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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

2021 Resolution Time

Remember last year when my resolution was to travel more? Hahahahaha! I either really missed the mark on that or went above and beyond due to going everywhere on our Destination Date Nights. I managed one real trip (mostly for work), but a dozen destination staycations. We are going to continue to do that this coming year, and we'll be finishing out this year with a trip to Thailand and a Zoom NYE party. 

So, what sort of resolutions can we make when it comes to travel if we are unsure we can even travel? This is when we basically just employ our "be flexible" skills and hope for the best, but expect everything to be cancelled or delayed. We have a bit of hope on the horizon with Covid vaccines rolling out, even if they are uncertain as to when they will be available for the rest of us.

In February we'll be going on a birthday road trip for my mom. We've booked an Airbnb up in the San Juan Islands where we can distance from people, drive around the island, and pick-up take out or make our own food. We're able to take the dog, there's a firepit and a hot tub, so we'll be living large for a few days away from home.

Depending on how well this road trip goes, we may take more, but it also depends on how the pandemic is faring. Even if we do, we still have a great list of destinations we'll be doing staycations for, including the following:

  • New Orleans (Mardi Gras)
  • Norway
  • China (Chinese New Year)
  • Dublin (St. Patrick's Day)
  • Morocco
  • Scotland
  • Spain
  • New York City
  • Chicago
  • Iceland
  • Mongolia
  • Tokyo
  • Moscow
  • Sydney, Australia
  • African safari (Kilimanjaro) 
  • Cuba
Please let me know what else you'd like to see on this list. We are looking to do 2-3 a month, so we'll see how many more we can cram in. These take us through July though. If you have suggestions, for what to see/do/eat in any of these places, or the place you want to add, let me know that, too. I'm looking for creative ideas to make each trip unique, even if we don't leave our house. 

This background made it look like I was wearing my Invisibility Cloak while taking this pic.

It's possible that we will be able to go back to having gatherings for real and I'll be planning our regular Harry Potter party for the end of July (or we'll be Zooming again like this year). It's equally possible we are still in this until September or December, which I feel is more likely, so I'm not planning any real travel until I know more. 

Do you have any New Year's resolutions? They don't have to be travel related even. Maybe you're looking to learn a new language or pick up a new skill, or open an Etsy shop, or start a family. I'm into hearing all your hopes for 2021. 

  • I might start learning French again. 
  • This past year got me back into podcasts. I made time for them. I binged my favorites over the last 4-10 years of content while working. If you're looking for recommendations:
    • Sawbones - for weird medical history
    • Wonderful - for just happy, feel-good content where they talk about things they like/love
    • Minority Korner - for all things regarding people of color and representation
    • The Adventure Zone - if you enjoy great storytelling and D&D (you don't need to know anything about D&D or other tabletop games to understand what's going on, but you might cry...sob even, because the stories are so good and moving)
    • My Brother My Brother and Me - three brothers who give bad advice. The McElroys have gotten me through this year and I will be forever grateful
    • Neat! the Boozecast - for all things bartending, hosted by a New York bartender and her dad
    • Mission to Zyxx - a fun sci-fi storytelling podcast that's all improv
    • The Beef and Dairy Network - a comedy podcast about beef and dairy products with fun fake news, but also some interesting facts
  • I've gotten back to Twitter
  • I'm also excited to see how travel changes after Covid. I hope that it will be safer and healthier. I know people don't love masks, but I'm happy to continue wearing them, especially on public transportation where people are crammed together (like planes and busses). 
That's it. This is my last  post for the year. Tell me how your year has gone and what you're looking forward to in 2021. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Let's Talk About the Holidays

Whatever holiday you celebrate, I hope you're having a good one. We had a quiet socially-distanced family get together on Thursday. We exchanged gifts, sat outside, and wore masks. And yesterday we put up a Christmas backdrop, had my mom over for our traditional dinner and played some games. This is not the year for us to have a big party. 

