25 February 2013

My Blog Has Moved!

I've relaunched my blog on Wordpress California Love Letters!

Sadly, this will be the last post on Becoming British. However, there is good news--great news, actually. With the help of my awesomely amazing husband Darren, I've relaunched my blog: California Love Letters! I'm super excited about my new blog, not only because it will be dedicated largely to my love of California, but the design was the first collaboration of this kind Darren and I have done, and I couldn't be any prouder than our baby, California Love Letters, than I am today.

California Love Letters is the home for my blog, and will completely replace Becoming British, so please, please, please bookmark and/or update your RSS feed with http://californialoveletters.com!

You'll still be able to find the posts from my Blogger site on California Love Letters, and of course, I'll be adding new bits as I go along. Let me know what you think of the new site.

I'd love to hear from you!

12 February 2013

It's Pancake Tuesday!

Today is Pancake Day in Britian (also known as Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras in other parts of the world). Even though I am not at all religious, this is one religious day I can get on board with--even if it is only to stuff my face with pancake goodness.

According to Wikipedia's entry on Shrove Tuesday:
Pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent because they were a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. The liturgical fasting emphasized eating plainer food and refraining from food that would give pleasure: in many cultures, this means no meat, dairy, or eggs.
Pancake Day is a big deal. It's the only time of year pancake mixes on prominent display, and the various pancake toppings seem to be available. And in Britain, there is surprisingly a lot of choice!

First, American or British-style? If American style, are you doing buttermilk, fruity, or pancakes with bits of bacon? How are you topping them? With maple syrup, honey, or fruit? If choosing British-style, do you go with the traditional lemon juice and sugar, Nutella, golden syrup or something savory?

In my household, we're going American-style buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup (which is Canadian--how multicultural of us, right?), and completely from scratch--the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book has an easy and tasty recipe.

Tell me, how do you like your pancakes?

02 February 2013

Be Inspired: The Blogcademy in Review

Me with the headmistresses! Kat Williams, me, Shauna Haider and Gala Darling.
Photo courtesy Lesley Burdett Taylor, Infinity Photographic
I attended The Blogcademy just over a week ago, and my head has been swirling with inspiration ever since. The Blogcademy is a strategy-based workshop to help bloggers find inspiration, refine their online brand, learn how to make money through blogging, and network with other like-minded individuals who are passionate about blogging. As I said, the entire experience kind of blew my mind.

I'd always wanted to take my blog to the next level--increase readership, and perhaps make my blog a way of marketing "brand me" to the greater world so I could find a job I truly love. The Blogcademy gave me so many ways to achieve both these objectives and so much more.

The first day of the workshop focused on getting "blogcadettes," as we've dubbed ourselves, inspired and thinking about regular features which could be posted to our blogs. There was a section on blog monetization, the importance of social media, and a discussion about how to do a brand-audit to make sure your online brand is conveyed consistently across the Internet. I think most of us left at the end of the day overwhelmed by all the amazing, new ideas we'd gotten in day one alone.

Day two was equally good. There were more in-depth discussions about diversifying a blog's income sources, how to build a new brand, or go about rebranding an existing one, and a section on photography. I think the most interesting part of day two for me was learning how to build a brand from scratch. I've been thinking for a few months now about the direction I'd like to take my blog, and what kind of design I'd like my blog to have which will clearly convey my blogging brand. It's still a work in progress, but I definitely learned a few things which will help me focus and hopefully relaunch my blog in the coming months.

There was a bit of technical talk throughout the two days--talk of which blogging platforms are best, etc.--but most of the information was really around strategy and how to turn a blog into a business of sorts.

Perhaps the best part of The Blogcademy, however, were all the chances we had over the two days to connect to fellow bloggers and the headmistresses (Gala Darling, Shauna Haider and Kat Williams). There is such great value in being able to bounce ideas off fellow bloggers, and discuss in detail plans for taking your blogging to the next level. And the headmistresses were available during all the breaks to ask questions, which was absolutely brilliant. The Blogcademy community for the London sessions was so enthusiastic that we've already tentatively planned a day out in Cambridge for April.

The venue was beautifully decorated, and totally on-brand.

