New Blog Platform Coming Soon!

Hello from England on this beautiful Wednesday! 

I’m writing to you from my garden where I’m drinking in the sunshine after weeks working indoors toiling away on a brand spanking new website. Yes!! You guys, I’m thrilled to share that after a year and a half with this little blog I’m making the leap to a more permanent home on the internet. Hop on over to ErinKDoyle.com and pop in your email address so you don’t miss a beat when the site launches! 

This is especially important for those of you who follow Brum and Beyond using the WordPress Reader and WordPress app. Once the new site is live, I will no longer be posting on WordPress. I’ll say it again: if you only see my blog via the WordPress reader, and you do not actively head over to ErinKDoyle.com and subscribe, this post is likely the last you will ever hear of me.

Readers who are subscribed via email to Brum and Beyond will continue to receive email notifications when a new post is published. It will look a bit different, and probably just as plain and ugly as the existing system unless I can work some magic with my email platform (ugh). If you want in on these occasional emails, head over to the new site and subscribe! I do not share your email address with anyone or anything and promise not to spam you. 
I know everyone is going to love the new design and I can’t wait to share the final product with you! It has beautiful graphics, a fun and visual layout, and better navigation. The new platform gives me way more control and room to roll out new content and fun offerings down the road. 

Brum and Beyond has served me well, but if I’m being honest, I’ve always hated the name and the free version of WordPress is so limiting. I could never convince the dumb thing to behave. If you’ve been reading this for awhile now, you probably know I’m not really satisfied with the mediocre and I have no patience for stupidity. And so, we’re moving onward and upward. 

I can’t wait to tell you all about how fabulous Poland is and convince you that it should be at the top of your travel list. I’ll have some goodies up on the new platform when it goes live (SOON!), so head over to my fun little landing page now and subscribe! (Have I linked to it enough??)

And so, goodbye, adiós, adéu, Au Revoir, ciao, do widzenia, mar sin leat, slán… it’s been lovely having you along for this little blog journey. I hope you join me at my new home on the web.

New Blog Platform Coming Soon!

England Updates, Yo

Claire's visit!

Happy Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy MLK Day, and #allthethings I’ve missed since Thanksgiving!! I spoke with my Mom yesterday and she reminded me that I hadn’t posted in a while, so here I am with a quick rundown of updates. My Dear Mother also mentioned that I was funnier at the beginning of this whole writing adventure. I quite agree, so first on the list of updates: Continue reading “England Updates, Yo”

England Updates, Yo

Affording a European Adventure

View from our window
View from our Airbnb in a fancy Paris neighborhood

Without further ado, let’s talk about affording travel in Europe. Why? Because it often feels financially impossible or irresponsible to travel extensively, but I think some of the lessons Connor and I have learned may be helpful for other (non-millionaire) people who want to travel. Secondly, I want to dispel any myths that this stint is being paid for by someone other than yours truly + hubs (it’s not), or that we’re taking on debt in order to travel (over my dead body).

The biggest obstacle for Americans who want to see Europe is usually the price of airfare. The initial flight over can be a bear, but with more airlines dropping prices and introducing new routes, it’s getting a bit easier. If you want to take a trip abroad and haven’t added Condé Nast Traveler to your Apple News app, I suggest you do so. They seem to announce a new $399 USA to Europe route every other week. Once you have that sorted, it’s up to you whether you hemorrhage money abroad or stay on par with your usual living expenses. We’re a one-income household at the moment and having no trouble making this affordable. Here’s how we’re doing it.

3 ways we afford travel

1. Planning & Researching

TripAdvisor is your friend. So is RyanAir. Once you’re in Europe, hopping a cheap flight to a new city is a piece of cake. European budget airlines generally charge more for checked luggage than your airfare, and their prices are pretty set, unlike flights in the States that are all over the place. Opt only for carry-on luggage (yes, seriously!), book in advance, and marvel at the number of flights you can get for under £15. To be fair, we rarely have our act together that far in advance, but the cheap seats are there for the taking.

