Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Travel Talk: 10 Unglamorous Tips for the Best Flight Ever (Even in Economy)

Once, when John and I were doing the long-distance thing, he booked me a flight from Boston to London so I could spend my birthday weekend with him. It was romantic, exciting, and so very cool. I remember dressing up for the flight and wanting to look glamorous and chic when I landed. 

That's about the last time I thought about looking glamorous or chic on a long-haul flight. 

Instead, my years of jetting back and forth between the US and UK, plus a few added trips to far-flung places like Sri Lanka, Thailand and Singapore, have made me somewhat of an expert in unglamorous travel. 

This is how I rock it (#sorrynotsorry): 

1. Wear compression stockings for long-haul flights. 
Trust me - you'll thank me when you land. They're the unsexiest things EVER, but compression stockings keep your feet and ankles from swelling, plus help prevent DVT. I'm so paranoid about wearing them, I'll buy a pair at the airport like these if I've left mine at home. I usually put them on under whatever I'm wearing that day, or else slip them on before the flight takes off (when I say slip, I really mean pull and grunt and groan until the person next to me slowly edges away). I make my parents wear them because I'm so nervous about them developing DVT on long flights ... I yelled at my dad once for not taking me seriously and made sure he wore them before he flew to London. 

2. Mid-flight, spritz your face with Avene Thermale Spring Water Spray
Even John exclaimed, "This feels so good!" when I sprayed this over him mid-flight when we were en route to Sri Lanka last year. The cabin air makes my skin greasy and flaky all at once (SO attractive!) and my eyes feel like they're burning by the 5th hour. So, I usually mist this over my face every two hours or so and it keeps my skin hydrated, without adding an extra layer of grease.

I always take an aisle seat because I have to pee, like, 1,000 times during a flight and there's nothing worse than asking the stranger next to you to get up 1,000 times. Before I fly, I get a huge bottle of water and make sure I drink it ALL during a 8-hour or longer flight. I also accept ANY water or juice that's coming my way when the flight attendants pass them out. This is key to helping jet lag when I land, and - perhaps it's a coincidence - I'm less likely to catch a cold/other nasty bug on the flight if I'm well-hydrated.

4. Avoid coffee, tea or alcohol.
It's so hard to decline that cute, mini bottle of wine that comes with your meal on BA flights (my dad usually ends up with two, because he's so charming). But alcohol, coffee and tea are very dehydrating and, for me, personally, prevent me from getting a good rest on the plane. Instead, I chug water like there's no tomorrow and, if possible, ask for a cup of hot water I can stick a peppermint teabag into.

5. Make a pre-flight playlist.
I get nervous and anxious flying on my own, which I dont' really get, since I've been flying 6+ hour flights by myself since I was 17 and didn't seem to have a problem with it then. But for whatever reason, I kind of hate it now, but living in the UK and having family in the US means I have to do this at least once a year. So, I make a playlist that takes me from my journey to Heathrow to the minute I land. I like listening to calming music, especially as I like to have my headphones in when I drift off to sleep. Like navigating crowds in London, having my ears full of music on the plane is a great distraction from my worries.

6. Try to get some shut-eye once the food service is over.
I have a little ritual for long-haul flights. Whether I'm flying with John or by myself (he is less entertaining than I usually anticipate on the flights - he mostly sleeps or watches a movie or pokes me to get up so he can go to the bathroom. There are no travel-version games of Scrabble or funny anecdotes to trade), I typically board, read a magazine, clutch at John's hand (if it's available - if I'm alone, I clutch my handrest) as the plane takes off, start a movie, eat the food while watching the movie, finish watching the movie, make bathroom stop #5 out of 47, and then ... put my eyeshade on and snooze. If I'm lucky, I drop off to sleep relatively straightaway and can sleep for 4 hours or so. If not, I don't try to put too much pressure on myself to actually sleep but think of it as resting my eyes, which I can do for about an hour or so before getting way too bored and watching another movie.

