A Valentine’s date with the dude

Last night Jon and I got dressed up and ventured onto the high street of Lindfield for a romantic V-day dinner at The Limes, a tiny, appropriately intimate restaurant. It ended up being a great choice. Five thoughtful courses (and nothing that made Jon sick except for the glass of champagne we started out with, which counts as a win in my book). It was just….nice! I’m always thankful for a little quality time with my dude, especially after a rough few months. It really seems like things are getting better.

Also, he understands my undying love of owls. A real catch!

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Jon’s birthday fun times!

Birthday! On Monday, Jon turned 28, and we celebrated with a day of hanging out and wandering around Brighton. Awesomely enough, the company he works for gives you a half day off on your birthday. Lucky duck.

We picked up a new pair of jeans for Jon (our new diet has solved most of his health problems and made him shed a couple of inches around the waist in the process, turning my already thin husband positively waif-like) and I gave him the fabulous watch he’s been wanting. We had a delicious sushi lunch at Yo! Sushi and an amazing steak dinner at a cute/weird little pub that evening with Jon’s parents and siblings. When we came home we toasted my favorite dude with some paleo-friendly brownies I made earlier that turned out astonishingly great (served with whipped coconut cream!). As you can see, most of Jon’s birthday revolved around eating. He’s pretty easy to please, when it comes down to it. And as far as I can tell he had a great day, which he 100% deserves.

Here’s to hoping 28 is a great year for Jon (and for me too, haha). Birthday, wooo!

our christmas

We had a lovely, if a bit melancholy on my part, Christmas. I’m so bad at being away from home around the holidays! It’s not as if I’m dying to be back in Ohio, but as it is I think I’m doing fine, I’m spending time with Jon and we’re opening presents and running around doing all the Christmassy things and then-bam!-I’m crying in Jon’s old bedroom at his parents’ house on Christmas eve because I miss my mom.

Expat life, dudes. Harrumph.

But really, our Christmas was nice. This was perhaps the first year ever that I ticked nearly every box in the imaginary checklist in my mind of what I want to do before the big day arrives-make and send good cards to people I love, buy and wrap (and ship) presents, make cookies, drink mulled wine, have various get togethers, wear fabulous sweaters, decorate and enjoy our tree, watch all my favorite Christmas movies…..all of it. It’s quite a list. And this year, without stressing, it all came together. And I’m thankful for that, and for a nice partner who indulges my childlike enjoyment of this season.

jonashleychristmas2012

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A Christmas Cookie Party

One of my favorite, warm-fuzzy Christmas memories from my childhood was our annual Christmas cookie making. My sister, my mom, my grandma and I, all piled in Grandma Monk’s tiny kitchen, the tiny old-fashioned radio blaring Grandma’s preferred tunes of the 50s and 60s, flour and powdered sugar and colored icing and cookie cutters everywhere. We made snowmen and trees, snowflakes and stars and santas, too. So many tuppperware boxes full of our productions, enough to last for weeks until there were only a few sad, stale little treats left.

christmas cookies

I’ve made Christmas cookies every year, in every place I’ve found myself when the holiday season rolls around. It’s my little way of going back to that time, when I was young, in my grandmother’s kitchen, with my favorite women. And some day I’ll do it with my own kids-but that’s still pretty far away, I think.

christmas cookies

This year Jon and I invited some of our friends over for some casual cookie making, accompanied by hot chocolate (with a bit of Bailey’s in it) and some mulled wine. We listened to some records, made high art (as seen above, some people are so artistic!) and watched some fun holiday movies and cooking shows on tv.

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My love affair with Harrods

harrods London christmas lights

It is a very naive and childish part of me that loves Harrods like I do. It is an amazing department store in London, similar to Macy’s from the old days in the US, and I think that vague connection is what makes it such a magical place at Christmas time-at least in my mind. Like “A Miracle on 34th Street”, but set in London! And much, much more expensive!

Harrods is a true luxury store, with every “important” label out there-Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Chloe, Rolex and Peugut  and Cartier, all of that, displayed in its halls. But what I love the most, more than all of the rest, are the food halls. Amazing selections of delicacies and pastries, meats and fruits and dishes from all over the world, plus the best on offer from this gray, chilly land, England. It is decadent. There is a La Duree in there as well! Macarons!

harrods london christmas pastry

And this weekend I saw a ham on sale that cost….wait for it…..£1300. THIRTEEN HUNDRED POUNDS. For a ham. Believe me, a trip to Harrods is a a mouth watering wander through the best of all kinds of treats, both material and edible, and maybe most of us will not be able to afford oh….3/4 of that deliciousness.

