good life · travel

London Calling

We went to London!

Husband and two other guys from his office were invited across the pond to teach a workshop, and the spouses tagged along. The guys had two days of work, and we were there a week, so we had lots time to play. I thought it would be fun to share a few photos and stories (and menus, because eating is my favorite):


Husband and I have been to London before. Husband’s brother worked there for awhile, so we made the trip back in 2008 before children. We were SUPER tourists that trip. It’s hard to believe how many sights we took in – museums, gardens, palaces, museums, museums, museums. This go-round, we kept our list small and didn’t stress if we didn’t get to everything. A big part of it was just being away together, so there was lots of walking and talking and hanging out.

London Eye Big Ben

This trip, I finally felt comfortable navigating transportation. (The Maps app on my phone helped!) But even with buses and the Tube, we still logged 18,000-24,000 steps a day!

Our fantastic hotel, The Zetter, is in Central London, so it was easy to walk many places. Our first night there, we wandered around in search of dinner (not an easy feat on a Sunday night – most places close up early). We lucked out when we found The Well. After finishing our dinner (Sunday roast of lamb for Husband, a butternut squash and kale dish for me, ending with a cheese plate and port), I told Husband that this was going to be our best dinner of the trip. It was a close call, but I still hold to my original assessment.

On Monday, Husband and I clocked over 24K steps taking in these sights: St. John’s Gate in Clerkenwell, Primrose Hill and Regents Park, The National Gallery, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, St. John’s Churchyard, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern, the Jubilee Bridge, and a walk past St. Paul’s Cathedral. (So much for not being too touristy this time!) We met up with the California folks for dinner at our hotel (camembert with rosemary, grilled poussin for Husband, roast salmon with sampire and hollandaise for me).


While the guys worked, the wives planned excursions. Tuesday was mostly shopping. We explored all 6 floors of Liberty (above), refueled with coffee and people watching, and continued on with more shopping. I only bought one thing for me – a black lace dress, something for which I’ve been hunting for months now.


(Husband and me, wearing said dress at Wicked later in the week)

Thames Barrier at night

But Tuesday night, we had a special excursion. After a 45 minute cab ride through the city (which felt very similar to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride), we arrived at the Thames Barrier. We got to hear about how it was designed, how it works, and when it is used. We were all sort of geeking out, not just the engineers among us. I had no idea it even existed – very cool.

The next day, Wednesday, one of the gals needed to do some studying for a class she’s taking, so the other asked if I would take her thrifting. What an adventure! We ended up in East End at a thrift shop I’m going to call “rustic” – no clothes sorted in color order here! There were bins of jumbled sweaters and jeans, racks and racks of flannel shirts, and a bit of a smell that pervaded the shop. Still, my shopping companion found a fabulous denim vest, and then I spotted this:london

I couldn’t stop laughing! How on earth a University of Tennessee jacket ended up in the East End, I can’t imagine. I didn’t buy it – it was too big and had some ink stains – but what a riot! Made my day.

The Orangery at Kensington Palace

After thrifting, all the ladies met up, and we headed west to Kensington Palace for afternoon tea at The Orangery.

afternoon tea

I ordered the gluten-free option with berry tea (and champagne!) – all delicious.

Kensington Palace Gardens


Afterward, we roamed the gardens and popped in for a fast tour of Kensington Palace. The docents were so friendly and full of stories, and the Fashion Rules Restyled Exhibition was a fun addition.

We rushed back on the Tube to get ready for dinner at Vinoteca. True to it’s name, the wine list was at least 20 pages, and the one-sheet menu was comprised of three courses with three choices for each course. I had parsnip soup (who knew? AMAZING!), Cornish hake (perfectly crusted), and cheese and jam for dessert.

Thursday morning consisted of touring the Victoria & Albert. Husband and I visited it in 2008, but we only had an hour that time, which wasn’t nearly enough. This trip, we had several hours, and I still missed an entire floor – the jewelry! But I loved the furniture and textiles and SO. MANY. CERAMICS.

That evening, we had dinner at Rose’s Thai before we went to see Wicked at the Apollo Victoria. So fun!

Friday was our other 24K steps day! We started at Parliament and walked up to Trafalgar Square, passing Big Ben and the clock tower, the Boadicea statue, and Westminster Abbey. Then we took the Tube to Hampstead Heath. I knew nothing about it, but I read here that it was one of the best walks in London.


It did not disappoint. We worked our way through adorable little alleys lined with shops and restaurants.


