Kiss Goodbye to 2009

It's that time of year to post New Year's resolutions that we all know I'll break during the first week. But, it's the thought that counts, right? I'm using this opportunity to reorganize my blog. Based on some recent posts by my AW friends Krista and Vero, I've decided to set some goals and a schedule that I'll be sure to not stand by for the New Year. Yay!

White Vero's schedule is set around writing, I didn't originally set out to make this blog all about writing. In fact, I started writing and blogging at around the same time, so this blog has mostly been about my random thoughts and rants. At the same time, I slowly added in teasers and posts about writing. So, I want to do a schedule around both random things and writing things. But, I can't just rant, right? I mean, I whine about lots of things, but I'm not a completely awful person. So, in keeping with Krista's 12 Blog Posts of Christmas idea, I want to be thankful for SOMETHING every other week, no matter how small it is. There's always something in the midst of all my complaining that I am grateful for. I'll post that to.

So, in keeping with the melding together of all these ideas, here's my bi-weekly schedule idea*:

Sunday: Random post (i.e. whatever I feel like posting that day)
Tuesday: Teaser Tuesday
Thursday: Thankful Thursday
Saturday: Random Post (because life shouldn't be too planned)
Monday:  Music Monday
Wednesday: WIP or Writing Wednesday (e.g., talking about writing, interview author, or guest author writes)
Friday: Photo Friday

What do you think? Is this interesting? Do you have any other ideas or these days? Am I doomed from the start***?

*Note: Although I will do my best to keep to this schedule, I know myself quite well. You can always send me an email through the blog by checking out my Profile to gripe at me for not keeping to the schedule. :-D
**I actually have another blog where I have been posting reviews, but since I can't keep up with it, I'll move those over to this blog and start reviewing books every other week.
***I like starting things off at the week's beginning (either Sunday or Monday depending on where you live). Since I live in Britain, my week will start on Sunday, 3 January. That means this new blog schedule will also start on that day.

Where is Laura? Where is Laura?

Here she is!

I've been away for a while, because my parents have been here over the holidays. We've been going places and generally having fun. But really, I've just been lazy about my blogging. I started out posting the third post in my Rome series, but realized that all the pictures are on the other computer. Being the lazy person that I am, I couldn't be bothered to get up, walk to the bedroom, and blog from that computer. Instead, I'll be incorporating the rest of the Rome posts and other travel posts in my new schedule I am introducing on 31 December. Stay tuned!

While the parents have been here, we've done such exciting things as walk around the German Christmas Market in the city centre, walk around the Arndale Center, sit around avoiding the snow and ice, and shopping at the Trafford Centre. Oh, yeah, there were a couple of days where the weather was decent enough to go places like Yorkshire! That was really fun, but also very cold. My feet never got warm, but that didn't matter, because the scenery was so pretty. Oh yeah, and there was the impromptu job interview with an offer in there, too! It's been pretty crazy!

I'll definitely miss the parents when they go home. But right after they leave, we'll drive down to Cambridge to see the hubster's family! Fun times!!

AND, in a little almost 3 weeks the hubs and I will be celebrating our 1 year anniversary!

My Time in Rome: Part 1 - Really Cool Free Stuff

With the holidays coming up and everything, I've been really bad about blogging. So, I'm going to try to remedy that now. But, we all know, I'm not a reliable blogger, so if you notice that I'm not blogging, send me an email to give me a good kick in the pants...

And now, on to My Time in Rome: Part 1...

Note: I'm not sure why the pictures are coming up different sizes, but you can click on them to see the full image.

It's a commonly known fact that Rome is expensive. I'll not dispute that. You can definitely spend a ton of money there, especially if you like to shop. Lucky for me, we didn't have a lot of time, and shopping wasn't that high on my list of priorities for Rome. Also lucky for me? My wonderful hubby had basically pre-planned our whole first day, so I didn't have to think about anything! His plan had us walking from the train station to our hotel, which was across the river in Vatican City. Since we had to pack light, there was no need to drop our bags, affording us the opportunity to sight see all day!

Based on our first day, here's a tip. If you don't want to spend a lot of money in Rome, go to the churches! Seriously, almost every church we went into had at least one work by a master artist such as Caravaggio, Rubens, and Raphael. Do your homework ahead of time to figure out which churches have what art. If you like art, churches are the way to go and they're FREE! I mean, if you feel moved to, you can donate, but other than that, it's an incredibly cheap way to see some amazing art. Even the art by less well-known artists were incredible. The churches were ornate and had such a sense of space. Words fail when trying to describe how utterly beautiful they were. So, here is an example of the art you can find for free (most didn't turn out that well, because of the lack of light, so you'll just have to go see for yourself!):

Above: "Ecstasy of St. Theresa" by Bernini
Below: "The Crucifixion of St. Peter" by Carravaggio

I could get into a whole art discussion about this one artist, because Carravaggio's one of my favorites. I took a couple of semesters of art history in college, and I find all things art and architecture fascinating. Rome turned out to be an excellent place to indulge that side of me. And, like I said, a lot of it was free.

Speaking of free, another great way to spend the day is simply walking around the city. It may sound boring, but not only is it a good way to walk off all the yummy food you'll be eating, there are some amazing buildings that literally took my breath away. Really. I gasped several times in amazement. Ancient buildings are tucked away between "new" buildings (like, you know, new ones from the 16th century). You'll most likely stumble upon some of these sites:

If you don't recognize that, it's the know, an almost 2,000 year old temple-turned-church-turned-tourist-attraction. It's famous for it's dome (pictured on the right), which is still to this day the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Can you imagine? This was one of the breath-taken-away moments. I was gobsmacked. I'd seen the dome in pictures, but you really just can't imagine the force of it when you see it in person. And, it's FREE!

After you pick your jaw up from the floor and continue walking, you'll likely come across many fountains and large obelisks just standing in the middle of many a piazza. Of course, you'll be looking at history. The fountains all have some sort of beautiful sculpture, most likely by a famous artist like Bernini. Many of the obelisks were either given to the Romans by the Egyptians or taken by the Romans from the Egyptians way back in the day. There's also quite a few columns dedicated to some awesome triumph over different groups of people by different Roman emperors. Those were equally cool. Some examples:

See? That fountain is Trevi Fountain, which had quite a few artists plan and work on it. The final product you see here was a combination of planning by Bernini (who moved the original fountain) and work done by Salvi. It's on most maps, but it's certainly not just out in the open of some huge piazza. The obelisks do tend to be out in the open, and they are plentiful.

You can also take a walk to the Vatican and see St. Peter's Basilica for free, but I'm covering the whole Vatican in another post, so you'll have to wait for pictures of that. If you're into ancient Rome, there are several sites you can see from free, like the Roman Forum (from the outside) and the Coliseum (from the outside). I'll cover these locations in a separate post as well, because we paid to go into the sites. There are loads of other ancient Roman ruins just lying about, though. So, just take a stroll to the part of town near the Colliseum (and brave the droves of people). You're bound to see some amazing things like this:

These were just some ruins lying out in the middle of some more modern buildings. It looked like an excavation that hadn't really been touched in a while. But, when we got up to the signs, we found out that the "curia" or Senate House (not pictured, because it wasn't there) at this site is believed to be the location of the assassination of Julius Caesar!! Seriously, and it's just waiting there for you to find!!!

Next up in the "My Time in Rome" series: The Vatican

I found Rome brick, I left it marble.

Well, ok, I mean, I actually found it a mix of brick and marble, but I had to have a quote by Caesar Augustus, right? And with that, I start off a short series of blog posts about my surprise birthday trip to Rome! Note: My husband told me that I couldn't brag about his surprise-building, gifting, or all-around greatness skills, so I'll try to keep it at a minimum.

