Sunday, September 30, 2012

Autumnal Activities at Fox Corner

As you might have gathered, TLOML and I fell a little out of love with Fox Corner in the past few weeks. (Actually, he was never really in love with Fox Corner. He just tolerated it because I loved it. And it's cheap and spacious.)

Anyway, we're stuck here for a few months yes, so it's probably time to stop griping and start liking. And there is plenty to like. This is also a good time of year to not miss Malibu so much: what we gained there in year-round sunshine, we lost in crisp, chilly days perfect for walking across golden brown leaves, making soup, and generally being cosy.

So... this weekend was all about hearty, happy autumnal, Fox Corner-oriented activities.

We picked a lot of apples., from the lovely old apple tree, which is currently abundantly laden with fruit.

 While TLOML cut back stuff in the garden, I baked bread. Which is one thing I certainly never felt like doing in Rabbit Hutch Towers.
I went for a long walk on Hampstead Heath with an old friend, and set the world to rights among falling leaves and scampering, muddy dogs. When I came back, TLOML and I made bolognese with Zagami meatballs (so named for the recipe, taken from the First Family of New England's family history).
All in all it was a good weekend for making the most of being in Fox Corner, and London, now that Autumn is here.

 And Jack? He concentrated on building up a layer of fat to see him through the winter...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Date Nights

A couple of weeks ago TLOML and I dined at a fancy London restaurant, courtesy of our favourite New Yorker. As a wedding gift she picked up the tab for a meal for the two of us at Sketch, which is a lovely, artsy fartsy, fancy pants restaurant in Mayfair. TLOML scrubbed up nicely and I smuggled my bump in under a tzjuzzy dress.
Sketch was wall to wall fun. We had a a cocktail before dinner (non-alcoholic for me, I was saving that week's booze voucher up for a glass of wine with my meal), in their cool woodland themed bar. Dinner was delicious, fiddly, fancy food, perfectly cooked. (The foie gras burger rapidly made it into my top three burgers of all time.) And the service was impeccable.

The funny thing about it was it gave me a pang for New York. The whole experience - getting dressed up, enjoying attentive service and posh food - it was just so, so, Manhattan.

It made us reflect that, since we returned to London, we don't get out that much. I mean we still eat out - but not often far from home, and rarely upscale. We know our local curry house, neighbourhood Italian, and the handful of nearby excellent gastropubs pretty well, and it's not unheard of for us to grab noodles in the West End, but fancy diners we are not.

All things considered, I rather prefer our comfortable, local, London life. But our posh date night made me resolve to get out and about a bit more.

So last weekend, we went all the way to Camden (2 miles down the road) for Thai food. Okay, it wasn't exactly a posh dinner at a Manhattan hotspot. But I did at least put a bit of lipgloss and heels on for the occasion.

Thanks are due then, to our dear friend, for not only the generous gift, but injecting a little glamour into our date nights for the future.

Monday, September 24, 2012

America's Greater Grater

It was just a regular Sunday night at Fox Corner. We were chowing down on some spicy seafood pasta, and talking about how delicious it was.
Then we got to talking about how long the parmesan had been in the fridge, and how pasta didn't need the cheese but we were enjoying having it anyway.

Yes, I guess we have run out of things to talk about. And we've only been married 2 months.

Anyway, before long we were chatting about how much we like our new wedding list cheese grater. It has such a nice smooth action we grate more cheese than we need, just for the pleasure of grating.

'Why is it so good?' said TLOML.

And I, reluctantly, pointed out the legend...
 ...made in the USA.

Maybe I had laid on the argument for Dualit toasters too thick. I insisted it was the only way to go, and the reason they are four times as expensive as other toasters is that they are made in England.

Along comes an inexpensive grater and proves - to TLOML - USA's manufacturing might. He leapt up and punched the air in delight.

As I say, just a regular Sunday night in Fox Corner.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Transatlantic Pregnancy Rules

Our child will be blessed with two passports and the ability to choose whether to support England (perhaps in football), or the US (the Olympics, I guess).

Similarly, as a transatlantic couple, we can choose whether to adhere to British or American pregnancy advice.

I'll be honest, I prefer the NHS advice to anything I've found yet in the US.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, no amount of alcohol is safe to consume during pregnancy. The rather more pragmatic NHS also advise you not to drink, but add 'if you do continue to drink, limit it to 1 or 2 units, once or twice a week'. That'll do nicely. A glass of wine on a Saturday night is enough to keep me happy.

US sites will tell you to avoid all deli meats, or 'lunch meats', as TLOML calls them. But the NHS advice is that the risk of listerosis is so minute, these meats should be considered safe to eat. So I can munch on some parma ham while I enjoy my glass of wine.