We explored cute neighborhoods with beautiful houses.



And then we found ourselves on a wooded trail, a pleasant surprise in the middle of the city.


It was a warm day, the sun was shining, and the views from Parliament Hill were just lovely.

After spending some time relaxing and taking it all in, we hopped on a train to St. Pancras/Kings Cross Station. (At dinner at Vinoteca on Wednesday night, I sat next to the engineer who organized the workshop, and he suggested that we plan a little trip here to see the The Meeting Place statue. He said we seemed like a romantic couple, and that having a cocktail in the shadow of the statue was a fairly romantic endeavor.)


We ordered drinks at The Betjeman Arms and recounted the highlights of our trip. (And this photo doesn’t do the statue justice – it’s 30 feet tall!)


After that, we went out to Leadenhall Market. (It was used as Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films.) The market was filled with men (very few women) in suits and ties, having a pint – it was the same story at every other pub we passed after 3:00pm that Friday afternoon.

We went back to the hotel to meet up with the other couples and headed back out in search of meat pies and Guinness for dinner. We found them at The Butcher’s Hook & Cleaver (along with a ham, beetroot, and carrot salad, which was warm and yummy), and then continued on to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, where we descended multiple flights of stairs and navigated cave-like tunnels to raise a glass at one of the oldest pubs in London.

As we climbed into bed on our last night in London, we flipped on the telly to find an airing of Shaun of the Dead.

shaun of the dead

It seemed like a fitting British ending to a super fun trip.


I know reading someone’s vacation blog post can be like watching Uncle Bob’s Kodak projector slideshow of his trip to Yellowstone in 1982, so if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! This post is mostly just for me. I’ll be back to posting projects soon.



DIY · Food · good life

On Cinnamon Rolls and Broken Washing Machines

cinnamon rolls

I got married when I was almost 19. (For those doing math at home, yes, I was 18. EIGHTEEN! Husband was 20. Were we crazy or what?) Husband grew up knowing how to do all his own laundry by the time he was in 5th grade. I did not. Husband (who was still Boyfriend at the time) taught me how to do laundry at the laundromat my freshman year. On more than one occasion, he came over to my dorm and ironed pants for me. And he has always been a better cleaner than me.

dough and rolling pin

So it won’t surprise you that Husband did most of the cooking early on in our marriage. I called him The Chef – he could always take whatever we had on hand and turn it into something fabulous. And he’s never been afraid to try something challenging. He is still the go-to for roasting a whole bird (cooking chicken has always freaked me out), and his Osso Bucco is fantastic.


But a few years ago, something switched. Kids, his job changing a little bit, or the change in the way we eat when I went gluten free – I’m not sure what it was – but I am now Head Chef. Husband still enjoys cooking, and Sunday night dinners tend to be his time to shine, but for the day-to-day meals, I’m your gal. And I LOVE it. I love cooking now. I love the sound and feel and even the smell of chopping onions on the cutting board. I love experimenting with different oils to make the flavors just right (rice bran oil was the latest) . I love trying variations of recipes to find the best. I will often make all three meals in a day from scratch. And I’m not even afraid to cook chicken anymore!

There is something so satisfying about starting with ingredients I selected myself at the store or farmers market, prepping them and combining them in just the right way to make something delicious to feed family and friends. Cooking is now one of my favorite things to do, but if you had told me that 10 years ago – or even 5 – I would have laughed. (Did I mention I really hated cooking?)

making cinnamon rolls

I think the biggest thing that has changed is my confidence. Whereas in the past, I would eat something at a restaurant or see something in a cookbook and feel completely intimidated, I now think about how I could make it at home, how I could recreate it, how I could make it work for our family. It’s a puzzle, a project, a work of creativity all in one.


So this week, when the kids talked about how we used to have cinnamon rolls (the Pillsbury kind you buy in cans), I went in search of a recipe to make them from scratch. ME! Someone who would NEVER call herself a baker, someone who would always second guess every step in every recipe for years. And I did it!

cinnamon rolls

I think it comes down to practice. To trying and failing and trying again and knowing it’s going to be okay. To having lots of experiences with the raw materials (here, almond flour and pecans and coconut oil and honey) to sort of know what’s going to happen. And to know that even if it doesn’t happen that way, it’s not the end of the world. I learn something even when it doesn’t work.

And maybe it also comes down to age. I am turning 37 this month, and I think as I get older, I realize more that things that look “impossible” or “amazing” from the outside are often the result of lots of practice and trial and error. I realize more that most things in life are “figureoutable” – there are ways to make it work.