TripAdvisor user forums are loaded with sightseeing secrets that save you time, money, and aggravation. Many museums and touristy things offer free entry on certain days. In the UK, its better to avoid official visitor’s centers and parking lots that charge you for the convenience. Check out TripAdvisor for your destination and plan your trip around the advice in the forums. The restaurant reviews are also helpful, and we always seek out the tiny authentic places on side streets. The food is always tastier and more affordable than what you find on busy streets or the main square. In Rome we had dinner and a drink for the price of the drink. This stuff isn’t hard to find, you just need to look past your guidebook.

Finally, familiarize yourself with public transportation options and avoid taxis! Unless you need to be at the airport at 5am.

Barcelona
Tiny side streets in Barcelona. This is where you should be looking for your next meal!
2. Airbnb

Renting an apartment has changed the travel game for us. Why pay for a tiny, dark hotel bedroom when you can rent an entire apartment with living room, kitchen, and private terrace for less money? We can do laundry if needed (carry-on only, after all), shop at markets and make a few meals instead of eating out constantly, and experience local living. We’ve met some of the nicest people when picking up apartment keys. Imagine you’re in downtown Chicago and your hotel recommends deep dish pizza or Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse for dinner. Then imagine staying with a friend in the same city and experiencing their neighborhood’s non-touristy gems. You’d probably eat the best tacos of your life and end the night at a microbrewery. Which sounds more fun and authentic to you? Airbnb hosts are invaluable.

View from our Airbnb
View of the ocean and traditional Portuguese tiles on our private porch in the Algarve. Thank you, Airbnb.
3. Living Simply

We are not living a fancy life. Our travel memories and time together have made us feel richer than a Lord in a Manor House, and that’s what is important to us in this season of life. We’ve learned there’s quite a bit we can do without, and simplifying has opened up so many possibilities to see and experience new things. We’ve learned to focus on what we truly value and started to recognize what bogs us down. What can you cut out to make room for travel, new experiences, or whatever is next on the horizon?

Things we’ve eliminated include TV and cable, “I made it through the work day I deserve a reward” syndrome, and superfluous home decor items. Our Ikea collection is slowly but surely destroying my back and neck, but whatever. I shouldn’t be sitting at home often enough to care. I’m almost cured of the very contagious Michigan Avenue Shopping Flu. I no longer need moral support from Chick-Fil-A milkshakes and coffee just to get through the day. When your surroundings are simple and peaceful, you have less to worry about, are less tied down, and more free to get up and go. More sunsets, less Netflix, amiright?? And honestly, learning to live without helps prepare you for what you’ll experience in new countries. The American way of living is very cushy and full of conveniences, but in Europe…

So cut out some pointless expenses, take a look at flights to your dream destination, and start planning! I apologize in advance for the constant pop-ups on TripAdvisor.

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Affording a European Adventure

5 Ways England Surprised Us

Monday marked the one year anniversary of our move to England. Craaazyyyyy!

We’ve been rather reflective lately, thinking back on the places visited and lessons learned, what we miss about America and which British customs we plan to bring home. Overall, we have been pleasantly surprised by many aspects of life in the UK. We both feel that the biggest surprise was Wales. We knew absolutely nothing about Wales before moving here, and it is gorgeous! Sparsely inhabited, very reachable from Birmingham, and an outdoor lover’s dream.

1. Walking TRAILS

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Despite her finicky and often unpredictable weather, England is a hiker’s heaven. The country maintains a vast network of trails that as far as I can tell, mainly traverse private property and farmland. There’s a distinct walkers etiquette and dutiful adherence to the “leave no trace” rule. The relationship between trusting landowner and respectful walker is impressive. Gates are closed to prevent livestock from wandering, I haven’t noticed any trash on the trails, nor have I seen signs discouraging walkers from approaching. On the contrary, roads are peppered with signs pointing out the public footpaths. Every region of the country is covered in beautiful trails. This leads me to my second surprising item…

2. Varied Topography

Durdle Door
Durdle Door, Jurassic Coast
Samphire Hoe, Dover
Samphire Hoe, Dover
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View from Orrest Head over Lake Windermere, Lake District

I had no idea the UK was so beautiful. I think I assumed England was a lot like Ireland, but the topography is significantly more varied here and thanks to those public footpaths, we have plenty of territory left to explore. Highlights from little mini trips over the last year include the cliffs and coves of North Devon, the Mediterranean looking Jurassic Coast with its fossils and rock formations, the white cliffs in Dover, the rolling dales in Yorkshire, the hills and lakes in the Lake District, peaks in the Peak District (also here) and flat golden fields in Norwich. There’s a saying “When you’re tired of London you’re tired of life,” a popular maxim that may be partially responsible for the fact that no one is talking about the other 95% of the country. And they should really talk about it more often! Visitors need to get out and see the rural areas, too!

