Thursday, January 31, 2013

Nate Berkus Circus.

This post is months overdue, considering that the Nate Berkus for Target line debuted in, what, late October? My sincerest apologies to the Nate Berkus fan club (which surely exists) and to Steph, who's been pestering me to give her credit.

But first, a story. Nate Berkus debuted his Target line in late October, which is right in the throws of busy season for me. That means an average of 13-hour days, a general forlorn feeling, and lots of stress-eating. In a break from my day and after seeing all the hype on different blogs, I perused the Target website and I saw many things I liked. Then I saw the sea urchins, and I needed them. Why? Because I love them. I tried to take one in St. Croix, using a stick as a crude tool and balancing precariously above the water in my wedge heels, until I saw him breathing and felt bad, so I left him in the water. It's not a story of which I'm proud, but I'm being honest here, people. The solution? A fake urchin. Nate Berkus also enlarged his urchins by about a thousand percent, so that helped, too. And sounds bad.

Immediately after work, I went to Target. It was 9:45 PM and 15 minutes before closing. I was speed-walking through the store with a mission. I found the Nate Berkus displays ravaged and missing urchins. In a panic, I was flipping through the shelves to find any sign of my babies to no avail. I flagged down an employee using way too many hand gestures and had him check for the urchins in the system. There must be some in the back that they were saving for tomorrow's crowd. No dice. He said there were a couple at the Target down the road, but knowing Alexandria traffic, even at 10 o'clock at night, and all the stop lights in between, I would never make it before closing.

I called Zach with strict instructions to not pass go and collect $200 but to go straight to Target the next day. As a human with normal working hours, it would be easy for him. I could tell that he wasn't aboard this mission, so I texted Steph as soon as I got home. Though she also didn't understand why I needed ceramic sea urchins, she'd known me for her then-21-years of existence and knew that it would be easier to comply and not ask questions than to resist. I recall this being a Wednesday.

The next day, I was so anxious. I was frantically texting Zach to see if he'd run to Target at lunch (no), if he'd stopped after work (no) and finally, if he'd text his old roommate and Target manager to reserve me an urchin (he forgot). I gave up on him, then, and focused my paranoia on Steph. She couldn't go until the weekend.

Friday, I drove to two different Targets to no avail. I was starting to feel hopeless. Then this happened:

VICTORY! I had two baby urchins, happily residing with their aunt in Kentucky. I waited not so patiently until Thanksgiving, when I was united with my two baby spike balls. I'm trying to keep this post clean.

I owe you an update on my desk, too. It's coming, I promise. It used to be a white parsons desk, if you remember.

The guys happily reside on my desk and bathroom counter, so I can see them at all times.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I was back at Target with Zach. Nate Berkus has some new items out (so if you're into towels, I saw a bunch of those, and I was lusting after some chevron sheets) and some of his original decor line. I was looking through, seeing if I needed anything and wasn't falling in love, until Zach flipped the tag of an item.


NB Aries? I needed it. I'm an Aries, and a proud one at that, and love astrology. I didn't immediately recognize the item as a ram, though. The figurines were all flipped over and on their side and the ram's head wasn't evident. I get it now.

Somehow, Zach convinced me that I didn't need to buy the Aries right then, and could continue looking for a non-scuffed ram. Like I said, the figurines were all piled around and flipped around, so all had some sort of scuff on them. I left Target sans ram. The more I thought of it that day, the more I needed the Aries. He was my mascot, and we were soul mates.

I made Zach go with me the next day. I'm also learning as I recount this story that I should not trust Zach with my Nate Berkus instincts, and maybe with my shopping instincts.

Aries now flanks the other side of my desk.

And so, my ceramic animal, and allergy friendly, army grows. The urchin has since moved, and I'll be back with those updates, soon. This may be the beginning of a ceramic animal spree.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Christmas Holiday: road trips.

I mentioned it briefly in the last two Christmas holiday posts (catch up here and here), but over that two-weeks in December, my family and I squeezed in a mini-vacation to Oxford, Bath and Wales. We really packed those two-weeks, but it was still more relaxing than our original plan of Europe-hopping.

