Rule Britannia

This is such an exciting year to live in the United Kingdom.

 

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was last month, and I take back everything I ever said about that being a ho-hum affair. There was a four-day weekend, a flotilla, and the Queen’s visage slapped on every bit of marketable swag from here to Swansea. It’s been such a wretchedly cold, rainy summer (worse than last year, which was the worst in several years) but on the last day of the four-day weekend the skies parted for a bit and we got to indulge in a little bit of our favorite summer pastime: outdoor day drinking.

I really haven’t any kind of a chin, do I?

No matter! The point is that for twenty minutes in June, we celebrated an event not to be repeated in our lifetimes: the sixtieth anniversary of a British monarch taking the throne. Put it this way: for this to be repeated in my life, (God save the) Queen Elizabeth II would have to pass away today, Prince Charles would have to abdicate so Prince William could assume the throne, he would have to live until at least ninety years old, and I would have to live until the age of 88 to see it happen. While life expectancies (particularly for someone like Prince William, treated to every sort of possible health advantage of the modern age) are getting longer, the odds of all those things happening are not high.

However you feel about the monarchy, and I understand the backlash against them, many people here have known only one Queen and they find her and her closet of sensible pastels a stable, comforting presence. She’s like Mr. Rogers with a crown instead of a cardigan. And thanks in huge part to the Duchess of Cambridge (you know her as Kate Middleton, or “That chick with the amazingly perfect hair all the time, how do you beat the English rain frizzies?!”) there’s been an upswing in royal popularity. It’s nice to see.

The other huge event? I’ll give you a hint: it involves the world’s very finest abs.

 

That’s the Olympic torch, guys, and it came through town less than a mile from my house. Go Team GB! Well, not really, but I am pretty pumped to be in the same time zone as the Games. We haven’t stocked up on any (overpriced) merchandise but I did add two London 2012 Games keyrings to the girls’ collection of souvenir keychains. Also, we’re going to take advantage of all the city improvements sans crowds and go to London for a few days in December to enjoy the freshly-scrubbed city at Christmastime.

In non-2012-specific news, Moira’s officially an alien. That is, she’s officially a legal resident of the United Kingdom with the privilege to live, study, and interestingly enough, work until March 2014.

When we had to travel for my grandfather’s funeral we didn’t have all her paperwork in order so we did a little risk analysis with regard to immigration: three out of four members of our party had proper papers, and the fourth was an infant. The most likely scenario is that they let her back into the UK with a slap on our wrists and we get chewed out. Like Brad Pitt says in Inglourious Basterds, “I’ve been chewed out before.” They didn’t even do that–just gave her a visitor visa and told us to resolve it within six months. We did, and she’s good. Alas, the loophole wherein you are given dual citizenship simply by virtue of your birth taking place abroad has been closed, and so Moira may be a resident alien but she is not a UK citizen. Pity, because citizenship to an EU country would open up soooo many doors for her employment-wise later on. (That’s assuming the Eurozone doesn’t collapse and the job situation recovers, which is a post for another day, but let me just say that I am only feeling the slightest twinge of guilt by taking advantage of the monetary crisis to schedule exceptionally cheap travel in the next 12 months.)

And finally, Margaret is by far the most assimilated of our family.

Ever-present hat? Check. Proper mac for the rain, even on a sunny day? Check. Obsessed with Cornish pasties, lamb oggies, and sausage rolls? Check. Calls cookies “biscuits,” her rain boots “wellies,” and pronounces “bottle” as “bot-tol”? Check, check, check. She goes to a lovely English Montessori preschool and routinely comes home covered in Yorkshire dirt, raving about Lottie and Lulu, the school’s baby lambs (it’s a working farm as well). I think leaving will be hardest on her, but hopefully we have until 2014 to deal with that (and maybe longer, if we get a lucky break).

So! Despite our love of Hawaii and the hardship of leaving the islands, I daresay the UK is working out splendidly for us. We can collectively, as a family, exhale: we rolled the dice on a move abroad, and it’s been fantastic. Lucky, lucky us.

