Archive | November, 2011

Wrap it up

30 Nov

And NaBloPoMo — the month of daily blogging and trying to convince others that you are not saying a dirty word, thankyouverymuch — is at an end.  I learned a few things (thank goodness) and now I make a batter out of those small items and bake them up into little cupcakes for you:

Blogging every day is work
I knew this, or rather, I suspected it, which is one reason why I haven’t really tried blogging before.  I’ve always written in journals, and I’m still lugging those journals around with me from ten, twenty, and thirty years ago.  (I know, because I just unpacked them.  Oh, the red-faced pain of reading my teenage draah-maaah.)  But blogging is different — blogging is public — you want someone to read what you’re saying, you want them to react and you hope they’ll drop you a note and stop by again sometime.  Even the shortest post takes time to put together, especially if you want to include a visual element to your story, as I do.  (Because my eyes like to read, too.)  With a daily blog, there’s hardly time to edit, to rephrase, to find a more elegant expression, to be more (or less) funny, or, let’s be honest, to spell — forget housework, work-work, email, feeding your children, baking, finding clean underwear, etc.  So kudos to the daily bloggers.  I’ll still get grumpy when I visit your sites and you haven’t posted an entry in days (dammit!) but I’ll understand.  You needed clean underwear.  Fine.

There is a blog for everyone
Another  reason I held back from blogging: would anyone particularly care?  The answer is yes.  There is a blog for everyone.  On every topic.  Nothing is too small, too specific, too personal, too esoteric.  This is powerful — we are not alone.  In my very specific genre of ex-pat American mothers living in the UK who have young families and who like to bake (and in my case, are possibly crazy)  there are dozens and dozens of us.  (See how I just said “us” there?  I just created a tribe.  I believe the rally cry will be: “Oooh, lovely!”)  Expand the focus just a little and expat women are writing about their amazing journeys all over the globe.  How freaking awesome is that?  Also amazing, the small person writing in a closet can have the impact of the big talking head writing from a studio. Have fingers and a laptop?  You have a world-wide platform.  Wow.

If you quote Fight Club in your post heading, you will get the.most.hits.ever.
You met me at a very strange time in my life.  ‘Nuff said.  (~waving at all the people who have now arrived here by accident.~)

Bloggers create supportive communities
Who knew?  I had fallen in to the mistaken belief that bloggers worked in isolation, shooting out their thoughts and then moving on.  Hmm, a bit of a masculine conception of blogging.  Turns out, blogging is for chicks!  I now have a long list of blogs I check near-daily, just to see how everyone is doing.  I might +1 or check a positive tick-box on a blog, just to show support for the writer — good on you for posting!  Doesn’t even matter what — just good for you for putting yourself out there and making the world a better place, one post at a time.  +1, my friend!

Blogging is worth the effort
When you’ve just moved to a new country — just for example — and just moved in to a new house — totally random example — and your kids just started a new school — just, you know, example off the top of my head — and you are trying to make new friends — I wonder who she means — and missing your old ones terribly — waaah, it’s me, it’s me — the daily discipline of blogging keeps your mind moving, keeps you looking around for new and engaging experiences, gets you rooted in yourself and in your day to day life.  It’s a good thing.  I’m grateful.

So what are you waiting for?  Are you going to start a blog?  Write a novel?  Drag out your old journals and start inscribing a new page?  What’s your favorite blog to read and where do you go for inspiration?  I’ve been so happy to have you all drop by this past month — truly, it’s meant more than I can say  — and while I won’t be posting every day in December I will keep on bringing you more butter and jam to go with the bread of our every day.

xo~ Monique

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My kingdom for a key

29 Nov

I have a little one home sick today and not much time to blog, so I leave you with this question, which has been pestering at me since we moved in:  For the love of sugar, why so many KEYS?

This is a small sample of the keys for this house.  There are keys for side doors — each door has its own key — keys for windows — different keys for each window — keys for the side door to the garage, another set of keys for the several locks on the front door, keys for the gate — again each gate has its own key — keys for the furnace, keys for individual interior doors, probably keys for each toilet.  These are all functional keys.  Is it just my house, or is this an English thing?  Why would you have separate keys for each window, for goodness’ sake?

Apple a la maison

28 Nov

Apple-something a la maison … is it a pie?  a tart?  No idea, but it’s mine and I made it at home so … a la maison.

We’re receiving lovely local apples in our weekly box scheme deliveries.  With an excess of apples I decided to make a pie sort of thing.  Since I’m terribly lazy, I used a pre-made shortcrust dough that needed only to be rolled out, and instead of following a recipe, threw things together by whim.