In this episode of "Laura Amzingly Fantastic Weekend Getaway to Rome" (hmmm...I'll have to work on that title), I'll be talking about getting to and from Rome.

When planning a trip to Rome, one must be mindful of budget. If not, one could end up spending a small fortune on airline tickets, hotel rooms, and food before ever getting to the good stuff (not that the food isn't good...)! So, when Gavin planned this trip, he opted for a budget airline, because it was the most feasible thing to do. He knows I'm a total miser, so it just warms my heart that he thought to save us some money! Seriously, though, I was really impressed with the amount of research he put into this trip!

Our budget airline (which I won't name on this blog, because I'm not an ad or a complete meanie) had us leaving Manchester at a little before 7 AM. This worked out quite well, since I couldn't sleep with all the excitement. Plus, it got us to Rome in time to spend the whole day walking around! How awesome is that?

I was pretty impressed with boarding procedures, considering the horror stories I had heard about budget airlines, but this one had seat assignments! Unfortunately, it didn't assign us to seats next to each other. But, you know, by some miracle, I slept almost the entire flight, only coming awake to catch myself with my mouth wide open. I didn't hear all the advertisements they apparently made over the loudspeaker. Gavin didn't fair so well. His legs actually hit the back of the seat in front of him, and he couldn't move. So, tip to you: if you're 6'7", you might considering paying the 6 pounds to move to the seats that have what regular airlines call "economy" seats, but what budget airlines call "luxury" seats.

Since we flew the budget option, we had only a backpack and soft briefcase between us to avoid the checked baggage fee. It made landing and getting to the train and walking around Rome, MUCH easier. Speaking of getting the train, there was an express train from the airport to the center of town. Gavin did his research on this, too. So, we managed to avoid the lines for tickets by using the machines in the middle of the terminal. And, we made the train that was just about to leave.

When we got closer to town I was in awe at all the artwork that was just sitting around on the buildings! I mean, I was expecting Michaelangelo, Bernini, Caravaggio, and Raphael, but so much art already. I was blown away! I just wondered who the names referred to, and why the art seemed to be spouting obscenities at me. So, really, there was a lot of graffiti. Everything was covered in it, the train, the buildings, the underpasses, everything! BUT, rest assured, if you ever go to Rome, the rest of the city is much better (well, for the most part), and the graffiti tends to lessen in the more touristy parts of town. I was, in all truthfulness, impressed by some of the graffiti coming into town. It was very colorful!

Once there, we did a whole lot of fun stuff. Don't worry, I'll get to that in another post. But, now, what you've all been waiting for, our departure! We took the same train back and got to the airport in plenty of time to get to the gate. Only thing is, we followed the sign that said "To Gates". Apparently, that means "To Gates as long as you're not flying international...if so, you'll have to walk to the very end of the incredibly long building, past all the signs that read 'To gates' pointing you in the opposite direction to another sign at the very end that says 'To gates'" Now, if that's not confusing... Needless to say, I was tired after walking 2 lengths of the building after having walked for the last 3 days. But we made it to the gate. And, 30 minutes before they were supposed to board, they were boarding!!!

It makes perfect sense though, because the budget airline doesn't have you board at the take a bus and climb stairs. So, it takes longer, see. All perfectly reasonable.

Then, we waited and waited and waited while the flight attendants tried to figure out how to reseat a family that had been assigned seats in different parts of the plane when they had 2 small children. After figuring that out, they couldn't get all the bags to fit in the overhead bins. I think at some point the captains just said they were leaving, because we were 20 minutes late, and they have a tight turnaround schedule. So, as we pulled back from the gates, the flight attendants made the mad dash to stuff the overhead bins. One bin broke...and how do we fix that?! Masking tape, people...masking tape.

I thought I was done laughing for the day, until the flight attendant came over the speaker talking about all the sales and deals they had to offer. Yes, not only do they have to keep us safe, put up with our bad attitudes, and try to get us to purchase the meal deal, but now they also have to be walking ads about perfume sales! If I haven't seen everything...

Ok, so I'll admit, this wasn't really about Rome...but rest assured...I'll get there...

In the next several posts, I'll talk about the trip by category (e.g., food, churches, and Roman stuff).

Speaking of Debut Authors...

You can win a copy of Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick by going here. My friend, Steph, is doing a book giveaway this month--well, several, actually. This one ends tomorrow, 9 December at noon MDT. So, get over there and comment on her blog!

2010 Debut Author Challenge

The StorySiren is hosting a book challenge for 2010. Basically, set a goal to read a certain number of Young Adult and/or Middle Grade books by debut authors in 2010. I decided, since I've been reading so darn much lately, I would take up the challenge! I'll probably concentrate on YA, since that's what I enjoy most. To find out more and sign up for the challenge, click the pretty picture below:

The Story Siren
From the StorySiren:

What is the 2010 Debut Author Challenge?
  • The objective is to read a set number of YA (Young Adult) or MG (Middle Grade) novels from debut authors published this year.* I'm going to challenge everyone to read at least 12 debut novels! I’m hoping to read at least 30! You don’t have to list your choices right away, but if you do feel free to change them throughout the year. I will also be focusing on mostly Young Adult novels.
  • Anyone can join, you don’t need a blog to participate.  If you don’t have a blog you can always share your views by posting a review on, or any other bookish site.  
  • The challenge will run from January 1, 2010- December 31, 2010. You can join at anytime! 
* I would like to limit the novels to those released in 2010.
With that, here's a preliminary list of books I plan to read* in 2010 (ordered by UK release date):

  1. (07 Jan 2010) The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard
  2. (01 Feb 2010) Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore
  3. (04 Mar 2010) The Line by Teri Hall
  4. (16 Mar 2010) The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
  5. (01 Apr 2010) Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
  6. (27 Apr 2010) Mistwood by Leah Cypess
  7. (27 Apr 2010) Whisper by Phoebe Kitanidis
  8. (01 May 2010) Prophecy of Days - Book One: the Daykeeper's Grimoire by Christy Raedeke
  9. (06 May 2010) Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
  10. (01 Jun 2010) Everlasting by Angie Frazier
  11. (01 Jul 2010) Other by Karen Kincy
  12. (13 Jul 2010) Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus
  13. (21 Sep 2010) Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
  14. (14 Oct 2010) Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
  15. (2010) The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
*Bolded titles indicate that they've been read.

I hope you'll consider taking up the challenge and supporting the talented debut YA and MG authors of 2010!

Another Round of Teaser Tuesday

After my writing freak-out of the last two weeks, I forced myself to sit down and write. In doing so, an entirely unplanned character popped in to say hello. Not only that, she's forcing me to rework some of the locations I had planned before she showed up. But, I rather like her, so I think she'll stick around for a while. In this teaser, Hailey Sinclair is introduced to the reader. Anna has just arrived at a job site for a Habitat for Humanity house. As always, this is rough and unedited. It's what flowed from my head to my fingers in the first round of writing.

FYI: I'll be snipping the teaser on Wednesday or Thursday.

A Very Charlie Brown Christmas

Last week I was so excited, as I waited the two days between ordering our Christmas tree and its expected delivery. We don't have a car here, so going into to town to find that beautiful real tree just wasn't an option. So, instead, we went to the internet in search for that perfect tree.

I found it. Unfortunately for me, the hubby didn't agree. It was too big. We'd have to store it later. There would be no room to display or store it. As much as I hate to admit it, he was probably right. So, instead of the beautiful 6 foot fake, prelit black fir tree that ready to decorate with the 100+ purple and gold baubles, we got the 3ft tree with kid ornaments. I wasn't so sure about the ornaments or the twenty lights that came with the tree, so I ordered a pack of red baubles and a strip of eighty more fairy lights.

I sat at the table Friday, expectantly waiting between noon and 6 pm for the delivery (which was late, by the way). I even rearranged the table in the dining/living room and set up a display table so the cute little 3 ft tree could be seen over the other furniture in the room.

