Thursday, 5 November 2009

Remember Remember the Fifth of November...

I am sitting in my dining room, listening to the pop and whirr of fireworks on this Bonfire Night, a very British "holiday" which commemorates Guy Fawkes' failed plot to blow up Parliament in 1605.

Most of the U.K.'s major cities host Bonfire Night celebrations (usually on the weekend before or after Bonfire Night, if it happens to fall on a weeknight) with huge fireworks displays, bonfires, music, toffee apples, and more. Perhaps next year, when Crumpet is a bit older, we'll venture to Alexandra Palace, which is just a stone's throw from us in North London and hosts London's largest Bonfire Night celebration. For now, I'm content to watch some of the many private displays that are taking place tonight for free from my dining room window.

It's just another one of those quirky, uniquely British holidays (like Boxing Day) that I look forward to every autumn. Let's just hope the incessant booms don't wake Crumpet....

Monday, 2 November 2009

Working in London

Half Term is officially over, and oh what a glorious week it was. We didn't jet off to Italy or Portugal or Egypt or any other exotic location like some of my students (and fellow teachers), but somehow taking Crumpet to pick out her first pumpkin at a local farm and chasing after her when she learned to climb the stairs was much more exciting.

So as I settle back in at work, slightly wishing I was still at home in my PJs, I figured that now would be a good time to be positive and reflect on some of the things I love about working in London. Although the daily commute has taken some getting used to (at less than an hour door to door, with only one change, I can't complain too much, but seeing as my previous commute involved stumbling sleepily from the bedroom to my desk in the dining room, any daily travel is going to take its toll), I do feel a certain level of excitement about working in London. Here are just a few of the things I love about working in the city:

1. Lots of reading time on the commute. At home, there always seem to be a million other distractions.
2. Working in a fabulous old Georgian building instead of a character-less office block or modern school building.
3. Being on the doorstep of Oxford Street and Regent Street.
4. The number of little cafes and delis in my neighborhood.
5. Starbucks. I love my caramel macchiatoes.
6. Krispy Kreme. Yes, Krispy Kreme is available in London... and not just at Harrod's. I was allowing myself one doghnut indulgence a week on my way to work in the morning, but the guilt got the better of me and I have decided to cut that back to one a month.
7. The rush of excitement I get when I walk to work in the morning amidst the energy of the city. Admittedly, I am less excited when it's gray and miserable out, but when the sun is shining in the bright blue sky, like today, it's glorious.
8. Coming home. It's nice to work in London, but it's even nicer to retreat to the relative peace and quiet of the suburbs at the end of the day.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Head of the Class

I have been back in front of the classroom for well over a month now -- a month which has brought with it both challenges and rewards. Putting aside the difficulty of balancing work and motherhood (which will most certainly end up being a whole other blog entry in itself), stepping back into a teaching role has been an interesting, exciting and, yes, sometimes stressful experience.

In some ways, it's been like riding a bike. All of the planning, grading and disciplining (it's amazing how effortlessly my "teacher" voice has returned!) has come back to me, as if I had only been out of the classroom for a summer instead of three whole years. In other ways, though, it's like I'm the new kid at school. Only, I'm the new teacher at school. I'm not sure which one is worse. I'm teaching a completely different curriculum to what I am used to, and, although I feel fairly confident in the job I am doing, there is always that pressure to prove myself to "the people that matter." I'm also learning the ins and outs of a new school, and it can be a bit awkward, sometimes, to find your niche within a new workplace. Seven years ago, I stepped into the classroom for the first time -- but in a very familiar setting; I was working at my alma mater. I worked with teachers whose classes I had been in, and, though I'm not saying I didn't experience my share of awkward moments, there was a certain comfort in having a personal history with the school. Now, I'm starting from scratch. I have to build relationships with colleagues and create my professional persona all over again. And then, of course, there's getting to know my students, and them getting to know me. I may not have to deal with the same kinds of issues I dealt with while teaching at an American public high school (thankfully), but kids, no matter how much money they may have, will still try to test their limits (and mine) in their own ways. The trick is finding the right balance between firm and flexible, and I have to be careful with the reputation I gain among the students this year because it will be very hard to reinvent myself if I get off on the wrong foot. So far, I hope I'm succeeding.

Despite all of these challenges, I am enjoying (nearly) every moment of my new gig. Even The Other Half has commented on the fact that I've barely complained about the job at all, which is more than I can say about my last teaching job. I don't dread going in to work every day. I've been able to manage (mostly) to keep my work at work so that when I come home I can focus on my family. Teaching can so easily consume your life (spoken from experience), but I have different priorities now than I did seven years ago, and at the end of the day it's important to remember that, even though I will put in 110% while I am at work, at the end of the day it is just a job.

