Thursday, September 29, 2011

Recent Reads

Lately I have been tearing through books. I think this is probably due to the combination of Bo traveling for work and the death of my laptop. I've hardly been able to keep up with myself so I figured I'd share the books I've read lately and ask for suggestions if any of you have some good books in mind!

Secret Daughter, by Shilpi Somaya Gowda - This was a book club choice and I loved it. The story is about a girl named Asha who was adopted from an Indian orphanage and grew up in California. The Indian culture was fascinating and the story didn't end how I expected it to, though in a good way.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins - Thank you Adrienne and Kelly for the suggestion! I felt a little awkward shopping in the "teen" section of Barnes & Noble, but it was totally worth it. I was hooked and finished it really quickly. Looking forward to the next two books in the series (if only they would come out in paperback...).

The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant - I think I'm one of the few people who did not like this book at all. It was a book club choice and I couldn't make it to the meeting...but our email chain from those who had finished it says that after struggling through the first few chapters it picks up and is really good. Sadly I disagreed and just never really got into it.

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett - I tried avoiding this book for all the hype it's getting with the movie. Several people had told me how good it was, but when my mom practically insisted I read it, I caved. Not surprising that she was right :) I thought it was a great book and I'm even looking forward to seeing the movie.

Only Time Will Tell, by Jeffrey Archer - I finished The Help when I was in London and desperately needed something to read for the flight back. The bookstores in London were SO expensive, so my co-worker Lauren and I decided to trade books. She had just finished this book, and I gave her The Help in return. I don't think I would have picked it out myself, and I thought it was great. It was about a boy in England (fitting for our trip!) who eventually learns the truth about the death of his father, who he never knew. It ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, and after I finished the book last night I realized they are turning it into a series called "The Clifton Chronicles". Book 2, The Sins of the Father comes out next April - it's on my Barnes & Noble wish list!

Let me know if you have any good suggestions - I always like personal recommendations better than online reviews.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Breakfast of Champions

Monday through Friday, Bo and I are not big breakfast eaters. On the weekends we'll go all out - when we are well rested and have plenty of time to make a nice big breakfast. Yes, I know breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But during the week, to be perfectly honest we would rather sleep a few extra minutes in the morning than get up to eat something just "because we are supposed to", when we aren't even really hungry. So we usually just grab a breakfast bar on our way to work each morning. A few months ago when I had my turn at funemployment for a few weeks, I started getting back into cooking and baking and recipe-hunting (and, well, many other things that I had not been able to enjoy in a long time!). During that time I mastered our new favorite breakfast: a strawberry-banana smoothie.

It's healthy and light, and gives us a good start to the day. I try to make them twice a week in the evening so it's ready to go each morning, and that way we don't have to lose any precious moments of sleep - just pour and go.

I looked through several smoothie recipes online, and ended up making up my own recipe based on what we like and don't like. We've also substituted different fruits, and though they've all been delicious, the classic strawberry-banana is still our favorite.

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

2 bananas, cut up
1 8 oz. carton of strawberries, hulled
12 oz. fat-free vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tbsp wheat germ
1 tsp honey
10 ice cubes

Blend all ingredients except for the ice, until smooth. Then add the ice cubes and blend again until smooth.

A few lessons learned that I will share from my short-lived smoothie making experience... I always double the recipe in order to have a few days' supply on hand. Also so that I am not constantly cleaning our blender. I got a 2 liter plastic pitcher at Target that holds the exact amount the recipe makes and is perfect for storing in the fridge. And when we are going out of town, I put the pitcher in the freezer so our leftovers don't go bad. When we get back I just put the pitcher back in the fridge and let it thaw over night. It tastes just the same as when it's fresh. And I swear it tastes better when served in a Gator tumbler ;)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Happy Fall!

In the spirit of the official First Day of Fall last Friday, I got all crafty last week and made a new fall wreath for our front door. I meant to make one last year but that whole "work" thing kinda got in the way. So I already had the base wreath, and with a few coupons and sale items I spent a whopping $9 and one hour on the whole thing. The ridiculous part of it is that Christmas stuff was already filling the shelves, which means that fall items were on sale before fall had even started. Head on over to Michael's if you want some for yourself :)

Happy Fall! I love this time of year.

Monday, September 26, 2011

When It Rains, It Pours

And I'm not just talking about the crappy weather here in Atlanta today. I'm talking about one crash and burn after another around this house.