This year we've been able to see people one-on-one in front of houses or in backyards. We've exchanged gifts by mailing them or dropping them at people's doors. While it's not conventional, for the most part it has been pretty nice, because we've had the chance to engage with people in different ways than usual.

We had our weekly Zoom brunch last weekend and did a white elephant gift exchange. We've also done our annual Die Hard viewing. While we're sitting around chilling this Covid Christmas, we've been catching up on what everyone's doing and learning some new things.

The tropics have awesome holiday traditions that we don't have, like Junkanoo and Parranda. 

Drive-thru light shows are becoming increasingly popular this year. Our zoo has a drive through zoo lights. we haven't been yet, but we still might check it out. Above are some pics of our visit last year.

We've received a lot of cookies this season. Here are some of the best holiday desserts from around the world. One of my favorite things is a ginger cookie called Lebkuchen from Germany. They aren't on this list, but they should be.

I love a good myth and/or horror story. You've probably heard of Krampus, but have you heard of Yule Cat or Frau Perchta? If not, check out these scary legends of Christmas lore from around the world. 

This is the background I purchased for Christmas.

If you're like me, you've always wanted to go on vacation to visit the many Christmas markets of Europe, but we have family obligations and it's always more expensive to travel then. Well now you can check out these beautiful markets virtually and save money by not getting to buy anything.

New Year's Eve is going to be super weird this year for a lot of people. We don't normally go anywhere, but we enjoy watching celebrations online. This year we've decided we will celebrate in "Thailand" and then have a virtual Zoom party where friends and family can drop in and play games and share good wishes and stories from the previous year. If you want to feel like part of the action, check out these virtual celebrations around the globe.

You'll be seeing pics of my New Years Eve partying, especially if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook.

What are YOU doing for December 31?

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I may be compensated should you choose to make any purchases through them. This allows me to keep this blog running for you. Thanks in advance! 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Going Back to Hogwarts

December is always a very busy month for us, with my birthday, and parties, and Christmas brunch and Yule Ball. This year has been different, but no less busy. In fact, we even still had our White Elephant brunch (via Zoom) and attended Yule Ball (virtually) for charity. We went back to Hogwarts...with friends...from home.

If you've missed my previous Yule Ball posts, check out 2019's pictures, 2018's, and 2017's. This is always a great event that raises a large amount of money for charity. This year was much smaller, and all online, with cheaper tickets, but we were still able to raise a ton of money for TransActive Gender Project. The Portland chapter of Harry Potter Alliance is trying it's hardest to combat the negativity from JK Rowling over the last year or so regarding trans people, because we actually believe in equality for all people and recognize trans women as women and trans men as men. We feel that donating to causes that she is against, but are wonderful and valid, we're doing our part as Book 8 to take back our fandom.

While everyone couldn't be at a ball with everyone else, we made it a weekend-long event, which included two dance parties by DJ Switch on Twitch, a Triwizard Tournament where champions did a list of tasks for points - just some of the tasks were making an owl out of a toilet paper roll, making a picture frame and pretending to be a moving portrait, doing the Beauxbaton's ribbon dance, and imagining a new Hogwarts class - competitive book trivia via an app on Twitch, a story time on our YouTube channel, a bookmark competition, an online raffle, and even a pick-up, take-home feast from a local bakery that created a special menu for this event.

On Friday we dressed up, went to pick up our feast from Hungry Heart Bakery, then came home to our decorated house and set out our food and got ready to rock out. Then we ate and had a mini dance party in our living room. 

On Saturday, I watched people post amazing Triwizard task entries on the event page, then tuned in for story time with a witch reading tales from Beedle the Bard. We reheated some leftover feast food (you don't think we actually ate all that, did you?) and then tried our hand at book trivia. 

On Sunday, I helped tally points for the tournament to choose our winners. Then later we got back on Twitch to rock out again, with our closing party, featuring nerd wrock music. We all learned about some great bands we hadn't heard before. This is also when all our tournament and trivia winners were announced, and all the raffle winners were pulled.

