Tag Archives: Food

Birthday Surprise!

I forgot to post this a few months ago…better late than never, right?!

For those of you that don’t know, birthdays are a very big deal to me.  Growing up in my family birthdays were always something to look forward to.  If my birthday fell on a school day, my parents would always send a large bouquet of balloons or yellow roses.  I would be loaded with cards, flowers, balloons and gifts, and let’s be honest, I absolutely loved this.  Birthdays were always fun celebrations of love and laughter and I came to cherish each and every one.

As an adult I find it a little more embarrassing to be as openly excited about birthdays, but the truth always slips out.  I just can’t contain the joy that overcomes me when birthdays are near!  This year, the day before my birthday at our Bible study, I was surprised with the most amazing birthday cake ever.  I mean ever.  It was a tribute to America and me and I loved every bit of it (including the person who made it!!).  Everyone at my work knows how much I love birthdays so they did an amazing job of decorating my desk in the craziest way possible.  There were decorations everywhere, cards on my desk, a beautiful bouquet of roses, and a nice big gift!  I was ecstatic.

Another reason I love birthdays aside from all the attention you get, is I adore surprises.  With that being said, I am a fairly difficult person to surprise because I am always thinking of how people could surprise me!  You can imagine my delight when Ben took me out to a nice romantic dinner and all my girlfriends were there to surprise me!  Ben kissed my cheek and left us girls to enjoy a nice night out together.  We enjoyed tasty Italian food and good conversation.

The last surprise for my birthday came a few days later.  Ben had asked all of my Cambridge friends to write limericks (I had to have him clarify exactly what kind of poem this was!) about me and the past year.  There were 29 of them and each one was made up (for the most part) of 29 syllables.  They were amazing.  Some had me crying, others had me smiling, and some had me rolling with laughter (Jackie!!).  Ben put them all together in this great book that had photos of my friends and favorite memories from my 28th year.  This is a gift I will always treasure.  I thought I would share one of my favorite limericks with you since so many of you won’t have the opportunity to see it anytime soon.  I hope you enjoy!

The Surprise by Ben Wilson
She flew across the ocean,
holding this crazy notion:
To home she goes,
but no one knows-
this might cause some commotion!

IMG_8644 B&W IMG_8733 photo (8) photo (9)

Belated Thanksgiving

We celebrated two amazing Thanksgiving celebrations this year, but I have to say that it was the one that was with our small group from church that will really stick with me.  Between the excitement over candied yams, paper hand turkeys, and a never-ending game of mafia, it was a great night.   There is something about celebrating American holidays with people from other cultures that makes it so fun.  Our small group of British students and young adults was no different.

We celebrated Thanksgiving last year, but I think there was even more of a buzz this year about it.  They knew what to expect and embraced it for the wonderful holiday tradition it is.  Each person who came brought some sort of authentic American dish.  I have to say, they did a great job!  Everything was so delicious.  Especially those candied yams…and I don’t even like sweet potatoes!

Before dinner was ready, everyone took a paper cutout of my hand and drew their own turkey.  The winner would be first in line for dessert.  You can imagine how fierce the competition was.  Once dinner was ready, all 18 of us gathered around a huge table and joined hands as Ben prayed a prayer of Thanksgiving.  Knowing this could be the last time we celebrated Thanksgiving with our small group made me a bit more nostalgic than normal.  I love these kids.  Ok, they aren’t really kids at all, but I just love them all so much.  We each loaded our plates full of Thanksgiving tastiness and sat around talking and laughing together.

My end of the table was practically in tears as Ben regaled us with stories from his childhood.  Everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves and no one left the table hungry!  When dinner had finally come to an end we had everyone hold up their paper turkeys for review. There were a lot of close contenders, but Rosie’s two artistically drawn turkeys stole the show.  The American flag border really put it over the edge!  Rosie led the way through the dessert line and once everyone was seated back around the table we had everyone say something they were thankful for.  It was wonderful hearing everyone share what was on their heart.  I love that sort of thing.