It is a crazy place.

harrod's food hall london christmas

The only thing I have ever purchased at Harrods was loose leaf tea for my mom. And even that was not cheap. Some day I may buy something more, or maybe even sit down and have a meal at one of the counters/restaurants….but let’s not get our hopes up! They also sell a Christmas hamper (English word for gift basket) every year that costs upward of £1000, full of fancy champagne, caviar and other tasty/fancy goods. Yeesh. For now, I’m content with looking around and enjoying the sights and atmosphere-particularly during the holidays.

The Knightsbridge area of London, where Harrods can be found, is also home to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Harvey Nichols,  and any number of other luxury shops. So it’s to be expected that they step it up to impress the hoi-polloi come the holidays, and ohhhh they do! They really do. It is gorgeous down there, and the lights and window displays are just beyond lovely.

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what it means to be of two

Being abroad as a couple is a much different experience than going solo. I was thinking of this on Saturday night at our friend Pete’s surprise 30th birthday party-which was lovely, by the way, so full of joy and happiness. In our group of friends there are lots of couples-mostly couples, actually, these days. A side effect of nearing thirty. And serious couples too; some have even been together for close to a decade or more. But Jon and I are the only married ones. And I think herein lies a big difference (just to get it out there-I don’t think we’re cooler than anyone because we’re married, and that is not the difference of which I speak). I think even the word marriage still strikes fear (or something like it) in the hearts of many of my twenty-something compatriots. Like, as a married couple Jon and I don’t do the exact same things that our other co-habitating friends do. But we do! We’re just also, like, legally bound to each other. I mean, there are some differences between marriage and dating, certainly, but it seems to me that maybe other people think of those differences more than we do. Couple this with the fact that I’m not from around here and didn’t move here officially until we were married and instead of “there’s Ashley”, it becomes “there’s Jon’s wife, Ashley”.

I don’t think I’m explaining this very well. I’ll keep trying.

When I was travelling by myself-to France and around Europe, to South Korea, etc, I was just me. And when I met people, these people were eager to chat and invite me along to do stuff. I think it’s a way of looking out for other people in your similar situation. You know they don’t have a built in support, so you pull them under your wing, and vice versa. You don’t want anyone to feel alone in a new place. But when you’re in a couple, all of a sudden it becomes a bit of an impediment. People look at you as a twosome, rather than an independent entity. You’re already never alone. You’ve got it together, and you’ve obviously got someone to hang out with all the time, so meh, you just get passed over when it comes to the day to day social gatherings.

Here’s an example. In 2009, I moved to Korea 3 months before Jon ever got there, and 6 months before Jon and I started dating. So I had lots of single woman in Korea time. I went out with my lady friends, expat and Korean, and had awesome adventures. More teachers came over, some left, the wheel keeps turning, yada yada. But eventually I’d been there long enough that I had a few friends who had never known me before Jon and I were a thing. And I remember specifically one night being out with a big group in Seoul at a bar. Jon wanted to go home and I wanted to go out dancing, so he and I  said our goodbyes, and one of the girls I was with remarked that she’d never seen me out without Jon, and she was super surprised by this. And I just felt like that is the case-she wasn’t there when I was single, and in fact, I (and my roomie Marisa) hosted ladies’ nights all the time or just generally hung out minus dudes, but because in the short time that this girl had been around our little group in Korea she’d only seen both Jon and I out together, that meant we must only ever go out together. It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To bring this back to now-it seems to be even more of a theme in an expat life where only one member of the couple in question is foreign. Our friends here in England, for the most part, began as Jon’s friends-some from childhood, some more recently acquired, but nearly all “belonging” to him. And this predicament also goes hand in hand with just being in our late twenties and out and away from the college/university/early 20s experience of meeting your friends’ partners and just generally spending more time casually hanging out or going out with new people, or people you’ve just met. Now people work and chill with their partners in their free time, and have their own groups of friends that they’ve cultivated and narrowed down over the years. It’s harder to make friends at this stage in life. I think most people would agree with that. And I’m still trying to make my own friends, independently of Jon.

Not to worry though, I have made progress on this front in the year that I’ve lived my immigrant life. I just find that vignettes like Friday night-in a room of smiling, happy people who I really enjoy spending time with, but who I know I probably won’t see again until there’s another big get together-just brings some things to mind. This isn’t a new situation, and it’s not terrible, and it definitely can’t even be confined to being an immigrant wife-I was in the same situation when I lived in the Marshall Islands with my former partner. This happens when you travel (or live abroad) with a person. It changes the dynamics of how people see you, and assumptions are made.  But with that being said, I’m more than fine with working through it and carving out relationships of my own-and still spending the majority of my time with this guy, for whom I’d move to the ends of the earth. It is worth it.

 

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