Let's just hope I'm still feeling this positive next June....

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

And the prize for the best excuse for coming to class unprepared goes to...

... the student who recently told me, "Sorry, miss, but I forgot my book at my house in St. Tropez this weekend." I honestly never imagined I'd hear an excuse like that in my career, or that such an excuse would be anything more than the ambitious fantasies of an adolescent. I think it's safe to say that this kid's weekly allowance is more than my monthly salary. I'll stop here before I get more depressed.

More on my return to the classroom to follow soon.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Birthday Girl

The past month has been filled with lots of changes and big events, keeping us busy busy busy. I promise to update the blog with some of the more interesting anecdotes and musings of late as soon as I can get my head above water, which hopefully will be within the next week or so.

But, in the meantime, today we celebrate a milestone: Crumpet is one year old. We had a very low-key celebration. After her christening last weekend, in which we hosted about 30 adults and various children at my in-laws' house, we wanted to keep things small and simple for her birthday. My parents left this afternoon after a two-week visit, so we had tea and cake with them and Nana and Grandpa this morning, and Crumpet opened her gifts. Of course, as is the case with most babies, she was only mildly interested in the actual gifts; she was more interested in the packages they came in. Unfortunately, she has come down with a slight cold (one of the downsides of me being back in the classroom is the germs I bring home) and has also cut two more teeth this week, but that didn't stop her from demolishing her cake.

As cliché as it sounds, it really does feel like just yesterday that we brought her home from the hospital. But as quickly as time has passed, it is also hard to remember what life was like without her. In one short year, our lives have completely changed. I never could have imagined that someone so small could fill up so much space in my heart.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Role Reversal

The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind. In a rather unexpected series of events, I have suddenly found myself thrust back into the workforce, no longer able to call myself a stay-at-home mom. After three years away from the classroom, I am diving head first back into the world of education, teaching English to 11- to 16-year-olds at one of London's top international schools. Term starts next week, and the nerves are mounting every day.

I hadn't planned on going back to work (outside the home, that is) anytime soon, but things happen for a reason and sometimes you have to grab an opportunity when it presents itself. This job is such a good move for me in so many ways, aside from the obvious financial benefits. I can keep my NC license current, for one. Experience at this school will be a great addition to my CV if and when I decide to move on, as it has a very good reputation, especially within the international school community. I'll also gain experience working in an IB program, which will be a real benefit if we ever decide to try living abroad for a year or two, something we've considered doing when Crumpet is old enough to appreciate the experience but still young enough not to feel completely uprooted from her life here. And, of course, there's the discount on tuition for faculty members' children. But we're getting ahead of ourselves....

My new identity has also given The Other Half a new identity of his own, as he has taken on the role of stay-at-home dad. He hasn't had much luck finding a job himself, so at least this gives him a little more time to look and consider whether or not he wants to stay in the same field or train for something different or even start up his own business. But, right now, our priority is having someone home with Crumpet full-time, whichever one of us that may be. The Other Half and I have never felt like we have to define ourselves by traditional roles. So it makes sense that whoever has the best opportunity should go out to work. We're a partnership. I'm perfectly fine being the breadwinner now because he has had that responsibility in the past and probably will again soon. Still, no matter how secure we are in our new roles, it doesn't stop everyone else from making judgments.

Despite all of these rationalizations, being back at work has taken some getting used to. I spent the first two days calling home every couple of hours to make sure everything was okay, less worried about Crumpet than I was about how Daddy was coping; luckily, he had had those days when I was filming earlier this month as a sort of "rehearsal." I won't lie and say I haven't had my share of doubts and even a few tears. But in the end, I know that I am doing the right thing for all of us. I was so lucky to be home with Crumpet for nearly a year (which is much longer than many of my American mommy friends have had with their little ones). And I have all of the school holidays to look forward to; in fact, Half Term is already marked on my calendar in big bold letters.

So, even though this isn't what I would have foreshadowed a month ago, this is an exciting, albeit challenging, new chapter in our lives. Although, I guess you could say this means my film career is on hold....

Friday, 14 August 2009

My 15 Seconds of Fame

Yesterday, I completed five days of filming as an extra for Gulliver's Travels, a new movie starring Jack Black that will be released next year. It was the first time I had done anything like that before, and it sort of happened by accident. A good friend of ours works fairly regularly as an extra (or background artist, which is the official term used for an extra). He's been in loads of big films and TV shows: Harry Potter, The Dark Knight, "East Enders," and "The Bill," just to name a few. A couple of years ago, he told me about an open call his casting agency was holding for Americans (it turns out that the film they were casting for was The Bourne Ultimatum with Matt Damon!). At the time, I couldn't do anything about it because I was working full time. But about a month or two ago, they were looking for Americans again. This time, I figured, "Why not?" So I filled out the online application and sent in a photo and promptly forgot about it. A few weeks later, I got a call, and things unfolded from there.

