Thursday, March 16, 2017

Harry Potter and the Very Expensive Beer

Last week I had a bit of a skive off work and we went to Universal Studios for the day.   We had gone there back in the summer and the lines were horrendous - including spending 1.5 hours in line for the Harry Potter ride, only to be told it had broken down [Grr…].  While we were there, we had decided to pay the extra $14 for our tickets to last a year.   It turns out their version of a ‘year’ is actually seven months (which included many, many black out dates), but whatever, we had great plans to use our tickets loads of times, so it would be a great deal.  As usual, that didn’t happen and we only had a couple of weeks left to use them, so off we went.

It was a Thursday, in the middle of a week of hellacious rain storms and we managed to get a day with no rain whatsoever.  The place was almost empty…. Brilliant!  I’m not going to do a post about how great the day was with the longest queue being only 10-15 minutes, although that was lovely. Nope, this one’s about Harry Potter. 

I’m not a big Harry Potter fan, by any means, I think I’ve seen all the films, but couldn’t tell you for sure.  But he’s English for goodness sake, so what’s not to like.    First up, is the obligatory picture of entering Harry Potter Land.  I will call it that because I have no idea what it’s actually called (see, I know nothing).

With all the hype and uproar over the place, you would think there would be more than two rides. Yup, only two and we went on both of them.  One of them, though, was so short I hadn’t even begun to scream before it was over.  I cannot imagine queuing up for over an hour for a 30 second ride.  I would have been so bloody fuming.  As it was, I hardly had time to catch my breath, it was that fast.

Then there’s Butterbeer.  What in the heck is this abomination?  Good grief, it was awful.  “It’s quite sweet,” they said.  “Try it frozen,” they said, “you will probably like it better.”  Ugh… it’s the sweetest drink I believe I’ve ever had in my entire life.  Pretty much a cup of sugar with a tiny tad of water and butterscotch flavouring.  Basically, its diabetes in a glass.  We shared one and couldn’t finish it.  Trust me, it’s the furthest thing from beer that you could ever imagine.  My recommendation would be to steer well clear and don’t waste your money.
Don't do it!!
But then we found the restaurant – the English restaurant no less.  The menu was tempting, although why it would be called a “Traditional English Breakfast” when it has breakfast potatoes, scrambled eggs and a flippin’ croissant, I don’t know.   It didn’t tempt me as I was sure the bacon was American streaky bacon.  As it was, I couldn’t decide between the Beef Sunday Roast (even though it was Thursday) and the Bangers & Mash.  It took me a minute and then I noticed the ‘roast potatoes’ were actually sliced and baked (possibly) with herbs, so definitely not your mother’s Sunday roast! Bangers & Mash it was, and to tell you the truth, it was pretty nice.  My only request would have been to have lashings of gravy on the mash when in fact, there was none.  (oh and that tomato was a bit dodgy and the peas were hard - but overall a good B)
Sausages - no gravy





















The price was quite reasonable too…. That is, until we wanted drinks.  They didn't do a nice cup of tea, obviously so I went with the next best thing - beer!!  The other half had a water (lightweight), but we both needed a seat when they told us the prices.  $4.00 for a water, which is a bit steep, but I've probably paid more, to be honest.  As for the beer well…. I think they like it a bit much…. $11 for an IPA in a plastic cup, no less, not even a glass.  Maybe they’re charging English prices?

I don’t know, but it seemed a bit expensive to me, but I suppose that's what you expect at a tourist attraction, isn't it?  Then again, the more they charge, the less likely there will be drunken hooligans running around the park, unless they are really rich hooligans, that is!

That's a really tiny water
All in all though, it was a fantastic day and the bonus of a couple of bangers, which I wasn't expecting, was nice.  I may have sounded a bit negative about Harry Potter world earlier, but they've done a great job and it looks lovely with the sun shining.




Oh Blighty, how I miss you!  (Even pretend Blighty)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I Am An Uncommonly Brilliant Gift Giver

When I worked in England and I don’t know if this is still the case now, but when it was your birthday, it was your responsibility to bring cream cakes to the office for everyone.  While this seems to be a bit backwards, at least you were guaranteed to get a cake you actually like.  This doesn’t seem to happen in America.  Sometimes there is a monthly “birthday celebration" with a cake for the entire office, but nothing like those delicious real cream cakes of my memories.

