Thursday, November 30, 2006

Little things mean a lot

Evan doesn't appear to remember what color our house was in the States. "I think it might be pink," he replied with a funny quizzical look on his face when I asked him about it the other day. Ditto our old car, which is causing him similar amounts of confusion. "It was definitely white, I think," he says of the vehicle which inspired him to scream "blue car" each and every time we entered our garage or approached it in a parking lot. Despite all of this American amnesia, his memory is as sharp as ever when it comes to our British domicile. He'll rattle off our street address unprompted to virtually anyone he meets and appears to be making a hobby of learning the post codes for all of the neighborhoods we frequent.

I noticed this morning on the way to school a certain confidence in Julia's step that I've not been aware of up until now. (Yes, these two paragraphs are related. Bear with me.) She was skipping along, swinging her reading folder and chattering away about her upcoming day. She seemed happy and comfortable and entirely in her element. A posh London private school which bears little resemblance to her friendly and nurturing American preschool? No problem. She couldn't wait to get there. She belongs there now.

Upon further reflection, I must also add that I have not turned my key the wrong way when locking my door for at least a week or two now. And I've given two people directions in the past few days without having to consult my A to Z first. And two different friends called me this morning to make some plans and just chat a bit.

Do you think it's possible that this place is starting to be home?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

It looks like Santa threw up in Julia's school today.

The teachers obviously went into full swing with the holiday decoration thing last night, because we walked into a holiday wonderland when we passed through the school doors this morning. Glittering ornaments adorn a prominent tree and the hallways and classrooms are literally decked with holiday artwork. There are Santas and reindeer and snowmen and trees and angels and bells and stars of Bethlehem and more than a few gingerbread men. Oh, and in the corner of Julia's classroom, there are a small selection of tissue paper menorahs and a little sign that says Happy Chanukah.

The sheer mass of holiday artwork took my breath away, I have to admit. The projects are lovely and creative and imaginative, and it's clear that the children had a wonderful time constructing them. I've actually heard Julia mention many of these projects in the past few weeks, and I know that art has been her very favorite part of the day as the class has prepared for this overwhelming display of holiday largess. I knew it was coming. And yet, I was unprepared. Unprepared for how I would feel about my Jewish child's first "school Christmas."

It all looks familiar, of course. I made more than my share of Santas as a child and sang more than my share of songs about reindeer games as an American public school child, and I always knew that Julia and Evan would do the same someday. But like everything else -- the full days of school and the French classes and the desk work and the handwriting lessons -- it came sooner than I had expected. I never particularly minded all of the fuss that teachers made over Christmas, even though the holiday was not my own. Hell, I grew up and married a Christian guy and I celebrate Christmas with him each year, so who am I to talk? But as I stood there today drowning in tinsel and cotton ball snow, I felt an odd sinking feeling in my gut as I realized for the first time that this is the year that Julia is going to discover that she is a minority.

Last year in school, Julia learned to light the menorah and play the dreidel game. Her art projects involved paper latkes and stars of David. Everyone she knew, save her father, her cousins and a few close friends, celebrated Chanukah. And this year? This year, her class all wrote letters to Santa. This year, there is a small selection of tissue paper menorahs in the corner and a little sign that says Happy Chanukah. I wonder if my daughter is possibly old enough to notice and to understand what it all means. And I honestly can't decide if I want her to or not.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Cannot. Blog. Must. Complete. Holiday. Shopping.

All around me, Londoners seem blissfully unaware of the fact that this week is so different than last week. But I am an American, and I know that Thanksgiving is the invisible line in the sand. Last week, it didn't matter that I had yet to begin even making holiday lists or plans. I had all the time in the world. And then we ate turkey, and suddenly I realized just how behind I was. I began researching scooters and hunting for Little Einsteins paraphernalia and purchasing coloring books as if my life depended on it. I? Was in holiday mode. Big time.

I thought that I was doing pretty well. In 3 days, I managed to cross a heck of a lot of things off of my list. The Amazon boxes have already started to arrive by the boatload. "Maybe this won't be so bad this year," I thought. And then today, a friend handed me my first holiday card (she's American of course). Sigh.

Cannot. Blog. Must. Take. Holiday. Photo.