It was definitely an exciting experience. I met some interesting people, had some great food (catering was fab, and I took full advantage of the free food!), gained some interesting insight into how the film industry works (some of which still remains a mystery), and stockpiled lots of ideas for future stories. I even stood thisclose to Jack Black and Amanda Peet. But by the end of the week, any feeling of being "starstruck" had faded. We spent long hours (our longest day was about 14 hours) sitting around waiting to be called to the set, and after countless retakes in stifling heat and smelly clothes all we wanted to do was go home and sink under the duvet. At the end of the day, it was a job like any other. But, still, how many people's 9 to 5s involve watching playbacks of themselves with a major Hollywood star?

The hardest part of the whole experience was being away from Crumpet. For the first two days, she didn't even see me because I left before she woke up and got home after she was fast asleep. But, not surprisingly, it was worse for me than it was for her. Although she was excited to see me again when she woke up the third morning, she hadn't really even noticed I was gone because she had been in Daddy's and Nana's very capable hands. Though difficult at the time (I ran down the credit on my phone because I called and texted home so much to make sure everything was running smoothly in my absence), I think our separation was good for all of us. Crumpet got to understand that even though Mommy might sometimes go away, I'll always come back for her. I got a nice little break and was forced to relinquish control (something I'm not very good at but admit I need to do at times). And The Other Half gained confidence in being alone with Crumpet; even though he has looked after her before, he's never had her for a whole day, and he's never had to go through the bedtime routine with her. Once again, I find myself silently thanking Gina Ford for how contented Crumpet was in my absence.

And, in an interesting turn of events, I've already been offered another job on another film. When I called the casting agency today to give them my bank details, they asked me if I was available to work on a new film with Dennis Quaid (to be released in 2011). I'll go for a costume fitting next week and film for one day the following week. The beginning of a new career? I don't think so. But the money is a major motivator. After earning nearly a thousand pounds in just five days, it's hard to say no.

In the meantime, if they don't delete my scenes, you can look for my blurry shape (actually, I'm a little more visible than that...) at a theater near you next year.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Art of Procrastination

Why is it that, no matter how much I tell myself that "next time I'm not going to leave everything till the last minute," a deadline inevitably creeps up on me and, once again, I find myself scrambling in the eleventh hour to finish? I am a master procrastinator. Case in point: I should be researching Birmingham's top employers or writing about Florida's climate, but instead I am going to catch up on the latest Tour de France highlights.

Once I have finished the two freelance jobs I am currently working on (one with a deadline tomorrow and the other next weekend), the 10 articles for suite101 that I have to have published by August 13, and the design work I agreed to do for my former boss, I intend to update this blog more frequently, which I admit has suffered lately as a result of my bad work habits. It's not as if I don't have lots to write about (I even have some titles forming in my head and a few entries already in the drafting process). I'm especially looking forward to writing about an exciting new job I'll be doing in early August: filming as an extra for a new movie version of Gulliver's Travels. Intrigued? Stay tuned....

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Down by the Seaside

We've just returned from a weekend on the Kent coast, where we celebrated my brother-in-law's birthday, which also happens to fall on American Independence Day. We had a lovely day on the beach in Margate on Saturday, where we basked in the glow of the warm sunshine and dipped Crumpet's toes in the North Sea (which did not go over well with her!), followed by a few hours in neighboring Ramsgate on Sunday. Although we didn't have much time in Ramsgate, we did get to see the harbor and parts of the old town, which was very nice. Much nicer, I must say, than Margate. It does have a certain charm (particularly in the old town), and in its day I'm sure Margate was the premier seaside retreat, but too many abandoned buildings and tacky arcades have just been left to ruin. With such a wonderful sandy beach, the town needs a seafront to match. The problem is that the council doesn't want to invest money into the town if everyone just jets off to Spain instead, and people don't want to forgo Spain and go somewhere like Margate if money isn't invested. It's a real Catch-22. Imagine what it would be like if the seafront was restored to its former glory:

The trip there and back was arduous. It would have been fine if we could have just gotten on the train at our local station and enjoyed an uninterrupted ride to Margate, but changing at two stations and navigating stairs and escalators with all the baby gear -- and the baby -- made things difficult. That, and the fact that Crumpet was overtired but refused to sleep in her pushchair, finally giving in and crashing out on Daddy (after much patience on his part, I might add). As much as I may lament driving, there is something to be said for just popping Crumpet in the car seat and driving off, knowing that a) she would most likely fall asleep in her car seat and if she didn't would only be bothering us (and not a carriage-full of other weary travelers) with her cries of protest and b) that, barring major traffic or road works, it would be a straight shot to our destination. But, despite all that, I do enjoy train travel.

