Saturday, October 27, 2018

This Taco Costume is Just a Distraction

We should get one thing straight before we proceed. At my core, I am a total Debbie Downer. There is a place for lightness and fun even in the worst of times, but in the best of times I don't stop thinking about things that have gone wrong and how we might change things to be better, kinder, less...deadly.

So I tried on a taco costume, and it was funny. I bought a lot of flavors of M&M's (try the mint and pretzel together, I urge you). I went to Target and Trader Joe's multiple times.

And pipe bombs were put in the mail.

And two people were shot dead at a Kroger just because they are Black.

And children continue to starve in Yemen.

And a man shot up a synagogue during a baby naming ceremony.

I cannot forget these things, no matter how many costumes I try on or M&M's I stuff into my gaping maw of a mouth. I never stop caring that these things are happening, and while I do not think it is wrong to experience joy in these silly, simple things, I always return to thinking about what I can do to help.

I know I cannot change all these things, but it is terribly important to me to do my bit to make things better. I believe in preserving the dignity of each human being, and I believe we have power in our hands to effect change. These times can feel hopeless, as if there's nothing we can do. But that's not true. There is something - more than one something.

Many of us can vote, and we can choose to vote not in our own interests, but in service of the greatest amount of good for the most people. Let's stop thinking about how policies will affect us personally, but instead how they will affect those most in need of help. November 6 is approaching quickly, US friends. Make your vote count for those who are hurting, who are marginalized, who are watching their children die in the name of faulty alliances.

We can help others directly. If someone needs something they cannot obtain themselves, we can give it to them. There are so many people who are unable to feed themselves and their families - we can give food, but we can also give money. Many people say not to give money to homeless people, but I think that it's ok sometimes. I think it is demeaning and dehumanising to assume that the money is going to feed an addiction. Use your discretion, and make the kindest possible choice. If in doubt, ask people what they want and need.

We can use our voices to speak the truth kindly but plainly. We can remind others - and in the process remind ourselves - of the importance of choosing the preservation of others' lives and wellbeing above the preservation of our own comfort. This is what I am doing now, obviously. Because even though I think of these things most of the time, I need the reminder too.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Here We Are

We arrived in the USA on Wednesday evening and began a sprint through our days here in Missouri. Today we finally slowed down a little. There were no scheduled events or visits. My grannie lives across the road from my parents, so E and I moseyed over to see her. My mom and I ran a couple of easy errands in the small town nearby, and that was it. We needed a day like this.

A few people have asked me how it feels to be in America after being away and reading the news from afar. I'm not exactly sure how to answer that. With a whirlwind of a schedule, it's hard to really observe what it's like here now and process what I think about it. I feel a tension in the air with the elections so near. But it isn't just because of the elections, and it isn't just in the air. The tension exists because things are going wrong. It exists within me when I see a confederate flag proudly displayed on someone's home and when I know that if I say what I believe is good and true and right, it would be dismissed or scorned. I am not going to waste my words on people who will not listen, so sometimes I go ahead and keep my mouth shut. (But not always.)

I will and do say my piece when I can, when it might make a sliver of a difference. I'm not sure how effective I am, but I'll keep trying. If nothing else, I hope I can be an encouragement to those who are still here every day, fighting the good fight in the service of recognizing the value of every human being and the importance of protecting the vulnerable. This is what it all comes down to for me. Are we taking care of those who have the greatest need? Are we protecting those who cannot protect themselves? If the answers to these questions are no, then what is happening is not right. I am particularly concerned for children.

I'm going to leave it at that for now. I'll have more to say about his later, I'm sure. But for now I'm typing on an iPad and starting to nod off, so it will have to wait. Maybe it will have to wait until we get back home. Maybe from now until we are home again, I'll just regale you with stories of Very American Things we do, like going through the Starbucks drive thru and trying on taco costumes (I have a photo for that second one). Stay tuned to find out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


After all that counting down, we're left with just one night before we leave. Tomorrow we'll arrive in the Midwest US after one long flight and one short one. Suitcases are packed and dishes are done and I've cleaned out the fridge. We are only going to be gone a little over two weeks, but somehow it feels like it's a long time. Maybe this is because it is a long way away? I'm not sure. But off we go, and then before we know it we will be heading back home. Then it will be November - my favorite! I'm looking forward to another November here in this city.