First, slice your apples and saute them with butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  Or whatever spices you like.  Just follow your nose…

When I do this again, I’ll use more apples, and probably will peel them first.  Although I like the peels and the color and texture contrast they bring. (Not to mention peels-on is more nutritious.  I’m all about nutrition.  Sure I am.)

Prep the crust in a pie pan with some more sprinkled sugar and whatever spices you like … I added more cinnamon.

Next time I’ll roll the crust out thinner, and pre-bake it briefly with a bit of butter before adding the apples. Maybe sift on the spice to make it more pretty.

Youngest wanted some kind of decoration on top, and this is what we came up with:

Don’t know what we were going for, maybe a star?  Next time I’ll try rolling out the extra dough and cutting out some shapes to lay on top. Like this, but less fancy.  I am lazy, after all.

Bake it up at 350F for 30 minutes or so, keeping an eye on it and adding a bit of egg wash for color:

Maybe put some more sugar in with that egg wash for extra crunch and sweetness on the top.

And serve it up with clotted cream … or ice cream … or plain …

And there you go!  Not perfect, not fancy, but smelled great, tasted pretty good, and was fun to do.  It’s even better the next day as breakfast.  Happy baking!

I do not think it means what you think it means.

27 Nov

The other day youngest’s teacher was (once again) helping me figure out where to put away one of the elements of her school bag.  “Oh don’t worry about it,” she smiled.  “We’re very informal, here.”

I just about died laughing.

Daughter’s winter uniform includes:

  • blue felted hat
  • blue fleece hat
  • blue tights (not the socks, those are for warmer weather)
  • blue tunic (I’d call it a dress or a jumper)
  • blue jumper (I’d call it a sweater)
  • school blazer
  • school coat (must be a school coat)
  • blue fleece gloves
  • blue trainers (I’d call them sweatpants)
  • blue gym shorts (for under the sweatpants)
  • blue sweatshirt (I don’t even know what they call it)
  • blue polo shirt (for under the tunic)
  • gold polo shirt (for under the sweatshirt)
  • plimsols (I don’t even know what these are, some kind of inside shoe for gym?)
  • black school shoes
  • school wellies (boots)
  • uniform bag for books and papers (can NOT be decorated)
  • school bag (can be decorated!)

In the sense that her older siblings’ uniforms also include dozens of different socks and more complicated sports uniforms, I suppose, if you were completely insane, this could be considered informal.  Did I mention that youngest is in Reception, which is equivalent to US pre-K?

Equivalent may be too strong a word.  Reception and pre-K occur at the same age range — other than that, it seems very different.  I’m finding the Reception program is far more academic.  For one thing, it is a full day of school.  Also, daughter has homework — reading and sound-recognition, but still, homework.

Letters are taught (in this school, anyway) using the Jolly Learning Phonics system.  Letters are not taught alphabetically and by name, but rather 42 letter sounds are taught in several non-alphabetic groupings and paired with motions.   Letters are also taught lower case first, which is tricksy for someone who has been learning A, B, C from birth.  So instead of seeing “N” and saying ‘”That’s ‘En’ and En says ‘Nnnnnnn’,”  daughter is meant to see ‘n’ and call it “nnnnnn” while making the motion of a flying airplane (because an airplane goes “nnnnnnn”).  It’s been disconcerting to get notes home saying daughter doesn’t know her letters when, of course, she does — but she doesn’t know the Jolly Phonics system.  “A” is “ants on my arms”?  And “a” is not “ay” but “ah”.  It’s an adjustment, and sadly she is stuck with my flat American accent which is no help at all in figuring out the sound the letters are meant to make during our nightly homework sessions.

Or I may have misunderstood the system entirely.  Since it doesn’t seem to be the English way to let someone know when they are doing something all wrong, except through allusion or metaphor or by ignoring you, I may never know.

There are plenty of similarities between the US and UK early school experiences, of course.  Mothers and fathers feeling frazzled and fraught as they drop off or pick up their children; the sometimes-awkward, sometimes-party atmosphere of waiting for the doors to open at the end of the day; the child who weeps and children who careen like rockets from parent to classmates; the bathroom that smells like pee; the strange discipline systems that leave one head-scratching (at home it was green-yellow-red light, here it is ‘The Cloud’); the cycle of packing snacks and desperate search for clean socks; the happiness of finding a teacher who seems to genuinely like children; the heart-squeezing pride of watching school plays and songs; the anxiety, hope, and love as you watch your child step in to a new world and find her own place.

