Monday, December 31, 2012

Nesting, for real

Having used the cot as storage furniture for the past few weeks, TLOML and I were finally consumed with an urge to do a little more to set up the nursery. Knowing that we were just a few short weeks off 'full term' gave us that nudge.

So in the week before Christmas we washed all the newborn clothes, toys, blankets and swaddle cloths we have acquired. Then I was overcome with a burning desire to organise them all into tidy little piles. Which involved a major overhaul of our linen drawers, a fair amount of rummaging around for cardboard boxes to store surplus sheets and towels, a lot of huffing and puffing and an immense sense of satisfaction.
Cleaned, categorised, piled up tidily. V satisfying.
I guess this is the thin end of the nesting wedge. So it seems I'm not immune, after all.

Christmas has been a great distraction. All that baking and cooking. The organising and wrapping and putting into logical piles of gifts. It's good displacement activity. Even so, on Boxing Day I did find myself frenziedly stitching little ribbon hooks onto tea towels 'so they would hang better'. I think this might be what nesting feels like.

Now the seasonal jollities are almost over I can get on with this nesting business in earnest. Hmm, I think that rocking chair would benefit from a quick going over with some Cif. 


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Onwards and upwards

Well, I relented. I couldn't ignore my inner child any longer. Besides, in a few years we'll have a child - maybe more than one - who deserve parents who can put together a good, solid, family Christmas. And that surely must include a basic level of competence at gingerbread house construction?

So I made the gingerbread building materials and TLOML and I decorated it. Like the two overgrown children we are.
It's a distinct improvement on last year's effort.

Likewise, although Fox Corner has its shortcomings, it is an improvement on the Rabbit Hutch we were living in this time last year. For what we lack in doormen, we make up for in outside space, a guest bedroom, and room for a dining table.

In 2013 we will build a gingerbread mansion - perhaps even a castle. And who knows, we might even be living in one. (I'd settle for a little 3 bed house for what it's worth).

Onwards and upwards!

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Sound of Christmas

Like mincepies, festive music doesn't cross the Atlantic quite so neatly.

Over the course of three 'Holiday' seasons in the US I grew to love the anthem to consumerism that is Silver Bells. You just don't hear it very often over here. Which is a shame because our traffic lights are an equally festive red and green as those in the States. And we might call them pavements, not sidewalks, but they still get jolly busy with shoppers.

Still, no small consolation for me this year is that it seems, here in the UK, we're still playing East 17's 1994 Christmas number one, Stay Another Day.
TLOML is a bit confused about why a song which repeats the line 'don't think I can stand the pain', and has not a single reference to Santa or snow is festive.

Maybe it's the bells donging away, festively, in the background. Maybe it's the fact that it gets played on the radio a lot this time of year. Whatever it is, it sounds like a slice of Christmas music pie to me.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Transatlantic Christmas Traditions

This is TLOML's first Christmas in London since he was about 9 years old. We're spending it together, just the two of us, at Fox Corner. Our first married Christmas and probably the only one we'll spend as just the two of us for the foreseeable future.

The pressure is on. It has to be brilliant. It also has to be, I think, recognisably British. During my Christmases in the US I happily sacrificed mince pies, Christmas pudding and parsnips in favour of gingerbread cookies, mashed potatoes and candied yams. But we're back in Blighty this year, so it's time to get back to my roots. Which includes eating mince pies and parsnips.

I know it's a cliche, and I'm sure he was half kidding, but TLOML has asked me several times if there is any beef mince in a mince pie. To be fair, he knows that tradition suggests the use of suet (raw beef fat, let's call a spade a spade here) in Christmas pudding.  So we can forgive him the confusion.

Parsnip confusion is less understandable. After all, parsnips are eaten in the US. But just not by TLOML. 'What are they?' he asked, recoiling in horror as I unpacked the shopping, 'They look like gigantic trolls' fingers.'
Honeyed gigantic troll fingers for lunch

As I write this it strikes me that not everyone has parsnips on Christmas day in Britain. Just as not everyone has mashed potatoes in the US. Christmas traditions aren't so much national, as hyper local. As in, derived from the very precise locality that is your family home.

Well, in my family's home, we eat parsnips and sprouts on Christmas day. And Christmas pudding and mince pies. The turkey is stuffed with sausagemeat at one end and bread stuffing at the other, and served all the usual fare including cranberry sauce and carrots. There is never a gingerbread house.

TLOML is not a huge fan of carrots, neither of us care much for cranberry sauce, and we both love a gingerbread house. So we will act accordingly.

I suppose this year we're creating a tailormade Transatlantic Christmas, and a set of Christmas traditions which will become those of our new family, over the years to come. (Gosh, I hope our unborn daughter doesn't wind up living with some foreigner and not coming home for Christmas, like me.)

Whatever your Christmas traditions, I hope they involve huge dollops of merriness and joy. Happy Christmas!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gingerbotheration

A highlight of my Christmas last year was making the gingerbread house. It was a bit of palaver, but decorating it was so fun. And we ended creating something quite charming in the end, if a little rustic. It looked and smelt truly festive and also meant we spent days on a constant sugar high (grabbing a bit of roof or wall every time we passed it).
Last year's effort: my first gingerbread house. Stop laughing please.
I may have mentioned that we are grounded. Hopes of a festive trip to the Sunshine State have been cruelly dashed. So Christmas will be spent in London, and will probably be just the two of us and Jack, at Fox Corner.

Last year when I started the gingerbread house I was convinced I was establishing a tradition for our family for the rest of our lives. But I'm wondering now whether I might put that idea on ice for another year. By Christmas 2013 we'll really be a family, and can truly get into the creation of Christmas traditions. There'll be a gingerbread house, Christmas Eve pyjamas, the putting out of sherry and mincepies / milk and cookies* for Santa, and many more cutely festive, child-focussed happenings. Is there any need to rush into it? After all, once we start with all that, it's set for the next 20 years.