Aside from serving as a nice mini-break, our trip turned out to be very educational. I learned a few things about traveling with a baby:

1. Always pack more food than you think you'll need. I packed enough food to last through lunch today, but by midday I realized we wouldn't be home until well after Crumpet's usual dinnertime, which necessitated a mad dash into Poundland (one of the few places that was open on a Sunday) to pick up a few extra jars of baby food.

2. Wipes! You can never have enough wipes!

3. When going to the seaside, always pack Little Swimmers. Even if it isn't warm enough for swimming, these are great for the seaside because they just pull on and off, meaning that one person can hold baby by the arms while the other changes the nappy, keeping sand out of places where the sun doesn't shine.

4. Always hope for the best, but pack for the worst.

All in all, our first solo* travel experience was a success, and I look forward to many more family trips to other UK destinations.

*I say "solo" because our destination was not either of our families' houses, but instead involved our first hotel stay.

P.S. Now time for a little self-promotion: In case you haven't noticed the new link in the sidebar, check out my newly published story on the women's travel web site Wanderlust and Lipstick. You can read it here or click on the link to the left.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Piggin' Out in the Country

My neighbor's in-laws host an annual pig roast at their property in Oxfordshire to support the charity Action Aid, and this year was our first invite. So yesterday The Other Half, Crumpet and I ditched our urban surroundings and headed off for the peaceful village of Moulsford-on-Thames, where we enjoyed the kind of day that should be typical of an English summer: blue skies, sunshine, warmth. Having just completed a grueling research project (more on that another time), my brain isn't functioning at its full creative capacity, so the only adjective that comes to mind when I think of how to describe the setting is "idyllic." I'll let you see for yourself in the photos I took from the canoe we took out on the river (Crumpet left safely on shore):

The motorway, on the other hand, was not idyllic and simply reinforced why we prefer train travel.

*By the way, in case you were wondering (not that you necessarily were), our dinner (pictured above) weighed 130.7 pounds. I had the closest guess at 130 pounds and walked away with a bottle of bubbly as my prize.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Confessions of a Closeted Socialist

Since I started this blog, I've tried very hard not to get on my political soapbox (although what expat could resist expressing excitement last November?), but it can be difficult not to touch on the subject from time to time, particularly when the whole purpose of this blog is to share my experiences as an American in a "foreign" land and the differences I encounter on a daily basis. Let's face it, politics are a big factor in the expat experience.

But I couldn't help but be inspired by an interview I saw this week of Sarah Palin on Fox News (which is, without a doubt, the most biased, right-wing "news" source out there, but I digress). In the interview, the reporter asked Palin if she thought America was becoming more socialist, to which she replied, "We're headed that way."

That got me thinking: is socialism, in the true sense of the word, really such a bad thing? And why is it that as soon as that word is uttered, most Americans immediately equate it with communism?

I'm not even necessarily in favor of socialism as a whole, just one particular facet: the health care system. America could learn something from the U.K. and most other European nations when it comes to caring for its citizens (perhaps Obama will push the country one or two steps in the right direction, at least). In the almost three years since I have lived in the U.K., I have never had to make a medical insurance payment, never had to pay for a visit to my local G.P., and have only paid a nominal fee for medication. When I was pregnant, I would have gotten free prescriptions (if I had needed them) and even received free dental care (and that lasts until Crumpet is one year old). I'm not saying that the NHS is perfect (in fact, there are many people who would argue otherwise), but what I am saying is that, in my experience, I have had free access to everything I have needed.

It's not as if America doesn't already have socialist institutions in place. We have free, public education. We have free, pubic libraries. We even have free postal delivery. So why is it that we think that everyone is entitled to go to school for free, check out books for free, and receive mail for free, but somehow we don't think that everyone should be entitled to free health care (and those that do receive free health care, in the form of Medicare or Medicaid, are unfairly seen as second class citizens)? Since when is it okay for someone to lose their home in order to stay healthy or to have to choose between paying the heating bill and paying for insurance? As far as I'm concerned, basic health care should be a basic human right. And if that makes me a socialist, that's okay with me.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Welcome to England

I've been a fan of Tori Amos's music for several years, ever since I was fifteen and borrowed my then-boyfriend's copy of Under the Pink. I think I had the song "Cornflake Girl" on constant repeat for weeks. Songs like "Silent All These Years" and "Crucify" were anthems of my adolescence. I admit that in the past few years I haven't been as much of a devoted follower as I once was, but her latest single "Welcome to England," from her new album Abnormally Attracted to Sin, seems oh-so-relevant to me and anyone else who has moved to England (or France or Russia or Botswana...) for love. It's definitely worth a listen. Here is just a sampling of some of the lyrics:

"Welcome to England," he said.
"Welcome to my world.
You better bring your own sun sweet girl.
You gotta bring your own sun now don't you forget --
you bring your own sun, just enough for everyone."