3. Well-preserved and accessible history

England has done an astonishing job in this department. London has over 20 free and excellent museums alone (it could be 40… I’m not about to start counting). The English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments, and sites throughout the UK, and the National Trust cares for over 500. Think Downton Abbey when the family realized they could no longer afford the upkeep of such a grand estate. These trusts now care for tons of old manor homes and country houses, many of which still act as family residences. Because of these partnerships many magnificent buildings and iconic sites have been preserved. Both organizations offer year-long memberships at very affordable prices that grant you free access to all their sites. If you visit one place each month your membership is more than paid for.

Wollaton Hall
Wollaton Hall outside Nottingham. 1580s Elizabethan House. Also, Batman.
Warwick Castle
12th century Warwick Castle
An afternoon at Kedleston Hall near Derby, England
Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, from 1759
Coughton Court
Coughton Court from 1530
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York Minster Cathedral
Allerton Castle
Allerton Castle, Yorkshire, from 1843

Aside from these grand buildings and iconic sites (like Stonehenge – English Heritage), individual villages, towns, and their many churches are well-cared for. Conservation and repair is taken seriously. The British Geological Survey formed in 1839 is responsible for identifying and archiving the more than 1,000 different stones used in buildings throughout the country. The geological diversity has become very apparent as we’ve explored different corners of the country. We’ve seen the famous Cotswold stone, a type of limestone that yellows with age; highly textured buildings and walls in the county of Norwich made of pebbles and cobbles; the blue shale-like stones in Wales, and so many others. I love that the British focus on conservation over tearing down and modernizing. Yes, this means country roads are ridiculously narrow because the towns were created before cars were even thought of. So what. If we weren’t forced to slow down, we would miss the gorgeous little villages.

One final thought: The Blue Plaque project that started in London and expanded from there is one of my favorite little history nuggets. Buildings that housed notable people are given a circular blue plaque to commemorate the moment. It’s a fun little treasure hunt. I stumbled upon Graham Greene’s house in the Cotswolds, the building where Guy Fawkes was born in York, and there’s one on our church in Birmingham where John Henry Cardinal Newman lived. Tolkien also lived in the Oratory rectory for years after his mother passed away, and I’m sure there’s a plaque hiding somewhere on the premises.

4. Extremely Dog Friendly

Outside London, you can basically bring your dog anywhere and apologize in surprise if reprimanded. Pubs generally admit dogs, especially if you’re somewhere in the countryside. There’s no such thing as a pub needing a permit to have a patio and then a second permit to admit dogs on the patio, which can never be granted if your patio/beer garden doesn’t have a separate entrance than the entrance serving the main part of the building. Good grief. People here just do what they want. Chicago, are you listening?

5. Amusing Names of Cities and Pubs

Apparently the early British settlers who moved to America had little to no sense of humor. They named their new towns after the ones back in England, but didn’t choose any of the good ones! I expected Cambridge, York, Boston, etc. But where in America is Little Snoring and Great Snoring? What about Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter? Stow-on-the-Wold, Giggleswick, Lickey End, Broadbottom, Bootle, Upton Snodsbury, Blubber Houses, Kirby Grindalythe… Bitchfield… pan around England on Google Maps for awhile. City names are fabulously creative.

Pubs are equally fascinating. Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. The Prince of Wales Feathers. Also, every town has either The Kings Head, The Queens Head, The Kings Arms, or The Queens Arms. Or, if they’re being creative, they’ll make it The Dukes Head.

Love it.