It started when our internet stopped working. Naturally we blamed Comcast first, because they suck (No, seriously - it's true. I'm not the only one who hates them). After several frustrating calls with customer service and some poor troubleshooting attempts, we figured out that our wireless router was no longer working. So we went to Best Buy, got a new router and hooked ourselves up. Life was good again. We were unhappy people without internet.

A few weeks later, our desktop computer crashed. It caught some nasty virus and it was going to be more expensive to reformat the hard drive than it was to buy a brand new one. Our desktop was Bo's computer from college, and we had managed to get a good 6 years out of it, which is pretty darn good in computer years. So we went back to Best Buy and picked out a new tower.

I got home to set it all up, which I rather enjoy since I am a super-nerd about stuff like that. But of course, the old desktop had the weird, color-coded cords and ports instead of USB, so the old keyboard couldn't connect to the new computer. Turns out not having a keyboard makes the whole computer rather pointless. Since I couldn't do anything at all... I went back to Best Buy again to get a keyboard. On the bright side, this was by far the cheapest trip of the day.

And then we realized we had run out of installations for our previous version of Microsoft Office, which we cannot live without. When I showed up at Best Buy for the third time in about an hour, the sales team knew me by name at this point, so their customer service was superb. I think they could sense my irritation. It's a good thing the store is only 5 minutes away or else I would have been really pissed.

A few weeks after that, my laptop died. No virus. No crash. It just would not turn on. Seems to have been a slow, peaceful death. I had also had it for 6 years, which, as I noted in the previous computer death story, was a good life for a computer. We debated whether or not to get a new one, but given the previous purchases we made that month (which was supposed to be an otherwise inexpensive month aside from the credit card bills we received to pay for our trip to California the month before...), we decided to hold off. And I'm really glad we did. I really only used it to surf the internet, since it couldn't do much else in its old age. So there wasn't much I needed a laptop for that I couldn't already do from my phone. And since we had a brand-new desktop, it just seemed silly. I've also found that I spend more time reading or doing more productive things with my life than wasting hours (and hours and hours) on the internet. RIP, laptop.

Then came the kill. While I was in DC with mom and Leslie, my hair straightener died. This was, by far, the worst of all the previous technology failures. I love my Chi. I use it almost every single day. It turns my hair from a wavy hot mess to straight smoothness in a matter of minutes. And it was gone. Thankfully Leslie brought hers on the trip so my hair looks normal in all our pictures (thinking back on it... wow that would have been tragic for me if she didn't have her Chi). But when I got back home I had to wait a whole week for mine to come, since it was a lot cheaper online than in the stores.  For me, life is just better with straight hair.

Most recently, we discovered that we need to buy a carry-on size suitcase for Bo. We have one set of luggage that my mom got for me a few years ago, and I love it. When I was packing for London a few weeks ago, I managed to get a whole week's worth of stuff into my carry-on bag (yes, I am an expert packer). But Bo wouldn't let me use it because he might have to travel for work that week, and he might need to use the carry-on (don't even get me started on that argument....). I was none too happy, especially after the complete disaster I went through to clear customs in Atlanta with that checked bag. So we agreed to get a new bag for him. We won't be flying separately for at least a few months from now, so I am hoping I can find a good deal during the holiday sales before we will run into this situation again.

I'm hoping it'll be a while before we have any more of these little episodes. While I do love shopping, it's a whole lot more fun when you are actually planning to spend a ton of money and can prepare yourself for it ahead of time. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Anniversary Dinner: 2 years, 2 months

For our September anniversary dinner, we celebrated a few days early, since I was going to be in London on the 11th (in case you missed it, check out the posts on my trip here and here). I am starting to realize that even though we are celebrating the 11th of each month, we rarely actually celebrate on that date. In year three of marriage, we are 0 for 2 so far. Better luck next month.

We had our dinner the night before I left for London. We had kabobs and rice pilaf - nothing too special, but we hadn't made kabobs in probably two years. Plus, we got to use a piece of our China that we'd never used before.

My favorite part of our meal was dessert (shocking, I know). I made a carrot cake - Bo's favorite and also our wedding cake flavor. I meant to make this for our 2 year anniversary, but better late than never.

We also enjoyed the first bottle of Chandon from our club membership! We had the Cremant, which went really well with the cake and cream cheese icing.