Why am I going on about this?  Well, I work in a big office and there are birthdays almost every week. I don’t buy presents for most people, but the couple I do like buy for usually end up with alcohol.  We’ve morphed into regular beverage connoisseurs.  The problem is, you can get a little bored with the same old bottles of wine or gin.  [No, really you can….]  

This last Christmas, I was surfing the interweb looking for something alcoholy - but cool - as you do, and I came across the best website.  Uncommongoods is a website selling handmade, recycled and organic products which contain no leather, feathers or fur.  It may sound a bit like a hippier version of Etsy, but don’t be fooled.  They actually have really great stuff and you can pretty much find something for everyone.  For example, and going back to my alcohol obsession, I got these glasses for my lady boss.  Yes, she likes a tipple too and her poison is gin.  These were absolutely perfect, except maybe there's not enough gin. (*smile*)
Great Gifts for Women 
Each item has information on where it’s made, how it’s made and who made it.  Some items are made to order and have longer ship times, so you might want to check that out if you are ordering for a birthday and have a deadline.

Everyone  who knows me knows I’m a sucker for anything, anything, England-related and the more obscure the better.  Not for me silly plastic items with a Union Jack sticker on it, no I want something with a bit of class!!   My poor husband has to live with my obsession and England is slowly but surely taking over the house.  I even buy him British things now and again and I found these beauties which will be great for our upcoming wedding anniversary, because I’m sure he can’t wait to get a few more London-themed items. [*sigh*]
But who wouldn't want these coasters of London?
You really should take a look if you want to be that "cool" person who gives the best gifts that everyone will want to use and not just put in the cupboard to re-gift later.  Oh, and another nice touch...every shipment comes with information to obtain a free shipping label so you can re-fill the box with donations and send it off to a charity.   See, the more you buy, the more you can donate! Can't ask for a better excuse than that, can you?


This post was sponsored by uncommongoods.com.  The opinions are completely based on my own experience.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

It's Raining, It's Pouring....

It’s been raining in California for the past two weeks.  By rain, I don’t mean a little drizzle, I mean full on pouring; raining cats and dogs; pelting down; bucketing down, whatever you want to call it, there’s been a lot of rain.

Now this is California, the state that has been under drought conditions for as long as I can remember. Every year we are told “save water” and “don’t wash your car or use your hose.”  The lack of any rain whatsoever just creates terrible summer fire conditions and without fail, every summer there is a glut of fires sweeping through mountains and towns.  

Fast forward to 2017 and we have the wettest winter in 20 years.  Northern California is on track to have its wettest winter ever and southern California is expected to tie it’s wettest year ever, which was in 1968-69.

It’s the end of the world, and I mean that quite literally.  California people do not know how to cope with rain and it might as well be acid coming from those clouds (which it possibly might be, but that’s another story entirely).  

Freeway driving is horrendous and quite frankly a little bit scary.  People seem have two speeds, 30 mph and overly cautious (think “Sunday drivers”) or 80 mph while weaving in and out of traffic (passing those 30 mph-ers).  Invariably, they don’t have their headlights on either.  I’m not saying I’m a perfect driver and I’m usually somewhere towards the high middle of those two speeds, but I grew up in England for goodness sake, I should know what I'm doing in the rain.  But last week, even I was driving more carefully.  This is what is looked like…
Notice cars with no lights?
There’s a vicious cycle in California.  The summers are so very hot and bone dry which results in wildfires leaving big open areas of scorched earth with no vegetation.  Then it will rain, usually only a little bit, but always enough create flooding and to turn all the burn areas into mudslides. [I’m beginning to wonder why I still live here].  This year, though has been incredibly bad.  So much so that the famous drive through tree “up north” has fallen down.  

When I heard the news reports that the “Pioneer Cabin” tree was gone, I was a little upset, but only because it was on my bucket list to drive through it, or at least to get a photo.  You know the one I mean, it’s the one you see all the time in adverts for camping holidays in National Forests.  It was also in the opening credits of National Lampoon's Vacation.

