October 18, 2015

EXPAT LIFE: SISTERHOOD OF THE WORLD BLOGGER AWARD

A picture from my very first flight - to Madrid


When Irene from Away From Tenerife nominated me for the Sisterhood of the World Blogger Award I was on a little break from this blog so I hope she won't mind the delay! I have been following her blog for quite some time now and I feel like we bonded over our connection to Antwerp from the start. I really enjoyed reading her answers to these questions, so here it goes. Thanks for the nomination Irene!

1. Why did you start blogging?
I had a blog before I ever started this one, because I love writing. But I was always most productive when blogging involved travelling, like during the semester I spent studying in London or my first visits to the US. It's still nice to look back at those posts and relive the memories. Snowflakes in California was born in much the same way after I moved to California in 2013 and felt the need to write about this big change in my life. Writing it all down strangely does make it easier to process.

2. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? 
Gosh, that's a tough one. Up until recently I would have said London. Without a doubt. But moving to this big country with lots of nature (and yes I realize the California I've been living in might not necessarily be considered as the big open space, but compared to what I'm used to it is) has made me fall in love with and cherish the ruggedness you can still find here. More importantly it has made me realize how many more places there are that I'll never be able to fall in love with. So choosing is very difficult; maybe somewhere along the Oregon coast? Or in the middle of nowhere in beautiful Scotland (even though I've never been there)? Or just in plain old Flanders along the river where my grandparents used to live?

In Cologne

3. What is the best piece of travel advice you have ever received? 
Do what the locals do. It's my mom's motto - next to never keep all your important documents in the same place! - & it's solid advice. You'll find the best places in town and avoid all the tourist traps. Although, with smartphones and the internet nowadays it is a bit easier to look up where to go or what to avoid compared to when she was younger.

4. Where did you have your best meal ever?
Honestly, it's been almost four years since I met the other love of my life: the famous California Breakfast Burrito. And I'm still hooked. But the overall best food I ever had was the one served at our wedding prepared by a chef from San Diego. Best $$$ ever spent.


5. What is your most memorable holiday or trip? That would have to be my first visit to London. Apparently I was already seventeen (!!) when I first visited that amazing city - I just found that out by looking at the pictures. It was rainy and warm (worst combination if you ask me) so my hair looked horrible in every single picture. Oh, and my purse was stolen, so we spent half of the time at the Belgian Embassy. But it was worth it. A close second is the road trip Nick took me on during my first visit to the US. Both trips really changed me.

6. What is the one thing you cannot live without when travelling? 
A camera. Not that I have a good one (thank goodness for smartphones) but I was always the 'photographer' of the family. And luckily Nick has a decent one that I can steal borrow when necessary.

7. Is there a souvenir you always take home from your travels?
Not really. I really wish I had some sort of tradition when it comes to that. My mom used to bring my sister and me a pair of earrings from a local shop whenever she traveled somewhere for work. I always really liked that idea.



La Jolla


8. Who is your go-to travel buddy? 
Nick, the one who puts up with all of my chaos and crazy demands. I usually pick cities, while he picks hikes. But it always works out perfectly. Or at least he hasn't complained so far...

9. Are you a spontaneous traveler or do you prefer to plan everything in advance? 
Definitely spontaneous. Not that I necessarily want to be, but I'm just really bad at outlining where I want to go. I usually miss some important must-sees or I discover places I would have wanted to see after we've returned, but at least it gives you a reason to go back!

10. Where are you traveling next?
Hopefully Belgium again! I'm planning on doing some more discovering in my home country, because there's never enough time for that. It's the never ending expat conflict I guess? I would also really like to plan a trip to Colorado or Alaska in the new year, we'll see!

I don't exactly know what the rules are here, but I'm guessing it's my turn to nominate some awesome bloggers to answer these questions:


Holly of Full of Beans and Sausages
Emily of Em Busy Living
Jae of Scatterbrain
Marla of A Weekend Crossing

Hope you had a great weekend! 

September 24, 2015

NOT YOUR AVERAGE BLOG HIATUS: I'M BACK & WE'RE MOVING!


