Thursday, 25 August 2011

Day #160: The one with Croatia (almost!)

Well team,
We are off to Croatia tomorrow!!! We are so excited and are actually ready for the trip - packed, charged i-pods, no running in circles - it's a Singleton first for sure.

We will be in Dubrovnik and Lokrum for three nights...

Brela for two...

and will finish the trip in Plitvice National Park....

We feel SO lucky to have the opportunity to take this trip and can't wait for some fun in the sun.

When we get back, we will be blogging fanatics.
So stay tuned for The One with the Braunds (Edinburgh), The One with the Vacuums, The One with the First Day of School, and The One with Croatia!
Until then, we will keep tabs on all the comedy and fill you in as soon as we get back.
Have a great week everyone!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Day #153: The one with the Braunds (St Andrews)

It is important to understand that we went into our Scotland excursion with very little sleep.  The day/night before wasn't a particularly crazy adventure.  As documented in our previous blog, the market, the cab ride, and the dinner were all fairly laid back.  This would lead one to believe that we would have gotten a great night sleep and been bright eyed and bushy tailed for our early morning departure to Edinburgh.

Oh, and how wrong you would be....

On the Singleton side of the equation, Shayne picked an opportune time to develop what we have come to call "London S.A.D."  What is S.A.D. you ask?  It's Season Affective Disorder, or what is sometimes referred to as the 'winter blues'.  This is a disorder that is brought about by a vitamin D deficiency, with a leading symptom of insomnia.  Lovely. How many hours of sleep did Shayne get?  Let's just say, she can recount each and every painful second of the evening.  How many hours of sleep did Jake get?  About one... the amount of time that Shayne laid awake before beginning to ball her eyes out.  Oh, how dreamy it was (pun intended).

On the Braund's side, Mike had the pleasure of encountering our Spanish neighbor that lives in the ground level flat just above ours.  We aren't sure if his late night tendencies are brought about by his hispanic culture shining through, or if he is also a S.A.D sufferer.  But either way, our living room chandelier begins to shake around 1:00am each morning.  Being that our living room also doubles as our executive suite/guest room, the Braunds got to experience our Samba dancing Spaniard first hand.  We're pretty sure that Kristyn Joy Braund was able to somber quite peacefully, but how rested can you be when the alarm goes off at 4:30am?

We hired a mini-cab service to take us out to Luton airport.  Let's just say the driver got a car full of 'early morning delirium' and some poorly implemented That's What She Said (TWSS) references.  At that hour of the day, almost anything goes...let's be honest.  It also didn't hurt that he was driving his 4 door sedan, at what we're pretty sure was somewhere in the neighborhood of Mach 2.0.  Did you know a little 4 banger Peugeot could top 110mph?  Neither did we, until we got there way sooner than we expected (TWSS!).

We braved the cattle call that is European airports and did our best to wolf down a breakfast bap before boarding our flight.  It was really the 1.5 hours of ZZZzzzzs we caught on the plane that saved the day.  We landed in Edinburgh, hopped in our Avis rent-a-car, and hit the open road for the green grasses of St Andrews.  The first miracle of our trip was about to occur.  Jake and Mike were hoping to catch the 10:00am tour of the St Andrews Old Course.  A hole-by-hole walking tour of the birthplace of golf.  The only problem was the plane landed in Edinburgh at 8:45am and the drive time was estimated at between 1hr 15 and 1hr 30.  So it was a long shot, or so we thought.

We managed to pull into St Andrews at about 10 past 10:00am.  We looked down the 18th fairway (towards the clubhouse) and saw a group of tourists congregating near the flag stick.  Could it be?  Did we make it?  Were we still able to join?  Oh you bet your ass!  And it was amazing.

Highlight:  This one was a tough call as both Mike and Jake found golf balls during the tour (amazing Souvenirs!); there was also the couple that dressed in every golf brand imaginable (Titleist hat, Nike shirt, Adidas wind breaker, mizuno shorts, ping shoes, etc.) that felt the need to talk to our 70-something St Andrews local tour guide with phrases such as, "O.M.G that's a huge bunker" and "LOL, I can't believe the golf balls used to be made out of leather."  Or maybe it was looking back at Shayne and Kristyn during the tour.  They were evenly filling the time between tanning and catching butterflies.