On Monday, we still had some of our feast leftover, so we had an unofficial 4th night of Yule Ball. While untraditional, like everything else this year, this was a fun and creative weekend that was low stress and a great way to end this year on a high note.  

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season, regardless of what you celebrate or don't. If you're looking for something to do this weekend, one of our local theaters is streaming their 2019 recorded showing of Die Hard: the Musical Parody. If you want to help keep a great venue alive and have a blast at the same time, this is definitely a good place to spend your money. This is a annual tradition for us now, and I'm glad we have the opportunity to still do keep that up.

How's everyone celebrating the end of 2020?

Saturday, December 19, 2020

How to Prep for A Trip to Italy

Last week I spent my birthday in "Italy". This week, I'm deep in the midst of Yule Ball (planning, prepping and virtual partying), so I thought you'd like a little more info on where to go and how to prep for a trip to Italy, when we can finally go.

In the meantime, you can take tours, including gondola rides, online via YouTube, and you can even learn how to cook and more through Airbnb Experiences. 

What's next on your travel list?

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

My Birthday In Italy

This year has been uncertain. While we have been able to do outdoor birthdays for everyone in the family, winter is a different thing altogether. I knew that having anything outside in December was not going to work, so I planned a destination birthday instead. Like our Destination Date Nights. I decided what I wanted to eat and then chose my theme based on that.

We ordered pasta, garlic bread, and tiramisu from one of our favorite restaurants, and I knew that I had to do Italy, but different than we did before. This time I chose a quite Italian street with floral window boxes, and used my hedge background as a secondary one. You may remember it from our Oktoberfest dinner. I used it as our biergarten.

My mom joined us on this adventure. I wanted it to feel like we were at an outdoor cafe, so I used a red and white checked tablecloth, put together a flower arrangement with fake flowers I had around the house and a colorful vase, and then added an Italian flag and a bottle of prosecco (made in Italy). I was pretty proud of how everything looked together. 

I plated dinner on plain white plates, added some golden cloth napkins, and used my favorite wine glasses for peach apple cider (I had to drive after, and I'm the only one who drinks, so everyone got the same thing). Also, I made everyone wear hats, because hats make everything infinitely better and more fun.

While we ate, we listened to Italian restaurant music - Amazon music has several options for that - and my mom said she felt like we were at an actual Italian restaurant, which was the point, so I guess I nailed it. 

After dinner, we indulged in tiramisu. It is one of my favorite desserts, and they make a great version, so score!

We cleaned up and then bundled up in our jackets and went to see the winter lights around town. This was a free thing set up at different locations near us, so it was fun and affordable. It only required us to drive to a few places, which were all pretty close, and we also treated ourselves to coffees from one of my favorite new locally-owned shops that is staying open later for the lights. I've only been there a few times, but they know my name already (we follow each other on Instagram) and I thought that was a nice surprise. Here are some pics

Need a few ideas on how to pull this little getaway off?

I hope everyone's having a great holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. And remember, if you have a birthday, or are just generally missing traveling to see people this year, you can still make it special if you try. Even if you just dress up and visit people via Zoom, think of how happy you'll make everyone by doing a little extra planning. Play some games, have everyone make dishes that mean something to them, host a cocktail/mocktail mixing session. Just put some effort into making the holiday the best it can be under the circumstances. 

How are you creatively celebrating the holidays or even New Years? We'll be throwing a virtual NYE party on Zoom from "Thailand" (hopefully).

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I may be compensated should you choose to make any purchases through them. This allows me to keep this blog running for you. Thanks in advance! 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Making Your London Trip Affordable

Last weekend we visited London on date night, because it's one of our favorite places. It can be really expensive if you don't plan ahead, but it doesn't have to be. We visited in 2019 and hope that won't be our last trip to the UK, so let's look at some fun ways to save money.

Buy the Explorer Pass

Our last trip, I worked with Explorer Pass from Smart Destinations and did a few things we hadn't done on previous trips. You can skip ticket lines, enjoy a list full of attractions, and save up to 42% on your London activities. On this trip we did a good array of things: the London Eye, the Churchill War Rooms, and Westminster Abbey. We've done a decent portion of the other attractions included as well, and all are worth getting the pass to see/do. 