I don't really know where to start with this post. 'It's been a while' feels like an understatement. There have been so many times over the past couple of weeks that I wanted to write a blog post and didn't. A lot has happened over the summer and eventually also felt like an enormous amount of information weighing down on me. It's like seeing a good friend again and you don't know how or where to start. But if I'm being really honest I have to admit I also needed some time away from the blog. I felt uninspired, unsuccessful and unsure of what I wanted to do with my little corner of the web...

Distance does make the heart grow fonder however (gotta love those cliches), because I just can't don't want to give up on this yet. Ok, I missed it. There, I said it. And the more I started thinking about blogging again, the more excited I got, which leads us to where we are today. Even though I won't be able to tell you the whole story of our summer yet (baby steps!) I can tell you that it involves a move and a new job. Not very original, I know, it seems as if everyone in the entire blogosphere moved somewhere new this year. So who am I to stay behind?

Now, those of you who follow me on Instagram probably have a pretty good idea by now of where we're headed. And those of you who are pretty curious (which means this is working) better go click on that link! Just kidding, we're moving to the Bay Area!

That's about all I can reveal for now, but even though this move is in the works I promise you'll hear from me more often again. I'm really looking forward to discover new parts of this beautiful state - any tips? - but leaving San Diego is bittersweet. Also, is it crazy to be happy we're staying in the same state because now my blog name still makes sense? Dodged a bullet there!

So how have you been?


PS: I'm sorry about the comments I left unanswered, that's the second thing on my list after hitting publish on this post!

July 2, 2015

#TBT: A SUMMER'S DAY IN BRUGES


I can't believe a month has passed and it's already time for another flashback to my days in Belgium. Because of the current heatwave in Western Europe I thought it only appropriate to take you back to my first (yes, you read that correctly) visit to Bruges almost exactly four years ago. Despite the fact that it's a number one on many a tourist's list - it's also the first thing anyone mentions when they hear I am from Belgium - I had never been there. I simply never felt the need to go there. Enter Nick visiting and you have the perfect opportunity to be a tourist in your own country. So on a very hot day at the end of June we decided to take the train and cross this city off our lists.


One thing you need to know about taking the train in Belgium when it's hot, is that you might want to avoid going towards the coast altogether. Unless you want to see what a zombie apocalypse might look like. Roads and trains alike are packed on days like that. I should have thought of this, but didn't. On top of that it was also one of the first weekends of the summer break so literally everyone was headed to the seaside. Perfect timing for trains to break down, if you ask me. Bottom line: instead of two or three trains going to Ghent and/ or Bruges every hour we only got one. And everyone in Belgium was on it. Joy! 


The train ride was definitely a nightmare (and trust me, the way back was even worse) but at least we arrived safely in Bruges. I never really realized how small the city center is until that day because we could easily walk around. We didn't have any clear plans or goals except for enjoying the sights and having a nice cold beer. It was definitely too hot to climb the many stairs of the Belfry! 

We did indulge in one tourist trap however and took a boat ride along the canals. Definitely worth it and very refreshing in those temperatures!


All in all I was really glad I finally got to pay this city a visit - and was able to go back home in the end. Thank you Gods of Public Transportation! But I have to admit that it didn't leave me mesmerized as it does many visitors. Could it be that apart from those beautiful canals it does look like a lot of a ton of other Belgian cities? Maybe I'm we're just spoiled!

Are there any famous touristic areas in your country you've always wanted to visit? 


PS: Nick took a lot of these pictures but I'm claiming them for my blog. I'm just being nice and giving him the credit.

June 26, 2015

REVIEW: MY WINE COLORED FIRMOO GLASSES

Firmoo offered me a free pair of glasses in exchange for an honest review 
All opinions are - of course - my own
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Happy Friday everyone! As you may know I only started wearing glasses this year. It took me some time to come to terms with that since I never needed help with my eye sight before, but I'm growing fond of them now. Let's be honest, I feel smarter too when I wear them. So when Firmoo contacted me a few months ago and asked if I wanted to review a pair of their glasses, I immediately said yes. Because every girl needs at least an extra pair for those days when you just spent and hour picking out an outfit and then your glasses don't match!

PS: it was windy on Mount Soledad!