To start, we made the short trip to Oxford to visit the university. We paid for a walking tour, so I'm packed full of factoids now, but I'll spare you and let the pictures do most of the talking.

Oxford University is one of England's oldest universities. You can't actually go to the "university;" rather, you apply to one of the colleges within the university and are then a part of the college. I think most American universities are like that too, but maybe not as stringent. I remember floating between colleges a bit during my time at Ohio State.

There were many references to Christopher Wren in the architecture and planning of the colleges. This is All Souls college with a bit of the Kamera building peeking on the left. The main building is topped with a "W" for Wren, the circumference of the Kamera matched that of Stonehenge (as Wren was the first to measure it), and there's an astrological clock on the left as an homage to Wren's studies.

I don't remember much about this bridge, other than it's iconic and there's a little alley off to the left behind it that leads to a pub that has part of the original Oxford town wall in it.

The bridge isn't far from The King's Arms, a pub where Shakespeare is rumored to have stayed and presented Hamlet, among other plays.

Rowing is big at Oxford, and next to the hall doors, which I think are like dorms, the teams will paint their championships. Oxford is set up pretty uniquely - you're admitted solely to a college, and that college has your dining room, dorms, chapel, and everything else. Sunday chapel was once a graduating  requirement. You don't have to go out to the university because everything's within your college. It was funny to me that they didn't share resources, but at this point, it's such a unique quality. Other fun tidbits about Oxford: J.R.R. Tolkien studied as a student and returned as fellow and likely wrote Return of the King while at Merton College.  Bill Clinton also studied here as a Rhodes Scholar.  The Harry Potter scene where Malfoy is turned into a ferret was filmed in a tree on Oxford grounds, and is the most significant scene to be filmed at Oxford.  There's so much more, but that might be all I've got before I start boring you.

Then we traveled to Bath, England, home of Jane Austen and the Roman Bath houses.

Bath's another really old town with awesome architecture. Which I didn't say about Oxford, but I'm saying that now. Above, clockwise, is the Roman Bath, the Jane Austen house, the Royal Cresent, and the Bath Abbey. Bath also offers FREE walking tours, which are AWESOME. I highly recommend. I've been to Bath before, but that was six years ago (Katelyn, when did we get so old?), so it was really nice to see everything again.

We started in the town center, looked at old houses, heard some cool stories, yadda yadda. I'm playing it cool, but I eat that sort of history up and skipping to the pictures for you. Then there's this bridge. The name escapes me, but it's a bridge with shops built into it. If you're on the street looking across, you can't tell that you're over water, or that the shops aren't on solid ground. The architectural accomplishments of that time period are so impressive; especially when you hear about building follies in the present day. They just don't make them like they used to. That's Dad's favorite line, though he's decidedly not old enough to know what they used to make them like - just an old soul. 

We then found ourselves in the circus with wild animals! Just kidding, that's Veronica photobombing. The amounts of pictures I had to sort through to get her out of them is a little ridiculous. It wouldn't have been appropriate to not include one of her random body parts in a picture. And if you look past her to the left, you'll see a little sign that says "Circus." The Circus is a circle of houses with the exact circumferences of Stonehenge. They really like their Stonehenge references here, and rightfully so, as it's smack dab between Oxford and Bath. The houses are majestic, as you can glimpse from the three-sets-of-columns-tall height, and only for the richkins. That's a made-up word, but I like adding 'kins' to things. I'll skip to the baths before things get weird.

This is the main bath at the Roman Bath house. Bath sits on a natural hot spring, which pumps in the mineral water and all of its supposed restorative powers. Over top, you can see the Bath Abbey hovering. In its heyday, there were dozens of baths, all for different purposes, most of them being social. Now, there are probably a dozen left to tour through, which is still impressive for their hundreds-of-years lasting power.

This one simultaneously reminds me of Hugh Hefner's grotto (is Girls Next Door still a show? I miss that) and a starry night sky. Opposite ends of the innocence spectrum, I know.

I'll throw in an obligatory human shot to break up all the stone. Hey yo!