Is it January yet?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Truth is stranger than fiction (and that's why my team won Charades last night)

It's easily been at least 10 - 15 years since I've managed to catch more than 30 seconds of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. We're always trying to time our trip from New Jersey to New York in accordance with the parade schedule so that we don't get caught in any post-event traffic. As we're rushing around the house gathering up sippy cups and the garlic mashed potatoes, we'll occasionally turn the television on quickly to see if we're still ahead of the game. Inevitably, Santa's already parading down the block and we'll know that we're in for some serious road rage.

But not this year! This year, the kids and I watched more of the parade than we've seen in years, courtesy of a streaming video feed we found online. "Are they in London? It looks kind of like London," Evan kept saying as we watched the balloons and marching bands pass across the screen. "Don't be silly," Julia would reply. "Look, they're all holding brellys. And it's not raining in London today." Irony, eh?

It was, in the end, a lovely Thanksgiving. The highlight for Evan was discovering that when the grocery store does not sell chopped walnuts, it is suddenly acceptable to use a toy hammer on the granite counter tops.

The highlight for Paul was discovering that not only did he not have to hand wash any china, but our primarily shrink wrapped meal meant that there were actually very few things that needed to be washed at all.

And the highlight for me was being on the winning Charades team yet again. (Tina Turner in under 30 seconds! Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction while the rest of the assembled team just sat there scratching their heads and riffing on Mike's name! Take that, Atlantic Ocean separating me from my loved ones!) Yes, it is possible to be home for the holidays even without the hassle of air travel. Thanks to the Skype webcam, my mom's new birthday laptop and a very thoughtful and accommodating Thanksgiving party, Paul and I sat at the dinner table with my family and joined them for a rousing Charades game after the festive meal. We may have missed the yummy squash and some decadent pies, but we didn't miss the laughter or the camaraderie or the fun. If only I'd remembered to buy those After Dinner Mints, it would have been a proper Thanksgiving after all...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A new kind of home for the holidays

Back in June, when we initially told my parents that we were considering a move to the U.K., the first thing that I said to my mother was "don't worry... we'll be home for Thanksgiving." I really did believe that then. It was easy to promise to return when we hadn't even left yet, before things like acclimating the kids to a new school and figuring out a whole new lifestyle and calculating the cost of airfare for 4 on a holiday weekend felt like real issues. I promised that we'd return for Thanksgiving many times in the following weeks of indecision and waiting and planning. But by the time we actually left, I'd stopped saying it. The closer we got to really making an international move, the more I knew in my heart that bopping back to the States for some turkey two months later wasn't likely to happen. And I was right. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of the year, the one I always without fail spend with my family. And this year, I am in London.

There are a million reasons why we're not going home for the holiday, the most important of which is that it's simply too soon. If I went back to the States right now and saw all of my family and friends, I honestly think that I'd be very hard pressed to get on a plane and come back here. It's not that I'm not happy to be living in London or that I don't feel a little more at home here every day, because I am and I do. Truly. But it's not home yet. And the thought of going to a real home, a comforting place where everything is easy and familiar, fills me with such longing that I know it's probably not a good idea to do it just yet. It's too soon for me to visit without regret, too soon for me to return here at the end of our trip and feel like I've come home. Even if I did think that I could easily slide in and out of that world for a few days, now would be a lousy time to head overseas. Paul's got work, Julia has school, my parents will be here in a few weeks anyway... it's just not the right time.

Even though I've known for a while that we were going to be here for the 4th Thursday in November, I've been putting off planning for Thanksgiving for weeks. I knew that I wanted to celebrate the holiday in some way, but I couldn't envision anything that would feel right. I didn't want to invite people we hardly knew and add the pressure of hosting guests onto the strain of inevitable homesickness, but I didn't want the day to feel like any other, either. I didn't want to spend hours preparing a meal that only Paul and I would be likely to eat, but I didn't want to miss out on any of our holiday favorites, either. "We'll eat turkey, of course," I kept saying, but I wasn't actually putting any effort into procuring said turkey or figuring out how to fit it and a half dozen side dishes into my teeny tiny British oven. I simply didn't want to be in London for Thanksgiving, and so I simply opted not to think about it for as long as possible. (For future reference, things don't actually seem to resolve themselves too well with this approach.)

