OVER THERE - An American's experience at the #BloggersBash - www.alliepottswrites.com

Over There – An American’s experience at the London Blogger’s Bash

Earlier this year, my hubby surprised me with tickets to attend the Annual Bloggers Bash in London. For those of you not familiar with the event, it’s an international get together and conference for writers of all interests, sizes, and platforms wishing to network as well as learn about how to take their writing and/or blogging to the next level. I’d seen the videos from prior events. I’d read the testimonials about connections made and the impact the event had made on others’ lives. I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to get to go. I felt like Cinderella finding out she would be able to attend the ball. I was so excited – nervous about traveling to another country all on my own – but excited all the same.

Then . . .

Well, then there was an event in Westminster and the news broke with stories about women and children exiting a pop concert being targeted in Manchester followed by others about shoppers and pub-goers on London Bridge, and my nervousness took on a slightly different flavor. I wasn’t the only one to wonder what might happen next. I saw a message from another attendee suggesting the event might not still go on in light of recent events.

The response from one of the event’s organizers was simple – as long as London is open, the Bash will go on. I should have expected nothing less from the land of “Keep Calm and Carry On”. And so, on I would go as well, coincidentally packing my bag while a bit celebrating the 100th anniversary of the song, ‘Over There’  played on the radio. Yes, I thought as the music played, the Yanks were coming. I would show my grit, do my bit – over there.

I might say a prayer, but I was prepared for over there. While the idea of traveling solo still made me nervous, it wasn’t my first visit to the British Isles. I’d taken a bus tour with my husband a few years before. It was a trip that started in London, took us up through Scotland, across to Northern Ireland, down to Dublin, and across the water once again to Wales, where we visited Cardiff Castle.

WWII poster in Cardiff
I found this cautionary sign rather amusing at the time. Where’s the trust?

Tunnels beneath the castle grounds had been converted into a museum dedicated to the Welsh soldier and featured exhibits from over three hundred years of conflicts. As we walked into an area detailing World War II, speakers hidden in the walls played radio broadcasts of the times broken up with the sounds of air sirens and bombs falling. As I looked at posters and read placards I could only imagine what it must have been like to live through times like those while being told to keep calm and carry on while chaos and fear played so loudly in the background.

And yet carry on they did, with a stiff upper lip, going on to produce many of the smiling faces and open arms which eventually greeted this relative stranger from across the ocean without fear or hesitation. As I was welcomed out to meals and into homes as if we’d known each other for years, I reflected on just how appropriate the conference’s theme word of the year – connection – really was. I might have met them first as allies, as it were, in the field of writing, but we departed as friends. (You can ‘meet’ many of them or learn more about the event itself here courtesy of Hugh’s Views and News.)

While we got to better know each other over books, blogs, cocktails and chocolate cake, I found it interesting to hear the most recent attacks referred by the locals as “that business on the bridge,” when our American headlines read terrifying things like ‘Britons Reeling’ and ‘London on Lockdown.’ Neither US headline was true as evidenced by the thousands of people who filled the London streets as I walked around town or by the banners proclaiming “London is Open” as part of a campaign following the EU referendum (also known as the Brexit vote). This is not to say the people I met weren’t concerned about safety nor viewed the loss of life as any less tragic, they just weren’t beaten by the news or willing to hide away in their homes.

The contrast in our headlines was also a reminder about the power our words can bestow or take away from events as well as people. Which is why it is all the more important we use our words wisely and never, never give in to fear.

While I may not be able to attend the Bash every year, I hope my reasons in the future will be limited to economic or scheduling ones rather than the alternative. We live in a world made smaller thanks to constant connection which is good and bad. It may at times feel less safe, but that is because news travels faster now. The fact of the matter is there have always been those who wish to strike fear into the hearts of others, which is all the more reason to go out there – explore, connect, to expand your worldview and find strength in numbers. To keep calm and carry on. For while it may be difficult to overcome fear, it is harder still to live a lifetime of regret.


