The Heir, The Spare and The Spare

If you’re anything like me & you love the royals you’ve heard that Duchess Kate Middleton is pregnant with baby number 3! There is an official new prince or princess on the way!

The palace made the official announcement Monday as Kate had to miss an engagement due to morning sickness. So while she’s at home (in her palace!!) resting the rest of us are waiting for more baby news!

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The growing royal family

Steve and I were in London when Princess Charlotte was born back in 2015. It wasn’t quite as big of a deal as I’m sure George was when he was born, but there were balloons and banners out and I’m sure a crowd at the palace and at the hospital. I’m not sure if we will be as lucky as last time and be in London for the birth but we will still have a glass of fizz to congratulate the little family with the new arrival is born.

I think it’s pretty safe to say, based on Kate & William as well as Charlotte and George we can expect another beautiful baby – boy or girl! So a massive congrats to the entire royal family from me & my tiny corner of the web!

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This picture makes me laugh too! They are obviously amazing parents to their babies!

Are you excited for the royal baby news? Do you think number 3 will be their last?

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Keto – I’m Eating What

Keto is a high fat, adequate protein, low carb, no sugar lifestyle eating plan… better known as a diet. A friend of mine back in the US said she was doing it and had had a lot of success, so I did a little research. And when you look up the recipes of the things you’re encouraged to eat and they include butter, double cream, avocados, steak, eggs and peanut butter I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! I don’t know of any diets that encourage you to add butter to your veggies or want you to pour that bearnaise sauce over your morning eggs. So I thought why not-  Steve and I eat pretty healthy as it is so this might feel like a nice change, and if it helps drop some pre wedding weight – awesome!

Today is day 3 of Keto No Cheats as I’m calling it – I tried to do it for a few weeks but I kept slipping up – hello sugar and carb addiction! So for this week and next I am 100% in. So far I feel hungry all the time… wrraaarrrr… but I’m trying to stay positive that it will get easier. I’m pretty satisfied with the food – I mean c’mon! Last night I had chicken with a butter, bacon, spinach and heavy cream sauce! Yum. I made some zoodles (zucchini noodles) which were pretty yummy too so all in all not too bad! Tonight I’m planning on lemon butter salmon with zoodles!

After the two weeks we are off on holibobs – I still need to tell y’all where we’re off to – so we’re gonna have a break and enjoy the all inclusive life. Then when we get back we can make the call as to if we want to keep on it or try something else.

If we do decided to stick with it I’ll start sharing recipes etc on here – hopefully it won’t be hard to convert some of our favorite meals into keto friendly!

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If this plan appeals to you let me know and we can be healthy eating buddies!

Is Life A Cake Walk?

In a country where they take their baking so seriously that they have a prime time TV show about it – why is it so hard to find a decent baker to make a MOIST cake for a birthday? It’s like trying to find El Dorado without a map!

It’s times like these where I dream of Piece of Cake – my favorite Atlanta bakery.  I can close my eyes and see their white chocolate layer cake with the nuts around the top… holy wow they are so good! Must remember to buy one next time I’m in Atlanta.

But back to Berkshire and cakes or lack thereof. There are some bakeries – big national chains and smaller ones, but they either a) charge a fortune – I’m talking £100+ for a single cake or b) they have a very limited menu that only involves dry victoria sponge cakes. Don’t get me wrong – there are days I love a nice VS, with the fresh cream and jam in the middle. Not too sweet and is perfect with cake. But not at a party with drinks!

At this point I am seriously considering ordering a costco cake (feeds 48!) for a whopping £16! I’ve never had a costco cake before, let alone a UK Costco cake. As much as I adore Costco here, it’s like a little slice of america, I’m not sure I trust them to make a moist american cake.

This is what I was really hoping for –

A really pretty and simple 3-4 tier cake with some sprinkles. A nice pink champagne flavor, or white chocolate or some other yummy flavor, no jam, no cream. Just a nice, moist cake. That won’t cost me a fortune. I’ve resorted to going to wedding fairs every weekend hoping to find a baker who can do this and not charge me the earth. So far – nothing. Just dry, overpriced cakes.

So here in Reading, I think it’s safe to say life isn’t a cake walk.

 

The Great British Bake Off

Unless you live under a rock, or maybe not on this rock in the middle of the sea, you know that last night GBBO returned to our TVs. This year, however, its being aired on channel 4 and we had a new judge and two new hosts.

