Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sightseeing and Scotland.

After the few days in London, we relaxed a bit (read: explored and spent too much at the giant mall in walking distance) at my Dad's flat in Derby. We had our first fish and chips (and mushy peas, in Kate's case and extreme delight) and too much chocolate. We did some redecorating (with the posters I made and by framing some pictures) to make the place more like home.

Then we hit the road again. First stop: Whitby.

In my extensive planning of my two-week exploration, I constantly passed ideas through Dad to make sure that I wasn't boring him to death and that the schedules made sense with his work. He never had any feedback except to say that he really wanted to go to Whitby. I had never heard of Whitby. All he could offer was that Dracula was filmed there.

So we went to Whitby. Turns out it's a super cute fishing town. We hiked up the 199 steps to the old Whitby Abbey, or the skeleton that remains of it, around the equally old graveyard and church, then back down for some fish and chips.

After dinner we toured the other side of the harbor, met a very friendly black cat without a tail that we named Dracula, stood in an arch made of the jawbone of a whale and given to the town of Whitby from the people of Alaska and learned about Captain Cook and his roots in Whitby. We crashed at the Bagdale Lodge that night, which I would highly recommend. The rooms were more of the size Americans are accustomed to, breakfast was cooked-to-order, and the location was great.

In the morning, we swung down to Robin Hood's Bay before hitting the road to Edinburgh. Robin Hood's Bay is named totally off of legend, but we enjoyed exploring the bay while the tide was out and imagining our favorite tales.

Anyway, on to Edinburgh. We stayed for two days at the Edinburgh apartHotel and again, I would highly recommend. It's located off the Royal Mile, which is where all the touristy stuff is. I would say it's where everything is, but I wouldn't know that. The hotel was an apartment-style place so it added that perk of a living room and kitchen. But the hotel isn't as fun as our touring around. So this is what we did in Edinburgh, list style because I'm already too wordy and only half-way through:
  • Guided tour of the Real Mary King's Close for a look into life in way back when. The close is underground now, adding to the spooky factor. Super interesting and worth it in my book.
  • Holyrood Palace. I loved this for the history of Mary, Queen of Scots, and to see how the Queen lives now when she visits the couple of times a year.
  • Edinburgh Castle. The views from here were amazing. We saw the Scottish crown jewels, the Stone of Scone, and the room where Mary gave birth to James, the first king of England and Scotland. I also had one of the best scones ever in their restaurant.
  • Calton Hill. We climbed to the top with three brides and the reason was clear: the views are amazing. You can see the entirely of the Royal Mile (from Holyrood to Edinburgh Castle), new town and old town, Arthur's Seat, and even the sea. And you can enjoy it, complete with my bad caption job.

Here's the view from Edinburgh Castle for some perspective, with the unfinished monument and all:
  • Scotch Whiskey Experience. This was a card for Dad. After palaces and castles he needed some scotch in Scotland. We did the tour, which is a mini-ride through the process, then smelled the aromas from the different areas, got to taste a scotch (it buurrrnnneeedd), and saw the largest collection of scotch.
  • Scott Memorial. I can only hope that I get a memorial this intricate and fabulous when I become fabulous. Okay, maybe he deserved it.
  • The Elephant House. JK wrote the first Harry Potter here! And you thought we were only nerdy enough to take a bus tour.

Obviously, Cat just couldn't contain her excitement. Thus her scarf wrapping on the side. Note the extreme sarcasm. She is not a fan. I'm working on it, guys.

After we exhausted our Edinburgh plan we hit the road for a day of Scottish highlands. They are everything you imagine - the misty mountains, the lush and vibrant green grass, the tranquil lochs. Pictures honestly do not do it justice. We took off from Edinburgh to Inverness, the gateway to the highlands. We took the scenic route, ambling along and taking it all in. Then we ambled on down to Loch Ness. And, YOU GUYS, WE SAW NESSIE.

We couldn't stay for tea because we had sights to see. She understood. Nicest swamp monster dragon ever.

We hopped back in the car to Glenfinnan. You know Glenfinnan. Well, if you insist. But I can feel your judging eyes and I do not like it. Anyway, the Glenfinnan viaduct is the bridge the Hogwarts Express traveled over en route to Hogwarts.