I finished it off by saying how thankful I was that everyone humored me by getting so into one of my favorite American holidays.  That set off everyone chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”  Ben and I burst out laughing and I couldn’t help but smile.  It was amazing.  After the chanting died down we all cleared the table and headed to the lounge for an entertaining game of charades.  Let’s just say that I don’t think anyone could even come close to Rosie and Colin…they absolutely dominated.  We are going to have to come up with much harder ones next time…

We sat in a huge circle, drank tea, and played games for the next few hours.  It was a perfect night.  As I looked around the room, I couldn’t have been more thankful.  This time of year it isn’t easy to be away from family, but they make it a bit more bearable.  If nothing else, they keep me laughing.  Thank you to all of you who made the night so great, and an even bigger thank you for allowing us to be so much a part of your lives.  You mean the world to us.

Last Minute Dinner Plans

Last night we had dinner at our friends Candice and Collin’s house.  It was a simple night, but I loved it nonetheless.  On Friday a couple of us realized that we didn’t have plans for Saturday night, so we decided to hang out and do nothing together.  That is just the kind of thing that I love.  We didn’t have to get dressed up or cook anything fancy, it was just a night sitting around a table enjoying salad, chicken skewers, sweet tea, and good conversation.  These nights are what I will miss most once we go back to the states.

It isn’t that we won’t have simple dinners with friends, but there is a sense of unity here that is very unique.  We are all here because one person in each couple is studying for a PhD.  A good chunk of us are finishing up in the next 3-12 months and we are all starting to think about the next phase…going home.  We talk a lot about what we love here in Cambridge and England in general.  We love the fact that we don’t have Texas heat in the summertime, we love the community, and we all love online grocery shopping!  Most of us have been here for several years and we talk about how difficult it will be to leave our tight-knit group of friends.  We are all excited for the next stage of our lives (when our husbands actually get real jobs!), but we don’t want to rush out of this stage of life either.  We want to enjoy this time for all its worth.

Mostly the night involved laughing about the fact that there are very few job prospects and we may very well have to beg our families for jobs!  We will all be going home to different situations, some of us boxed up all our belongings and shoved them in our parents basements, others sold everything they had, and others brought all they owned with them.  We will go home and have to buy cars, renew driving licences, buy bottle openers and the everyday necessities.  We will be starting from scratch in a lot of ways, but it is exciting.

We don’t know what the future holds, but we will all look back fondly on these years.  The friendships we have made here will last a lifetime.  We have all shared something very special and unique here in Cambridge.  We are all so much a part of each others lives that it will be extremely sad when we all go our separate ways.  I don’t want to think about that yet though.  So today I am going to be thankful for last-minute dinner plans, laughter over a great meal, sharing clothes, and just sharing life.

The Peterhouse May Ball…It Doesn’t Get Much Better!

The Peterhouse Ball is quite unique as it is on the only white tie ball in Cambridge.  I couldn’t wait to get all dressed up and I was even more excited to see Ben looking dapper as always in a tux!  The women strolled in wearing long evening gowns and the men wore tuxes, white gloves, and some even donned top hats and canes!  At one point in the early morning I asked a fairly drunken young man if I could borrow his hat for a photo.  He smiled and obligingly handed over his hat to me.  After a few photos I handed it back and said thank you, to which he bowed and tipped his hat!  So funny!

The ball was stunning.  We broke up the ball into several areas and it was amazing to walk through.  Guests entered through the gates to the Deer Park which is attached to the college.  This area had the main stage and a huge dance floor as most of our big acts went there.  This stage featured Cocknbull Kid, Urban Myth Club, and Jakwob just to name a few.  The highlight for me in this tent was the Abba tribute band that we had toward the end of the ball.  I am not a particularly big Abba fan, but I couldn’t help but sing along to classics like Dancing Queen!  The band was amazing and the place was packed.  Ben’s sister Rachel and her husband Alex were hired as photographers for the ball, and this was one point where we all met up and danced and sang along together.  It was so much fun! As the sun came up at the end we headed out to the rest of the park.