I kind of wish I hadn't.

It turns out, twenty lights made the tree even more pathetic than it was by itself. Eighty lights is a bit too much. Adding baubles to fill in the gaps in the branches only worked so much until the branches started getting weighed down with the massively heavy red foil.

Luckily, when you come through the door to the living area, you can barely see the tree over the couch. Or, at least I'll tell myself that until after Christmas when I can take it down.

Poor little tree. As disappointed as I was at first, the little guy is kind of growing on me. Not literally, obviously, I mean, he's still only 3 ft tall and not filled out so much.

Note: The table doesn't normally look that cluttered. Actually, that's a lie. It always looks like cluttered unless we have company, and then I throw all that stuff in a corner somewhere hidden.

In Lieu of Teaser Tuesday

So, it seems I have a problem. Whenever I get really excited to write more of SoMH, I sit down at the computer and find myself completely unable to think. Basically, everything comes out as gibberish. Because of this, I have nothing in the way of a teaser this week. I hope to remember that for next week. We shall see.

In lieu of a teaser, I am hoping you guys can help me out! I've done a little bit of Q&A with the main character, Anna whose POV I've been posting in the last several teasers. However, I think it would be interesting if you guys came up with some questions you'd like to ask Anna. I'll compile the questions and interview her, posting her answers to the questions on this blog at some later date! So, if you would be so kind, post a question (or a few) in the comments here or email me some questions. The more I get, the better acquainted we all get with Anna! Feel free to ask demographic, historical, deep philosphical, or any other kind of questions you want!

Here is a short character profile so you aren't completely flying blind:

Name: Anna Rose Lawton (Pictured here: Rachel Hurd Wood)
Age: 16
Height/Weight: 5'4" at 120 lbs
Hair: Long (past shoulders), straight, reddish/brown
Eyes: Smoky blue with a sapphire blue ring around the outside
Things I Do for Fun: Sing in church choir, Read, Watch movies, Play board games, Hang out with Megan
Favorite Winter Outfit: Knee-length blue jean skirt with a v-neck sweater and boots
Favorite Summer Outfit: Khaki shorts with a t-shirt and flip flops

Note: The image used to portray Anna is not owned by this author. If you own the picture, and would like me to take it down, please email me, and I would be happy to comply.

Christmas Shopping...Laura Style

So last Friday, my friend Hazel asked if I wanted to go to the Trafford Centre (it's a mall) with her. She needed to do some Christmas shopping, and I needed to get out of the flat for a while. I figured the mall would be a good idea based on two things: (1) I could actually get gifts early on this year and not have to worry about it later and (2) I would have self-control in my spending and not purchase non-gift items.

So, the goals were basically to get Christmas gifts without spending a crapload of money. I feel like my shopping trip was a HUGE success. You might ask, "Laura, how many gifts did you buy?" to which I would respond, "Zero. Nada. Zilch." You might then say, "Oh, then you must not have spent any money!" That would be a wrong assumption. In fact, I spent quite a bit, just not on Christmas gifts. Or at least, not on Christmas gifts for other people.

Here are some of the items I purchased:

New items in this picture = long sweater, wool tights, and purple boots.

New in this Picture: Same boots as above (yes, they're really purple) and a new teal coat!

New in this picture: Same boots (Yeah, I wanted to show off another outfit.The shirt and tights were new 2 months ago.)

As you can see, I had a great time shopping. And, I found lots of things. Unfortunately for everyone else, the things I found were oh so perfect for me. You might think this sounds really self-absorbed. You'd be right. But, I just couldn't help myself. And, I did need a new coat. And, I really needed some boots, because everyone has them. And, the wool tights are a must in the cold weather. And, well, the sweater was looking.

Tip to self: Don't go "Christmas" shopping with Hazel if a) you plan to actually buy Christmas gifts or b) you don't want to spend money. She makes shopping FUN!

So, yeah. I think it would be safer for me to do all the Christmas shopping online this year. But, there is the Christmas market in town where I'm sure I could unload tons of cash...errrrmmm...I mean...responsibly buy Christmas gifts under the watchful eye of my husband. ;-)

Yellow Squash? Who needs it?

That's right. I said it. I don't really care for yellow squash that much, but I blogged about how I can't get it here in the UK.

I was fairly upset about not being able to find something that I thought should be rather commonplace. We're trying to eat healthier (and cheaper) and also trying to keep half our weekly meals vegetarian. So, I've been looking for yummy vegetarian recipes that looked hardy enough to keep the hubby from wanting meat. I've found a couple of things, one of which was a wonderful stuffed pepper recipe that I just made.

Not coincidentally (it helped spawn the other yellow squash blog post), it called for, among lots of other things, yellow squash. I thought about what I could substitute instead and decided on eggplant (aubergine), because I thought it would have a similar texture. I also haven't cared too much for eggplant in the past, but I've tried it a couple of time recently, and it was quite good.

I have to brag on the recipe, because it was excellent. My substitution went over quite well! I'm now excited to make some meatless dishes. Do you have any to suggest?!?!

Yellow Squash & White Vinegar

Or rather, extremely commonplace things I can't easily find in the UK.

Yes, that's correct. For the last four months I've been on the hunt for white vinegar. Thinking maybe it was called something different here, I actually went online, found a picture of white vinegar, and sent it to a friend asking where I could find it here. She asked if I meant white wine vinegar, which of course, I did not. I meant, you know, plain white vinegar of the caliber you use to clean your coffee maker. In fact, that's why I wanted it! Well, after much searching, I found some. At the vegan grocery store down the road. In the cleaning products section. For a ridiculous price. And, I bought it. Now, I have a sparkling white coffee maker, and I'm so happy.

On to yellow squash, another item I looked for today. I couldn't find it on my online shopping website, and, admittedly, I didn't look very hard elsewhere. I did ask a friend if it was called something different here. (Coincidentally, I asked the same friend I asked about the white vinegar. She's very patient with me sending her random pictures asking if what things are called here.) Apparently, yellow squash is a yellow courgette (zucchini), but it doesn't matter. She informed me that you really can't find them in stores. I'd have to know someone who grows them. I don't usually like yellow squash, so really it doesn't bother me that I've had a hard time finding it. But, it's the principle that matters! I needed it for a recipe. Instead, I'll be substituting eggplant (aubergine) for yellow squash. The horror!

My Obsession with Books

If you know me at all, you'll know that, although I rather enjoyed books as a kid, I had long since given up on reading when I got into Junior High and my distaste for books continued from there. I don't know what it was, but I was just never motivated internally or externally to go find books I really enjoyed. There were the occasional few, but I certainly didn't devour them. That was, I didn't until I finished writing a dissertation, moved to a different country, and, I hate to say it*, read the Twilight series.

My husband will tell you that while we were dating (for five long years), he often lost me to the television. He would, in fact, be correct. I had a TV obsession for a very long time. If I'd had a DVR, I probably would have been watching TV at least 5 hours a day. But, thank goodness, I didn't. Still, I had DVDs of TV shows delivered and managed to hole up in my apartment for entire weekends at a time just watching those.

I'm somewhat of an introvert by nature, I'll admit that. In fact, after moving to the UK, I think I've started indulging that aspect of my personality even more. The weather is rather conducive to wanting to stay in, and, well, sitting at my computer in the nice, warm flat is a tempting prospect that I normally give in to.

On top of that, I am away from my beloved American TV shows. That's not to say the British TV shows aren't good; there's just not as many of the kind I like to watch and the season lengths are quite a bit shorter**. So, when I first got here, I had a lot of time on my hands (my boss gave me an entire month off after I defended) and not a lot to do. This is where Twilight comes in. I'd seen the movie on the plane on the way over here. Then I decided to test out my new gadget, my Kindle 2, by downloading the first book. Shortly thereafter, I had to fly back to the US for a conference and read the entire book on the plane. I just HAD to download the other three. I spent every spare moment at the conference (in sunny San Diego, no less) sat*** in my hotel room reading. I kid you not. You can ask several of my colleagues who I'm sure think me nuts.