On reflection, I think really our first married Christmas, and our last without children, should be about grown-up, lazy fun.  A lot of long lie-ins, plenty of take outs, and absolutely no elaborate baking challenges.

But then again... the child inside me (I don't mean literally, as in my unborn child, I mean the 7 year old me who still operates parts of my brain) is already saying 'It's not Christmas without the gingerbread house!'.

I suspect if that seven year old me meets my nesting instinct I'll be back in the kitchen rolling out wall and roof panels before I know what's taken hold of me.


*The Transatlantic jury's still out on that one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Birthday Boozing Bonanza


We have been told repeatedly, and really quite insistently, that we must go out as much as possible before the baby comes. And we are trying to do as we are told. After all, our months in Manhattan proved that we are really quite good at that going out thing.

TLOML notched another year up on the totem pole of his life at the weekend. So we used that as the excuse for a grown up, glammed up, Saturday night out at the Proud bar in Camden. It’s part-hipster bar, part-old school cabaret club. We noshed on beef wellington and sipped martinis (well, he did anyway) while watching a steady steam of cabaret and burlesque acts. I enjoyed a whole glass of wine and some rather risqué bresaola. Living on the edge! The show was appropriately classy and fairly PG but still counts as our raciest night out since we moved into FoxCorner and got all ‘with child’. We were home by 11pm, mind you - no stopping off for a nightcap on the way home.

On Sunday we spent the afternoon drinking (water for me, beer for him) with friends in The Grafton, a new star on the already fairly stellar NW5 drinking scene. Being of the age we are, and living as we do in London where children are welcome in pubs, we were surrounded by the small children of our friends. I think at one point the kids actually outnumbered the grown ups. They brought our table’s average age down to somewhere in the early 20s. It was quite a different vibe to the New York social scene we enjoyed, and really very lovely.

Naturally, an afternoon in the pub lead to a spontaneous curry. At least, as spontaneous as such an inevitability can be. That makes two nights out on the trot, and with an afternoon of socialising in between them too. Still, we were home and watching Homeland by 10pm.

So, I guess that’s a strong indication that our days of random late night cocktails are over. Manhattan is uniquely well set up for that sort of behaviour. With so many great bars and all open late, on any evening walk home you’re always just a few steps away from a Perfect Manhattan.

London has its fair share of great bars, of course, but wandering through Camden on Saturday night I was really quite put off by the length of the queues to get in. And of course, once you get in you’ll have to wait ages, standing up, to be served. So unappealing! Especially when the alternative is a drop of single malt (for him), and a cup of chamomile tea (for me) in the comfort of your own home.

Oh, wait, is that 'middle age' talking? Shoot. Maybe it isn’t London after all.

I’ll blame pregnancy for now. And maybe the lack of great table service in London. And I promise we’ll do our best to go out at least a few more times before the baby arrives. Then we can blame her for our lack of appetite for late nights and fabulous bars.

Friday, December 7, 2012

What shall we do with our placenta?


I thought it was worth returning to the Active Birth Course. It merits more than just a mention in a post.

In summary, it was a brilliant course, with some great practical advice on managing pain and staying calm. I enjoyed saying ‘my baby fits my pelvis perfectly’ many times over, and watching videos of babies being born to blissed out Russian ladies in Black Sea rockpools.
 (Warning - this video shows actual babies being born. Do not watch if you are easily freaked out).

I was grateful for the experiences shared by Janet Balaskas, the coach, who pioneered the Active Birth Movement in the ‘70s, and the midwives there. Sayings like ‘first come the poops, then comes the baby’ are easy to retain and ensure at least I won’t be surprised if, well, that happens.

But there were some aspects which left me cold. I pretended I was into it, but when we were on all fours, roaring like lionesses, I was totally faking it. I didn’t feel like a lioness at all.

And the placenta chat, well, that horrified both of us. Who knew there were so many options? As a bare minimum, it was recommended that we take a moment to ‘recognise’ what the placenta has done for us and our baby. After all, it’s been her constant companion in the womb. Some people think it’s nice to take it home still attached to the baby. Apparently you can get these ‘lovely little bags’ to keep it in. How nice for the baby to have her constant companion tucked into her Moses basket next to her – and how lovely for everyone who comes to meet her, to also get to meet little miss placenta too. Once it is detached, you might want to bury it in your garden and plant a rose bush in it. Or have it freeze dried for your own consumption. Delicious.

While everyone else was writing down the name of the placenta drying service, TLOML and I were sniggering with disbelief.

Overall, though, it was a great course: the perfect mix of education and entertainment.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Active Birthing aka Pull Your Socks Up


TLOML and I attended an Active Birth Course at the weekend. Active birthing is the exact opposite of giving birth lying on your back. It involves moving around, saying mantras, and listening to plinky-plonky spa music whilst giving birth in a great big tub.

Active birth, hypnobirth, or just plain old fashioned ‘grit your teeth and bear it’ natural childbirth are fairly popular in the UK. Of the British babies I know, fully 75% of them were born without medical intervention and to women who had no pain relief other than a bit of gas and air. (The other 25% involved emergency C-sections or epidurals administered after hours of agony).

Those are British babies though. And I’m sure there are pockets of ladies in Venice Beach or Berkeley who give birth listening to dolphin music. But the vast majority of US births are managed less like a love-in, and more like a medical event. My US sample size is a lot smaller, but Mr Google backs me up in my instincts: twice as many US births involve an epidural, for example. Epidurals are a bit of a dirty word among the yummy mummies of North London. It’s up there with  admitting you had a MacDonald’s at the weekend.

TLOML and I mused about why this transatlantic difference exists. He has long held a theory that Brits are tougher than Americans. Brits are tough because we are used to putting up with awful weather and crummy service. But Americans will always win the day, because they refuse to put up with anything sub-par: they battle the climate with air-con, and don’t tolerate anything other than good, smiley service.

