Friday, 30 May 2008

The time has come for a spree!

As I’ve said before, I am not one of those scrappers that buys a lot of stash a lot of the time. I used to, though but thankfully this was when I started scrapping ‘properly’ and the variety of materials and tools available isn’t what it is now. So even though I shopped a lot, I still don’t have a huge stash. Through the years, more and more things have become available and I am so bewildered with choice that I shop less and less.

The last couple of years I have literally just bought essentials (adhesives, page protectors, that kind of stuff) and had one or two big shops a year. I am trying very hard to use what I have and I think I am winning - and have even had big clearouts where I let go of those things that I just know I will never use, that perhaps came from kits or from some impromptu shopping spree years ago.

Last weekend I was putting together kits to take to my Tuesday crop and I must admit I found it a little harder than usual: I am running a little low on stuff. Sure, I still have a cupboard with lots in it but stuff like patterned paper isn’t that plentiful and I’m even struggling with the colors of cardstock I have left. It must be time to shop again – and it’s about right as I am going to Scrap-a-Ganza (SAG) next weekend!

SAG is one amazing scrapbooking weekend – it’s in Holland, it’s a whole weekend, it has amazing classes and people from all over Europe. This is my third year and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. It’s amazing how styles vary throughout Europe and there are some very talented ladies there, both as teachers and as participants.

SAG also has a number of shops selling all sorts of yummy stash and the infamous pizza box shopping (where you pay a set price for all the stash you can fit in a pizza box) which is a great way of stocking up on ends-of-lines and retired products. Last year I went a little nuts (and don’t forget this is all in Euros, so it’s a better deal than purchasing in pounds) and adding my shopping to all the wonderful stash I got in class kits and registration gifts, I didn’t need to buy anything for a whole year!

Although the weekend has suddenly crept up on me (I guess being in Croatia last week made me forget a little bit) I am actually very excited to go. I love the whole thing, from meeting old friends to making new ones, learning new techniques, seeing all the new pretty things that I can buy, creating amazing layouts in the classes and of course, a weekend where I can just relax and enjoy not being a mommy or a marketer or whatever. It’s a great indulgence and I try to sleep in as much as I can, enjoy the lovely surroundings whenever I’m not in class, even go for a couple of runs. After the weekend I come back relaxed, refreshed and happy with all my new stash and layouts.

I must get cracking on sorting out my tools, my photos and my clothes! Before I know it I will be on that plane on my way to Holland and to once again experience the delights of SAG. When I return all my lack-of-stash problems will surely be solved and I will face the issue of where to put it all

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Sunny skies and blue seas...

When I booked our holiday to Croatia I knew only a few things about this country:
  1. it used to be part of Yugoslavia
  2. they have a good football team
  3. they also have good tennis players
  4. Dr Kovac from ER is Croatian

After spending a week in and around Dubrovnik I have now learned a lot more about the country but have also grown to appreciate it’s beauty and the kindness of the people – not to mention the fabulous food and sparkling clear seas.

We stayed in Babin Kuk peninsula, in the Club Valamar hotel which was all inclusive (well, it includes all meals) and has a lot of activities on offer. It proved to be an ideal base for us, travelling with a little boy, as it was very easy to get to Dubrovnik on the bus but it was also a nice place to come back and relax in or use the facilities. It was also exciting to wake up in the mornings and find that yet another huge cruise ship was just outside the window!

Dubrovnik itself is beautiful. I hadn’t quite appreciated the fact that the city was surrounded by huge walls and also by mountains and the sea. We spent a couple of days walking around the city, found a little cafĂ© with the most amazing views and explored the city walls while taking hundreds of photos.

We also went down the coast to the little resort of Cavtat where I had my birthday lunch and we had a very pleasant afternoon strolling around and taking in the views. We got there by bus and it was a very busy route but there also was something quite nice to be sharing the experience with locals.

We also took a little cruise to three Elafiti islands just off the coast – we got collected from our hotel and spent most of the day going from one little island to the other, all gorgeous and culminating in Lopud island which even had a sandy beach!

We also spent some time walking from our resort to the other side of our peninsula, to Lapad. The walk was not very long but it was very, very scenic! It took us to a cute little resort with a very pleasant pebble beach, a few restaurants and cafes and even a playground with bouncy castles and trampolines.

The boys spent a lot of time in the indoor pool (the outdoor pool wasn’t heated and not very warm) which gave me time to enjoy the sun, which shone brilliantly most days we were there. Then we would all walk back from the pool, which was in a nearby hotel that shared facilities with ours, and to our hotel, via a very pleasant walk.