You see?
Courtesy of Google Images. Hogwarts Express in all it's majesty.

Except the view wasn't like that. It was more like this:

And the weather was like this:

So we shivered our way back to the car and hoped for better weather at Castle Stalker. But not before two (two!) cases of double rainbows and our first trip on a ferry.

The sun welcomed us to Castle Stalker. That, and coconuts making the sound of hooves. No, that would be too perfect. It was an actual horse. The only thing that would've made it that much better would have been an African swallow.

Still lost? Watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail and try not to snot your drink out of your nose.

Finally, to wrap up our tour of Scotland, we stopped by Douglas. My friend Kate traced her heritage back to the remains of this castle and we happened to be visiting on her birthday. It was made even more special by our stumbling upon the Douglas Heritage Museum and meeting the nicest man who let us in to the museum when it was closed, taking up to the a monument in the town and then letting us into St. Bride's Church where we saw the family vault. It was an amazing end to an amazing weekend trip. Well, extended weekend. The post is a highlight hit of the Thursday afternoon to Monday evening trip.

For the first part of our adventures, see my London post over here. Next up: a day trip to the Amsterdam tulip fields, Dover, Hampton Court, Canterbury, Derby, and much more.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Loving London.

So remember when I said that I was making myself unavailable for my birthday? That's because I was on a plane to England that night. I hopped the pond, met my dad, roommate, and longtime friend for two weeks of exploring. And it. was. fabulous.

Two weeks is quite a time to pack into one post so I'm going to break it down by location. I think that's most manageable, especially because I'm a gusher. I feel in love with literally every local.

Our first stop: London. We spent three days in Londontown and somehow avoided the stereotypical rainy weather. It did not rain once for us and was in the mid-50s. Serious luck. I've been to London before so this was more of a trip to hit the highlights for my companions and the things I missed. After three days though, I still have more on my list. I'll be back, London.

So. Day by day. And I hope I didn't get the Step by Step theme song stuck in your head just then.

The first day was a wash for me. My plane into Paris was delayed, therefore causing me to miss my connection. After a bit of exhaustion-induced/thinking-my-trip-was-ruined crying, I got a flight to London around 830 PM. Once there, I met up with my Dad, roommate Cat and friend Kate for a bite to eat and some Harry Potter re-enacting at King's Cross Station.

Platform 9 3/4: the 2006 and 2012 version.

That night (and for our stay) we stayed at The Rushmore Hotel. It was great for our purpose, which was crashing after running around from 8 AM - 10 PM daily. The hotel was right off of the Earls Court tube stop, on the line between Zone 1 and 2 on the tube map (which meant the commute was short and the tube rates were within the acceptable limit for the Oyster card we bought and used for our time), and it offered continental breakfast. Without getting into too much detail, the Oyster card is the card for the metro (read: tubes). We didn't want to look like newbs, so we bought a card, put about 20 pounds on it, and then returned it and had our money refunded at a tube station before we left (which is a great perk).

I don't know how much detail to include without boring you to death.

So day two. We started with a walk around Buckingham Palace for some photo-ops.

Then we hopped on a bus for a three-hour tour of some Harry Potter film locations. Now before you judge me for my extreme nerdiness, know that Kate was just as excited. Cat, not so much. And somehow I got Dad to start reading the books so it made more sense for him. The tour allowed Kate and I to do some excited hand-flapping and imagine the Leaky Cauldron and gave a great view of sites like the Millennium Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral, Parliament, etc, for Cat and Dad.

After the tour, we moseyed our way up to the Tower of London, passing Big Ben, Parliament, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul's, and Millennium Bridge on the way. One of my favorite things (and something I was upset to not do on my first trip to London) was climbing up on the lions in Trafalgar Square.

It took a bit of courage (pun sort of intended). The lions are at the four posts around a monument about six feet or more off the ground. I don't have a good perspective shot, but look at the picture on the left. As we struggle to get on the lion (I'm pulling Cat on while Kate is pushing up her feet), the three people in the foreground have their feet on the ground. So we're a good twelve feet, at least, off the cement ground, sliding around on a super smooth lion. As the first one up, I have visions of Cat popping up my feet and just sliding right over the lion's bum and skull first down to the ground. I'm too accident prone to not believe this. Thankfully we climbed the lion, skull intact.

