Saturday, December 28, 2013

Our first steps towards independence

There are lots of milestones around at the moment. Lady P is now an advanced crawler and she cruises from coffee table to footstool with ease, so we're sure first proper steps can't be far away. And she already has her first words, at least if 'dadadadada' and 'mamamama' count.

But there's another milestone, which we anticipate with a mix of eagerness and trepidation. It's a first for me and TLOML: a night away without Lady P. We have booked a mini-mini-break, a night away in Edinburgh.

Our plan for the day time is to leave Lady P at my mum's place. She'll have six other grandchildren there, as my three sisters and their families are all in town, so we can pretty much just pop Lady P in and go, safe in the knowledge she'll be a drop in the ocean of chaos. We've spent quite a bit of time there already this Christmas and the babysitting is basically built in because of the sheer number of people in the house. Lady P roams the long carpeted hallway (ours at home is short and wooden-floored, so this is a corridor of luxury) mthrilled by the fact that there are people in every room - cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents everywhere.

It's great for me. Lady P crawls towards the door, her little bottom wiggling as she gathers pace, and when she leaves my line of sight I just call out 'Can any one see the baby?' So long as I get an affirmative - even if it is from a three year old - I can relax.
Lady P attempts to get in on some gift opening action
And at night, she'll stay at my sister's house, which is just down the street from our place, so we spend a lot of time there as a rule. She'll fall in step with her rufty-tufty twin cousins who are extremely patient as she trails a Godzilla-like path of destruction across their train tracks and Lego cities. She's eaten plenty of meals with them and will be quite happy to join them for bathtime and a bedtime story.

I sincerely hope she then sleeps for twelve solid hours, as she does at home. But I rather suspect being in a travel cot in a different room will mean any periods of light sleep or vague wakefulness could rapidly deteriorate into angry, 'where the hell am I?' crying. I hope not, or at least I hope that my sister calms her down with her usual ease. To offset my anxiety I've spent hours printing out schedules, laying out bathtime, bedtime and morning stuff at my sister's house, and prepping little dishes of food, so my sister doesn't have to do too much. Lady P is pretty easy, but nonetheless, she does require a bit of looking after.

Three years ago, when the twins were just a few weeks old, my sister and her husband were both getting up every three hours to feed them through the night. One night I stayed over and took a shift with each of them, so they could sleep for a full six hour stretch. She still talks about it with misty eyes, as an incredible gift I gave that she could never repay. Well, now its payback time. And it is a coin I can only spend once.

So I will keep my fingers tightly crossed that Lady P is easy, happy and calm, like she is with us. I'll keep then crossed till that first cocktail. After that, we'll toast to the night I did twin-duty, back in 2010, and determine to forget all about Lady P for the evening.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas 2013 in numbers and pictures. Oh, and some words.

0: the number of mince pies consumed so far. Zero. I know. Weird, right? I just haven't had one yet. As this is my last British Christmas for the foreseeable, I need to put this right, and fast. I aim to rectify this by eating at least four tomorrow.

1 turkey leg smuggled out of my mother's house and presented to a gleeful TLOML. He missed out on cold turkey today as he spent the day working, bearing witness to the fact that in the US there is no Boxing Day. Boooo to that.

2: the number of Christmas cakes baked by my mum. One is for her house, the other is quartered and given to her four grateful daughters who still haven't had to master the art of baking a Christmas cake.

2 turkey dinners. One, hot, on Christmas Day, with my parents and my sister and her family. The second, cold with hot sides on Boxing Day, with an additional sister and her family thrown into the mix. Fun!

2 runs, so far. One full of pace and a decent distance on Christmas Eve. One slightly jaded jog on Boxing Day - I used the fact there was a little ice on the ground and dozens of dog walkers out to excuse my slow pace.
Lovely condition for a dog walk. Treacherous for running. Honest.
2 carol services. One in church, where Lady P rampaged about being distractingly cute during all the serious bits. One by the Saltburn tree, which involved a brass band and a carol sheet full of typos. Loved it.

3 walls of the gingerbread house still standing. Three reindeer, one and a half person, seven trees, a chimney and most of the roof have already gone. And we've only been eating it since yesterday morning.

4 cousins who have played with Lady P so far. Two more arriving tomorrow. There's a lot to be said for a big family, with plenty of volunteers to read stories or play with building blocks.

10: the number of minutes, on average, I go between bites of the gingerbread house during waking hours. Given the rate at which it's disappearing, I wouldn't be surprised if I'm also sleepwalking and taking nibbles at night too. Not long before the next wall crumbles, I'll warrant.

14 photos of Lady P in her Christmas pyjamas. At the last count, anyway.

I hope your Christmas was as abundant with goodness. Happy Christmas one and all. And happy Boxing Day, Brits.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

American teeth for an American life

My festive frenzy - I do so love 'the holidays' - is heightened this year by a fever pitch of excitement. Our time in limbo is almost over. I have a job offer confirmed from Big Corp, to start on 1st Feb. And we have our Green Card interview on 6th Jan - which will hopefully be a Depardieu/McDowell style 'Mr and Mrs' quiz. I'll ace it. I know everything about how he likes his coffee and what colour his toothbrush is. Easy.

So this move is no longer hypothetical. In between wrapping presents and taking Lady P to the crib service, and gazing longingly at the gingerbread house (one more day till we can break in!) we are booking flights, and cancelling Virgin Media, and scheduling movers.