7. Wear an eyeshade. Preferably one shaped like a mini-bra.
This helps block out light (obvs), but combined with earphones, is a great way to help you focus on snoozing. I love the type that look like a mini-bra and doesn't touch your eyelids. So cool. NOT.

Unless you're flying business or first, you'll get hungry. BRING SNACKS. OMG, I cannot emphasize this one enough - BRING SNACKS. Chips (crisps, for you UK readers, not an actual, greasy, vinegar-drizzled, bag of hot chips). Granola bars (Bounce bars are great). Dried fruit. SOMETHING. ANYTHING.

9. Wet Wipes are your friend. 
Germs. Germy-germ-germs. I'm a frequent hand-washer, but Wet Wipes are great for: a) wiping between visits to the gross plane toilet; b) cleaning up spillages; c) wiping your hands after eating all those delicious snacks you brought.

10. Bring tissues and nasal spray

Need I remind you that the title of this post is "10 UNGLAMOROUS TIPS ...". Unglamorous. Do you get insanely sneezy on planes or is it just me? Once again, the dry cabin air wreaks havoc on my poor sinuses and I've got a blocked nose by the third or fourth hour. I make sure to pack extra pocket tissues and a saline spray to keep my nasal passages hydrated. I cannot believe I just wrote "nasal passages" in a post. 

Writing this post has been so cringe, I'm slinking off now to redeem my glamour points by ... I don't know, throwing a cashmere wrap around myself (which is one of my essential travel items, btw, so it ain't all about the dry nasal passages).
What's your most unglamorous travel tip? 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Behind-the-Scenes: Blogging With a Full-Time Job

I used to think that I was anti-social. That I was an introvert.

But actually, I'm, like, really social. I love having people over, hosting dinner parties, going on shopping trips with friends, hanging out at my neighbor's house when I'm feeling a little lonely (no matter that he's 80 and talks through the Great British Bake Off instead of watching it) ... I love the street we live on because it's so social. I love saying "hi" and exchanging pleasantries with at least three different people before I reach my front door. I'll chat the ear off the man who owns the corner shop if I could - mostly because I'm social, but also because I'm American.

However, I'm always a little reluctant - a little whiny, a little stand-offish - when it comes to meeting new people. And it's because of that question. You know the one.

Let me set the scene:

You're at a supperclub in East London, hosted by a friend of a friend. You've arrived a little late, so you hang up your coat and take a seat next to a table that's already boozing and chatting the night away. You're greeted by warm and friendly faces. You're introduced to Mark and Louisa. Mark and Louisa are a couple who live in Bethnal Green. They're architects and they wear matching watches.  They probably own a lot of HAY furniture at home. You're just bonding over your mutual love for House of Cards when Mark turns to you and says, "And what do you do?"
Cue stammering and hesitation; a cop-out: "Well, I do a lot of different things, haha! I mean, we all do, AMIRITE? Haha!"

Then, when pressed for detail: "So, I work in publishing. Book publishing, actually. In Rights. Sort of. Like, Business Affairs. So, negotiating contracts for acquisitions and sales. Of titles. Yeah. And, um, I also write. Kind of. I mean, I have a blog and I freelance for magazines. Sort of."

What I really want to say is, "I have a million and one jobs and I can't quite define all of them but they are equally important and sometimes when I get home, I really just want to jump in the shower and do my nails or cook dinner or something but really I'm on my phone promoting a blog post from the moment I get off the tube to the minute I turn my key in the door and then I have to style a shot for Instagram but I can't right now because it's nearly Daylight Savings Time and it's going to be dark by 4 pm and sunrise isn't until 8 or something so I can only shoot on weekends when I'd much rather be watching House of Cards in bed which then produces a lot of self-loathing because I love to write and take photos but really I just wish there were more hours in a day so I could decompress when I need to instead of finding the next best thing to Instagram."

I've had a full-time job for as long as I've had this blog. Ideally, I'd love to have one or two days per week to devote to the blog, but I just can't tear myself away from my day job, which - while fun and fulfilling - is demanding and requires a lot of focus and concentration.