Daughter seems to thrive.  She totally gets the uniform and she knows where everything goes — from her peg to the seventeen different boxes for the contents of her school bag.  (Okay, not seventeen.  Only five.)  She likes being challenged all the time and enjoys doing well and getting stickers to show off her accomplishments.  Everyday as she leaves class she shakes the teacher’s hand, looks her in the eye and says “Good Afternoon Mrs Smith.”

You know.  Informal.

Cider, part two

26 Nov

I have a feeling there are going to be many “Cider, part x” posts over the next several years.

Here are my four most recent tries:

As you can tell by the labels, I am a girl.  I pick bottles that look pretty.  Whatever.  I also did not drink all of these at once, so the taste of one was not influenced by the others.  [Edited to add: or inebriation.  Unlike last time.]

Thatchers Katy Rosé –  Rosé Cider?  It was so unexpected I had to try it.  Also, it was pink.  (See note above re: gender.)  Also, I know a lovely person named Katy, so anything with her name has to be good.  It was … interesting.  Certainly very light, and sweet-but-not-too sweet.  I paired it with a stilton and enjoyed the contrast.  Husband scoffed and snorted.  Girly.

Rekorderlig Strawberry-Lime Cider  – From Sweden, so on the one hand violates my ‘English Cider’ interest, but on the other hand it’s from Sweden — have you eaten at IKEA lately?  I love their food.  Whatever.  Tastes like a wine cooler, or perhaps a Capri-Sun with a thimbleful of champagne added.  Very strong strawberry taste.  Girly, again.

Dunkertons Black Fox Cider – The coolest looking label.  Might not embarrass your hip friends to be seen drinking it.  Fizzy and has a strong element of funkertone but, to be honest, I was drinking this while our household goods were being delivered and the movers were carrying massive boxes up and down and in and out of the house.  So bring.it.on was my pov at that moment, and Black Fox Cider certainly did.

Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer – Okay, not even a cider but it was recommended so why not?  The label suggests serving cold over ice with a slice of lime or lemon and … yeah, that rocks.  A strong ginger taste but not so much it burns — know what I mean?  Minus the having-a-party citrus and ice additions I might convince myself it is medicinal — even healthy — to drink as much of this as possible.

These were all found at my local Waitrose — boring.  I don’t know anyone who makes their own cider  (I don’t think.)  (Yet.)  so I’ll be doing some research to find sources of local small-batch ciders to get some real contrasts.  But first I’ll finish off this Ginger Beer …

Feed me, Seymore

25 Nov

There are a couple of posts doodling away in my head.  Comparison of US and UK pre-elementary education, how much it sucks to lose internet connectivity when you are calling home on Thanksgiving, ongoing battles with the recycling program, how to make a Thanksgiving dinner in one hour when every.square.inch of your house is stacked christmas-tree high with boxes,  several days out, mince pies, ladies lunches, the bizarre fashion trend of wearing tights — just tights — without pants, and how it is totally, totally okay to suddenly start crying to the radio when you are going to pick your kids up from school.  (You’re a human being, congratulations.)

But I’ll be honest:  I’m tired.  And while I know the unpacking will end, at this moment I don’t quite believe it.  So  I’m going to leave you with a mystery.

This morning when I opened my box of veg I found this staring at me:

What is it?  How to prepare it?  And if I drop any blood on it, will it come alive?

Heart of darkness

24 Nov

Oh maybe, if you don’t quite get me yet, maybe it seems like an exaggeration, a bit overblown, to compare the decaying state of my kitchen to a descent into brutality, madness, inhumanity, cannibalism, and horror.

Foolish mortal.  It is exactly the same.

You had a peek at the kitchen when we moved in.

In what I will now consider my kitchen’s golden age,  it looked like this

I can hear angels singing

When all the boxes were delivered, it looked like this

You don’t scare me.  I am an individual of idealism and hope.  I will apply myself to you and make you better.

Yesterday morning it looked like this

I don’t understand how we got here or what I’m doing in this mess.  But surely, surely it will get better.  I’ll do what I must do, no matter how awful, to redeem this.

This morning it looked like this

The horror … the horror …

I just can’t think straight when the kitchen is a mess.  All those dishes and inexplicable piles of chaos seem to hook into my brain and throw my whole head off balance.  That very last box in the middle?  It’s labeled “Junk“.

INSANITY!

PS – You are not at all concerned that my spice drawer looks like this, are you?

It’s okay, right?  It’s not like I put the heads of my enemies on spikes.  Um, just don’t touch anything, mm-hmm?  Or I might eat your face.