The hardest part was obviously picking the frame but I eventually decided on this round shaped burgundy beauty. The ordering process is extremely easy and fast. It was the second time I ordered a pair of glasses online and the only downside with Firmoo's website is that you have to either already know your pupillary distance (PD) or measure it yourself. Which can be tricky (at least for rookies like me). So I was glad I already knew mine. Other than that you can either fill out your prescription yourself or upload a picture of it. 

A photo posted by Nathalie (@snowflakesincalifornia) on

I have to admit I was a bit skeptical of the pricing. I didn't have to pay for these glasses but their eye wear in general is pretty cheap. And with that comes free 1.5 index lenses and an anti-scratch coating (other options or customizing makes it a bit more expensive). You can basically buy a pair for each day of the week if you want ( & yes, I have thought about this!). My glasses arrived about a month ago and pretty quickly after I ordered them. I really loved the case they came in (although the fluorescent green cleaning cloth is a bit TOO green for my taste). The package also included a bag that doubles as a cleaning cloth and a little screwdriver. 


Posing on Windansea Beach

Since I only wear my glasses for driving I wanted to try them out for a while before posting this review. And I have to say I absolutely love them! They are very light weight yet sturdy and fit my face better than my other glasses (as in they don't slide down my nose at all and fit better around my head). I picked them based on the measurements of my other glasses (you can also try them on virtually by uploading a picture - sadly not via webcam) so I knew the frame wouldn't be a huge risk, but they have definitely become my favorite pair since then. Also, it gave me the opportunity to force Nick into the role of photographer and do this photo shoot with me. So thank you Firmoo!


I would definitely recommend anyone in need of a new pair of glasses to give the website a try. Especially if you're on a budget or if you're like me and don't want to spend a lot of money on a pair of glasses that you don't need to wear all day. Great news too is that Firmoo ships globally (check countries & costs) and offers first time customers 15% off on their frames. You can get a coupon code here

Do you wear glasses? And do you ever buy them online?  


PS: This was my first review ever so if you have any other questions, shoot!

June 23, 2015

OUT AND ABOUT: LIONS, TIGERS & BEARS ANIMAL RESCUE

I first read about Lions Tigers and Bears on Marla's blog back in January. I had already decided I wanted to make a donation to a good cause for my birthday when my husband read my mind and surprised me with a membership to this organisation. It was the first time for as far as I can remember that I didn't get a traditional presents 'for myself' and it felt great. 


A photo posted by Nathalie (@snowflakesincalifornia) on

There are different types of memberships depending on how much you decide to donate but all of them include unlimited visits for yourself and in my case one guest. There is also an option to become a member for a day - if you don't live in the area for example - or you can even buy a pass that gives you to opportunity to feed one of the animals. 

All visits do need to be scheduled in advance and we eventually decided to book ours at the end of May. As you can see we didn't get the best weather in Alpine: it was incredibly foggy and rainy in the mountains that morning. In fact, driving up from the coast felt like we had stepped into a different world. I was so glad I had at least thought of bringing a sweater with me and luckily, we also found a rain jacket in the back of the car or it could have been a disaster. Some of the other visitors clearly weren't expecting this either! On the other hand the background was definitely appropriate for what we were about to see and hear.

Black bears // Grizzly bears Albert and Cherry Bomb

Most of the animals at Lions Tigers & Bears have very sad background stories and were either purchased as a pet or for entertainment. Both of which are disturbing. I can't wrap my head around the fact that some people think it's a good idea to buy a a bear or a tiger (for a toddler!!) and then don't know what to do when - surprise, surprise - it gets too big, dangerous or expensive to keep (mainly all of the above).

Our tour started with a visit to the bear enclosures where we saw multiple black bears and two grizzly bears who have found a new home here. The two grizzly bears couldn't walk normally - it looks like they're either limping or dragging their feet - because they'd spent so much time confined in small quarters. They were malnourished and a lot smaller than they should be when they arrived but apparently have come a long way since then - we were told they could barely walk at all in the beginning!  