This is the front of the Bath House and the Bath Abbey, which are obviously close neighbors. We toured the abbey, and it has some crazy impressive stained glass. Other Bath highlights include the gravel walk and assembly rooms mentioned by Jane Austen, the Royal Crescent, which is a half-mile (I think) arc of houses, the architecture, which ranges from medieval to Georgian, and the history. I'm always enthralled by the old cities and the daily lives of those that lived then - we just have no comparison in America. I'll stop there before getting too philosophical and wondering how our future generations will remember us - by airports? government buildings? what significant, lasting things have we built?

That night, we drove through the Welsh countryside to Leicester, Wales for the night. We ran into a bit of a snafu when we couldn't find our hotel, only to learn that our hotel had an electrical fire earlier in the day and was then deemed unfit to reopen, scrambled to get into the only other hotel in the small town, battled one-way streets and a different language, and then tried to calm down. A walk was in order.

As we were in for less than twelve hours and during the hours when most was closed, there was nothing too exciting. For the American traveler, though, all you really need is a phone booth.

I wonder if they think us really simple-minded.

We did find this cool little alley named Draper's Lane that I wished we could've caught during opening hours. Draping sounds like sewing which sounds like crafting! Dad was probably happy we missed it, though.

In the morning, we drove to Caernarfon Castle in Caernarfon, Wales. This is where the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, was crowned.

The castles is mostly in ruins, but the towers are accessible by dark, wet, winding spiral staircases and rope railing, the walls between the towers are open, and it's the quintessential medieval castle that you imagine as a child. Or that I imagined, at least.

The castle's right on the water is quite the impressive fortress. It was built by the English as a sort of show of power over Wales, a new ruling force.

We did a lot of exploring, just climbing around, ducking around corners hide from each other, and taking self-timed pictures.

I also learned that Welsh was a language I couldn't fake. Thankfully, they're generous with the English subtitles.

This is the view from a tower down the river. Those boats aren't that tiny in reality; the castle's just that big.

That was our road trip - a bit of mid-southern England and a bit of Wales. We did a good job of sightseeing without running ourselves to exhaustion, which was our goal, and different from most other trips we planned. In just over a week, I'll be back in Europe, so there's a lot more to come! Also, more sporadic posting, I imagine. Hang in there with me, and let me know if there's something I need to see, especially if it's in England!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Picture This: Week 4.

I started a picture-a-day project this year. My intent is to try and appreciate every day, the good and the bad. That, and it's a fun way to see the year compiled into a bunch of snapshots. I'm posting weekly recaps of the past seven days. It's a fun way to recap the week and to keep me motivated to try new things and live it up every day. It's rarely ground-breaking, but I couldn't handle that anyway. Does anyone else do this? I'd love for you to share! You can start anytime, too - a new year doesn't have to start on January 1. I'd love to nose around your life and live vicariously. In the least creepy way possible. And PS - my sister does this as well, but rarely updates her blog. Check out my past weeks through the "picture-a-day" topic link on the right.  

This week was about the little things. After a mental breakdown on Monday, I sorted myself out, made lots of lists, and focused on the things that made me happy. It was about baby steps.

January 21, 2013

I found myself driving back to DC from Pittsburgh late Monday after work got in the way of my plans, and caused a total mental breakdown. As the temperatures dropped and the snow flurried, I was reminded how thankful I was for my car, affectionately known as Vibey. He's so dependable and really good in the snow, all the better because my stubborn personality would have us plowing through worse conditions.

January 22, 2013

I came home from work Tuesday to a box at my door. I racked my brain for what I ordered and forgot about, only to see one of my best friend's handwriting on the label. I squealed the whole time while ripping through the multiple layers of tape, (really, Alex, I don't think a lion could've scratched his way through that much tape) to find the most beautiful, hand-knit circle scarf. I'm so lucky to have such great and talented friends. Now I'm warm, too!

January 23, 2013

This Christmas, Veronica asked that we stop giving her Christmas presents, and rather, give her "life" presents. These sorts of presents are little trinkets that we find and make us think of her, and instead of waiting for a traditional occasion, we gift just because "we're happy the person is alive." While I won't be forgoing Christmas presents for her (it would just be wrong to not get her something), I really like the idea of "life" presents, or "just because" presents. Zach participated without even knowing it when he brought me this owl contact case. It's so cute, and I like that this cute little guy is a part of my routine (we'll say both the owl and Zach are the cute guy).

