Exploring: New Orleans – The French Quarter

Exploring New Orleans
When you think of New Orleans, you instantly think of jazz music, crawfish and the French Quarter right? When we headed to NoLa last month I was excited to check out what it was all about, I’ve heard and read loads about the place and it was always on my bucket list. New Orleans is in the state of Louisiana, known as the deep south. It’s located on the Mississippi River, is surrounded by swamp land and believe me, it is VERY hot! Hotlanta has nothing on this place!

Our first stop was the French Quarter. This place is just beautiful, the French influence can be seen on just about every building in this part of the city, from the detailed, extremely pretty balconies and small, narrow streets to the intricate iron work and colours, the French colonists who founded the city certainly left their mark. I could look at those buildings again and again and would still find something new to see on them.

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Bourbon Street is at the heart of the French Quarter and it’s definitely an experience! This is where the party is at, it’s where Mardi Gras takes place, it’s where you can stroll down the street with a hand grenade (a famous type of cocktail in NoLa, not the actual weapon) in your hand, or in my case, a 32oz frozen cocktail, it’s where, if you’re there at the right time, a naked bike ride passes through (more on that one later!) and it’s where a million different smells culminate together to make some pretty disgusting ones! As the German put it, ‘there are many different smells in New Orleans, most of them are horrible!’ The heat mixes with things like stagnant water from thunderstorms, disinfectant from bars, alcohol, rubbish, half eaten food and let’s face it, probably human sick (this is the party street after all) and turns pretty nasty. There are areas where you actually have to stop breathing until the smell passes! Don’t let that put you off going though…this place is amazing! Nearly every bar has live music of some sort, there are drinks offers everywhere (including Huge Ass Beers!) and the party goes on until the wee small hours of course! You simply have to visit Bourbon Street, even if you only walk up and down it once during your stay, at least you can say you’ve been!

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Strolling around there’s music playing on just about every single corner – this was the birthplace of jazz. There’s just about every street performer you can imagine from traditional jazz and blues singers to those people statues that don’t move (I seriously have no idea how they do that, especially in the NoLa heat!) and some very inventive young children who literally crushed empty Coke cans and stuck them into their shoes with something like a drawing pin, effectively turning their trainers into tap shoes, and they were pretty darn good at the tapping too!

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You also can’t hit the French Quarter, or New Orleans in general, without taking a ride on a streetcar. These things are famous in these parts, even if you don’t need one to get to your destination, you should just take a ride on one to say you’ve done it. We took one from the French Quarter to the Garden District, they cost a couple of bucks each and are definitely worth it, even if it’s just to save your legs or get you to that next cocktail quicker!

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And, you just have to check out the Cathedral. St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest in North America and sits in Jackson Square. It’s one of those places you have to check out, it’s beautiful both inside and out. The outside isn’t anything out of this world but it fits its surroundings perfectly. The cathedral was damaged during Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, it’s organ bore the brunt of the damage after water flooded through the roof. But, it’s all been fixed now and it’s looking pretty darn lovely!

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Oh, and I can’t let you go without telling you more about THAT naked bike ride…turns out we were in the city and our Bourbon Street at just the right time! This naked bike ride thing is happening all over the world (I’ve heard of one taking place in London), people literally get on their bikes and ride them through the streets naked, simple as. It’s definitely a sight to see…

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Ok, so not everybody was naked but I couldn’t really be putting naked boobies and willies on here now could I?!

Exploring: The Grand Canyon

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When you’re in Las Vegas, Nevada and one of the most amazing sights in the world is just a 6 hour drive away then you’d be pretty stupid to miss out, and with our expat life focusing on new adventures we were ready to take on the challenge! So after stopping off at the Hoover Dam (you can read all about that by clicking here) we went on our merry way to the Grand Canyon, the historic via Route 66 (you can read all about that by, yep, you guessed it, clicking here!)

I knew the Grand Canyon was going to be spectacular but I don’t think I was braced for its beauty at all. This place is just breathtaking. We left Vegas at around 7am and, after our stops at the Hoover Dam and for lunch, we made it to the Grand Canyon in the late afternoon, perfect timing for some daytime sightseeing and catching the sunset, the most beautiful part of the day in those parts.