These were the key takeaways I had from the two-day workshop:
  • I need to seek out and follow more blogs I find interesting. It's a great way to get inspiration and learn more about what types of blogs/posts you like to read, and what types of blogs/posts you don't like, and hence, will avoid in your own blog.
  • I need to make more of an effort to gather "inspiration items" to help develop my brand. One of the quotes we were given during The Blogcademy was from Jonas Peterson, "You will never find your style. Style will find you." Maybe the same goes for branding, but I think the best way to formulate style is to gather inspiration and follow it.
  • I need think about my blog's content and direction--where do I want to go/what do I want to achieve? This has not been a small task for me. I've been racking my brain for the past week thinking about where exactly I want this blog to go, and what I hope to achieve. It's taken a bit of soul-searching, but I think I'm getting ever closer.
  • Social media is important. Social media can be what makes or breaks you brand, and for many bloggers, is what directs traffic to their blogs. Being active, sharing content that is not just your own, and conveying a consistent message across all social media outlets is super important. Not only that, but I think being true to yourself is important. If you put up a front, people will catch on, and your brand could be tarnished forever.
If you have a blog, and are interested in taking your blogging the next level, or even if you don't have a blog and are looking for some inspiration to get started, check out The Blogcademy--the ever-amazing headmistresses could be in a city near you soon!

22 January 2013

The Blogcademy is Almost Here!

Tomorrow is the second of The Blogcademy workshops being held in London, and I am super excited to be part of it. I booked on a bit of a whim after accidentally (a happy accident!) coming across Gala Darling's blog via BitchBuzz (RIP), and thought it sounded like a fab way to give myself the kick up the arse I need to take my blog to the next level.

Blogcademy is a two-day workshop focusing on all things blog-tastic: strategy, branding (which I'm especially looking forward to), inspiration and more. I've also heard promises of sparkles, cupcakes, and excellent goodie bags in addition to all the great information that will be shared by headmistresses Gala Darling, Kat Williams (Rock n Roll Bride) and Shauna Haider (Nubby Twiglet).

I've got my business cards printed, my bag is mostly packed, and I am ready for tomorrow. Now I just hope I can get enough sleep tonight to keep me going!

15 January 2013

Dublin in a Weekend

My husband and I spent the past weekend in Dublin to celebrate my 30th birthday. I asked a Dublin-based colleague for some ideas, and these were her suggestions:
  1. Guinness Storehouse
  2. Trinity College--Book of Kells
  3. Christ Church Cathedral
  4. Dublin Castle
She also recommended buying a ticket for the Hop On-Hop Off Bus Tour.  It turns out that there are two different companies offering these tours, but they seem to take very similar (if not, the same) route, and cost the same amount of money (€18). We took the City Sightseeing Dublin tour, which turned out to be quite good in the end. Check the website--they seem to offer discounts occasionally if you book online. They also offer discounts at many of the tourist sights when you show your ticket, but it may be worth checking to see if booking those online is more cost-effective too.

First on our tour of Dublin was the Hop On-Hop Off bus tour. We caught the bus outside St. Patrick's Cathedral, and did almost an entire circuit, only getting off the bus once it arrived at Christ Church Cathedral. It was a good way to get a lay of the land, and take in some basic history of the city. Christ Church Cathedral was excellent, mostly because we splurged an extra €4 per person (it was my birthday, after all!) to take a guided tour of the bell tower where we got to ring the bells.

Christchurch Cathedral
After the cathedral, we headed back to the Temple Bar area to find lunch. Dublin is a fun city to wander through, and we stumbled upon several shops that specialized in the sale of American candy (not too surprising considering the number of American accents overheard during our visit). While we stopped to have a browse, I showed great restraint and did not purchase anything.

We eventually made it to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. I had a difficult time getting excited about this one, but loved the Long Room in the library. What's most disappointing about the Book of Kells exhibit is that it's €9 per person for a self-guided tour that will take you less than an hour. I've done better tours including audio guides here in the UK for £8. If you're visiting in peak tourist season, forget it--I'm sure it's an absolute nightmare. Walk around Trinity's campus instead.

Sunday was dedicated to touring the Guinness Storehouse. Price of admission was €15.50 per person with the Hop On-Hop Off bus ticket (though would be even cheaper if booked online), and included a pint of Guinness in the Gravity Bar at the end of the tour. This was probably the highlight of the trip; I cannot resist a decent beer, and I love a good brewery tour, and considering this was self-guided, it was really well put together. It was also the first time I ever tried Guinness, and to my surprise, I found it quite lovely.

Part of the exhibit explaining the role of Coopers

Finally, as our tour of the Guinness Storehouse took only a few hours, we poked around the shopping district a bit more, and visited a yarn shop called This is Knit so I could pick up some yarn or a project as a souvenir. I couldn't find any patterns in the shop for the Irish yarns on offer, so instead opted for a shawl kit they were selling which contained a ball of yarn, the pattern and a crochet hook packed in a cute little burlap bag for €18.95. Perhaps a bit pricey, but it should keep me entertained in the next few weeks.