So it makes sense that most American women will not be conned into thinking that their painful contractions are, in fact, ‘surges of energy’. Nor will they miss a chance for pain relief, and the assistance of extra staff. Just as there are 20% more staff per customer in the average US restaurant, there are probably 20% more staff per birth in the average US maternity unit.

Having seen how Kourtney Kardashian gives birth* I understand the appeal. She lies, blissful and quiet (presumably doped up to her eyeballs), not looking remotely sweating or anxious, being told when to push. It looks very calm and lovely, the model of a medicalised birth.

Meanwhile, with our upper lips famously stiffened, we Brits just soldier on thinking hours of agonising pain is just all part of the process. ‘Pull your socks up, Samantha, plenty of women have pushed out breech babies!’ ‘Stop making such a fuss, Edith, it’s only been eight hours of pain!’.

I hope I’ll handle the birth stoically, if not joyfully... I will update you sometime in February about whether I stayed tough, or went all America and called for an epidural.

*Don’t judge me! It’s good telly. Also we like the shots of LA, Malibu and Calabasas. Sigh.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Nesting... or not?

I have landed safely on the shores of my third trimester. I understand there are some certainties in this land.

The first is heartburn. Check. Having hardly suffered at all I am now paralysed with acid reflux every time I bend at the waist, no matter what I’ve eaten. The good news is that since it doesn’t seem to be any better if I eat like a bird all day, I’m not bothering to eat like a bird at all, ever. Given that I’m going to suffer whether I eat pizza or salad, I’m eating pizza.

Speaking of birds, the second certainty is apparently nesting. Apparently I should be seized with a compulsive urge to dust the curtain rails, make a quilt, and clear out the cellar.

Sadly the only thing I feel a compulsion for is whisky, espresso and other banned (or severely limited) delights. Maybe all nesting really is displacement energy, distracting pregnant ladies from the stuff they really want to be doing – like sipping Perfect Manhattans - with boring household chores.

Well, the nesting instinct may not have struck but I’m not totally ignorant of the needs of my unborn child. I know she, and her parents, will need a lot of clobber. So TLOML and I did a big spree - mainly so we could avoid shopping in the Christmas or January Sales crush.

For a couple of weeks the clobber stayed piled up in a big mess in the corner. Which, despite my nesting-trimester status, did not bother me one little bit.
 
Then, this weekend we went on a birthing course and suddenly the reality hit us. We really are going to have a baby, a real live one of our own, and she could be here in just a few weeks.

So TLOML got all organised and built the cot – mainly to use as storage, admittedly. So our baby’s clobber is now all neatly tucked away in the corner of TLOML’s office. We’re planning to leave Fox Corner in the spring - because we just haven't moved house enough lately - so the baby isn’t going to get a room of her own until we move I’m afraid.


I still don’t think this counts as nesting. I mean, I couldn’t even be bothered to take stuff out of boxes or categorise it properly. (And you know how I like to categorise.).

Is there something wrong with me? Will I ever truly nest? Or is our child destined to enter a world where her monitor lives in a box, she shares her storage space with a printer, and she wears her John Lewis clothes with the tags still in?

Monday, November 26, 2012

People say the strangest things


And I'm not just talking about the idiocy of TLOML telling me I looked like Humpty Dumpty (surely ill-advised?).

Like, on finding out she’s a girl, ‘oh that’s brilliant! Girls are so great!’. It makes me wonder what they’d say if she was a he. ‘Oh what a shame, girls are so great,’ perhaps?

I shouldn’t be snarky, it’s just politeness I know, and of course people say it’s brilliant whichever gender you announce. 

But I am curious about the response I'd garner if I started saying ‘yes, we’ve found out… it’s an American,’ or ‘…she’s a goat’.

NY to London Freight

We couldn't pack everything. That screen we never painted, and the golf clubs he hadn't used for years, were jettisoned in New York.

Some habits I left behind quickly too. 'Line' and 'store' became 'queue' and 'shop' again within days of being back in London.

But there are three props and practices I did import.

1. Old  Bay
The finest pre-mixed seasoning in the world. I mainly sprinkle it on avocado, and add it to crab salad. TLOML would add it to the water he steams clams in, only the clams here are too small to bother with. Still, for anything fishy it's just perfect and I don't know of a British substitute.

2. The American way of saying numbers out loud. Saying 'twenty four hundred' is much more efficient than 'two thousand four hundred'. It takes a while to get used to be soon it makes as much asense as that French way of saying phone numbers ('47' '61' and '23' rather than '4, 7, 6, 1, 2, 3).

3. Putting a sheet on the bed between us and the duvet
It means you can lose the duvet but still have a thin layer of something to keep you warm. Nice in the summer. But more valuable is the energy saving: you don't need to change the duvet every time you change the sheets. Perfect for lazyboneses.

I wonder if these Americanisms will ever catch on in Blighty?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Turkey Day 2012

We did celebrate Turkey Day this year. But it was rather different to previous Turkey Days we have enjoyed.

By Turkey Day I mean, of course, Thanksgiving. The day Americans give thanks for the plentiful land God gave them. And thanks to the Native Americans for babysitting it so nicely till the Pilgrims got there.

Americans gather in large groups, and spend the whole day watching football, and the Macy’s Parade, while eating turkey with side dishes like ‘candied yams’ (sweet potatoes baked with a shit tonne of sugar and marshmallows) and ‘honey whipped butter’ (pretty much as it sounds). Also sometimes little wieners, aka tiny hot dog sausages, slow cooked in grape juice. Really.

Americans in America, that is.

For the Americans in London it’s a different story all together. And, thanks to the ongoing visa farce, TLOML is still very much still in London. I had booked a couple of days off in the hope we might hit Florida to see his mum for Thanksgiving (and sneak a little sunshine in too), but we are grounded. So we made the best of it.
Serves a minimum of 8 unless one of them is TLOML
We ordered a 12lb turkey, which we thought - based on TLOML's track record - would serve the two of us nicely, with some leftovers. But when it arrived the packaging claimed it would serve 8 at least.