I was really excited to see the tigers, because they've always been my favourite type of big cat. And this is about the closest I've ever been to one. It was so incredible and sad at the same time because these majestic animals just don't belong in a cage. Natasha for example (picture) spent many years in a small enclosure without being able to roam around before she arrived at Lions Tigers and Bears.

It might look like the animals live in small areas but a lot of that has to do with the fact that every enclosure has double fencing for security reasons. The tigers for example have walkways in the back (that you can't see in the pictures) and all the big cats rotate between their separate enclosure and spending time in the 'Tiger Trails'-enclosure: a big open area with a large pool and green grass. 


The lions: 'king' Bakari and his two sisters Jilian and Suri

One of the most beautiful cats we saw that day was definitely Conga, the leopard. There are also a few bobcats and a serval but those pictures unfortunately didn't turn out that great. 

The guided tour lasted about an hour and a half and I had trouble containing my tears sometimes. After the tour you'r free to walk around and explore but because of the cold weather we didn't stay that long. So I'll just have to go back some other time! 


Have you ever visited an animal rescue? 

June 15, 2015

MUSIC: DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 IN SAN DIEGO


Last weekend marked a milestone in my short lifetime because I FINALLY got to see Death From Above 1979. I first heard 'Romantic Rights' from You're A Woman, I'm A Machine in 2007 when I was still in high school and obsessed with music. I had just begun to realize that not all contemporary music was doomed and this was basically the best thing since stumbling upon 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor' or 'From Atlantis to Interzone' from the new British invasion around that time. So thank you, Youtube! And I'm not exaggerating when saying this band is the sole reason I ever bought a bass guitar (even if I don't play it anymore). What can I say? I like loud music. 


Do you know that feeling when you're listening to a song for the first time and it feels like you just hit gold? I mean I've had those aha moments before with a lot of different bands but for some reason I've always had a soft spot for two person bands (The Kills, The White Stripes, Blood Red Shoes, Royal Blood, Deap Vally, The DO, ...) and DFA 1979 are definitely one of the loudest around. Imagine my heartbreak when I found out the Canadian duo had already split up by that time...

Fast forward to 8 years later at the side stage of the Sleeptrain Ampitheatre in San Diego because there they were. Sebastian Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler. As if nothing ever happened. Allow me my fangirl moment. I have to admit that during those five years of radio silence before they reformed in 2011 I hadn't really kept track of them. I think along the way I even lost some of my passion for music, but now I am yet again obsessed. I have been listening to their new album The Physical World non stop and am already hoping to catch another show soon! I know they've always had a shaky live reputation - mainly because it's pretty hard to bang on those drums and sing at the same time - but that decade in between albums seems to have paid off. 




Absolute favourites so far: 'Nothing Left', 'Cheap Talk', 'Right on, Frankenstein' & 'White is Red' (!!)

How about you? Which bands swept you off your feet and/or are on your bucket list?  

June 7, 2015

DAILY ROUTINE: MAKING MY OWN DEODORANT


Happy Sunday everyone! First of all, I changed domain names this weekend and I've been having problems with switching the comments on my blog. My apologies for that! I hope to have this sorted out soon, but in the mean time it might take me a while to reply...

Apart from that I thought I'd share something completely different today. I've been trying to reduce the amount of trash/plastic/chemicals I use, which has been a very slow process (but I'm trying right?). One of the successes however has definitely been making my own deodorant. That's the beauty of working from home I guess, because I can literally try out anything (I've thought about dying my hair pink) and none of my colleagues have to put up with it - just my husband and he definitely thought I was crazy for this. 

After being disappointed by organic/natural deodorants and the deodorant bar at Lush (it works better than any other natural option but it just didn't make me feel comfortable enough to wear it out all day) my 
sister found this recipe on a blog. When even my mom - who stands in front of a classroom all day - told me it did in fact work, I was convinced I had to try it. So on a boring Friday morning in April I decided to buy coconut oil and started mixing the ingredients. The recipe is ridiculously easy and most of the ingredients were already in my kitchen cabinet (corn starch: check, baking soda: check). 

I didn't add any oils for fragrance (so it just smells vaguely like coconut, which I like) and I've been using it ever since! You do have to get used to your deodorant being a paste (depending on the climate). And although I've heard it can irritate the skin (like any other deodorant) if you apply it right after showering or shaving, I've never had a problem with that. 