So, I write after work or on the tube or during my lunchbreak or on the weekend (seriously, the number of times I've groaned on Sunday morning: 'Ugh, I have so much writing to do' without lifting a finger" has outnumbered the times I've Instagrammed a photo of smashed avocado on toast - which is a lot).

But the thing about creativity is ... you can't just switch it on. Ideas come to you (my magic place is the shower, when I'm whistling a bad song on repeat and have one leg propped up against the bath, slathered in shaving cream, razor poised).

Which is why blogging with a full time job is tough. I don't even really mind the crazy schedule; it's just ... the creative process requires me to be out and about. Living life. Observing. Noticing. I don't notice anything when I'm chewing off a fingernail trying to think of a title for my review that was supposed to be published over a week ago, except for the blinking cursor in front of me going, "Come ON. COME ON!".

Also, as I've grown older, my priorities have changed. Honestly? I'm more likely to eschew a fun blogging event for a quiet night in with my husband - a husband who - while completely doting and pretty-much-gosh-darn-perfect - travels a lot and works long hours. I probably do this to the detriment of my blog.

I know.

But spending that time with someone I love and who I don't see as often as I'd like to, is more important to me than an eye-wateringly beautiful five-course meal. Don't get me wrong: I would love to be at that table for that five-course meal. And I spend the next day scrolling through others' social media posts with a serious sense of FOMO.

But I've got to prioritize. I don't have time not to.

I'm also trying to be more compassionate toward myself - something I've been working on all year long, and which I wrote about in this post. So, I've entered into a little contract with myself: a contract that says I won't beat myself up if I don't have a whole slew of posts scheduled and ready for publication Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning. That, if I've had a busy day at work, I'll allow myself the space to veg on the couch watching Luke Cage for half an hour before making dinner and calling it an early night, instead of slavishly sitting front of a blank screen waiting for inspiration to hit me (that only results in stilted copy anyway, I've found). That I'll pay less attention to rankings and stats.

If you blog and work full time, how do you balance it all? Are you happy with that balance? I'd love to know!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Happy Friday + Happy Champagne Day!

Yup, not only is it Friday (thank goodness) but today is also international Champagne Day - I can't think of a better excuse than to sneak out for a glass at lunchtime (not that I'm enabling you or anything) or celebrate after work by popping open a bottle.

I know it's silly, but one of my favorite things about travelling with John (and a huge perk from all his business travel) is that pre-flight glass of champagne at the British Airways First Lounge. It makes me giddy (literally - I have to drink about a litre of water afterward to calm me down) and so excited to get on the plane to our next destination. I'll be recreating the scene above in a few weeks when we fly to India!

Other champagne moments I love include toasting my family at Christmas time. My parents are coming over to spend Christmas in London with us this year (like they did last year - yay!), and we usually keep a bottle of Pol Roger champagne in the fridge in advance of their arrival.

Between 12 pm - 4:30 pm today, you can win a bottle of champagne by following @Champagne_UK on Twitter and playing their "virtual treasure hunt" by guessing and tweeting different Central London locations as they're revealed by Champagne Bureau UK, hashtagging your tweets with #ChampagneTreasure. More info here, if you want to play!

Are you a fan of champagne? Do you have any funny or memorable champagne moments to share?

p.s. I have another one ... when I met John's aunt and uncle for the first time in Normandy (where his relatives have a cottage), I was given the task of taking six glasses of champagne out to the living room, where everyone was sitting. Simple enough, right? It must have been nerves, but as soon as I got to his aunt, I managed to tip the tray and the champagne flutes went down like dominoes. Dominoes, folks. The bubbles and glasses went all over her lap ... it was a disaster and I had to bite my lip so hard to keep that first tear from falling! Without missing a beat, his uncle immediately swooped in, collected up all the glass and turning to me, said, "That's nothing. You should have seen the time I was carrying twelve champagne flutes and tripped over my own two feet!" And that, is why I love John's family.