Since this is quickly turning into a book, I'll try to end with this. After that, I had an obsession. I needed to read. The very thought of not having a book with me at all times squeezed like a vice on my chest. I felt incomplete. My husband was ecstatic, because I stopped bugging him about putting a TV in the bedroom and, instead, bugged him about letting me use the Kindle. When it was his turn to use the Kindle, I checked out books from the library. Then, when they library didn't have the books I wanted, I started buying them. Oooohhh...the horror! We hadn't planned on buying books here, because they will cost a fortune to ship back. But, they're my babies now, and they will be shipped back!

It's gotten so bad that I have about 10 purchased books staring at me as I type this, begging to be read. I have another twenty or so that I can't way to read again. Then, I have eight books sitting on top of the bookcase needing to be read because of looming library due dates. And, there's another four waiting to be picked up. On top of that, I have over 100 books on my To Read list.

This may sound commonplace for lots of people. But, not for me. Ask my parents or any of my English teachers growing up^. Sitting here, writing this, I have a huge craving for walking over to the couch and curling up with my current book. But, I'll refrain for at least another hour, because I have several more important things to do, like search for more books I want to read so I can add them to my Christmas wish list.

* * *

* I only say that, because of the "everybody's doing it" mentality that I strive not to have, but tend to fail miserably. Plus, the farther away from it I get, the more some of the things about the characters annoy me on a personal level. However, I read the whole series twice in about a week and a half, so I obviously didn't let my personal hangups stop me from enjoying the story.

** I also haven't quite figured out how seasons (or series as they're referred to here) work. If anyone in Britain reads this and would like to enlighten on the timing of new seasons/series of popular TV shows here, please email me.

*** Hazel, if you read this, that's for you per our conversation on how much that annoys me. :)

^Especially my Senior English teacher to whom I confessed my penchant for using CliffsNotes throughout the entire class and still getting good grades. It's horrible, and I regret how lazy I was. But, it was what it was... I did read at least three books in their entirety that year, though.

Effigies = Fun (?)

So, last night I did actually end up going to Bonfire Night, also sometimes, but apparently not usually anymore, referred to as Guy Fawkes Night. It was cold and raining when I left the flat, but me, being the ever loyal friend, kept my commitment to go see the bonfire and fireworks. And, well, I was a just a little curious about this whole burning of Guy Fawkes in effigy thing. I mean, I've never seen something like that except on the news, and from my experiences, it looked pretty brutal. I was half not expecting anything but a big fire and some nice fireworks.

My expectations were half wrong, because when I got there, there was a huge tiered stack of packing crates. Sitting atop the crate: a chair with the life-like dummy of Guy Fawkes. I kid you not. Unfortunately, it was too dark to get pictures of him!! So, you'll just have to believe that in the following picture, poor Guy Fawkes is very much burnt to a crisp.

The other great thing about Bonfire Night?? Well, that would have to be the organization Make Jesus Known, who sponsored this particular effigy burning and fireworks display. In addition to that, they sponsored the entertainment: Jesus Rap. Oh yes, Jesus Rap. They certainly made Jesus known, but I'm not entirely sure if they added to His reputation or took away from it. It was all in good fun, and well, I'm probably going to Hell for some of the I thought as I stood there listening to and feeling the heavy base drown out words such as "Representin' Jesus" over and over and over again. I'm not a huge rap fan to begin with (although I do dance to some really good Southern rap), and I'm just not sure that the audience at the park cared for rap either. The did get the Message out, though.

Oh, I almost forgot! I saw/heard something I never expected to see/hear at a Bonfire American! I mean, I'm sure there were Americans in the crowd, but this one was on the stage, announcing everything. It was unnerving for a little bit, because I wasn't expecting it. And, when you've been here a while, your ears get tuned to certain accents. Mine and the hubby's withstanding, I wasn't used to the American accent, and it was just...weird.

But, Bonfire Night was excellent. The fireworks display, when it finally started, was beautiful. It lasted for 30 minutes!! I dare say it rivaled the Beaumont July 4th display! The last few fireworks were a little scary, but so incredibly awe-inspiring. It was like being encircled in shooting stars just wafting to the ground. Only, then you realized that it was burning bits paper heading straight for you! Ahhhh...Bonfire Night.

Remember, Remember

Just a short little post here to show my excitement for Bonfire Night (also known as Guy Fawkes Night, but I have been assured that most people don't know who that is anymore) tonight. This will be my first, and maybe only, time to celebrate the squelching of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament a really, really long time ago. In celebrating, I will be watching fireworks, trying to keep warm by huddling near a bonfire that won't be nearly as big as Aggie Bonfire, burning a long-dead man in effigy, and eating wonderfully fatty British food served from a cart. I mean, how could this be any better?!

Sarcasm aside, I'm really excited to go have fun with my friends. I just hope the weather decides to cooperate, or I'll be completely soaked when I get home tonight. Given that I live in The North, I'm expecting to get wet even with the rain coat I'll be wearing. Fun times!

In other news, I've decided to only keep one teaser up at a time. Each teaser will be up for one week only. If I post weekly--which is highly dependent on when I write--then I'll just replace the old teaser with a new one. Otherwise, the old one will just come down until I find time to tease.

Clowns and Faeries and Mummies, Oh My!

For anyone that knows me, I am definitely not a lover of parties. I don't mind get-togethers where I know people, but when tons of people fill a house, I tend to get a little panicked. So, you might be surprised to know that I went to a house party this past weekend and had a BLAST! Who knew?!

As I blogged previously, I went dressed as an evil faery. It turned out that my friend didn't have a costume yet, and we decided to go as TWIN evil faeries reeking havoc everywhere! It turned out fabulously! Here is the evidence.

We'll be taxiing for the next few years...

So, our friend is in town for the next week. We all went out for a beer yesterday, and it felt like old times, talking total nonsense for hours on end. Surprisingly, the nonsense actually DID make sense. Here's one example:

My life is like an airplane. I've spent a lot of time building the plane, tweaking it to just the right specs. And, now I'm taxiing for goodness knows how long. I could still turn around and park myself back at the jetway, but I haven't yet. At some point, I'm just gonna have to get to the end of the runway and take off, hoping that all the things I've done spec-wise help me fly and don't end up helping me to crash and burn.

So, yeah, I'm taxiing. I've no idea what I'm doing, and I really wish air traffic control would just give me some freakin' directions already!!!

Fan-Faery-Tastic Halloween Costumes

So, I make a rule never to have anything to do with Halloween. Why? Well, it really boils down to my competitive nature. I like dressing up, but only if it's in a really freakin' awesome costume. Those usually cost money, something I'm not will to spend. I'm not into the whole scary thing, either. I get freaked out way too easily, so it's better to just leave me at home. Therefore, on Halloween, you can usually find me sitting in front of the TV watching some random show or movie.

This year, however, my friends are throwing a party. I missed their last fancy dress party and vowed I would be at this one. Given that promise, I went shopping for a costume today. Yes. Me. I came back with half a costume. Well, everything by the whole clothes part of the costume anyway. If all goes as planned, I will be going as an Evil Faery. I'm pretty much a bitch, so who knows? Maybe I can pull that costume off!

Banned Books Week - A Little Late

I decided to post about this last Monday, but, as with most things lately, I forgot. It's still Banned Books Week (ends tomorrow), so late is better than never. For those of you who aren't familiar with this particular week, it's not about going out and choosing which books to burn. No, instead, it's all about raising awareness that some people actually do go out and challenge, ban, or even burn certain books that they don't agree with in some way.

