Monday, 30 December 2013

Emerging From My Cave

It certainly does feel like I am emerging from a cave. I have been so neglectful of anything writing-related this year that I am embarrassed to even talk [write] about it. That's not to say that there haven't been enough blog-worthy events this year, but full-time teaching and mommy-ing have taken precedence.

I do hope to be better in the New Year, but I hesitate to make a resolution because, well, you know...

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

British By Marriage

Today is an historic day, and not just because of Lady Thatcher's funeral. As of today, I am officially a subject of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. So I guess I'm no longer "accidentally English" but, instead, "British by marriage." (I'm contemplating making this my new blog name; what do you think?)
With the Mayor of Barnet after the citizenship ceremony
I was one of 32 people from 20 different countries receiving their British citizenship this morning at Hendon Town Hall in North London. The ceremony itself was short (about 30 minutes) and included the Mayor of Barnet giving us a brief address about what a milestone this is for many of us, followed by us making our oath or affirmation and pledge and singing the national anthem. While I have always said that my obtaining citizenship is more of a formality than anything else, it still felt very moving to be in a room with so many people who have worked so hard to be granted this privilege. And it was quite emotional to think about my own journey to this point and the changes that have occurred in my life over the past ten years, even though my road may have been very different from some of the others'. In the end, it wasn't just the piece of paper I thought it would be; it was an affirmation of my allegiance to my family.

The day didn't exactly go according to plan. I took the whole day off of work, as did The Other Half, and our intention was to attend the ceremony together this morning without the girls, who would be at nursery and with the childminder, and then take the opportunity to go for a sort of celebratory lunch; time to ourselves is a rarity these days, and the girls (especially Cupcake) are still a little too young to understand the importance of the occasion. We would end the day with tea and cake at home once we picked up the girls this afternoon. But our household has been invaded by a nasty bug this week, and this morning The Other Half woke up its latest victim, so at the last minute -- with no time to reschedule -- I ended up setting off on my own. He was really disappointed, but what can you do. Hearing that I was alone, my mother-in-law, bless her, rushed out to meet me at the town hall so I would at least have someone there to support me. I told The Other Half he can make it up to me another time. I think I struck fear in his heart when I told him to "surprise me."

When I showed Crumpet my commemorative photo of the event (as if the £851 I spent applying for citizenship wasn't enough, they managed to fleece another £10 out of me for the photo, but I suppose it is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, so I coughed it up) and explained to her what it meant, she said, "Next time when we go to America you have to tell your mummy and daddy that you're half British now." Indeed (as if they didn't already know).
Hendon Town Hall

Friday, 15 February 2013

The February Blues

There are few things more depressing than February in England. It may be the shortest month of the year, but the endless days of gray just seem to drag on forever. The cold seems to crawl under your skin and take up residence there, and the snow that I thought was exciting in January is now just plain annoying. Add to that the viruses we've all been fighting off, which have left us housebound for days at a time, and I'm officially (beyond) ready for spring. Every year about this time, I complain to The Other Half, "Next year, we're getting out of England for some winter sun." I'm thinking of a beach somewhere in the Canary Islands....

But since that longed-for beach is still in my dreams this year, I've been doing my best to bring a little comfort to us here at home, which means lots of cooking and baking. I've made rice pudding and oatmeal raisin cookies, the obligatory pancakes for Pancake Day, warming spiced soups and hearty chili and cornbread. This weekend, I have plans for a sticky syrup sponge pudding with custard and maybe a bread and butter pudding. I'll probably have to be rolled out of the house after I'm finished, but at least the walking I'll be doing when I resume my daily commute in a couple of weeks should help shed any extra pounds (and guilt) I may pack on.

And it's that inevitable return to work that has me a little extra depressed this February. These past 10+ months at home have been such a blessing, and in many ways I don't want it to end. But another part of me is looking forward to using that part of my brain again, and of course that makes me feel guilty as well, even though I know it shouldn't. I remind myself that, beyond the fact that, financially, I don't have a choice about going back to work (so far, none of my lottery tickets has yielded a windfall), by going out and doing something that I enjoy and that makes me feel confident about myself (most days) I am actually setting a good example for my girls. Still, it's hard to keep that in mind when my four-year-old is literally crying for me to stay home. I suppose this is the plight of every working mother. But recognizing that I am not the only one who has had to go through these emotions does not make them seem any less important.

Next week is Half Term, and we have several fun things planned to beat the February blues and make the most of our time together before I do resume the daily grind and life gets even more hectic. And I remind myself that, once back at work, there are only four weeks until the Easter holiday. Let the countdown begin.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Covent Garden's unique Christmas tree made of Jack Daniels whiskey barrels
Many people in America packed away their Christmas decorations long before today (i.e., the 26th of December), but on this side of the pond we embrace all twelve days of Christmas, so we're just now returning our household to its pre-Christmas state.

There is something very magical about an English Christmas, and I enjoy every opportunity for merriment and festivity. Maybe it's the fact that the English tend to celebrate the Christmas season, as opposed to just one day (or two, if you happen to celebrate Christmas Eve like my family did growing up). Like I said, they take the twelve days of Christmas literally here, which is why most companies shut down for the week between Christmas and New Year, instead of giving their employees one measly day to celebrate with their families. Or maybe it's the energy of the city, which we experienced a few weekends ago on a rare trip into town for some Christmas shopping. (To be fair, I'm sure New York celebrates Christmas in pretty spectacular fashion.) Or maybe it's the characteristically "Christmassy" (i.e., "freakin' cold") weather here that adds to the atmosphere. Whatever the reason, I do love an English Christmas (especially the mulled wine and mince pies!).

It occurred to me recently that, although The Other Half and I have been married for over six years, this was actually our first Christmas at home, having always been at either my parents' in America or my in-laws'. Which means that I have never had the responsibility of cooking the big holiday meal. But, even though I say so myself, I think it went pretty successfully. I cooked a light dinner on Christmas Eve and then did the whole Christmas Day brunch and dinner thing for the four of us and my mother-in-law, who then took her turn as hostess on Boxing Day and the 27th. Including various pre- and post-Christmas parties/gatherings, we ate for about five straight days. It was brilliant. I didn't feel the least bit guilty. My menu consisted of chestnut soup on Christmas Eve; baked French toast with Greek yogurt (flavored with honey and clementine) for brunch on Christmas morning; and a sort of Anglo-American Christmas dinner of honey-glazed ham, mashed potatoes, carrots, braised peas with leeks, and spiced red cabbage. The main course was followed by a dessert of Christmas pudding with homemade brandy butter and a cranberry meringue parfait and, of course, cheese and biscuits and port later in the evening. We snacked on sausage rolls, homemade mince pies, and other sweets and treats throughout the day. All in all, it was a relatively quiet Christmas, but very memorable as it was Cupcake's first. It was so special to see Crumpet get so excited about Father Christmas in the lead-up to Christmas morning (this being the first year she has really understood what it's all about) and to then see both girls playing with their new toys together (each being more interested in what the other had, of course).

And now, as quickly as the season arrived, it's over again, and I am trying not to think of all of the things I have to accomplish within the next month and a half before I return to work. How long is it till Easter break?

I'll leave you with just a few snapshots of the season.
View of the Tower of London from on board the HMS Belfast, site of my school's staff Christmas party
Tower Bridge... every time I see it, I fall in love with London all over again
New Year's Day in the countryside -- the fringes, at least (Forty Hall, Enfield)