This post was written in collaboration with Champagne Bureau UK. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What To Order From EatFirst's New Brunch Menu

I like to joke that EatFirst is the perfect lazy version of brunch - because it doesn't even involve getting out of bed (well, except to answer the door)! And now that they deliver to Walthamstow (fist pump), well, my weekends are made. Brunch delivered to me = more time spent sleeping in, less time making reservations a week in advance at the newest, coolest café and rushing to said reservations, plus the option of literally eating breakfast/brunch in bed.

Last week, EatFirst unveiled their new brunch menu and I took my friend Natalie to try it out at Clerkenwell London's Vinyl Lounge (which is an ah-mazing venue, by the way, complete with a spa, boutique shop, and tasty-looking restaurant).

Accompanied by a live DJ set, bottomless prosecco and delicious Blood Marys by The Pickle House, we set to the difficult task of tasting every dish from the new brunch menu.

Prepared by Head Chef Benn Hodges and his team, these dishes are freshly prepared every day and you can choose a delivery slot (in 45-minute intervals) that suits you. And, assuming your London postcode's within their delivery zone (you can check by entering your address here), here's what you should order (in order of my favorites) - right now:

Fig and Raspberry French Toast 

I wish I didn't wake up craving sweet things but ... I do. This fig and raspberry french toast is like eating a dreamy, light piece of sponge cake for breakfast - but not as sweet, so deceptively guilt-free. It comes with a custard which can be heated up at home, though we had it chilled and it was perfect. The thick slices of sourdough soaked in a mixture of eggs, vanilla and sugar are pillowy and soft ... imagine this with a hot cup of tea on a rainy Sunday morning. (I just did, and accidentally drooled a little on my keyboard - no joke.)

Cannon and Cannon Brunch Charcuterie

For me and John, weekends are all about charcuterie boards. We often forgo a traditional "lunch" and grab a fresh loaf of sourdough from our local bakery and a selection of meats (plus cheese for me; John's not a cheese fan - I know, I KNOW) on Saturdays or Sundays, dipping crusty slices of bread into hummus or oil and balsamic. This charcuterie board is perfect and the scotch egg was so delicious. Probably not one for the bed, however, unless you want to find a surprise piece of scotch egg under your pillow the next day.

Teriyaki Salmon with Sesame Egg

I didn't expect to like this as much as I did, but the flavors were mindblowing! It's the perfect starter size, so a great little pot to share. The citrus dressing is fresh and tangy - something I wish I could bottle up and drizzle over all my salads.

Crushed Avocado on Sourdough

Brunch isn't brunch with crushed avo on toast ... but this version is served with two soft boiled free range eggs on top - with a yolk so orange and bright, you'll want to Instagram it straight away (or maybe not, if you have, you know, an actual life). Served with a tomato chilli chutney, it'd probably be the go-to dish that my healthy-eating husband would opt for on this menu.

Which dishes would you pick? (Also: can I come over?)

p.s. The Pickle House Bloody Mary mix (and prosecco, even!) is available for delivery too ... I personally love the fresh juices and smoothies.

Natalie and I were guests of EatFirst. All opinions are my own.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Gifts for Design Lovers: Not Another Bill

20-something me loved shopping for presents. I mean, it was like a hobby for me back then: I'd shop for gifts throughout the year, pausing when I found something interesting or unique in a museum gift shop and priding myself on the amount of thought I'd put into selecting the perfect gift for a friend or family member.

30-something me? Not so much. I have no time or energy for that now. Today, I'm more likely to shout an expletive at my desk at work when a friend's birthday alert pings on my phone, racing out of the office at lunchtime, before grabbing at a mediocre card and scrawling, "Happy belated!" inside and guiltily mailing it off three days later.

And - I don't know about you - but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find those unique presents: gifts that won't be cast aside in a few months' time, but rather, beautiful objects that can be used and enjoyed for years to come.

Not Another Bill is my new, favorite destination for beautiful, design-led gifts for friends. It's actually a "gift subscription" service, which you can purchase for yourself or someone else. After filling out a short survey about your personal style and preferences, you'll receive one present a month for however long you'd like (there are different subscription plans) and, if you don't like something you've received, you can always exchange it for something else.