We started talking about this move almost six months ago, so I've had plenty of time to reach an accommodation with the idea of our new (or revisited) life in California. It now feels like it's been a long time coming. And I'm ready. I'm ready to stop living in limbo. I'm very ready to live in the same timezone in which TLOML works. I'm ready to be reunited with the blue skies and palm trees of Los Angeles. And I'm ready to become a good American wife.

I know I'm ready because I've got the teeth to prove it. My invisalign treatment is complete. The last step was a whitening treatment through which my dentist promised to make my teeth shiny and brightly white. 'How white?' I asked. 'European white,' he answered. 'Don't worry, I won't make you look like Simon Cowell'.

In the cold grey light of Yorkshire I think this was the right choice. They look like the nice, straight, white teeth an American wife should have. I only hope my Californian friends, colleagues and neighbours will agree. I'm ready to go native. Bring on 2014 - a new year, a new life, with my new teeth.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Gingerbread House 2013 - the best yet?

Long standing followers will I'm sure be dying to know if I attempted a gingerbread house this year. And if so, whether TLOML had to get his Dremel out to sand down the sides.

Yes. And no.

Yes, of course I attempted a gingerbread house. We're parents now, and have 2 nephews who are always popping in. At last the gingerbread enterprise doesn't just look like the time-filling crafting of a bored woman who accidentally fell onto a pile of Martha Stewart Livings. That said, Lady P has no interest in the house at all. But my nephews were pretty into the idea, so that was licence enough for me.

And no, remedial sanding was not required. This time I didn't leave the gingerbread cooling (and spreading) while we swanned off to Argentina for a week. I used the same pattern as last year, but made way more dough. This meant I could roll it out thicker - no need for the marzipan bolstering that was a feature of last year's attempt. It also meant I had tonnes left over for Christmas tree decorations - despite having a pretty full tree already - and a veritable forest around the house.
Half way through and there's enough dough left to make a small town
It also meant my nephews could have fun with icing and sweets without me worrying they were wasting gingerbread trees. Yes, there is such a thing as 'wasting gingerbread trees': I have a vision here, people. It involves several tidy trees clustered in little groups, decorated strictly with green and red sweets only. My nephews were a bit more creative with their use of colour, taking a 'layered' approach - or 'cram as many sweets on as we can'.

I let the boys sneak a couple of their vibrant trees in, but for the most part the forest - and the family of 3 gingerbread people - are pleasingly uniform. I made a snowman, a bit wobbly but definitely a snowman. And Rudolf on the roof has a nice red nose. Other improvements include TLOML's almond-tiled roof, and the use of mint matchmakers for door and window frames.

I think this is our best yet.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Lady P's First Christmas

Fortunately we found the Christmas decorations. I wasn’t quite sure where we’d stored them, as we thought we’d be back in London by Christmas. Instead, here we are in lovely Saltburn limbo and I was poised for an afternoon of baking Skandi-style tree decorations*. But nestled under the ski gear (again, stashed away in expectation of a winter spent elsewhere) there they were.

So we’ve decorated our house, stockings by the fire, lights on the tree, and so on. I was hoping for some wide eyed excitement from Lady P. Frankly, she’s still more interested in chasing the cat, chewing on a doll or playing hide and seek under tea towels. It’s probably a good thing. There's half a chance the tree will still be standing by Christmas.

One thing no-one who’s seen the tree has mentioned yet: the prominence of our California tree decoration. I put it up nice and high and central, for we are heading to California soon and it’s on my mind every day.

Is there something to be read into the relative size and gaudiness of this LA-sourced decoration, next to our vintage Victorian-style Father Christmases, and little European dolls? Probably. As they say, if you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.
*I may not be able to restrain myself from that activity anyway

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Small Town Christmas

We were at the Big Switch on last weekend. Perhaps ‘Big’ is relative. Certainly the tree is no Trafalgar Square NorwegianSpruce. And the lights pale rather if compared to those at New York's Rockefeller Plaza.

Still, Saltburn got properly festive. It was more than just a light switch on. There were roasting chestnuts to be had, and a brass band playing – my nephews got to join in and shake bells along to their rousing rendition of Jingle Bells. The butcher and the local restaurateur tycoon were selling hot dogs and mince pies, and all the local cafes had mulled wine on offer. A little teacup ride and face painting gave the kids something to do while their parents sipped mulled wine and waited for the big switch on itself.

In fact the build up may have been a little much. After much festive waiting around, there was a count down, MCd by an exuberant Geordie. TLOML couldn’t understand a word he was saying as he whipped the crowd up into a mild murmur - but he caught up by the time we’d got down to 7… 6… 5… After ‘1’ there was a brief pause, a technical hitch perhaps. Then the tree lit up, and while all the crowd cheered, TLOML muffled a surprised laugh. He had expected more lights, I think. ‘Modest’ was the watchword for the 2013 Saltburn Tree Committee, I think.

After the tree lights went on a small parade took place. First Mary, on a donkey rather confusingly lead by a Christmas elf (Joseph, getting in the spirit? No, wait, that doesn’t make sense.) A steady stream of beaming Brownies and Cub Scouts. Then Father Christmas on the back of the fire engine. Hard to say who my 3 year old nephews were more thrilled by, the firemen or Santa. Suffice to say there was high excitement all around.