We ended up getting two months' worth of shipments at once, so we have quite a collection of Chandon to hold us over for upcoming celebrations :)

It was another delicious meal at home and a great way to relax right before my trip.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

London: The Weekend

I was in London for a total of 8 days - I posted about the work week part of my trip here. Once we got out of work on Friday around noon, I was out and about in the city. Since it was my first time in London, it was really nice that I had already learned my way around the city during the week when I was with other people who either live there now or had been there before. I stopped in a pub for lunch and had traditional fish and chips and a half pint for lunch. I was a little skeptical (as in, a total fish snob), and it was surprisingly really good. Of course I had it with tartar sauce and my fries with malt vinegar - also surprisingly really good. This was more of a "check the box" item on my list so that I had tried traditional pub food.  The pub was just a few minutes' walk from the nearest tube station (seriously, so convenient!), so I took the tube over to Westminster Abbey. I got off the tube, and right in front of me was Big Ben.

Westminster Abbey was absolutely stunning. I spent about an hour there just taking it all in. They give you a pretty good brochure that tells you what's what and where everything is. It was just so massive and beautiful - I really don't know how to describe it, and of course there was no photography allowed inside, so here are a few shots from my walk around it.  (Side note: after talking to my mom last night, I told her how all of the most awesome things I saw, I wasn't allowed to take pictures of. She started to wonder if I really did go to London after all.... hopefully the pictures I did manage to take will prove it!) :)

Afterward, I made my way over to Buckingham Palace which was about a 15 minute walk along St. James Park. There were so many beautiful parks everywhere, and I wished I had more time so I could just lay in the grass and read a book. Maybe next time.

I am typically not too infatuated with the Royal Family - but I absolutely fell in love with Buckingham Palace. Something about it really did feel magical. Everything there was just incredibly beautiful and ornate (once again, no photography allowed inside). The special display for this summer's opening was Princess Kate's wedding dress, which was awesome. There were photos from the wedding day throughout the house, all displayed in the actual places of the palace where the pictures were taken. It was really cool. Her dress was on display in the ballroom where their wedding reception took place. There was a special video interview with the dress designer about how the dress was made - it completely blew my mind. Honestly, when I picked out my own wedding dress, I tried it on, fell in love, and didn't even need any alterations. I thought it was beautiful and flattering and comfortable. I am glad I didn't see this display before my wedding - because seriously, every single detail about the dress was completely thought out and just perfect. There were also storyboards showing the step-by-step process as they built the dress, and then you come to the middle of the ballroom, and the dress was displayed on a glass mannequin that was an exact mold of Kate's body. Pretty cool. Next to it, they had her shoes, earrings and bouquet on display. They also had a replica of the wedding cake - or cakes, I should say. Seventeen cakes! It was enormous and so beautiful. Again, glad I didn't see this before my own wedding!

Serious protection along the bordering walls
 I walked through another park and took the tube over to ICEBAR - a great suggestion from my sister Leslie :) Basically, you walk in the bar and it looks normal, but there is a door to another room that is completely made of ice. You get a huge parka thing with gloves, since the room is kept at below freezing temperatures and you are in there for a 40 minute session. Everything in here was made of glass - the walls, the ceiling, the floor, the bar, even our glasses. It was pretty cool, but I was freeeezing by the end of that 40 minutes. My hands felt numb and weird, and had turned a purplish color. Thankfully I went on a warm day in London, so after a few minutes outside I was back to normal. I can't imagine going there during winter - going outside would not be any relief! My timing was really lucky because later this week, they are closing the bar to redesign it.

Green Park

Pretty passion fruit drink before going in to the ice bar

it. was. freeeeeezing. literally

my ice drink

the bar, made of ice

That evening, I had my first dinner at a restaurant by myself - which was not as bad as I thought it would be. Just awkward not having anyone to talk to. I went to Tate Modern restaurant, which is on the 7th floor of the Tate Modern gallery and overlooks the Thames River. It was a gorgeous view. Unfortunately the windows were too reflective and the lighting inside didn't make for very good pictures. I did the full course meal and wine pairing with each course.

tomatoes & mozzarella, one of my favs

mushroom pasta dish

trifle and dessert wine

Afterward, I walked back to the hotel over the Millennium Bridge, which is a pedestrian-only bridge and got a few good pictures of the view along the way.

Saturday morning I woke up bright and early, for another day of touristy stuff. I started at the Tower of London. All the history there was really cool, and the Crown Jewels were just amazing (no pics allowed).

From there, I walked to St. Paul's cathedral. It was gorgeous. I walked all the way to the very top, where you could walk around and get a 360 view of the entire city of London. It was so awesome. Plus, after all that climbing there was a wonderful breeze up top, so that was very refreshing and rewarding. I will not lie - it was a short climb, about 45 minutes round trip - but my calves were absolutely killing me afterward. I guess running on flat surfaces doesn't do much for my calves. Noted.

made it all the way to the top!