I ran out of time on my avoidance tactics this week. No magic carpet had arrived to swoop me into my parents' hearth and home and it was becoming increasingly clear that a turkey with all the trimmings would not be flying in on any such imaginary transport device either. I was on my own, and if I wanted Thanksgiving, I was giving to have to cobble something together myself. Thank God for online grocery shopping. My holiday order will arrive later this afternoon, complete with a turkey breast, an odd assortment of somewhat familiar pre-made dishes, and some ingredients that I think I can use to concoct reasonable facsimiles of other Thanksgiving favorites. Paul will go to work tomorrow and Julia will go to school, of course, but Evan and I will cook while they're gone, and after they get home, we will all sit down for a festive Thanksgiving meal. Later, when the kids are in bed, Paul and I hope to crack open a bottle of wine, hook up the Skype webcams and remotely participate in my family's annual Charades competition (prepare to lose this year, Dad). It will not be perfect. It will not be "right." But it will be an American Thanksgiving in London, and hopefully, it will be enough.

Yesterday, I suddenly realized that without American teachers to pound the Thanksgiving story into their heads for the past several weeks, my kids had no idea what the impending holiday was even about. Scrambling to rectify this, I inundated them with a confusing monologue all about pilgrims and turkey and giving thanks. I'm sure they both thought that Thanksgiving must just be another time than Mom gets a little crazy, and they were probably right. But they did get the idea of thankfulness pretty quickly, at least, and when I asked them what they were thankful for, they immediately regaled me with long lists of family and friends and a few odd toys that they especially love. Julia in particular made me smile as she listed her American and British friends in one intermingled list of people she was thankful for. "I have a LOT of friends now that we have the people back home and the people here, don't I?" she asked me.

She does indeed. We all do now. Being away from who and what we love at the holidays is hard, but opening ourselves up to a larger world than that which we've always known has its own rewards. I'm immensely thankful for this experience, difficult holidays and all. I'm thankful for the people on two different continents who have befriended me and supported me and seen me through this surprising, unexpected and adventurous year. I'm thankful for the family members back home who have forgiven us our failure to make good on our "home for Thanksgiving" promise and have done their best to include us in the celebration from a distance. I'm grateful for the family I do have here, for the amazing husband and wonderful children whose presence somehow makes this flat feel like home even though the world outside still feels unfamiliar and foreign. And all of that thankfulness sort of makes me start to feel like it must be Thanksgiving.

I have no ugly black cornucopia here, nor a creative sister-in-law to arrange it artistically. I don't even have a white tablecloth to spread over the table. I can eat as much of the green bean casserole as I like without fighting a certain Thanksgiving guest for it, but without the fried onions on top, who really cares? My food won't taste nearly as good, and my pies won't be nearly as beautiful. I'm probably going to be singing a solo this year if I insist on We Gather Together before the festive meal. Englebert Humperdink will play little more than a passing role in our holiday celebration. I won't have the sheer pleasure of waking up the day after Thanksgiving in a house overflowing with the people I love best in the world. And shit, I forgot the After Dinner Mints which no one ever has room for but everyone always eats 12 of anyway. But in a year when we have so very much more than we ever hoped or dreamed, to also have the memory of all of those things, and the certain knowledge that I will be able to return to them in future years is a luxury indeed. I know that in my heart. And I am very, very thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I do this stuff so you don't have to (you can thank me later)

On behalf of my family and the poor, unsuspecting houseguests whom we subjected to just about the worst tourist activity in all of London this past weekend, I feel duty bound to offer this little public service announcement to all future London tourists.

Admission to Madame Tussauds: a total waste of money

Hours spent in Madame Tussauds: a total waste of time

Photo of my little Einsteins with the big man himself:
still not worth the trip, but damn cute anyway

Even Albert looks a little bored...

Monday, November 20, 2006

While you're checking out my new flat...

... check out my new online digs, too! Thanks to Julie of Pilcrow Text & Design, I've finally got something in my life not designed by Ikea!

I first met Julie last summer when a freelance writing opportunity fell into my lap. I had no idea how to charge for the gig, and a mutual friend suggested that Julie might be able to advise me a bit. Julie was a terrific resource and I was so grateful to her for sharing her experience and expertise with me so readily. She didn't know me and had nothing to gain from helping me out, and yet she was instantly responsive and friendly and supportive. Her advice helped me to land a decent price for my work, at which point I promptly turned around and threw some of my earnings back at her to design this site!

I have to admit, I'm a lousy client. I gave Julie a half assed set of specs and fairly useless guidance, and yet she came back with a gorgeous design. I was so impressed with her talent and her professionalism, and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to work with her. If you're in the market for a designer, I highly recommend her work. But if you're in the market for a writer, I happen to know someone who now knows just what to charge... :)

Thanks, Julie!