The Great British Bake Off is a staple of british culture – its a little bit like the Super Bowl in the US except its multiple episodes and no one likes the commercials. And its not a sports ball game… so what I’m getting at is its really nothing like the Super Bowl. It’s like GOT – without the death but all the drama.

These are the new faces of bake off – Noel Fielding, Sandi Toksvig, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith.

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You can tell they are working very hard to live up to Mary Berry, Sue & Mel. Noel and Sandi were funny but not Mel and Sue funny, but that chemistry (note the baking pun) takes time to rise (I’m full of them!).

The first challenge – the fruit cake, was a bit of a let down. I was hoping for some classic british cake – one of those checkerboard ones or something a little more out there. But a fruit cake is a fruit cake!

gallery-1503395538-chris-gbboThe technical bake – can we just talk about that? Hello yuck! I am a massive chocolate peppermint fan but those little role things just looked awful! It’s like a british take on the twinkie’s brother the swiss role. They don’t have any flour in them (is that even a cake without flour?) and that one older guy in the back who just couldn’t get it right… bless him.

This week’s showstopper challenge was on point – that’s for sure! Making a lifesize replica cake is crazy for week one! I for one was very excited and nervous for the bakers as they had 4 hours for their challenge. What they came out with was amazing – did you see the bowl of ramen? Or the champagne bucket? The loaf of bread and BLT Steve’s made was crazy realistic!

Final thoughts – I will continue to DVR previous season of GBBO to get my Mary Berry, Sue and Mel fix but I think since channel 4 didn’t mess with a good thing I will be a dedicated watcher this year again. Besides – if I’m not, what will I talk to my co-workers about on Wednesdays?

Homesickness- Not Just For Campers

Homesick as defined by dictionary.com:

adjective

1.sad or depressed from a longing for home or family while away from them for a long time.

As a kid I remember vividly being homesick when I was at camp. The first time I did a week at a sleepaway girl scout camp I got physically ill I was so homesick – fever, chills, not sleeping. Needless to say I did not have a good time that summer. The next summer I went back and loved it, so much that I did 2 week and then a month. I still missed my family but I was having too much fun to notice.
When we moved from Belgium back to the US my freshmen year I was very homesick for Belgium – for my friends, my school, familiar surroundings and even speaking in french. I did my best to keep in contact with my friends via MSN messanger etc (world pre facebook) but it was hard. They were busy, I was busy and there’s a 6 hour time difference. Naturally those friendships faded, I made new friends and so did they. Belgium because more of a distant memory then home.
By the time I left for college I’d spent many summer abroad away from home & my family. I felt more than prepared to be a few hours drive away. I don’t remember specifically being homesick as a freshmen, but my mom assures me it happened.
When Steve and I decided to move to the UK the idea of homesickness never really crossed my mind. It never occurred to me I would have a hard time living overseas since I had done it as a child. Unfortunately I was very wrong. The first 8 months were extremely difficult. I wasn’t working and I didn’t know anyone. I found myself almost trapped in our flat. It was not an easy time for me.
Thankfully once I started working and met people life got better. We started to travel, we got a car and I started to connect with some locals. It was never like it was back home, but it wasn’t half bad.
Homesickness comes as goes, and when it gets bad it can be hard to want to communicate with loved ones at home because it just makes you miss them more. If you’ve reached out and I haven’t been responsive, it’s not that I don’t love you – it’s just I’m going through a rough patch which makes it hard. It’s also the reason I haven’t been actively blogging. I am working hard to try and overcome it but please bare with me during this period.

Say Yes to What Dress?

At some point or another everyone has some brush with fame. For some it might be getting backstage passes to a concert and meeting a super star. For others it might be catching the grand slam ball at a major game.

My biggest brush with fame came in about 1993 when my brownie troop was featured on nickelodeon in the UK. I didn’t get to say anything but I remember eating fudge on TV and getting to pretend to swim in a bowl of cereal thanks to their state of the art green screen equipment. For the next 25 years I figured that would be my last TV appearance – but I was wrong.

A few months ago I saw an add on TLC looking for fuller figure brides to be I sent an email in saying I fit the description and thought no more of it. In February I got a phone call from the production company wanting to know my story – needless to say I spent 2 and a half hours spilling my guts to a complete stranger on the phone. After I sent in a few photos of myself it was radio silence for weeks. I was pretty sure they didn’t want some loud american on this British bridal show. But I was wrong – I got the call in March to find a weekend I could visit the studio.