The canyon was carved by the Colorado River, it’s 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and has a depth of over a mile, quickly put, this thing is HUGE. We made our way to the South Rim and into the Grand Canyon National Park. We had to pay a small fee for parking, but we were allowed to stay for as long as we wanted and move around to the different viewing points.

We quickly parked up the car and headed to our first viewing point, desperate to get our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon that we’d read about and seen many pictures of, but, the pictures just do not do this thing justice:

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WOW.

WOW.

WOW.

I couldn’t stop saying it. It was out of this world and I was standing there looking at it. I had one of those expat ‘am I really here’ pinch myself moments. I was standing there, looking at the Grand Canyon. A couple of years ago I could only dream of being there and there I was, taking in its stunning beauty in awe. Did I mention this place is beautiful?

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The different shapes, colours and textures just looked stunning. The different light exposures made every view different. It was pretty cloudy when we arrived but the sun would suddenly peek out, making one part of the canyon brighter than the other, giving the picture another dimension completely.

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This was camera heaven for the German, he loves taking pictures and must have taken at least a couple of hundred while we were there. We obviously had to document the fact we’d been standing looking at the Grand Canyon, warning, typical tourist shot incoming…

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We also had time to take a few shots where I am mainly looking and acting like an idiot…no change there then.

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After checking out Yaki Point, we made our way along the road to Lipan Point and Desert View to check out the watchtower and it seems the peaceful tranquility of the canyon can lead to a lot of contemplation and reflection whilst looking at the spectacular view:

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I did check our pictures for one of me doing something similar but it would appear I am just a nutter. I swear I did do some contemplating and reflecting, it’s just that nobody managed to get any photographic evidence of this, just of me acting like an idiot. Great.

Anyway, enough of my idiotic tendencies, you need to see some more stunning pictures of the Grand Canyon:

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And we can’t forget this bit of camera trickery by the German:

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Then it was time to catch a Grand Canyon sunset, the part we’d all been waiting for and it was definitely worth staying late and getting back to Las Vegas at midnight for, no doubt about that. We were worried the cloudy skies may have led to a disappointing sunset that we pretty much wasn’t going to see, not good when you’ve travelled so far and you can’t really pop back next week for another look. But, the clouds cleared a little, some blue sky popped out and the sunset was stunning. If you’re going to the Grand Canyon, do not miss out on this part of the day, you’ll regret it forever if you do, here’s why:

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The sun reflecting off the rocks made you see them look totally different. New parts were highlighted, different formations came into light and the textures and shapes of the rocks looked so different to just 10 minutes ago when they were in the shade. All around me were collective gasps of ‘ooh’ and ‘aaah’ and ‘look at that bit over there’ and ‘how pretty is that.’ The colours were so bright and vivid, I couldn’t believe I was watching the sun go down at the Grand Canyon.

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All in all it was a pretty spectacular day and one that I’m sure won’t be beaten anytime soon when it comes to stunning views like that. Another destination has been ticked off the bucket list…I am one very lucky expat.

Have you been to the Grand Canyon? What did you think?

Peachtree Road Race 2014…Done!

Remember how I told you I’d had that hair-brained idea to run a 10k literally for the t-shirt at the end? And, remember how I told you my training for the said 10k had kind of disappeared? Well, just over a week ago that 10k became a reality and I only went and did it! Let’s face it I had no other choice.

Ready to hear what happened? Here goes…

Our running numbers / a slightly unimpressed German

Our running numbers / a slightly unimpressed German

So, after picking our numbers up the day before, this thing certainly started to feel a little real! We were running a 10k and there was nothing we could do about it. After a very healthy night before a race which consisted of beers by the pool and pasta, we got up mega early (we’re talking 6am people, on the 4th of July!) and headed to Mandy and Carson’s house, our running partners in crime who were just as up for it as we were, having pizza and beer the previous night! Hey, at least we were all on the same wavelength!