Odds and Ends

I’m pointedly ignoring Maggie singing a song in her bedroom (about a…tomato? Okay then!) and NOT napping because 1pm-3pm is the Time of Quiet at this particular monkey house. Since I am a Bear of Above Average Brains I assume that her full transition to a big girl bed is also impeding her progress to the land of Nod. When we first moved into our new house, she slept on a spare crib mattress–for a crib we never owned, I might add–that we brought from Hawaii on the off chance Maggie would have to sleep on the floor. This bit of sense proved…well, sensible. However, a mattress placed directly on the floor is entirely too close to all the toys and books we unpacked and the temptation proved to be too much for Maggie-bear. I don’t mind if she plays with a toy or two IN bed because if she’s tired she won’t climb down from an elevated position and will eventually fall asleep; however, simply being able to ROLL out of bed and directly into a pile of toys was a thrill of decadence usually saved for the back rooms and Vegas. I canceled this out by putting her in MY bed, but because the new couch was being delivered in the same IKEA order as her new bed I did not have anywhere to comfortably sprawl during MY quiet time. And I need it. I need my quiet time. Gestatiion, Round 2 is pummeling my expanding self all around the ring and I need two hours to doze on a soft surface and occasionally refresh myself with a hit of tea. Thankfully the balance of life has been restored, Maggie is loving life in her big girl bed (and her free reign to access her toys), and my daily sessions of Tea and (Self-) Sympathy have resumed.

*****

Parenting Pro Tip: It doesn’t matter how many IKEA flat packs and pictogram instructions you’ve navigated since entering the Land of Adulthood. When you see a 20-page pictogram instruction booklet and roughly 80 different parts to assemble together, DON’T START BUILDING YOUR CHILD’S BED HALF AN HOUR BEFORE BEDTIME. Or you know what, do. Maggie was so tired by the end of the process, two and a half hours later, that she crawled into her freshly made–and I do mean FRESHLY MADE–bed, pulled a quilt over her head and dropped off to sleep without a sound.

*****

We have put the iPad away and not used it for over a week. We don’t plan to get it out again until our trip to Dublin next month and Lisbon/Sintra in August. It feels nice to temporarily fire the electronic book-toy-game-babysitter.

*****

A return to cloth diapers: yes, we are still using them. No, Maggie has not fallen in line with the theory that cloth diapered children learn about the potty faster because of the moisture. No, I don’t know why, but my theory is that sitting over an open hole (even in the form of a toddler potty) disturbs her (and I know for damn sure that the noise of a flushing toilet–and a vacuum cleaner, and a food processor, and loud cars, and really anything that makes loud noises in any form) sends her into hysterics. Anyway. Since we are coming into our second year, some of the diapers are a little worse for wear and could either be fixed (by me, whenever I get around to rousing myself to find the needles and thread for new Velcro and elastics) or replaced. I left the decision to Tom, who voted replace. If I had it to do all over again, I’d buy all the same products–the Bum Genius one-size pocket diapers, the newborn prefolds, the nighttime fitteds with Thirsties covers–but I would not buy them with hook-and-loop closures. All the replacements we’ve ordered have snap closures, and I will never go back. The fit isn’t that much better with Velcro tabs, and they seem to hold up in the laundry exceptionally better. So there you go.

*****

It is May 16 and I am wearing long sleeves, long pants, and wool socks. WTF, England? I feel only slightly better knowing my American bretheren in New England are similarly frozen this spring, but golly. Maybe next time we do a tour in a warm locale we should do an in-betweeny climate before moving to an area that shares a latitude with Labrador, Canada. That leather couch we just bought is CHILLY when you plunk down on it first thing in the morning.

*****

I wanted a Storchenwiege wrap since I started researching babywearing when my sister was pregnant with my nephew in 2007-2008. Since this is likely my last ride on the Baby Go Round, I bought one (in Inka, for the curious). I have no regrets. Nor do I regret dropping an iPod’s worth of cash on new flannel sheets from L.L. Bean. Consider my nest snugly and almost completely (with the exception of one or two other baby items I’d like to buy, and oh, yeah, a new CAR SEAT JESUS THOSE ARE PRICEY) feathered.

*****

Ahhh…Maggie is asleep, doll in each hand. Bliss.

Food Fighter

I have accomplished very little over the last two weeks.

