Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Our Annual Holiday: An Encore

For most Brits, the annual "holiday" is a sacred institution. For those with school-aged kids, it is either the Easter Holiday or the Summer Holiday, and everything seems to be planned around this monumental event. And, for those of us without school-aged kids (which is still the case with us until next January), we try to avoid these holiday times at all cost. (I'm lucky in that the school I work at goes on Spring Break a week before the rest of the British schools and finishes for the summer three weeks before everyone else, so we have managed to avoid the main crowds for the past couple of years.)

Most holidays consist of jetting off to some sunny locale like the Costa del Sol, Greece, Turkey, or any number of islands -- the Canaries, the Azores, or the Cape Verde Islands, for example. "British" holidays don't really count as holidays for most people; I guess the UK isn't exotic enough, though I've been lucky enough to visit some pretty spectacular places here in Britain.

I can't speak for all international couples, but in our case a holiday is a bit of a complicated affair. I make sure that we schedule at least one trip back to the States a year; before we had Crumpet, it was much easier (and cheaper) to go back, so I sometimes managed two trips a year. The Other Half counts this trip as a holiday (and, according to our credit card bills, it qualifies as one), but as much as I love going home to visit my family and friends, I don't really consider these visits a holiday in the true sense of the word. To me, a holiday is a luxury; our trips back to the States are more of a necessity in my book. So we have to agree to disagree on that one.

Last month, we had a lovely kind of last-minute and unexpected holiday in Northern France, which would have been our "annual holiday," but we are now planning a second holiday (I know, it's a bit of an indulgence, but totally justified, in my opinion) to... drumroll, please... IRELAND!

Yes, we are headed to the Emerald Isle at the end of July -- incidentally, in the first week of the summer holidays I previously mentioned we try to avoid. My sister, brother-in-law, and nephew will be meeting us there, and we are renting a cottage together. We are still working out the details, but we will be staying in County Clare, in the West -- home to such natural wonders as the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren; and just a short ferry ride away are the mystical, car-free Aran Islands.

In the nearly nine years since I first came to England (nearly five of which I have actually lived here), I have never been to Ireland, even though it's just a short hop away. So I am beyond excited.

Castle and ruins and pubs... oh my!
Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Kids Say the Darndest Things: Redux

Crumpet's developing vocabulary and language skills have been the subject of many a blog post. At two and three quarters, I am literally amazed by the new things she comes out with every day. Lately, she has been telling stories to her toys, and last night she surprised me by "reading" an entire Peppa Pig book (actually, she had just memorized it because we had read it to her so much, but she said it perfectly and in sync with the right pages and pictures). But this morning she truly proved her creativity... and growing cheekiness.

As she was eating her porridge, she attempted to pour her milk into her bowl, something she has been told not to do many times because she just ends up making a mess. So I told her again not to do it. This time she replied, with her finger pressed to her lips, "Shh, my porridge is talking to me." "Really?" I said. "What is it saying?" And then, in the porridge's "voice": "'Crumpet [my substitution here, of course], I'd like some more milk.'"

Gotta give her credit for her imagination, although I'm not sure if this quick-thinking is a good thing or if it just spells trouble for the future...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Fun With Language: Part 2

Last year, I wrote a post about Crumpet's expanding vocabulary and the development of a very hybrid accent. Now, at two and a half years old, her accent is distinctly British. At least, according to my sister. I personally don't notice it so much because I hear her every day and, to me, she doesn't sound especially British or American; she just sounds like my Crumpet.

However, the most interesting linguistic evolution that has occurred this year is my changing accent. When I first moved to the UK nearly five years ago, I never thought I would lose my American accent. Sure, early on I adopted new words like aubergine instead of eggplant and lorry instead of truck because, quite frankly, it was easier than having to correct myself when people gave me blank stares or chuckled in response. On one of my first trips back to North Carolina after moving to the UK, one of my friends even noticed that I had started to use the phrase "ring me" instead of "call me." But I was particularly adamant that I would not turn into Madonna and adopt some faux-British accent.

When you have a child who pronounces bath bahth and tomayto tomahto, however, it's bound to rub off on you. I now find myself enunciating my ts (as in butter, not budder, and water instead of wadder), saying musn't and naughty (in a very affected sort of way, not in a way that sounds like the word has ds in it), and calling myself "Mummy." On our recent holiday, I even found myself wavering between saying France and the very-British sounding Frahnce, depending on my mood.

I guess, like all species, I am simply adapting to my new habitat. But as soon as I set foot on Carolina soil (or speak to my family or friends), there is a slight twang that returns.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Springtime in France

Veules-les-Roses, Normandy
It's been almost two weeks since we returned from our spring holiday in Northern France, and it is already starting to feel like a distant memory.

We stayed for nearly a week with extended family in Montreuil-sur-Mer in the Pas-de-Calais region. I admit that my initial reaction when we first started planning our holiday was not very enthusiastic; I had an image of Calais as a tacky port full of Brits doing cheap booze runs. While there may be an element of truth to that, the area outside of "Calais proper" is lovely and underrated. Montreuil itself is a walled town and is famous as the setting of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. With cobbled streets, half-timbered buildings, and even a Michelin-starred restaurant, Montreuil certainly lives up to its "storybook" reputation.
Montreuil-sur-Mer
The surrounding villages in the Vallée de la Course (those nestled within the valley of the Course River) and Les Sept Vallées (the Seven Valleys) are quintessentially "French": quaint, picturesque, and just about every other cliché adjective you can think of. Northern France is known for its good cheese and chocolate, and I can vouch for that.

During that first week, we took gentle strolls around the town's ramparts, enjoyed long evening meals with good food and wine, and explored some of the surrounding villages and seaside towns. The Étaples Military Cemetery was both surprising and overwhelming, and the Dutch-influenced city of Arras was an interesting day out. I have a hard time slowing down and doing "nothing" while I'm on holiday (my first instinct is to "see" as many things as possible, but I'm working on that), but we struck a nice balance between relaxation and activity.

After we left Montreuil, we headed to Upper Normandy for another three days, where we did a bit of touring. We stayed near Forges-les-Euax, an old spa town in the heart of the countryside, and took day trips to Veules-les-Roses and Rouen. The latter is the capital of Normandy, and The Other Half and I had been there nearly six years ago when I led a group of American high-schoolers on a trip through Europe and he accompanied me as a chaperone. It was nice to return, especially with Crumpet. Funny how it seemed bigger than both of us remembered. Veules-les-Roses was a lucky find recommended to us by the owner of the B & B where we stayed and is probably one of the most beautiful villages I have ever seen, so much so that I'm having a hard time doing it justice with an appropriate description.

In the first few days after we returned, we managed to avoid the usual post-holiday blues by keeping ourselves busy every day – mostly with outdoor activities since the weather has been unseasonably hot and sunny. When the sun shines here in England, you take advantage of it because you never know how long it will last. But now that the slightly cooler weather has returned, the chocolate eggs that Crumpet found over Easter weekend are rapidly disappearing, the Royal Wedding is over, and I've had time to catalogue our photos and reflect on our holiday, I'm thinking wistfully of the next time we can hop the Channel.
Chateau Martainville, Normandy