Sunday, 7 June 2009

I should not have to put the heating on in June...

... but I guess that's what I get for deciding to live in England.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Back on Greenwich Mean Time

Crumpet and I have been home for a just over a week now, and we are finally starting to readjust to our normal routine. By we, I mean Crumpet, because being a mom in itself doesn't afford you the luxury of experiencing jet lag.

I'm currently working on a post inspired by our time at home (in NC)... and returning home (to the U.K.). But I didn't want to leave too much of a gap between posts, so until then here is an update following Crumpet's first trip to America.

Our time in the States was wonderful. We had four lovely weeks to relax, spend time with family, catch up with friends, shop at my favorite stores ("Hello, Target, I've missed you"), and dine at all of my favorite restaurants (and bring home the souvenir 10 pounds I referred to in my last post) without feeling rushed or exhausted. I figure I might as well take advantage of these next four years, before Crumpet goes to school and holidays are strictly scheduled around the school calendar. Crumpet had lots of time to bond with her grandparents and her aunt and uncle and cousin, and we were there at a time when they could really see her changing from day to day. In the time we were there, she learned to crawl (actually, she really just drags herself across the floor; she has gotten very close to crawling on all fours but inevitably gives up and realizes it's easier to get around her way), say "Mama" (or "Mamamama..."), give kisses, and wave (hello, not goodbye). She took her first trip to the seaside (or the beach, as we'd simply call it in NC), had her first boat ride (during which, despite the roar of the motor and the rush of the wind, she fell asleep in my arms), and tasted her first bit of German food (who knew red cabbage and spatzel would be such a hit with a 7-month old?). I can't wait to introduce her to even more exciting new things each time we visit.

The flight home, when Crumpet and I were on our own, was not easy. Let's just say that when a baby who is normally used to 12 hours of sleep at night only gets 3, things are bound to be difficult. But, even in her delirious, sleep-deprived state, she was a trouper, and several of our fellow passengers commented on how good she was when we disembarked at Heathrow. Music to any mother's ears.

And now that we are back, it feels as if we were barely gone. Those four weeks seem like a distant memory, and I can't help but find myself already thinking about the next visit. That's the trouble with transatlantic relationships/families: you always find yourself looking forward to the next visit or reliving the memories of the last one.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Weight of the World... or Just America

The day after I arrived here in the States, I weighed myself for the first time in months. I don't even own a scale at home, but after receiving several positive comments about my post-pregnancy figure from friends I hadn't seen in a year, I was curious to see how much I actually weighed. I was pleasantly surprised to see numbers I hadn't seen in quite some time; I weighed even less than I did before I was pregnant. No wonder my jeans had started to feel so loose on me. Less than four weeks later, however, and I am 10 pounds heavier than when I arrived.

I admit that since I've been here I've indulged in pretty much all of my favorites: Mexican, German, Indian, good ol' Southern barbecue, and lots of desserts. But it's not just the types of food I've been eating that have been my downfall; it's the portion sizes. Good thing I skipped a visit to The Cheesecake Factory or I'd be 15 pounds heavier.

I think I would have even gotten away with my gluttony if I had kept up my regular fitness routine. I have never been much of a gym bunny, but back in the U.K. I walk everywhere: to the grocery store, to the doctor, to baby clinic, to my friends' houses, around the local park. Walking has become such a part of my daily routine that it doesn't even feel like exercise anymore (I've come so far since I first started visiting The Other Half in London and wondered why we couldn't drive to the train station instead of walk the 10 minutes uphill). I didn't even notice that I had dropped so much weight because I certainly haven't been depriving myself of a jam donut for "elevenses" or a slice of cake with tea. Since I've been here, I haven't walked ANYWHERE. (That's not entirely true. The Other Half and I did take Crumpet for a walk around my parents' neighborhood every morning when he was here, but only because we didn't want our legs to stop working. I haven't actually walked anywhere with a purpose, that is.)

So, as I prepare to head back to the U.K. tomorrow, I look forward to giving up the automobile (couldn't you tell from my last post?) and using my feet again. I'll be cutting back on sweet treats and trading in take-aways for the healthier meals I usually prepare. I can only use breastfeeding as an excuse to indulge in extra calories for so long, and I'm sure I've already exceeded my calorie allowance for the next four months. Friday's fish and chips will be my last take-away for a while. Really, I mean it....

