Tag Archives: American things to do

Happy Birthday Sam!

1st birthday

Happy 1st Birthday Little Guy! Dwarficus is 1!

Celebrating Sam’s first birthday was much fun. I prepared as much as I could the night before, but THANK GOD that my friend Tracey offered to show up an hour and half before to help. When I received the original offer of help from Tracey, I was not sure I needed it, but thought it would be nice to see Tracey anyway. When Tracey turned up with the blessed, blessed sugary caffeine (Starbucks’ new holiday lattes), just an hour and fifteen minutes before kick-off, I was still in my PJs with no sandwiches made, and 24 cupcakes to ice. Ouch.

With Tracey dispatched onto sandwich making duty, and fueled by coffee, I decorated Sam’s big birthday cake:

Kit kat cake, first birthday cake, M&M cake, easy birthday cake

Decorated his ‘smash cake’*, made a whole tower of cupcakes:

cup cake tower

and laid out the little spread:

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(I also managed to dress myself, although not wonderfully well).

We were so touched that so many people came to celebrate Sam’s special day. Sam was especially pleased to see his buddy Jake:

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and his friend Drew, who has given Sam lots of his favorite toys:

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and Drew’s sisters:

How cute are these guys?

How cute are these guys?

After food and play, Sam got to open presents:

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Including some sent over from Britain especially by very dear friends:

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And then was the smash cake, which Sam refused to smash, but ate rather daintily (why won’t he do that at home?!?)

Babies and fire, a winning combination

Babies and fire, a winning combination

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A super cute, super fun time. Thank you so much to everyone who did anything to help make it special

His friends

His friends

A little young to truly appreciate the festivities

A little young to truly appreciate the festivities

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*Smash cake: An American tradition of giving a little birthday cake to the birthday girl / boy on their first birthday, for them to smash up and make a mess with!

Best Baby Shower Ever

Baby shower

So, I fully expected not to have a baby shower and chalked it up to the decision to move while 4 months pregnant. I don’t really know too many people here and it just didn’t seem possible. Wes was having none of that – he said that I had to have a baby shower, and he would organize it himself if so required. And he did. He emailed some of my friends at work, and asked if they could book a room and suchlike, and he would set up a baby shower. Then the girls took over 😉

Apparently, Wes was never called on again, and they did EVERYTHING. Camille promised me a ‘real American baby shower’ and that is just what I got. The whole foyer of the 4th floor was decorated, and there was a tonne of delicious food:

Alanna’s cake pops were so good.

Camille even made a special punch:

Ginger, white grape and raspberry punch

There was a diaper cake:

Diaper cake

Coolest idea ever

And a special real cake:

Baby Shower cake

‘Special’ because it was half vanilla:

And half chocolate (both sides equally delicious by the way):

Me giggling at seeing the chocolate side

We sat around chatting, eating and drinking and it was nice to get a chance to mingle with people. Next, we played games (including an A-Z baby alphabet and word scramble of baby words) and then it was gift time:

Opening presents

I got so many presents, it was ridiculous. I felt utterly spoiled and learned an important lesson: there is no such thing as a bad baby-gift! When buying shower gifts for others in the past, I have always been nervous: should I go useful or cute? On list or off list? What if they don’t like what I choose? I can say, without a doubt, I loved absolutely everything I got. If it was on the list, it was needed and so a huge relief to get it. If it was off the list, it was a surprise and I adored it. If it was off-list it was often also something super useful I had forgotten that I would need, like baby bath products and BOOKS (how could I forget books??). And photo frames: I so need some of those, but would never have thought to ask.

I also take back my comment that UK baby clothes are way cuter than US ones: by venturing outside Ross’ Dress For Less (something I REALLY wish that I had done now) people got the most awesome items:

A cowboy outfit

Wait for the back…

Heh heh heh

Raccoon feet – came with a matching blanket, which I will bring FW home in 🙂

And I got a present from the Human Genetics Center:

Clothes, baby wash, wipes and bath squirters

I am kind of glad had a late baby shower as well. Superficially, I love being so big in all my photos: the bump is huge! More importantly: it really perked me up in the final few weeks which are difficult for me emotionally in some ways (battling impatience and yes sadness at not being pregnant soon, and fighting my induction / C-section fears). The ‘unknown’ is truly about to be on Wes & I and both of us are nervous. I am torn between wanting to start the ‘new phase’ (definitely Wes’ stance at the moment) and loving being pregnant, hating change, and just wanting to stay like this. All this talk of induction has made it harder because now I am not even looking forward to labor / birth… something I am working on.