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Steve and I along with my old coworker Jess piled into our tiny Ford and drove the 3+ hours to Essex to Curves & Couture the bridal salon where the filming took place. We were greeted by a friendly film crew and shown around the set built just for the show. Steve headed off to a local pub to watch a game while Jess and I delved into a world of white chiffon, tulle and lace. We filmed for almost 5 hours, I tried on 3 dresses and had at least 6 peoples hands in unmentionable places. Unfortunately for me my parents couldn’t be there to dress shop with us but they were able to Skype in to see my top contender.

The episode I was on premiered the day we were flying back from Egypt so I ended up watching it at 2.30am or some crazy time when we got back. I wasn’t the main feature but I had a good few minutes of screen time. I am also featured for a few seconds in one of the shows adds that airs throughout the day.

TLC has aired my episode a few times – I’ve had a few coworkers ask if it was me they saw and most recently a middle school teacher of mine saw the episode and asked me about it on facebook.

The show is airing in the UK at the moment on TLC – it’s called Curvy Brides Boutique and it’s a part of the TLC wedding shows. I don’t know if/when it will go to the US but once I find out I will let you know. I do have a video clip of the add I am in – using my phone to film the TV. I haven’t figured out how to add it to the blog but I’m working on it. I also have a DVD of my episode and I am trying to figure out how to make that available for anyone who’d like to see it!

So keep an eye out – once I get a little more tech savvy I’ll let y’all know where you can watch my TV appearance.

 

 

 

 

Traveling to Hurghada

Our tans have long faded, the snorkle masks are put away and I still haven’t seen any of the pictures Steve got on the GoPro. Our trip to Egypt was 2 months+ ago, though it feels like a lifetime! August has been super rainy here in the UK and I am over it! I need to be back in the sunshine, drinking colorful drinks and swimming in the lagoon!

Unfortunately I have to wait another 5 weeks until I’m back in the sun again. In the meantime I figured it was high time I told my readers about our trip – where we stayed and what we did.

We booked our trip just 9 days before leaving because a) we’re crazy and we needed to wait till payday to book it and b) we we’re hoping to snag the trip super cheap (which we did). In the end with Thomas Cook, we paid about £750($973)for a week at an all inclusive hotel for the both of us, not too bad. If you can be flexible with travel locations etc I suggest booking late.

This was our first packaged holiday, flights and hotel all booked with one company so we didn’t know what to expect. We treated ourselves and bought some extra luggage weight, meals on the flights and picking our seats ahead of time. That set us back about £75 but after the flights we had I’m glad we at least had seats we wanted. The check in counter at Gatwick for Thomas Cook was a mad house! Long lines, not enough employees and no smiles. Since we primarily fly BA or Delta/Virgin this was a very different experience. Once we boarded the plane we saw what a “budget airline” was all about. The seats were like stadium seats with a bit of cloth over – no cushion. architecture-1750794_1920The flight attendants were nice but looked tired and overworked. After taking our seats the pilot came on and told us there has been a computer issue so they were going to be handling the flight paperwork manually for the flight. Way to make us feel safe!

Our 5.5 hour flight took 7 hours – and when you add an obnoxious 5 year old a few seats in front of you – it was one of the worst in my life.

Once we landed we found out just how careful and a little overboard the Egyptian government is when it comes to airports. We bought our visas in one line, got in another to fill out boarding cards, had our passports checked and stamped and then someone made sure our passports had been stamped. It was a lot of deja vu.

After getting our bags we were directed to a coach that would take us to the hotel. We had to wait on the bus for 45+ min for 1 guest. When she finally showed up she said her husband had walked away from her in the airport so she just sat and waited for him to come back. This was about 11.45pm local time, so it took a lot for me not to lose it at her.

Our hotel was the closest to the airport but we were the last to be dropped off so the ride took an hour. To say we were hungry and unhappy campers when we finally arrived would be a massive understatement. Thankfully the rest of the trip went much better!

AirBnB Packing List

Steve and I love airbnb. Its so much nicer to stay at a home then a hotel when we’re traveling – especially when it saves us a fair amount of cash. On average we book airbnbs for £40 a night where a hotel would cost us £80.

Depending on the sort of holiday we’re going for we stay in both rooms and whole houses. When we do a holiday with multiple locations we normally just do rooms, we save money and can get advice from locals. When we want something more relaxing or are staying in one place for a few nights we like to go for an entire house. Just makes it easier to relax.