January 24, 2013

I woke up Thursday to an unexpected snowfall, which is the best thing to wake up to in the winter, in my opinion. Snow rarely sticks around in DC, and true to form, this snow was gone by the evening. It hasn't properly snowed here since I moved two and a half years ago, so I was pumped for the sight of the white.

January 25, 2013

Sometimes I get so caught up in work and the commute that I forget that I pass some pretty awesome stuff every day. It's always a "pinch me" moment when it hits me that I live in the nation's capital, that some people only see pictures of this place, and that some consider this a vacation destination. It's pretty cool to call it home.

January 26, 2012

As I mentioned above, it rarely snows in DC. As such, I haven't needed proper snow boots. However, with upcoming travels to snowy locals and the most difficult driveway shoveling experience (I wiped out once and slide down the sloped driveway multiple times) when I returned to my parent's home in Pittsburgh, it became literally painfully obvious that I needed snow boots with an actual tread on them. I stopped by DSW with little hope of finding anything but Uggs or fake Uggs (fuggs), but was happily surprised with a real pair of snow boots that aren't horribly unattractive, a pair of sandals for $11, and my first pair of brown, real leather boots in the clearance section. I rarely find good clearance with my big feet, but was grinning like a maniac as I purchased these three pairs of shoes. Seal clapping ensued.

January 27, 2013

All of the cats are currently staying at my parent's house. That's four cats. It can get a little crazy, and the vacuuming is in full force, but I absolutely love my fur babies. They all have such distinct personalities and I'm always cracking up at their antics. I sound like a crazy cat lady, so let me clarify: I'm just their adoring aunt. Above is Henry, also known as purry pants. She jumped in bed on a lazy Sunday morning to fill her attention needs, and promptly starting biting when she was over it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Christmas Holiday: day trips.

This is going to be a three-part series of my Christmas holiday with my family in England. Catch up with my last post on Christmas day here.

PS, I've visited before. See details on London here, Scotland here, and other day trips here.

In an effort to keep the Christmas holiday an actual holiday, we didn't plan any big trips. Rather, we opted for day trips or small couple-day trips. We wanted to make sure to keep a good amount of time for sleeping in and relaxing. I'm going to jump around the day trips we took in this post. This is your warning: I'm going to rely on lots of picture.

Warwick Castle

This castle, appropriately in Warwickshire, most reminds me of a Renaissance fair. There was the touristy things, like the stocks, jesters running around, jousting in the yard, and other such activities.

The castle itself was in great shaped though, and they let you explore a lot of it. We climbed the towers, spiraled up and down staircases, and pretended to be royalty. Do you see Veronica waving to her court there?

In December, England was in the midst of huge rainfalls and massive flooding. The river beyond the castle was overflowing into people's yards and doesn't usually look that wide. It also closed us off from the highest lookout point on the right.

This picture is one of my favorites. Poor Mum is always trying to get candid photos of us all, and we're really not always into it. She called us as we were about to climb the tower. She got wonky arms and staring faces from Dad and Steph.

After exploring the castle ourselves for a bit, we took on some of the extracurricular activities. We went on a ghost tour, a tour of the dungeons (which were hauntingly done, so it was more of a haunted house than a historical trek), tried on some helmets (we couldn't see), and met Merlin and his dragon.


It was a really cool castle, but more of a theme park than a castle. Thankfully, it didn't rain the entire time we were there, and as one of our first days in England, we needed that.