Outisde the main stage was the fair area where we had our largest attraction, a ferris wheel.  The Peterhouse Ball is known for having a ferris wheel and this year was no exception.  In this area there were lots of food tents, bars, and an outdoor stage that featured magicians, escapologists and my favorite, brass bands.  We also had wandering magicians and beautifully dressed stilt walkers.  We had three different brass bands play throughout the night and these got more people dancing in this area than anything else.

My favorite band was the Brass Funkeys who at one point jumped off the stage and played right in the middle of the crowd.  The danced and sang and even got on the ground and played while lying down.  The crowd went absolutely nuts!  As the sun was coming up and the other stages were coming to a close, the deer park filled up with people who were making their way to Old Court for the survivors photo.  The last brass band was finishing their set and the students went crazy.  They were dancing everywhere, getting on each other’s shoulders, giving piggyback rides, and running around with toilet paper rolls streaming behind them.  Some students were even wrapping each other up in toilet paper.  It was one of the funniest sites of the whole night.  You start off all posh and refined in the beginning of the ball and by the end you’ve got toilet paper mummies.  Granted, most students were beyond intoxicated, but it was funny to watch nonetheless.

Also in the deer park was a tent that featured a few comedians and the sounds of Motown, jazz, and barbershop quartets.  This tent was filled to the brim all night as it had a huge bar, plush sofas, and large wing back chairs.  Across the way from this tent was an acoustic stage that was set up in front of an elaborate dining area that looked like a classy teepee.  There was an area which we called the Gardens of Arabia, which had smaller tents, large rugs and cushy pillows that all centered around a few shisha pipes.  Probably one of my favorite areas was Gisborne Court which was described as “a tour through the dark, delicious mysteries of the Orient.”  This tent was centered around a tree that we had lit up and had chinese lanterns hanging from it  There were low tables all around and we had tons of throw pillows for lounging about.  There was sushi, sake, tea, portrait artists, and geishas.  It was a beautiful area that was very relaxing.

The next area was the college bar where we had a casino running all night. Students seemed to love this as they didn’t have to lose any of their own money as it was all just for fun!  We also had a powder room for the ladies.  This included a seamstress, massages, and makeup artists from Bare Minerals.   One of the smallest areas of the ball was in the dining hall which we turned into a funky silent disco.  Students put their headphones on and danced around which was hilarious to watch as a bystander who couldn’t hear anything.

The other main area of the ball was Old Court which was called the Mirrored Court.  It had huge full length mirrors that were gilded in gold and hung from the tent.    There were punts filled with champagne, shrimp, and other cocktails.  When I was dancing in this area, I felt as though I had been transported back in time.  It was so beautiful and just so sophisticated.  The stage in this area featured big bands and classical music.  There were waltzes and even lessons to go along with it.  The main event in this area was the image mapping show that took place on the front of the chapel.  At one point the chapel looked like it was ablaze.  It was incredible!

I don’t think I have ever been to an event like this.  There was entertainment at every point in the evening and with six stages, you were never bored.  You could dance the night away, laugh til you cried in the comedians tent, be amazed by escapologists, drink any kind of beverage you could dream of (or in my case…as many hot chocolates and cokes as I wanted!), gamble til the wee hours, or view the sun rise over the trees from the top of a ferris wheel.  Though Ben and I had to work throughout the ball, it didn’t keep us from enjoying the night and all it had to offer.  I loved dancing to so many different kinds of music, eating tasty sugar covered donuts, and hearing the sounds of the ball from the atop the ferris wheel.

My Newest Addiction…

While we were in Zambia, we were persuaded not only to do a safari, but to visit Victoria Falls.  We decided that we would make this an early anniversary trip.  We only went for four days, but they were the best four days we have had in a very long time.  We spent the first two nights at a very budget motel and then splurged the last two nights on a hotel that was out of this world.  Well, let me be more accurate, we stayed at a luxury chalet.  Oh baby!!!  We would normally never be able to afford a place like this, but one of our dear friends at Northrise University helped us to get a massive discount.  It was one of the best gifts we have ever been given.