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Road Less Travelled

Until yesterday, I had not driven in over a year. The last time I was behind the wheel was last April, during my last visit to the States, and then it was just a quick trip to pick up some take-out from a local deli. Otherwise, I have relied on family and friends to get me around. Although that can sometimes be a little nerve-racking (I suffer from serious "backseat driver-itis"), I have pretty much come to accept it.

I guess you could say I have a love-hate relationship with the automobile. I did get my U.K. driving license last April, but it was mostly a symbolic gesture. I wanted to know that I could drive if I had to, but, quite frankly, I wouldn't mind if I never sat in the driver's seat again.

Not owning a car has given me the biggest sense of freedom. Although I do sometimes miss the convenience of being able to just jump in the car and go, I certainly do not miss the car payments, the insurance payments, the gas (petrol) prices, the maintenance, the other (bad) drivers on the road, etc. that comes with owning a car. And although some people may find having to plan your life around bus schedules and train timetables restricting, I find that I can relax knowing that I can pretty much always count on a bus or the Tube to take me wherever I want to go.

One thing The Other Half doesn't like about the U.S. (particularly North Carolina) is the fact that you are so dependent on a car here. You literally have to drive EVERYWHERE. This morning, we ran out of milk, so my mom had to drive to the grocery store just to pick up a gallon. Back in the U.K., you can pretty much count on the fact that there is at least one corner shop within reasonable walking distance, unless you live way out in the wilds of the Hebrides. It's not even so much the distance that necessitates driving here; it's that roads are not designed with pedestrians in mind. Why would anyone want to walk when they could drive? Since I've lived in the U.K., I, too, find it hard to come back to the U.S. and its auto-centric lifestyle. (Don't even get me started on what all this driving has done to my fitness level. That's a whole other blog entry!)

We've often said that if we ever move back to the States it would have to be somewhere where we wouldn't have to drive just to pick up a pint of milk. But I'm not sure anywhere like that exists, except maybe New York or some of the other big cities, and the cost of living there is just as bad as in London. Basically, we want an English or European village located somewhere in North America. Is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

You Say "Fil-ay," I Say "Fil-et"

Over the past few years, I have given in to certain Britishisms. I say "courgette" and "aubergine" instead of "zucchini" and "eggplant." "Nappy" and "dummy" have replaced "diaper" and "pacifier" in my everyday vocabulary. I've even learned to drop the h in "herb," mainly because I got tired of everyone correcting me. But never, until I was at the fish counter of the local Lowe's Foods the other day, have I had to stop myself from saying "fil-et." Next thing you know, I'll be sounding like Madonna. Somebody kick the "ya'll"s back into me before that happens!

Friday, 1 May 2009

It Really IS a Small World After All

The customs hall of an international airport is the last place you'd expect to strike up a conversation with someone who, it turns out, not only grew up in the same town as you and now lives within about 20-30 miles of you in another country, but whose mother also happened to be your third grade teacher. But that is exactly what happened to me yesterday when we arrived at RDU.

No matter how many miles from home I may end up, the old cliche is still true....

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

In My Mind I'm Goin' to Carolina

Can't you just see the sunshine
Can't you just feel the moonshine...

In two days, we'll be on a plane, headed Stateside for the first time since Crumpet was born. Actually, it will be the first time I've been back since last April, and it has been a long year. I'm ready for short sleeves, the chirping of the cicadas on warm evenings, the orange glow of the chimnea on evenings that are crisp, lemonade on the back porch, buttermilk pancakes, Cracker Barrel, moonpies...

If I could just skip the packing (which is more like a military operation now that I have a child), the journey to Heathrow (it will probably be the longest journey I've ever taken on the Piccadilly Line, especially if Crumpet doesn't sleep in the cheap new umbrella stroller we got last week, which doesn't recline), the chaos of airport check-in and security, and the long flight itself and somehow teleport to Raleigh-Durham, that would be great.

Stay tuned for an update on how our first flight with baby panned out, as well as what I am sure will turn out to be some other interesting anecdotes from our first official family holiday. I've got several blog entries already starting to take shape in my mind....

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Once Upon a Time in London

Last weekend was my parents-in-law's fortieth wedding anniversary, and we celebrated yesterday with a surprise party with family and friends in central London. The party took place at The Bridge House, a pub and restaurant on Tower Bridge Road that, ironically, is where The Other Half and I had our first date nearly seven years ago. My brothers-in-law, who made the arrangements, didn't choose this venue for that reason, but it was certainly a nice coincidence. There was something very special about Crumpet being able to celebrate her grandparents' fortieth anniversary at the restaurant where her parents' relationship sort of began. One day, I'll tell her the story...