My trusty old Good Housekeeping, for what it's worth, reckons a 12lb turkey will serve at least 15 people. Cue disparaging remarks from TLOML about British portions.

15 to 20 people? Really?
Nevertheless, it seemed likely we'd have turkey to spare. So we mustered some friends to help eat. Then panicked that we'd be short on food after all. A frenzied hunt for cornmeal - not easy to find in NW3 despite all the Americans who live here - and buttermilk meant I could add cornbread to the side dishes of sausage, stuffing, mashed potato, string beans with almonds, sweet potato, and sweet corn pudding.

My cornbread, of which I am disproportionately proud. It tasted like it does in California: miraculous
We had pecan pie for afters too. Even though it hurt a bit to keep eating.

No one was hungry but we forced it down anyway.

Yes, it was a lot of food. And yes, two days later we are still eating leftovers. Which means that, despite the absence of NFL and the Macy's parade, it felt like a fairly traditional Thanksgiving after all.

Just some of the leftovers..

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Hairy Baby

There’s a chatty lady at Big Corp who is always asking after my health and that of my bump. She usually looks a bit disappointed when I tell her (truthfully) that I haven’t really suffered any unpleasant pregnancy side-effects..

The other day I told her I had started to suffer heartburn, just to keep her happy. I had, in fact, had a smidge of heartburn. But I had eaten a massive curry accompanied with 2 pints of water, topped off with three satsumas. So it’s probably just actual heartburn, rather than the special pregnancy kind.

She was delighted. ‘Oh!,’ she cried, ‘You know what that means, dintchya?’
I had to admit that I did not. God knows I read enough Babycentre, NHS and Bounty emails and surf enough Mumsnet blogs, I thought I was reasonably well informed. But I missed the bit about the significance of heartburn. (Shame).

‘Airy by-bee,’ she cackled. Loud enough that people’s heads turned from quite far away. ‘You’re ‘aving an airy by-bee!’.

I recreated the sound for you here (turn your sound up for max authenticity - she really belted it out):
video


For the benefits of Northern and American readers, I will translate. She was accusing me of having a hairy baby. Which sounds disgusting to me. Like a little chimpy baby growing inside me, all matted and unkempt. Yuck.

I smiled, and said, ‘Really?’ and silently wished her to be struck dumb with heartburn.

Funnily enough at our last scan, a few days later, we were told that it was already possible to see the hairs on our baby’s head. I guess she will be quite hairy when she’s born. We were a little disappointed that the sonographer couldn’t tell us if she was blonde and fuzzy, like me, or had the poker straight, chestnut hair I dream of for my daughter. I wonder if, in the US medical system, you’d be able to find that out…

Needless to say I have not given Ms Chatbags the satisfaction of knowing she is right about our little chimp.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Silly things Americans say

TLOML and I went out a couple of weeks ago for a fancy dinner. (Once the baby comes we figure it's all about nights in with our slippers on eating Chicken Tonight in front of Strictly Come Dancing).

We had some stinky cheese, obvs, and it came with toasted bread....

Or 'toast points', as TLOML called them.

Just when I thought he had acclimatised. He's saying 'shop', and 'queue' and all that good stuff. And then he wheels out 'toast points'.
Pointing at toast does not make 'toast points' make any more sense
'Toast points' strikes me as one of the most ridiculous Americanisms of all. They're not even pointy!

Just sayin'...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The most sonographed baby in the world

We had another scan this week. This was our 7th scan. That's right, the seventh. Most women have two scans: one around 10 weeks to date the baby, and another at 20-odd weeks to check the development.

So, why so many for us? Well, neurosis accounts for at least one of them: the 7 week viability scan we had, the week before our wedding. (I just wanted to be sure the noble sacrifice of not drinking on my wedding day or honeymoon was worthwhile.) We've also had to have a couple of extra ones because our uncooperative baby won't get into the right position to provide some critical measurement or other.

Today's scan was not strictly essential. At our last checkup the midwife's tape measure suggested my bump was 1cm too small. Now I know fine well that if I'd eaten a big lunch before the appointment my bump would have been at least 1cm bigger. Maybe more if it was a curry, or beans, or something else, well, gassy. Still, we agreed vehemently with the midwife that we really should get that checked out, and signed up for the growth scan.

We like the extra scans because we like knowing what she's up to in there. She's pretty camera shy, so we never really get a clear view. We see a clenching fist, a kicking leg, a dinosaur-esque spine, and a nose, but rarely are all those parts assembled in a way that makes her look like a human baby. She's more like a collection of perfect but randomly sorted parts.
Last known sighting of our baby in profile, about 2 months (and several scans) ago

All of this slightly unnecessary care and attention make me very glad of the NHS.

When I was researching this post (I know, sounds odd to me too, but I really do do at least 5 minutes research before some of my posts) I looked at some US websites. I wanted to check because I had the impression that in the US most women get three scans - the same 10 and 20 week ones as we get here, and a third one towards the end of the pregnancy.

Silly me. Of course it isn't that simple. It completely depends on insurance provision. So I found women on one chat forum talking about only having one scan as they had to pay for any extras. Presumably lucky ladies on gold-plated plans could be scanned at the drop of a hat, like we are. But ouch, they (or their employer) will be paying a lot of money for the privilege.

So - without wanting to get all socialist on you (I know how TLOML hates that) - I do feel very lucky to be able to exclude money as a factor in my decision making where healthcare is concerned. The NHS really is bloody brilliant.

Admittedly we recently waited for 2 hours to see the midwife because of crossed wires on reception. But when I turned to TLOML and said 'doesn't this level of service enrage you, with your American standards?' he shrugged and said 'I'm just glad it's free'. Me too.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Boot Camp

I joined a boot camp last year in New York. It was eye-wateringly expensive, and borderline humiliating, as it required me to do undignified exercises in the Hudson River Park, in full view of promenaders. Still, it worked. You can do the same thing in London, at British Military Fitness, which looks muddier and more humiliating, but is at least cheaper. The equivalent some of my LA friends go to is Barry's Boot Camp, which takes place in air conditioned privacy. Obviously: it's not unusual for LA girls to workout in full make up, and they need to stay cool so that it doesn't slip off. (That's why the girls who run outdoors wear baseball caps - not to protect their skin from the sun, but from prying eyes).