So, this cheered me up immensely, and got me focusing on positive things. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I spent the whole time with a HUGE cheesy grin. I am touched how much effort Wes would go to (contacting strangers) and I couldn’t believe how much fun it was, and how much effort everyone had gone to, and with such grace! I don’t think I can ever repay them, but it is a day I will treasure forever.

Lekki Frazier-Wood

Ridiculous and cheesy grin I wore the whole party, and the whole way home

Two weekends of hometown touristin’ (pic spam time)

Sunrise over Houston

After really enjoying looking a little around my new hometown of Houston a few weeks back, I gave it another go for two weekends… but for different reasons.

Reunited… if only for a weekend

2 weeks ago my bestie Clio came all the way to Houston to see the bump (and me, I hope). We spent a lot of time discussing the serious issue of what R-Patz was going to do now, and whether K-Stew had done it for publicity and what the heck was going to go down with TomKat (you know, the important stuff). We also shopped until we dropped (hello Nars Orgasm, OPI blue me away and some cunning black tie-up wedges), visited the Cheesecake Factory and watched an appalling amount of trash: basically, did everything I have been missing since moving here and getting me back on track to feeling human.

However, I did feel that Clio should not be held captive and forced to give me the social interaction I have been craving. So we took a quick jaunt down to our local seaside town of Galveston and its ‘pleasure pier’. It was fun, although honestly? British peeps should think an over priced Brighton without all the yummy food stops or the impressive shopping lanes… yeah, a little limiting. As if to prove my point, the weather was also terrible British-esque, which led to a disastrous hat decision by me. Anyway, looking quite a lot like our honeymoon Brighton photos (but with the tremendous addition of young Clio) this is our Galveston pic-spam:

Clio declined joining in on one of these pics… wonder why?

I don’t know WHY I put this hat on

It was fun… and when we got home poor Walter got to be ridiculous and have a much hated bath:

Very unflattering whale-like photo of me… but Walter looks cute

All over now with a consolatory cuddle

This weekend, hmmm… well I don’t know if I was scammed. I signed up to a cake pop class on Groupon. The company *looks* legit on their website… and when I emailed them, they were responsive and booked me in for this weekend. Now, weirdly, the website does not have an address, but the Groupon coupon did. So along I went this Saturday morning. The address listed: 907 Franklin Street was an abandoned (and locked) office. But at 909 (an apartment complex) the concierge told me that Tastee Tees was 2 doors down – 917, next to a restaurant. Indeed, 917 was next to a restaurant. But, it was locked and I could only see a hallway with lots of doors coming off. So I called Tastee Tees… no answer (but I did get a professional sounding answer phone). I didn’t find this that odd, as I didn’t expect them to be answering if the business does not open on a Saturday, but they were teaching a class. Left a message… nothing… left another… nothing. Rang incessantly (thinking that if I uninterrupted the class enough they might answer). Eventually a woman answered with just as single “Hello”. “Hi,” I said, “Is this Tia [the owner of Tastee Tees]?”. “Yes”. “Hi, I am trying to find my way to your cake pop class and was wondering if you could tell me where it was, please?” *cue lots background noise…* “Hello… hello? Hello?”. Nothing. No call back. And they didn’t answer when I, and subsequently Wes, phoned back several times.

So… really weird. I was seriously excited to go cake pop making (I actually woke up on Friday with the words “Do you know what tomorrow is? Cake Pop Day!!”), so was seriously disappointed, and I will be seriously ticked off if I was scammed. What do you think? Is it a scam? Is that plausible? I’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, not to have the whole day ruined, I explored the ‘Historic’ ‘Theater’ and ‘Skyline’ districts of downtown Houston. It was awesome: very different to the rest of Houston (and much more Southern looking). Beautiful parks, and quite a bit going on:

When I got back, this time, Robert was being ridiculous:

Tourist-time in Houston and New York

I have been being a tourist. First up, in my new hometown of Houston. Last Saturday I was at somewhat of a loose end, so decided to explore my local ‘hood a little. Houston is huge and so I quite cherry picked a few smaller things to do. First up, antique shopping in Midtown. Midtown has a toad with a lot of antique shops along, each with quite a different flavour and I had fun perusing all the nik-naks. I photogrpahed this for Wes who loves antique highchairs, but as I am not a fan per se, he decided not to get it.