We paused for a photo shoot on the famous Swilcan Bridge on the 18th hole (yes, the Braunds busted out the Terrible Towel to rousing applause from some of the other Americans on the course).  We ended our golf extravaganza with a quick trip to the pro shop for some souvi's and we were off to the bar for a cheeky pint (or glass of Pimm's for Mrs. Braund - her new fave!).

Jake and Shayne on the Old Course

Jake, Jim (our tour guide), and Mike after the tour.
We explored the town of St Andrews during the afternoon, which we would recommend as a must see for anyone who makes their way up to Scotland.  Exploring the ruins of the St Andrews Castle & Cathedral were pretty incredible!  We even convinced Kristyn to brave the climb of St Rule's tower (in true Singleton fashion).  We ventured down to the sea side where we kicked off our shoes and waded out onto the mossy rocks and into the splash zone.  We decided one more cheeky pint was a must before we hit the road, but our destination of choice (The Jigger Inn on the 17th hole) was closed for a private party.  So instead we blasted the radio station playing traditional bagpipe music, and curved our way through the majestic scottish landscape, stopping at a tiny sea side village for a quick drink.

Shayne climbing the ruins of St Andrew's Castle.

Mike, Kristyn, Shayne, and Jake at the castle.

Jake in the castle wall.

Kristyn and Mike "hanging out!"

The St Andrew's Cathedral

The Braunds climbing the tour - GO KRISTYN!

Shayne and Jake on the top of the tour.
The beautiful Atlantic ocean!

We pulled into Edinburgh sun burned, wiped out, but jazzed for a night on the town.  Tune in for our next entry...the one with the Braunds (Edinburgh).

Lessons learned:  1) If St Andrews is good enough for Will and Kate, it's certainly good enough for us!, 2) The best BLT in all of the UK can be found at the St Andrews club house restaurant, 3) If you plan to spend 3 hours on a golf tour, and then tour outdoor castles/ruins, and then hit the beach...maybe some sun screen should be applied.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Day #149: The one where you choose your own adventure

Well people, the washing machine saga ended today. I feel slightly sad knowing the issue has been resolved - problematic washing woes and rotten clothes have become something I could count on. What will I do with my time now that I don't need to re-wash, re-hang, and re-fold loads two or three times each?

You will be thrilled to know; however, that the new machine was not installed without a laugh. As you all know, we whooped and hollered when we were told that we were getting a washer/dryer combo. Fortunately, I did not hold my breath and unfortunately, the new machine arrived and it was just a washer. I guess Jake will have to continue wearing baggy and stretched-out jeans that don't shrink up in the dryer and we will not have the joy of experiencing a wet heat bomb in our kitchen when a load is complete. Oh well, I guess life goes on.

Before the installation team wrapped up this morning, they called us into the kitchen. One of them was holding a washcloth out in front of them like it was the filthy pigeon squatter in Rachel's kitchen. The washcloth was pitch black and dripping with goo. The installation team explained to us that someone had plugged that thing up into a pipe leading from the kitchen sink. Now, I am not a forensics specialist nor do I even watch CSI; however, it doesn't take an FBI agent to solve this mystery.

You know what, I am going to give you all a minute to contemplate the facts:
Think about the floating tortilla chip...
the plumber team in turbans...
the black and gooey washcloth...
the stink in the machine....
you fit the pieces together and, only if you want to, scroll down to read my theories. It will be like one of those 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books from the 80's....

In this 'Choose Your Own Adventure' section, feel free to select the ending of your choice.

Ending #1:
Travel with me back to April when the men in turbans arrived to re-route the pipe connecting our sink to our washing machine. They looked in our machine, saw the food debris, and knew there was a problem. They also saw our tiny kitchen, felt the spring-time heat, and knew that fixing this was going to be a big job in such a small space. They heard that Trevor asked me for tea and biscuits...the men in turbans had a tough decision to make. Should they spend the day fixing the stinky mess or should they band-aid the problem and join Trevor for tea? Option two was the winner. Those men in turbans grabbed the closest washcloth and jammed that thing into the the pipe between the sink and washing machine. Problem solved! Ever since, that blockage has kept out MOST of the food and filtered the rest. A few weeks ago, the poor washcloth just couldn't saturate anymore dirty dish water and finally blew - hence, our rotten clothes. Now, it's just a can decide for yourself! Choose your own adventure! But, how else do you explain the mess on our hands?