I'm all about our First Amendment rights, so obviously this bothers me. I recall reading several books growing up that I've recently discovered ended up on the Banned Books List. While I have no problem with people disagreeing with book content, I do find it irritating that those same people want to take away my choice to read or not read those same books. In addition, it's offensive to me that there are people who think I'm either too stupid or too impressionable to read something and not immediately agree with everything in the book. I'm also not to dumb to recognize sarcasm, something that it prevalent in many of the banned/challenged books.

Needless to say, I think everyone should take a look at these lists (there are several of them), and then they should choose a couple of books to read. You'll probably find that you've already read a lot of them, and you might be surprised at some of the books on the list (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn anyone??).

Istanbul: Day 5 - The Last Day

As sad as it is, today was our last real day in Istanbul. And, we, being the poor planners that we must be, thought it would be a good idea to go to Topkapi Palace today...a Saturday...the last day of Istanbul. Yeah, so maybe we should have gone earlier in the week.

Nevertheless, after another wonderful breakfast at the Hotel Nena, we took off in the general direction of Topkapi Palace, Haya Sophia and the Blue Mosque, a direction which we are now very familiar with. The morning was cooler than the previous days and much cloudier. It was very pleasant.

We actually found the street marked on the map and took the pre-planned route without getting lost, if you can believe that, and were met at the gates of the park surrounding Topkapi Palace with some very nice looking men with automatic weapons. They were all over the place, and it kind of reminded me of Colombia in 1998. But I digress...

Going through the gates was another amazing experience. The walls surrounding the park are high, so you can't see what your going into until you're there. Plus, it is literally right across the street from one of the largest, oldest churches/mosques in the world (Haya Sophia). The whole experience is awe-inspiring. You enter the park through a set of gates with gold borders and some writing I couldn't read. And when you get through, it's just...peaceful...bucolic even. Seriously, when we got in, we saw 2 cats chasing each other, and behind them, two dogs were chasing the cats (in a playful sort of way...they were definitely playing, not trying to eat the cats). It was hilarious! I tried to take pictures.

Anyway, it was just lovely walking through, and we were confused for a bit, because we thought we were already in the palace, but hadn't paid yet. As it turned out, they managed to take our money and we got into the palace just fine...along with every freakin' tour group under the sun. With our trusty audio guide (for an extra fee) that ended up telling us basically what the posted signs told us as well, we meandered along through the different parts of the palace looking at jewels, Moses' staff, St. David's sword, St. John's arm and head, and beard pieces, teeth, and footprints from the Prophet Mohammed. It was seriously cool...not sure I believe that it was the actual stuff, but very awesome nevertheless.

The palace was HUGE, and I think we ended up spending about 5 hours to get through the whole palace and harem (more about that in a second). I mention the time, because as we were entering the park that morning, a group got out of a cab. They were trying to settle on a time for the driver to come back and pick them up, so they asked him how long he would take. He told them it would only take an hour and a half. So, I want to know that the dude was smoking! Over the course of the day, I think we were standing in lines that long!

After most of the palace, we went to The Harem, a separate section of the palace that costs extra, and thus has fewer people in it. I couldn't help feeling like a prisoner the whole time I was there, even though it's where the sultans' private quarters were. It's just that, all the concubines and eunuchs lived there, too. It gave me a very eerie feeling, but some parts of it were beautiful, too.

We'd had almost no break from when we started in the morning, but we wanted to visit this handicraft school that is run by the Ministry of Culture, so we persevered and actually found the place! However, it was do to the directions from the Carpet Selling Philosophy Professor from day 1 that we happened to meet on the sidewalk. Seriously, we run into everyone here! He was nice and even though we wouldn't buy a carpet told us where to go for our handicrafts.

Cafer Aga (the g has a hat on it) Courtyard was lovely! Coskum (pronounced Choshkoom) showed us all the rooms where students learn all sorts of different handicrafts. It was incredibly impressive stuff. They teach glass painting, pottery, embroidery, calligraphy, etc. and then showcase the art in their gallery. Coskum even wrote our names in calligraphy as a gift! It was great! So, another plug from me, if you're even in Istanbul, go by Cafer Aga even if to just look at the art. It's beautiful, and if you go between October and July, you can see people making stuff!

Really, that ended our we were completely exhausted. Now I have to go pack, which I'm dreading, because I have to figure out how to fit 3 kg of tea and many other things into my bags and not go overweight. I even planned for this!! Hopefully, I won't have to pay extra.

I will definitely miss Istanbul, but am also planning my next trip. I'm still owed a honeymoon, and I think Turkey (including Istanbul) would be a great place to go for that. The people here are extremely friendly, and as much as I've joked about the carpet salesmen, I've felt so much hospitality from everyone. I would recommend this city to anyone looking for a nice mix of history, arts/crafts, culture, and fun. If you're every planning a trip here, let me know! I'll tell you some places to check out!

Carpet Salesmen Count = 1 (the first guy from day one), and he was so nice and pointed us in the right direction to where we needed to go.
Cat Count = 25...I got some pictures of loads of cats in different places

Turkish Guys Hitting on Me Count = 1
I was almost finished writing this, but then we went to dinner and hit up a jewelry store so Norah could spend the rest of her Turkish money. I was starting to feel neglected, because no one had said anything to me all day about how incredibly gorgeous I am. Fortunately, I got hit on in the jewelry store by one of the salesmen. He was so very nice and I even blushed with his compliments! He now wants to meet Gavin so he can "make sure he is good looking enough" for me. Hee hee... (Note: I find it really humorous that I attracted so much attention, and can only assume that other women from the US have also garnered the same attention. So, if you want to be reassured about your looks, come to Turkey. And, while I heard stories about butts being pinched, most everyone was very complimentary...not disgusting.)

Istanbul: Day 4

This week has flown by so fast, and we've barely scratched the surface of Istanbul. Tomorrow will be our last sightseeing day, which is a little sad. Fortunately, we plan to go out with a big site, but more on that tomorrow.

This morning, after our usual breakfast, we decided to visit Kariye Museum (the Church at Chora) based on a recommendation from a friend of Norah's who comes here often. It did not disappoint! The 11th century church has a huge number of 13/14th century mosaics covering the walls and ceilings. I can't describe how beautiful they were, so I'll try to post pictures as some point. The mosaics covered all sorts of things from the Life of Christ to the Life of Mary to the Miracles of Christ, etc. They were exquisite and simply breathtaking. Seriously, I gasped when I entered one domed room.

The other interesting thing about Chora was the sheer number of cats! My cat count for the day went through the roof when we came across 8 cats on the street outside the entrance to the museum. The cats followed us in, and were very friendly for having lived on the streets.

Anyway, we took a cab back to the Spice Bazaar, which has shops that sell, can you guess??? Spices!! And they also sell Turkish Delight and tea. We found a little hole in the wall and I purchased loads of different kinds of tea. Yes, I'm a total sucker. But, it was all really good-tasting tea! I made it out with only 3 kg of tea and sundries. :( My baggage weight allowance is screaming at me right now!

Loaded down with our bags (Norah's was 5 kg), we tried to walk back to the hotel to drop our loot. I used the word "tried" on purpose, because the more I walk around here with the map, the more I realize that it really doesn't matter. Either the road markings suck, the map sucks (probably), or a combination of the both. Whatever it is, we got lost. After wandering around aimlessly, we found a street that looked promising and walked into an opticians office to ask where we were. They didn't speak a lot of English, but pointing at a map works in any language, and we figured out where we needed to go. What an adventure!