There's nothing like old friends (the ones that come with suitcases AND the ones that come IN suitcases)

We had our first visitors from the States this past weekend! Our friends Rob and Kelly stopped off for a few days in London on their way home from Copenhagen and were just in time to help celebrate Paul's 40th birthday in style. We enjoyed many, many things about their visit, but I must confess that one of the highlights was receiving the care package they brought us from home.

Rob and Kelly don't have kids, and I could tell in Rob's voice that he thought I was a little nuts when I rattled off my shopping list to him a few weeks before they were due to arrive. But good man that he is, he procured the items I requested anyway. I know that every mother who sees this will instantly understand why the pub crawling, sightseeing, good conversation and comfort of being with old friends that we enjoyed this weekend, while lovely, all pale in comparison to the moment when Rob pulled these familiar items out of his suitcase:

Thanks, Rob and Kelly! Come back any time... if you'll keep refilling our American essentials, then the pub refills are on us! That goes for the rest of you all, too. I'm starting to run low on shampoo and ziplock bags...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Enough, already. Get out of my house!

Hard to believe that it could possibly take three whole days to tour this tiny flat. And here I haven't even offered you a cup of tea this whole time. That would be because I don't yet own a tea kettle. Some kind of hostess I turned out to be. But never fear; we're almost done here and then you can wander off in search of a cute little cafe. Hampstead's full of them. Before you go, though, let's take a quick peek into Julia's bedroom. It's amazing how clean I can keep her room now that she's in full day school and therefore never. ever. home.
Her room is huge and it took 2 shots to even attempt to photograph it all. That's a queen sized bed she's got in there, and yet she's still got a ton of floor space to play. I never did manage to capture the full wall of cupboards that are off to the left of this shot. They're basically the only storage space in this whole place, so if you're looking for anything from Paul's golf clubs to Julia's bicycle to spare bedding to my beloved ironing board, chances are good it's stashed in Julia's room.
The massive size of Julia's room is rivaled only by the minuscule size of Evan's. I certainly had no trouble fitting his whole room into a single shot. This is it, and in truth, I think it looks deceptively large in this photo. Thank God he's not old enough to compare or care. Another year or two and I would have been in big trouble...
Come out of Evan's room, turn to the left and there's the kids' bathroom and the door to our room.
The master bedroom's another hard one to capture in a single photo. That's our desk, there, which is where the laptop lives, as well as all of our other assorted junk. You can see all the crap we couldn't find a place for, including Evan's tricycle, shoved underneath it. At least I can't see any of the mess from my side of the bed! Those stained glass windows are really pretty, especially when the sun hits them just right. As you can see from the grey sky outside, that doesn't actually happen too often.I stood up on the windowsill to try to get as much of the room in one shot as possible, which is why this last picture looks so odd. Our bedroom walls are completely bare, and the vast expanse of neutrally unoffensive paint is making me nuts. But it's just a huge amount of space to work with (there are 10 1/2 foot ceilings in this -- and every other -- room) and I have no idea where to begin. In my suburban New Jersey storage facility, where I have some lovely framed floral prints that my father took several years ago? Why, yes! What a great idea. Alas... So there you have it, our humble abode. The only thing missing is family and friends. One of those plaid sofas opens up into a sleeper, folks... Hey, play your cards right and maybe I'll even buy a tea kettle before you arrive.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

House tours, day 2

The tour continues for all two of you who are enjoying it! Step through the doorway from my hall/mudroom into my living room:

This is a tough room to photograph because it is actually quite large. We've got it set up with a living room area and a playroom area, not that the toys don't migrate all over the place anyway. Here's the living room part. I desperately need a big plant or something in the corner (I have the perfect thing sitting in a storage facility in suburban New Jersey... sigh). And if anyone has ideas for filling that very large, very empty wall, I'm all ears. Right now, the focal point is Paul's pride and joy, our new HDTV, purchased courtesy of my brother's pet project.