While I loved meeting so many, I’d like to extend my thanks to Sacha, Geoff, Ali, and Hugh in particular for their incredible generosity as well as their hospitality. Truly, while I may have suggested in this post that it was my duty to attend the Bash, know it was my pleasure and privilege to do so as well.

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A day at the gallery / How to have fun with Prisma

Ah, darlings, so good of you to come. I am so very glad you were able to attend my showing. Please help yourself to a glass of cheap wine located at the bar in the back of the gallery. There is also a platter of cheese circulating around here somewhere. I’ve even used the fancy toothpicks with the colored tape on them.

Before we get started, I would like to express as special thanks to Helen Jones of Journey to Ambeth for inspiring today’s event, an event I have entitled How to have Fun with Prisma.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse

For my first piece, I decided to start with the lighthouse at Cape Lookout, NC. The North Carolina coast is also known as the graveyard of the Atlantic, and for good reason. The shifting sands of the outer banks have ruined many a ship, not to mention we enjoyed more than our fair share of piracy back in the day.

There are at least six coastal light stations you can climb along the shore, but the lighthouse at Cape Lookout is one of my favorites.

Here, I’ve tried to capture the importance, as well as the strength, in providing light to others.

Sunset on Lake Norman

For my next piece, I chose to focus on one of North Carolina’s many lakes. I decided to go in a more impressionistic brush, as there is nothing quite like the rainbow of colors that dance across the sky as the sun sets over still water.

The figure in silhouette coming from the pier walks with confidence, and yet takes up only a small portion of the composition. The figure has plenty of room for growth. A flag flies high but is limp. Like the figure, it too is proud but requires a strong wind or other unseen support to reach its full potential.

It is a piece about the beauty of age and the promise of the future.

Topsail Beach

Keeping with my theme of water, I have a piece entitled Two Boys and the Sea. The sea in this piece is detailed in tones of red and white rather than the traditional coastal color schemes. It challenges the viewer to reconsider preconceptions.

In it, one boy stands boldly, ready for the onset of the incoming wave, while the other runs away leaving footprints deep in the sand.

There is fear of the unknown in this piece, but there is also joy and acceptance. It all comes down to perspective.

Topsail BeachThis next take on the ocean highlights the ever-changing nature of the sea. Each slight variation of color has been highlighted in curvature.

The colors in this piece are faded as if this moment in time has already be relegated to nostalgia and memory.

A dog leaps into the waves while the other figures watch on.

This is a piece about noticing the small details and living in the moment as it reinforces how fleeting those moments can be.

Summer dogFinally, for my last piece, I broke away from the themes of water and the great outdoors.

The dog is alert as shown by the open eye and perked ear, although the sprawled position on the floor would suggest she might not be for long. The rainbow hues and frantic brush strokes suggest she has been revitalized by her recent journey, yet at the same time, the subject is clearly exhausted from the travel.

This is a piece that reinforces the refrain (for at least one weary traveler): be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.

Allie PottsAbout the Artist

While I do appreciate the nuances of composition, color selection, brush thickness, and stroke in art, I am in no way, shape, or form, a professional painter, photographer, or art critic.

I simply just wanted to share some of my recent photos and had way too much fun with a new phone app.

I hope you enjoyed your free virtual cheese and wine and thank you for your continued patronage.

Lou lou skip to my Loo

There are some people who collect shot glasses wherever they travel and some people who collect souvenirs such as spoons, or postcards, or magnets. I am no different from any of those people, only instead of bringing back your standard knick knack, I collect toilets. Or more specifically, I make sure to take a photograph of a toilet whenever I travel to someplace new.

It started out as a joke. Not to age myself too much, but I didn’t always have a digital camera (I certainly didn’t always have one embedded in my phone). Back in those dark ages, you had to take film to a drug store or photo shop and pay for it to be developed only to find out you had wasted at least three shots. So when we purchased our first digital camera it was as if we were suddenly able to print our own money (something I strongly recommend you not do). The luxury of such wastefulness went to our heads.