We rested in the room for about an hour (it was rather warm outside), and then decided to take a trek back in the direction we had just come from to find the Suleymaniye Mosque. Once again, we got a little lost. Seriously, nothing is marked here and where the map says there's a street, there isn't! It's so confusing. Through the mire of "you are beautiful", "oh, baby", and "you look like an angel", we came to the mosque, eventually. And, wouldn't you know it? All of that trouble walking paid off...with a mosque that was almost entirely closed! I can only assume that it is an incredibly awesome site when it is not being renovated.

Dejected, we decided to comfort ourselves with more haggling in the Grand Bazaar. With only a moment of lostedness, we found an entrance that we'd been through before! Interestingly, we passed by the booth where Norah bought her bracelets. The man remembered us and said hi. It was a nice way to start off the second day of the bazaar experience. Then we walked around some more. Norah bought some things and managed to talk a guy down more than half of what he original said he was charging. He must have thought she was a total sucker...he was mistaken! I'm leaving the haggling to her from now on!!

We went back the way we came in to this Uzbek man selling embroidered things. I had tried haggling with him yesterday, and he really wouldn't budge. As it turned out, he was MUCH cheaper than anyone in the bazaar, so I bought something small from him. I liked him, and his shop was small and out of the way. I liked that too.

Taking a different route out the bazaar, we happened upon another hole in the wall place with a guy selling tea (the already-made-for-you kind). Norah wanted to get some tea, and I'm glad I stopped being a pain in the ass and had the tea! The guy who runs the stand was bringing tea to a shop down the way, and he didn't speak English anyway. So another shop owner came up and translated. He stayed at talked to us, because we were down an alley that didn't get a lot of traffic. He was extremely friendly and talked about going to school in Britain and how his wife embroiders things. We talked about textiles and he got us more tea. It was very pleasant.

Then we went to his shop. It was small, but he had lots of textiles and antique silver. He showed us some other things, and I think he knew we couldn't afford some of it, but he was proud of what he had and just wanted to show us. I told him he needed to get a website set up, and I plan to help him do that. I also said I'd mention him on my blog. :) So, if you're ever in Istanbul and you go to the Grand Bazaar look for Yasar (pronounced Yahshar), which is run by Amanullah Yasar. He had some really nice stuff and I thought his prices were extremely reasonable. I will post a picture I took in his store as soon as I get a chance.

That ended our bazaar fun, or so I thought. On the way out, we ran into an old friend--the carpet salesman that I wasn't so nice to yesterday, but who had been nice enough to escort us from the darkened, closed Grand Bazaar. He tried to persuade us to come by his shop, but we were tired, and I just absolutely cannot afford a carpet. So, I told him that. And, what do you know? It worked! I did also say that I'd try to remember to bring Gavin back when we come. Who knows, I may see him again!!!

Carpet Salesmen Count = 1 (although numerous tried to get us, we ignored them)
Perverted Guys with Stupid Pickup Lines = 8 (give or take a couple)
Cats = at least 25...seriously, they are everywhere!!

Note: If you want more info on Amanullah Yasar's shop, let me know! I'd be happy to send it. If he gets a website up and running, I'll link to it from here if I can. :) Also, I can try to give you directions to his shop if you plan on coming to Istanbul. It's worth the trip through the bazaar!

Istanbul: Day 3 - SHOPPING!

As the title of this blog post suggests, we went shopping today. And, I must apologize to Gavin straight away for spending our life savings. If that didn't get your attention...

We started off the morning eating breakfast in the hotel. Can you see a pattern? This morning they had potatoes, which made me incredibly happy, because they were so good. I'm quite impressed with this hotel so far, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who came to Istanbul (it's the Hotel Nena, in case you're wondering). The people are extremely helpful and pleasant, the rooms are nice, and the food is tasty.

Anyway, now that I've given a free plug to the hotel...over breakfast we decided that we would go to the Grand Bazaar today, and then we'd go see a mosque or two when we were finished. HA! What we weren't expecting (and really I should have since I've been to the big bazaar in Khazakstan) was that the bazaar would be so huge! To start out, we got lost on our way to the bazaar. Really, we didn't so much get lost as was we took a different route than was suggested by our friend. We did, however, find exactly where we think he was sending us. I bought some really cool little pocket/purse thingees made out of old dresses. The guy was really pleasant and I bargained!!! I think I did pretty well, but you never can tell with these things. Anyway, it was a great way to start the day.

Next, Norah bargained for in-lay boxes, that were gorgeous mother-of-pearl and wood. The guy drove a hard bargain, but I think she did great!! We made a good bargaining team. :) We looked at all sorts of textiles, new and old, embroirdered and dyed, silk and cotton. They just had stuff all over the place!

We meandered around the alleys and roads in the bazaar, which is covered, finding all sorts of random trinkets, old grammaphones, textiles, jewelry, leather, name it...I'm sure someone had it. Shopping made us hungry, so we ate at a little kebab place, and it was quite good. A cricket did fall out of the ceiling, but it was successfully avoided before it went in my mouth. I was freaked out, but...I kept eating. :) Hopefully, I don't get Cricket's revenge. Norah's rosehip tea was very yummy. I've decided I like Turkish drinks, which are sweet, the way I like them!

We found a place with some embroidered textiles, and bought a bunch of things. It was a nice little store out in the back of the bazaar somewhere quiet. I liked those much better than the main ones. For one thing, I think the people working there actually owned the stores. For the other, they were just less pushy, in general.

With our hands full of packages, we went back to the hotel for a break. Hoping to see the Spice Bazaar today, we quickly changed clothes (into something cooler) and left. Unfortunately, the guys at the front desk said we didn't have enough time. But, we did fret! We just just went back to the Grand Bazaar!

At some point, we ended up on one of the main thoroughfairs, which we tried to avoid for the most part, and got cornered by...can you guess? If you didn't guess carpet salesman, well, I'm sorry, but you're just not all there. We had done extremely well with the "nope" keep walking technique. In fact, we'd fended off all kinds of salesmen (the leather and carpet salesmen were the most persistent). One carpet salesman in particular actually ran up to me, and stood in front of me. So I stepped around, and said we weren't buying a carpet. Then I kept walking. He didn't like that, pursuaded Norah to look at pillow covers, and well, I got pissed off. If you've never met me, you would not know that I have somewhat of a temper (if you do know me, you would know that that sentence is an understatement). These carpet salesmen now know that when I don't want to buy a carpet, I don't want to buy a carpet. I didn't even yell. I just said, "We don't want to buy carpets," several times in a forceful voice. We ended up walking off to one of the guys asking, "why you gotta be like that?" To his credit, he comes up later in this blog...

Thoroughly embarrassed for being mean to a guy just trying to con some nice ladies out of a couple thousand dollars, I was led by Norah a d nice jewelry shop. We tried to bargain there, but weren't willing to pay what they wanted (which was probably a fair price), so we walked away. It was fairly easy for me to do that, because the pissed-offedness hadn't quite worn off yet. (Sorry mom, you don't get the necklace and earrings I found...) Luckily, right around the corner, Norah found us another jewelry shop and I bargained my way into a necklace.

We ended up back at the first store we went to, so Norah could buy some more trinkets. I have to say, out of all the vendors, I liked this guy the best. I felt like his prices were fair and he was just generally nice and not pushy. That probably means we got ripped off, but he made us feel bad while he took our money. :) Plus, he gave us two free felt ornaments!!

Anyway, after a long day, we ended up about to leave, only to get stopped by some lovely scarves. I tried on so many that the bazaar closed. In fact, it had been closed 30 minutes before we left! Talk about eery. The place was really dark, and all the outside doors were closed. We got a little lost, and I got a little scared. Fortunately, the carpet salesmen that I wasn't so nice to, led us out!!! So, if he ever happens to read this blog, I'm sorry I wasn't like nice. I didn't need to be like that. Thanks for helping us not get stuck in the bazaar overnight. And, to his credit as a salesman, he showed us his other carpet shop on the way down the street...