Our first night we enjoyed the splendor of Victoria Falls and got sufficiently soaked.  Seriously, we had two rain coats on and we were still soaking wet!  Then the next day we went on our day safari.  The next morning we left for our luxury chalet.  We had no idea what to expect, but we were not disappointed.  We spent an hour driving to the most remote hotel I have ever stayed in.  Then we turned off the main road and basically went four wheeling for about thirty minutes.  Eventually, we pulled up to the front gate of the Islands of Siankaba where we were greeted by our hosts.  Our bags were taken away and we signed in at the front desk.  We were then led out to the docks where we boarded a boat that speed upstream.

We eventually came to an island in the middle of the Zambezi River and my breath was completely taken away.  There was a large sweeping veranda with plush sofas and large cushy chairs.  There were fire pits everywhere, and off to the right were swinging rope bridges that lead from one island to the next.  On the next island you could see the chalets peeking out of the tree tops.  It was like a luxury Swiss Family Robinson.  I was in awe.

Our room was this amazing tent that had a heated bed, a beautiful claw-foot tub, and a porch that over-looked the river where hippos came in at night. We woke up each morning to tea being delivered to our room and we would sit and watch the sun come up as monkeys played on our porch.  It was surreal.  We took walks around the island, got massages, and were able to go out to the village of Siankaba where we met the most amazing people.  The hotel staff were all a apart of the Siankaba tribe and they take great pride in their village.  My favorite part of the whole trip was meeting all the children who attend the local primary school.  The sang and danced for me and Ben and my heart completely melted.  I wanted to take all of them home with me!  Those two days were filled with fun as we adventured around our tiny island.  I felt like a kid chasing monkeys and searching for hippos.

There was no TV, internet access, or phone signal so it was just me and Ben and nature.  It was two of the best days we have ever had together.  Since it was an all-inclusive hotel, we were able to enjoy all sorts of activities for no extra charge.  We ate the most amazing food, went on sunset river cruises each night, and just enjoyed the company of the other guests on the island.  The most amazing part of the whole trip was our last night when Ben and I happened to be the only guests staying on the island!  The staff went out of their way to make it a special night for us.  They set up an enclosed gazebo for us so we could have an intimate dinner together.  They lit lots of candles and served us the most delicious dinner.  We even tried crocodile tail (a bit on the chewy side, but pretty tasty)!  After dinner we crossed over the rope bridges and headed off to our what was our private island for the night.  Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity.

I could have stayed there forever, but alas, we had to return to Cambridge.  I have never stayed anywhere with better service, more delectable food, or a more peaceful environment.  It was the best early anniversary gift we could have given each other.  I don’t know if we will ever be able to return, but I know I always remember those two days at Siankaba as two of the most relaxing, most romantic days we have shared together.  What can I say, luxury suits us well!

Here are some pictures from our trip, but please take a look at the webiste as I couldn’t even capture how beautiful this place was! http://www.siankaba.net/

Hannah’s Hens

A common thing I hear in England is how we do everything bigger in America.  We have huge food portions, larger beds, larger wardrobe sizes, enormous cars, and probably larger waist lines due to point A!  I can’t really deny any of this.  America’s motto is quite simply go big, or go home. We may go big in just about every other area of life, but I have found an exception.  Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to,  “The Hen Party.”

Now when people first started talking about hen parties, I had no idea what in the world they were discussing.  It took me a while before I finally asked someone what this term was referring to.  It is quite simply a bachelorette party…on steroids.  I was beyond ecstatic when my friend Hannah (whose wedding I am helping plan) invited me to her hen party.  I didn’t think much of this at first.  Then a few months ago, we went wedding dress shopping with a few of her friends and they started throwing out ideas and I realized this was a BIG deal.  Doing it in Cambridge wasn’t even a consideration.  We spent about ten minutes discussing ideas before we all agreed that the place that she would absolutely love to go, would be Edinburgh (pronounced Edin-burra) Scotland where she went to college and received her master’s degree.  She was beyond thrilled when we told her the plan.