When we do go for a whole house we’ve found some come complete with everything and anything you might want or need. Unfortunately they’re not all like that. Since most of the places we stay are international we find different people in different countries have different definitions of “we provide everything”. So in order to avoid being stuck without we’ve made a little airbnb kit we keep packed and ready for our trips. Due to the contents we dont fly with it but we could if we really needed to.

Here’s what’s in our AirBnB Kit

  1. Tea bags
  2. Instant coffee
  3. Sanitizing gel
  4. Dish soap
  5. Paper towels
  6. Laundry detergent
  7. Close pins
  8. Bin bags
  9. Granola
  10. Spoons
  11. Honey
  12. Set of sheets

We tend to pick up basics like milk and maybe yogurt in a local shop to cover breakfast. If we are traveling by car and on a strict budget I will even pack my crockpot to make/reheat a simple meal I can easily bring from home.

We’re looking at going away for the bank holiday weekend at the end of August so I will be making sure our “kit” is set and ready to go!

Do you have an airbnb kit? Or something similar that you always pack? Tell me in the comments below

Hidden Cost of being an Expat

Thanks to technology expats like myself are not longer subject to cray long distance phone call prices just to keep in touch with our families. We have the benefit of skype, facetime, email and many other communication apps which are free or at the most $5 a month (what I pay skype for unlimited calls to US a month). We can text, snapchat and facebook message our friends and family at home when we miss them.

If we are so inclined we can send snail mail – which I am all about. My mom and I joke that the two of us are keeping the US post office in business. I love sending and receiving actual mail, despite the cost. In the US a stamp for a postcard costs $.35 and its good for the entire country. For international mail – postcard or a standard card or letter, its $1.15 for a forever international stamp. Not a fortune but it adds up.

Here in the UK, sending a postcard back to the US costs £1 – $1.30. Not bad, just a bit more than the US. Sending a standard birthday card or letter to the US from the UK costs a whopping £4.65! As you can imagine sending mail back to the US is very expensive. Luckily my mom is happy for me to mail her a lot of mail and she then mails it from the US saving me a lot of cash!

When our friends and family send us things its really awesome – its easy to feel left out and forgotten when we’re out of sight, out of mind. Getting cards, pictures and small packages makes us feel very special. Unfortunately there is a nasty downside to receiving mail. Due to strict customs and VAT policies – royal mail reserve the right to charge us for anything that is shipped to us from another country. I recently received 2 tanks tops valued at $15 each from a swap I did with Reddit. It cost me £13/$16 to get them out of customs. In other words I had to pay for 1/2 of the declared value of the package in order to get it.

Filing taxes is never a fun experience, but when you’re an american expat its even more painful. We have to file taxes in 2 countries – the UK and the US. Unfortunately turbotax isn’t an option for such complicated filing so most families spend upwards of $600 to have a professional international accountant file their taxes. Due to the high tax brackets here it’s unlikely we would owe the US taxes on top of what we pay here in the UK, but it also means we are very unlikely to get any sort of US tax return.

Another very expensive part of being an expat is visiting home. I’m sure most people would love us to come home every 3-4 months to visit and catch up, but most expats find a yearly trip back is all their budget can handle. For example I was tracking flights to come back in September for 2.5 weeks and this was the breakdown

  • £600+ flight
  • £50 gas to and from the airport
  • £50 extra suitcase on the way home
  • £300 for airbnbs when I couldn’t stay with friends or family
  • £500 car rental as my mom is driving my old car at the moment
  • £150 gas for rental car
  • £400 eating out money – when you visit everyone wants to go out to dinner with you
  • £200 miscellaneous expenses

Total:  £2250 = $2932

That doesn’t even cover the price of buying clothes and goods in the US we can’t get here. Simply put visiting is a massive financial undertaking. Regardless Steve and I are doing our very best to make a trip home at the end of 2017/early 2018. We are very blessed my parents have offered to help us with a car, a place to stay and some cash towards the flights but it’s still the most expensive trip we will take this year by far.

I dont write this post to make anyone feel bad for us nor am I asking for financial support. I simply want to open people’s eyes to the costs that they may not consider when it comes to friends and family living overseas.

Fellow expats – have I missed anything? Any other hidden/forgotten costs I’s left off? Let me know in the comments