Back From Abroad!

Back From Abroad!

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We’re home!! And it was wonderful, magical, challenging, expensive, enchanting, familiar, exotic, and as always, life-changing and perspective-changing. It was a terrific adventure.

But first things first, my apologies for being extremely quiet over the last two months. The updates dwindled because of extremely challenging, very precarious events taking place at work which came to a head, spilling fourth drama the likes of which I have never seen in my professional life before. It caused anxiety and stress that I also have never experienced in my professional life, and a lot of uncertainty regarding the future. HOWEVER. It seems the storm is passing and things are really looking up, so now that the flurry of crazy has died down, I’m looking forward to directing my mental energy back to the things that make me really happy, this blog being one of them!

OK. With that out of the way…

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It was marvelous, guys. I could write about the wicked financial hangover we’re nursing (…we knew it was coming, and feel it was worth it, but it still hurts!), or the inevitable let-down of returning to every day life (not as bad as last time!), or the very real challenges that the three of us encountered that make up the experience of travel…but I won’t bother, because all of those things pale in comparison to the graces upon grace that we were given daily, and the seeds that have been planted in our souls from these experiences, preparing to bloom and ripen over the coming months and years. I sincerely hope you don’t get terribly bored of seeing travel pictures and hearing travel stories, because that’s going to be a major theme of my blog for a long time to come!

We started our trip in London, staying in a beautiful apartment in an award-winning, eco-friendly building in Elephant and Castle, a vibrant and diverse neighborhood that won our hearts immediately. This was the view from our bedroom:

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We stayed in London for four days, and it was fantastic! We did a lot of sightseeing, catching up on sleep, walking, riding the busses and the underground…but the downside was that London was in the middle of the the worst heatwave they’ve ever had and we were hot as HELL. Poor London just doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with heat like that, and our apartment, the busses, the tube, basically everywhere, didn’t have adequate air conditioning. We were sweating buckets and remained sticky the entire time. Still, we did the best we could and saw some glorious sights:

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Possibly our favorite London experience was getting to eat at St. John, a Michelin-starred restaurant owned by renowned chef Fergus Henderson. Who I met. Who I got to thank. Who I kind of fangirl-fawned over as I gushed to him, and who graciously thanked me and told me he hoped we enjoyed our lunch. Guys…it was basically the highlight of the entire trip. I almost cried several times after returning to my table, but forced myself to hold back the tears remembering I was wearing mascara. Oh, the food was outstanding, by the way! I’m planning to do a second food retrospective post for this trip, so you’ll get to see what we ate!

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We visited Stonehenge and Bath:

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Both were lovely. This was the most touristy thing we did, and it was fun but I wouldn’t do them again (at least not by chartered tour bus). This was a challenging day because we were all very tired and Sister was worn thin, but we still got many fun memories out of it and I will definitely remember it fondly.

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Husband and I got to do a day exploring London on our own while Sister rested, and we had the best time! We visited ancient tea shops and ancient perfume shops (surprise, surprise, Husband bought his very first grown-up cologne and it’s MAGICAL). We visited the London Transport Museum, to Husband’s delight, and we visited my beloved Twining’s tea shop, to my delight.

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Then in the evening we ate at this lovely place, a beautiful pub. There is so much beauty in the U.K., it’s almost unbelievable. Everywhere you look there is something ancient, eternal and charming looking back at you. The details make all the difference, and we were constantly looking at each other and saying things like “This is REAL! It isn’t Disneyland…it’s REAL!” It sounds so silly, but the beauty, the details…they fed us. They fed us right up, filling starving parts of our souls that we didn’t even know needed nourishment.

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After London we took the train to Holyhead (home of the Holyhead Harpies, for you Harry Potter fans!) and stayed in a lovely B&B. I took an evening stroll by myself and was rewarded with these vistas.

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The next day we took a ferry to Dublin and, after a near-disaster regarding return-ferry scheduling that Husband heroically solved, we spent seven hours in this remarkably and stunningly beautiful city.

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We decided immediately that next time, Dublin is where we’ll be coming, sorry London! We’ve had enough of you! Dublin was just…comfortable. Next to the hustle and bustle of London, Dublin was like your grandpa’s easy chair…we felt we could sink into it with a hot drink (a real Irish coffee, perhaps) and just stay indefinitely. Alas, we had to return to Holyhead…but thankfully we got a stateroom on the return journey, and one with a fantastic view:

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Mostly we slept, though. Then, of course, we got to Conwy. OH, CONWY.

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If you read my (long) post about Wales you’ll know my love for Conwy. I can’t possibly reiterate it here, but suffice it to say, Conwy is my most favorite place on earth. If any place feeds the starving parts of my soul, it is north Wales, and Conwy might as well be the capital.

