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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The cliffs of Saltdean

Today I expanded the horizons of how much I have seen of the English coast, and it was all pretty lovely. First, (and non-horizon-expanding, really) Jon and I took a long walk along the seafront this morning, taking advantage of the beautiful sunshine and not too chilly temperatures that we seem to be having this mid-November. It was another one of those days where everyone in Brighton was out! The sunshine just does that to people-all the kids, dogs, and athletes, running amuck, soaking up that Vitamin D. While we were out and about, Jon’s parents called and asked if we wanted to hang out, and, of course, we said yes (okay, I’m pretty sure they weren’t like “hey Jon, you guys wanna hang out with us today?” but you know what I mean). So at 2 o’clock we piled into a car full of dogs and people and decided to head east out of Brighton, where I’ve never been before.

It was gorgeous! These are the chalk cliffs that run along the coast of East Sussex. We parked the car in Saltdean and walked up to Rottingdean. Over there it was far less busy than what I’m used to right along the sea in Brighton, near us. There’s less beach, fewer people, and more water- and I loved the cliffs. I still haven’t managed to see the white cliffs of Dover that I’ve heard so much about, but I imagine in my mind that these are pretty close! (Plus I’ve heard that you can’t really see much of the Dover cliffs unless you’re actually out to sea).


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Chilly walks by the sea (with a red cup in hand)

Yesterday I took a little mid-day break from CELTA-ing to go for a seaside walk with Jon. It was brisk and pretty chilly, but we managed to time it just right, as a dark, cloudy front was creeping up behind us the whole walk home. Gotta get the vitamin D while you can!

We also hit up Starbucks on our way for a special deal that got us buy one/get one free to kick off the red cup season. I don’t know what it is, but I drink so much more Starbucks here than I ever did in Ohio….maybe it’s just a taste of home, and the fact that the CEO stopped building them on every corner and instead decided to focus on quality and fair trading (okay, I know there are issues here…). Oh, and I hate Costa and Coffee Republic and Cafe Nero, the English coffee chains. Of course I love and support all the tiny coffee shops in Brighton-I’m a Small Batch girl all the way-but I’m not saying no to two for the price of one, feel me? Anyway, to cut this coffee monologue short, it turns out that the winter flavors for coffee in English Starbucks are different-no peppermint mocha! So a gingerbread latte it was for me, and a praline mocha for the mister. And neither of our names were spelled right. This happens to Jon all the time, but choosing the more convoluted spelling of Ashley, just off the cuff? Weird.

We walked down along Adelaide Crescent and then back towards our place, sipping our coffees and enjoying the fresh air and gorgeous blue skies. Really-it was a beautiful day. Until the sun set at 4:30, which, hello, is still so early. I don’t think I’ll be getting used to that anytime soon. My body still thinks that if it’s getting dark at 4:30, it must be December, and that’s just not true over here. Hopefully I’ll adjust at some point. Probably not.

There were an intrepid few other walkers among us on the seafront. The whole vibe down there shifts so much when the season changes. All the students and families and seasonal travelers are gone, and only a few people go on the actual beach. No more laying around boozing on the rocky shores in the sunshine….

Most of the buskers are gone too. You see the more hard-core athletes, the dog walkers and the families with children on scooters (oh how I hate scooters!) and ladies like this one, ignoring the wintery temperatures and practicing her hula hooping skills barefoot, in cut off jeans and a tank top.

Rock on, hula lady. You be careful out there! I hope you don’t catch pneumonia.

And just a special shout-out to this guy, who has been extra supportive over these past three weeks while I’ve suffered through CELTA. My emotions have been on edge and I’ve had a steady stream of work, leaving all housework and most of the cooking/survival type things to fall completely on him. I am completely not carrying my weight at chez Sheets-Norris.  And he hasn’t complained one bit! What a trooper. Only one more week!

bits and pieces

Every few weeks it’s nice to cull photos from my phone. I would call this “weekend bits”, but that would be disingenuous since these photos are anywhere from a day or two to two weeks old….so bits it is! England seems to have fallen back into that pattern again where it rains and is miserable for 4 or 5 days, and then we’re graced with glorious sunshine for 1 or 2 days. Not the best situation, but I’ll take it (I mean, I have so many choices, right?). And I’ve also been informed that apparently the autumnal color change of leaves comes later here? I’m not sure if that’s true, but I’m hoping for some red orange yellow leaf action here, sooner rather than later.

A goodbye party Friday night for a co-worker of mine led to a night at a local karaoke bar where I was the most shameless of all performers, as is my wont. It reminded me of all the Korean noraebangs that I spent so much time in back in Pyeongnae and Seoul, and my heart ached a little bit. (And a quick British to American English lesson here for anyone who is interested-parties are more often than not called “dos” here. For example: goodbye party=leaving do, bachelor party=stag do, bachelorette party=hen do. I don’t get it, but it’s one of the language things that I enjoy. Leaving do! It’s fun to say!)