Ending #2:
Back in April, I went into the kitchen to make some lunch. In an effort to carry all of the ingredients over to the counter, I knocked over Jake's most prized possession: a glass jar of left over beer from his first baseball game at Wrigley Field. The accident happened in slow motion. I could see the jar circling in a vortex through the air. I threw the lunch meat and bread to the side as I reached heroically for the jar. In the back of my mind I remembered the glass cake plate...the shattering sound...the blood...the stitches...the surgery...instead of grasping for the jar, I threw myself in the opposite direction and buried myself underneath the bag of deli turkey. When I heard the sound of shattering glass and smelled the warm aroma of stale beer, I knew I had made a mistake. How was I going to tell my loving husband what I had done? I decided I couldn't reveal the truth. I grabbed the washcloth off of the counter and mopped up my evidence. I threw the glass away and told Jake I had dropped a jar of pickles. However, I knew he would be able to smell that Chicago Old Style beer from a mile away - stale or not. So, I took the saturated washcloth and jammed it up a pipe behind the washing machine. "He won't ever look there!" I said to myself in a panic. I knew the beer was leaking into the machine as soon we started to smell like Wrigley Field when getting dressed. However, it wasn't until this morning, when the washing machine installation team unearthed my evidence, that Jake ever doubted my lie about the raccoon coming in through the kitchen window and stealing his jar of Old Style. Now, it's just a can decide for yourself! Choose your own adventure! But, how else do you explain the mess on our hands?

Ending #3:
We should have seen it could we have missed the obvious calling card of the evil genius, Juan ‘Picante’ Valencia. You leave the confines of the south-western United States and you quickly forget the crime and corruption that Valencia and his underground syndicate brought upon the people. What we didn’t know was that our landlord Paul had somehow gotten mixed up with this mad man, and was starting to feel the clever wrath of his enemy. Picante Valencia is not known for being a violent man. He is clever and cunning, and outwits his opponents through a slow, methodical draining of their assets. He never reveals this tortuous plan, until one day you stumble upon his signature calling card. One lone tortilla chip. What we so flippantly disregarded as food draining into our washing machine, was actually the last revealing moment of Picante’s plan to drain Paul of his money, and undermine his entire London operation. Picante knew that we would continue to call Paul, and have him send repairman after repairman out to complete the never ending work on the Money Pit. So he cleverly infiltrated the London contactors union, and corrupted the workmen to sabotage Paul’s units. The faulty shower? The spider infestation? The leaking drain? The smelly washing machine? Of course, these were all the workings of Picante’s henchmen. Well your plots been unravelled Picante. We’ve found your gooey, smelly rag, and have brought in outsiders to perform a full and complete repair of the washing machine. We will be on the lookout for you, and your next attack on the Money Pit. But know we are on to you, and we will bring you down eventually. Now, it's just a can decide for yourself! Choose your own adventure! But, how else do you explain the mess on our hands?

Lessons Learned: 1) A washcloth will not keep the food out forever, 2) Jake will be wearing baggy jeans until we move back to America, 3) In London, tea time trumps all, 4) Juan ‘Picante’ Valencia is a real trouble maker.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Day #148: The one with the new washing machine

Let me sum it up for you:

* April: We discover that, after a month of smelling like sour milk, our sink is draining into our washing machine. That's right, we were washing our clothes in last night's dinner. Floating tortilla chip anyone?

* May: Our landlord's fix-it man comes out to evaluate. He confirms. The chip, corn, and shredded cheese did, in fact, come from the sink drain - We should put him in touch with the London Police Detective Department. He might also be able to assist them in solving the London riots. It seems that a drug lord getting shot and teenagers using it as an excuse to rob a bunch of Foot Lockers is too complicated a crime.

* May: Plumber's arrive to re-route the sink drain.

* June: Mold begins growing in our washing machine.

* July: The sour smell remains in our clothes. I re-wash, re-fold, and re-hang each load of laundry 3 times each. I begin to go mad.

* July: We wonder if perhaps the food that used to drain into our machine has rotted and rooted itself onto the walls of our machine.

July: I scrub out the machine for the 62nd time.

