister) open their gifts from us this year, but then I was informed that wouldn’t be happening. 😦
The day after Christmas is merely December 26th. The day after Christmas is Boxing Day.

Merry Christmas from the United States!!

{Plane Trip} Our Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania

On Wednesday, November 23rd, The Brit and I celebrated a major milestone in our relationship — our first trans-Atlantic flight together. Hooray! I’m sure you weren’t expecting that, but this was a big deal for us! We’ve had a few short European flights and domestic U.S. flights sat beside each other. We’re both so accustomed to long flights alone that we joked about how after this flight we might just end up purchasing different flights from here on out.

The verdict is in. And, I’m sure everyone is surprised to know that we really enjoyed being together! And actually, we had separate flights coming back to the UK on Sunday (it’s complicated) and I missed having him next to me. I had a few hours in Heathrow waiting for him to arrive, so when he walked through the arrivals door into the terminal, I was smiling from ear-to-ear. I’ll take that as a sign this guy has my heart. Sorry for the soppy-ness! (Here’s a fun language tidbit…I have always said ‘sappy,’ but in England, they often use ‘soppy,’ which is what the Brit says, and it’s definitely stuck for me.)

Anyway, back to our second Thanksgiving together celebrated with my family…my brother and his fiancée were nice enough to pick us up from the airport. Lucky for us, the brother took one of his ‘shortcuts’ and we missed most of the holiday traffic through the city. The Brit and I crashed not long after arriving at my parents’ house, and we were up early for the Turkey Trot 5k in my hometown. We were thankful it wasn’t freezing rain and gusting wind like last year. As usual, our super fans (aka Mom and Dad) were there to see us cross the finish line.

I'm dating a serious speed demon. He kicked my booty again this year.

Super fans!

After the race it was back to my parents’ house to help prepare for the group of 16 friends and family that was due for Thanksgiving dinner at 1 PM. Growing up, we spent Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents’ house and Noni (my grandmother) made such a crazy amount of food. She is 100% Italian and my grandfather was 100% Ukrainian, so not only did we have the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce, BUT we also had ham, lasagna, and pierogies. As my grandparents got older, the tradition shifted and Thanksgiving dinner is now always at my mom and dad’s house, which I absolutely love. Granted, our dinner is based mainly on the more traditional Thanksgiving fare (this includes a regular cooked turkey and a deep-fried one), but we are still left with so many leftovers. It’s quite funny to see the Italian trait of making WAY TOO MUCH food passed down from generation to generation. I even catch myself doing it. I mean you don’t want to run out of anything now, do you?! Dinner was fabulous — the food and the company. It was great catching up with people we hadn’t seen since summer.

Friday brought nothing other than the Brit’s FIRST Black Friday shopping experience. I have to say that he voluntarily went along with Mom and I, and the three of us had a really fun time! Not only did we get some great deals and save loads of money on Christmas gifts, but because most of the crazies had been out at midnight when the shops opened we didn’t have any crowds to fight. It was a win for us! We were happy to have the Brit along, not only because he’s great company, but also because he was our ‘male model’ trying clothes on for my dad and brother and  he was happy to help us carry shopping bags. It was a great morning that we wrapped up with lunch before heading home.

That night, we were lucky enough to visit with one of my best friends from home, her husband, and their little boy (who both the Brit and I love to pieces). He is the sweetest. As the Brit always says, “Find out what store they got him from because that’s the kind of kid I’d love to have.” It was great to just sit and chat. It has been hard for me going from seeing them nearly every week when I was living in PA this summer to just once every few months, so I loved catching up with them.

Saturday was fairly low key for us. Prior to flying home, I had suggested to Mom that we take a family photo as I had known she had wanted one for awhile. So, I arranged the photographer (the self-timer on our camera), we determined the location (Mom and Dad’s house), and I informed the brother and ‘sister’ of this. We actually had such a fun time (mostly it was everyone laughing at me as I ran back into the frame after setting the self-timer) taking the photos as you can see below….

All of us...we clean up well!

Mom, Dad, the brother, and I

Just the two of us...the Brit and the Yank.

We tried the jumping thing a ton of times...this is the best one! So, you can see how well that went! No matter because we had a great time trying to take these ones. The brother's fiancee even managed to punch the brother in the face during one of them...hilarious!!

After our marathon photo session, we chilled and played games. We’re a wholesome family like that…until I mention that we simultaneously taste tested the pear brandy that my brother and his fiancée had made! Delish. That night, the six of us had dinner at the local Italian restaurant. I think it’s becoming tradition as the six of us went there for dinner last year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It’s just a nice time for us to all sit and chat after the busy-ness of the holiday.

Sunday, we had to say our goodbyes. However, it was easy leaving (well, until my mom started to cry at the airport) since we know that we only have 4 weeks until we’re back again for Christmas! This trip back for Thanksgiving truly epitomized what the holiday is about — spending time with your loved ones and making the most out of that time. Although the trip went quickly, I’m so grateful the Brit and I were able to be in Pennsylvania to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family.

I’m a very lucky girl.