Hannah decided to take me and her friend Rosie a day earlier since neither of us had been.  Rosie picked us up for the weekend in a car covered in balloons and we headed to the airport.  We landed in Edinburgh late on Thursday evening and we headed straight for the flat we had rented out.  The city was absolutely amazing.  I mean amazing.  Between the architecture and the landscape, I found myself just staring out the window with my mouth hanging open.  We arrived at the flat and it was even more amazing.  It was in what used to be an old school-house building and it was just perfect for the weekend.  We had four floors with winding staircases leading further and further up.  I fell in love.

We spent the night in our comfy clothes and munching on pizza.  After a relaxing morning of chatting and getting ready, we headed out into the city.  I trailed the group all morning as I couldn’t stop taking pictures.  Everything was so beautiful.  One of my favorite parts of the city was that you could just about always hear the sound of bagpipes being played.  It was just as I pictured it to be.  We stopped for some of the best hot chocolate I have ever had at a shop called Chocolate Soup, and then popped in for lunch at this amazing bakery.  I just had bread and butter, but literally it was so good.  It just melted in my mouth.  We eventually headed up to the castle and it was magnificent.  It had just closed so we were the only people there which gave it this very surreal feel.  To top it off, the sun had just finished setting over the city.  It was so peaceful.

After posing for a hundred photos we headed back to the apartment where we met all the other girls.  There was Hannah, Anna, Rosie, Hannah (yeah, this made it confusing!), Kirsten, and Laura.  Most of the girls were at Edinburgh University with Hannah, so it made for a pretty fun, nostalgic weekend.  We stayed in Friday night and ordered in Hannah’s favorite Thai dishes.  Before the night got started though, Hannah had to put on her weekend outfit, a pair of ruffly panties with a t-shirt that had a baby photo of Hannah on it.  Let’s just say it wasn’t the most flattering of baby photos.  Then to top it off, a light up wedding veil.  Once she was in her hen apparel, the party really started.  We spent the night wrapping each other in toilet paper, telling embarrassing stories of Hannah (which everyone seemed to really enjoy!), and dancing the night away.  It was such a great start to the weekend.

The next day we all got up and we set off in pairs to go hide in coffee shops around the city.  Hannah had to dress in her hen apparel and come find us based on clues and a map she was given.  What made this particularly fun was that she was in a Kate Middleton mask and all of us were wearing masks of other members of the royal family.  It was pretty hilarious having people walk by us in the coffee shop window.  I was prince William and the other Hannah was Prince Harry.  We got a lot of laughs.  Hannah eventually found all of us and we looked like quite the bunch walking through the streets of Edinburgh, donning the masks, giggling and waving at people.

After she found us all we went to a mad hatter tea party which was too fun.  We then headed back to the flat to rest for a bit and get ready for our big night out.  We did a fashion show of the dresses we had all brought and then helped each other with hair and make up.  Thanks again Rosie for doing my hair all weekend!  Once we were all decked out in our evening attire, we jumped in a couple of taxis and headed to dinner.  We ate at this place called the Outsider, and I have to say, it was some of the best food I have had since moving to the UK.  I had the wood-pigeon and it was absolutely delicious.  Dinner was filled with conversation, laughter, and loads of tasty dishes.

We eventually wrapped up our peaceful meal and then headed out to hotel that had a plush bar and lounge area.  We spent about an hour there, and I have to say, I had the most amazing nonalcoholic drink of my life.  Even now, I find myself craving it.  It was this raspberry, strawberry, mint drink…so scrumptious.  After lounging about for a bit, we headed to a dance club that the girls had selected.  This was my first time in a dance club since I was sixteen, so it was an eye opening experience to say the least.  We stayed for a few hours and then eventually headed home once our feet were beyond sore.  We spent the next few hours chatting and laughing in the living room, but we eventually all headed off to bed.