I was browsing Not Another Bill's site the other day and, well, I'd be hard pressed to find something I'd say no to. From gorgeous gold pens by Hay to this stunning marble tray, there are endless options for items that would be perfect for me - I mean, my friends.  Friends. I totally meant friends.

Recently, I received a box of surprises from Not Another Bill and, like a child, I couldn't wait to rush home to open it. Kicking aside the literal bills that had collected on my doormat at home while I'd been at work, I rushed upstairs to tear open the tissue paper and unwrapped this set of two pretty journals - personalized with my initials in a lovely pale blue and grey, with gold embossed lettering.

I tend to carry small journals like these in my handbags so I can jot down ideas for blog posts, do-lists, etc. and these slot perfectly into this season's tiny cross-body bags.

I think part of the joy of receiving a gift from Not Another Bill is the excitement of not knowing what's inside. How often do unexpected (and happy) surprises make their way into our lives these days? (The last unexpected surprise I had was when a bird pooped on me on my way to work and I gagged all the way home while trying to make sure it didn't drip down my jacket, so, yeah - that was not a happy surprise.)

The piece de resistance of my box, however, was this cactus vase, which made me actually giddy with joy. (Ask John - I danced around the house like Clara from the Nutcracker, holding it in my hands, while he shook his head disapprovingly at me.)

How fun is this?

It makes my shelves look less "serious" but, in general, it just brings a smile to my face, like most of the gifts featured on the Not Another Bill website.

I love browsing independent boutiques and design shops in London, but while I enjoy visiting these stores in person, I find that I don't have time to do this as much as I'd like in person. Not Another Bill takes the guesswork out of choosing gifts for me via its thoughtfully curated selection and multiple subscription options. I can't think of a single person who wouldn't enjoy receiving one of these joyful gifts in their mail - instead of, you know, another bill.

My gifts were generously provided by Not Another Bill. Click here for more information about their subscription plans and gifts. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I Hate Ironing

I really do. Except, sometimes, when I'm really upset or sad or stressed, I'll iron all of our bed linen. It's therapeutic and satisfying (not to mention, it feels amazing to crawl into a bed with sheets and pillow covers that are ultra crisp, cool, and smooth!). But otherwise? I hate ironing. Particularly, John's shirts, which our cleaner conveniently deals with once every fortnight. 

Now that it's officially fall, and the temperatures are reflecting this (i.e. goodbye, breezy summer dresses; hello, opaque black tights and oversized cashmere sweaters), I have to turn to the other pressing matter on my mind, which is the inevitable ... "dry clean only" pile. A few weeks ago, I'd separated the dry clean only pile from the rest of my laundry, placing it on the floor. Only ... well, the pile never shifted, and at one point, it looked like it was going to become a permanent part of the bedroom carpet (credit to John, who never said anything about it the whole two weeks it sat there in the middle of the room).

And what's with the dry cleaners that only open from 9-5? How is this even a thing? So I gave the folks at the aptly named, I Hate Ironing, a call because - judging from their company name - it seemed like we were kindred spirits. 

At first, I was wary. I've used similar dry cleaning collection services and the hours for pick-up and drop-off were far and few between - especially out in E17. To my surprise (and delight), however, they basically had one-hour slots available throughout the day, every single day. Desperate to wear the new cashmere Equipment sweater I'd scored on eBay (for a mind-blowing £30, mind you), I quickly booked in a collection and a friendly man showed up on my doorstep in the next evening with a laundry bag I popped my clothes into.

The very next day, my sweaters and silk dress were all returned to me, smelling fresh as a daisy, clean and hung on hangers. Delivered to my door. At a time that was convenient to me. 

'There must be a downside!' I can hear you shouting. And yes, there is - it's pretty pricey compared to, say, a local dry cleaner (for example, 4 sweaters and 2 dresses came out at around £50). But. But! It's not more than the dry cleaner I used to go to in Central London (but I am so not lugging my clothes back and forth on the tube in the morning - no thanks) and the fact that it's delivered to my door and I can get everything back the next day is a serious plus in my book. It's a great service for people who leave things to the last minute ... like me. 