Birmingham Christmas Markets

TransAtlantic flights are rough. I think they get worse every time. I'm always optimistic, though. With that in mind, we planned on going to the Birmingham Christmas markets on mine and Steph's first day in England. Add a torrential downpour to that. Add a stressful drive over and a hard time finding parking. Everyone's excitement was waning quickly. Before I get all Debbie Downer on you though, you'll need some background. The Christmas markets are a huge deal in Europe, and specifically, Germany. They're massive outdoor markets for the month preceding Christmas were craftsman and artists and merchants of all sorts will come in and bring their goods to sell in an outdoor market. I really wanted to see unique, homemade trinkets and ornaments. We didn't really find that. There were repeat booths and nothing looked "English" to me. I don't know if it was just the Birmingham market or if that's what the markets have become with a more global economy, but I'm going too large-scale here. So I'll stop: the market was really cool. There were German beer garden type houses and booths, shops, and crafty things. I picked up a little metal bird and Mum got a cute little hunchback nutcracker. It would have been better without the rain.

Sherwood Forest

Dad lives in Derby, which is about a half hour from Nottingham.  We all know what that means - Robin Hood. My favorite Robin Hood is the fox version, also known as the Disney version. When we had a free afternoon, we didn't let the rain hold us back and headed over to Sherwood Forest to see the Major Oak - rumored to be where Robin Hood, the human version, and his merry men would meet. The tree is aged at about 1000 years old. That shit cray. In order to keep that up, they've fenced off the tree, added supports to help his huge and heavy branches, and patched him up whenever water damage threatened. I wish I would've gotten to hop around in the tree, but I have a bad enough track record with breaking chairs, so it's probably wise they put him off limits.

There were plenty of other trees around the same age in the forest in various stages of life, though, that were not off-limits. This one reminds me of Pocahontas. Doesn't Veronica look just like Grandmother Willow? I tried to drop in a link there but there's no individual picture link for her. I suggest Googling and not taking any of the various essays behind the pictures.

I love this picture of Veronica. And now this has turned into a Veronica portrait post. She shimmied herself into a hollow tree and Steph and I were playing the part of the paparazzi and snapping pictures as fast as we could. Sometimes we really just aim to annoy. I have some nice shots of the inside of Vero's mouth, up her nose, and some as a blur ball. She has such a genuine smile that I love here, though, that now I feel all future photography stalking will be validated.

Lastly, and most importantly, we all, very appropriately, bought Robin Hood hats. We may or may not have wore them while watching Robin Hood the next day. Also very necessary.

Next up: the overnight tour-de-Bath-and-Wales. It doesn't quite have the same ring as France, and thankfully wasn't nearly as exhausting, but I think the sites were just as worth it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Christmas Holiday: traditions.

I missed a whole week of blogging last week, and I feel really crummy about it. After a really rough week that culminated in working roughly 20 hours over the weekend, a mental/exhausted breakdown, and finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I think I'm ready to catch-up. I debated back-dating these posts, but I'm not going to do that now. The gap best illustrates that last week was a gap in my life - totally put on hold for work.  Which happens sometimes, and sometimes it's okay. I just have to get better with the balance, as I try every year.

Catching up is all the more important because in roughly two weeks, I'll be hopping the pond again and touring around Europe for about six weeks - and I haven't even caught up on the trip across the pond that happened three weeks ago.

I've mentioned it a bit, but so we're all on the same page, I'll repeat: I was in England for the Christmas holiday, visiting my dad, mum, and sister, Veronica, all of whom are currently living there. Dad is living and working over there for two years, Mum's taking the opportunity to stay for a couple months while her Dairy Queen is closed, and Veronica has been living there since September, taking advantage of her college graduation date coinciding with Dad's new residence. Cue the collective jealousy. My youngest sister, Steph, and I flew over for two weeks for some merry-making, holiday cheer, and to not feel left out.

PS, I've visited before. See details on London here, Scotland here, and other day trips here.

I'm going to start with holiday traditions because I was so excited to wear a crown on Boxing Day. I was quickly corrected that no one wears crowns on Boxing Day - they wear them at Christmas dinner. Even then, it's more of a publicized, touristy tradition than a real one. It must be like how I think everyone in Sweden wears the wreaths with candles on their heads, much like Kirsten the American Girl doll, but in reality, it's probably not all that common. I don't have any background on that, though.

Crowns. I was all about the crowns. A few weeks out, I started brainstorming how I would make them look. Again, I was corrected that I can't just make crowns and wear them. I have to get the crown from the Christmas crackers. I was dismayed for a minute, then I was fine because I love crackers! I love cheese! I love cheese and crackers so any meal that must start with cheese and crackers and then produce a crown was even better. I was really getting into this.