What these bootcamps all have in common is that the exercises are tough, and the coach won't accept any slacking.

Now I'm applying everything I learned at Bootcamp Republic - and TLOML is applying his knowledge from years of serious swim training - to the bootcamp we are now running from Fox Corner. It has just one member. Jack, of 'fat Jack' fame.

Last week the vet told us he is 50% fatter than he should be. We switched his regular, low fat food for a prescription-only 'Obesity Management' one. But the real problem is his sedentary lifestyle. Hence the boot camps.

Here he is in training:
As you can see, he is a master of the 'limited movement' workout. Basically cat callanetics. But we're working on that.

In addition to the 'cork on a string' regime, he also now has a blue ball which dispenses his food, which means he can only eat if he pushes the ball around. Annoyingly he has worked out how to dispense it without pushing it very far. We're going to start pushing it around for him and forcing him to walk at least a few paces for each meal. And we're expecting a feathery-thing-on-a-spring to arrive any day now, which - until he outwits it - should provide the calorie burn we want him to get.

Sadly there is no 'Quick Trim' for cats. We're in it for the long haul I'm afraid.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Media storm

If you follow our most important news publications you cannot fail to have noticed the media storm around TLOML's plight.

No, I'm not talking about the Ash problem:
This photo only works if you know TLOML's true identity.
Admittedly when I say 'most important news publications' I mean the Independent, and our local free-sheet the Camden New Journal. And when I say 'follow' I mean 'read the letters pages'.

Both have printed my eloquently ranty letter about TLOML's ridiculous visa limbo situation.

As I've mentioned before, I love a good local rag. The CNJ is a genuinely good one - and I like it even more since it published my letter.

I'm pretty sure that neither letter will make any difference to the speed of our case. Probably rather more effective is the personal letter writing campaign TLOML is now embarked upon, barraging the Border Agency with pressing reasons for them to make an 'expedited' (if a process which should only take weeks, and which takes over 3 months can truly be said to be expedited) decision.

Still, I enjoyed writing the letters - and seeing my name in print. (If only it was on the spine of a best-selling paperback.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Remember, remember

Remember, remember, The Fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder and treason
Should ever be forgot

As I write this the air outside Fox Corner is thick with bonfire smoke, and the sky alight with fireworks. Small scale, back garden fireworks, but nonetheless, fireworks. It's Bonfire Night!

For the benefit of my American readers allow me to explain. Contrary to what TLOML thinks, bonfire night is not the day we mark the overthrow of Parliament. It is not - despite the fireworks - the British parallel to the Fourth of July. In fact, it is the day we celebrate the thwarting of a plot (by Guy Fawkes) to blow up Parliament.

We celebrate it with bonfires, fireworks, and burning effigies of Mr Fawkes. In the weeks running up to the 5th of November, children carry their Guy Fawkes effigy around the streets asking passersby for 'a penny for the guy'. The money does not go to fund the rehabilitation of pyromaniacs, nor to pay for a better sprinkler system for the Houses of Parliament. The kids just spend it on sweets. The bonfires where I used to live were usually huge, with unwanted wooden furniture - I'm talking big wardrobes, as well as chairs and stuff - piled up 10 feet high, in a farmer's field or on the beach. In addition to 'penny-for-the-guy' funded sweets, people eat homemade flapjack* and drink tomato soup from mugs. Someone's dad sets off fireworks and everyone oohs and aahs.

Sadly in London there aren't many places where it's okay to light a 10 foot high bonfire. Instead a (decreasing) number of councils run public bonfires. They sound like a nightmare to me, really busy, full of kids and no-one's grandma walking around with a tin of flapjack. Some of the bigger gardens near us, judging by the smoke in the air, are hosting family bonfires tonight. But we didn't score an invitation to any of them.

So we opted for the arms-length approach. With a couple of friends, TLOML and I walked up Parliament Hill on Saturday night (when most of the big public bonfires were held) so called, apparently, because it is where Guy Fawkes sat, looking down on Parliament, to craft his dastardly plot. At the top there were maybe 100 other people with the same idea as us. We stood there for a while spotting a dozen or so fireworks displays going on around London - and some, we think, as far away as Essex. We lit sparklers and went to the pub and talked about parliament, freedom and X-Factor. (Only one of those three topics was actually discussed).


It wasn't quite the bonfire night of my childhood, but it was still very jolly.


* 'What is a Flap Jack, anyway?' TLOML asked of me a few months ago. He knows better now.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Still grounded...

TLOML is still bound to these fair isles. Not because of a hurricane. Not because he has become addicted to Maynards Wine Gums (though that represents a real and present risk).

But because he still does not have his settlement visa, and his passport is therefore still being held hostage by the UK Border Agency.

Obsessive, furious surfing of the interwebs reveals a lot of others in the same boat. We are now frequent visitors to the brilliant 'What do they know' site, which shows various requests for facts from the UK BA, under the Freedom of Information Act, and their responses to date. Most of the inquiries are politely asking 'WHAT THE FRACK ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING IN THERE? YOU'RE TOYING WITH OUR LIVES!'. Only without the green ink and shouty caps.

We scour the pages of What Do They Know looking for glimmers of hope. All we find are damning indictments of the UK BA's processing times. This poor lady has been waiting 8 months for her visa. This guy is like a dog with a bone, unearthing the fact that they don't even start processing your application till after you complete your biometrics (our biometrics were requested about 2 months after we sent the application. Goodness knows what they do with that 2 months. Probably spent it responding to Freedom of Information requests...).  This lady found out that, as of October, almost three quarters of applications made between February and June were still outstanding.