The Pioneer Cabin Tree
It now looks like this:


Apparently the storm was just too much for the 3000+ year old tree and it toppled.  [You don’t think it had anything to do with having hardly any roots do you?]  I was gutted that I’d never get a chance to see it, but you know what, even though everyone’s so upset it fell, while doing a bit of research, I realized there’s actually flippin’ loads of them in California.  There’s an area of the Redwoods called “Avenue of the Giants” where you can drive through them all.  I also found this little info flyer-thingy which shows a few of them.  So maybe my bucket list is still intact after all.

What I have realized in the last few weeks though is that I actually miss English weather.  I've really been enjoying the rain as I've had the chance to wear my English raincoat and wellies and use my brolly.  It might have something to do with not having to put up with it every day though.  So I will just enjoy it while I can.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Bikers and Barbies

My other half is in a motorcycle club and around Christmas, there’s always a lot of charity going on. A few of weekends ago was their annual Toy Run which, this year, was to benefit Hillsides, a non-profit children’s foster care and family resource program in the Los Angeles and Pasadena areas of California.  Apparently they help 13,000 children (yes, that many)

I will admit that the day did not start brilliantly for me – we had to leave our house at 6:00 a.m. and the temperature was only 37f (17c).  On a motorbike that feels like -10, just so you know.  This year, I gave the bike a miss as I was designated as the 'toy truck driver.'  Thank goodness because by the time we were at our destination last year, I was absolutely bloody freezing and could hardly move.  Although it was nothing a nice warm Starbucks Crème Brulee Latte couldn’t fix, to be honest.  You might not think that’s particularly cold, but this is California, for goodness sake! 

The ride began at their clubhouse in Santa Clarita where scores and scores of bikers turned up with toys strapped to their bikes.  Some had small decorations on their bikes, some went a little further, like this man.  
A bit much?
I was left in charge of loading the truck.  Okay, let me re-phrase that.  My organizational skills were drafted to load the truck.  After watching people just throw the toys over the side and into a messy heap, which in no way would stay in the truck until we got to where we were delivering them, I began moving them around and packing nicely.  You don't want to be leaving a trail of toys down the freeway, do you?  Now I’ve had a lot of experience getting loads of stuff into a little space… obviously because every single time I come back from England my case is almost splitting at the seams with food, chocolate and Ribena, so if anyone could get all those toys in that truck it was me!!

And of course, no Christmas event would be complete without a Father Christmas.  Step up that man.... 
Green and white
Everything has to be just that little bit different, hence the green and white Father Christmas, which just so happen to be the colours of the motorcycle club.

So after a couple of hours collecting, we took the truck to the orphanage.  We get a great reception and the kiddies love it, especially when the truck turns up like this...



Of course, no charity event would be complete without a few celebrities thrown in, and this was no exception.  Riding with us were Robert Patrick [Terminator 2, Scorpion], Mike Beach and Emilio Rivera  [Sons of Anarchy].


After posing for all the obligatory photo opportunities, the toys were taken into the home.  This is what it looked like ...


Not a bad turn out.  It just goes to show all those big bad bikers are actually cuddly teddy bears deep down, but don't ever let them hear you say that!!


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Some Sweary Stress Relief

About three weeks before my wedding the stress was gradually strangling me….

When I'm stressed, I tend to swear -  a lot.  Not that I don't actually swear a lot anyway, but added stress just makes me a bit more vocal.  Ask anyone who knows me, they'll tell you.

So when I was approached to review a product, I literally jumped at the chance.  (Well, not literally.  I mean, obviously I didn’t jump out of my seat and grab it, but you know what I mean.)

One of my other little pleasures (apart from the aforesaid swearing) is colouring.  Yes, I said it.  I-like-to-colour.  It's that pent up artist in me that just never gave up hoping I would be the next Vincent Van Gough [pronounced Goff, not Go, dear America].  Obviously, that didn’t happen.

I've always liked to colour and it's been a while, but adult colouring books are everywhere at the moment. Apparently it's a thing now.  I've seen a few around and they're usually full of flowers and puppies and other cutsie things which are okay, but don't really peak my interest that much.  Not so now.  This little beauty right here is perfect for me - right up my street, as it were.

The only really true 'adult' colouring book I've seen so far.


Yes, it's a real adult book totally chock full of sweary pictures and affirmations.  What the heck?