Behind the couches is the playroom area. These windows get beautiful light for the 6 minutes a day when it's not dark out, making for a nice, sunny play space. We've set up some fabulous train patterns back here, and I love the fact that this area is out of the way enough that I don't feel compelled to break them down every night. As much as I miss my nice big house with lots of rooms, I have to admit that one very large living space is actually much more practical with small children underfoot.
If you turn around from the spot where I was standing to take that last shot, you're looking through our dining room into our kitchen (that's the front door off to the left). This butcher block table was a HUGE mistake. We ought it thinking how nice and easy it would be to sand out marker stains, etc. What we failed to realize was that everything would stain this damn table, necessitating much more frequent sanding than we're ever likely to actually tackle. Oh, well. At least it was cheap... our old kitchen table was equally gross, and we'd actually spent some money on that one.
Here we are in my kitchen. Take a few minutes to remember our old kitchen cabinets that we hated with a passion. Get all the laughter out of your system. Are you done? Great. Then we'll continue...
Ironically, we did briefly consider just putting in dark granite counter tops and cool cabinet pulls before we ended up deciding to re-do our whole New Jersey kitchen. Here is proof that it probably would have worked, because I don't actually hate this kitchen nearly as much as our old one. Nonetheless, I miss the warmth of our cherry cabinets. This kitchen is not really me. Or maybe it is me and I just don't know it, since these silly cabinets seem to follow me everywhere I go.
That's the tour for today, folks! Tomorrow (or maybe this afternoon, depending on how ambitious I get), we'll turn right and head down the hall to the bedrooms. Oooh... Ahhhh....

Welcome! Please take your shoes off by the door and come on in...

I love to visit other people's homes. Part of my interest is pure nosiness, of course; I enjoy seeing different layouts and architecture, and it's always fun to see how others have chosen to decorate their space. But the best part comes after I've left, when I'm able to envision my friends and family in their natural environments. Somehow, it's easier to feel connected to people when you can conjure up a mental picture of their day to day lives. So today, I thought I'd conduct a little house tour to help you all to picture us here in London.

We're on the first floor of our building, which is one flight up. The ground floor doesn't get a number here; it's just "ground." All very confusing to those of us used to entering a building on the first floor. I still feel the need to add "one flight up" to the words "first floor" every time I buzz someone into our building. As you come up the stairs, you'll see our front door:

There is a serious lack of closet space in this flat (a common problem in London's older homes), so when you step into our front door, you are in our main hallway and our mudroom, all at the same time. I can never decide whether I love this or hate this about our flat. The fact that I can see our coats and boots and other belongings hanging in plain sight from virtually any vantage point in my home is annoying, but I've always wanted a mudroom, and this is the closest I've ever gotten to one!

From the front hallway/mudroom, you can walk straight through a doorway into our living room, turn left to enter our dining room, or turn right to head toward the bedrooms and bathrooms. It's pretty hard to get a picture of the living room from that angle, but hopefully, you can get a sense of the layout from this left-facing view. That's our dining room, obviously, with the living room beyond. The kitchen, which we'll get to later, is through a doorway on the left wall of the dining room. Note Evan's green coat in the corner of the shot to help orient you (it's hanging by the front door).

Now I've turned to the right, and the dining room's directly behind me. That's the powder room (or "cloakroom," which I just think is kind of odd because what are you cloaking, exactly?) to the left, and Evan's bedroom straight ahead. The kids' bathroom and our bedroom are down the hallway to the left and Julia's room is down the hallway to the right. Oh, and there's that green coat again! Not very big, this city flat...

Blogger seems to be limiting the number of photos I can add to one post, so I guess this is going to become a series. You've now seen as much of my flat as any delivery person ever sees! Tomorrow, we'll turn left and do the kitchen, dining room and living room. Tune in for your exciting glimpse of our own personal Ikea showroom, not to mention a good laugh for anyone who remembers the bleached beech kitchen cabinets which we put so much time, energy and money into removing from our New Jersey home last year...

Monday, November 13, 2006

British beef

The scene: A local gastropub

The occasion: Our first "night out on the town" in London, testing out a brand new babysitter by staying relatively close to home.

Me: (studying the menu) Mmm.... the fillet looks good.

Paul: It does look good. But it's not a "fil-lay" here. They call it a "fil-let."

Me: Shut up! They do not.

Paul: Really, they do.

Me: How could that be? The word is derived from the French, and they pronounce "let" as "lay." It's a "fil-lay." That's just how you say the word. To pronounce it any other way would sound uneducated and just plain wrong.

Paul: Agreed. But they do it anyway. I don't know if it's that they refuse to bastardize the purity of the English language with "imported" words or what. But they definitely pronounce it phonetically. "Fil-let."