I found a lot of general statements banning blue-veined cheese and smoked fish in the US. But the NHS tells me stilton (since it is a hard cheese) is fine, and kippers aren't ruled out either.

Sadly on neither side of the Atlantic can I find any website written by medical professionals which will give me licence to eat raw oysters, sushi or steak tartare with gay abandon.

Still, the greatest pleasures in life are sometimes those we pursue without permission.
I mean, look at these oysters: big, plump and super fresh. So fresh they flinched when we squeezed lemon on them. Reader, I ate 'em. And didn't get food poisoning either.

Unfortunately for me, TLOML has watched too many episodes of One Born Every Minute lately and is now all about the low risk, safe pregnancy. He has declared a strict embargo on 'high risk' food and drink items. And me? Well, I'm a good wife. I do what my husband says. At least while he's watching...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Baby Names

We're considering 'King' or maybe just 'Sir' for our firstborn. Both work well on either side of the Atlantic, which is crucial.
We don't know if it's a boy or a girl, or just a fuzzy blur. But we think 'King' will suit our baby just fine.
We are certainly not the craziest people out there. Surfing mindlessly on my babybump app I came across a thread started by a lady who was considering the names 'Hunntor', and 'Izabeille'. (Yes, it is an American app.)

In summary, the thread goes like this:
Dozens of people: "That's terrible. You should spell those names properly, as in Hunter and Isabel." "Why?" "Oh my." "Are you kidding?" etc
Crazy lady: "This way they'll be really unique and memorable."
Dozens of people: "No-one will remember them because they are impossible to remember, since they are spelt wrong." "'eille' does not make the same sound as 'elle'" etc
Some people: "I love those spellings! Makes them different and really special."
Crazy lady: "The 'i' is silent, that's what makes it unique."
Dozens of people: "You can't just say 'the 'i' is silent'. The English language doesn't work that why. Why not spell it Izagbelle and say 'the 'g' is silent'. It's the same difference."
Some people: "They're your kids, you choose how you name them."

Exactly. And that's just what we'll say if anyone quibbles with our choice of King or Sir. At least the spelling is straightforward.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Grounded (WARNING - long and slightly ranty post)

A few years ago I published an interactive novel, called Face the Consequences. It is a 'choose your own adventure' in which the reader could decide what the lead character would do next, click on the link of their choice and see where it took them. Some of the routes were (literally) dead ends. Other choices would force the reader back to reconsider your decision. Most of the options lead to a longer, more linear narrative, some with happy endings and some less so.

If you haven't checked it out, please do.

If you have checked it out, for a similarly complex set of options and 'endings', I can highly recommend the UK Border Agency website.

Start, as TLOML have, with 'Visas for partners of people who are settled here'. Click on the fiance visa partner visa page and then choose to 'apply from within the UK' since TLOML is very much present and correct within the UK. That'll give you some info on eligbility and some forms to fill in to apply.

Hang on a second, you say, we already filled all those forms in, and proved we have a place to live, I have a UK passport, and provided detail on the colour of our socks, our annual apple consumption, and other vital data. Isn't there a faster route?

Choose 'can you apply' to find references to something called 'switching'. This is just exactly for people like TLOML and I -  a faster process which takes into account the process we went through for the fiance visa, 6 months ago. Sounds good, right? Want to know more?

Too bad. I'll spare you a few mouse clicks and tell you know that whatever you next click on will yield you no further information on this 'switching' process: no forms, timelines, fees, or avenues to advice.

Let's call that a dead end. We did, anyway. Instead we applied for the full visa, submitting a mountain of supporting evidence, a whopping £800, and both our passports.

According to various pages on the UK Border Agency website (I'll spare you the circuitous routes to the information, just trust me on this one), the process can take 5 weeks, 12 weeks, or 6 months. We thought that range was a little broad so tried to make a 'one day' appointment, only to learn that there were no appointments on any date between July and December. His fiance visa expired end August, so we started the postal process assuming it would be faster.

7 weeks later we have heard nothing and - of course - there's no way to check the status of your application. Meanwhile we are both grounded. I've cancelled 2 business trips (nothing quite like telling Big Corp you can't go to work because you don't have a passport...) and TLOML is on the verge of cancelling his. This all massively sucks, especially as he can only effectively work when he's in the US.

I'm considering embarking on an angry letter writing campaign but of course, it's not really clear from the BA website, who to write to. Meanwhile TLOML is UK-bound, and a making a go of his new career as house husband.


One more example of this website's twists and turns... Just for shits and giggles, let's say you click on a link entitled 'Family settlement changes - online applications and new forms', in search of access to that online process and those forms.. You'll get nowhere. Just a press release blurb. No links, no nothing. 