But that was just a stop en route to the Tower. At the Tower, we oogled the crown jewels, toured the Bloody Tower, crept around the site of many beheadings, and were scared by a particularly large and very vocal raven. 

We took some photos at the neighboring Tower Bridge while we were there. Finally, we finished the night up with a trip to Harrod's (it was closed, but impressive to see none-the-less) and dinner in Piccadilly's Circus.

Exhausted yet? Now on to day three. We were up early again, this time for some close-up photos of Big Ben and Parliament.

We then headed behind Parliament and pretended we were Kate Middleton toured Westminster Abbey. After that, we hopped over a street or two and toured the Churchill War Rooms. I didn't know about this the first time I visited but am so happy it was recommended. We saw the underground bunker of Churchill and his advisors during WWII. There were kitchens, bedrooms, map rooms, meeting rooms, secret telegraph rooms, and many others, some of which were in the same condition as when the war ended. I love learning about WWII so the stories and artifacts were so interesting. We wandered to Downing Street after the museum before hitting our next stop: the British Museum. We took in the Rosetta Stone, the Bog Man, some mummies, the Parthenon friezes, and so much more.

That evening, fully exhausted and suffering of sore feet, we were on the train to my Dad's place in Derby.

London. We were all in love with the architecture, the history, the shopping, and the 'feel' of it. I can't fully describe it - I am in love with London, but I can't pinpoint why. I just can't wait to go back.

Anyone ever been and have something I missed (and need to see)?! I went in 2006 for about ten days and covered more then, but I still haven't been to Windsor Castle. They just opened the Harry Potter sets, too. I haven't been to the markets on Portobello Road. I need to get to Hampstead Heath. There's so much!

Check out the trip to Scotland over here!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sheering Sweater and Sheet Sheep.

And for good measure: shoop, shoop.

Did you guys know that you can shave the little cotton pills (is that what they're called?) off of things? I'm going to assume not because if you have and you've been holding out, well. Well. That wouldn't be very nice.

Here's my sheet before - look at all those little sheep:

I took a cheap razor I had laying around. It's the kind that comes in pack of three and is literally just three blades. I can't ever use these because it's a bloodbath. I can barely shave my legs with my Venus razor and guard thing without getting a knick - so these things have just sat under my sink. Well, they sat there until my toes were feeling these little sheep on my sheets when I was trying to get comfortable and slip into sleep. It was incredibly frustrating. Like when your jammie pant legs aren't hitting the same spots on your ankles. And you fix it, lay back down, then they go uneven again until you finally have to sleep pantless. Just me?

Moving on. I was hoping a run through the washer would wash out the sheep. No luck. I didn't think I would have luck. I had heard of the razor trick as an alternative to the sweater shavers that they sell on QVC and whatnot. I couldn't trust those though because I generally don't trust product advertised as a two-for-one if you call in the next ten minutes deal. I don't actually know if they were sold like that. That's just how I perceived it. I'm probably totally wrong. Regardless, I didn't have the official sweater shearer. I had a cheap razor. So I shaved my sheet like a leg.

And DO YOU SEE THAT?! NO MORE SHEEP! Rather, the sheep are gathering in the bottom in a sort of sheep huddle. A sheep huddle that can be removed so as not to disturb slumber. This post is brought to you by the letter S and my excessive use of such.

With such great success, I took my method to two sweaters and am happy to report the same outcome: less sheep and a restored sweater. And I'm incredibly excited.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lining Letters.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I wish I was more into card-making and I wish I was better at it. 

It's not for lack of trying. I try. And I want to make everyone a homemade card because it means more to me, and I hope to them. Well, snail mail means more to me. I think it's the perfect combination: homemade card love and unexpected snail mail.

But every time I start a card for a birthday or something, I'm overwhelmed. I feel the creativity drain out of me and I don't know what to do. Cue this post. And with the envelope-lining concept, I'm revived.