Dublin is a great mini-break destination. Below is a map to help you get a lay of the land, and a better idea where the sights are located. Take a look at my Dublin Yelp list for reviews of all the sights and more!

View Dublin in a Weekend in a larger map

Map legend:

08 January 2013

Five Reasons I'm Excited about 2013

1. I'm moving back to California come Hell or high water, earthquakes or wildfires

One of many lovely vistas in San Francisco on a sunny day.
This has been a long time coming. I've been unsettled in London for most of the time I've lived here, and have decided upon returning from my most recent trip to America that I do not need to deal with this anymore. Maybe it's homesickness, or maybe my heart never left (the reason I like to believe). Often shrouded in fog, and surprisingly chilly in summer, San Francisco is my favorite city in America, if not the world. It's absolutely gorgeous in the sunshine (if you find yourself there on a sunny day, admire the views from Twin Peaks or Buena Vista Park), is awesomely diverse, and has some of the best shopping and food the West Coast has to offer. 
San Francisco isn't my only draw back to the Bay Area. I loved driving in the hills surrounding the bay, going to the beaches (even if they were a bit foggy and cold sometimes!) driving along Highway 1, and drinking in all the amazing scenery (and wine) the area had to offer.
I've only been back once since I moved to London, but it's the only place that's felt like home in the past three years.

2. I am going to find a job/career about which I am truly passionate
I have been in a rut. While moving to London to work was an amazing opportunity, the mistake I ultimately made was making a completely lateral move that offered no significant opportunities to challenge myself and really push me out of my comfort zone. By which I mean, my job was almost the same, but working with a European team rather than an American team. Hence, I've been in a rut. 
Over the past few months, I've been chatting with colleagues, and networking in attempts to find a new job here in London. That, in itself, has been challenging, but also a bit suffocating. Yes, the people I've talked to have been lovely, especially the colleagues who have suggested exercises to structure my job search, but as an expat on a Tier 2 visa, I'm limited to looking for jobs within my current company. Opportunities in Europe are few and far between, and those that do exist either don't match my interests, or I don't fit the qualifications. It's quite unfortunate, really as I am truly excited about the tech industry and what it has to offer, and I really felt I could have picked up some excellent experience and skills more quickly if I stayed in London.
I know that there is still a long road ahead to achieving this, but I do hope that moving to back to America, reconnecting with former colleagues and friends, and getting back to Silicon Valley will help me find something that ticks all the boxes.

3. This blog is getting a makeover!
Before I went back to the US for Thanksgiving, I was surfing the Internet, and came across what I thought would be an amazing opportunity: to attend one of the Blogcademy workshops in London. In early November 2012, I attended a professional development workshop, the Women in Business Superconference, and found it really motivating and inspiring. It was a group of about 100 women networking, learning strategies to improve networking skills (I'm looking forward to trying my 60-Second pitch at the Blogcademy), finding new opportunities internally, and generally moves to boost one's career. 
I'm hoping Blogcademy will be equally inspiring, and will finally give me the tools and motivation I need to take my blog more seriously. Blogcademy was set up by Gala Darling, Kat Williams (Rock n Roll Bride) and Sauna Haider (Nubby Twiglet)--each truly talented in their respective fields--to inspire bloggers, increase readership and develop a blogging brand among other things. All are elements I'm interested in and excited to learn about in the next few weeks. 
In excitement and anticipation, I've already set a goal to post at least once a week, and I've got ideas for a blog redesign and content overhaul in the coming months--writing about expat life after I've moved back to the US might be a bit silly. Hell, if this all goes swimmingly, I might achieve that dream of finding a job I love, or using new skills to find a job I love!

4. Europe is my oyster, and I plan on seeing more of it before I leave
While moving back to California doesn't mean that I will no longer venture this side of the Atlantic, it does mean it will be a bit trickier to plan trips to other countries and cities here. Even though the year has just begun, I'm already heading to Dublin next weekend, hopefully to Edinburgh in February and Prague anytime between now and my move back to America. 
The first year I was in London, I was incredibly cash-strapped. I had my suitcases packed to the brim, enough money in my US bank account to get me by for a month, and just enough money to cover my expenses after that. It was rough, and meant that I was limited in travel options. However, I did manage to visit my husband when he was working at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, Amsterdam (I still don't know what all the fuss is about) and Brussels, Belgium (for work, but ended up being good fun as I was there over a warm, sunny weekend). The second year here, I ended up falling terribly ill, and this past year felt I'd spent enough money on a wedding and had ventured to Australia for the honeymoon (not to mention this past summer was the one to be in London). 
Excuses for previous years aside, I will see more of Europe before I move to America.