So, off we went to the starting line, where we needed to be an hour before our scheduled race start of 9am. Did I mention that this 10k is the biggest in the world? Nope, well it is. We’re talking 60,000 runners making their way down Peachtree Street (hence the name the Peachtree Road Race!) guzzling gallons of water and hoping to survive the heat and humidity to make it to the finish line…that’s one hell of a lot of people!

We made it to the starting line and stretched out a little, the German once again taking this thing very seriously…

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After waiting around for a while, finding our start wave (the last one may I add!) and mingling in with the thousands of runners we were finally here…the starting line:

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Uh-oh…here goes! We passed the starting line and I began my shuffle/jog. A few minutes in and everything felt good. We did pretty well with the weather, it was hot, but not too hot although we’re still talking around 80 degrees. The atmosphere was great, with people cheering you on at the side of the road, holding banners and placards with encouraging words on and holding their hands out for a high-five and my feet were working just fine…for now.

The four of us started together but the boys soon headed off on their merry way, a little further ahead of us girls. But we were just fine on our own, we carried on with our jog, passing runners who had started in the waves ahead of us, making us feel even better about ourselves! Soon we were at the 1 mile mark, that came a lot quicker than I expected. However, my thoughts soon turned to the fact I had another 5 miles ahead of me and I desperately needed to pee! I actually needed to go to the bathroom before we even passed the start line but I was too far into the crowd to escape to a portapotty!

I battled on, sweat starting to run down my face and chest (a pretty sight as you can probably guess) grabbing water along the way and spilling it all down me (have you ever tried to drink water from a cup whilst attempting to shuffle your way through a 10k race? Believe me it is a challenge!) I spotted some portapottys and mentioned them to Mandy but thanks to a huge queue and the fact I didn’t want to add 10 minutes onto my running time because I was standing in a queue for the toilet I battled on and carried on running. The view as you ran down Peachtree Street was amazing, just a sea of runners all heading in the same direction – for that coveted t-shirt waiting at the end:

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We decided we were going to try to run at least half the way to the 3 mile mark without stopping, mile 2 came around and I was certain mile 3 wasn’t possible! By this point the temperature had got even higher and I was as red as a tomato. But I was determined to battle on and I spotted a water mister, surely that would cool me down? So Mandy and I ran through it but instead of being misted we were drenched! It did the job though and cooled us down a little. Suddenly, on the horizon, I spotted the 3 mile mark! We were nearly half way there and the 3 mile mark meant a little walk…phew. It also signalled the start of what’s dubbed as ‘heart attack hill,’ something I definitely couldn’t have shuffled up! So, we decided to take a walk for the next mile, a fast walk at that, and take in some of the random outfits people were wearing:

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The pug costume was one of my personal favourites! There was a good selection of stars and stripes wearers (including myself and the German) and the people in the white t-shirt at the end of the picture were running with an 89-year-old an who does the race every year…their t-shirts were ace and Lamar was so cute! Good on him!

After walking for a mile we picked up the pace again, heart attack hill over and over half way towards the finish line, I was feeling a little tired but determined to carry on. We walked and ran the rest of the way, I missed the 5 mile marker looking for Mandy and suddenly was at the 0.6 miles to go mark…wooo! By this point the majority of the course was downhill, a huge bonus when your not so athletic legs had been running for nearly 6 miles without any training! People on the sidelines were shouting ‘Keep going, the finish line is in sight!’ and all I could think was no it isn’t, I can’t see it and, being under the impression that it ended at the Park Tavern, I still thought I had a long way to go. But, suddenly, in the distance, there it was, the coveted finish line was in sight! Suddenly, my legs picked up the pace and I was off, down the hill and across the finish line!

I DID IT!! I finished the Peachtree Road Race! I ran a 10k and it felt bloody amazing, well not at that exact moment, I was pretty happy it was all over, but, after 10 minutes or so when I’d got my breath back and my hands on that all important t-shirt I was one happy camper and bloody impressed that I’d actually done it! Cue after race pics:

Hot and sweaty but we did it!

Hot and sweaty but we did it!