We could have a long wait ahead. So what's at stake here, if TLOML can't leave the country? Well, we could miss the chance to visit TLOML's mum for Thanksgiving or Christmas (and perhaps sneak in a little babymoon in Miami en route). More to the point, his US clients would love to see him face to face for the first time in months.

Really, much as he loves Britain and wine gums, TLOML doesn't want to be trapped here for months on end. And much as I love it here too, I can't help but agree. It's weird to be wishing your husband would go to Vegas, but I really do.

Grrrr.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Happy Hallowe'en


‘What are we going to do for Halloween?’ TLOML asked me, a few weeks ago. Because of course, for Americans, Hallowe'en is an event for which celebrations and jollities should be planned.

Fortunately, as it turned out, he was too busy winning medals at the swim nationals in Sheffield for my lack of a plan to matter. He did remind me to buy candy, for the trick or treaters who would surely call at Fox Corner. I then had to confess my Halloween plan was to hunker down in front of the Halloween specials of Strictly Come Dancing and X-Factor, and not to answer the doorbell to anyone.

I suspect American readers will be disappointed by this revelation. The fact is, Halloween is not – yet – the big hoopla over here that it is in the US. You might see some kids out trick-or-treating the people they know on their street, and some people throw parties. Regular club nights may call this weekend’s bash a Halloween special, and encourage fancy dress. There’s probably one pumpkin on a windowsill on our street (of 100 houses). But that’s about it.
I'm a sucker for a seasonal candy, me.
It’s all a bit weak compared to the jamboree of pumpkins and spookiness that consumes the US throughout October. Over there it seemed to me every one had a costume and a night of parties planned since Labor Day. Pumpkin patches sprung up in malls and parks, with excited kids picking out their pumpkins. The shops were full of that lovely, sugary ‘candycorn’, and little spooky marshmallow ghosts, and all sorts of other good, teeth rotting stuff. And the doormen said ‘Happy Halloween!’ like it was an actual cause for celebration, like Christmas or Thanksgiving (as opposed to a night of famously spooky and dark deeds).
This is normal over there.
As it happens we never really did the Halloween thing in the US. TLOML was out of town both years at that time, and I was too British to get dressed up and go party with randoms like Americans do. Still, I soaked up the general Halloween excitement - ate the corn, said 'Happy Halloween', and admired our neighbours' decor. I liked the vibe and the way it marked the start of the brilliant holiday season.

I surprise myself by admitting, I kinda miss it this year.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Meat Week

This weekend TLOML is away at a swimming jamboree, racing against lots of other maturing-yet-impressive swimmers.

In order to prepare, he had to stock up on protein. So on Monday we had roast chicken for dinner. On Tuesday and Wednesday we had spaghetti bolognese with meatballs. And on Thursday we had roast beef. Lunch every day, for TLOML at least, has been lunch meats. Obviously.
Beef & bacon

Beef & blood

Notice how the pregnancy food safety rules about rate meat are thankfully abandoned as pre-race pressure mounts
I called it Meat Week. We ate about twice as much meat as in a normal week. Which is about as much  meat as I used to eat in a month when I lived on my own in London, and thought a bowl of cornflakes or a tomato salad made a perfectly acceptable dinner. I know, I'm lucky he married /saved me. For what it's worth I eat a lot more fish now too. And icecream. Just fewer tomatoes. My doctor told me this week my cholesterol is a little high. I tried to look surprised.

He's gone now, to Sheffield, in pursuit of medals. (As I write this, one medal is already in the bag, and I picture him munching on the cold beef leftovers poolside, in readiness for the next race).

And I am home alone, eating tomatoes all weekend long. I'm calling it Tomato Weekend.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bodily changes

Transatlantic moves can be held responsible for a fair amount of bodily changes. I gained more than a handful of pounds when I swapped my London, cornflakes-for-dinner, bike-riding, gardening, walking-to-the-shops lifestyle for life in a city where you drive everywhere, and the Mexican food is good and plentiful.

TLOML says he always loses weight in London, even if he's just here for a couple of weeks. He puts it down to a combination of walking a little bit more, and smaller portions. I was hoping the move home would have the same magical effect on me. Maybe it was starting to work, but then I got pregnant, so now I'm just expanding all over.

So.. that's us.

Jack has moved within a one mile radius, from one garden flat to another. So what's his excuse for becoming so enormous he can barely squeeze through the catflap?
Honestly, it is a normal size catflap. He just makes it look like it was built for a mouse.

Still, at least he's becoming a more and more stable ipad rest.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Transatlantic Adjustments

It's not just TLOML who has some adjusting to do. I had become very used to US style fridges - massive ones, that is. Ice-machines in the freezer. And good sized dishwashers.

Still, we are nothing if not adaptable.

The dishwasher is a little small:
Note the icebucket on top, for scale
But that's okay, we just create a mountain of supplementary washing up. It's a bit like not having a dishwasher, only with about half as many dishes to wash.
Just a couple of bits that wouldn't fit in the dishwasher last night

And the fridge is miniscule. So, much to TLOML's horror, if it gets really full we just keep the eggs at room temperature.
That's right, eggs at room temperature and butter too. Disgusting Europeans.

Our freezer is without an automated ice machine. So we have created a manual one. We have a system of a large bowl that's always full of ice, and every few days top it up with fresh ice.
We are never short of ice, despite the lack of facilities.

We miss our American kitchen conveniences. But life here is no hardship - it just requires a tiny bit more effort.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

This country!

We've been living in London now for 8 months, almost as long as we were in New York. I think it's time for a progress report, on how TLOML is adjusting to life in dear old Blighty. So here goes.

Today we got off the bus a couple of stops early to go to the butcher. It being a Wednesday afternoon, they were closed. I'd forgotten about early closing on a Wednesday afternoon. It turns out that the tradition is alive and well at Elite Meats. We decided to walk to the butcher round the corner, and it started to rain. Really quite heavily. Which was surprising as the skies were blue moments earlier.

