Happy Holidays! Christmas in America and New Year’s Eve in London

Getting upgraded to first class with Delta on my 9-hour flight home to America basically set the standard for how the rest of my vacation would go…free drinks and a reclining seat all the way home, baby. It was a fantastic break, and SO nice to be home with family. Saw lots of friends, spent most of our time with family (aka drove back and forth a lot between Nebraska and Missouri), AND I shot some guns. Lucky for my boyfriend, a friend let me borrow her shotgun and I was surprised how much I enjoyed shooting that gun. It might just become a hobby. Hunting though…that’s another ball game. Good luck, Jarin 😉

2014_12_20_6109Best Christmas present ever: a cookbook with handwritten copies of mom’s recipes.

DSC_0182Jarin’s family, wearing the hats from the Christmas crackers we brought home from London.

DSC_0183 (2)Bald eagle in front of the house….so cool. America.

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Shootin’ school. I was taking notes. (And pictures.)

We headed back to London before New Years because we wanted to celebrate in London, and I’m so glad we did. Unfortunately, this year was the first year that you had to buy a ticket to see the fireworks. We didn’t get tickets because we thought we could just meander down that way and surely find a decent spot to watch from. WRONG. They weren’t joking when they said they’d have all viewable places blocked off. And heavily secured. We were steered through the Embankment station up to the Strand on a very inflexible route…which made for a crowded walk.

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Once on the Strand the crowd dissipated a bit because, thankfully, they had the street blocked off from traffic. We walked down the Strand towards Somerset house and really lucked out, because the security working Waterloo bridge decided to gift everyone with a free entrance to the bridge.

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See the green security gates on either side? They were everywhere.

Made for a tight walk through security, but once we were on the bridge it was perfect. Room to take some beautiful shots of London at night:

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And had time to spare to get set up for the fireworks. As cheesy as it sounds, I used some of that time to reflect on how lucky I am to be pursuing my dreams in this marvelous, historic city. I’ve touched on my story previously, but it really has been an incredible ride getting everything in place for London to happen – and it wouldn’t have happened if this kid hadn’t brought up the idea. So I owe a lot of this journey to him, and am grateful that we get to experience it together. 🙂

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I had time to get switched over from camera to video, and was able to record the first part of the show. With no further ado, for your viewing pleasure, here is our view of the 2015 New Year’s Eve celebration in London. (Listen for Big Ben…coolest thing ever!!)

(goshdang WordPress isn’t letting me embed the video. Boo. Check it out on YouTube!)

Home will always be the Midwest for us, but while we’re living in London we’re absolutely making the most of it.

Here’s to a fabulous 2015!!

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Takeaway Tidbit: Make 2015 your year 🙂

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Differences between America and London

One of the most common, vague, hard-to-answer questions that EVERYONE from America asks is, “So what’s it like over there?”. Personally, I love this question because it gives me an open invitation to talk that person’s ears off (which I am exceptionally good at doing, according to my boyfriend). Plus I know I was most interested and concerned about the differences between America and London before I moved over here.

The thing is, there aren’t many BIG things that are different which Americans don’t already know about. Yes, people drive on the opposite side of the road here but I don’t ever deal with that since, like half of London, I don’t use a car. Yes, people have an accent and are sometimes hard to understand, but then again I’m the foreigner-therefore I’M the one with the accent that’s hard to understand. Although it’s fun adjusting to the big differences, it’s the little, quirky, day-to-day things that catch me off guard and, for the most part, make me love London more. I’m sure I’ll find many other tiny twists as life progresses over the next couple of years so we’ll call this part one of an ongoing list.

♥You don’t have to use the designated crosswalks when crossing the street. You still get honked at if you cross at inopportune moments, but you can cross wherever you want. No tickets for jaywalking. (Just make sure you read the street markings and look in the right direction to check for traffic. The nice, international-friendly city planners remind you which way to look. Or, like me, simply look back and forth constantly because you’re so mixed up on the direction of traffic flow. I wish all streets were as small as the one in the photo.)

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Don’t ask me what the yellow or blue markings mean. I haven’t the foggiest.

♥Definitely don’t love this part, but heads up: it takes significantly longer to get things set up here than in the States. Getting wi-fi hooked up took a solid 3 weeks. Thankfully most cafes have free wi-fi. I really enjoyed that part; I visited a lot of different cafes around town that way. 🙂 It also took  about 3 weeks to get a bank account set up. The requirements to do so are much more elaborate than in America.

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♥On the plus side, you can use any ATM- there are no surcharge fees. Doesn’t matter which bank you use or which bank sponsors the ATM, there’s no charge.

♥Because a lot of people don’t have cars, and because apartments/kitchens/fridges are miniscule compared to the States, there are grocery stores EVERYWHERE. Literally. There are at least 3 on my 2-block walk home from the tube (aka subway). Which is fantastic because now stopping at the store 4-5 times a week isn’t crazy. I don’t have to plan and purchase a week’s worth of meals anymore, I can just do it a day or two at time.

Blog13Oh hey dorm fridge and small freezer. And dorm…stove? …at least it works.

♥That being said, the UK rules on food and processed stuff make it really difficult to find things that we use all the time in the States. Besides not having most of my favorite junk food, just this week I’ve had to look up the UK equivalent to corn syrup (doesn’t exist here), corn bread (they don’t do pre-made mixes here so I made it from scratch using polenta. Had to look that up too; that’s what they call corn meal here), sour cream (crème fraîche here), cilantro (coriander), and powdered sugar (icing sugar). That’s on top of discovering that eggplants are called aubergines, zucchinis are courgettes, they don’t have maple syrup bottles larger than 250g or refrigerated rolls of biscuit dough, and they have a significantly smaller selection of gum (apparently Extra bought the rights to be the Royal gum). Among other things.

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Also, corn starch is called corn flour here (not to be confused with corn meal, aka polenta). Forgot that one.

♥You may have noticed my use of ‘g’ in the previous bullet point. That’s because they use the metric system here. Which is really a mental exercise when you’re using American recipes for things, because you constantly have to do conversions. Grams, cups, ounces, milliliters, tablespoons, Celsius (non-food related: things got really complicated when I attempted to mentally convert distance on a treadmill)… Thankfully, I’m not the first American ex-pat to experience this frustration so there are conversion charts aplenty on Google. I’ve copied a few out and scattered them around the kitchen. On the plus side, weighing myself in kilograms makes me feel REAL good. I haven’t weighed double digits since I was in middle school…or if you use stones as your weight measurement (yes, that’s a weight measurement here. Look up the conversion yourself. Alright fine, I’ve converted it enough times I have it memorized…one stone=14lbs.), I’m in the single digits. Hellooooo newborn baby weight! 😉

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Everything is metric. Even my stove is in Celsius.

See, I told you I could talk your ears off. This is my longest post yet. I’ll call it quits for now, but more to come on this subject later 🙂

International friends, what else have you experienced that’s different? Add yours in the comments!

Takeaway Tidbit: There’s more adjustments to life in London than accents and driving on the opposite side of the road.