Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’

Boxing Day & Mince Pies? Welcome to the UK.

I have to tell you, aside from my family & friends, gingerbread is one of the things that I miss the most about the holidays at home. The smell of gingerbread cookies and gingerbread houses incites the sense of Christmastime for me. I always bake my own cookies at home, with extra spice, just the way that I like them.

Mmmm…. Icing is as bit overrated for me, but I do usually decorate them when I’m giving them out as gifts. Sadly, I hit up my local Marks & Spencer in Covent Garden on Christmas Eve to find some goodies to make gingerbread: a box of mix, molasses, anything that could potentially be made into a wonderful boy-shaped biscuit of ginger. The sad truth hit me very quickly: Brits don’t like their gingerbread like Americans do. In lieu of gingerbread, the store was teeming with mince pies. Now, call me an idiot (or an ignorant American, perhaps), but I thought mincemeat (which is used in mince pies) was actually meat. That doesn’t seem illogical, does it? I assumed that mincemeat was something that was used in a savory pie; lamb, perhaps. I was hugely surprised, however, to discover that mince pies, and the mincemeat inside, are 100% vegetarian! They’re not meat at all! In fact, it’s a mix of sultanas (golden raisins), raisins, sugar  and some other sweet and spicy goodies. After this mind-boggling discovery, I decided to change my tradition for this year and prepare homemade mince pies instead of gingerbread cookies! Calling them ‘homemade’ might be a bit of a stretch considering I bought canned mincemeat and boxed mini tartlets to act as the pie crust… for the sake of argument, we’ll call them ‘semi-homemade’ (taking a page out of Sandra Lee’s cookbook, I guess).

Mince pie-making, along with a healthy dose of Christmas music, definitely helped to get me in the spirit of the holidays. I also had a two-hour Skype session with my family! Thank goodness for the amazingness of Skype; it felt like I was actually there — I got to talk with them during breakfast and be there to watch them open gifts.

After that interesting version of Christmas, today marks Boxing Day in the UK. We simply call it ‘the day after Christmas’ in the US, but here it’s an officially recognized holiday complete with Black Friday-style sales and movie premiers! In honor of Boxing Day, I’m going to try to hit up Sherlock Holmes at the Odeon in Leicester Square! Seeing as how it was filmed in London, it seems fitting that I would spend a British holiday watching a British movie about a British character. All in a day’s fun.

In other news, I have officially re-started the “getting Shannon’s groove back” phase. Daily gym sessions, sunless tanning and healthy eating are on the menu for this beautification process. I have actually booked group workout sessions at the gym (pilates, yoga, boxing, etc.) to add to my normal workout sessions to ensure that I get to the gym as planned. I guess we can call it the pre-New Year’s Resolution!

Hope everyone’s holiday was great and full of gingerbready goodness!

Lots of love on Boxing Day,


Ghosts of Christmas Past.

Being that this is my first Christmas on my own, I couldn’t help but sift through old pictures from Christmases past. To my family & friends out in California (and abroad): I love you all and hope that you all have an amazing Christmas! Wishing I could be with you all on my most favorite holiday of the year, but I’m sending love and positive thoughts your way.

Check out some of these pictures from the last few Christmases:

Prepping Christmas dinner with Nana, 2006

Mimi’s 1st Christmas with us — one of our Christmas gifts to Nana.
The reindeer ears didn’t stay on for very long, but it was a cute idea! 2006.

Chris & I at Tara and Greg’s on Christmas Eve, 2007.
Lots of wine & seven fishes. Mmmm.

With Nanu & Nana, 2007, when the whole family was still together <3.

Only two years ago, but Alyssa was so tiny!

Mac & I, Christmas 2008 at the McDonald house!

Mom & Dad, Christmas 2008.

I always have such amazing memories from Christmas and although I don’t get to be with my family, I did get a special surprise  in the form of an early morning Skype session with the fam and with Chris — definitely a good way to start off Christmas day! I’m having some folks over for Christmas breakfast/brunch and coffee before we go out and explore the quiet streets of London (something that can only happen once a year!)