Then I found out that the crackers aren't edible. They're called crackers because they're like a mini firecracker. They aren't explosive, but they're certainly not edible - unless you like cardboard. I give you Exhibit A, the Christmas cracker:

They're a sort of three-sectioned tube. The ends are hollow, and the middle holds the prize - a little trinket, a crown, and a joke. Everyone around the table crosses their arms across their chest and links up with the person next to them with a cracker between them. I think we counted to three and then pulled. I don't know if that was proper protocol. The middle section of the crackers popped, trinkets went flying and crowns popped out. We promptly put on our crowns and started bargaining for prizes.

I ended up with the mini tape measure on the bottom, Vero went with the decision maker on the right, and I don't know what Steph went with (baby salt and pepper shakers? the business card case? the key ring? the wine stopper?). Clearly we popped more than the number in our family.


We quickly moved to dinner though. We bypassed the English tradition of a turkey for Mum's lasagna. It was a good decision on our part. And Stephie posed with corn in her mouth for the full ten seconds of the self timer. Don't think I put this up here to embarrass her - she went for it.

I think this picture of Mum and Dad is so cute. They look so genuinely happy in their Christmas crowns. This was the first Christmas in a number of years that no one can remember that it was just the five of us. Literally. No other family, no friends, no boyfriends. It's so rare and I'm happy we'll have this holiday, because who knows when it'll happen again. So Happy late Christmas! Sidenote: Happy Christmas isn't really a phrase they use much. I'll get to that later though.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Picture This: Week 3.

I started a picture-a-day project this year. My intent is to try and appreciate every day, the good and the bad. That, and it's a fun way to see the year compiled into a bunch of snapshots. I'm posting weekly recaps of the past seven days. It's a fun way to recap the week and to keep me motivated to try new things and live it up every day. It's rarely ground-breaking, but I couldn't handle that anyway. Does anyone else do this? I'd love for you to share! You can start anytime, too - a new year doesn't have to start on January 1. I'd love to nose around your life and live vicariously. In the least creepy way possible. And PS - my sister does this as well, but rarely updates her blog. Check out my past weeks through the "picture-a-day" topic link on the right.  

This past week has been hectic. I've been in four states in seven days, and while I knew it was coming, I somehow thought I would have more time. I've fallen off the blogging train, and have been called out by my sisters. I'm making an attempt at a comeback this week - I owe updates and pictures on my winter holiday in England, and I think I've been doing stuff since then too. I honestly can't really keep track of what day it is, though; it's a constant stream of work.

January 14, 2013

I left for Austin, Texas, Monday afternoon, hoping for better weather, but knowing a busy work week was ahead. As always, my team and I snuck in some fun, but I'm paying for it with lots of overtime now. 

January 15, 2013

I kind of like site visits because it's a chance to eat fast food. I know that's a really bad reason. In DC, I hardly ever eat out, so I take travel as a treat. I love Firehouse Subs, mostly for their dalmatian tables and pop machines with a million different do-it-yourself flavors and combinations.

January 16, 2013

My staff had never been to Texas, so we stopped on South Congress on Wednesday to peek around Allen's Boots. This place is insane - there are so many boots, some priced up to $1,000. It's mind boggling, but I love looking at all the different styles. 

January 17, 2013

Thursday was our last day at the client site, which meant coffee and donuts. After working until 2 AM the night before, it was much needed.

January 18, 2013

I was back in the DC office on Friday, on the rare 12th floor in a city that's relatively low to the ground. I got in early, so I watched the traffic filter by as my computer slowly started up for the day.

January 19, 2013

I went back home to Pittsburgh for the weekend to take care of some administrative type things for the family. It had been a while since I had seen my fur nieces and nephew, too. They made working the weekend a little more bearable.

January 20, 2013

 I went over my "older sister"'s house Sunday to meet the newest addition, Jackson. His older brother, Aiden, is three and so hilarious. He loved having so many people around to play ships and cars, and is so talkative. It is so impressive to see how much he's learned and how much his vocabulary has improved each time I see him.

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