Then I went onto ‘The Orange Show’; quite a unique little place. And very hard to describe: just a $1 to see, it is basically an old, but very very small, theatre build by an eccentric who after writing a book on health and longevity wanted to encourage people to eat oranges. Throughout his life, he collected lots of ‘scrap’: pipes, wheels, seats and so on, and build a tiny theatre / maze in bright colours for people to watch his show. The show is no longer running, but the theatre is restored and you can wander around and just ‘play’. It’s kooky, fun and quite engaging.

Next up: Hermann Park and its Museum of Natural History, including their incredible butterly garden. The onto B&N for a coffee, a cookie, and a curl up with a new book on their big sofas 🙂 I had forgotten how much I like just going out and exploring.

The next day I flew to NYC for a training conference. I go to the hotel at 3, and knew I only had one afternoon to ‘see’ New York so I forwent the usual tourist options (which I would love to see sometime) for a 4-mile stroll (trying to get the exercise in). I walked from my hotel in Harlem (Harlem in itself is quite a fascinating site) down to Central Park, and was shocked at how beautiful and large Central Park was. It was nice to see so many people out and about being active, and how diverse the groups of people were: in their ages, their dress, their race, their activities.

I explored the park for a while and was ejected out – oh how convenient, on 5th Avenue. I meandered the shops, and admired the architecture

Learned there is a place called ‘Trump Tower’ the contents of which intrigued me, but turned out to be quite predictable:

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I went to the Lindt store… But really, where I wanted to go was:

[caption id="attachment_1333" align="aligncenter" width="535"] Tiffany & Co

Yes, with my new brown hair I totally put on large sunglasses and pretended to be Audrey Hepburn.

I am not the most conventional person in many ways, and rarely ‘fit in’, but I can also be very conventional in others, and sometimes… it is nice to be a cliche. I love Audrey Hepburn, I love her style, and by proxy, I love Tiffany. My parents (rightly) did not shower me with the 17th birthday VW Polo, and the endless parade of Ralph Lauren and Kickers shoes many of my peers got (I was not deprived in any way… I went on up to 4 holidays a year for freaks sake.. they just didn’t see the point or value in filling my life with those sorts of luxuries). But, on my 16th birthday: ta dah! A Tiffany necklace. Someone once said to me, “I don’t know why you wanted the necklace EVERYONE had”, but that was why I wanted it! It was sort of like a rite of passage (it wasn’t even an expensive one, just the Elsa Perretti small open heart in silver) and I got to do it, and got the magic blue box with the white ribbon (yes, I am a sucker for advertising). I loved it! And since then… I loved Tiffany & Co jewellery. Sure much of it is very affordable now – and T&Co made a decision to make it so – but heck, I can still choose to feel like a Princess. I think the jewellery is pretty, and extremely well made, and why not decide it is special? I am easily pleased 🙂 So, I went and wondered around THE 5th Avenue store and enjoyed it.

After that all sorts of pregnancy aches and pains were kicking in, and I was limping, so I got a cab back to the hotel, and ate take out pizza with netflix, surrounded by my goodies. Who says the life of an academic is hard?

What a haul 🙂

Happy 4th July!!

Time to appease the American right and wish y’all a happy American Independence Day! Some people are thoughtful and ask if I ‘mind’ being invited to a July 4th party. Not at all! To be honest, America is such a powerful nation, which Brits think of as quite advanced, that the English can quite easily forget the fact that America was ever a colony of England. Plus, our attitude towards the colonial past is generally one of awkwardness and embarrassment, and the modern take on our overseas territories is “take a vote… if you want independence… it is yours!” so there is no worries about those who defeated us in the past and separated off, as we tend to think “Yeah.. probably shouldn’t have fought that anyway…”. BNP withstanding. Plus, ya know, aside of worrying about their poor human rights record, it did Britain pretty well that America gained freedom; German doesn’t suit us 😉

Terrible pre-4th July decision to cut my own bangs 😦

That being said: I have not celebrated July 4th before. It is the day before my birthday; on my first year in the US I went camping for a long weekend, for said birthday, and forgot about it. For my second year, I was deep in grant writing mode – trying to catch up from the wedding – and similarly forgot (I think I only realised when I rocked up to an empty office). For this, my third, year I am a PERMANENT RESIDENT (which is about as close to a citizen as I will ever chose to get myself) and I was going to celebrate. We didn’t have any invites in Houston (sob) so no parties… so I insisted on a parade. Wes was wary about the quality of a small-town parade, but I explained that we don’t really have parades at all in England, so it would all be new an exciting to me.