First, trace your envelope onto the paper with which you wish to line the inside. Cut out your tracing.

Slide your tracing into your envelope, trimming the sides if need be for fit. Now the most difficult part of this very easy project: the lick-and-stick stuff on the envelope needs to be exposed. It took a bunch of fine trimming and folding for me (to make sure it was even), but once that was done, I used it as a template (and saved it in my paper stash for next time). Easy peasy.

Lastly, glue the back of your liner with a glue stick (so it's flat and not goopy) and slide and press into your envelope. Voila! You've got yourself a fancy envelope.

And some of my card anxiety has melted. The liners make the card and presentation that much more special. I'm excited to try with some fun scrapbook paper now!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Floating Fabulousness.

Alternatively, I could have title this 'See how many colors my very poor lighting can make this one wall look.

Taking a page out of the Young House Love book, I hopped on to CB2 and got three of these floating wall vases. Well, the figurative book. I can't wait for the literal book in the fall though! I've been looking and debating some hanging wall vases for a while. I really liked this:

Found via Pinterest, originally from here.

I didn't have a hunk of wood though and wasn't in love. I've kept coming back to this concept, too:

Found via Pinterest, originally from here.

But I didn't have frame, I couldn't find the right frames for cheap, and it wasn't happening quickly enough. Instead, I had a blank, stark white roughly four-foot wide wall that greeted you the minute you opened the door. And it was less than welcoming.

These teardrop vases were introduced at just the right time. I plucked three twig branches from a cherry blossom in the neighborhood and was totally sold. These guys are perfect.

Isn't this so much more cheerful? It brings some much needed color into our [forcibly] neutral apartment. The right side of this photo is the hall down to my room, bathroom, and the laundry closet. To the left you can see the mantle peeking out. 

Ooooh, moooodyyyy.

Here's the view from the coat closet at the end of the hallway to my room. The fireplace is tucked in the right corner. That's the reading nook in the distance (with my fabulous shell). The couch is to the left.

And this is the view from the couch as I sat under the cherry blossom panel closest to the door. They're much closer in real life and the burst of life is perfect on this 7-month blank wall.

Totally confused by the layout? Check out this post. Mind you, this was soon after move in and there are boxes so much improvement to be done. Maybe an update is due.

I know I can't be the only YHL fan that saw what a great idea these vases were (and are!) - did you get some too? I'd love to see. I think they would look awesome in a line - with different color water in each - like a rainbow. Maybe I need some more.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Soft Scrapbooking.

My roomie's moving mid-summer. She's gone through a rough couple of months and is moving back to her hometown. I'm bummed; we've been great roommates and the perfect motivators to get each other out and being active, even if the activity is the walk to the shops. She'll be missed, but now I have another person in another city to visit :)

This also calls for a send-off, and I'm nothing if but a planner. Though it's months away, I've started brainstorming her house-warming. Some things she's mentioned directly (like a brick) while others are more vague (she said she needs something of all my craftiness). 

So to start with the latter. If you're not already aware, I have a pillow problem. Over the course of our living together, she's seen almost every pillow get a new cover. I'm not exaggerating. There's been about ten in eight months. That's made even more impressive by the fact that I made them all and went through two audit busy seasons (for the uninitiated, that means 2-3 months of working until 10-11 PM and working Saturdays, and usually Sundays. It's just as bad as it sounds). I could not stop covering pillows though. 

So that's what I started: a pillow of all my pillows.

I started by cutting strips of leftover fabric in varying lengths and widths. To then unify these pieces to the same length, I used pieces of a grey fabric that I found in the JoAnn remnants bin.

Recognize my knockoff pillow, ottoman, and tie pillow in there? Once I had my strips, I sew them together lengthwise. When I had a long piece that made a good pillow size when folded in half, I stopped and did just that. I folded the fabric right-sides in and sewed around 3.5 sides. I left an opening the flip the pillow right-side-out and to stuff it.

I'm not quite there yet, but it looks pretty good in its flat form.

See how the shape gets a bit wonky above the circles? That's my opening to stuff this puppy later.

I'm waiting to fill it because I want to stencil in our apartment number (see the faint outline on the right-hand picture?) My fabric market, leftover from this pillow, just didn't have it in him to give me three measly numbers. 