The next morning was really nice as we all had breakfast together and then did a panty party for Han and included a piece of marital/relationship advice.  It was a really sweet morning.  Before we all headed home, we had decided to do afternoon tea together.  It was at this beautiful hotel and it was simply amazing.  The scones and the chocolate cake were delightful.  We spent a few hours there and then all headed to the flat to grab our things and head to the airport.  It was an amazing weekend.  I absolutely loved all of Hannah’s friends.  We had so much fun together that we decided to do another weekend together this fall!  Thankfully we all get to see each other again in just a few weeks at Hannah’s wedding.  I have been to some pretty amazing bachelorette parties, but this was a weekend I will definitely never forget.  Thank you Hannah for including me in this special weekend, I loved every minute of it.

Going Postal

The last few months have been absolutely crazy for me.  My days are filled with ever-fluctuating, crazy work situations, and my nights and weekends are filled with May Ball hoopla.  And I do mean hoopla.  It is because of this crazy schedule that we decided we needed a relaxing and fun-filled weekend.  My American friend Courtney, who I met at work invited Ben and me to stay with her this weekend at her house in Ely and do a bit of shopping.  You are probably asking why Ben decided to go along with this…well that is because the shopping was taking place on the American military base.  Oh baby.

We had a fun Friday night, but Saturday was the real highlight.  We headed to base before noon and made our first stop, the post office.  Normally this would be a pretty mundane and tiresome errand, but I was overjoyed.  I couldn’t stop staring at everyone.  They all looked so American.  There were tons of hoodies and baseball hats, running gear, and boot cut jeans.  I felt so at home.  It wasn’t only the people, but it was the actual place.  I loved being surrounded by all the American postal supplies.  Yes, you heard me right.  All the blue tape with white eagles on it, stamps of American presidents, and large signs that said “US Postal Service” just made me smile.  To Ben’s embarrassment, I actually starting giggling I was so excited.

After our trip to the post office, we headed South of the border.  Oh yes.  Taco Bell.  Sigh.  I could have ordered everything on the menu, but Ben, being the logical man he is, reminded me that I should start small and then order more if I was still hungry.  Smart man.  So I sat down with my chicken quesadilla, cinnamon twists, and huge Dr. Pepper and all the cares of the last few months just melted away.  There was one point when I was telling Courtney how good it was, and I actually started to tear up.  Of course my food was tasty, but it was more than that, it reminded me of home.  Who would have thought Taco Bell could elicit such a response?

After I savoured every last bite (I literally took twice as long as Courtney and Ben), we headed to the commissary.  We were like children in a candy store.  We walked down every single aisle and gazed admiringly at nearly every label.  We methodically went through our list and made sure we didn’t miss anything.  We filled our cart with barbecue sauce, Velveeta shells and cheese, Frosted Mini Wheats, chocolate chips, chocolate frosting, Hamburger Helper, Bush’s Baked Beans,CORNBREAD MIX, CANNED GREEN CHILLIES!!!, and the list goes on.  We were in heaven.  I bought cherry chapstick, Pantene Pro-V, and York peppermint patties for my friend Hannah as they are her favorite…unfortunately, two out of three didn’t make the journey home.  🙂

It was such a great day.  Not only did we get loads of amazing food, but we saved a whole lot of money!  Some of the things we bought we could get here in England, but for a pretty penny.  It was amazing to see just how much cheaper it was to buy American products with American prices.  To top the day off, we had a little Baskin Robbin.  Bless my soul it was good.  I couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing and fun weekend.  I was surrounded by friendly American faces, pocket-book friendly prices, and waist friendly food…ok, maybe not that last bit, but that is ok by me.  I think my feelings today can be best summed up by saying, God bless America and the kind military folks who let me go crazy this weekend.  Courtney, that includes you!! xox