July: We beg and plead for a new machine.

August 1: The impossible happens! Our landlord agrees to get us a new washing machine AND DRYER!

August 2-3 : I don't leave the house for two days while I wait for the new machine to be delivered.

August 4: Jake informs me that the landlord emailed days ago that the delivery was re-scheduled till the 16th. We confirm that I was not attached to the email. Awesome.

August 5-15: I wash all of our laundry by hand in the kitchen sink.

August 15 (today): Our landlord was supposed to send out our fix-it man to disconnect our old machine. We have heard nothing and are NOT holding our breath.

Stay tuned for the saga finale! Will we or will we not smell like a landfill for the next 1.5 years.

Lesson Learned: Food lodged inside a washing machine decomposes.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Day #140: The one with the Braunds (London)

To say we were waiting with bated breath for the Braunds arrival would be something of an understatement.  The closest likeness would probably be two kids trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve.  Shayne took the long and arduous journey out to Heathrow International Airport (a pure act of love) and briefly spasmed when Kristyn and Mike rounded the bend from international arrivals.  A giggle and hug filled reunion ensued, and as Kristyn was feeling a little left out, Shayne decided to formally greet her with a hand shake.  OK, so maybe we had our Braunds crossed there, but to say it was a joyous reunion would be quite accurate.

The full SDSC - minus three - stumbled into the Draft House (a new beer bar discovery we found when Kristyn and Shayne had to pee).  In the UK, all you can find on tap is Peroni, Kronenberg, Aspall (yes, say that outloud!), and Stella, so finding a beer mecca always results with a true time of jubilee.  The Draft House had over 200 bottles of craft beer and a fantastic line-up of local and import drafts.  Jake met the gang after work and another giggle-ishious reunion took place.  Again, Kristyn hung back during the excitement and finally greeted Jake with a hardy slap on the back.  Did we cross our Braunds again? OH! The SDSC gang - minus two - was finally together.

The plan was to get a few beers and head to dinner.  However, like most nights on the trip, dinner was something of a formality.  We caught up over a few rounds and jumped in a cab to The Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.  The laughs had already started and became thunderous when Shayne tried to safety belt herself into the fold down taxi chair and ended up on the floor.  A truly elegant maneuver.

What was supposed to be a brief stop to highlight the charm of this 1667 rebuilt pub, ended up taking a slight detour when, across the room, a deck of cards was spotted.  There's really only one SDSC reaction to a deck of cards - Asshole anyone?!?  10+ rounds of this wonderfully addicting card game later, we had officially missed our first dinner opportunity of the trip.  There's really only one thing to do if you miss the evening dining window... KEBABS!  A few Doners later we tucked the Braunds in and fell asleep like a child with Christmas dinner in their belly and their favorite new toy under their pillow.

Day Two:  Sightseeing speed round:
* Tube - London Bridge stop
* Shayne SCREAMED and clung to Mike when she accidentally ran into the scary, bloody, 7 foot guy from the haunted dungeon who was outside handing out fliers
* Shayne yelled, "JUST MAKE HIM GO AWAY!" when he chased after them to apologize

* We all almost peed from laughing
* Borough Market
* Lunch - Shayne and Mike had fish and chips
* Kristyn decided she wanted a baguette - Shayne reminded her she wasn't in France - Kristyn discovered british egg salad sandwiches - success!
* Walked down Southbank
* Millenium Bridge
* Tate Museum of Modern Art
* Cheeky Pint

SIDENOTE:  'Cheeky Pint' per Urban Dictionary: An impromptu pint of beer, unplanned and executed in between or after existing obligations.  The consumption of said beer is often later denied.  'Pint' is often substituted with the intended volume of cheekys to be consumed, or dropped completely when used in an informal, familiar environment.  Examples include: Fancy a cheeky pint?  Let's go for a cheeky!  It's 3:00, it's time for a cheeky 6.

* Mike decided he wanted to rent bikes from the SIMPLE Barclay's street-side hire system

* An HOUR later we had figured out how to dislodge the bikes from their stand and we were on our way
* Through the streets we journeyed and, at one point, ended up on a free-way loop looking street
* Turned around!
* Found a stand and parked the bikes
* Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Parliament
* Cheeky pint
* Trafalgar Square
* National Museum of Art - Sunflower painting!!!
* Gordon's Wine Bar - PHEW!!!
Speed round over!