Here’s a song/video that always puts me a good Christmas mood; definitely a classic!

To everyone reading:

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!

To my grandpa, who’s no longer with us — wish you could be here, but you’ll always be here in spirit. Inhobbok hafna.

Snowy Scotland!

Once again, I’m bundled up in my hotel room for the second night with warm porridge from Marks & Spencer, hot chocolate & Lily Allen singing in the background. Alex is staying for night number two after her second flight in a two-day span was cancelled. After she spent two hours waiting at the airport, Easy Jet announced her flight cancellation and she’s opting for the train back to London tomorrow morning instead. Outside the window to our room, there’s snow covering the nearby buildings and a Christmas market lighting up the dark Scottish sky. Despite the fact that the days are rather short, the town is really a gorgeous sight.

After running into Edinburgh Castle, snow and oddly gorgeous mausoleums, we did a bit of shopping for Scottish goodies followed by a mini whiskey tasting! Although snow is slippery and ridiculously cold, it does make for the most beautiful pictures of life! Normal roads are a thousand times prettier when they’re covered with snow.

Our whiskey tasting was super mini, but my three baby swigs comprised the most Scotch I’ve ever had in my life! The smell of it normally makes me sick, but since I’m in Scotland now, I feel obliged to live like the Scots do!

I’m now deciding what to do tomorrow in terms of sightseeing. Roslin Chapel and some other goodies are on my list of must-sees. I bought a ticket to see a live production of Peter Pan at the local theatre on Monday and am booking a Loch Ness/Highlands tour for Tuesday to get the most out of my Scottish excursion!

Any must-see sights in Scotland? I have tomorrow and Monday to fill with goodies!

Sending love and warm thoughts,

Qormi, Malta {Day 1.}

Alex and I are currently cuddled up in our pajamas, getting ready for bed after an extraordinarily long day. I’ll probably go into further detail about this tomorrow, but let me explain the minor situation that took place at 4AM this morning. I woke up at 330A to get ready for my early morning flight and taxi pick up at 415A. I had called to book the cab on Saturday to make sure we’d have a ride to the airport. Shortly after 410A, a cab pulled up in front of my accommodation. When I went to get in the cab, I discovered that it wasn’t the cab that I had ordered. At that exact same moment, I received a  phone call from the cab company letting me know that they wouldn’t be sending a cab for us! As luck would have it, the cab parked in front of my complex hadn’t been booked (what are the chances at 4AM?!), so I was able to get him to take me to pick up Alex and drop us off at Victoria Station. Let me just say — NEVER book with London Black Cabs. I was so disappointed! If (by the grace of God), a cab hadn’t been lingering in front of my complex, I would have been in a bit of a bind considering the tube station doesn’t open until 530A! In any case, after that minor incident, we jumped on the Gatwick Express, made it through check-in and security in record time and got into Malta without a hitch!

We’ve now been in Malta for nine or so hours and have already seen loads of fun places in Qormi, including the house my mom grew up in and the bakery that her parents owned!

I had actually imagined the old bakery to be in decent working order and was a little sad to see the once-used building in a state of rubble. Still, the fact that my mom walked in same building when she was a child is pretty exciting!

We’re staying with family that I hadn’t really met  before this trip and they have been so incredibly amazing! Not only did the entire family come to the airport to greet us, but they spent the entire day escorting us to must-see sights, making us Maltese treats plus they took the week off to be our personal tour guides!

I’ll have to catch up tomorrow on some amazing sites that we’ve seen: St. George, San Sebastian, a ridiculous amount of nondescript churches, a Christmas market, a life-sized house made of chocolate and loads of other goodies! We’re planning on hitting up Valletta and Mellieha tomorrow, followed by a trip to Gozo on Wednesday via ferry!

Some fun facts that I’ve learned today:

1. There are 365 churches in Malta. One for every day of the year.
2. Malta is a mere 122 square miles with around 425,000 inhabitants. Despite the low population (in terms of absolute numbers), Malta is the third most densely populated nation in the world! I think that definitely speaks to how small the place is!
3. Gozo is called the Isle of Calypso — referred to by Homer in the Odyssey.
4. Gozo is home to Ġgantija megalithic temples, a UNESCO heritage site, and the world’s oldest free-standing structures.