The Millennium Bridge I walked over the night before

That afternoon, I went on a Beatles tour around the city. The tour guide was a little...eccentric. It was mainly about the Beatles, and she also pointed out a ton of non-Beatles-related things that were interesting... just not relevant. But it was a fun tour and by that point, it was nice to have someone else tell me where to go rather than having to figure it out myself. By the end of it, I was absolutely wiped out - it was a 2 1/2 hour walking tour. I didn't map it out since my phone would have died, but at that pace I'd guess we went at least 6 or 7 miles. Whew. I took a bunch of pictures that seemed really cool and important at the time, but I'll just include the ones that I remember what they were. :) 

The start of our tour - outside the Prince of Wales Theatre

most famous musicians have recorded here at some point

Mozart's home

Paul McCartney's office

20th Century Fox offices

Trident Sound Studios

lots of great recordings made here!!

entrance to London Palladium Theatre

Paul McCartney's home

Abbey Road - crossing the street where they shot the album cover

Abbey Road Studios

Graffiti is allowed here, and they repaint over it every month

That evening I had plans to meet up with my friend Tony, an old co-worker from my previous job who now lives and works in London. Coincidentally, he and his wife, Kara, lived on the same street as Harrods, so to kill some time (and avoid the torrential downpour) I browsed around the store for a little while.

I didn't buy anything - I seriously considered buying an umbrella, until I realized the cheapest one was 25 pounds - almost $40. No way, Jose. Harrods had some amazing things I would have loved to buy, but it was somewhat depressing to look around knowing that you can't afford a single thing in the store. Not even an umbrella. So I called it quits, and headed over to Tony & Kara's flat. They live in Earl's Court which is apparently where all the ex-pats live. It was a nice flat and actually felt bigger than I thought it would be. I was impressed, because I'm not so sure I could live in such a small space with Bo. We like having space. And all of our stuff. We have a lot of stuff that certainly would not fit in a 500 square foot flat. Tony, Kara and I walked a few blocks over to their friends' flat and spent the rest of the evening catching up and watching college football. I had planned to head over to the London Gator Club, but the sports package they bought for the day included the Gator game, so I stayed and watched it with them. It was fun to see how they live over there. Between their group of friends, they had one huge flat screen TV, 2 laptops, and 2 ipads all hooked up to different games through the internet or slingbox. It was weird watching a football game with no other Gators but it was a good time - they cheered for UF, which must have been hard since most of them went to UGA. I was glad to have people with me who were willing to high-five and celebrate a Gator victory!!

Sunday morning, I met up with Lauren at our hotel and we went to breakfast. I got a traditional full English breakfast, which is way more food than I would ever normally eat for breakfast. It included scrambled eggs, 2 links of sausage, 2 strips of bacon, a frittata, baked beans, mushrooms and tomatoes. It was so good! Such a great end to my time in London.

We then took the train to the airport to head home. The flight back was...less than ideal. I watched two movies and read half of my book, which turned out to be pretty difficult given the circumstances. I had an extremely mis-behaved brat who sat directly in front of me - she was probably 3 or 4. Her mom did not seem to care and let her daughter scream bloody murder for the first few hours. When she finally stopped screaming I thought it would be better. But no. Her mom didn't give her any toys or books or let her watch TV, so of course the brat started acting out. She climbed all over her chair, the arm rests and even the tray table (I felt really bad for the lady in front of her), and then would jump down onto her seat. Which made my TV screen bounce. Which was not enjoyable. I gave her the stink-eye every time she turned around to look at me, and finally the flight attendant came over and yelled at the mom. I thoroughly enjoyed that. I would have preferred to have a crying baby there, because you can't really blame the child or the parents when a baby is fussy. Le sigh.

Nine very long hours later, we arrived in Atlanta. But the trip was far from over. The international baggage claims and the process to clear customs in Atlanta is by far the worst I have ever seen in any airport. It took me over two hours from the time we landed until I had my bag and headed to my car. It was ridiculous. My friend Kim is working on the project to build the new international terminal and baggage system, which I am now eagerly awaiting. Until then, I am seriously considering a connecting flight through New York or Boston for my international flights just so that I can avoid the crap system in Atlanta. I digress.

Despite the rocky ending to my trip, the rest of it was just fantastic. I had such a wonderful time and can't wait to go back!