Lamont would jump out at random passerbys and shout, “you’re a star!” as he took five to ten rapid fire shots like some sort of inexperienced paparazzi with really, really bad intel (not everyone was quite as amused as we were.) Our hotel rooms were another victim. Each was treated like a potential cover story for Better Homes and Gardens or a featured episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (or Cribs for the younger crowd), except we were budget travels back then (and now) and quickly would run out of square footage to photograph. The toilet shot gradually transitioned from a series regular to a starring character.

North American Toilets
Mexico and Canada
Asian Toilet
Hong Kong and China
European Isles Toilets
United Kingdom and Northern Ireland
European Continental Toilets
Croatia and Italy
Australia

As we started collecting the shots, we noticed that each had its own subtle difference. The water spiraled down the drain in the opposite direction than I was used to in Australia. It was also the first toilet I had ever seen with a separate #1 and #2 flush button for water conservation. The porcelain hole in the ground stopped me in my tracks in China. Some were oval, others square and the operating mechanism differed in dozens of ways as well (I may have accidentally set off an alarm in Ireland thinking the cord hanging beside the tank meant that it was a pull to flush when in reality it was for a handicap assist – whoopsy!). The sheer amount of variation in the sanitation world is rather amazing when you actually start to pay attention to it.

At yet, no matter where we go or what shape or form the toilet takes, it usually still works just about the same (excepting of course the times we have stayed in a truly ‘budget’ location).

There are a number of places I still need to visit before I deem my collection complete. For example, visiting Africa and South America remain on my bucket list. I’d like to visit Antarctica too, although I suspect I will have to settle for a photograph of a cruise ship toilet as we pass through those icy waters. When I do, I will photoshop the name of the place onto the photo somewhere, then frame the image, and hang it among my favorites on my bathroom wall.

While it may not be the most polite conversation, the wall is definitely a conversation starter and one that I am glad to have whenever a new guest comes over. After all, the frames on the wall are a constant reminder that no matter how much we might differ, there is always at least one thing we all have in common.

I wanted to write, I really did…

I wanted to write. I really did!

But…

I needed to walk the dog. It was a glorious morning and the two of us could use some bonding.

Then the time slipped away and I still needed to work for my day job which meant traveling away from warm sunny temperatures. I wasn’t worried.

I should have time to write while I wait for my flight.

But…

The gate attendants kept making pesky announcements regarding weather delays, which had the worst way of breaking my concentration.

Dinosaur in Chicago airport
It was a really, really, really long layover

The incoming plane is delayed. The incoming plane has been sent back to its original gate. We found a new plane, but we’ll need a new crew. We need to file paperwork. We need to de-ice the plane. They need to clear the runway. We’ll be underway in just a moment…any moment…

That moment became hours as we waited on the runway. Use of electronics during this down time was strictly prohibited.

I still might be able to write while we fly.

But…

My seat mate was one of those people who don’t pick up on social cues. (I seriously need to meet with the various airlines about my “I’m feeling social / Do not disturb” patent pending travel bracelets).

Which actually was much more tolerable than the sound of the jet engine next to my ear, or the smell from the overworked restroom, but still less conducive to writing.

I can always write when I reach my hotel.

But…

After circled our destination five times, the pills I’d taken for the resulting massive headache hadn’t yet worked their magic. Looking at the blank screen was painful.

And I was hungry, tired, and grumpy to boot and knew I had to wake early for a morning appointment. I looked at the bed.

I wanted to curl up under the covers and sleep.

But…

My flight might have been cancelled were it not for the appearance of the new crew. They just happened to be on the flight as passengers but volunteered for an extra night’s work so that the rest of us sorry individuals huddled together might still reach our destination. Or we might not have gotten airborne had it not been for the ground crew working in freezing temperatures and horizontally blowing snow in order to grant us a clear path and ice-less wings. I may not have reached my hotel were it not for traffic control, squeezing us into an unplanned slot, or gotten to my hotel without my shuttle driver braving frozen roads. They did their jobs, because they had to, even though it wasn’t comfortable or convenient.