So, I can definitely see myself using I Hate Ironing again. Especially since, you know, I kind of ... hate ironing. 

If you want to try I Hate Ironing for yourself, you can get £10 off your first order with my code 'jaimw4r'. Go on, treat yourself!

This post was written in collaboration with I Hate Ironing, and my order was complimentary. All opinions are my own.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Expat Talk: When Friends Leave

You know those people who come into your lives who you instantly connect with? The ones you feel like you've known for 10 years, instead of 2 minutes? That's how I feel about my friend Erin, a (former) fellow American in London, who reached out to me via this blog.

When we sat down to dinner at Ottolenghi for the first time over two years ago, I was worried it'd be awkward: I'd never met a reader before, and what if I didn't match up to my blog persona? Within minutes, we'd found out that:

- we're both from the West Coast (Erin's from California and I'm from Washington)

- she shares the same birthday as my mom and my father-in-law

- we share the same age gap with our siblings

- we're both married to Brits

- we're enthusiastic foodies and have similar taste in style

I mean, our similarities gave me goosebumps! Over sharing plates of grilled asparagus and okra, followed by ice cream at Udderlicious next door, we talked excitedly about our other interests: "Do you like this? What do you think about that?" Our friendship was meant to be.

So, when Erin texted me a few months ago to say, "I have some really exciting news!", and told me about her new job offer in L.A., I was so, so happy for her. I couldn't think of a more deserving, better person for the role and I knew that she and her husband had always planned to settle in the States at some point.

Then I felt sad, because I didn't want her to leave; she's one of my tribe.

But it's not the first time I've made American friends here who have moved back to the States: there was Suzy, whose baby girl I held for the first time on a snowy day in Putney (who's now a big sister, twice over), and Ruth, who also worked in publishing.

I was sad when they both left, not only because they were great friends (and we still keep in touch), but also because they understood that part of me that often gets neglected here: that expat, American, sometimes-homesick, always-a-little-too-enthusiastic-about-everything part.

And I miss them.

Friends are a funny thing: we often take each other for granted. But it's not until their absence becomes a reality that it's really felt.


Monday, October 10, 2016

A Week In #Floorselfies

As I type this, my living room floor is littered with tile samples, and I've got approximately six other tabs open with various rug choices. The floors in my house torment me: a year on, we've yet to find an area rug that fits (and suits) our awkwardly-shaped living room; the floors in our bathrooms are still a cheap, creaking linoleum; and the stone slabs in our kitchen are cold, ugly, and chipped.

So, I've been looking for inspiration every day, and snapping a #floorselflie whenever I see something pretty at my feet: to keep track of the little improvements we have made to our home so far, and to think about how we might improve the rest of it.

Here's my week in #floorselfies:


Getting ready to run some errands. Hard to believe that this room (which is now the guest room) was previously covered in a horrible, cheap thin carpet that the previous owners had installed ... and not very well. When we moved in, we hired builders to strip back the carpets and sand down the original floorboards - a decision I'm so glad we made.  


Our builders are finally gone (hurrah!). So, until the next project (bathrooms), we've vacuumed and dusted and restored our rugs to their rightful places, including this beautiful antique French runner that we bought when we first moved in. I'm so glad to have it back in its place in the hallway (fun fact: I once tripped and fell over this rug and cracked the lens on my precious camera. There were tears that day.).


Stopped off for a coffee at Holborn Grind before work - I'm obsessed with the floors in here. The tiny hexagonal, marble tiles near the bar have a slight pearly sheen, which looks amazing juxtaposed against the light grey wooden floors of the rest of the cafe. I tend to sneakily take a #floorselfie every time I'm here, waiting for my flat white.


Choosing flowers for the weekend outside the tube station. The roses in this shop last for weeks. Nothing more cheerful on a rainy day than looking down and seeing all these gorgeous, bright colors.


Eking out final days of slightly-warm weather and heading outside to water the garden before I head off to work. The paving we used in our garden was imported from the Netherlands and were killer to carry through our house (not that I lifted a finger!). I love the industrial look it gives to the garden. The sharp edges look amazing against all the long, soft grasses we've planted.