The book is quite small actually, 8" x 8" but I suppose that's so it can fit into your bag and you can have a sneaky colouring session wherever you are.  [Don't foget your crayons]

It’s got some great colouring pages, and this one just made me feel at home.  (I am English and Rawr, I will). (??)


If I were to be a little negative about this book though, its that some of the lines are really, really thick and it takes away from the picture.  But perhaps it's designed like that because, after all, we're not all Van Gough are we?

If you want a copy, you can get it here.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Wedding Traditions - UK v. USA

I know I’ve been beating this topic to death recently, but I promise this will be the last mention of weddings… no, really, it will.

I recently came across an infographic showing the differences between American and English weddings.  I hadn’t really thought too much about it while planning my own, I just knew what I wanted and, well, went for it.

Starting at the beginning:

The Engagement:

In the United Kingdom, apparently the average length of an engagement is between 16 months and 2 years.  In America, it’s only 13 to 18 months.  Personally, mine was about 6 or 7 years!  We Brits like to make sure we’ve got it right, I think.  

Just after I was engaged, I was constantly asked “So, when’s the big day?” and I didn’t have an answer.  Just because you’re engaged, in my opinion, doesn’t mean you have to rush off down the aisle.  I’ve worked with people who have been engaged and married within a year.  As soon as that ring passed the knuckle, the cash register started ringing and there was no holding back.  
The Cost:

According to a survey by The Wedding Secret, the average cost of a wedding in England is £21,000 [$27,300].  Quite pricey.  In the USA the average is $32,641.

Note:  This is the average price - I've seen quite a few that have cost a whole lot more!

[I would like take this moment to point out to my hubby that he got a bargain and I am rather thrifty, contrary to what he may believe.]
PRE-PRE-WEDDING

Ahh, the fancy named “Bridal Shower” where basically you invite as many people as you can to your house (or some other lush location) and ask them to bring presents.  Usually, its just women who go to these things.  I’ve never been to one myself, but apparently weird games are played which may involve wrapping the bride-to-be in toilet roll to make a wedding dress.  A bit odd really.  I think it’s just an excuse to get early wedding presents if you ask me.  Hopefully, alcohol is provided, because I couldn’t imagine going to one if there wasn’t.  

I’ve been away from England for too long to know if there is such a thing there, but I’m sure it’s gradually sneaking over.

No, just no!
PRE-WEDDING
UK – The Hen Night

Basically a big 'girl’s night out' which may, or may not, involve loads of alcohol and scantily clad men (aka male strippers).  Also, there may be a pub crawl.  On second thoughts, there will definitely be alcohol.  There will probably be some crying, throwing up and declarations of love to the bride-to-be (and quite possibly to the aforementioned strippers)
Classy English!
USA – The Bachelorette Party

While I’ve never actually been to one, I’ve heard they are quite similar, although pubs aren't really involved.  They get a bit more expensive too as they tend to be at fancy places like wineries (possibly in a limo) and there may also be a whole weekend away.  There also always seems to be a 'theme' and everyone has to dress the same.  The Maid of Honour and bridesmaids have to pay.
Always a bit matchy-matchy
I didn’t have either – although I’m thinking a pub crawl would have been nice, but living in the USA pubs are few and far between and definitely there are not enough to crawl to.

THE CEREMONY
UK


  • The groom has his back to the congregation and does not get to watch the bride walk down the aisle, so it's a bit of a surprise when she gets there.
  • The bride walks down the aisle before her bridesmaids (otherwise how will someone hold her train?)
  • The wedding party (i.e. bridesmaids, etc) sit down with the congregation during the ceremony.
Bridesmaids definitely behind the bride
USA


  • The groom faces the congregation so he can watch the bride walk down the aisle and presumably notice if she falls on her face.
  • The bride walks down the aisle after the bridesmaids.  (Then who holds the aforementioned train?)
  • The wedding party stands for the entire ceremony.

THE RECEPTION
UK

The sit down meal is the main point of the day.  Getting a fancy meal you don’t have to pay for, makes it all worth while.  Not until later, after the speeches are complete and the cake is cut does anyone get up and dance.  I’m wondering if this is, in fact, because nobody wants to make a fool of themselves until they’ve had a couple of glasses of wine?  You know, British reserve and all that.