Me: Well, not me. I can't. Seriously, I just can't say it. I cannot order a "fil-let" with a straight face. I'd feel ridiculous.

Waitress: Can I take your order?

Me: Yes. I'll have the... steak, please.

Waitress: The "fil-let"? Very good.

Paul: (Muffled laughter.)

Perhaps someday, under great duress, some u's will colour my world and I will realise the value of substituting an s for a z. I might (though I sincerely doubt it) even come to understand the odd British habit of punctuating queries with a period rather than a question mark, though I can't really see why they do that, can you. (Ick. Really bad.) But mark my words, I will never be able to order a "fil-let" with a straight face. Ever.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Day 62

Julia was greeted at the door of her classroom today by a friend who appeared to be waiting for her. The two girls slipped off into the room, smiling and talking, and were soon joined by a third girl who joined their circle. I watched them for a moment and then walked away, fighting back inexplicable tears.

It sounds like such a little thing, for one child to greet another. It is a little thing. Hell, Julia was greeted at the classroom door by one cheerful little girl or another every single day last year and I never thought all that much about it. The fact that my child was well liked and included by her peers was lovely, of course, but not particularly noteworthy or unusual. Don't most 4 year olds like each other?

But here, where I've watched my daughter repeatedly stand alone on the fringes of birthday party fun? Here, where I've heard more times than I can count "I just played alone today, but it was OK, really" from my stoic, resigned kid? Here, where Julia's teacher recently told me that she has never, in all of her years of teaching, seen such an incredibly shy child? Here, it is something very special indeed.

We have been in London for 62 days, and today, for the first time, Julia was greeted at the door of her classroom by a friend who appeared to be waiting for her. Hallelujah.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bon appetit

It's barely past noon and already, my mouth is watering thinking about dinner tonight. A whole roasted chicken, seasoned with lemon and fresh herbs and basted with butter, with sides of lemon and rosemary flavored rice and fresh seasonal vegetables. There's nothing like a good, home cooked meal on a chilly autumn evening. Except... to call this meal "home cooked" would involve taking an enormous amount of credit for opening and closing the oven and microwave doors.

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I really haven't cooked since we've been in the U.K. I claim that my issues are all logistical; I can't find any familiar ingredients, I'm completely confused by my celsius-based fan oven, the kitchen does not afford me an easy vantage point to keep an eye on my kids. All of those things are true, of course. But the bottom line is that I'm simply not motivated to cook because it's so damn easy to find good prepared food here. The chicken I'll serve tonight came cleaned, seasoned and shrink-wrapped into a disposable foil pan, with a fresh lemon in its cavity and a pat of butter on top just waiting to melt over the bird once it's in the oven. The rice is in a microwave pack that needs simply to be vented and microwaved for 2 minutes. The vegetables, similarly seasoned and packaged, need just a few minutes of nuking as well. Voila. A "real" meal, and a delicious one to boot. No preservatives or unhealthy ingredients. No mess. No effort. No shame.

Well, all except the last one. I can't help but feel a little ashamed as I rip open our dinner packages each evening. It's not that I aspire to housewifely excellence or anything, nor was I exactly winning any creative meal-making awards back in the States, either. I keep telling myself that I'm shopping, making healthy meal choices and putting them on the table for my family each day. Shouldn't that be enough, especially with all of the ironing I suddenly find myself needing to do around here?

Yes, I do feel a bit guilty that my recipes and cookware sit unused in drawers while my scissors get a heavy workout puncturing plastic wrapping. But I'll find a way to justify my actions and continue to buy the yummy dishes that someone else has already slaved over anyways. It's my one little indulgence here, to not work hard at meal-making while I'm working so hard at everything else. When it's time to head back to the States, I'm sure I'll take my London memories and my dusty, unused Calphalon and return to a life of cooking dinner for my family each night. There are many, many things about that time that I'm already looking forward to. But the dinner thing? Not so much. I think I'll stay here and enjoy my shrink-wrapped chickens for as long as possible, thank you very much.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Getting personals

There's a great section in one of the free daily papers that seem to be available everywhere in London called "Lovestruck." In it, people advertise their interest in virtual strangers, hoping to make connections with attractive individuals they've encountered around town ("You offered me your seat on the Northern Line, but I couldn't find the words to say I'd really rather share it with you..." "We bumped into each other on the High Street today. You: red scarf. Me: red face. Let's see what else we have in common."). I can't imagine anyone really makes a genuine connection this way, but it's fun to read the section anyway and to imagine the romances that might bloom as a result of such humble beginnings.