Few updates to the blog, no house yet to clean, and even the bulk of the childrearing has fallen on Tom’s shoulders. I have all sorts of blog ideas percolating in my head but scant motivation when it comes to recording them. All I’ve been doing the last few weeks is growing a human and trying desperately to avoid vomiting, with varied success. Since my last post my state of well-being has taken a sharp nosedive. If I were permitted to do so, I could easily sleep 16 hours a day and live off a diet consisting solely of bread loaves and watered-down juice. Alas, I cannot. And I live in terror of the lobby of our hotel, which contains a plug-in air “freshener” that in the last few days has gone from merely odious to unfailingly vomit-inducing every time I pass. I’m afraid to leave the building without a mask over my face, lest I water the garden with breakfast, and thus leaving to explore other places and restaurants becomes a Herculean task.

The one meal a day that I actually feel up to eating is dinner. Dinner is wonderful; Tom’s had Maggie for a few hours so I can recharge and by then I’m starting to feel human again. And since we don’t have a house or a car with which to transport groceries, we’re still on per diem so we can enjoy some nice restaurants. The one where we’ve had the best luck is a place called Prezzo, a chain that I believe originated in the UK. It’s probably the UK equivalent of the Olive Garden, except the food tastes so much better than the Italian-food-for-dummies/sludge-on-noodles the Olive Garden routinely serves.

Since mozzarella is one of the cheeses I can safely consume, I was more than a little disappointed that there was no option to just have mozzarella and tomato salad (is that a genuinely Italian dish or a bastardization? Geraldine?). Whatever. It tastes good. But draping a light, delicious bit of prosciutto (technically a no-no food for me, but I have a relaxed midwife) over their mozzarella more than made up for it. And the carbonara was a delight. No one was more surprised than me that I could handle such dishes, but there you go.

Conversely…Mexican food. Oh, how I needed a little avocado in my life (which I actually found a few days later in Prezzo’s salmon/avocado salad). I had a bad craving and y’know, I’m just not seeing avocado at the grocery store like I used to in Hawaii. Oh, for the locally grown fruits of our former home!

It turns out that Mexican food is one of those cuisines that the further away you are from your home source, the worse it’s going to be. Thanks to immigration, you can find great Italian in New York, Boston, San Francisco, take your pick. You may have to dig, but somewhere in most major cities you can find a hole in the wall where someone’s Italian grandma has relinquished control over her old country cookbook and they’re doing Nonna’s recipes justice.

Not so with Mexican food in Northern England, or at least not in Harrogate. The guacamole was a horrendous disappointment–I think some sort of sour cream or mayo was used as filler, which is an abomination unto avocado. You may be a nice person, but if your guac recipe includes fillers we just aren’t going to be friends–and looked somewhat oxidized. The burrito was dry, with not a bit of bean to be seen. And this is all academic anyway, because it came up as soon as we got home.

Nothing tastes good anymore. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Just salty and sour things, heavy emphasis on savory. There’s a carbonated sour apple juice available here that is making my life bearable, and pancetta bacon makes everything okay again (especially in a garlic cream sauce) but nothing else. Maggie’s asleep and I just had to write SOMETHING, but all I can think about is my poor belly.

Tom is of the opinion that if I just got up and walked around a bit I’d feel springy and happy once again. I’m reminded of a line from “Friends” that I’ll need to quote to him if it comes up again: “Hey! No uterus = no opinion.”

Commencing Countdown, Engines On

Futzing around the internets this weekend, as I am wont to do, I discovered that Time and Date has a custom countdown page.  Awesome, thought I, not pausing to consider that naturally high-strung people like me should not be given access to countdowns because it exacerbates our tendency to fret. I wonder how many days we have until we leave Hawaii?

FORTY SIX DAYS

*SWOON*

I’m not sure which part of my body hit the ground first, my jaw or the back of my head in a dead faint, but it made a very loud *thud* when I hit and when I came to, it was to a vision of this:

This is a UK electrical plug. You’ll note it is rather different from our own US plugs, and not just on the surface: the UK runs their electricity at a significantly higher voltage than the US.  Anything larger than my hair dryer requires conversions, transformers, or adaptors so you don’t get hit with any of the disasters ranging from total destruction of the appliance to a raging house fire. Because my mind is operated by a crack addict gerbil in a greased wheel, I started taking immediate mental stock of all the things that we own with plugs and categorized them into two groups: Over $30 and Under $30.