Turns out Mandy crossed the line first, closely followed by Carson a couple of minutes later, I was just 11 seconds behind Carson and the German 5 minutes behind me. Official time 1 hour and 18 minutes! My aim was to do it in around 1 hour and 30 minutes so I definitely beat that one. For a first attempt with no training I think I did pretty well!

Next stop for us was the Marta home, closely followed by a Chick-Fil-A (the official food of serious runners of course) and spending the rest of the day on Carson’s parents boat at Lake Lanier, the perfect end to a gruelling morning of running:

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We watched the 4th of July fireworks and took our tired legs home, they were already starting to hurt and left us walking like 90 year olds for the next couple of days! I’m guessing even Lamar, the 89 year old was in better shape than us in the days after the race!

Still, the most important thing is we got those t-shirts:

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Oh and did I tell you we’ve all already decided to run the race again next year? Yes, we’re eager for more punishment…and to beat this years race times! Even the German says he’s going to train for it next year…is this the worrying moment where we turn into serious athletes and start eating all healthy and everything? I seriously doubt that seen as though wine and possibly pizza is on the agenda tonight!

Food: Chow Bing in Buckhead

I’ve always been a lover of Chinese food (who isn’t, right?) so when I was invited to a blogger dinner at Chow Bing in Buckhead to sample their menu I obviously jumped at the chance!

This, however, isn’t your regular chinese. We’re not talking chicken and broccoli with boiled rice or sweet and sour pork with some greasy noodles, this place serves up fresh, healthy food and fast.

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Chow Bing’s modern and industrial decor.

Conveniently located on the same strip mall as the ‘Disco Kroger’ in Buckhead, this place has got chinese food sussed. There’s no orange goop, laden with MSG, colourings and other fake ingredients, Gary Lin uses locally sourced, fresh produce, all-natural, humanely raised meat, none of that MSG garb and far less oils and corn syrups that you find in your typical American chinese restaurant. As a Brit living in a land where super-sized chicken breasts and brightly coloured, radio-active looking icing is the norm, this is a breath of fresh air.

Sichuan Wings / Wonton Nachos / Chicken Dumplings

Sichuan Wings / Wonton Nachos / Chicken Dumplings

Along with some fellow bloggers from the Association of Food Bloggers, we tried a selection of appetizers, including the wonton nachos, the chicken dumplings and the chicken tenders. Out of the three, my favourite was the chicken dumplings, they were so tasty! Although the nachos had an amazing spicy cilantro sauce on them and the chicken tenders a refreshingly light breading. We also tucked into the Sichuan wings that are described on the menu as ‘tongue-numbingly hot’ and believe me, they were the hottest wings I have ever tasted! Don’t get me wrong, they were good but if you’re not a fan of hot food, I’d give these babies a wide berth!

Chow's Chicken Box / Roast Pork / Kung Pao Chicken

Chow’s Chicken Box / Roast Pork / Kung Pao Chicken

After tucking into the appetizers I opted for the roast pork House Bing Platter, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. Instead of the usual chinese roast pork which has a pink ring around it and is sometimes pretty dry, Gary slow roasts the pork for several hours, giving it a crispy edge and retaining the moisture. It was super delicious! Another item on the menu that caught my eye was the Chow’s chicken box, this is a combination of just about everything on the menu on one plate, it’s definitely unique!

Oh, and lets not forget the drinks! Chow Bing has a fully stocked bar and also serves bubble tea. I went for a coconut rum tea and it was so tasty! Think being transported to the Caribbean with a kick and you’ve just about got the party in your mouth that this drink provided! I’ll definitely be ordering another next time I head there.

It was so refreshing to eat a chinese and not be faced with a thick, goopy (if that’s even a word!) substance all over it, packed with MSG and bright colours. If you’re into healthy food without the additives and colorings then Chow Bing is definitely the place to go.

*This is an unsponsored blog. I was invited to the restaurant by the Association of Food Bloggers and received a complimentary meal, however, all views in this post are my own.*

Life is Good. {June in Review}

Wowzers, it’s July already. July! Where does the time go? It doesn’t seem 2 minutes since I was writing my post reviewing the month of May and now I’m writing about June. Time is passing so quickly, blink and you miss it! So, to help me keep track of what actually did happen in June, both big and small, I’m linking up with Belinda over at Found Love, Now What to give you a little rundown of my month, and, once again, it seems a lot of things happened!

