Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dear Zahara

Dear Zahara Jane,

Happy two-month birthday! It's hard to believe that we've already known each other for two whole months, but at the same time it feels like I've known you my whole life. This month has been a really fun one. You are developing a personality, and each day is better than the last.

You've had a lot of huge milestones this month. The biggest one is that you started smiling! Daddy and I cannot get enough of your cute, gummy smiles. They make our day. It's amazing the things I will do to try and get you to smile. The easiest way is to put you in your swing and give you lots of kisses. You love that. You also love looking at the birds and the mirror at the top of your swing; and at mummy and daddy. You are especially smiley during diaper changes (yay!) and when daddy bounces you on his lap.

You love kicking your little legs. You're pretty strong, too. You can push yourself up with your legs when you're on mummy or daddy's lap. You love feeling daddy's scratchy beard on your feet. You can also hold your head up pretty well. You still need help, but you're getting stronger every day. We do lots of tummy time to strengthen those neck muscles.

You're discovering new things all the time. Just this week you discovered your left hand! You still aren't quite aware of the right hand, but the left one is always in your mouth now. You make a "delightful" sucking noise as you chomp away at your fist, arm and even elbow. If your hand gets away from you, you get very upset until it finds its way back in your mouth.

We've started trying to implement routines. It's still pretty early, but we might as well try. In the mornings, daddy takes you while he showers and eats. That gives mummy a little bit of rest before we start our day. When daddy leaves for work I change you, feed you and read you a story. You love Dr. Seuss, the Gruffalo, the Giving Tree...really anything. At night we bathe you (using soap only every other day), swaddle you, feed you and then say a prayer. You still aren't sleeping through the night, but sometimes you'll sleep more than two hours at a time. Those are the good nights.

Your very favorite thing to do is to sing. You can't sing along yet, but you love listening to music. The "Itsy Bitsy Spider" always makes you smile. You also like it when daddy makes up words to songs. He is especially good at "Hush Little Baby" lyrics.

Zoey, everyone who meets you instantly falls in love with you. You are such a happy baby and you bring us so much joy. Happy birthday sweetheart!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Happy Two-Year UK Anniversary To Us!

This week marks two whole years since we moved to Happy Harrogate. Time is going by so quickly. It's hard to believe that we're in our final year here. It's definitely bittersweet. It will be nice to be closer to friends and family, but I will miss the ease with which we are able to travel now. Going to Scotland for the week here is like going to New York for the week from DC. Everything is so accessible, and if you look hard enough, affordable. It's not that we won't be able to travel when we're back in the States, but it will be very different.

Since we've moved here, we have visited 19 countries*, not including England, Scotland and Wales. All of our trips were amazing, but here are my top five from this year:
  • Jerusalem, Israel
  • Krakow, Poland
    • I did not expect to love Krakow as much as I did. Even in the dead of winter the city is stunning. Visiting Auschwitz was a difficult, but very moving experience.
  • The Highlands, Scotland
    • I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Glasgow, but not at all surprised at how much I liked the rest of Scotland. It absolutely lived up to all of my expectations.
    • (Glencoe, Kyle of Lochalsh, Isle of Skye, Inverness)
  • Granada, Spain
    • I could spend a long time in Granada and be very happy. The architecture is stunning and the orange trees make me so happy.
    • (Malaga, Sevilla, Granada, White Towns)
  • Alicante, Spain
    • I went to Spain twice in the last year and they were very different trips. My visit to Alicante was a much-needed girls trip. Our agenda was to sleep, eat and giggle. It was amazing.

Jerusalem, Israel

Krakow, Poland

Isle of Skye, Scotland

Granada, Spain

Alicante, Spain
Of course we've done more than just travel this past year. We cooked, crafted, entertained guests, ran and...oh yeah, had a baby!

Raspberry jam

DIY outdoor cushions

Tea with Dina and Ed
Dan's Half Marathon

Zahara Jane

I constantly feel blessed for the amazing opportunity we have been given. My life is so full. I can't wait to see what the next year brings!

* The countries we've visited so far: Belgium; Czech Republic; Denmark; Egypt; Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Ireland; Israel; Jordan; Lithuania; Malta; Morocco; the Netherlands; Poland; Russia; Spain and Sweden.

See last year's highlights here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Taking Advantage of Summer

Unbelievably, England is still experiencing a summer! This weather is so amazing, but so unusual. Most Brits are walking around looking like lobsters, and even I--a native Texan--am having a hard time adjusting to the heat. It's crazy! But don't mistake this for a complaint. Every day that I wake up to sunshine is another wonderful day.

Zoey loves the sunshine

I'm trying to make the most of the sunshine while I can. Zoey and I are going for walks around town, and we're eating dinner al fresco with friends. Nick (my SOS buddy) cooked an incredible salmon dinner for us the other night. He is a trained cook and worked in a professional kitchen for a while, so this was a real treat.