Under $30 includes the cheap IKEA lamps, the alarm clocks, the toaster (which has no settings except light, a Pop-Tart logo, and dark), and my various hair styling tools.  In a sort of reverse-Logan’s Run ruling, I decided that everything Under $30 was replaceable in the UK and must go.

That left a number of very expensive electronics to which I am rather attached that I had to deal with, and because I am ADHD and tightly wound, I had to HYPER FOCUS ON THEM RIGHT NOW NO NOT LATER…hey, shiny!  So I started furiously Googling and determined we’d need a ridiculously expensive transformer in order to power our rather new 40″ television and a slight less ridiculously expensive set to power our laptops (further research tells me I have made more out of the laptop issue than I need to, which, NO KIDDING), crock pot, and my blessed Kitchen Aid mixer (which is pink and awesome).  This sparked the following outburst, blindsiding Tom after a rather nice lunch:

“You…you’re just looking up pubs! And planning a trip to Portugal!  You’re just running around figuring out what to drink first and I AM TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO PLUG THINGS INTO THE WALL.”

No no, lads, he was here first. Don’t crowd me all at once.

This continued on until this evening, when I finally chose a few converters, transformers, and adaptors and laid out my exceptional plan for UK electrical domination. My brilliant understanding of the types of equipment needed and what it would all do shone like a beacon of light and reason and understanding.

Tom: “I told you a few weeks ago–we get two transformers free from the base.”

That’s a few hours I’ll never get back, because he MOST CERTAINLY DID NOT TELL ME THAT.  Thus I poured a glass of wine and began plotting revenge scenarios: I wouldn’t share my continental European transformer (left over from my study abroad days) when we went to the continent. He could power his laptop with farts, for all I cared. I would ban him from the Family iPad we plan to purchase and make it the Ovaries-Only iPad (which is, if you think about nomenclature, grotesquely apt). I would make him watch Eat, Pray, Love.

After a few moments I got over it and did so with a laugh, but while this was all going on today I got into a rather heated debate with several of my friends about bedding.  I wish I were kidding.  However, our sheets are old.  They were not especially high-quality to begin with and from repeated washings and sun exposure through our bedroom window, almost worn through in places.  I suggested buying some now and Tom said no, best to wait and see what kind of decor we have in our UK rental.  I agreed; we’ve seen some horrific wallpaper and mauve wall-to-wall carpeting, but if an ugly master suite is the only drawback to an otherwise nice rental, we’ll deal by getting coordinating sheets so I won’t spend the next three years saying “Damn, this room is ugly AND the sheets clash!” It’ll just be “Damn, this room is ugly!”

Unfortunately I made mention of this in a social media setting and didn’t elaborate any of those points and I spent much of the day trying to convince people that I AM NOT THE CRAZY ONE HERE.  Why WOULDN’T you match your sheets to your wall/floor decor?!  I failed to state that we were getting a new duvet and when I elaborated THAT point I had to convince Megan that I was not, in fact, a 60-year old grandmother and that young people do have duvet covers.  Ultimately, I feel like I convinced everyone that I wasn’t crazy (at least, not for this specific reason) and that there was value to matching your sheets (to which I include the duvet) to the rest of your bedroom interior, but not until I was called crazy and also possibly a future Von Trapp-curtain-clothes-matching-child dresser.  I felt like I was taking crazy pills, but not actually crazy; it is inconceivable to me that people of means willingly live in ugly rooms.  I can’t control a rental with mauve carpeting, but I can damn sure see that I don’t buy red sheets to exacerbate the issue.  Your home is your sanctuary, your hidey-hole from all the other freaks who aren’t freaky like you’re a freak, so why wouldn’t you see that it met your exact tastes?

It’s possible I’m under-medicated, but I maintain that God doesn’t like ugly, and never mind that we’re humanists/agnostics.