Treat day = lamb kofte hot box from Leon (my current favorite). Toying with the idea of using similar tiles in our kitchen one day. Right now, we've got boring stone slabs that the previous owner put in, but these colorful, mismatched patterns would look great in a kitchen, I think!


Breakfast with Rebecca at Balans Soho Society - I snapped this pic on my way in. I'm such a sucker for pretty tiles, and these fit in perfectly with the quirky (but beautifully done) interiors of Balans Soho Society. 

Have you seen any pretty floors - or better yet, taken any #floorselfies - lately?

This post was written in collaboration with Luxury Flooring. All opinions are my own.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

4 Years On: In Which He Teaches Me How to Ride a Bike Again

"That's it. Now, watch how I push off. Just put your foot on the pedal, like this. And chill. You don't even need to go anywhere. I mean, we could stay like this all day if you wanted to!" he says, as the bike knocks awkwardly against my ankle and I grip the handlebars so hard, my knuckles turn white.

We're in the middle of Epping Forest. It's an overcast, fall day. The leaves have started turning and some even crunch under our wheels as we cycle through the trees. In the distance, a horse clip-clops away from us.  Otherwise, it is silent.

Eventually, we reach a clearing that gives way to a beautiful lake, which I use as an excuse to stop for a water break. I take in the serenity of our surroundings and suddenly my heart beats faster: 'Is he going to propose?' I think to myself, slightly giddy at the thought.

But then I remember: we're already married. We've been married for four years, nearly together for twelve.

But there he is. Smiling sideways at me as we pedal faster on the dirt track, shouting encouragement: "You're doing great! You look much more comfortable than when we first started!"

And there he always was: holding my hair back while I threw up in the bathroom sink during a bout of food poisoning; pulling my head into his chest as I sobbed over bad - no, devastating - news; doing a silly dance in full-view of a plane full of passengers to make me laugh.

But he wasn't always there - he couldn't be. 2.5 years of our 12 years together were spent apart on two different continents. I still can't listen to Death Cab For Cutie's Transatlanticism without being reminded of that period: those sad, sad days.

Like every couple, we bicker. We argue about who took out the trash last or whose childhood home was bigger. We argue about towels left on the floor and wet footprints on the carpet. We argue about tones of voice used or mugs of unfinished tea hidden in places, left to grow moldy.

Then, the other week, when we were embarking on Project Organize-The-Shit-Out-Of-This-House, I found a book I'd made for him in 2008: "365 days", I'd called it, filled with descriptions of 365 activities we did together.

"You have to hear this," I said, laughing as he came to the door. I sped-read through a few pages before getting too choked up to finish reading this one aloud: "Window shopping at Habitat and picking out furniture for our future home together." Because, back then? That "future home" was just a fantasy - and nothing more. It was impossible. The, "someday, but probably not". There was so much uncertainty. My future in the UK wasn't even secure. That "future home" - it was imagined. So far off in the distance, we couldn't even fathom it.

And here I was, married to him, sitting in the home that we both owned, and actually, really picking out furniture at Habitat for our real home.

And that's why I cried. Relief, yes, but joy - joy at crossing that finish line, with our arms triumphantly raised. And love. So much love.

In John, I found my life partner: someone I love, trust, and admire. Someone who encourages and indulges me as much as he kicks my ass and makes me want to try harder. And vice versa. Someone who treats my friends with the same kindness and love as he extends to me.

Someone who makes me want to be better.

I watch my friends search for soulmates, deserving of so much more than what life haphazardly throws in their direction. I watch friends find their not-quite-soulmates before realizing they weren't meant to be after all, parting ways and picking up the pieces. I watch friends settle down with partners who are very much not their soulmates and try to make it work despite this - and it makes me ache.

I watch all this go on as I watch the back of my husband's head on the pillow, rising and falling in time with his breath, when I wake up on Sunday mornings before him. I watch it all and I think to myself: I am so goddamned lucky.