The whole week was generally quite relaxing and filled with adventure and breathtaking scenery. I fell in love with the people and their warmth, as well as their beautiful country and relaxing Mediterranean lifestyle, as well as the lovely sunny skies. I hope we return someday soon.

Monday, 26 May 2008

It's always hard to come home

It's very hard to come home, especially when it's been so sunny in Croatia and

we've come back to the most awful weather here in the UK.

Croatia was beautiful and we had a great time. I will write more in future posts but I'll leave you with this photo for now, to cheer me up on such a dreary, cold, rainy, grey day.

Isn't it beautiful?

Friday, 16 May 2008

Out fishing...

...or rather, on vacation. I'm heading off for (hopefully) sunny Dubrovnik, for a week of rest, relaxation, family fun and sightseeing. I've never been to Croatia before so I'm really looking forward to it.

I will of course be taking photos. Too many photos! So there will be plenty to scrap when I get back and I will add another weird stamp onto my passport. Ah, the advantages of not having an EU passport - I always get a stamp. It makes my passport look used and makes me feel like an actual world traveler. Never mind that most of my travel is to the USA or Western Europe but hey a stamp is a stamp, right?

See you when I get back!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Bright lights, big city

I read something quite surprising in last weekend’s papers: something like 80% of the population wishes they lived in the country. That seems an awful lot – doesn’t it?

I am firmly in that remaining 20% that does not want to live anywhere near the country. I’m a big city girl and that is absolutely fine by me, fantastic in fact. The bigger the city, the happier I am. Except for Mexico City, I don’t think there is a city out there that I wouldn’t like to live in, especially in England.

While the issue of Milton Keynes’s “cityhood” is always up for debate, I consider it a city. A small one, but a city nevertheless. Here in England the boundaries between a city and the country seem rather fluid and can sometimes seem to get confused, but back where I’m from the city is where everyone seems to live and the country is anywhere without a Vips (local restaurant and also a local joke, so apologies if you didn’t get it).

Perhaps this is because of the rather unique situation Monterrey has in the surrounding area: rather like Las Vegas, the city is everything that’s built up and the country is the sparsely populated desert that surrounds it. Nearly 4 million people live in Monterrey, the 3rd largest city in Mexico and arguably the most important city in industrial terms. This is where I grew up (albeit in the suburbs but still very much a city) and what has shaped my views on the country.

I then moved to England where pretty much everywhere seems to be populated (good-bye to wide open spaces) and where you can find village after village after village… You can’t drive anywhere without driving by or even through some tiny little place you’ve never heard of, even if you do live about 20 minutes away from it. Sure, it’s all very cute with all those cottages with thatched roofs and gardens full of flowers… but it just doesn’t appeal. If I have to drive half an hour to get to Tesco or Starbucks or even a gas station, then it’s a bit remote and my idea of hell.

You may have guessed by now that I am more of an inside kinda-girl and you would be right. I am not even involved in mowing our lawn or anything to do with gardening. It’s too muddy and dirty and I just can’t comprehend why anyone would want to spend too long messing around with nature. I like staying clean and being entertained by new media, not by tractors and dogs (ugh!).

So I will definitely never want to move to the country. Cities are what I grew up in and what I love – with their museums and shops and coffee houses and great restaurants. I even like the hustle and bustle of the cities and can not for the life of me figure out why anyone would trade all of that to live in an old cottage in the middle of nowhere where it’s too quiet and nothing to do. They might not even have broadband access out there – yikes!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

It's not all grey skies and tasteless food...

I’ve now been living in the UK for over 11 years so although I’m not by any definition English, I do claim to have more than a passing acquaintance with the culture. There are an awful lot of things that baffle me, surprise me or just annoy me about this country but there are also an awful lot of things that I really, really like. I’m feeling generous and happy so here is a list of things I like about England and the UK, in no particular order.