I was really worried about this pillow typing together, but that's a lot to be all up in one square, but I'm really like this half-finished result. I think the grey is definitely necessary- this had quite the disaster potential, but the neutral breaks it up and helps it all to blend into her more grey and purple decor. 

Best of all, she'll now have the reminder of my craftiness that she wanted. Bonus: maybe it'll be the perfect pillow for cat naps and day dreams that'll inspire her own craftiness (I did teach her how to use a sewing machine not too long ago). Or maybe that's wishful thinking - but we are always trying to push our craftiness onto each other. 

I'm rambling. Another pillow! But this one is collecting memories. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Marie! The baguettes! Hurry up!

Name that movie! It's one of my favorite songs. Sometimes I'll text my friends and just say, 'I need six egg' and we go from there.

That, and my love of carbs, led me to this bread-making attempt.

And it. was. messy. So I just have pictures of the final product.

Are those the fattest loaves of bread you've ever seen? I won't be offended. I don't know what happened. Look how good these look:

Found via Pinterest, originally from here.

I followed the recipe exactly, only maybe let my yeast sit for a bit too long because I was expecting it to bubble more like a boil and less like two little pops. Is that supposed to happen? Really, I only got maybe five bubbles in two little bubble clusters. I expected a simmer. Note: as I'm writing this, I noticed this tutorial on working with yeast. This would have been super helpful to read before I started, so I suggest a little look-see!

Here's the recipe, reproduced from here to make it a bit easier for you (and easier for me to find again)- 

2 ¼ c. warm water
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp yeast
1 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp oil
5 ½ -6 cups flour-stirred before measured

Dissolve sugar and yeast in the warm water. Let this proof—or sit for a few minutes until it bubbles. Then add salt, oil and 3 cups of flour and beat well. Add in 2 1/2 -3 more cups of flour. The dough should clean off the sides of the bowl and not be too stick – but be careful not to add too much flour. Knead for a few minutes.
Leave the dough in the mixer to rest for 10 minutes and then stir it down (turn on your mixer for 10 seconds) and then allow to rest another 10 minutes. Repeat for a total of 5 times. Then turn dough onto a floured surface and divide into two equal parts. Roll each part into a 9×13 rectangle. Roll dough up, starting from long edge of loaf to seal. Arrange seam side down on large baking sheet that’s been sprinkled with corn meal, allowing room for both loaves. Repeat with second part of dough. With a sharp knife, cut 3 gashes at an angle on the top of each. Cover lightly; allow to rise 30 minutes. Brush entire surface with egg wash (one egg beaten slightly with 1 Tbsp of water). If desired, sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

My only regret? Not throwing in some rosemary. That would have made it AMAZING. But as it, it's AMAZing. So it's really close.
And I amended this problem by eating some bread with some olive oil and rosemary. SO GOOD.

I'm pretty proud of myself. I had avoided the bread-making for quite some time out of complete fear. Watch out now, world. I may be invincible. Or at least trying some cinnamon raisin bread sooner than later.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Budget Art.

Dad needed something for his walls. It needed to be cheap and disposable after his stay. I had just the colorful magazines.

I took colorful magazines and fun designs and cut them into strips.

Then I pasted them on a piece of posterboard.

I was making two at once. With the second, I cut out circles in varying shapes and swirls and pasted them on another posterboard.

I laid my sayings out on top of the colorful areas.

Then I took the spray paint to boards. Grey for one and white for the other.

I flopped the letters off as soon as I was done spray painting. After it had enough time to dry, I traced the letters in Sharpie - yellow and lime green for the 'Let's Be Adventurers' and bright blue for 'Explore.'

I love how the circles come out in the background of the 'Explore' - kind of like the out of focus light photographs.

I think they're an awesome reminder to take in everything where you are - there's always something exciting, regardless of your place, and we have to take full advantage and live without regrets. They're colorful and light (a must for the flight) and disposable. Everything rolled in to one. And the super bonus? Totally free. Everything is probably on hand where you are, and if not, it's definitely all under $10. Art doesn't have to be expensive :)

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