I get on my bike and I pedal on, pushing off faster and easier this time, as he looks over his shoulder to check where I am.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Shopping Guide: Seven Dials, Covent Garden

I love helping friends and family members create itineraries for their trips to London. I often take pity on tourists outside Holborn station in the morning, looking lost and gesticulating wildly at a map - so much so, that I often stop to offer advice or point them in the direction of a decent café or little-known view (mostly, they just want directions to the British Museum).

But the number one question I get asked is ... where's the best place to shop in London? And, well, I'm a little biased, but I've worked in the Covent Garden area for years, so I always automatically reply, "Covent Garden". And more specifically, Seven Dials - that collection of seven little streets that converge into a central junction, marked by a column with six sundials. It's filled to the brim with trendy boutiques, meandering passageways, delightful restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

On any given payday, you'll find me wandering Seven Dials, gazing longingly into shop windows and standing in line for a flat white at Monmouth Coffee. I can't quite get enough.

Here are some of my favorite places to shop in Seven Dials, for that true "Londoner" experience:

Laura Lee

It's pretty obvious that I'm a bit of a jewelry magpie. When I first moved to London, I coveted the popular designer jewelry I saw women wearing on the tube but today, I'm more likely to notice jewelry that's more unique or bespoke. Laura Lee is one of those places I spend my lunch breaks with my face pressed up to the glass: her beautiful, handcrafted-in-London designs are meant to be keepsakes. High-end, yet subtle, I adore the ring stacks made from precious stones and 18k gold - I've had my eye on one of her signet rings for a while now.

When I visited her store last week on Monmouth Street, I learned that the shop keeps these wishlists on file (complete with customers' ring sizes!) to ensure that birthday presents and anniversary gifts are always spot-on.

Perhaps that signet ring will make it into my stocking this year after all (*HINT HINT* AHEM ...)!

Club Monaco

From Laura Lee, I cross the street to one of my favorite stores to shop in the States, Club Monaco, which, in its Covent Garden incarnation, has been re-envisioned into a carefully curated shop that is more akin to a boutique shopping experience than its multi-storied locations in the US and Canada. Here, clothes hang in what I can only describe as a glorified walk-in closet/dressing room of my dreams (the plush carpet - the artwork!). The store also features exclusive collections from premium brands such as Citizens of Humanity, as well as a wonderful selection of jewelry and accessories.

Last week, I took home a sumptuously soft cashmere scarf in baby pink after my visit - a staple Club Monaco accessory that will see me well into the late fall and winter months here in London.

Kit and Ace

I don't really have an "off duty" look, but what I love about Kit and Ace (which is known for its technical cashmere) is that its collections are versatile enough to take you from the plane to work to dinner out at night - truly. I popped into the store last week to test drive their "Fit and Design" session, which helps customers navigate all the little details that go into every piece of Kit and Ace attire.

The concept behind the Seven Dials location is lifestyle-driven: the store frequently hosts supper clubs and events focused on wellness and travel. The framed art on the walls is by local artists, and is all available to purchase. Candles and dinner conversation games are sold alongside cocoon-silhouette cashmere coats and luxurious leisure wear.

Come December and January, I'll be living in my Willow long-sleeve, made of brushed technical cashmere, which one member of the Kit and Ace team very accurately described as, "a hug for your body".


Tearing myself away from Monmouth Street, I like to check out the new season colors at Italian sneaker favorite, Superga, which I've been wearing all summer long. The Seven Dials store has an option to personalize shoes and I love watching the artist work in the window whenever I walk past.

It's tempting to buy a pair in every color ... especially during the end-of-season sales. Supergas are my favorite shoes to wear when I'm travelling (or generally walking around London) because they're so comfy and they go with everything. 

Before I leave, I like to pick up a salted caramel hot chocolat at Hotel Chocolat nearby - it's been all I'm craving lately now that the temperatures have dropped. I also can't resist the macarons at Pierre Herme, which are my favorite: the flavors are so intense, and the meringue is perfectly soft and chewy.

Have you visited Seven Dials in Covent Garden? What are your favorite stores to browse?

This post was written in collaboration with Seven Dials. All opinions are my own.
© angloyankophile

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