In a former life I might have scoffed a little. But in lovely little Saltburn I brushed away a sentimental tear and took a tonne of photos.

The next day the Yarn Bombers had visited, and added two festive knitted figures to the fence around the tree. Like the tree, and like the town, they are small, good humoured, and perfectly formed.
Post turkey collapse

A lady laden with Christmas shopping

The tree by day (it's prettier by night)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Whatever happened to my cute threshold?

I used to be a cynic. Sarcastic, frequently sceptical, and prone to scoffing. Even a little dark at times. For example, I didn’t used to want to have children because of the dark and terrible world they will be brought into. Then I met TLOML and that whole attitude changed.

At the other end of the spectrum of seriousness, but informed by the same cynicism, I used to despite cuteness. Or if not cuteness – for who could resist a kitten? And what are they if not cute? – then let’s say I used to despise cutesiness*, the artful pursuit of cute. This would include hairbands and bows on babies with little hair. Any kind of ‘Mommy and Me’ clothing or behaviour. And themed outfits or pyjamas. Like a Thanksgiving outfit emblazoned with 'Mommy's Little Turkey' and replete with a turkey on the bottom.

Turkey butt cat botherer. Grrr!
Then along came Lady P. And she is just SO damn cute. My radar is completely shot by her nose wrinkling smile, her excited wiggles and her giggles. That’s my excuse anyway.

So when a dress arrives from an e-tailer with a matching hairband, I might cry in my defence ‘Oh, it came with the dress, I didn’t realise when I ordered it,’ but I go ahead and put that hairband on her. And take multiple photos because I think it’s so, well, cute. 

Ditsy sub-Liberty print matching hairband and dress. Ouch!
Ditto the green cords she has which are very similar to a much loved pair of my own. Sometimes I can’t resist putting her in a top that’s the same colour as mine. And lo and behold we are wearing a Mommy and Me outfit. Yikes.
Double trouble pink jumpers and green needle cords. Aah!
By the way, I call it Mommy and Me because I’ve never seen or heard the expression ‘Mummy and Me’. Does that mean the concept doesn’t exist in the UK? Or isn’t catered for, at least? I suspect so. Sigh. Cynical, sarky old Britain, eh?! Perhaps California, where no amount of schmaltz and saccharine cuteness is too much, is the best place for us after all.

*With the possible exception of folk art owls (before they were everywhere, too, honest).

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving: Post Implementation Review

On reflection, the bird was too big. We didn't mind that it had to go diagonally into the oven, because there was space in the smaller oven for the rest. We don't mind having lots of leftovers, because TLOML loves turkey and we have some good leftover recipes up our sleeves. But even allowing for a bird too big for hte oven and with tonnes of leftovers, we could have dropped 5 or 6 pounds off the size and still had those characteristics.

Apart from that, we thought everything was perfect. Including the Manhattans TLOML made me before dinner. Our guests seemed to enjoy the saturated fat and refined sugar that was laced through most of the dishes. They got into the spirit of the NFL game we screened too.

All in all it was a happy day of cooking, and a very fun night of eating and drinking. It confirmed for me that Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday - wherever we are.

And now, we have this to deal with:
A fridge full of turkey, sweetcorn pudding, candied yams and mashed potato

And an overflow area for the rest of the turkey and the pies

Turkey posole soup, biryani and chilli all coming up.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

After last year's indecision, we decided to go big on Thanksgiving this year. TLOML ordered a 22lb turkey (no, really) from our butcher - who literally must have thought Christmas had come early. We've invited five friends over, and are planning a massive feast. In addition to the turkey we will be introducing to Yorkshire folk such delights as cornbread, pumpkin pie, candied yams and hot crab dip. They are a mixture of confused and excited right now. I'll let you know how they feel afterwards in a future post.

Of course now we have a baby and I'm travelling half the time with work we've got little else to do than spend all day in the kitchen. Oh, wait. Actually we are quite busy what with Lady P and all. The very time when one would normally be  cooking - the three hour window before we eat - is exactly when she comes home from the childminder and demands playtime, dinner, bath, bedtime stories, etc.

So today has been all about prepping and getting the place all mis-en-placed up.
Cornbread and sweetcorn pudding ingredients, measured out TV chef style

Cocktail tray, ready!

Of course, we don't have an American sized fridge so our yard and our utility room (with the door open and the radiator switched off) have had to stand in.
Cold storage
I have had a very happy day bustling about in the kitchen. So busy I actually haven't had time to eat. Which, given the quantity of food we have for dinner, is probably a good thing.

Happy turkey day!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why so quiet?

Some of my readers have pointed out that I've been a little quiet of late. I'm touched you noticed. Well, here's why.

First of all, I'm working full time which is, and perhaps the clue is in the name, quite time consuming. I'm travelling to the client site for a couple of days most weeks - and it's a five hour commute. And going through the Big Corp bureaucracy to get my move to the US is almost a full time job in itself.

Secondly, Lady P is rather more demanding than she used to be. There's no getting away with tapping away on a laptop while she amuses herself. If she's playing she wants company. And if she's crawling, or cruising, she needs constant monitoring. Plus, when I come home from a trip I want to do all the nappy changing, story reading, and playing, that I can. I especially enjoy our band practice sessions where we bash toys together noisily. And chasing her on hands and knees, and playing peekaboo, all of which generate brilliant giggles and squeals of excitement. It's even more fun than writing. Who knew?!

