Tuesday, March 31, 2015

York, England

At the beginning of our trip back to the UK, we spent a few days in York, visiting Hubby's parents and family.  York is a lovely place to visit, especially outside of the high tourist season (when it is manic).  There's lots to see and do, and lots in the nearby area to visit too, with the coastal towns of Scarborough, Filey and Whitby, and the North York Moors less than an hour's drive away.
York Minster

York has been in existence in some form or another for at least 2 millennia - it's a historic walled city, founded by the Romans in 71AD.  It became the capital of Roman rule, and later of the kingdoms of Northumbria and Jorvik.  (The word York comes from Old Norse Jorvik). In the 19th century, the city became a centre for the railway industry, and also for chocolate manufacturing - Rowntrees was founded in York in 1862, developing the Kit Kat and Smarties brands, and later Rolo and Yorkie, and became one of the top three confectionary manufacturers in the UK alongside Cadbury and Fry.  Now owned by Nestle, much of the manufacture has been moved overseas, but 6 million Kit Kats are still produced in York every day - over 1 billion every year (you can still smell chocolate when you drive past).
Aside from stocking up on chocolate, we took advantage of the beautiful spring weather to drive to the coast - to Bridlington beach.  We spent a lovely few hours throwing the ball for the dog, and soaking up the unseasonably warm sunshine by the beach huts. 

The beach at Bridlington

Then a short stroll further up the beach and we had to sample the fish and chips in one of the beachside cafes (it would have been rude not to).  Our first authentic fish and chips back in the UK, and they were well worth the wait!  (no photo - they disappeared too quickly!)

Later in the week we went into York centre.  Hubby was keen to see the imposing York Minster again, and we wandered past the city walls and among the little snickelways and alleys with fab names, as well as visiting the famous Shambles.  There's also a York Cat Trail, so we kept a look out for a few of them on our wanderings.  Cat statues have been placed on buildings around York for two centuries - the originals were used mainly to frighten away rats and mice, as well as ward off wandering evil spirits. 
Merchant Adventurers' Hall, built in 1357
All too soon, our time in York was over, and we were back on the train, headed next to Bristol (and Cardiff).

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Trip Home

We've just returned from a lovely 2 week trip back to the UK to see family and friends all around the country.  We'd left Pennsylvania the day after (fortunately) 8" of snow (on top of an accumulation of lighter snow over the past few weeks that hadn't melted due to the below-freezing temperatures), and arrived in a blissfully spring-like UK.

Starting in London, we spent the first (slightly jet-lagged) weekend with good friends, enjoying the fresh spring sunshine and good British food.  Then we took the train north up to York to spend the week with Hubby's parents and friends. 

York Minster

From there, we headed south-west to Bristol and Cardiff, catching up again with family and friends from where we used to live. 
Cardiff Castle

Then the final week was spent down south near Portsmouth with my family.
HMS Warrior in Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard

Lots of travelling, hauling luggage up and down station steps and on and off trains, and lots of rummaging in suitcases for the last pair of clean socks, but it was soooooooo nice to catch up with everyone and swap updates and stories, re-visiting old haunts and discovering new ones, and generally just basking in the comfort and familiarity (and Britishness) of everything.

More posts will follow over the coming weeks with further tales of our adventures.  We're back now in the US (thankfully no snow left), with lots of lovely memories, fab photos, dirty socks, and a "small" amount of proper chocolate (and other necessities)!  (I'm off to hide it before Hubby demolishes it all in 2 days flat).

Monday, March 9, 2015

Ash 'n' Cinders - Catification

Having indoor-bound cats now has meant getting a little more creative in keeping them amused and stimulated, especially during these cold winter months.

Cats are annoyingly adoringly pernickity, and often buying them toys from a pet shop is an instant fail - they're far more likely to play with the plastic tie that attached the toy to its packaging than they are with the toy itself.  So often it's a bit of trial and error, and often a case of repurposing bits and pieces from around the house (boxes, paper bags etc) to keep them temporarily amused.

One of my birthday presents last year was the Catification book by Jackson Galaxy.  I'm not sure if his programmes are still shown in the UK ("My Cat from Hell"), but basically he's like the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan, but for cats.  I love watching his programmes, which more often than not, involve retraining the owners rather than the cats.

Anyway, his book explains the different ways you can "catify" your home to make it a more cat-friendly environment.  There are some fantastic examples of elaborate ceiling walkways  and beautiful cat trees etc, but as we're currently renting, our efforts need to be a little more practical and "temporary"!

So, in no particular order, Ash and Cinders are now, in turns, both delighted and disdainful of the following attempts at catifying our their home.