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I went to my first ever baby shower. These things are only just starting to happen back in the UK -  the mum-to-be is Scottish so her words were ‘having a baby in America is amazing if this is what you get!’

I know I’m late on this one but I watched The Notebook for the first time and yes I was in floods of tears, I’m talking literally streaming down my face.

I loved having Skype dates with my best friends back home this month and reminiscing about the wedding.

We went to our first American wedding and watched our friends Mandy and Carson tie the knot in a beautiful ceremony. Those two are made for each other, it was a fabulous day and the bride looked stunning!

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Festival season is upon us in Atlanta, we ventured out to the Virginia Highlands Summerfest 2014. You can read all about it here.

Flights have been booked to Indianapolis and the UK.

I made a new discovery that I’m now addicted to – Passion Tango Iced Tea Lemonade at Starbucks. The Blackberry Mojito one is good too.

My birthday came around and as a present, the German took me to New Orleans. I am definitely a lucky lady! Lots of blog posts to come on that one.

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I missed the first birthday of my best friends beautiful baby Lily. This is when expat life is rubbish because you’re not at home to celebrate with friends and family. I did get lots of pictures though (which made me cry) and I Skyped the birthday girl on her big day!

Our niece Christina arrived from Germany with her friend Nina. They went on a road trip around Florida before coming back to stay with us for a few days. I love having people over to visit and showing them where we live.

The German jetted off back to Germany for a week :-( but this did mean I got to watch whatever trash tv I wanted! Gossip Girl marathons were pretty common.

I met another fellow Brit who’s taking on Atlanta all thanks to this little piece of the internet that I call mine.

The World Cup kicked off, England managed their worst ever performance so I took to supporting the USA and Germany.

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We bought a beautiful new wine rack for our living room – an antique store find! I love scouting out gems like this in those stores.

We feasted on cheese and pork pie, a proper English delicacy that we found in a British store in Marietta. I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t as good as the real thing back home but it was pretty close!

And the last day of the month was spent watching Germany in action in the World Cup – it was a pretty tense game but thankfully they made it through and I had a happy German!

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It’s been another good month in the Richter household and with a trip to Florida, the World Cup Final and a trip back to the UK, July is looking pretty good too! Make sure you head on over to see Belinda and show her some love!

Exploring: Hoover Dam

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When we were in Las Vegas back in April we thought it was only right to take a trip to the Hoover Dam, when you’re in the area it would be rude not to, right? So, on our way towards Route 66 and the Grand Canyon we stopped off to check out the Hoover Dam and see what the big fuss is all about.

So, we got up mega early (I’m talking 6am people, and we were on holiday!) jumped in the car and headed off to explore. Seeing Las Vegas at 6:45am was the first experience. Walking through our hotel casino we spotted gamblers who were there from the night before, still chugging on a beer and losing, or maybe winning some cash. Then there were the early riser gamblers who’d just got out of bed, picked up their morning coffee and headed to the slots. Never mind New York, Vegas never sleeps either!

After picking up our morning coffees and the German designating me to be the first driver we set off like happy, excited road trippers…

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The Hoover Dam isn’t too far away from Las Vegas, in fact it’s about an hour away from the strip so if you fancy a little trip out and away from the bright lights and flashing machines this is definitely the place to go. We arrived at about 8:30am, perfect timing if you want to avoid the crowds of tourists that flock there on a daily basis. We were just about the only people there, give or take a few other couples and groups of friends. It was definitely the best time to go if you wanted to take some fab pictures at your own pace without having to wait for people to move out of the way!

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This place is just breathtaking. Obviously I’ve seen it in pictures, in films and on TV but until you get to the real thing you really can’t believe how big and beautiful it is. I think I got out of the car and simply said ‘wow!’ It is bigger than you could ever imagine, each area you walk around is more breathtaking than the last, each angle you take a photo from is more beautiful, it’s simply out of this world.