  • The charming regional accents. Sure, sometimes I barely understand what some people are saying (particularly if they are from ‘up North’ or Scottish) but doesn’t it sound lovely? I still can’t tell them apart either – someone could sound Irish to me but they’re actually from Liverpool or whatever – but I do still like listening to all those accents.
  • Indian food. Oh yes, I have grown to love this cuisine, which to me is probably more British than a Sunday roast. It is available pretty much everywhere, in lots of varieties and it generally tastes unbelievably nice. A curry and a beer… mmmmm!
  • London. I live just under an hour away from London (by train) and this is definitely one of my favourite cities in the world. It has it all: amazing architecture, tons of history, fantastic restaurants, the West End, people from all over the world, red double-decker buses, enormous parks, and so on. On a rainy day London can even be fun with all those free (and totally amazing) museums but on a sunny day London can’t be beat. I really love it and am also very glad I don’t live there.
  • TV. Whenever I go back home I always miss the great quality TV that we have here in the UK. I don’t only mean the BBC but also the other terrestrial channels and of course the digital ones. In general I find that there is always something interesting and/or funny to watch (and YES sometimes that means that it is actually American TV shows but it still counts) and this isn’t always the case in other countries I’ve visited. The BBC of course makes the best documentaries and factual shows but there is great stuff on Channel 4 too, for example. I don’t like paying my TV license, though – I have problems with paying what is essentially a tax on TV but that is a discussion for another time.
  • Working hours and working conditions. I know that Brits do like to moan about working long hours (and some do) and that the working conditions are poor. Well, where I come from you’re lucky to get 2 weeks paid holiday a year, lucky if you can survive being fired simply for being pregnant and lucky sometimes to have a job at all. So I enjoy the luxury of 6 weeks paid holiday, 35 hour working weeks and a range other benefits that go some way towards helping me achieve the ideal work-life balance.
  • Fashion. Whenever I go back to the USA I am always excited about the very low cost of clothes and the variety available. However, with few exceptions, I always find that clothes are far more fashionable here in the UK and the high street shops are fantastic places to shop. I really like the way girls dress here and I have found my fashion taste changing the longer I live here. I don’t, however, like the fact that shops seem to think that February is the beginning of summer (ignoring the freezing outside temperatures) and that August if the start of winter (the sun finally comes out and all they sell is winter coats) but I do like the collections and have found that I am buying more clothes than ever before.
  • Availability of technology. I know some people will moan about broadband penetration figures and lack of Internet access but let’s face it – technology is pretty much available all the time, everywhere. More and more people are going online, have mobile phones, satellite TV and MP3 players. It just isn’t the same in other countries, even including the USA. I don’t think I could live my life these days without online banking and e-commerce.
  • Bookstores. Talking about shopping, these days if I’m not out there shopping for some amazing outfit, I’m probably heading to a bookstore to get a book. There are SO many amazing books out there! I’ve always preferred to read in English so of course bookstores around here are paradise but even on my last trip to the States I didn’t find as many interesting books as I do on a regular basis at my local Borders. I don’t know why – maybe it’s a cultural thing – but bookstores here in the UK are fantastic. Some even have Starbucks in them!
  • Post (Mail in the USA). Where I come from, I probably received letters about once a month. I only developed a relationship with my mailman once I started high school and discovered that our report cards would be mailed to us… and he was a key element in helping me intercept these cards! But in the main, hardly anything is posted because it will simply never get there – credit card bills, utility bills, anything like that is couriered rather than mailed. Here in the UK though we get post every day. And we get lots of it, although some of it is junk (I like looking through it though, after all I am in marketing!). I love getting post and love the fact that you can send something to someone and it will actually get there, more often than not. Isn’t that great?
  • Eurovision. I know that most Brits (and perhaps even most Europeans) think that this whole show is a joke and will not watch it but I absolutely love it! Imagine this – acts from each of the EU countries perform together on one stage and at the end, people from all over Europe vote to see which is the best one. It goes on for hours, has all sorts of weird and wacky performers, nonsense English lyrics on some songs and ridiculous outfits. It’s huge fun! Sure there are politics and block voting but it is silly, harmless fun and I have watched it religiously every year since I moved here.

So there you have it – a list of 10 things that I think are fantastic about the UK, things that I would definitely miss if I was to move away. Did I miss anything? Leave me your comments as I’d love to hear what would be on your list!

Friday, 2 May 2008

Let me show off for a minute or two...

I've just had my latest exam results from my Networked Living OU course - and can I just pat myself on the back?

I had a 91% in the Computer Marked Assignment (CMA) and an 89% on my Tutor Marked Assignment (TMA). Bearing in mind I'm working on the course at the same time as I do everything else I do, this is a great achievement. These results are for Block 2 which got a bit technical in parts (electromagnetic spectrum, anyone?) so I'm doubly pleased as my math has never been my strong point.

I guess my brain is still working after all!


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