It occurred to me today that they ought to start an entirely new version of the "Lovestruck" column for expats who are new to the area and looking to do their own form of outreach and personal matchmaking:

I waited behind you in the Post Office queue and overheard you enquiring about cheap phone rates overseas. Let's get together for coffee and commiserate about the loved ones we left behind. I'll even teach you to use Skype!

The other patrons may have looked annoyed, but your kids' loud, American voices made me feel right at home in a coffee shop today. Let's get our little ones together and make a big scene at the playground.

You stood over the produce section for such a long time at Waitrose yesterday, and I knew the look of confusion on your face all too well. Would it help if I told you that you need to ask for aubergine if you want to make Eggplant Parm?

I overheard you as you pushed your strollers in front of me, talking to each other about places and activities I'd love to try, too. I didn't want to be a third wheel... unless a threesome appeals to you? If so, please call. I push a very narrow stroller, so I think we can fit 3-across on most sidewalks.

The friendships, they are coming. Slowly, tentatively, I can feel myself planting seeds which I hope will grow over time. "I keep needing to remind myself that this is home, even if just for now," a fellow New Yorker whom I met today commented, and I knew exactly what she meant. (We exchanged numbers when we parted and agreed to try out a local book club together.) A little time, a little perseverance, a little patience, I will form my own community here. But if there were a "Lovestruck" for people like me, looking to start from scratch at such an endeavor? I can't imagine I'd be the only one scanning the ads each day, hoping to make some immediate connections of my own.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A reason to stay in England for a second year

I had been looking forward to my first Guy Fawkes Day in the UK for a while. I understood the basic gist of the holiday; I knew the story of the attempt to blow up Parliament and I had heard all about the festivities and the bonfires and the fireworks that traditionally commemorate the event, but I wanted to see for myself what all of the excitement was about.

It turned out to be about fireworks from my window and little else. There were plenty of local celebrations taking place, certainly, and I could smell the bonfires from my window. But that was as close as I got to the fun. Some odd viral thing took hold of me on Thursday and knocked me off my feet for three long, miserable days. The weekend came and went, and with it, Guy Fawkes Day, and I slept through almost the whole damn thing.

So much for immersing myself in local customs and cultures; one of the biggest British traditions of the year happened this weekend and the only thing I immersed myself in was my pillow. A disappointing turn of events, to be sure. But you win some, you lose some, right? On Guy Fawkes Day, the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot lost one, and this year, so did I. Maybe next year I'll have better luck than they ever did.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

An American tradition, British-style

To be honest, I'm still not quite sure how Halloween works around here, even a day after the fact. Like many American traditions, the British have begun to adopt Halloween in recent years, but it hasn't quite caught on with the type of fervor we expect in the States. Some people trick or treat in London, others don't, and there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to any of it. The deal seems to be this: if there is a glowing pumpkin outside a house, you're fairly likely to find someone handing out candy there.

Not exactly clear cut guidelines for someone still so confused by nearly everything around here that I require a guidebook, a map and implicit instructions for even the simplest outing. If I'm going to take my children out, in the dark no less, and encourage them to knock on strangers' doors, I want to be damn sure that they're expected there. Alas, it doesn't seem to work that way here. So it was with some trepidation that we set out trick or treating this year; two children bouncing off the walls with excitement and one adult desperately missing the familiar Halloween routine of our old neighborhood.

Thankfully, our new neighbors did not disappoint. Houses with glowing pumpkins were few and far between, and dozens and dozens of costumed children crowded the steps of each one. But the hunt became part of the game, and the distance between destinations actually helped to spread out the excitement and stem the tide of sugar a bit. In an hour's time, my kids got their Halloween fix and collected 10 pieces of candy apiece. They seemed more than content with their hauls and quickly figured out that one piece a night would last them a week and a half. Far more reasonable than the 2-pieces-a-day-until-well-into-December routine, I must admit, and since my kids are too young to even remember that kind of Halloween experience anyway, they were none the wiser about the discrepancy.

In the end, despite my fears to the contrary, Halloween in the UK was a success. That is, it was a success for everyone except me and Paul. It was lovely to see our kids so happy, of course, and a relief to be able to give them this little bit of familiar "American" culture here. But how on Earth are we supposed to raid such a small candy stash???