Finally, TLOML has been a little under the weather this past week. Our equal opportunities household has temporarily become one of those cliched ones where the woman (that's me) does all the cooking, dishwasher emptying, nappy changing, and laundry. Leaving me no time to even write a blog post to gripe about it.  (Perhaps that was deliberate, on his part. Every time he sees me reach for the laptop he coincidentally needs a cup of tea. Funny that.)

Suffice to say, I'm a busy bee. I envy Lady P her three hours of napping each day. And unlike maternity leave, I can't join her and nap at the same time anymore. Instead I have to make the most of her sleeping to do work, or personal admin, or chores. None of which are as restful as sleeping, let's face it.

Fortunately, TLOML is feeling better. I know this from the energy with which he is shouting at Thursday's NFL game. And hopefully work will calm down a bit as everyone gets all pre-Christmas lazy. You know, that four week period where people start saying 'there's no point starting that now, with Christmas coming up. Let's talk about it in January'. Love this time of year!

One thing won't change and that's the fact that hanging out with Lady P is more entertaining than writing. But I'll aim to keep my posts a little more frequent. I do love to blog about the holidays, as you may know. And a transatlantic Christmas, in Saltburn, packed with Lady P's firsts, should provide me lots of material.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Visa surprise

The US visa process is really weird. I don’t know quite what the USICS are playing at. First of all, they publish quite clear timeframes within which each stage should happen. Secondly, they stick to them. What's more, they provide checklists so there's no confusion or doubt about what documents are required (thus avoiding the Brazilian passport notarization fiasco of last year's visa shambles).

We are moving towards Green Card status at pace, and after last year’s trials it is quite a surreal experience.

Not only is it faster, and clearer, it’s also a heck of a lot more thorough. I am required to have up-to-date vaccinations, a clean bill of health and a clear criminal record. At the moment I’m busily getting police records, updated vaccinations and medicals.
The visa paper mountain continues to grow
By contrast the UK visa process TLOML went through last year seems flimsy and arbitrary. He could have been a disease-ridden vagabond and still be let in. And yet we had to provide reams of evidence of the validity of our relationship, not to mention the deeds to my father’s house (despite demonstrating that we amply met the income requirements and would therefore be renting a home of our own).

Once we’d decided to move, we wanted to do it straight away. But that was never going to happen. Instead, this steady, predictable pace feels just right. We see enough progress to keep us happy that we’re moving forward – unlike the months we spent in limbo last year. And at the moment it looks as if I’ll be a Green Card carrying spouse by the end of the year. This should neatly coincide with the start of my new job with my old Big Corp team in the US.

It also means we can have Christmas in Yorkshire, which makes me very happy. It all feels rather too good to be true.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cross Country

Last weekend we drove from coast to coast. That’s right, across the whole girth of this great country. We live right on the East Coast, and on Saturday morning we got on the legendary Route (A)66 and headed due West. We went to see my oldest sister, and her lovely family, for a couple of days in beautiful rainy Cumbria.

From the East Coast to West Coast, UK style

As I said to TLOML, it was like driving from LA to Baltimore. Only a lot quicker. Whereas our cross-country trip took a couple of hours, in the US it would take days.

West Side to the East Side, on a US scale
The scale of the US is hard to grasp, as a Brit. What brought it home to me was the revelation that some US airlines offer ‘funeral fares’ for the recently bereaved to make it home for a funeral. It is that common to live a flight away from your close family. Americans, being used to living in a country as ginormous as America, don’t let the small matter of a cross-country flight stop them seeing their family. 

When we move back to California we will be in the same country as the other side of Lady P’s family. But as most of them are East Coasters, they’ll still be a five or six hour flight away. (Actually we were almost as close to her grandparents when we lived in London as we will be when we live in California.)

Plenty of Americans will drive for two, four, six or more hours for Thanksgiving dinners in a couple of weeks time. It makes the distance between me and my sisters seem very manageable by comparison. While we’re still here, I’m determined to make the most of it, and see a bit more of the family we are close to.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Twits, tweeters, and Twitter

Do you tweet? I do. I signed up for Twitter so I could follow people, or publications, I think are funny or interesting. Or both. Like Caitlin Moran and Rosie Boycott, The Guardian and W Magazine.

Then I got serious. When my entrepreneurial friend and I conceived our fantastic book idea I decided to start using Twitter to build my reach. It is packed to the gills with women called things like @GirlyMomma or @JustaMummy (no, I'm not kidding), promoting their blogs. Why not me, too? That way I have more to offer a publisher - a social media following, and a ready-made marketing platform.

Because our book is pregnancy and baby-related I started to follow all those whimsical mummy tweeters and a bunch of brands like Mothercare and Avent. Oh, and some celebrity mums too. I never imagined I'd be following an ex-Atomic Kitten, but lo, so it came to pass. And some random people Twitter suggested to me, like @Sassafras Mom and @Pasadobledc, whose tweets I always enjoy.

Part of Twitter etiquette requires that mere mortals (as opposed to celebs and brands) follow back. So if I follow @MumsyMumsy she has to follow me back. It's rude not to. Likewise, if @unBEElieveablehealth follow me, I have to follow them back. Despite that I'm really not interested in bee-related health. That's how they come to have 8k followers, I suspect.
By following those who follow me, I ended up following an awful lot of obscure companies like the bee loving health people. Also a bunch of women who blog about parenthood, which is fine by me. But then the list of people I follow grew above 500. And as I only have ~280 followers I think that looks a bit sad.