Dinner was at Rami Restaurant, which overlooked the Blue Mosque and the restaurant with the whirling dirvishes. Lucky for us, we got free music from the other restaurant. At one point, we could also see a dirvish in all his whirling glory! The food was excellent and the conversation was even better. :)

Today was a fun fun day. And, if Gavin is reading this and dying of a heart attack after the intro to this post, I didn't spend our life savings. I only spent half of it. :D

Carpet Salesman Count = at least 15 (but only one managed to stop me...and he got an ear full)
Perveted Turkish Men Count = at least 6, but these were much more discreet than before
Cat Count = too many to count, but if I had to'd be at least 20

Istanbul: Day 2

My goals for this morning were to count how many times a man told me how gorgeous I am and to avoid, at all costs, carpet salesmen. I accomplished both those goals. I am apparently the most beautiful person on the planet according to at least 6 men, some of whom were trying to sell me things I'm sure and one of whom I think may have been propositioning me. Plus, I didn't get let into any carpet stores. "Nope" with a stern look at the growd while walking quickly away from the dudes harrassing you to buy carpets seemed to work quite well.

Carpet salesmen and perverted men aside, today was brilliant (yes, that sounded very British). We started off with another lovely breakfast at the hotel followed by the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. There were a lot of artifacts there, but I think what took the cake for me were the rugs/carpets. I know that after complaining about carpet salesmen so much that it may be difficult to believe me there. But, really, the carpets were amazing! They had carpets there from the 12th century, and the work was spectacular. They were gorgeous. Plus, the entry was pretty cheap compared to some of the other places. It was well worth the visit.

We spent quite a bit of time at the museum, and then it was time for lunch. So, we decided to go to the Arts and Crafts showplace, where there was supposed to be a good cafe. We didn't get lost, really, but we had a hard time finding the place. And, on the way, several very helpful carpet salesmen tried to point us in the right direction...and also sell us carpets. We got the direction and ran with them...well...walked quickly. :)

We finally found a place to eat light, and it was tasty. Then we saw some Turkish arts and crafts that we could have bought, but couldn't afford. :( They were beautiful pieces and all handmade, which was why the cost so much. But, still...

After the arts and crafts, we decided to look at Mosaics. The only thing was hidden! Seriously. We walked down where we thought it was (in the middle of a Bazaar next to the Blue Mosque) and couldn't find a thing other than stuff to buy. After wandering around a while, Norah stopped in a hotel and asked for directions. As it turned out, it was in the little bazaar, and the sign was in Turkish. Who knew?! But, it was well worth getting a little lost, because they had mosaics from like early 6th century all over the place. It was a floor and some wall-coverings that were excavated and preserved, after a lot of work, from several locations around Turkey. From above looking down on the floor, the mosaics actually looked almost like paintings. It wasn't until I got closer that I noticed the tiles were about 1/4 inch square and set in with different colors to emulate folds in clothing and muscles on legs. Seriously, very awesome!

This was followed by a little shopping. I bargained for my first item: a Nazar Boncu-oo-u (it's not spelled that way, but can't find the actually letter which draws out the sound of the first u).It's supposed to ward off the evil eye, and I found a pendant that I thought was pretty. The guy wasn't pushy either, which I liked. Plus, he helped us find someplace else we were looking for. After I paid for the thing, I heard a scuffle in the walk-way. A dude was chasing another dude yelling at him in English. His harsh words ended in, "you son of the bitch", which had two guys not had to drag the guy back, would have been really funny. I'm still not sure what made him so mad, which I saw another guy walking away looking very pleased with himself. Speculate away!!

Back to the Blue Mosque we went. I wanted to see it for myself, without a tricky carpet salesman rushing we through. We got there in time for the call to prayer. We watched, and it was quite interesting. I wanted to know why people seemed to leave after different prayers, so I asked the security guard who was very nice and tried to explain. I'm still not sure why they left at different times, but I can now read all about Islam, because he gave me several books. I'm quite keen to read through them, as he was so helpful, and I'd like some explanation for what all they were doing.

So, that was about it...but I can't forget to mention the cats. They're everywhere! I don't see dogs around that much, but man these cats breed like rabbits!!!

More tomorrow...we're going to the Grand Bazaar, where I'll have to work on my bargaining skills and fighting men off. Really, do they think it works to pick up a girl by saying, "you're really pretty, wanna meet up with me later?" Umm, yeah.

Istanbul: Day 1

I realize it's Tuesday, and I usually post a teaser. But, in celebration of my awesome MIL, who took me with her to Istanbul, I'm going to try to blog about the trip every day we're here. Lord only knows if I'll actually blog every day. But here goes...

Well, after a very exhausting day of walking, looking at old stuff, trying to look as mean as possible, apparently looking as friendly and open as possible, and having to say 'no' repeatedly to people who mistook the 'mean' look for the 'I'm here to spend tons of money on carpets' look, I AM PLUM TUCKERED OUT. That isn't to say I didn't have a great time today, because I definitely did.

We (Norah, my MIL, and I) started out a bit late this morning, because the 2 hour time change had us staying up later than we would have liked. But, after a lovely breakfast (included in the room price!) at the hotel where we could see the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. One of the hotel staff offered to help us locate the places we wanted to go. Which started off a conversation about whether or not I was in school. He apparently thought I was in high school. Seriously. I'm not sure if that was a compliment or not, considering that was at least 10 years ago. But, well, it was funny.

This first day was to be spent in the Architectural Museum and Topkapi Palace. Little did we know that the former was the size of a city. So, most of the day was spent at the museum. I can't tell you how amazing it was to see parts of the tiles from the Ishtar Gate of Babylon.

Leaving the museum for some lunch, we ran into Carpet Salesman #1: the Philosophy Professor. I tried to avoid him. I really did. Norah even made a good stab and getting rid of him, but he literally RAN after us. I mean, what can you do when the guy stands in front of you, blocking your path? Well, I could have been really mean, but I hadn't learned my lesson yet. We followed him back to his store. He served us some lovely tea and proceeded to spread carpets out in front of us "just to show us." Although he was an excellent salesman and seemed like a nice guy, you can't sell carpets of people who ain't got the dough. So, we left carpetless. (And for those of you wishing to make a dirty joke here, save it. I'm sure I've heard it all today...)

Lots of walking comprised the first half of the day, and we ended up coming back to the hotel room for a short rest after the longer-than-necessary carpet setback. We had planned for lunch, but we didn't really have time, so we ate a snack we'd gotten at Heathrow, and headed out to the Blue Mosque. According to our guidebook, it was the only thing that would be open long enough for us to see it.

It's amazing how close we are to everything, and it didn't take us long to get to the mosque. IT'S GINORMOUS! And, I'm glad it's a mosque cuz when I walked into the gates and they had booths set up with people selling just about anything you can imagine, I thought about a particular passage in the Bible I actually remember from Sunday School...

Anyway, we found the "visitor's entrance" off to the side and proceeded in that direction. Enter Carpet Salesman #2: Tour Guide for the Blue Mosque. He was very nice indeed, even though we walked right past him and kept on going. In fact, I had the "if you mess with me I'll kill you" look that has seemed to work on other trips. It doesn't work here. No, instead, apparently this look is just a challenge. Either that, or they think I'm flirting.

Tour Guide guy gave us a nice tour of the mosque, which I don't think we would have had without him. He pointed out all sorts of things and told us about holy days, etc. I was a little surprised when I saw that not all the women had their heads covered, and well...I just didn't seem right. But, that's just me. He said it wasn't required for visitors, but still.

