Driving on the Other Side of the World

We’re in Sunderland — a city in northeastern England. We arrived at Heathrow around 11 am and promptly got a plane to Newcastle.

We’ve rented a car since we’ll be doing a good amount of moving around throughout England. Oddly, they just give you the keys and within seconds you’re on a major motorway, driving on the opposite side of the road filled with these crazy things called “roundabouts,” and running on about 2 hours of sleep. One scraped hubcap and 2 holy-crap moments later, we really got the hang of it!  They really should have a small driver’s training course at the airport for American drivers.

Dave feeling pretty confident before we hit the road.

My mom was from Sunderland, where she lived until her early 20s when she joined Pan Am as a stewardess. I spent a good amount of time in Sunderland as a little girl; we would come over to England during the summers when I was very small, but it’s been about 15 years since I spent any significant time in the area. My uncle (my mom’s brother), aunt and cousin live in Peterlee, about 15 minutes or so from Sunderland. Dave never met my mom so I thought it’d be fun for him to see where she grew up and meet her brother.

Sunderland has seen a lot of renovation over the years. When my mom grew up here, it was primarily an industrial area, and they were dealing with rationing and  bombings from World War II. My grandpa was a coal miner, and my nana raised three children — my mom and her two younger brothers. There were actually four boys total but two died in infancy.

As expected, Sunderland sees its fair share of rain and its raining now. But, it’s right on the coast and I love a gloomy ocean. We’re staying at the Marriott Sunderland. Resting up tonight — and seeing the family tomorrow!

Our dogsitter’s flash on his camera phone is broken — he’s in college; it’s easy to drop your phone when you’re holding 4 solo cups! — so his proof-of-life photos are not stellar thus far.  So we’ll leave you with this…

Esther intently awaiting our blog update.


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1 Carry-on Suitcase & 20 days in Europe

In the two months leading up to our European vacation, Dave has been pretty insistent on — and excited about — the idea of us only packing 1 carry-on bag each. It has its merits — no waiting for checked luggage, no chances of lost luggage, no lugging huge suitcases along cobblestone streets.

I normally bring 1 carry-on suitcase and 1 personal item when I go away for the weekend, so 20 days across 3 countries and climates is a bit daunting. But I read somewhere that I should try everything once — so here is my 20-day in Europe packing list:

            • Running shoes
            • Nice flats
            • Wedge sandals
            • Flip flops
            • 2 pairs of jeans
            • 2 long dresses
            • 1 skirt
            • 1 pair of tights
            • 2 cardigans
            • 1 short-sleeved sweater
            • 3 t-shirts
            • 6 tank tops
            • 2 pairs of workout pants
            • 2 sports bras
            • 1 long-sleeved running shirt
            • 1 long-sleeved shirt
            • 2 hats
            • 2 scarves/pashminas
            • 9 pairs of underwear/socks
            • 1 bikini
            • Toiletries
            • 2 pairs sunglasses
            • 1 purse
            • Laptop
            • Camera
            • Kindle

We purchased 2 new carry-on bags for the occasion. I got this Delsey Helium Shadow 2.0; it fits a surprisingly large amount of stuff in it, it moves well, and it makes me feel like a seasoned world traveler.

My travel companion.
Dave’s coming too.

Esther seems to know something is up. Our dogsitter will be staying at our place while we’re gone and sending us proof-of-life photos daily. We realize that it’s not a true proof-of-life photo unless he holds the latest daily newspaper up next to her in each photo, but we’re not that crazy though. No one reads print newspapers anymore so an open browser with the latest CNN page will suffice.

Esther wants to know what European turkey tastes like.




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Wedded — Now on to Europa!

Well, we got married. Again. To each other. Again. When you know what you like, you stick with it!

That’s a blog post for another time, but we had a wonderful time at our wedding at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on May 11, 2013. We really had so much fun — it couldn’t have been better.

Tomorrow, we leave for a 20-day European adventure. We start in Sunderland in Northern England, then Oxford, London, Paris, Florence, Cinque Terra and finally Rome. We’re moving around a lot, and we are only taking carry-on bags. Ready, set, GO!

Esther's big day.

Esther’s big day.



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Homemade Super-Long Desk

We moved into our place about 1.5 years ago and have done a woeful job of utilizing our space. We spend the majority of our time in one room and have a lovely, unused loft space which would make a perfect home office for the two of us (well, three of us; Esther snoozes on my lap during work hours).

Esther in my lap.

What a slacker!

After we bought this place, I quickly discovered that I have no interest in home decor. I know when other people’s homes look nice and I would love my space to look like that but furniture stores give me migraines and paint swatches make my eyes bleed. Thank goodness for the Internet and a handy boyfriend.