So the cull began. First I cut people who don't tweet very often and don't follow me. Sayonara, @Kate Moss.

Then the ones I only followed 'cos they followed me. Like Activities Children (which is a stupid name, for starters). Here are four tweets in a row from them from a few days ago.
I think you can guess how the next 20 or so went. You can see why I had to cut Activities Children out. They're still following me but I suspect it won't be for long.

My social media profile will be in tatters soon, and my Twitter stream very tightly focussed indeed. Which is a shame. But given that my grand 280 followers are the result of months of following back randoms, and consistently tweeting witty little tweets, I wonder if I have just reached the limits of my social media potential. I suspect a publisher might want a followers number closer to the 45k enjoyed by @FormulaMom.

I'll have to follow an awful lot of chumps and obscure brands to hit those heights. Time to retreat back into a Twitter cave, I think. Stop following for follows and go back to following those who interest me. More Kardashians, fewer @craftymummies. I won't miss all those craft projects and motivational tweets, that's for sure.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Baby Talk

She’s a wise one, Lady P. We know this because sometimes she looks very thoughtful. She also has a cracking sense of humour, and squeals and laughs a lot. But because she can’t actually speak, we don’t know what’s on her mind.

So we thought we’d teach her baby sign language. This is also useful for communicating basic needs. Apparently at this stage of her development (coming up for nine months) Lady P does understand some frequently used words, and has the motor skills to sign, so baby sign language is just a way of putting those  capabilities together.

I printed off a couple of sheets of signs from the interweb. And then the questions started to arise.

First of all, why is ‘frog’ such an important sign that it features in this selection of basics? Or ‘horse’ for that matter? Or 'Telephone'? Is she going to want to make a call?!

Secondly, why am I teaching Lady P the sign for ‘too hot’ and ‘don’t touch’? If she understands my saying those words to her, what’s the point of the sign? Surely it isn’t so that she can tell me that something is too hot or I shouldn’t touch it? Who is the baby here?

And finally, why am I teaching her the words for ‘milk’ or ‘more’ at all? She is gaining weight at an alarming weight – to the extent that the Health Visitor suggest we cut back her rations a bit. And when she wants more food she makes that known plainly by grunting angrily and opening her mouth exaggeratedly wide open.

If only Lady P could speak. She’s so smart she could probably explain it all. But for now she’s limited to grunting, squealing and giggling. I think it may stay that way for a while.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Happy Hallowe'en 2013

For it turns out that it is, indeed, a thing now. Its funny that I never celebrated it once in the US, and now, almost two years after we moved back to the UK I am living in a house with a carved pumpkin at the window. Or ‘Jack O’Lantern’ as TLOML hilariously, and quaintly, insists on calling it.

I blame the baby. It is Lady P’s first Halloween, and thus it is decreed that we dress her up as Yoda and parade her up and down the street (or at least, to my sister’s house). And that we light a Jack O’Lantern so others will come calling (or at least, my nephews). Never mind that she’d prefer to be crawling around naked, chewing on my iphone. Never mind that she won’t remember any of this. She will be marking Halloween, and we will have the photos to prove it.

I am out of town for a couple of days so will miss the fun, and I’m actually a bit sad about that. When I get home I’ll make something delicious and autumnal for Lady P out of the pumpkin scrapings.

I have never felt so much like a good American mommy.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Truly Transatlantic Post

To make up for the my last, off-topic, post, here's one with a purely transatlantic theme. It's actually about the benefits of a transatlantic life - that is, living in the UK with an American husband.

There are many benefits of this life, but I'll keep it short and sweet by naming my top five.

1. Two Mother's Days. Personally I think every day should be a Mother's Day, replete with flowers and breakfast in bed. But I'll settle for two, which is 100% more than pure British mums get.

2. Being able to say 'gosh, that was cheap', after each Doctor's appointment or hospital visit.

3. Thanksgiving, UK style. Basically Christmas dinner, a month early, with candied yams instead of overcooked sprouts. Without having to spend the day watching NFL.

4. Access to massive bottles of Advil and discount single malt (thanks to TLOML's trips) without ever having to set foot in a horrible CVS or Duty Free.

5. Buying a six pack of of fun sized Maltesers and a single pumpkin and still being the most fun and Halloween-y house on the street.

The only fly in the ointment is that I now have to live with the knowledge that fridges can be sooooo much bigger.

Friday, October 25, 2013

On peeling apples. No, really.

Rambling - actually I prefer 'discursive' - as this blog may be, it does have a theme of sorts. The clue is in the name: Transatlantic Tales. It started as barefaced mockery of my Los Angeles friends and neighbours, written as a Brit abroad. Then it became our move East, via NY to the UK, with an American in tow. Even on pregnancy and parenthood, or when I write about food and cooking, I do try for the most part to make sure my posts have a loose connection to things transatlantic. Or at least to where we live, and how we live (which is in itself transatlantic thanks to TLOML being an actual American).

When I think thoughts that have no transatlantic connection at all I try to keep them off my blog. You really don't want to know what I think about Russell Brand on Paxman, do you? Exactly.

Well, I'm breaking the rules for this post. Here goes.