Saturday’s plans were for a night out with Jon’s friend Nick, who is on a short holiday from his life living and teaching in Japan and returns to Asia on Tuesday. At the last minute I decided to stay home and eat ice cream while watching “greatest pop dance crazes” instead of joining the guys, and so Jon and I ended up doing separate things and he had a manly man sausage fest while I indulged in the aforementioned tv show and then Kevin Smith movies and banana bread beer. It was all very nice and different from our normal, oh-so-intertwined weekend living.

This weekend has left me thinking so much of Korea and days gone by. Right now I’m watching Formula 1 with Jon; it’s the Korean Grand Prix. Friday night’s karaoke, and Jon’s friend coming from Japan (which led to much discussion between he and Jon about Japanese/Korean cultural similarities and differences), have all just planted the nostalgic seed in my mind. My time spent there was so challenging to me on a personal level for a million different reasons, but it was also the time when I met Jon, and lived with a girl who is still one of my best friends, and when I spent every weekend exploring and really, I can say with no doubt, living life to the fullest. Sometimes I feel like living in a country that is so comfortable for my other half (and, let’s be honest, not having that same level of expendable income as I did in Korea) have led to a more apathetic existence, with much less adventuring. It happens to everyone-every foreign person I have ever met while in the States had done more touristy things than I, as a citizen, had done-it’s what you do! And I miss that. Here’s to hoping that after I finish this CELTA and get back in the groove of well paid work that I can convince Jon to explore more of this beautiful world with me-even if it’s his own back yard.

Sussex Prairie Gardens

Sussex Prairie Gardens

Last Monday was a bank holiday (I love English bank holidays, with no reason or rhyme behind them except for the joy of a day off) and Jon and I joined his parents for a little trip to a place outside of Brighton called the Sussex Prairie Gardens.  I know it’s a little nerdy, but I really love spending an afternoon in a nicely curated garden, leisurely strolling around and then drinking some tea. Although I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t actually like the smell of flowers. Beautiful? Yes. Nicely fragrant? Nuhuh.

Sussex Prairie Gardens

Knowing very little about what goes into curating and growing a big fancy garden, I find pretty much everything impressive, but apparently this garden was made to resemble the prairies found in America. Lots of long grasses blowing in the wind, etc. I bet it’d be even more gorgeous in the mid-summer when the colors are more vibrant and less of it has died off.

This place also had sheep and pigs lazing about, which was amazing. Of course we said hello to both species. And it turns out Jon’s dad is some sort of pig whisperer-I was stroking the pigs and we were just hanging out, then he came along, started petting two of them, and they flung themselves at his feet. Secret skills!

Look at this face!

Sussex Prairie Gardens Pig

On a side note this little excursion reminded me of how lucky I am to have nice in-laws who I look forward to hanging out with. Getting married is weird enough, and looking back on everything that has happened so far I’m actually grateful that Jon and I had the opportunity to spend time living with his parents (I know, I know, it’s weird). Otherwise, as a foreigner how else would I have gotten to know his parents? There’s no popping to another country for a family barbecue/birthday or two. No casual hangouts. If I’d never stayed with them the summers that I came to England then it’s perfectly logical that I may have only met Jon’s parents a handful of times before we tied the knot. And it makes me a little sad that he hasn’t been able to spend as much time with my parental units as I have with his. As it is, my family is so quintessentially American and loud and welcoming-Jon’s family is much more British and quiet and spending so much time with them has given me the opportunity to break through the shell. So on that little tangent-this was another nice little adventure with the Norris family, and I’m glad I get to hang out with them sometimes. Cheers to good in-laws!

Folk and Cider Festival at The Fiddler’s Elbow

I’m hard pressed to think of a better way to spend a Sunday when you know you don’t have to work the next day-but I’d saying going to a tiny festival full of cider and rowdy folk music is a good choice! So yesterday Jon and I spent some time inside/outside The Fiddler’s Elbow in Brighton, on a tiny street cordoned off for this ubiquitous Folk and Cider Festival. Everyone seemed to be having a great time-some more than others*coughcoughverydrunkdudes*- and the weather was perfectly warm (plus the rain stayed away!). The cider was strong. Seriously, strong. The one I had was 7%+ and left a solid burn on the innards. I believe it was called “Janet’s Jungle Juice”. My kind of cider.

The bands that we did see were great, although I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to English people singing the stompin’ blues and folk music of the US-I’m talking singing about the sultry nights down south, or the police coming for you, your old lady dying, or spending time in Chicago town. It’s a bit….strange. But I dig it. This fella below was a helluva harmonica player. And I liked his hat. And those two babies in front of him? Couldn’t stop dancing. It was so cute!

So pleased to have found out about this little festival just in time, aka Saturday afternoon the day before it happened. I love that Brighton has these little micro festivals and street fairs and carnivals all year round-it’s such a cool city. High fives to you, Brighton!  I’ll definitely go again next year.

Did I tell you this happened?

We went laser gun shootin’ at a hybrid laser tag/paintball place the weekend before last. It was bananas. So fun, and uh, it turns out that Jon’s countless hours playing mind-numbing shooter games makes him really good at hiding behind trees and (fake) missiles and stuff. I….was not so good. But we both bruised up nicely from making sweet slides into position, and yelling like we were doing something cool. Thanks for the invite Tim!