...about how a young American girl, newly graduated from college and just starting life as a real adult (the bill-paying, career-minded kind) set off for London over Thanksgiving break to visit her best friend, stumbled into a random pub down a back alley in Covent Garden, and spotted a handsome Englishman at the bar.... About how that chance meeting led to a romantic dinner at The Bridge House, overlooking the glittering lights that bounced off the River Thames, and a moonlit stroll along St. Katherine's Docks.... About how that one date led to daily e-mails, phone calls, and letters back and forth between the charming Englishman and the Southern belle, until she took a chance and returned to visit him a few months later.... And about how that visit turned into thousands of frequent flyer miles between the two of them over the next three and a half years. The rest, as they say, is history....

Life may not always be a bowl of cherries, I'll tell her, but fairy tales do sometimes come true, usually at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected ways.

Friday, 27 March 2009

When Losing an Hour Actually Means Gaining an Hour (or Sleep Deprivation Brings Out the Existentialist in Me)

I am a fan of routines. Anyone who knows me well will attribute this to my Type-A personality, my need for things to be "just so." So it's probably no surprise that I have tried to adhere to Gina Ford's sleeping and feeding methods when it comes to establishing Crumpet's schedule. We've been successful at times (some days might even qualify as "textbook"), but more often than not Crumpet has her own ideas.

Take yesterday, for example. She was up at around 5:30 in the morning, happy and excited to start the day. I tried to leave her in her cot at least until the roosters stopped crowing, but she was having none of it. So I brought her into bed with me and attempted to give her a feed, which she was less than enthusiastic about. So I put her back in bed, where she continued to scream (in a delightful, "I'm-up-and-so-should-you-be" sort of way). At around 6:45, when I had had enough, I brought her back into bed with me. She happily fed this time... and quickly fell asleep. So rather than get back up and put her back in her bed, where she might only sleep for 10 minutes (can you tell this isn't the first time we've experienced this sort of morning?), I let her sleep on me for about 30 minutes, which I haven't done in ages. Of course, I don't get much sleep this way, but it is such a special time; I just love watching her sleep, and I might as well take advantage of all of the cuddles I can now so that I can savor the memories when she's a teenager and doesn't want to be around me. But I digress...

For the rest of the day, the "schedule" was thrown out the window. Crumpet refused to go down for her morning nap even though she was tired, was hungry for her mid-morning meal far earlier than normal, and only got a half-hour sleep at lunchtime. Then she wouldn't take her 2:00 feed until just after 3:00, at which time she fell asleep (but at least she got a good, dreamy feed while doing so). But as soon as I got up to put her down, she woke up and was ready to play. By 5:00, she was exhausted, but I refused to put her to bed because I knew that if I did she would be out for the night. Keeping her up until 5:30, when I fed her her baby rice, was a real struggle, and she fussed throughout her meal. When I took her upstairs at 6:00, she was so tired she wouldn't even feed, which almost never happens. She usually at least latches on, even if she just uses me to fall asleep. But not this time. So I relented and put her to bed at just past 6:00. I barely got downstairs before the baby monitor went silent; when I checked on her a half hour later, she was out for the count. And this morning, she was awake again with the roosters.

This weekend we move the clocks forward an hour. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I dreaded losing that hour of sleep, but now I am cautiously optimistic that losing an hour is exactly what I need in order to gain an hour in Crumpet's schedule. After all, what is now 5:30 a.m. will be 6:30, and I can handle waking at 6:30. Anything earlier than 6:00 a.m., however, does something to me psychologically. And it is much easier to keep her up until her 9:00 nap if she doesn't wake until 6:30 or 7:00. But I don't want to get my hopes up.

I could get all philosophical and talk about how time is really a man-made concept and that I should adapt to Crumpet's more natural, circadian rhythm, etc., etc., but I don't have the energy... or the time.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

American Baby

Today marks a milestone in Crumpet's life: she is officially a dual citizen of the United States and the United Kingdom.

The Other Half and I ventured into London with her for the first time (an experience in itself) for an appointment at the U.S. Embassy to report her birth and apply for her U.S. passport. From now on, she'll enjoy the best -- and the worst -- of both worlds. Even if she never sets foot on American soil (impossible, since we're headed back to NC this spring, but theoretically...), she will still have to file income tax. And, if she were a boy, she would be liable for the draft. But I certainly think the benefits outweigh these little inconveniences.