Then we went on a tour of the outside of the mosque, the old stable areas, and some old old houses. This tour ended at...a carpet store. And, I actually considered buying one. So much so, that I asked the price. Well, let's just say...I didn't buy anything. As lovely as they were, I can't spend half my rent on a carpet. And, it made me feel a little bad, because they'd gone to so much trouble trying to sell us stuff. And, even though we didn't buy a carpet, Tour Guide guy continued our tour all the way to the Hagia Sophia, where he informed us that it was open until 7:00.

We went in, and it was AMAZING. If I thought the Blue Mosque was huge, wow, there are no words to describe the Hagia Sophia. It's ridiculously old, and incredibly beautiful in a stoic kind of way. I just can't imagine how it was built. They were doing a lot of restoration on the mosaics, so we didn't get to see the whole thing, but we got a good idea of the massive size of the place. Seriously, I wish I could describe it, but I can't. You just have to go!

The day ended with some dinner at a place we were pressured into eating at. Seriously, men here have no problem standing directly in front of you, telling you what to do! Fortunately, the food was really good, and it was served on a terrace overlooking all the sites!!

Now, throughout the day, I'd had several flirting men (just ask Norah), but I think the waiter took the prize for most flirtatious. Even after I said I was married--by which he was completely shocked--he continued to flirt. It was kind of funny actually. And, he managed to jump into a picture Norah was taking. My facial expression may have been pretty funny. I'll have to see and post it if so.

And, that's basically it for the day. I'm tired and will be going to bed as soon as I dry my hair. I'm thinking of making it into a big poofball. Possibly, I'll put my lipstick on crooked tomorrow as well, and paints a weird mole on my face. Do you think would get them all off my back? There have been very few times in my life when I really thought I NEEDED to have a man around (the car dealership being another of those times), but I have to say...for reasons other than the obvious one...I wish Gavin were here. At least he might scare off some of the carpet salesmen!

Want time to write? Get your husband an Xbox 360

After a year of saying "no", I caved this weekend and told Gavin he could get his Xbox 360. Of course it had nothing to do with recent decrease in price, but everything to do with giving him an outlet of fun so I could write in peace. Actually, it was mostly about the price drop.

Today we went into town, hoping to get the best deal possible. I think we did well. All-in-all, we came away with the Elite console, an extra wireless controller, and 5 good games. We didn't pay much more than what the console itself cost, so I figure the shopping around paid off.

You know what else paid off? Gavin sat in front of the monitor most of the day, mostly getting himself killed over and over again, while I wrote. It was a very productive day indeed!

Tomorrow, I'm thinking we'll have to break out something a little less Indiana Jones or Kung Fu Panda. Ohhh...yeah!

I predict very few words written tomorrow.

Now Showing at LiveJournal: This Blog

I'm a follower. I'll admit it. And, being such a fantastic follower, I've followed several other AW peeps over to Live Journal. That's not to say things are stopping here on Blogger. Do not despair for I am still posting here!

Just in case it's easier for people to check out my amazing writing skillz (notice the z, which indicates how ridiculous that statement just was), I'm mirroring this blog onto this blog:

I'm still working out the kinks. For example, currently, the layout over at Live Journal sucks. Hopefully I can remedy that with the help of Vero (who got me started on this mirroring stuff). Only time will tell!

Because I was bored...New Layout!

Through a mix of boredom, jealousy, and a good case of the crud, I decided to change the layout on this here blog. Gavin should come along in about a year or so when he gets tired of my bugging him to read the blog and realize that it's different than the one he set up. Actually, it was different before this layout change, because his was boring. But, well, what can a girl do?

(Gavin if you do wander by this blog--the blog that you started and subsequently didn't post on--any time close to the posting date, I do apologize for my lack of faith. But really, it was warranted, right?)

I've been in bed most of the day, because I just don't feel that good. At least, that's my excuse. Yeah, I think it's a good one. **cough, cough, sneeze** And, I decided to read some blogs (check them out over in the sidebar!). I have to say, I was quite jealous with the layouts. So, I figured out how to get my new shiny layout here! I had to go with something dark, because, well...the name of this blog kind of lacks the sun. I should have also gone for something completely grey, like how most people view Manchester. But, I had to have SOME color in my life, right?

So, what do you think? Like the layout? It's ok if you don't, but I will hate you. Just so you know. ;)

Quilters and Vendors and Lectures, Oh My!

This is a little late in coming. Honestly, I had planned to post this Monday, but what can I say? I'm just lazy! You probably already knew that, so I don't feel too bad. Anyway, last week I accompanied my mother-in-law to a quilt festival in Birmingham (not the one in Alabama).

I'd like to say that I spent every waking hour looking at quilts, shopping, taking classes, and generally having a quilt-tasticly good time. Don't get me wrong, I did have a good time. But, I was a little overwhelmed, causing me to hole up in the hotel room most of the time. It turned out to be incredibly productive on the reading and writing front. Plus, I did grow a pair and ended up taking pictures of quilts and buying random things from vendors. I even stood in front of people to help my mother-in-law show her quilts!! (Shameless plug time:

I took some pictures at quilt show of some absolutely amazing quilts. I'm not putting them all on here, because I don't have room. But, I've picked some of the ones I loved (and making sure to credit the quilter!!). I tried to add the credit on the images themselves, but since they appear kind of small, I'm also adding the credits directly below each quilt with the quilt's title. Enjoy!

"Heat" by Ferret Fabrications

"Second Spring" by Jenny Bowker

"Bushfire Sunset" by Lisa Walton & Nic Bridges

I can't take my mind off this damn song...

Seriously. I am currently listening to The Blower's Daughter by Damien Rice for, I think, the 10th time in a row. It's sad. I have a song obsession, much like other obsessions I seem to be forming. If you haven't heard it, listen to it now:

A Choral Version (that happens to be gorgeous)

I previously blogged about music that was true in its musicality and lyrics. This is one of them. It brings so many emotions out, and images flash in my head when I listen to it. I think I will play this a lot when I'm writing. It definitely conjures up scenes that I would like to write.

Anyway, I like it so much, I just blogged about it. Thanks for the ladies over in AW for making me stumbling onto Damien Rice!

In Guide We Trust

We just got back from a 3-day weekend trip to Scotland with Gavin's parents. It was great fun. We started out in Manchester, driving through the Lake District on the way to Helensburgh. Luckily, I wasn't driving, so I actually got to enjoy the scenery in the Lake District. It was beautiful, and I'd like to go back (as a car passenger) to take some of the back roads. The sun was out on Friday when we drove through the Lake District, so every British person alive seemed to be there. We tried to go to Beatrix Potter's farm, but realized too late that it would be flooded with people, and we wouldn't be able to get a ticket. This was after sitting in a queue while waiting for the ferry across the lake.

By the time we got across the lake, we were all quite hungry. Fortunately, Gavin brought along the Good Pub Guide 2009, so we had no problem locating a good place to eat, drink, and be merry. We've used the guide three times to find places to eat, and all three times it has delivered. The food was excellent, and Gavin said the beer was great! So, from now on, we won't doubt the guide.

After that, we made our way to Helensburgh to meet with some of Gavin's dad's friends who had been vacationing in Scotland. We ended up having an excellent Italian meal and going to sleep quite late!

The next morning, it was raining and yucky, so we decided to forego a drive into the Highlands and settled on a trip to Culross instead. That turned out to be an excellent idea, as the first property bought by the National Trust for Scotland is there. In fact, almost the entire 16th century village has received funds from the NTS to help refurbish the beautiful buildings. We walked through the "palace" and had a guided tour of the village.

We then drove to Bannockburn, where Robert Bruce led the Scots in a decisive victory over the bloody English! :) It was neat, but we didn't get to spend too much time there, as we were a little late. However, we managed to take pictures in some chain mail. (I'm the demon-eyed b***h in the middle).

We went back to Helensburgh, had dinner with Gavin's cousin and her husband, and then went to sleep. This morning, I woke up to this:

Needless to say, it was a great weekend!