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Monday, February 27, 2012

We made it!


Sorry, I had to. It's only fitting now that we are living in Texas, right?

The good news is - we made it!! It was a long and stressful process - moving day was less than stellar and the bronchitis that I have been fighting for the last month didn't make it any easier. BUT! We are here now and everything has been going well (in the last 48 hours that is). We are all set up in our temporary housing and are anxiously waiting to close on the house we put an offer on the last time we were in Houston. Only a few more things on our To-Do list (OK that's a lie, there are definitely more than a few) and we will be all settled in!

The first item on our agenda once we got to Houston (and got a good nights sleep)? BREAKFAST! We were in desperate need of a good, solid American style breakfast. I'm talking french toast, waffles, American style breakfast sausage, bottomless filter coffee - the works. We did a quick google search and all reviews pointed us in the direction of The Breakfast Klub in the Fourth Ward. The reviews warned of long lines so we high tailed it there as soon as we were conscious on Sunday morning. We managed to get there right before the rush, and in no time had hot coffee in our hands and these plates of deliciousness in front of us - 

We were more than satisfied with our Texas French Toast and Pecan Waffles - it was basically heaven on a plate (or, three plates if you want to get technical). The Breakfast Kulb is also known for their Wings and Waffles and Catfish and Grits breakfast plates - which we will surely be back to sample soon!

By the time we managed to roll our full bellies out of there the line was wrapped around the front of the restaurant! It was well worth the hustle to get down here nice and early.

I'm looking forward to discovering a whole new type of cooking down here in Texas. The first place I am going to start is with the markets. Houston has a wide variety of weekly farmers markets that I am anxious to take part in. I can't wait to see what kind of season goodies they have to offer here - I bet it's a world of difference compared to what is offered at the London farmers markets in February!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Goodbye London

Ok, so it's not quite time to move yet - but the date is rapidly approaching. By the middle of this week our flat will be empty and by the weekend we will be on our way to our new home in Houston.

I've been feeling a rush of emotions over the past few days. We have been excited about moving to Houston and starting the next phase of our life. But I have also been reflecting upon all of the wonderful memories that we have from our time here - all the amazing places we have been, wonderful people that we have met, and delicious food we have eaten. Sure, it hasn't always been easy - sometimes it's been down right hard and frustrating - but we wouldn't trade our time here for anything in the world. We are truly blessed to have had this experience and I will remember it always.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Things I'm going to miss about London

By the time we move next week we will have been here for three years and four months. To me, that's a long time - it's almost as long as I lived in New York City.  And although this has been an amazing opportunity and I have so many wonderful memories, I never really called London "home".  I always saw it as a temporary move, never thought of our life here for longer than 1-2 year increments. And maybe that was part of the problem. A friend of ours mentioned that the London relocation program at her work was the least successful out of all the programs. That simultaneously did and did not surprise me. It was a little surprising to hear that employees found settling in to far away places like Singapore easier than London. And at the same time, I know exactly how they feel.

We have been looking forward to moving back to the US for quite some time now - especially since we found out about Baby C. And as much as I am looking forward to starting a new adventure in Houston, there are a few things about London that I am going to miss...

Monday, February 06, 2012

A Trip to Ireland and a New Camera

For Christmas I wanted to get Brian something really special. We knew our time in London was coming to an end and we would soon be off on a new adventure. When I thought about what to get him I wanted to make sure it was something that he would remember for a long time - kind of a "last hurrah" if you will. The idea of taking him back to Ireland came to me after dinner one night with some friends. Brian had mentioned to our friends that his favorite place in the world was this small town on the West coast of Ireland that we had visited a couple of years ago. 

His eyes lit up and he was so excited just talking about the place, I knew we had to go back one more time before we left London for good. So on a random, grey weekend in January we were off to Ireland for our last trip before the big move.

We flew into Shannon and drove a couple of hours North and West to Connemare. This rugged part of Ireland appeals to Brians adventurous side. There are the Twelve Bens mountain range and endless country walks that you can take around this spectacular piece of the country. The landscape is so rugged - mountains and rocks and crashing waves of the Atlantic as far as the eye can see. His favorite part of Connemare though is a small hotel called Ballynahinch Castle

The castle sits on 450 acres of stunning property made up of woods, lakes and rivers. You can shoot game, go fly fishing or take one of the many walks around the property or of the surrounding area. There is a pub and a fine dining restaurant on site, neither of which disappoint. We gladly called this place home for two nights.