So…it was a long day, perpetuated by two tempests in VERY small teapots.  Mostly all in good fun, but it did bring to light my tendency to seize on the most ridiculous, minute details and blow them up in my mind until they achieve Illiad-level epic status.  It’s no good for anyone except the people who haven’t un-followed me in any of my social media accounts, who I suspect are just waiting to see what is going to trigger my final breakdown.

I’m pretty sure it’s going to be something that has electrical prongs or a thread count.

Noodly

Our first full day in Tokyo began around 3:30am, when vile jet lag gripped us and shook us awake. In the whole trip except for the last day in Osaka, I don’t think we ever slept past seven, and that was sleeping in. We also rarely retired for the day past 8pm, and Tom and I collapsed long before Maggie finally cooled it for the night.  Breakfast was a delight, as were the pastries I grabbed to take us through the day.  We began with our friend Mandy’s walking tour of the Asakusa neighborhood, which was such an incredibly thorough piece of work that it was almost as if we had a personal tour guide along with us.

This is Asakusa, which was a fantastically grand way to begin our trip to Tokyo. Given the time we woke up, we considered going straight to the Tsukiji fish market for the tuna auctions but I’m so glad we saved that. I think it would have been too intense for the baby (not to mention her tired parents). Asakusa was a much smoother introduction. We arrived in Asakusa in time to see the school trips, but before the shoppers came out in full force.  We lit a bit of incense and added ours to the pot.  I had forgotten that the swastika symbol is a Buddhist symbol that was perverted by the Nazis; while it has a totally benign meaning in Asia I never quite got over seeing them all over the place.

We went through the old red light district (where I am sad to say that an older gentleman admiring some sidewalk porn noticed me noticing him and I didn’t get a perfectly framed shot), snacking as we went and hearing the shouts of “Kawaii! Kawaii!” for Maggie. Maggie, for her part, remained cool:

We also got our fortunes.  Once I parsed the broken English, mine said that I will not make much money but I will work hard, and if I do, in time the money would come. For a part-time freelancer, that’s a pretty damn good fortune.

Tom’s was not so auspicious; it warned against travel and any big decisions (see the end of the post) so in the traditional custom, he tied his bad fortune to the rail for the wind to carry away.

Next up was the incredible Tokyo Museum and Ueno Park, where Maggie met her first little friend of the trip.  I was examining these:

Tom was watching Maggie and reported that a little girl about Maggie’s age ran up to her, peered at Maggie closely, and gave a brief little bow in greeting.  Tom nearly keeled over from the cute.  I wish I had seen that instead of the cranes, but Maggie made a LOT of friends on this trip and each interaction was precious.  Children open up a world of conversations in travel, especially in terms of their unhesitating interactions with others.  Even if all we saw was Maggie offering waves, kisses and laughs to the Japanese children she encountered, that would have been worth the cost of the trip.

Actually, that’s a lie.  That plus the foliage would have made it all worthwhile.

I could hardly believe this was a part of Tokyo. Depending on the source–mine are Lonely Planet and a children’s atlas published in 2003–the population varies between 12-35 million people.  I would like to know what parameters they use; is that the city proper? The metropolitan area? The area defined by the commuter lines? What? But any way you count them, there’s still a ton of people in Tokyo and  Koishikawa Koraku Garden was a total joy–quiet and serene, even with the overcast sky.

Dinner was not worth mentioning: we discovered a tapas restaurant called Casa de Fujim We thought it would be fascinating to see how Japan does tapas, particularly their spin on the seafood dishes, but they didn’t allow children and we were turned away at the door.  Exhausted and with an increasingly crabby baby, we went stumbling back to the mall area in hopes of some nice hot noodles and a savory broth.  We we were excited to get our shivery cold hands on something warm but realized too late that we had ordered cold soba noodles.  It all worked out, though–our wildest udon and soba fantasies would be fulfilled later.

**So, regarding those big life changes and travel…we’re trading the stars ‘n stripes for a Union Jack and moving to the U.K.!!  As of this spring we’ll be living in the county of North Yorkshire. I will miss Hawaii terribly, but we knew this was coming and we could not be more pleased at the bit of fortune we’ve been dealt.  Living in the United Kingdom will afford us so many grand travel opportunities. We are so very lucky.