Husband did this over the weekend, too. For a couple of months, our washing machine has sounded like a goat. I am not even kidding. Multiple times during every load, the washer would emit an extremely loud grinding noise with an uncanny resemblance to bleating. I even googled “My washer sounds like a goat” once. Nothing. But then Husband decided to get to the bottom of it. He watched some YouTube videos until he found the exact sound (this one if you’re curious) and read up on how to fix it (basically tightening up a screw on a pulley underneath the washer). Within ten minutes, our washing machine was running with nary a goat sound to be heard. He figured it out!

Granted, there are lots of things that we won’t be able to do. Open-heart surgery comes to mind. Most automobile repairs. Root canals. But a lot of times, if it’s something that SOMEONE has figured out how to do, we might be able to figure it out, too.


Which is why if you can buy a cinnamon roll, then you can probably make a cinnamon roll. And the process of making it will probably be a whole lot of fun, too.


These cinnamon rolls were awesome, if I do say so myself. The recipe is from The Urban Poser. I topped ours with a frosting loosely based on this Creamy Cream Cheese Frosting from Elena’s Pantry. (I tweaked it to make it a little softer by adding lots more whipping cream than called for. Another trial-and-error that I was PRETTY sure would work out, and it did.)

Tell me: What’s something you figured out how to do recently? Or what’s something you can do now that the younger you would never have believed you could do? I’d love to hear.


Being Mama · five things · good life

Five Things

Hello! Happy Friday!

We are super happy because Husband comes home today. He’s had two weeks of travel, and we are so excited to have him back home for a while.

Despite missing him, it’s been a pretty good week. I feel like the kids have grown so much over the summer. They seem like big kids now, figuring more things out on their own, helping out, and learning so much already in school. I am finding a lot of joy in this phase of life.

Here are a few other things on my mind this week:


1. Playing outside. This was the first full week of school. I don’t know if it’s fact that the only homework BB will have this year is 20 minutes of daily reading (praise the Lord!) or that BG is no longer napping regularly and we now have lots more afternoon hours to fill, but we’ve hit the park more this week than any week of this summer. And it’s been amazing. We met up with school friends and made new ones. I sat in the cool shade and talked with other grownups while the kids ran wild for hours. We came home each day with a little sun on our cheeks and a little sweat on our foreheads, and with that good, deep, tired happy you get from being outside. It has been so good for all of us.

(BG – above – as she showed me her sand art on her foot: “Look at my tattoo! It’s a peregrine falcon!”)

2. This vinaigrette. Yes, seriously, I can’t stop thinking about it. I made it a few weeks ago to dress my own version of Chipotle salad, and it turned out really well. But instead of using purchased adobo sauce (the ones at my grocery store all contain gluten), I just pureed the whole can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (LOVE that spicy, smoky flavor), added one tablespoon of puree to the dressing, and spooned the rest into ice cube trays to freeze. Now I have a little bag of chipotle pepper cubes in the freezer, ready to thaw to whip up more dressing any time. (Note: I will probably add a little less honey next time. It was pretty sweet. As in, BB said, “I want to drink this dressing.” And that’s WITH “spicy” peppers in it.)

Clutter is the physical manifestation of unmade decisions fueled by procrastination.

3. This quote. As a stay-at-home parent, I feel like 50% of my job is Materials Management. Finding things, dropping off things, sorting things, folding things, buying things, putting things away, calling about things, following up on things, emailing about things. It seems I’m always talking about getting rid of things. And it’s not that we’re hoarders or messy or even cluttered at all, really, but there are seasons of life where “stuff” just gets to me. The start of a new school year is one of those times. I need clear surfaces. I need everything in its place. I need a tightly-run ship. This week, when I saw something where it shouldn’t be, I kept thinking of “unmade decisions fueled by procrastination”. (And the Getting Things Done two-minute rule – if it’s something that can be completed in two minutes, DO IT.) It’s been a “Tiny Tweak” that has helped my sanity.

4. On a related note, I enjoyed this piece, too.

5. This made me laugh so hard I cried.

What are you up to this weekend? Husband gave the kids some day-trip ideas for our three-day weekend – Tahoe, the beach, splashing around in some swimming holes. None of these were met with NEARLY the enthusiasm as “panning for gold” so apparently we are headed for the hills to seek our fortune. Wish us luck! Hope you have a wonderful Labor Day. Thanks for reading!