The next morning Brian was off on an all day hike to see how many of the Twelve Bens him and his guide could get through. As luck had it the weather was actually pretty decent all day, they didn't get caught in the rain at all and it was even sunny for a bit (quite a rarity during an Irish winter). While they were out I decided to take a walk around the property. It was a good opportunity to get some fresh air and use my Christmas present - a new camera.

Ballynahinch has three walking trails along the property, ranging from 1-3km. They are easily walkable and wind through the woods, along the rivers and lakes and all meet back at the main house. I decided to walk the newest trail - the Railway Loop. It took me about an hour which included numerous stops along the way to take some photos.

As I mentioned, Brian got me a new camera for Christmas. And man, is it an amazing camera. My new Leica is unlike any camera that I have ever used before. First and foremost because this camera is completely manual. It is not a regular DSLR camera. There are no auto modes - I can't set it to landscape or portrait or macro. I can't even set it to a full auto mode. The closest I can get to automatic setting is I can set the ISO to auto and I can set the shutter speed to Aperture priority (did I lose you?).

Basically what all of this means is that you have to control nearly every part of this camera in order to take a photo - including the manual focus. Which makes this camera a big challenge.

Ever since I took that photography class last year I have been pushing myself to grow as a photographer. I look at how far I have come in a year and am pretty proud of all that I have learned and the improvements I can see in my photography. I know that I still have a lot more to learn and many, many hours of practice ahead of me, but for the most part I am encouraged to move forward. When I am shooting landscapes or travel photography I am pretty comfortable using my DSLR on fully manual mode. I like adjusting the ISO, aperture and shutter speed to get the perfect photo. I usually use my camera on auto-focus, only moving it to manual when the lens isn't reading my mind and can't focus on what I want (which is not very often).

When I am taking photos of people, street scenes and children I tend to put my camera in aperture priority (meaning that I set the aperture and the camera selects the correct shutter speed to get a "perfectly" exposed photo) and always use the auto-focus. I do this because I am not entirely confident that I will be able to set all three at the same time and still get the shot that I want - I'm just not that fast yet on my camera. But since aperture priority doesn't always give me that result that I want I am forced to move my camera into full manual mode for at least half of the time, to make sure my photos are correctly exposed. 

But thats with my DSLR. On my Leica I don't have the leisure of being lazy - of slipping back into those comfort zones. Sure, I can set the ISO to auto but that is really the least of my worries. Aperture priority helps a little as at least I don't have to worry about the shutter speed as much - but again, same with the DSLR - when it's in aperture priority the camera is in control, and what it thinks is properly exposed is not necessarily what I think is properly exposed. So most times I end up having to take it off and moving the shutter speed into manual as well.

Perhaps the biggest thing that I have struggled with so far is the manual focus. I haven't had to use a manual focus since I first began shooting with my Dad's old Pentax SLR in high school. If you are shooting something with a clean line it makes focusing pretty easy. But if you get in the middle of a forest with a million tree branches and leaves and layers - it can make focusing on the right thing a challenge.

So I took my new camera out for a walk and really took my time playing with all the settings and taking as many photos as I could. Most of them turned out bad. A few turned out good. But the most important thing I took away from that afternoon was that I was learning something. I was being challenged in a way I haven't been in a while. It felt good to experiment and use my brain and try to figure out this thing. Sure, it was frustrating, and will probably continue to be until I get to know the camera inside and out. But it was fun. And at the end of the day, when I had a chance to review the photos beside a roaring fire in our hotel - even through all the out of focus and over/under exposed images - I still felt proud of what I had captured. I can't wait to use this camera more and more and really unlock its - and my - true potential.

All of these photos have been minimally altered in post-processing. I tried not to change any of them so that you could see exactly what the photos looked like coming out of the camera. There were a few though that I had to reduce the shadows and brighten up a little. But for the most part though, what you see here is what I saw through the lens.