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5 Ways England Surprised Us

A Camping Attempt in the Yorkshire Dales

For those of you in the States, imagine for a moment what you would do if your trusty one-stop-shop disappeared off the face of the earth. No more Target or Meijer, not even Walmart. You need to source all your possessions from specialty, expensive boutiques that may not have a website or a brick and mortar in your city. You have no idea how to even find these places to overpay for pillows, cookie sheets, a rain coat, and other superfluous essential items. Your neighbors don’t speak English so you can’t ask them for suggestions. You can either shop at the Dollar Store or Aldi. You hold your breath as you walk through the doors and hope that their pathetic bins of inventory 1) are actually full enough that you don’t have to compromise your dignity and dumpster dive to reach the items and 2) contain something of use.

In this alternate universe, the brilliant idea to go camping over a bank holiday becomes extremely complicated. Where the hell are you going to find an affordable tent of decent quality that won’t leak in the very likely event it rains? Yes, #firstworldproblems. Boo hoo, you have spend an entire day driving around your city looking for a tent or hoping Amazon UK learned something overnight from the States (definitely not).

I haven’t fully processed my thoughts on American vs British consumer habits, and I haven’t decided if I think Americans are spoiled, fortunate, or just doomed to a life of detached consumption and rampant materialism. (The latter is easily noticeable, but it also seems that Americans have more hobbies than the British, and hobbies = gear/supplies/stuff. If the British had more hobbies maybe they would spend less time sitting around drinking in dreary old pubs.)

Anyway, I admit that I’ve grown accustomed to a certain level of convenience and efficiency in my shopping habits. Because Target. Singlehandedly making my life easier since 2005. Dear Target, if you came to Britain, you would blow everyone’s mind and put a lot of small shops out of business.

Alas, I eventually found an affordable tent. The “rain fly” was smaller than a pair of my underpants. I also found sleeping bags, made of the most synthetic of synthetic materials. I’m pretty sure all this gear was intended for backyard sleepovers. The kind where the kids all end up in the house so poor quality gear is a non-issue.

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SO, what did we do with our sub-par gear?! We drove a few hours north to Yorkshire, spent a day in York, stayed overnight at an Airbnb in Leeds, walked the Dales the next day, camped that night, and drove back to Birmingham the following day. Our tent was about 1/8 the size of all the other tents in this field. No joke. We also forgot about the whole food thing so we drove 30 minutes into a town and ordered a pizza. And it was delicious.

Additionally:

  • It didn’t rain.
  • We were freezing cold.
  • Penny was initially scared of the tent.
  • There are cows on the other side of that wall in the above picture.
  • Connor thought he twisted his ankle at the end of the day’s hike.
  • Penny scratched my eyeball in the tent and I spent the drive home thinking I would have to go to the emergency room and wear an eye patch.
  • Both were false alarms.

Check back tomorrow for some pictures of Medieval York and the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales!

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A Camping Attempt in the Yorkshire Dales

Re-falling in love with hiking

One of my favorite things about living in England is our proximity to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty (AONBs) with their myriad of opportunities for hiking, biking, and exploring. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some city life, fancy clothes, and foodie nights on the town, but those things tend to drain me of energy, while hiking and fresh air rejuvenate every particle of my soul. It’s been years since I’ve been able to jump in the car and within minutes leave behind chaos and turn the corner into magnificently deserted hills, farms, and wide open spaces.

The UK boasts 15 National Parks and 46 AONBs. We’ve visited a handful, but I’d like to get serious and visit as many as possible. Sometimes it’s difficult to resist going back to the same tried and true places knowing how fabulous they are, but we have yet to be disappointed by any of these wilderness wonderlands. 2 weeks ago we visited Cannock Chase AONB for the second time and last Saturday we drove to Snowdonia National Park in Wales. Snowdonia is absolutely stunning and reminded me a lot of Colorado (one of my favorite states). Cannock Chase is only an hour from our house, and a nice place for a quintessential English Sunday walk. Not sure we should really label it hiking.

Snowdonia, Wales – Fisherman’s Loop Hike out of Beddgelert

Snowdonia Hike

Snowdonia Hike

Snowdonia Hike

Snowdonia Hike

Snowdonia Hike

Snowdonia Hike

Baby snake, lamb and mom, crazyyyy mountain goat things. Check out those horns!
Baby snake, lamb and mom, crazyyyy mountain goat things. Check out those horns!