Our visit to the embassy was an interesting one. We arrived earlier than our 2:00 appointment, so we decided to take a walk through Grosvenor Square to kill some time. Unfortunately, it was as we strolled past the imposing statue of Roosevelt that The Other Half received an unwelcome present from one of the feathered residents of the square. He took it as a sign. Security was quite tight, as you can imagine, and they confiscated our mobile phones, keys, and camera and even made The Other Half take a sip from each of the water bottles we had brought with us. Once inside the embassy, we waited for nearly two hours (twice as long as the web site had said to plan to wait). Crumpet, who had been asleep since we left a Pizza Express for lunch, suddenly woke up just before we went through security and was very smiley and happy. But as we waited in line inside, I suddenly smelled something a bit ripe coming from her pram. Sure enough, it was at that moment that she decided to do one of the messiest, smelliest poos she has done in weeks. I took that as a sign. But, luckily, she was well-behaved throughout the rest of the appointment, and we left with an (officially) American baby. She slept soundly on the way home (never flinching at the announcements on the Tube or the jostling of the carriage on the Victoria line or the constant opening and closing of the doors), and it was only as we were on the bus on the last leg of the journey that she kicked off because she was hungry.

Navigating London's public transport system was a feat in itself and required a kind of military precision. I had the route well planned ahead of time, but that didn't make handling a pram on the Tube any easier or fighting our way through the crowds on Oxford Street any more enjoyable. Traveling into London with a baby really makes me empathetic to those who are handicapped because the London Underground is not wheelchair- or pushchair-friendly. Still, we managed, and although I don't plan on taking Crumpet into London that often while she's still little (it's just too much of a hassle and leaves me far too stressed and exhausted to actually enjoy the experience), the journey did make me a bit more confident if we have to do it again.

When I was a kid and I imagined what my future life would be like when I was a grown up, I couldn't have pictured myself living across the ocean with an English husband and an English/American baby. Life takes us in many different directions and never ceases to amaze me.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Channeling My Inner Earth Mother

The weaning stage is upon us. After several weeks of sleepless nights that have been worse than when Crumpet was a newborn, I have decided to introduce solids into her diet. For the past week, I have been skinning sweet potatoes, pitting peaches, and blitzing bananas in preparation. No jarred food for me (unless we're traveling, of course). Not that I have anything against those cute little jars (in fact, I quite like looking at the smiling face of the Gerber baby), but, honestly, how long does it really take to boil and blend a few carrots? At least this way I know exactly what goes into Crumpet's food. I don't have to worry about it being sweetened with apple juice or have polysyllabic oils added to it. Besides, I question anything that has a shelf life of two years. And I figure I'll be saving a small fortune this way. At 60p a jar, I'll probably end up throwing most of it away anyway, since Crumpet will probably take two bites if I'm lucky. When a whole bag of carrots costs about 40p, there's no comparison. Maybe I'll suggest to The Other Half that we use the savings for a holiday somewhere sunny (I'm ignoring the fact that that flies in the face of my whole money-saving venture in the first place...).

So we now have a section of the freezer specifically devoted to Crumpet's food. I have cubes of apple, pear, sweet potato, plum, and other yummy treats just waiting for her to enjoy... and spit out and chuck on the floor! It's all part of the fun of it, I suppose.

It's surprising how excited I've gotten over "mush," as The Other Half puts it. Annabel Karmel would be proud.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Winter Wonderland

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves...

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

American Woman

I have quite a patchwork ancestry: half Slovenian, a quarter Norwegian, a little bit of Pennsylvania Dutch, and a smidgen of Native American. And even though it has been generations since my ancestors emigrated to America, I always identified myself in these terms instead of simply as an American.

A little over two years ago, when I moved to the U.K., my attitude changed. Suddenly, I was the immigrant (a label which, in itself, made me rethink some of the views I once held, but I digress...). I began to identify myself more as an American. It's funny how sometimes it takes leaving your comfort zone to really find yourself. But, despite my growing sense of identity, I sometimes felt like I had to defend myself. No, we didn't all vote for Bush, I'd find myself saying. Yes, some of us can find England on a map. And most of us do know that Africa is a continent and not a country.

But, today, it's suddenly "cool" to be an American again.

I am still on an emotional high after the inauguration of President Obama. I was glued to the BBC yesterday evening as I watched the enormous crowds, stretching as far as the eye could see, gather on the Mall to witness history in the making. Part of me felt very disconnected with what was taking place on the other side of the pond, like I missed a great party and then had to listen to everyone talk about it the next day. But the euphoria that pulsated throughout Washington certainly reverberated across the globe, and I was glad to be a part of it in my own little way. The bar is definitely set high for President Obama, but today marks a real change for America and the rest of the world.