We initially thought we’d set up two separate desks on opposite walls, allowing us to have a seating area in front of the loft’s fireplace. Dave liked the idea of one super-long desk along the entire back wall of the loft — the only problem is the back wall is 14.5 feet long and most desks cap out at about 8 or 9 feet. Pinterest led me to this awesome desk which these two clever people created. With this well-laid-out game plan in hand and inspired by our predecessor’s success, I was ready to tell Dave to execute this idea.

We followed Young House Love’s guide to a T, and we mean to a T. After three trips to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, we couldn’t find $1 cabinets.  Come on, Young House Love, what’s up with your wonky how-to?!

Dave ended up getting 4 of these nightstands from Ikea; they were the right height and on sale for $50 each. Even with that great sale, we were still already $200 deep whereas Young House Love was only $6 deep at this point — damn them and their perfect, insanely frugal home improvement projects!

Ikea Nightstands -- Desk in Progress

The 4 nightstands in their positions

Dave planned for the desk to be 28″ wide and 14.5′ long, with 3 “rows” — 9.25″ each — of wood planks from the front of the desk to the back. He bought wood planks that are about 1.5″ deep.

Raw Wood Planks

Raw wood planks

He did make the mistake of leaving the planks outside in the sun one balmy afternoon, resulting in some cracks in 2 of the planks. We figured it would add character that didn’t cost us $1,800 at Restoration Hardware.

Dave then sanded the wood.

Sanding the wood planks

I’m sure we’ll be using this electric sander all the time now.

And stained it. He did 3 coats of stain. He stained the top of all the planks and the sides of the planks that would be in front.

Staining the planks

Dave removing excess stain with a rag.

In retrospect, it might be a good idea to stain the ends of the planks. Once he assembled the top, there were 1 or 2 spots he had to touch up.

Esther watching

Esther watched.

The assembly process was the interesting part. Dave bought a Kreg jig which allowed him to essentially drill at an angle when needed and affix the planks to each other. He also used Young House Love’s approach, using a camera tripod to keep the boards level as he drilled. When the serious muscle was required, I stepped in and pressed down (or pulled up) on the boards while he drilled to keep things as level as possible.

The assembly process took a couple hours and a lot of maneuvering on Dave’s part. Once he was finished, he then did 3 coats of polyurethane sealant.

Finished build-in desk

The finished product! Super-long (14.5 foot) desk!

And here it is after we put our stuff on it.

The full desk

I tried to remove Esther’s flash eyes but then it looked like she had no eyeballs.
So I settled for the original, slightly possessed look.

Here’s a closer shot of my section of the desk.

Homemade desk closeup

Does this qualify as a “homemade” desk? Or is that term reserved for baked goods?

And finally, here’s a shot of it from the other end of the loft. You can see how it takes up the entire wall.

Now that's a desk!

Now that’s a desk!

Please note that our work space is always this clean. We are just supremely organized, together people.


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Sunshine and UTIs

Well, this is embarrassing. I hate to expose Esther as a slut on her first post but she has a UTI. It’s also known as urethritis but no matter how we fancy it up, it’s a urinary tract infection.

Dave noticed that Esther was holding her pee position for much longer than normal on her morning walk, despite the fact that nothing was coming out. This would seem odd to most but Esther fake pees for the final 2/3 of every walk so it really came down to the extended length of time she was fake peeing, rather than the fact that she was fake peeing. He then noticed a few drops of blood in her urine — and that got our attention.

The vet diagnosed it as a UTI before he even looked at her. It was then confirmed, $250 later, with a physical exam, x-ray and urinalysis test. Apparently we’re still in the paranoid new pet owner stage in terms of unnecessary vet tests.

Apparently UTIs are quite common in female dogs because they don’t fully comprehend the front-to-back wiping method. To use the vet’s words, “Female dogs sometimes lick their anus and then their vagina, allowing bacteria to get into their urinary tract. Female humans are also more prone to UTIs than men.” These women are flexible!

So Esther is now on day 5 of her 20-day antibiotic regime. We wrap her pill in a piece of turkey which she swallows whole and then follow that dose with 7 additional pieces of turkey because we are pushovers.

Antibiotic Turkey Surprise

Turkey again?! I hope this UTI never goes away!

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Esther the Dog.

This is Esther. She’s a dog.

This is Esther. She’s a dog. A 10-year-old Shih Tzu to be precise. Esther was originally my mom’s dog — she got her in 2001 and Esther was a bouncing bundle of energy. Through four years of funny stories, day-to-day life, and rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, Esther was my mom’s constant companion.  Despite my dad’s discouragement, my mom would feed Esther food off her own plate.

My mom died in 2005 and Esther became my dad’s dog. My dad started feeding Esther off his plate. Esther and my dad spent time playing aggressive games of fetch, watching football games, and on long walks. When my dad went into the hospital in September of 2011, Esther split her time between Southern and Northern California, making the weekly six-hour drive with us. When my dad died nine weeks later, Esther moved to LA permanently with us.

Through three distinct sets of masters, all within one family, Esther has rolled with the punches. She’s the best. She’s Esther the Dog.

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