USA

As soon as the bride and groom enter the dining room, they have to dance.  They don’t even get a chance for a quick swig of champagne.  Everyone has to wait until they’re finished until the meal is served, which tends to be a lot shorter than those in the UK.  Many people actually get up and dance between courses (the cheek of it!).  

THE CAKE
UK

British wedding cakes are traditionally made of fruit cake and are tiered with anything from one tier to pretty much as many as your baker can get to balance.  Three seems to be the magic number though.  Each tier has little pillars holding each layer.  Obviously, butter icing is not a thing.  Nice hard Royal icing holds the shape.  
Very 1970's style
USA

Most American cakes are made of sponge with butter icing (or frosting) and are ‘stacked’ which pretty much means they are just put on top of each other.  Then there’s the awful tradition of feeding each other a piece of cake, which invariably ends up being smooshed into someone’s face.  [see this post here for my views on that malarkey]


Clearly, I am generalizing here and not everyone has a massive wedding, but if you want to go traditional and all out, then you might want to get saving your pennies because wherever you live, it’s going to cost a bob or two.

My wedding was in no way what you would call “traditional” being in Las Vegas, but I did sneak in a little bit of jolly old England.  I changed the wording to the old fashioned Church of England vows which include “love, honour and obey” and you can imagine what reaction I got to that little word. [*smile*].  

I’m just an old fashioned romantic at heart.  

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Big Day

Ahh… so the wedding day arrived.

I thought the morning was going to be lovely and relaxing, a right old pampering day for me.  What was I thinking?  This is me, I know how the rest of the wedding planning went, and it wasn’t really smooth, was it?

Nope, no wedding morning bliss for me, we had to go shopping.  Not shopping for lacy undies and bridal accessories, the nice kind of shopping, but bloody groceries!  We had to find a Costco so we could pick up beers, cakes and anything else we had forgotten – all the necessary party stuff.  Yes, we could have gone there the night before but the other half had just driven three hours to Vegas and had a cold, so you know ... men. [*sigh*]

I also remembered I was responsible for decorating the suite.  Yes, we went all fancy and a got an actual suite – mainly because we were having the reception there and thought that having people squash into a normal room would be a bit tacky, what with not being able to swing a cat and the only actual sitting area being the bed.  So decorate I did….[You might see a theme here]




Yes, I went full on American/British.

Well that all got done and I did a bit of faffing around (as you do) and suddenly it was 2:00 p.m. Oops… I had to be at the chapel at 4:00 p.m. and there I was not showered, not thinking about getting ready and actually, not doing anything.  The ‘girls’ showed up and it was mass hysteria for a full on two hours!  Can you imagine, five women, one tiny girl and a 6 year old boy who insisted on taking photographs of everybody and everything every twenty seconds.  Not the calmest of places in the world.

I was stressing, crying, laughing and crying some more.  Then I started shouting at everyone and at that moment, I realized it was probably time for me to leave.  Actually it was past the time I should have left  as it was now gone 4:00 p.m. and I was late.

I jumped in the lift and ran through the hotel to the chapel.  Thank God I wasn’t in all my finery as I ran around a corner smack dab into my husband-to-be and all his groomsmen who were supposed to be there 20 minutes after me.  [another oops moment].

Finally making it, I was calmed down and shoved into a dressing room, which in all honesty was a bit fab.  Private toilet, lots of mirrors, perfumes, powders and potions and my dress and shoes were there ready for me.  The only thing missing was a couple of shot glasses and a bottle of tequila, which in hindsight would have probably been a disaster.   Oh, and it turns out my shoes were actually too big and I had to stuff the toes with toilet roll – very classy!  Thank goodness I didn’t opt for open toed shoes.  [*smiles*]

Eventually everyone got there, final primping was done, pre-wedding photographs were taken and it was time to get this thing going.  Obviously, I was still bawling and shaking like a leaf, which made my dad tear up and we both ended up walking down the aisle with wadded up tissues – again, quite classy.

Then, in what felt like twenty seconds, it was all over and I was a married lady.  I’m sure it was longer than that, but who knows?  It was Las Vegas after all.

At about that time we all subconsciously let our breath out and the party began.

Do I look happy? (that it's all over)
I’ve now been married for six weeks (not that I’m counting or anything) and for the lack of something better to say and not really wanting to sound like a McDonald’s advert…. I’m Loving It!!

Sticking to my roots!