Check out city parks

All of London's parks are unique and interesting. Whether they're small like Bethnel Green or huge like Hyde Park. A few of my favorites are Holland Park - a park in a beautiful neighborhood and has playgrounds, sports fields, a Japanese Garden, a museum, art installations, a restaurant, an herb garden and more - St. James's Park, where you can see a group of pelicans fed several times a day, Greenwich Park, and the statue-filled Parliament Square Garden.

Go to the markets

London could be defined by its markets. Each time we visit, we try to go to some new ones, because each is only open certain days of the week, and we could easily spend our whole trip just going from market to market and not do anything else. This wouldn't be a bad way to spend a week, in my opinion, because each market really showcases the best of the neighborhood it's found in. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Borough Market 
    • The market bustles with the most gorgeous food I've ever seen. I spent a good 40 minutes just browsing spices. We also picked up some great fresh bread and got delicious goat milk ice cream as we were walking around.
  • Portobello Road Market 
    • We tend to visit this market every trip we take, because there's just so much to look at. It has both an antique area, a food area, and a general items area. You can get doughnuts the size of your head, fresh fruit, vintage books, and a Mind the Gap tote bag all in one trip. The market is also surrounded by great shops and restaurants, too.
  • Camden Market 
    • There's nothing super exciting about this market, because you can probably purchase all the things there elsewhere, but the Camden area is just worth visiting, if nothing else but because the buildings around the market have 3D artwork on top and the area is just so hip feeling that you'll want to spend time browsing for souvenirs in the market.
  • Brick Lane Market 
    • If you love a more creative feel, then head over to Brick Lane, because it's full of handmade items and local artists. You'll also find second hand items like clothing and furniture here, too. You'll even find food stalls here to keep your bargain-hunting going.

Find free attractions

  • Sky Garden
    • Located in the famous "Walkie Talkie building", Sky Garden is just that: a multi-level conservatory filled with plants and places to sit to enjoy them. You have to make reservations in advance, but tickets are free. Tickets open up for various slots throughout the day a month out, so you'll want to remember to plan ahead in order to get a good morning slot. Oh yeah! The building has a 360-degree view and has some of the best photo ops inside and out. 
  • St. Dunstan in the East
    • Just around the corner from Sky Garden is St. Dunstan. This was once a parish church in London, but it was mostly destroyed in WWII. Instead of knocking down the rest of the church, the ruins were left and the city developed around it. Right in the middle of some huge skyscrapers is this quaint little park with standing stone walls that give you the feeling of being somewhere else.
  • Neal's Yard
    • Neal's Yard in Covent Garden is a tiny little alcove neighborhood with super colorful buildings. You'll find boutique shops and tiny cafes, and everything just feels a little bit surreal. It's gorgeous, though, and you can wander up to the West End and Piccadilly Square from there.
  • National Gallery
    • There are so many museums in London and, unlike most of the museums other places, so many of them are free to enter. We carry several one-pound or two-pound coins to drop in the donation box at the entrance, as they all run on donations. We have more than gotten our donation fee's worth, especially at the National Gallery. Spend some time out front in Trafalgar Square and then head inside for multiple floors and rooms of art of all kinds. We barely scratched the surface after 2 hours inside.
  • National Portrait Gallery
    • Think of the National Gallery, but only portraits of notable people in Britain.
  • the British Museum
    • The British Museum is worth just walking through the main hall purely for the large swirled glass ceiling. Of course, I recommend exploring the rest of the museum as well, because they have everything. It covers 2 million years of human history, including everything from Egyptian artifacts to impressionist art.
  • Victoria & Albert Museum
    • Down the way from the British Museum is the Victoria & Albert museum, which features textiles, pottery, and other decorative art. If you enjoy seeing human history through things like rugs, clothing and swords, this is the museum you want to visit above all else. The lobby has a large Chihuly hanging from the ceiling and that pretty much sets the tone for the whole building.
  • The Wallace Collection
    • While there are a ton of big museums in London, this one that is not as well known is nestled in a quiet neighborhood and has a really interesting collection, including servingware, weapons, and armor. You'll also find some textiles, portraits, and furniture. Bonus: they have one of most affordable afternoon teas in London and it's just as delicious as more expensive ones.
  • Imperial War Museums
    • There are several IWM locations and they all have different things. This one has rotating exhibits, as well as British war history from WWI to today.
  • Museum of London
    • Learn the entire history of London at this free museum. We were there for several hours and had to rush through bits of it to see it all before we had to leave and make it back to change for our dinner reservation.
  • National History Museum
    • Surely you've been to another history museum with dinosaur skeletons and other cool animals and flora and fauna. This is the same. It's great if you're traveling with kids.
  • Tate Modern
    • This is where I discovered I didn't really enjoy modern art. If you do, you should totally visit and see all the weird abstract concepts and other art. Since it's free, this is the perfect chance to dip your toe in or bring your kids to see what they think of it. 
  • Street art
    • I particularly like the Shoreditch, Camden, and Brick Lane areas for a bunch of amazing wall murals. Holland Park is great for a bunch of different mediums. Hyde Park is full of statues. 
  • The Queen's House
    • Located in Greenwich, this house is both gorgeous and is home to rare works and sometimes other exhibits. When we visited, they had a photography exhibit of Lady Diana. There's an amazing staircase in here.
  • The Changing of the Guard
    • This takes a bit of planning and you need to get there at least an hour before the change happens in front of the Buckingham Palace, because it can get quite crowded, making it hard to find a good spot with a decent view. 