As the apple season draws to a close we received the last of many bags of apples from our dear friend and landlady. I attacked them with our old rusty peeler. TLOML wanted to get rid of this peeler when we started weaning Lady P, because it is so rusty. I actually fished it out of the bin because I found the replacement peeler so slippery and hard to hold. TLOML agrees, it's a blighter to use. It has cut me, drawing blood, every time I have used it. So this time, as so many times before, I tipped the enormous bag of apples out on the countertop and - shunning the new peeler - started prepping them with the rusty old peeler.

Cue the arrival of TLOML. 'What can I do?' he said.
'You can help peel these apples,' I replied. 'You'll have to use that dangerous new peeler though.'
'I hate that peeler,' he said. 'In fact, I'm going to get to the bottom of it. There must be a trick to using it.'

At which point he started googling how to use the new peeler. There are a surprising number of videos about how to use a so-called 'banjo' peeler on line. Here's one of my favourites:

I did muse, as I peeled the apples and TLOML watched the videos, about why so many people make these boring potato peeler videos. Who on earth watches them? I wondered. Oh, right. Us.

The sad thing is that all those videos didn't help at all. It's still a slippery peeler. And it took TLOML the entire time it took me to peel the apples, to find this out.

Here's a picture of TLOML watching videos about how to use the peeler. The apple in shot is the last one of the dozen or so that I peeled. Notice the trusty rusty peeler, resting, blood free on the board while the evil sharp one lurks, ready to slice fingers.
As I said, there's nothing transatlantic about this. It's just a post about TLOML watching videos of how to peel, while I actually peel.

Sorry. I'll get back on theme next time I promise.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Is Halloween a thing now?

As I prepare to enter another season of explaining to TLOML that we don't really 'do' Halloween, this display stopped me in my tracks.
It's everything you need if you actually want to mark (celebrate?) Halloween: trick or treat buckets, scary paper napkins, masks and so on.

I am also reliably informed that the children at local drop-ins, Rhyme Time and the like, will be wearing fancy dress. Or Halloween costumes as they are probably called. Which means that half the kids at the childminder will be too. I found myself digging out the Yoda* costume an (American) friend gave us when Lady P arrived. Then I put it to one side, since, as I've said before, 'we don't really do Halloween here'. So what on earth would we want a Halloween costume for? Anyway, dressing an eight month old baby up is just silly.

And yet, the costume is still out on the top of the chest of drawers, ready for wear. Meanwhile, I find myself drawn to pumpkins which look like they'd lend themselves to carving, or satsumas decorated to look like pumpkins, or biscuits made to look like ghosts with marshmallows on them. And wondering if I made a big batch of flapjack with googly eyes drawn on, if that would do for trick or treaters.

We could put some of this down to too much time spent on Pinterest, of course. And perhaps I can still blame the hormones of motherhood - for making what has previously seemed a bit naff suddenly an essential pastime. Or is it something more? Is Halloween really a thing in Britain now? And if it is, given that I live on the friendliest street in small town heaven, can I really avoid getting involved?

I don't know yet. But something's in the air. And it might just be childishly spooky.

*Not Obi Wan Kenobi as per my earlier post. Apparently that's not a good costume.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Meat Week 2013

One happy side effect of our extended stay in limbo is that TLOML can compete in the National Masters and Old Codgers Swim Championship.

Which means another week of eating meat. Last year it took me a little bit by surprise. He requested spag bol one day. We had roast beef a couple of days later. And before I knew it we'd spent the week eating beef. And it was all rather hearty. As I was growing another human being inside me at the time I was well up for all that stodge.

But this year I'm after a little more variety. Some heartiness, yes, and lots of red meat of course. But also meat from other animals other than the cow, and perhaps a little lightness and heat to balance the heft.

In my continued efforts to win 'Wife of the Year', I posted this menu for TLOML to choose from:
I think our butcher will be rather pleased to see us this weekend. Let Meat Week commence!

Monday, October 14, 2013

A family on the move

We're all on the move. I don't mean our big move back to the US. That's a couple of months off. I mean the many smaller journeys we are going on in the meantime.

TLOML makes fairly frequent trips to the US. I now have to travel for work, every week or two. And Lady P is crawling, driving her little car around the kitchen, and working pretty hard on pulling herself up to standing. She also enjoys a good bounce, a fast moving swing, and has perfected an excellent seated shimmy.
On the road

Which is all wonderful. Except when one of us is away. I'll be cross to get back from this week's trip to Reading to find out that she's finally mastered the art of pulling herself up. And I don't want her first steps to be taken while TLOML is not there to see them.

The last time I was away TLOML claimed she had 'swum'. It later transpired she had been propelled through the water from his hands to my sisters', over a distance of a foot at the most. I relaxed, happy to know I hadn't missed an incredible milestone.

The other day I realised she is almost able to clamber up the two steps on our landing - and promptly picked her up and put her down in on a level patch again, saying 'Not while Daddy's away darling'.

Yes, I'm basically trying to retard her progress. We have some way to go before she's properly standing, of course - never mind walking. But if I have my way, she'll master these skills right in front of both of us. Even if that means holding her down till TLOML gets home.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

'Blog that!'

Whenever anything happens outside what TLOML considers normal, he always says 'Why don't you blog about that?' He often says 'blog that!' when people are being a bit eccentric, or the service is slightly crap. This being Britain, it happens a lot.