    Cat Trees - we've installed a huge 6 foot cat tree next to the big bay window where they can look out and watch the squirrels and birds in the trees outside and keep an eye on occasional comings and goings along the road.  Views out of windows are somewhat limited, as apart from the bay window, there are no other windowsills big enough for them to perch on (they are all sash windows). 
A smaller cat perch sits near the sliding doors at the back of the house, but this appears to be less pleasing in the colder months...


"Scent Soakers" - important for cats to feel comfortable, so we have plenty of beds, throws and cushions strategically placed around the house for them to lounge in / on / around, with the comforting smell of cat + hooman + home.  This ensures they can reasonably get their standard 18-21 hours' sleep each day. 

Ash currently prefers the one in the bay window, where he can bask in the occasional wintery sunbeam. 

Cinders likes the one newly placed next to my workroom desk (which also stops her "helping" me and sitting on my keyboard).  Both of them fight over premium space on the blanket at the end of the bed under the warm air vent.

    "Cat TV" installed - ie various bird feeders placed outside the bay window and the patio doors.  The cats can watch the birds at the front in the bay window (along with the occasional mouse), as well as the squirrels wrecking the bird feeder at the back of the house (although, as previously mentioned, this spot is currently rejected for more sun-beam worthy spots in the bay window).
    Cinders spends most evenings now on "mouse alert", waiting for the mouse to appear at the bird feeder...

Greenery - cat grass and cat mint - seeds of both have been purchased and planted in small pots to ensure a constant supply of greenery to aid digestion.  Both cats enjoy regular munching.  Cat mint has had to be replaced several times due to over-enthusiastic chomping.

Interactive games - This is Ash's favourite "game", probably because it involves food, and he'll patiently sit next to it with an enquiring air of expectation until I place biscuits from his food bowl into the tubes.  He then adroitly hooks them out and inevitably chases them under the sofa...  Now that he's mastered this, I have recently made it more difficult by placing a toy mouse on top of said biscuit in the tube.  He sulked for a little bit, but then his belly-logic took over and the mice are now no obstacle to him retrieving the biscuits.

Another current favourite for Ash (as long as he doesn't have to share it with his sister), is the laser pen - the most energetic he ever gets (in short doses) as he kind of shuffle-pounces around the room after the elusive red dot...

So I think we've done a reasonable job of catifying the space we share with our cats.  Do you go to similar lengths to keep your pets happy?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

No-sew Cat Beds

A few months ago, as my crafting mojo was just starting to come back to me, I decided I wanted to make something a little different to my usual beads and embroidery.

I'd been randomly surfing the web for things to keep our cats amused.  Pinterest is always a good source of inspiration for things like this (see my My Cats Pinterest board here).  You'll find lots of ideas for DIY scratchers and condos, and catios and cat trees, games and toys.  I also found a few links to no-sew pet beds - one of which is here, by Scoochmaroo, although I know there are lots of very similar ones around too.

These seemed like the perfect make to get me started, and hopefully would be appreciated by the cats too (you never know).

Not yet having found any decent fabric stores (now more than rectified), I picked up a very inexpensive fleece blanket in Walmart and got started.  As suggested in the instructions, I even made it whilst watching TV.  The knot tying was quite therapeutic, too.

I actually made one bigger one, and had enough fleece left to make a second smaller one.  I also had a plain ironing board cover (bought but never fitted the ironing board properly) that I cut in half and used for additional padding, as well as the polyfil suggested in the instructions.

As you can see from the photos, after some initial wariness, placement in a handy sunbeam did the trick, and now Ash is almost permanently attached to his when the sun comes out.

I put the smaller one in the box in their tall cat tree, and Cinders has now adopted this as her snuggly hidey place.

These no-sew pet beds were so easy to make, and very quick to put together too.  They definitely helped in getting my creative juices flowing again.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

US views on life in the UK

Following my recent post on 10 random observations on life in the US, and with a trip to the UK being planned in the near future, it got me thinking about what non-British people feel about life in the UK.

This link, to a page that's been doing the rounds on the internet recently, gives some very funny insights into exactly that (although beware some of the anglo-saxon language).

My top favourites?
  • UK road signs
  • Midsomer Murders
  • British understatement
  • Loo-gah-ba-roo-gah
  • Alright?  (not so different really - in the US, shop assistants regularly greet you with "hey, how are ya?".  Same concept.)
  • Father Ted
  • Weather obsessions (although the weather also seems to be a regular talking point in Pennsylvania)
  • puddings
Have a read through - they're very funny!

On a similar vein of Britishness - see this twitter thread: https://mobile.twitter.com/soverybritish
They even have an official shop!  And a book on Amazon (which I have just downloaded for pre-flight entertainment).

Now, which ones made you spit out your tea?!