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.

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New Blog Platform Coming Soon!

It’s Lambing Season in England!

Baby lambs are invading the countryside and I couldn’t be more thrilled!! Over the weekend, we drove an hour or so west of Birmingham to the Shropshire Hills, and we must have seen thousands of tiny lambs along the way. They are so adorable – lots of sleeping and frolicking. Every once in a while we would spot an all-black little dude and those were by far the cutest.

I don’t know which are more numerous right now: lambs or daffodils. I’ve never seen so many daffodil varieties. They line the roads and driveways, pop up in the middle of fields and lawns in pretty significant numbers, and seem to have a mind of their own. Tulips are not a thing here, that’s for sure. We passed rolling fields of yellow wildflowers, too… Birmingham is officially the grimmest place on earth, and I’m so glad we can get in the car when it’s raining and just drive until we find some sunshine. The pictures of flowers taken from inside a moving car did not turn out. Can’t imagine why. But below are a few snaps of the lambs.

Blurry, but gives you an idea of the size difference!
Running and jumping!

Connor kindly pulled the car over a couple times so we could watch the lambs. There’s a brief video on Instagram of tail wagging and little guys running. The pictures aren’t the greatest because I was too busy watching them, but you get the idea.

We had a pint in Church Stretton (how’s that for a name), a cute town with a seriously cool antique shop. We didn’t hike the hills because Penny has blisters from too much pavement play during her spring break stay at the doggie hotel. Ridiculous.

Pathetic. But such a good dog. She didn’t even care that I was doing this to her.

On the way home, we stopped at a farm store to buy some fresh eggs. We also met the mamas. I’m pretty sure they were irritated that we were the new owners of their eggs. Also, I think the chickens were the same size as Penny.
 

Hills and some daffodils in the background!

I’m busting my butt to sift through all our Barcelona pictures and then I’ll have some FUN IN THE SUN pics to show you! How many times am I going to proclaim that I’ve found my “new favorite city?” I can’t promise you that this will be the last, but Barcelona was fab fab fab and it’s my new fave. A bit of Chicago meets LA meets Gothic Medieval Europe with a party vibe, crazy arts scene, and a fierce Catalonian pride complete with a Spanish/Portuguese/French/Italian hybrid language. But I spoke Spanish and that was perfectly fine. As usual, I miss it already.

It’s Lambing Season in England!

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

5 Differences between Chicago and Brum

5 things about our new home that have left me baffled, laughing, and entertained:

  1. Chicagoans walk purposefully and often briskly, adhering to The Sidewalk Code of Etiquette: stay to the right, pass on the left; don’t clog up the curb area, stop suddenly, or make unnecessary eye contact; respect personal space when at all possible. As far as I can tell, Brummies do not have a code. They tend to stroll like a man with his hands behind his back, whistling, staring at the sky. I am constantly jumping out of the way, being walked into, zig-zagging all over the sidewalk… I considered staying to the left – they drive on the left after all – but this wasn’t the solution. For a paranoid minute I thought people could tell I was American and they were veering into me on purpose.
  2. There are very few dogs in Birmingham. Maybe this will change when we move into an actual neighborhood.
  3. While generally very friendly, Chicagoans rarely strike up conversation with strangers. If someone spoke to me on the red line about anything other than a shared train experience, I was immediately suspicious and considered changing cars. Walking around with Penny in Birmingham has brought out the chatty in the Brummies. I think I’ve had conversations with 20 people already, which far surpasses the number of times I’ve spoken with strangers in Chicago.  Two little ten year old boys kept coming over to see the dog when I was reading in a park and after drilling me with questions, asked for a hug. I told them they could hug the dog. (WHAT? I’m still a little disturbed). Another guy thought we cared to hear his thoughts on American politics. The pleasant experiences are never as fun to talk about as the weird ones, but Chatty Kathys abound.
  4. Brummies use the word beware instead of caution. “BEWARE: Construction Zone.” The kitchen knives in our hotel room are labeled “BEWARE: Sharp Knives.” It sounds overly dramatic.
  5. In Brum, “orange squash” is a drink, not a vegetable. Connor politely fetched beverages for some of his colleagues and didn’t know that the orange juice lookalike was a highly concentrated concoction of God-knows-what. Innocently, he filled a glass, topped it off with a splash of water, and presented it to his colleague. Who did not drink any of it.

Happy Friday everyone! It’s raining here today for the first time since we arrived, so I’m having a mini staycation. I’m sort of relieved to have an excuse to stay put.