Those wild mountain goats or whatever they are had no problem continuing their descent and approaching us. We booked it out of there since those horns are at least twice the size of Penny. Super cool though! We ended the hike with a pint outside at a local pub, full of other hikers and exhausted dogs.

Cannock Chase AONB – Hike out of Rugeley

We didn’t bring our camera to Cannock so we only have a few blurry photos on our phones. Beautiful pine forests, a few small ponds, and easy to follow trails.

Re-falling in love with hiking

The 3 Bs: Thoughts on Overcommitting

Font Magica and Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

I’m not sure how much more my brain can hold. Travel planning has become an intense study of current cultural events and an immersive European history class I never had in school… or maybe I did take European history and I didn’t pay attention. Pretty sure that’s not the case, though, since I was A Model Student. I hesitate to say we’ve overbooked ourselves this spring because the realist in me knows this is simply a test of my organizational, short term memory, and foreign language skills. As well as a crazy but necessary self-imposed challenge to read guidebooks for three countries back to back in a very short amount of time.

Between March 24 and May 2 we are taking Spain, Hungary, and Belgium by storm. Barcelona, Budapest, and Bruges. The 3 Bs. Busting my Butt for the Best reasons. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Barcelona: Check.

Budapest? I have 4 days to pull it together. Their language and currency make it more complicated than it really is. If you’ve ever been to Budapest and want to tell me what to do there, I’m all ears. Especially if you’ve kayaked down the Danube – I want to hear about that.

Bruges? Chocolate, beer, waffles? I think? Also we’re driving so we need a “safety kit complete with breathalyzer and neon vest” for when we pass through France. Oh and headlight dimmers. France really doesn’t do herself any favors with her international reputation, does she? Bunch of wimps. A breathalyzer? Really? Isn’t that why you have police? What am I going to do? Pull myself over? May as well throw in a sobriety test handbook so I can do this thing properly.

Enough procrastinating. Who wants to see sunny crazy colorful Barcelona!?

Good, me too. Only… I don’t have that put together yet because I’ve been reading about Budapest. But I’m working on it TODAY. The ONLY thing I’m doing today is Barcelona wrap-up so check back later!

There. That should do it. Now you will all hold me accountable and I can’t move until I’ve fulfilled my promise.

 

The 3 Bs: Thoughts on Overcommitting

I’m Loving British Vocab

mind-the-gap
Famous warning to passengers riding the Tube, London’s rail system.

We’re 6 months in to this 2 year adventure. Can you believe it? 25% finished. Time has really flown by! I’m fascinated by how different our lives are in Britain vs. the Midwest, and how quickly we’ve adapted to this new lifestyle. Everything from driving on the other side of the road and tackling roundabouts like old pros to cooking with different spices and living simply. No TV, shopping sprees, or fancy kitchen gadgets. Bare walls, boring Ikea furniture, and TONS of tea. I left my bulky acrylic paints and canvases back in the States in favor of more travel-friendly watercolors. Some of our new routines and traditions will surely come home with us (TEA!), and I hope to God we can continue using British vocab Stateside.

Below is a roundup of some of my favorites (American translation in parentheses). And the video above is a funny clip of British vs. American slang on the Ellen Show.

Ta (thanks)
Sorted (figured out/squared away/solved)
Bits n bobs (various things)
Y’alright? (general greeting) No one says, “Hi, how are you?”
Mate (friend) Hey Mate, blah blah blah… or I’m meeting my mates at blah blah blah
Tosh (nonsense)
Bin (garbage can)
Tenner/Fiver (ten or five pound note)
Lorry (truck)
Trolley (shopping cart)
Nappy (diaper)
Brolly (umbrella)
Gherkin (pickle)
Bloody Hell (damn it)
Tosser (idiot)
Nutter (crazy person)
Chav (white trash)
Dodgy (suspicious)
Knackered (tired, exhausted)
Punter (customer)
Ice lolly (popsicle)
Do (party)
Stag Do/Hen Do (bachelor/bachelorette party) Often listed as prohibited in Airbnb listings.
Fancy (like/enjoy) I didn’t fancy that wine.
Kip (nap) I fancy a kip.
Fussed (bothered) “I’m not fussed” is a typical response when asked for your preference
Queue (line) This word is used constantly.
Ts & Cs (terms & conditions)

Posh – I am on a quest to figure out what this word means. I’ve gathered it has multiple uses and generally means wealthy/fancy, but some use it derisively and others boastfully. London neighborhoods are often described to me as “very posh,” but a friend recently assured me that her holiday in the Algarve region of Portugal was not posh. If you are British, or a transplant, or know the answer, enlighten me!!!