TLOML shook his fist at the sky and shouted 'GRRRR! This Country! The butcher! The rain! Grrrrr!'

I think it's safe to say that, with his years of convenient 24 hour supermarkets and year round Californian sunshine, TLOML still has a little adjusting to do.

(Meanwhile I celebrate the fact we have three knowledgeable, independent butchers within a ten minute walk - and I don't miss Gristedes, or Ralphs, one little bit. And that although it rained briefly, the skies had been blue most of the day, and it is still mild enough to go out with gloves, or boots - I remember last October's NY snow storm with a shudder.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Isadora the Oracle of Fashion

I'm feeling very proud of myself today. First of all because I am officially a fully fledged writer, as I am writing blogs for the excellent Babes with Babies. As opposed to rambling on for my own enjoyment, I am now doing for the edification of others. Lucky them.

Secondly because I took my own advice. I wrote this piece on print a week or two ago and had sort of forgotten about it. I mean, I meant it at the time, and spent a bit of time redigesting A/W 2012 catwalk reports and thinking through what they meant for pregnant ladies. Then I just forgot all about it.

Today the post was published, and on re-reading it I looked down at my outfit in delight. I am totally wearing multiple prints! I didn't even do it on purpose in a 'following the trend' way (not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not how I roll when I'm working from home). I just thought it looked cute.
This is how I stand when I'm trying to make it clear this is a bump not a beer belly
Which means I am very on trend. According to myself, anyway. And/ or, I am an excellent predictor of trends.

Hurrah for small, shallow victories.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Whittington Baby

TLOML and I have decided to have our baby at the Whittington Hospital. We started our antenatal care at the Royal Free, a very good teaching hospital that's a ten minute walk from Fox Corner - but have decided to switch, as the Whittington sounds better.

The rooms in the Whittington's birth centre were recently done up, with double beds and nice big plasma screen TVs. So if TLOML wants to take a nap or watch some telly while I give birth, he can. We aren't sure if this is important or not but it seemed like a nice option to have.

The Whittington is named after Dick Whittington, legendary Lord Mayor of London. According to folklore, Dick Whittington came to London to earn his fortune, having heard the streets were paved with gold. Times were tough so he decided to quit on his dream - but as he headed out of London on Highgate Hill he heard bells ringing, and felt sure they were telling him if only he gave it another go, he could one day be Lord Mayor. Thanks to the mouse catching skills of his cat, he did indeed become Lord Mayor.

I'm a bit hazy on the details - quite how the bells told him to turn back, and exactly how the cat helped him become Mayor. But every schoolchild in Britain knows the story, and there's a statue of his cat on Highgate Hill, so it must be true.


The TVs, the double bed, and the cat story are excellent reasons to choose the Whittington. Another good reason is that they have plenty of birthing pools, so the chances are very good I'll get a room with one.

Isn't it marvellous that I can, thanks to NHS patient choice, opt without constraints for the quality hospital I think is the best? And it's all free too. God bless the NHS.

However I will, apparently, need to bring my own sieve and mirror.
Which made draw yet another comparison with life in the US. I know if we'd had a baby there we would have had to pay $500+ a month in insurance premiums, or find at least $10,000 for the birth.

But I bet they throw in a new sieve and mirror for that price.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A winning spirit

Last week I did a bit of work for Big Corp, assessing people for their geek qualities. It was like that time I went to Brazil and assessed geeks. Only this time I didn't go anywhere and the people I was interviewing were rather paler than their Brazilian peers.

I really enjoyed doing the assessments. What I liked about it was how nice they all were, even when they were told they didn't make the grade. Without exception they were smiley and pleasant, and took constructive criticism in a really positive way. Eager to learn and to improve, they agreed to work with their colleagues - some of whom had done better than them in the assessment - to fill the gaps I identified in their knowledge.

It was the exact opposite of the strops you sometimes see people throw on reality TV shows. Like that nutty Pink impersonator who went ballistic when she didn't make the cut on X-Factor.

The geeks I assessed were more like those lovely people on The Great British Bake Off, which seems to me to be the least competitive reality TV show ever made. (For those outside the UK: I'd explain the show but I think the name says it all). I love the way the baking rivals help each other out: one of them will scurry over to help another pick up the cakes she dropped on the way out of the oven, they shout encouragement to each other, and pass on tips. And they're humble, even self-deprecating, when the judges give them feedback.

TLOML laughs when we watch it: 'It's so British,' he says, 'They're so polite to each other.' When a Great British Bake Off contestant helps another rescue a dropped sponge, he says on an American competitive cooking show their competitor would be cackling with delight. When Great British Bake Off contestant says of their planned recipe, 'I hope it works, I'm a bit nervous', he reckons the American counterpart would say 'This is going to be awesome, it'll blow you guys away'.

I think he may be being a bit harsh on his compatriots. But there is something very sweetly, Britishly understated about this show. Maybe that's why it's been so phenomenally successful. It's a nice gentle ride of a show, basically.

I can see Bake Off TV taking off elsewhere, as so many British TV shows have done. But they'd need to inject a killer 'winning spirit' streak and a tonne of drama to the contestants first.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Autumnal Activities at Fox Corner

As you might have gathered, TLOML and I fell a little out of love with Fox Corner in the past few weeks. (Actually, he was never really in love with Fox Corner. He just tolerated it because I loved it. And it's cheap and spacious.)

Anyway, we're stuck here for a few months yes, so it's probably time to stop griping and start liking. And there is plenty to like. This is also a good time of year to not miss Malibu so much: what we gained there in year-round sunshine, we lost in crisp, chilly days perfect for walking across golden brown leaves, making soup, and generally being cosy.

So... this weekend was all about hearty, happy autumnal, Fox Corner-oriented activities.

We picked a lot of apples., from the lovely old apple tree, which is currently abundantly laden with fruit.