Go on a walk

London is home to walks.com that has a multitude of walks each day that are really affordable and cover everything from hiking up the hills in the Notting Hill neighborhood to combing the shores of the Thames for historical artifacts. We took several walks and all of the tour guides were awesome and informative. You don't need to make a reservation. You just show up at your designated meeting point at the time specified and pay £10 per person to your guide. (You do need cash though.)

I also highly suggest just taking a walk along the Thames and across some of the bridges. It gives you a lovely view of the river and some wonderful photo ops. Some of our best memories were made by just walking around. 

Would you like to hear about things you should splurge on or unconventional attractions that are affordable?

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Taking a London Staycation

The last month has been a busy one, even without being able to do much outside, but we finally penciled in a Destination Date Night, where we visited London. As you might know, London is one of my favorite cities. It feels like home for me, but also like I can never explore it enough. The neighborhoods are all very unique, the food is delicious, the people are lovely, and the architecture is beautiful. 

Now that I think about it, maybe I should have saved London for my birthday this week, but I didn't (we'll be going back to Italy for that). I had a whole plan for this date night though, which required me to hit up a couple different food places that I adore. My first stop was Lovejoy's Tea House, who are doing orders for entire tea services or separate pieces, including shepherds pies and crumpets. 

I jumped on Lovejoy's online ordering system and got my starter - their homemade pumpkin soup - and my dessert - scones, petit fours, and macarons. We'll talk more about that later. After I picked up those things, I headed to our nearby food cart pod (BG Food Cartel) to get fish and chips from The Frying Scotsman. Usually, I order their fried haggis, which I think is delicious, but our London theme called for fried fish and a side of mushy peas. 

I got Eric a large order of cod, which I thought would be served as an extra piece of fish, but instead just came as the same two pieces, but twice the size as normal. LOL! 

I chose the regular size of Mahi Mahi. We probably could have split one large order, as we both had food left over to eat at later time. So, if you're trying to be more budget-friendly, definitely make sure you know what the portion sizes are  when you order. It's possible you just need to order an extra side of chips. For the record, this place gives you just as many chips as fish, so you aren't lacking anywhere. They want you to be full, and we were, for sure.

We've visited London several times, and each time we go, we have totally different experiences. I set up a playlist of YouTube tour videos to enjoy while we ate and took in the view of Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. I love this building and one day we'll visit again and try to take a tour. 