Gordon's Wine Bar - Oh, what a night (late December back in ' all know it's what you were thinking!).  Kristyn and Mike got to meet some the London gang, namely:  Ben and Marge, Mike and Carly, Sophie and George.  The over/under on number of bottles consumed was approximately 8.  Needless to say, it was a pretty fun night.  The Braunds introduced our UK brethren to 'Pass the Pigs.'  Curious about this game?  Click this link and enjoy the online version.  Sure you won't have tiny, rubber, hogs to throw, but this will surely be a second best!  By the end of the night, everyone crowded around in a screaming fanfare of pigs and dice support.  Curious about dinner?  OOPS - forgot again!  Luckily we coerced the Italian sit-down restaurant next to Gordon's to allow us a few take away pies.  Pizza on the sidewalk - classy!

As we had missed the last tube of the evening, the search was on for a taxi ride home.  This proved rather difficult given the hour and number of people attempting the same feat, so after the street wandering had reached it's maximum, we miraculously stumbled upon a local boutique hotel.  Hey, wouldn't you know it, the hotel bar/club was still serving.  The only problem was they were only allowing entrance to hotel guests.  Turns out there wasn't a Mr. Jones staying in room 312, and we were not granted entrance.  The bright side of this detour was that we were now able to use the hotel car service back to our flat.  Result!

Back at the house, Cirque-du-soleil came to town.
Mike approached Jake, gently rested his hand on his chest, looked him in the eye, and asked, "Are you ready?"
Jake responded, "I think so."
In the beat of an eyelash, Mike proceeded to leap, assume full pike position, and trusted that Jake would be there to complete the lift.  However, being that this stunt had never before been attempted, Jake was slightly unprepared, presumably NOT ready, and only managed to just barely break Mike's fall.
Jake looked at Mike, shook his head in confusion, and said, "Why would I have been ready for that?" Needless to say, the two were eager to successfully complete the stunt and round two was gold medal material.


Saturday: A day on the town
The day started a little slowly as we shook off the rust that resulted from a night of wine drinking.  What better way to get back on track than a trip to one of the finest craft brewers in London.  We headed to the wonderful garage/warehouse/brewery that is 'The Kernel' and enjoyed some delicious craft beers.  The next stop on the list was the world famous Portobello Market.  But if we were being honest with ourselves, it was really a 'Notting Hill' movie location hunt for the girls.  We followed in the footsteps of Huge and Julia as we tracked down the famous front door, the book shop, and even the corner with the orange juice incident.  "I am just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her...." Classic!  After all of these mushy Rom-Com moments, the boys (and girls too for that matter) were ready for a cheeky.

The Churchill Arms and Windsor Castle pubs, our two favorites in Notting Hill, were next on the agenda.  The cold pints were calling and, you guessed it, pigs and dice were thrown.  The Braunds had the pleasure of trying their first Pimm's and it passed with flying colors!  We knew dinner would be a must and made it a top priority.  The Mitre, a hot spot for fabulous meat pies, is out in Notting Hill so we decided to share the delights of meat, gravy, and mash.  We walked in, were shown to our table, and ordered water while we scoured the menu.  FYI - the pie special of the day was something to the effect of Gallbladder and Sphincter Surprise.  Being that you have to pay for your water here, we essentially 'dined and dashed' from The Mitre and headed to the tube station.  We were immediately notified that the tubes were closed due to another jumper on the tracks.  Damn you jumper!  Dinner was seemingly out of our reach again.  We had one other idea for a quality pie, and hailed a cab to make this dinner dream a reality.  Our destination: Brown's just off Islington Green.  The obstacle: 35+ min cab ride across the city in evening traffic, and the potential that the restaurant would stop serving.  The result:  Dinner for 4, win!

Stay tuned for the next installment: The one with the Braunds (Scotland)!

Lesson's Learned: 1) All Cirque-du-Soleil stunts should be properly planned and coordinated between all parties, 2) It's always the right time for a cheeky pint, 3) Dinner is often overrated, 4) The double-leaning-jowlers still elude us (see 'Pass the Pigs' rules on the link provided above), 5) There is absolutely nothing finer than true friendship.