What are you doing to enjoy the last bit of summer?

Friday, August 23, 2013

There Goes All My Free Time

I recently stumbled upon the cat Internet. Have you seen it yet? It's a product of BuzzFeed and is absolutely hilarious. Maybe you have to be a cat person to appreciate it, but I could spend hours exploring this site. 

Some highlights include:

I also really enjoyed the human memes. Here are some of my favorites:

I probably shouldn't tell my mom about this site. With her love of all-things cat, I may never see or hear from her again.

Have you surfed the cat internet? What's your favorite article?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I May Have Over-Ordered

Is 5 kilos (11 pounds) of dates too much? To put it another way, is it ridiculous to have a package of dates that weighs more than your baby (or your cats)? Probably.

Why do I have so many dates, you ask? Because of these LaraBars. They are just so darn good, but buying dates in Harrogate proved to be quite expensive. I told Dan we needed cheap dates--to which he responded that he's a cheap date--ha! Really though, he got to work scouring the internet and found this 5 kg pack for only £11. That was too good of a deal to pass up.

So, know of any good date recipes? I'm in the market for a few :)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I'm a Pushy Mum

On Monday I officially became a pushy mother. Those who know me may not be surprised, but I don't mean it in the sense you think I do. I joined an exercise group known as "Pushy Mothers Fitness." It's a free workout class designed for women with young babies. Their philosophy:
The moment your baby arrived into the world you became a Pushy Mother. You’ll always want what’s best for your child and you’ll push as hard as you can to get it. But it’s all too easy to forget about yourself in the process. Our aim is to empower and educate, so that you have the correct advice to give your mind and body the strength to cope with the challenge of motherhood.

Every week nearly twenty women gather in Valley Gardens in Harrogate to participate in an hour-long workout session. It mostly involves fast walking with your stroller up and down the hills of the park. We also stopped at several points to do various exercises on park benches, including triceps dips and push-ups.

This was my first post-natal workout, and I have to say it was pretty difficult. In a few weeks I'm sure it won't be nearly as strenuous, but by the end of the session I was definitely sweating. Actually, I didn't even make it the whole session because, of course, Zoey was hungry. Luckily I was able to catch back up to the group when I finished feeding her.

I went with friend Lena whose baby Olivia is only a few days older than Zoey. Olivia and Zoey were the youngest babies by several weeks; most babies were more than four months old. In fact the instructor came up to me afterwards and said she was impressed I was out there at only seven weeks postpartum.

This group operates through rain and shine. It seems like a great way to meet other mums while getting fresh air and exercise. There's no class next week and I'm out of town the week after that, but I'm looking forward to doing it again soon!

Do you have any fun, alternative exercise routines you do? Tell me about it!

Monday, August 19, 2013

PopPop and G-Mom Come to Town!

PopPop and G-mom--otherwise known as my parents--came to visit Zoey a couple of weeks ago. It was a fantastic trip that went much too quickly.

My parents were dying to meet Zoey from the moment she was born, but because of work schedules and other factors, they weren't able to make it out here sooner. They impatiently bided their time and got by on the daily pictures and skype dates. But that's not the same as holding their first granddaughter in their arms. Unfortunately my sister Bradi couldn't make it out this time, and we definitely missed her.

My folks arrived pretty late in the evening, so I told them beforehand that Dan would pick them up from the airport while I stayed home with a sleeping Zahara. They were not thrilled. In reality though, we surprised them by meeting them at the airport. I'd say it was a good surprise.

For the next week I barely even saw Zahara; she was constantly wrapped in the arms of her grandparents. They were so helpful in bathing her, swaddling her and playing with her. And of course, they already started spoiling her. They literally brought an entire suitcase filled to the brink with gifts from friends and family back home. We got enough clothes that we won't have to buy anything for her until she's almost one!

We mostly hung around Harrogate enjoying the gorgeous sunshine. We took some walks around town and had tea at everyone's favorite hangout, Betty's. Unfortunately Dan had to work, but we had extra rarebit for him.

One day we went to Pots2Go, which is a paint-your-own pottery place. Our friends Sarah and Randy very thoughtfully gave us a gift certificate to Pots2Go at our meet-the-baby party. I wanted to paint something together that my parents could take home. We decided on a spoon rest shaped like a wine bottle with Zoey's footprint on the label. It turned out really cute!

Over the weekend we took a road trip to one of our favorite cities, Whitby. This North Seaside town is just lovely. The drive up is absolutely stunning, and once there you are treated with gorgeous views of the abbey, the sea and the charming little town. We were having such a great time, in fact, that I didn't take a single picture. I did manage to grab a group photo at Robin Hood's Bay. This is a must-see for anyone in the area. You can sit and have a pint while watching the tide come in.