5. I'm going to become a "badass mother who don't take no crap off of nobody"
The last few years, and the last year especially, have been a real chink in my armor. Before I moved to London, I saw myself as quite confident and self-assured. But over the last year, I've really felt my confidence wain. Maybe it's because I'm not nearly as fashionable as the other girls walking down the high street, or maybe it's because I've been looking for a job for months with no success, but I don't feel I have the confidence I once had, and as a result, I've become less and less happy with my life. 
So this year it ends. I think one massive change that will make a difference is getting back to California where I hope I can reconnect with friends and former colleagues. One thing that's made London incredibly difficult for me is how difficult it is to make new friends here. The best chance most expats have at making new friends is befriending fellow expats, but as it's an ever-changing community, one quickly finds all her friends are gone in the blink of an eye.
Another way I'm attacking confidence issues is to continue giving my wardrobe an overhaul. London is most definitely a fashion city, and I've felt pretty out of place for a long time. After being well and outgrowing must of my old clothes, I decided it was time to start dressing more like the woman I want to be, but still being true to myself. I've not gotten too far in this mission, and after spending many consecutive weekends on Oxford Street, Chelsea high street and in Westfield White City, I decided it was time for a break (not to mention that shopping areas are mad between mid-November to early February). 

Really, this one is all about restoring my confidence and remembering, I AM a "badass mother who don't take no crap off of nobody!"
If you've not seen Cool Runnings, you should--it's totally badass.

So that's it. Five reasons why I'm excited for 2013. Anyone else excited for the year ahead?

01 January 2013

London, I Think It's Time to Break Up

Dear London,

We've been together for just over three years. We've shared some good times, and we've shared plenty of bad, but I think it's come time that you and I call it quits.

Yes, 2012 was a fantastic year. First, we celebrated the wedding between me and my husband. It was a fabulous day here in Richmond--the setting was perfect, and everything went according to plan (even the weather cooperated). Then we celebrated along with the rest of the country the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Unlike me and my husband, the Queen did not get sunshine on her special day, but rather had quite a miserable day for her celebration. Despite that slight hiccup, people still went out in droves to share in Her Majesty's special day.

And then the Olympics came. London, this event was your crowning glory, and I can say with confidence that it is an experience that I will not long forget. The torch passed through my borough twice, and both times the atmosphere was amazing. On a typical day, people seem aloof and unfriendly, but the Olympics had the power to utterly transform the people who call this city home. It was the most welcoming atmosphere I'd felt since I moved in 2009. It was so wonderful, that I found myself rallying behind Team GB even when there were competitors from my beloved Team USA. For once, I was proud to be [somewhat] British. With athletes like Mo Farah, how could you not be excited?

All the excitement from the Olympics elevated my spirits and my expectations of you, London. I started planning my next career move last year, and instead of focusing on moving back to America, I decided to give Britain, you, London, a try. I attended more networking events at work, a professional development seminar, and started getting myself out there and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Hell, I even signed up for a workshop called the Blogcademy so I could network more and improve my blog on expat life within your borders.

And then I went back to America for Thanksgiving. It's one of my favorite holidays, and I'm a bit bitter that a holiday of such gluttony, shopping and getting together with friends and family doesn't exist here (and I don't mean Christmas + Boxing Day). I had a brilliant time--one of the best times I've had in the past year--a tall order considering all the good times we've had together this year. But the problem was that it was almost too good. I came back to you December 2 and felt instantly rejected. Almost like you were upset with me because I had too much fun with my family, friends and cats in America. Like you thought I'd cheat on you with Chicago because I do, in fact, find it a lovely city with far friendlier people. Or maybe it was just that 2012 was such a fantastic year for us, that there is nearly nothing left for you to give.

I've done my part to try to make things work, but it's not been good enough, and I dunno what you could possibly give to me now that I couldn't get back in America. Sure, you provide more safety in some cases, but you don't provide the things that make me truly happy. You've not helped me build enough lasting friendships (though those I have built, I will treasure forever), I have no close family here, and I do not have to two little critters I left with my family when I moved here, K2 and Whitney. Not to mention the sunshine, ocean views, and fantastic beach towns I miss from California.

Maybe I'm just homesick at the end of the day, but London, we're through.

Best regards,