 While TLOML cut back stuff in the garden, I baked bread. Which is one thing I certainly never felt like doing in Rabbit Hutch Towers.
I went for a long walk on Hampstead Heath with an old friend, and set the world to rights among falling leaves and scampering, muddy dogs. When I came back, TLOML and I made bolognese with Zagami meatballs (so named for the recipe, taken from the First Family of New England's family history).
All in all it was a good weekend for making the most of being in Fox Corner, and London, now that Autumn is here.

 And Jack? He concentrated on building up a layer of fat to see him through the winter...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Date Nights

A couple of weeks ago TLOML and I dined at a fancy London restaurant, courtesy of our favourite New Yorker. As a wedding gift she picked up the tab for a meal for the two of us at Sketch, which is a lovely, artsy fartsy, fancy pants restaurant in Mayfair. TLOML scrubbed up nicely and I smuggled my bump in under a tzjuzzy dress.
 
Sketch was wall to wall fun. We had a a cocktail before dinner (non-alcoholic for me, I was saving that week's booze voucher up for a glass of wine with my meal), in their cool woodland themed bar. Dinner was delicious, fiddly, fancy food, perfectly cooked. (The foie gras burger rapidly made it into my top three burgers of all time.) And the service was impeccable.

The funny thing about it was it gave me a pang for New York. The whole experience - getting dressed up, enjoying attentive service and posh food - it was just so, so, Manhattan.

It made us reflect that, since we returned to London, we don't get out that much. I mean we still eat out - but not often far from home, and rarely upscale. We know our local curry house, neighbourhood Italian, and the handful of nearby excellent gastropubs pretty well, and it's not unheard of for us to grab noodles in the West End, but fancy diners we are not.

All things considered, I rather prefer our comfortable, local, London life. But our posh date night made me resolve to get out and about a bit more.

So last weekend, we went all the way to Camden (2 miles down the road) for Thai food. Okay, it wasn't exactly a posh dinner at a Manhattan hotspot. But I did at least put a bit of lipgloss and heels on for the occasion.

Thanks are due then, to our dear friend, for not only the generous gift, but injecting a little glamour into our date nights for the future.

Monday, September 24, 2012

America's Greater Grater

It was just a regular Sunday night at Fox Corner. We were chowing down on some spicy seafood pasta, and talking about how delicious it was.
Then we got to talking about how long the parmesan had been in the fridge, and how pasta didn't need the cheese but we were enjoying having it anyway.

Yes, I guess we have run out of things to talk about. And we've only been married 2 months.

Anyway, before long we were chatting about how much we like our new wedding list cheese grater. It has such a nice smooth action we grate more cheese than we need, just for the pleasure of grating.

'Why is it so good?' said TLOML.

And I, reluctantly, pointed out the legend...
 ...made in the USA.

Maybe I had laid on the argument for Dualit toasters too thick. I insisted it was the only way to go, and the reason they are four times as expensive as other toasters is that they are made in England.

Along comes an inexpensive grater and proves - to TLOML - USA's manufacturing might. He leapt up and punched the air in delight.

As I say, just a regular Sunday night in Fox Corner.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Transatlantic Pregnancy Rules

Our child will be blessed with two passports and the ability to choose whether to support England (perhaps in football), or the US (the Olympics, I guess).

Similarly, as a transatlantic couple, we can choose whether to adhere to British or American pregnancy advice.

I'll be honest, I prefer the NHS advice to anything I've found yet in the US.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, no amount of alcohol is safe to consume during pregnancy. The rather more pragmatic NHS also advise you not to drink, but add 'if you do continue to drink, limit it to 1 or 2 units, once or twice a week'. That'll do nicely. A glass of wine on a Saturday night is enough to keep me happy.

US sites will tell you to avoid all deli meats, or 'lunch meats', as TLOML calls them. But the NHS advice is that the risk of listerosis is so minute, these meats should be considered safe to eat. So I can munch on some parma ham while I enjoy my glass of wine.

I found a lot of general statements banning blue-veined cheese and smoked fish in the US. But the NHS tells me stilton (since it is a hard cheese) is fine, and kippers aren't ruled out either.

Sadly on neither side of the Atlantic can I find any website written by medical professionals which will give me licence to eat raw oysters, sushi or steak tartare with gay abandon.

Still, the greatest pleasures in life are sometimes those we pursue without permission.
I mean, look at these oysters: big, plump and super fresh. So fresh they flinched when we squeezed lemon on them. Reader, I ate 'em. And didn't get food poisoning either.

Unfortunately for me, TLOML has watched too many episodes of One Born Every Minute lately and is now all about the low risk, safe pregnancy. He has declared a strict embargo on 'high risk' food and drink items. And me? Well, I'm a good wife. I do what my husband says. At least while he's watching...



Monday, September 17, 2012

Baby Names

We're considering 'King' or maybe just 'Sir' for our firstborn. Both work well on either side of the Atlantic, which is crucial.
We don't know if it's a boy or a girl, or just a fuzzy blur. But we think 'King' will suit our baby just fine.
We are certainly not the craziest people out there. Surfing mindlessly on my babybump app I came across a thread started by a lady who was considering the names 'Hunntor', and 'Izabeille'. (Yes, it is an American app.)

In summary, the thread goes like this:
Dozens of people: "That's terrible. You should spell those names properly, as in Hunter and Isabel." "Why?" "Oh my." "Are you kidding?" etc
Crazy lady: "This way they'll be really unique and memorable."
Dozens of people: "No-one will remember them because they are impossible to remember, since they are spelt wrong." "'eille' does not make the same sound as 'elle'" etc
Some people: "I love those spellings! Makes them different and really special."
Crazy lady: "The 'i' is silent, that's what makes it unique."
Dozens of people: "You can't just say 'the 'i' is silent'. The English language doesn't work that why. Why not spell it Izagbelle and say 'the 'g' is silent'. It's the same difference."
Some people: "They're your kids, you choose how you name them."

Exactly. And that's just what we'll say if anyone quibbles with our choice of King or Sir. At least the spelling is straightforward.