And I knew the following day would be just as hectic, just as I knew I didn’t start down this writing journey for lack of a hobby.

I ran out of excuses.

I needed to write.

So I did.

A Taste of Raleigh

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food” – George Bernard Shaw

“Why did you decide to stay in Raleigh?” It is a question my dad periodically asks, hoping that I might one day see the error of my ways and move closer to him. I like to counter, you can always move here. “I just don’t get what you see in it.” As a recently elected official in a town more than a hundred miles away, I understand his local pride is running particularly high at the moment, but when this conversation comes up, I always want to respond, I don’t get what you don’t.

Raleigh has grit (and not the dirty kind)

(Image: Joule Cafe‘s stone ground grits paired with a White Russian)

stone ground grits

Downtown Raleigh has experienced a recent boom in its downtown thanks in part to a number of determined individuals who decided to follow their dreams by launching restaurants or other businesses here.

One such is Ashley Christensen, a nationally recognized chef (and 2014 James Beard award-winning Best Chef: Southeast) who purchased a one time Piggly Wiggly and repurposed into not one but three outstanding restaurants.

It knows how to innovate and making best use of local resources

(Image: Joule Cafe‘s apple-filled, griddle-less hot cakes – proving even pancakes can be made better with a little imagination)

griddle-less apple filled hot cakes

Raleigh is home to more than ten colleges and universities without including the various institutes of higher learning less than twenty-five miles away in Durham or Chapel Hill and many are known as much for their academic programs as their national championships.

Additionally, Raleigh has been recognized by the President as an innovation hub and a key to driving the rest of the state’s Economic future.

It is a city constantly on the move

(Image: Calavera’s beef empanada with strawberry margarita)

empanada with strawberry margarita

One of my favorite things about Raleigh (though the food is a close second) is the series of trails that make up the area’s greenway system.

You can spend hours either on foot or by bike surrounded by nature and protected from the summer sun under a canopy of trees. Raleigh is nicknamed the City of Oaks for a reason. There are also gardens, public parks, and a network of creeks that constantly inspire exploration.

But at the same time values its history

(Image: Green Light Bar cocktail)

IMG_1748

If nature isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other interesting places to visit around town including museums, civic landmarks, exhibitions as well as sporting events and performances. There are also dozens of tours (such as the food tour I where I took these photos), free concerts, and festivals.

Fun Fact: One of the earliest laws on North Carolina’s books was that the capital building must be placed within ten miles of the lawmaker’s favorite tavern. Because, Priorities.

It is a melting pot of culture as well as technology

(Image: Garland‘s Asian-inspired chicken in a turmeric-yogurt sauce with chili cucumber salad and beer from one of the 10+ local breweries)

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Today Raleigh has a population just under a half million people. If you include the sprawling areas that make up Raleigh’s suburbs that number is closer to one million.

However if you ask people where they are from, it is uncommon to meet someone who was born here. Instead, a large portion of the population is like me. People who came to the area and simply fell in love with it for any number of reasons.

Where celebration comes easy

(Image: Bittersweet’s chocolate mousse and rosette)

IMG_1753

At the end of my food tour, our group was fortunate enough to meet the owner, Kim Hammer, of Bittersweet, a dessert and drink bar. As she told us about her store, its regular clients, and the services she offers, it was obvious that the restaurant was more than a job. It was her passion.

In addition to providing sweets, she also regularly offers champagne classes encouraging everyone not to horde the bottle, waiting for an event to celebrate which may never come, but to instead occasionally drink a glass just because it is Thursday.

It is people like this who make Raleigh, my kind of town. I hope that if your travels ever take you this way, you stop by and sample it yourself.