Here's a short list of some of the items TLOML would like me to publicise:
  • People swimming in the North Sea between May and September.
  • When the man down the street creosoted his fence and put no fewer than 8 'wet creosote' signs on it. This was 'blog that' worthy because the fence is only about 10ft long so there was a sign every few inches.
  • The arrival of a friend for dinner with a carton of goat's milk and a banana. She had just popped to Sainsbury's on her way over, that's all.
  • The time we went to Aldi and bought 63 items for £62. A highlight. Bristol Farms has never felt so far away.
  • The sunny but cold days in April when TLOML and I wore quilted coats with hats and scarves and saw people walking around in shorts and flipflops.
  • The £5 fine, noted on a little sign by the path, for 'damaging the daffodils' in Farndale.
  • When TLOML's order of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on a bagel came on an English muffin, and the cafe owner said 'You don't mind, do you?' when TLOML mentioned it.

I would go on, but am saving the rest of the incidents for when I've run out of other events about which to write hilarious and insightful commentary.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Living at the centre of the universe

I used to think London was the centre of the universe, and nothing of note happened in the rest of the country. I suspect that's one of the reasons Londoners put up with so many inconveniences - the high cost of living, the crush on West End pavements, the low level hassle involved in getting anywhere on public transport - because it does feel like the place where everything brilliant occurs. That's partly because it really is where most brilliant things in Britain do occur. But also because British media feature what appears to be a disproportionate amount of London. I notice that bias much more now I live outside of London. Magazines and newspapers, being written by a bunch of Londoners I suppose, are written as if everyone lives there. And London is a backdrop for a disproportionate number of TV dramas and films. Beefeaters, Big Ben and the classic London black cab are a visual shorthand for Britishness.

Yet the rest of the UK is nothing like London. People don't get on the Tube, or spend their Sunday afternoons in Primrose Hill, or shop in Space NK, outside of London. A little over 10% of the UK population live in London - the rest of us live in places like Saltburn, and Berkhamsted, Glasgow and Claygate. To the vast majority of Brits I think London is rather a foreign place. (In fact, I think London has more in common with other world cities than other British cities.) Still, if you live in London you have your faith in the great importance of where you live reinforced on a daily basis.
Saltburn - a little known backwater, frankly.
Los Angeles of course, has this ego problem even worse. Blame the lack of imagination of those people in the film industry, for they don't seem to be able to picture anything beyond the end of their street. So a disproportionate number of films and TV shows are set in LA. Plus thanks to all the celebs who live out there, most of the pap photos in trashy magazines have Santa Monica or Beverly Hills or boring old Brentwood as a backdrop. So despite that less than 5% of the population of the US live there one can easily get comfortable with the idea that LA is the centre of the American universe.
The centre of the universe! If you're in the movies, anyway.
I hate to admit that this is probably an underlying reason behind my preference for LA. It's not a real, worth-acting-on reason, but rather a feeling I'm a bit embarrassed to admit to. It's egotism, I suppose.

If we do end up back in LA we can reignite the illusion of living where all the cool stuff goes on. In which case frequent return trips to Yorkshire will be crucial to flag to Lady P that there's a real world out there. Of course, if we move to some beautiful but boring suburb in the Bay Area we won't need to worry about that. She'll grow up like I did, longing to move to the big smoke (that's London or LA), under the illusion that it is the centre of the universe.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Choosing Cities

For as long as we've been talking about moving back to the US it's been assumed that that means LA. Fun though Manhattan was, it's not the place for us, and TLOML's business contacts are all on the West Coast anyway. So the only debate for a while was just whereabouts in LA we should set up our new home.

Until TLOML pointed out the elephant in the room. It's an elephant the size of a small, foggy city by a bay. The elephant is San Francisco.

The thing is, we're moving back to the US to give TLOML the best chance of growing his business (so we can become gazillionaires and retire back to Saltburn, obvs). And most of his clients and business contacts are in San Francisco. Except the ones who are based in Las Vegas and that's just not on the table as a place to live. San Francisco is also awash with entrepreneurs, venture funding, successful start-ups and innovative businesses. Frankly, if you want to become a self-made man, and you went to Stanford, it's the place to be. If you are that person and you live in LA, better prepare to spend a lot of time flying up to SF.

San Francisco - a lot more commerce than you might imagine from reading Tales of the CIty
San Francisco is really not a bad place to live, either. According to the Huffington Post it's one of the happiest and healthiest places to live in the States. The city itself, though charming, is chilly in the summer and has patchy schools. But the wider Bay Area is very beautiful, full of European-friendly liberals ('crunchy hippies', TLOML calls them, but I think he means that as a compliment) and neighbourhoods where families live in houses with proper gardens, on rambling streets that lead down to sweet little Main Streets with cutesy coffee shops and laidback brunch places. Everyone jogs and votes Democrat. As I said, not a bad place to live.
Gotta love those hills and bay views
One would think the Bay Area would appeal more to a lefty Londoner like me. And its probably a far more wholesome environment for Lady P to grow up in than silly old LA with its wannabe actress waitresses, all that plastic surgery, the stupid oversized cars, and all that 'Industry' BS. And yet... and yet... LA is where I came to know and love the beachy SoCal lifestyle. It feels like home, or as close as I can get on that side of the Atlantic. By comparison San Francisco is just a little short on palm trees, and wide, sunny beaches.