One of the tours showed some of the history of the London Bridge (not the iconic Tower Bridge), which originally burned down, because it was made of timber. The replacement bridge fell into disrepair from lack of use. It was rebuilt and maintained again, but was destroyed by a tornado. Another fire came and burned the next London Bridge, which was the last time they built the bride of wood. 

The bridge was rebuilt made of stone and had a better archway support system. It became very popular and buildings housing shops crammed onto, creating issues with the structure. Another fire broke out, engulfed the buildings and a bunch of people were trapped on the bridge and killed. Several more fires followed and created a firebreak to it, which helped save it from The Great Fire. More buildings were added to the bridge and it was home to heavy traffic as well, all of which collapsed arches over the years, and finally the London Bridge Act was passed, allowing the city to buy all the houses on it, demolish them and fix the bridge. 

Unfortunately, they added a Great Arch, and this weakened all the other arches, resulting in tons of costly repairs. They finally decided The Old London Bridge was costing too much and built another one further down the river and tore this one down. This new modern bridge was only 100 feet away, but proved to be better constructed and soon became very popular again. This caused the bridge to sink several inches on one side, and they knew it would need replacing yet again. 

Instead of destroying it to build a new one, they had the crazy idea to sell it. This is how the New London Bridge was acquired by Robert McCulloch, disassembled piece by piece, meticulously hand numbered and shipped to America where it was reassembled in Lake Havasu, Arizona. The sale brought in $2.5 million for the City of London, allowing them to cover most of the cost of the new London Bridge, which is the one you see today. One one end of it, you can view some of the original supports, as well as a very old timber plank that was part of the bridge before it was replaced with stone. Sorry, but I find the history of this bridge eternally fascinating and I will be visiting that piece of wood next time I travel to London.

For dessert, we "walked" down Bond and Oxford Streets to see the Christmas lights already up for 2020. They are beautiful and stretch across the street between buildings. Some are angels and some are illuminated, changing screens with winter scenes or greetings on them. We saw them once when we were there, but haven't been back late enough to enjoy them again. 

We paired this with current scones, petit fours, and macarons. The petit fours I chose were chocolate mocha, which tasted strongly of coffee, and pear & rosemary. Our macarons were Earl Grey and peanut butter & jelly. Clearly, the whole meal had to be accompanied by hot tea. We had Earl Grey, because it is mild and goes with everything. 

You can easily create this Destination date at home. Learn about some traditions, foods you're likely to encounter, tour the markets, or even people's apartments like we did. Make your playlist longer or shorter, add games, talk about your vacation memories or go through a travel book to plan your next trip. It was lovely for us to reminisce and enjoy some familiar sites. It was also fun to learn some new stuff and add to our wish list for later. 

Here are some things to help you create London at home:
  • A backdrop or two
  • A fun teapot (we also have a tea kettle, because we're those people)
    • you'll also need tea! (I just really love this packaging)
    • and teacups! (Get ones that match your teapot, get ones that match each other, get ones that don't match anything. The possibilities are endless. I had a tea party several years ago and scoured Goodwill for random ones, because I like the mismatched look...and they were cheaper, but I also have some great ones from Etsy, too. Use them for tea, coffee, cocktails, soup...)
  • A tiered food server - you might know it as a cupcake stand and you might even already have one. If you're not doing a full tea service, you can use a cake stand like I did for some height. 
  • Clotted cream
  • Lemon curd (or another curd you like)
  • Some Brit swag
  • A playlist of walking tours or travel tips. Here's mine.
  • A cookbook if you want to create the menu yourself. I like this one that has recipes from London restaurants, pubs and cafes. I also really like this one.
  • A fun game

Make it a pub night or afternoon tea. Combine it like I did. Make a whole day of it that starts with tea and ends with pub dinner. 

Have you ever been to London or other parts of England? If so, what did you like best? If not, what are you most looking forward to?

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I may be compensated should you choose to make any purchases through them. This allows me to keep this blog running for you. Thanks in advance! 
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