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Of course, there are other stunning towns in north Wales, like the almost absurdly picturesque Llanwrst:

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We spent a few days in the north just taking in the splendor, and then said goodbye to Conwy at it’s lovely little train station:

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Now we are home, jet lagged, still needing to do laundry, unpack, prepare for the work week (I return tomorrow!). But I’m going to ease back into the grind, and I have a handful of changes that I’m going to be making to improve my quality of life. Last August I wrote a post called “First Fruits,” discussing the “fruit” that travel bears in the weeks after returning home. I’m already seeing these first fruits, but I’m looking forward to the harvest, which will come in time. Of course, it feels so good to be home. Traveling is exhausting and it’s wonderful to be in my own bed again, with my own sweet kitty curled up next to me. We are so lucky and so grateful, and we’ll definitely bask in this glow for weeks to come.

 

 

Your Guide to Summer Reading

Your Guide to Summer Reading

Hi friends! Even though we’re well into summer, I wanted to do another book post! I’m changing up my seasonal book recommendations and instead sharing a guide to summer reading, rather than a list of titles. Summer reading is a totally different animal to rest-of-the-year reading. Instead, here’s my approach to what I reach for during the summer:

1. Mass-market paperbacks of New York Times Bestsellers (new…or decades old). Summer isn’t a dark, rainy, ponderous time of year for sitting sedentary in your armchair and contemplating philosophy (I mean, power to you if that’s your thing, but I save that for the winter months). Summer is the best season for tucking a paperback of something light and easily digestible into your purse while you head to the beach or the park; nothing that requires a ton of emotional energy, but good page-turners, nonetheless. Use summer to check out the bestsellers you’ve avoided while you were re-reading classic literature the whole year…(ahem…). My current NYT bestselling paperback is At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon, a delightfully easy, summer read.

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2. Memoirs. Summer is a great time of year to read about something entirely new and different, and what could be more different than the first-person perspective of another person’s life? One caveat for me is that they not be too depressing– I love feeling uplifted this time of year (I can read depressing things in fall or during Lent). Memoirs or other first-person experience stories like Mennonite in A Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen or Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes can be hilarious or evocative page-turners. I recently re-read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, which recounts his experience walking the Appalachian Trail, a perfect summer theme!

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3. Outside-Your-Comfort-Zone genres and subjects. This really gets at the heart of what I reserve summer reading time for– all the things I just don’t feel like reading the rest of the year. I spend SO much time doing re-reads of books and genres that bring me comfort and familiarity during fall, winter and spring that if I’m ever going to try something new it’s usually going to be during summer. Never tried fantasy? Maybe sci-fi isn’t your thing? For some reason there’s less guilt if you don’t end up finishing a book you start when your days are so full of other outdoorsy things, so testing a new genre feels like less of a commitment. This summer I’ve picked up books about other religions I don’t know much about, and I’m dabbling in contemporary fiction which is unusual for me.

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4. Non-fiction: history. I spend a TON of time reading historical fiction but again, it’s a good time of year to learn things (I guess that’s true of every season!). History is kind of like time-travel, and as summer is the season for travel and adventure, it’s appropriate to be swept away to other times and places. Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton has been flying off shelves for the last few years, and is a good candidate for a summer read. Some of my favorites are Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraiser, and One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson.

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5. Non-fiction: other stuff. In the spirit of adventure, I’ve picked up a bunch of educational books on all kinds of topics, and though they aren’t the kind of books you read cover-to-cover, they’re the kind you can learn a ton from just by flipping through. Books on raising toddlers, nutrition, home decorating, dieting…not precisely self-help, but books that definitely help when you want to learn more about a specific topic.

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So, there you have it! Happy summer reading, everyone!

Hello Summer!

Hello Summer!

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It’s finally here!! Sweet, hot, delightful, joyful summertime! I’m so excited for summer this year. It’s normally not my favorite season, but I don’t know what it is…for some reason, this year is different. Living south of San Francisco, we get to enjoy summer heat, summer sun, outdoor swimming pools, and all the fun the beautiful South Bay has to offer.

We have adventures planned, and not just international ones. Husband recently went camping in the high Sierras, we have plans for weekend outings to Half Moon Bay and other stops along the breathtaking California coast…and even though I’m not a spontaneous or stereotypically adventurous person, I know we’ll be running off hither and thither to bask in the sun in various ways over the next few months.

My most favorite aspect of summer, far and away, is the heat. The Bay Area is notoriously mild– and when I say notorious I’m looking at you, Outer Sunset. This part of the city is blanketed in fog from June through September, and it was so depressing to survive winter and spring, just to have to spend all summer making stews because you’re still freezing! Now that we’ve moved south, we get to experience heat, and it is such a novelty to be sweater-free, and to feel comfortable in skirts without worrying you’ll get chilly. Another thing related to heat is food– it is profoundly easier to eat clean, light, raw and otherwise healthy foods when you’re hot. Cold weather invites calorie binging. Hot weather invites simple, clean eating. Many years ago when I lived in the Sierras and the weather was scorching, I would occasionally just eat fruit– maybe a few peaches in a day– and that was it! And I felt good! It was too hot to eat and too hot to cook, anyway.

A summer tradition in my family is our many summer “porch parties”– dinners on my parent’s deck, where Dad barbecues and friends gather around the table, the evenings illuminated first by a lazy setting sun, and then by white fairy lights and myriad candles. We have a few nice ones planned this year, and I’m going to revive some Moroccan recipes I used to make that have fallen by the wayside.

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What do you have planned this summer?

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” — Henry James