Fire trucks!

Apparently I got the true experience: the mayor in a posh car, marching bands, annoyed looking children failing to complete some focused activity adequately enough for the parents (this time: skipping), mediocre fire trucks, stacks of cars of varying interest (CHECK OUT THE LINE OF DELOREANS IN THE GALLERY), political parties handing out propaganda and some poorly decorated floats. Oh! And stacks and stacks of candy which parade participants lob at the crowd. I think this is the main point of parades actually… so much candy.

The main problem was that the candy and beads were mostly aimed at children… and I didn’t have a child (apparently it is bad form to knock children out of the way for candy). Next year my pretty…. next year.

Oh, but next year I want to be IN the parade. I am serious. It is a new goal. And I also want to wave a Union Jack for a joke… but Texans have too many guns 😦

Tonight: Fireworks. Whoop!
Tomorrow: My last birthday without a stinkin’ child getting all the limelight: double whoop!

More Cloudland


This time we did 11 miles: The same 5-mile loop as last time, followed by a 2 mile waterfall trail and a 4 mile loop. The waterfall trail was stairs, stairs, stairs, but the last 4 mile loop was very easy – more like a stroll in the woods. If you can: go. If it wasn’t for the limited trail options, it would be my favourite place to hike.

If you are not on facebook (you’re not??) then checkout my Picasa album.

And get yourself there 🙂

Cloudland Canyon, Georgia and zip lining

View from Cloudland Canyon, Rising Fawn, Georgia

Last week I tried, for the first time, an American thing called ‘zip lining’. How to explain it to my British friends? Well, in the words of  Wikipedia, it is “a Pulley suspended on a Wire rope mounted on an incline”. In my words “sheer madness”. Basically you descend several flights of stairs to a wire stretching across some cavernous gulley, or alligator-infested river to an anchor wire considerably lower that your current point. You don a harness, some gloves and a helmet

It doesn't get much sexier than this... no really, I don't....

and attach yourself to said wire… and well, let gravity do the rest, turning upside down and dangling your hands if you dare can

Just like that. Genius.

. It is, apparently, a common American activity. It is, definitely, also enormous fun.

We rocked up deep into the Tennessee countryside (where no one can hear you scream) and climbed aboard a bus that poured out more smoke than Lydon B Johnson’s iron lung.

Why did I get on this ?!?

Wesley was full of excitement, me – I was a bundle of nerves. My nerves were not especially disquieted when a boy, who looked no old than 12 announced through his mohawk and acne,  that my safety was in his hands. Good-oh. Actually, he was extremely sweet (very kind when he said I seemed ‘kinda nervous’ and I announced this to be the greatest understatement since Churchill said ‘that Hitler bloke – not very nice, is he?’), and extremely competent and actually fairly attractive. Or maybe that was just a form of Stockholm Syndrome, as he held my captive life in his hands at several points. Either way, I returned safe and happy and wanting to do it again.

Here are some videos of me zip lining:

(yes, upside down and hands free thank-you-very-much), and landing almost perfectly:

– of course.

After that, we went white water rafting (like you do). It was fun too, and not at all scary. Our guide, Jody, was a sweet heart and it was safe and very picturesque. Both were done through Ocoee Outdoors and I would highly recommend them. We will have some more pics when we develop the underwater camera pics.

We also went for a hike at Cloudland Canyon in Rising Fawn, Georgia. It was 2 1/2 hours from Birmingham but the beauty of the place was absolutely worth it. There are 2 5 mile loops, and a 2 mile waterfall trail. We did one of the loops, skirting the canyon and seeing dells and glens and huge vistas of The Smokeys.

The hike was of moderate difficulty – the terrain was fairly easy, but it was steep at times and could be tiring. We didn’t do the second loop as we had to get to our motel, but we did do the 2 mile walk to the waterfalls. A lot of stairs (in fact nearly all stairs) but very beautiful. If you can get to Cloudland – go. Worth the travel (from Alabama) for sure. In fact I am off again this weekend, with Stella, Lizzie and Yann. Bring it on!!