So, what to do? We could live where the money and the work is. Or live where the beaches and the palm trees are. The smart choice is definitely the Bay Area. But whether we'll make the smart choice or not, remains to be seen..

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Parmo night

California has its egg white omelette and, of course, the California roll. New York has the papaya/hot dog combo and the New York strip steak. London has… hmmm…. What does London have, as signature foods go? Well, perhaps the fact there’s no obvious answer to that says it all. Either about the wonderful diversity of London’s food, or the paucity thereof, depending on your point of view.

Anyway, enough about those other places, for now we are in Saltburn. You might think the signature dish around here is fish and chips. And it’s certainly unquestionably true that the North Yorkshire coastline is the source of the best fish and chips in the whole world. But there’s another dish which is the local speciality: the parmo. The parmo is more Teesside than Yorkshire, and Saltburn straddles both places: look right from the pier and you see the rolling cliff top fields and wooded hills of picture perfect North Yorkshire. Look left and the industrial glories of Teesside – the steel works at Redcar, big ships queuing up to go into Teesport– fill the horizon.

While tourists, seeking North Yorkshire’s old fashioned seaside delights, opt for fish and chips, the locals eat parmos.

‘What’s a parmo?’ I hear you ask. Well, clearly you’re not from round here. Neither is TLOML and he has asked the same question many times. Mainly because there’s so much talk of parmos. TLOML’s swim club buddies keep asking him when he’s going to try one. Every pub and most restaurants have a ‘parmo night’, when all the specials are parmos. Chicken parmos, pork parmos, mushroom parmos, and so on.
Thursday is parmo night at The Ship
Allow me to put you out of your misery. A parmo is a piece of meat (or mushroom mush), bashed about and flattened a bit, breaded and fried. Sounds a bit like those chicken escalopes you see in greasy spoons in London, doesn’t it? (Is that London’s signature dish? No, it can’t be. Teesside claims it). But what makes it more than just an escalope, what elevates it into a parmo, is that it is then topped with b├ęchamel sauce and grated parmesan. And chips. Boom! Heart attack! They are served in Styrofoam boxes to drunks up and down Linthorpe Road every Saturday night. And to civilised people in Saltburn pubs on parmo nights.

TLOML tried his first parmo at the weekend – under the expert guidance of my brother-in-law, who knows a first rate pub chef who makes a good one (no reformed chicken, or cheddar instead of parmesan, for him). 
TLOML with his parmo

His verdict? He liked it. But he didn’t see it catching on outside Teesside. I'm not so sure. Despite its healthy image and all those fro-yo shops, LA is also home to Roscoes, which served quite possibly the least healthy meal I’ve ever eaten (half a fried chicken, waffles, and so much salt I was thirsty for  two days afterwards). I wonder if we might open up a parmo shop on our return, and show those Californians what they're missing.
I could see this having an exotic appeal on Santa Monica Boulevard

Monday, September 30, 2013

Having it all

Today is my first day back at work. The needle of reality - work, and the need to earn a full salary once again - has burst my lovely stay-at-home mum bubble.

But I don't think it needs to deflate it too far. As far as returning to work goes, I have a fairly soft landing. Not for me the horrors of leaving the house at dawn and returning at dinner time, with Lady P marooned in a nursery for five days a week.

Thanks to TLOML's unusual working hours we are able to get away with part-time childcare. Most of the time Lady P will be with the lovely childminder who she already knows well. Another lovely childminder across the street will take her for an afternoon a week, leaving TLOML to be Daddy Daycare for three mornings each week - a time traditionally spent having coffee with me and Lady P anyway. He's also in charge of the best time of all - Wednesday afternoons, which is the time my mum and my sister take her twins to the pool. So TLOML can teach Lady P to swim (okay, to splash) in the pool in which I learned to swim, and with her rufty tufty cousins for company. So far she has loved being in the water, which I ascribe to her water birth, and TLOML to his swimming prowess. If the smile on her face and the gleeful kicks are anything to go by that Princeton swim scholarship could be a realistic goal. (Hothousing, us?).

Yes, it's wrong to be so prescriptive about Lady P's future. But isn't it a lovely campus?

Best of all, because we have the luxury of working from home, we are keeping Lady P with us for naps and mealtimes. Officially, I'll cover breakfast (before 9am) and dinner (after 5pm), but in practice I think I'll be timing my lunch break to coincide with hers. I may even change the odd nappy, or sneak in the odd cuddle, if I get five minutes between powerpointing and conference calling.

The only cloud on the horizon is that unfortunately sometimes our clients like to actually see us. As in, in the flesh, not on an IM or a teleconference. So we'll both have to do a bit of travel which will strain the patchwork of childcare somewhat. But since it won't be for long, I'm hoping we can just muddle through.

As I post this, TLOML and Lady P are happily watching the Redskins game. Well, she's pretty happy because she's being fed her afternoon bottle. TLOML not so much, for the Redskins are not playing well. Still, it looks like this whole Daddy Daycare arrangement is going to work out pretty well.

Is this what 'having it all' means? One day in, and it feels that way to me. Long may it last. And if Lady P keeps up her swim training, and goes to Princeton, and gets a good job, maybe she too will have it all. Though to look at her now, burping happily as she watches NFL Sunday, I am beginning to doubt whether she will share our lofty ambitions.