As I said before, the visit was way too short. Thanks so much for coming to visit G-mom and PopPop! We miss you already!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Dolphin Spotting in Scotland

The final portion of our road trip in Scotland took us through Inverness and Glasgow. Inverness was just OK. It could have something to do with the fact that it was pouring buckets and, since it was Sunday, everything was closed; but I just was not that impressed with the city. We did enjoy a lovely dinner and a nice, but wet, stroll around town.

Gratuitous shot of Zoey at dinner

The highlight of the area was dolphin spotting. I had no idea that Scotland was home to many species of dolphins and whales. We happened to pass a Whale and Dolphin Conservation Centre who provided us with a handy guide to the local species and told us the best places to spot them. Dan and I were pretty skeptical that we'd actually see anything. We told ourselves we'd give it 15 minutes and then head out. The minute we got there though, we saw them! Two pods of bottlenose dolphins were swimming and playing really close to the shore! They splished and splashed for around 20 minutes and then wandered out of our sight. 

Dolphins at Chanonry Point, Scotland

We made a stop in Aviemore to eat at the Mountain Cafe. It was definitely worth the trip! The food was fantastic and very fresh. It was Scotish with a New Zealand flair (the owner is a Kiwi). The portions are so big that we didn't even have room for dessert. Don't worry though. We took two slices of cake to go. I could see this being my local hangout if I lived closer to it. I really could eat there every day. It was a blogger fail though as I didn't snap a single picture.

Eventually we made it to Glasgow. We planned for this to simply be a necessary layover before the trip home the next morning. I hadn't heard great things about the city, so I had very low expectations. Glasgow really surprised me though. I loved the mixed architecture and the vibrant high street. I loved all the mom-and-pop stores and the high-end, eclectic restaurants. I loved the flowers blooming from every lamppost.

Zoey loved it too.

All-in-all, it was a very successful trip. Zoey did so well. I can tell we have a future traveler amongst us.

Read about our other stops in Scotland:
Loch Lomand
Kyle of Lochalsh
Isle of Skye

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Highlights of the Isle of Skye

Next up on our road trip across Scotland was exploring the Isle of Skye. To be honest, this was the part I was most excited about. Pictures from the island are breathtaking, and my friends who have been there rave about it. I'm happy to report that it did not disappoint.

One tip about exploring the island though--make sure you have plenty of gas. There are not a lot of opportunities to fill up once you're out there. Case in point, we got down to only 33 miles in the tank! I was so nervous, but we made it :)

Practically running on fumes

I wrote about my must-sees on the Isle of Skye on TripWolf.

Top Sights on the Isle of Skye
About a year ago while browsing photos of beautiful travel destinations on Pinterest, I stumbled upon a place that looked like it belonged in a children’s story book. The combination of blues, purples and greens in the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye, Scotland looked too good to be true. I marked the location as a future destination and waited for the timing (and weather) to be right. Last week, that time finally came.

Click here to read the full post.

Read about our other stops in Scotland:
Loch Lomand
Kyle of Lochalsh
Inverness and Glasgow

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Road Trip Continues: Scotland Part 2

The day after my birthday we continued our road trip across Scotland and headed to the Kyle of Lochalsh--a narrow straight that connects mainland Scotland with the Isle of Skye. Before arriving at the kyle though, we first stopped at Eilean Donan castle. The castle dates back to the thirteenth century, but was reconstructed last century. It is set at the mouth of three lochs, and makes for a stunning picture. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see the inside of the castle because someone--not naming any names here--was a little cranky.

Eilean Donan Castle

We made it to the kyle just in time to catch a two-hour glass-bottom boat tour. I loved every minute of it! Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and was able to give a lot of history and interesting facts about the region and its wildlife. We saw thousands of moon jelly fish; a salmon fishery where the salmon were flip-flopping in and out of the water; huge kelp that gets exported to Japan; a shipwreck teeming with sea coral; and tons of seals and their newborn pups!

Seal swimming in the kyle

Seal pup and mum

Me being the only nerd listening intently to the guide

Zoey's not so sure about this whole boat thing

After our tour we headed over the Skye bridge and found our B&B. This place was in the middle of nowhere! The views from our room were incredible though--horses, sheep, cows, and mountains as far as the eye could see.

The whole island is pretty small. Portree, the main town, is quaint and bookings for dinner are essential! We watched tons of people get turned away. Fortunately, we were able to grab a seat at Harbour View. The food was delicious. I am now a huge fan of cullen skink, a traditional Scottish soup made with smoked haddock and potatoes. And of course over the week I ate my weight in local salmon. Yum!

Read about our other stops in Scotland: 
Loch Lomand
Isle of Skye
Inverness and Glasgow