5 Differences between Chicago and Brum

Tragedy of Tragedies

People. Chips and Salsa are officially MIA over here. Connor searched both known grocery stores: Sainsbury’s and Poundland. (Yes, Poundland = British Dollar Store. Expiration date on all items: next week) He even checked the “ethnic section,” which we imagined would be quite extensive given the diversity of this city. Apparently we are too far from Mexico. Maybe I’ll start a taco food truck while I’m here, but first I better learn how to make salsa. If you have a good recipe, send it to me!

Lest you doubt the gravity of this situation please remember that the Doyle fridge usually looks like this.

In other news, we visited Victoria Square, home to Birmingham’s local government buildings and some of the coolest architecture we’ve seen so far. We didn’t have a chance to go inside the Museum and Art Gallery but plan to some other time. Also, there’s a fountain in the middle of the square affectionately referred to as the “floozie in the jacuzzi.” Ha!

Flowers Outside the Council House
Flowers Outside the Council House
Birmingham Council House
Birmingham Council House

The weather changes very quickly here – here’s the Council House when the sun came out.

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You can see the floozie if you look closely.

On Thursday we checked out the famous Rag Market and Bull Ring Market hoping to buy some “fruit and veg.” EVERYTHING IS SO CHEAP! WHY??? Really hoping this stuff isn’t farmed by children or something because I just can’t figure it out. Kiwi are 10 pence each?? Mangoes are 25p? What? We picked up some amazing cherry tomatoes, cheddar cheese, carrots, garlic, and a “pine”(apple) for under 5 pounds. So far we haven’t been poisoned and everything is delicious. NOTE: The second picture below is horrifying. View at your own risk.

Bull Ring Market
Bull Ring Market
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Heads: 3 for $5. HORRORS!

If anyone has a clue what those are used for, do enlighten me in the comments below. This is one thing I do not care to google. I think I’ll be sending Connor into the meat market from now on. PS. WHOSE HEADS ARE THOSE? They look like dinosaurs or something. They’re certainly not pig heads because those were hanging from the ceiling.

Normal market food

Still waiting to hear about the apartment, so in the meantime we’re hanging out in Birmingham City University’s beautiful gardens and visiting more pubs!

Tragedy of Tragedies

ORD -> LHR & a First Look at Brum

Hello and Welcome!

We’ll spare you the details of our very very long travel day, but here are the things to note:

  1. Taxi drivers at Heathrow do not appreciate foreigners with credit cards.
  2. The customs booth wasn’t open at 8am London time, so we shamelessly smuggled in a salami. Connor “declared” the salami to anyone who cared to listen, but that was the extent of it. (See this video).
  3. Despite an error in Penny’s paperwork, she arrived safe and sound, and maybe a bit traumatized. Showers of blessings upon the man at the Animal Reception Centre who “honestly couldn’t be bothered to fail the dog.” (Funny how these strict animal import rules don’t really matter when someone doesn’t feel like doing their job…) But I’m not complaining!

We explored the area around our hotel and love Birmingham so far (also known as the Brum, and the people are Brummies). We found the big market in the city centre, the Cathedral, a few parks, and the canal area. The priest at St. Chad’s Cathedral was thrilled to meet a couple Americans, and he turned us over to Jeanne who took us down for some cake. She and her husband are in their late 60s and he attended Yale back in the day. Jeanne gave me her address and phone number, suggested a few places where I could volunteer (all dealing with the Calais refugees), and asked me to tea once I get settled.

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St. Chad’s Cathedral
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Shakespeare!
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300 year old St. Philip Anglican Cathedral

Pubs here are so cute! And the bartenders are excited to talk to Americans. Last night I asked a kid who couldn’t have been more than 20 to tell me about a certain beer, and he responded, “Do you know what I mean when I say it’s very hoppy?” Cue excitement followed by bitter disappointment. I don’t think the British have truly met a hop. But that’s ok – the beer wasn’t bad! Local tip: traditional pubs should have flowers out front. The one pictured below was so cute we had to stop in. It didn’t fit more than 2 or 3 tables so we sat outside by the canal.

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Canalside Pub

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Inside Canalside

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We submitted an offer for an apartment lease yesterday and hope to hear back tomorrow. We’ll share details when we have them! This one is located in Harborne just off the high street, which is extremely convenient. Everyone cross your fingers!

ORD -> LHR & a First Look at Brum