The great part: no more of those annoying white stains on my clothes and a lot less laundry. Even my husband has to admit I don't smell bad. The only thing I haven't figured out yet is how long this deodorant stays good for. So I might have to cut the recipe in half in the future because right now I have an extra jar sitting in the bathroom drawer...

Do you make any of your own beauty products or would you consider it? 

June 4, 2015

#TBT: OUR VISIT TO KEW GARDENS IN LONDON

Ever since moving to California I haven't had much time and money to travel around Europe - I mean I barely even have enough time to travel around the US! And even though I haven't seen as much as I wanted to from my own continent, I though I'd share some of my previous adventures here as part of a little trip down memory lane. So maybe this is more for myself than you guys, haha! I can't guarantee this will be a weekly thing because I didn't travel that much (after all I was a student with no money) but let's say we'll start with every first Thursday of the month and see from there!  


It's only appropriate we start with one of my last extensive visits to London - my favourite city on this whole goddamn planet! I studied a semester abroad in London and got to see every little corner of the city center but it was only afterwards (two years later in my case and right after we got engaged) that I visited Kew Gardens and got to discover a completely different part of the city when Nick was living in West London. It's one of those destinations perfect for a third or second visit to London, because the city is just too big!

 Bear with me because this is going to be an overload of pictures...

THE PALM HOUSE



As you can see from the pictures the weather was absolutely amazing that time and on one of the last days of my visit we decided to make the most of it and plan a little day trip from Ealing to Kew Gardens, which was founded in 1840. The Royal Botanical Gardens are in zone 3 and contain the world's the largest collection of living plants. It was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2003. 


Now, I'm not particularly fond of walking around a park for hours - and trust me, with 121 hectares of gardens and green houses that's a real possibility - but I have to admit this was really impressive. Partly because of the hot weather we didn't cover the whole park (it's probably impossible to do that in one day), but here is a small summary of what we did see:

THE WATERLILY HOUSE



Obviously we started with the Palm House and took the most pictures there because we were fresh and energetic. From there we went on to the waterlily house to admire my favourite flowers...

THE TEMPERATE HOUSE




The Temperate House in Kew Gardens was commissioned in 1859 and is the world's largest surviving Victorian glass structure. They don't make green houses like this anymore, that's for sure! Or at least I think they don't... It is larger than the Palm House, which seems almost impossible. Unfortunately it's currently closed for restoration and will be reopened in 2018. Guess we were lucky!  


TREETOP WALKWAY


If I have to pick one think I liked best, it would probably be the treetop walkway, which opened in 2008. It's pretty self explanatory since you get to walk around between the trees and get an amazing view of parts of the park and London. It was so quiet and peaceful. Also, am I the only one who thinks there is something extremely science fiction about this elevator? 


One of our last stops for the day was a visit to Kew Palace and the Royal Kitchens. We still had to pay an extra 4.50 pounds for admission to see the interior and go down to the kitchens, but from the website I see that they changed their policy and nowadays it's included in the normal ticket price. Which is a pretty good idea if you ask me.  

KEW PALACE AND THE ROYAL KITCHENS



Kew Palace was built in 1631 and is one of the smallest Royal Palaces. I could already see myself living there actually. I love the red brick and facade of the house. As for the interior... well, it's not as decadent as Hearst Castle, but it does make you feel as if you walked straight into a Jane Austen novel! 


We basically spent a whole day outside, roaming the gardens and brought our lunch to enjoy while being surrounded by trees. It's a perfect way to 'get out of the city' for a bit. There are of course more places to visit at Kew Gardens, like the Princess of Wales Conservatory (which we did last), The Alpine House and some museums. But since this post already contains way too many pictures, I decided to cut it down a bit. 

Me way back when

Practical information: 
We paid 14 pounds for entrance as students, but nowadays it's even cheaper if you buy your tickets online. You can find the prices for 2015 to March 2016 here

Kew Gardens Station is located within walking distance from the Botanical Gardens. You can get there by either using the District Line or the London Overground on the Northern Line. 


Have you ever been to Kew Gardens? 
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