I’ll post more pics and info tomorrow, but sleep is a must!


My Surprise Christmas Gift!

I just got the best Christmas gift ever, courtesy of my amazing little sister back in California. As some of you may already know, I’m a huge fan of Michael Crichton and was pretty distraught when he passed away last year. Not only is he a brilliant person but his books absolutely make my life. So, imagine my surprise when I received Pirate Latitudes, a Crichton novel that was published posthumously! I had no idea it was even being published, but it seriously made my day.
{Always so excited to receive mail!}

Now I have a fun novel to add to my pile of school texts to take with me on my impending excursions!

Thank you, Tiffy!

Always love having my most favorite author in tow!
Does anyone out there have an author they absolutely can’t live without?


Say Thank You to the Troops!

Though it may be considered sacrilegious for me to support Xerox in any way after my long-time affiliation with Konica Minolta, I have to show them some love today! They are doing something really amazing for the holidays and for our troops abroad. The Let’s Say Thanks campaign allows you to send a thank you postcard to a soldier that’s currently abroad. You can pick the design (there are a number of them designed by children all over the US) and pick or write a message to go with it! It takes less than 2 minutes and I’m sure it would mean a lot to the soldiers who are separated from their families during the holidays.

Regardless of your political views, take a minute out of your day and show some love to the people who fight for our freedom every day!

Design a card here!

Lots of love and gratitude,

Goodnight, Moon.

London at Night

How is it that despite putting serious effort into getting to bed before 11P, I am still up at 1240A? Sadly, this is not a rarity. Having just gotten back from the Social Policy party and a concert that I attended with my flatmate, I’m finally getting ready to get some shut-eye and prepare for the very last day of term tomorrow. It’s a bit insane to think that ten weeks have already come and gone; a bit bitter-sweet, in fact. It’s actually amazing to look back on how much we’ve gained in such a short span of time and, at the same time, a bit sad to say goodbye to some friends as we go our separate ways for the holidays. That being said, I have a lot going on between now and Friday and I have some grandiose plans for the coming holiday. I tend to think that if I put all of my plans up on a public forum, I’ll be a little more inclined to follow through! Also, side note — Lindsay & I hit up Scala this evening to catch The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, a New York-based band that came into London for a show. Both the venue and the band are worth checking out!

My week is semi-jam-packed with mundane daily chores like cleaning my room, doing my laundry, packing, etc., but I’m aiming to hit the gym tomorrow, Thursday, Friday and Saturday before leaving for Malta on Sunday. Being there for five days, followed by Scotland for four days leaves me with very little time to get a proper workout in… I’m gonna bring tennis shoes on both trips to see if I can somehow get myself to go for morning runs! With tomorrow being my last official day of class (although I do have to be on campus both Thursday and Friday for other commitments), I plan on using my last few days in town to do some exploring before heading to Malta! Borough Market is on my schedule for Thursday, while Portobello Road is slated for Saturday morning! I haven’t been to either yet, but I’m hoping to find some fun gifts for the holidays… nothing makes me smile like spiced cider, vegan goodies and shopping.

I’ll share my plans for Edinburgh with you kids tomorrow — suffice it to say, I have a few things in mind and Edinburgh has some awesome Christmas markets to keep my busy! I’ve checked out a ridiculous amount of foreign aid-focused books from our library to take with my on my trips for a bit of easy reading in the evenings. I figure if I can give myself a few productive hours a day between readings, my dissertation proposal and essay-writing, I should be in good shape when Lent Term begins in January!

Catch up with you tomorrow — I’m going to leave you with this song that I can’t get out of my head.
Crooked Teeth by Death Cab for Cutie… an oldie, but a goodie.

Good night, friends!

Dick in a Box

PS. Chris asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I sent him this video… if you’re easily offended it might not be that funny, but if you think Justin Timberlake + SNL make for a funny musical duo, this one’s timeless.