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Ready for some stats and history about this place? So, the Hoover Dam was built between 1931 and 1935 during the Great Depression as a way to give thousands of unemployed workers jobs, but sadly it also cost over one hundred lives.  It was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 30, 1935 and controversially named after President Herbert Hoover, the guy who was in power when construction began.

The dam impounds Lake Mead and the Colorado River and serves as a flood control barrier to the surrounding areas as well as a power provider for public and private utilities in Arizona, Nevada and California.

Now back to the fun bit! So, the Hoover Dam sits in both Arizona and Nevada, meaning half of the dam is in a different time zone to the other. Obviously, I had to have a little fun with this and at one point was half in Arizona and half in Nevada, I think the German thought I had a screw loose, nothing new there:

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Heading to the dam early in the morning had another benefit too, aside from the lack of tourists the temperature wasn’t too bad either. Well, I say it wasn’t too bad, it was still 90 degrees! I can only imagine what it was like for those thousands of workers who built this thing, no wonder some of them sadly died from heat exhaustion. Just a leisurely stroll from one end of the dam to the other was hot enough for me, never mind lugging concrete around. You can also see where the heat has had its effect on the water and how the levels have dropped significantly over the years, the white line above the water is where the levels were at one point, they’re much lower now but not low enough to not need the dam!

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After a stroll from one side of the dam to the other and taking in the amazing sights, we decided to head back to the car and make our way towards our next stop…the Grand Canyon! Stay tuned for a blog post on yet another breathtaking destination!

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Today’s Ramblings #18

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As much as working from home is brilliant, no rules to live by, sitting on the comfort of your own sofa for lunch and bobbing down to the pool to catch some rays as often as you’d like it’s also very counterproductive. There are distractions everywhere, from giving people back home a quick call (that obviously turns into nearly an hour) to watching some trash tv I recorded the night before and generally just staring out of the window. So, in an effort to get something done with my day and get away from the distractions of the sofa, the pool, the tv and anything else I can make an excuse from at home, I’ve taken my laptop on a little trip and I’m writing this from a Panera Bread store. I feel like I’ve joined the American masses, everyone seems to do it over here, the only problem is finding a plug socket near to a table for lack of power fails. I’m feeling pretty American right now, I’m not going to lie! Although I have an aging laptop and not a flashy MacBook like most of the other people around here. I’ll keep you updated on whether it does make me more productive or not. If it does the German might not be so happy…it will cost him more money in food and coffee if places like Starbucks become my office!

Remember the scary guy from HomeGoods in my last rambling post? Well, I bobbed into the store again the other day to try to find some bits and bobs for the hutch and they’ve outdone themselves again! Check out what I spotted this time…

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Yep, a good old British telephone box! It made me feel a little at home but seriously, who would want this in their home and once again where would they put it? I’m a Brit and I wouldn’t want it, even if I had the biggest house on the block. It costs a mere $1999 if you were wondering and fancy purchasing one for your home! I think I’ll pass this time…

Now, I know American’s like to be prepared, but after my recent trip to Hobby Lobby I didn’t think they wanted to be THAT prepared. So, here’s what happened, I walked into the store and spotted the 4th of July decorations, very acceptable seen as though that’s next week (and I have that dreaded 10k to run that I still haven’t done any training for, the run I was planning this morning was successfully avoided thanks to Ma Cook giving me a call!) then, I was slightly shocked when I spotted these…

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Thanksgiving and fall decorations. I mean, we haven’t even had summer yet. But then things got much, much worse. I walked around the corner and was confronted with this…

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Christmas decorations, rows and rows and rows of them! Not just the odd thing here and there but aisles of the stuff with everything from trees to baubles, to ribbon, to wreaths, you name it, it was there, in June, 6 months before the big day and 5 months before anyone would even think about putting their tree up. Why oh why do they need to be in the store so early? I understand that crafty people have to be organised and make things well ahead of time but they don’t make baubles and tree decorations. The world is most definitely going mad!

Well, I already feel pretty productive, maybe this working from a Panera Bread or Starbucks thing might actually work…