When I put in those dead ends and loops in Face the Consequences I did so to keep the reader entertained for longer. Perhaps that's the Border Agency's purpose too. After all, till we have the visa TLOML cannot work: working his way through the BA website maze will occupy all those quiet house husband afternoons.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fruit and babies: size matters

Most sources of pregnancy info use fruit sizes to explain to you how big your unborn child is. I think they do it in case pregnancy renders you incapable of understanding inches or centimetres.

As it happens my spatial reasoning is poorer than ever just lately, so I find the fruit analogy useful. This graphic list from is a good example.

But check your source before you start picturing your fruity baby. For example, at week 9, an American fetus is the size of a grape. Now I know that American grapes can be enormous. An English baby at that stage would be better described as the size of an English apricot, I think. Or perhaps a little greengage.

What's more, US sites have the baby at a fig size in week 11, and a lime in week 12. In the US, figs are small - smaller than limes even. But by European fruit sizes that means a dramatically shrinking baby.
On the left, an 11wk fetus. On the right, a 12 week fetus.

Maybe it's safer, after all, to stick to inches and centimetres. Even for my poor pregnancy-addled mind.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hollywood beckons

When I moved to LA in 2009, to be with The Love of My Life, I left my fat cat, Jack, at home. It didn't seem worth the hassle of moving him for what was intended to be a 6-12 month spell. So my friend the Activist kindly took him in and provided a good home and plenty of love, in my absence.

I remember saying at the time 'If I was going for a couple of years I might feel differently'. Little did I know I'd be there for 2 years and 3 months.

More to the point, little did I know how much Jack would have got out of life in LA, the throbbing heart of the film industry. It turns out my Jack has star quality.

A friend of a friend is shooting a short film which calls for a black cat. I submitted Jack's headshot, and somewhat grudgingly a full body shot too. I was hoping, you see, to gloss over his girth.
Star quality
Anyway it turns out the director didn't mind that Jack is a fatty, as he has such a good face. Also I think he hoped it might mean Jack wasn't skittish. I mean, he does move pretty slowly most of the time.

Shooting took place yesterday. Jack was a little shy at first, forcing the location to be changed to 'under the bed'. But after a while he got into the role, and they got some great sequences of him looking especially, magnificently, black catlike.

A brooding presence
I will keep you apprised of the film's progress, and of course, Jack's trajectory to stardom. If he needs us to relocate to back LA, we will make it happen, in the name of his career.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Medals all round

My husband, TLOML, did pretty well in a swim meet yesterday. As in, he won actual medals. So I made him a well-deserved, all American dinner.

He's a Southern boy, and used to swim for University of North Carolina, so I made fried chicken. It was good, of course, as all fried salty food is.

And for pudding I created a special medallist apple pie, with apples I picked earlier from the tree in our garden. We're resigned to staying in Fox Corner for a while yet, so we need to start making the most of its natural charms.

I think I should win some sort of 'all-American wife' medal for my efforts, personally.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Linked sausages... is it a British thing?

You'd think by now we'd be over the transatlantic quirks and discovered all the anomalies there are across the pond.

But no. Here's a new one:
'What the...?' says TLOML. 'These sausages are all joined together!'
'Oh,' I say, 'Don't they come that way in the States?'

Nope. It turns out, and I never noticed this before, American sausages come all separated neatly, no need to cut the links. It is, as we say at Fox Corner, 'A British thing'.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What to expect

TLOML and I are expecting! Expecting a future President or Prime Minister or Olympian or maybe all 3 rolled into one, that is. He or she will arrive in February. Look out world.

So all of us at Fox Corner are getting mentally prepared to welcome a new life, and raise a happy child.

We all prepare in different ways. I google 'oysters, safe in pregnancy?' constantly till I find the right answer.

TLOML regresses.

And Jack reads up.

I'd like to make it clear that none of the characters featured in this post needed to be asked or enticed to pose. This is just what they were doing.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

When American sandwich fillings and English sandwich bread collide

TLOML made himself a chicken sandwich the other day. He found the left over chicken breast from the previous night's roast, and some parma ham that needed eating.

Then he sought out the bread. Warburtons seeded batch, to be precise. It was then that it became clear: this English bread was just too small for this American man's chicken and ham sandwich.
As you can see, my resourceful husband rolled with the punches: he just used two slices of bread for the bottom of the sandwich, and two for the top.

Five minutes under the grill, and some careful cutting later, and he had what I would describe as 'two chicken sandwiches'. TLOML pointed out that if the bread was of a decent size, it would just be the one sandwich. He is probably right. Must look for bigger bread in future.