I am decidedly not posh, since my daily uniform consists of holey jeans and an over-sized men’s sweater from Scotland. And, in case you need even more of a visual, my skin tone is so pasty from lack of sun that it’s almost the same shade as the sweater, and coincidentally, the walls in our house. So if you have the pleasure of FaceTimeing with me in the near future, you may need to look carefully to pick out my brown eyeballs from the camouflage that is my life.

I’m Loving British Vocab

Autumn, cooking, & tid bits

Thanks to my weather app, I’ve taken to comparing Birmingham’s forecast with that of my peeps’ hoods: Michigan, Chicago, Milwaukee, LA, NYC. I really should take LA off this circuit since it makes me want to do something desperate. Like buy a plane ticket. Many of you have asked about our Autumn weather, and so far, Birmingham is pretty on par with Milwaukee and generally not that different from the Midwest. Except nothing dries here and household mold is normal, not a serious health concern. Did you know mold will grow on your window panes? Curious, I know. My 7th grade science fair project on this very topic would have been unbeatable if I lived here. Nobody freak out, though: I bought some highly toxic chemical spray (since I can’t find normal cleaning products like ammonia or vinegar) and waged war. ANYWAY.

The rainy season hasn’t hit us yet so I’ve been spending as much time outside as I can. I discovered that one of the city’s canals runs through our neighborhood with a great path for running and biking. It also flows through the University of Birmingham so I explored part of the campus with Penny.

We visited Sutton Park again and picked the season’s last blackberries and some wild apples. (Berries molded immediately. Wahh) Most flowers are still going strong, but my giant chrysanthemums died. Too wet, I think. (Note to self: don’t mention dead mums to Brits. Too confusing.) We have little paths and hilly walks behind our house, which is where we take Penny, and as long as the sun is shining I can deal with the mold and damp. 

Community rose garden in our neighborhood

giant pine
We still have a bag of cooking apples from Joe and Sarah and I’m running out of apple ideas. My pathetic excuse for a freezer is packed with applesauce and apple butter and if I take one more appley bite of something sweet I might lose it. So I turned my attention to Autumn’s other brilliant dessert contribution: pumpkin. Armed with this great idea, I walked up to the high street markets, visited three stores, and each time I asked for canned pumpkin they looked at me like I was an alien. The Trader Joe’s seasonal display would blow some minds over here. Seriously. So I bought a pumpkin and made my own purée. Go me. Then I thought it would be a good idea to double the recipe for a pumpkin pecan lava dessert thing. Which is really smart since there are only two people in my house and I have no friends or colleagues. I’ve been eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Other updates:

  • We have everything booked for our week-long Christmas holiday in Italy! We’ll split our time between Rome and Florence. Still looking for a good place to leave Penny. Oh! Speaking of Penny…
  • We recently discovered she has an alter ego: Kenneth. Kenneth suffers from separation anxiety, will jump up and go crazy when he hears his name, and lick you on the lips before you know what’s happening.  He’s also extremely fascinated by sheep. Transfixed. We tend to usher Kenneth out to the yard when he pays us a visit. Or laugh and say his name over and over. Poor Kenneth.
  • Thanksgiving plans in the Lake District and Edinburgh are in the works. Still deciding if we’re going to tackle the turkey tradition. Turkey is a Christmas food over here, so we’ll need to pre-order one if we want it as early as November. I’m not entirely sure we can fit a turkey in our oven. Everything here is miniature.

Up next on the blog: hiking in the Peak District.

  
More pictures will be up on Flickr today and I’ll post again this week about the trip!

Autumn, cooking, & tid bits