I'm not sure how often I'll be able to post to this blog while we are away. I like the discipline of writing every weekday, and if possible, I will. I'm fairly certain I won't write anything tomorrow night. But after that? Well. We shall see.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Yes, It's Another Cat Photo

Two days until we leave. The cats are not impressed with our packing efforts. They weren't born yesterday; they know what this means. No warm humans on which to nap throughout the day! It's just terrible.

I've entered the part of trip prep at which I must come to a place of acceptance about the fact that we are leaving our house dirty and a bit messy. As usual. But I always have such high hopes that this time will be the time that we get it together and leave with the house in decent condition. We used to do this. I mean, before we had kids. So. Eight years to come to a place of full acceptance of this reality, and still I struggle.  I am only human.

This is also the part of trip prep where we all get a bit snappish at one another, and at least one kid cries a lot about something small. We've got two weeks planned that will be crammed full of seeing people we love in various locations. This is good, but it's also stressful. We feel the weight of expectations which may or may not even exist. I think this is normal, all part and parcel to the whole living abroad experience. We will carry on. We will get on the flight, and our kids will fry their brains on the in flight screen experience. So will J and I, most likely. And it will be okay. There will be beds waiting for us at the other end of the journey. We can do it!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Eat or Freeze It

So now this is a trip countdown and cat photo blog. And they're not even good cat photos - I hope you can handle it. Five days until we leave for the USA, and today was the day I started making my family eat all the leftover food we have. What we can't eat, I hope to freeze. I'm trying to figure out if I can freeze double cream. The verdict is...maybe. So I'm thinking I should just whip it and we can have whipped cream on all the stale cookies that are languishing at the back of the cupboard. Dessert at every meal! Have some more whipped cream!

We are trying to waste less food overall, so this is good practice for us. We are gradually doing better, but I still feel like we let too many things go bad in our refrigerator. The key to getting this right is threefold, as I see it. First, I need to better estimate how much we will eat; sometimes I just make too much. Second, we all need to be more willing to eat leftovers, and by "we all" I mean the other three people in this house, because by virtue of wanting to eat quickly and not have to prepare anything, I eat leftovers directly from the container with a fork every single day. Third, I need to freeze things which we obviously will not eat straightaway. Even fresh fruit and veg can be made into things that can be frozen. I don't mind sending some things to the compost bin, but we can do better. We'll start now.

And then we'll go away for two weeks and start over when we get back. The goal is not only to do better about not wasting food, but to start some good new habits with our shopping as well. Tesco delivery serves us well for many things, but the plastic packaging is way over the top. We get a few things from a zero waste grocery delivery service already, and I intend to start getting a seasonal veg box delivered either weekly or semi-weekly. This is something I've meant to do since we moved here, and then life got in the way. But now we're ready.

First though - it's just five days until we leave, and I've got to run a few errands tomorrow, teach Sunday School on Sunday, and do a couple of big hairstyles on Monday and Tuesday. I'll leave the plans for after we return on the list I've already got on my desk for that purpose and proceed with what I've got to do right now.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

This is Basically a Countdown Now

I put a photo of our Teddy sleeping at the top of this post because I am tired. That's the only reason; this post is not at all about cats. It is six days until our trip to the USA. I've been preparing for it for far longer than the actual trip will last. This is what usually happens when we travel, but especially when it's a trip to see family and friends. There's a lot to coordinate; I forgot how much. But things that need to be done here in London while we are gone are all arranged (or will be once I hand over the homeschool group materials tomorrow), and I think there are just a few more things I need to attend to in terms of what must occur while we are in the USA. I don't think I've overlooked anything essential, but if you are a Kansas City friend waiting to hear from me, you may or may not have heard from me yet. Sorry about that.

Tomorrow I'll pull out the suitcases and begin that part of the packing. With a busy weekend ahead, and hair to do on Monday and Tuesday, it needs to be done well in advance for the sake of my peace of mind. On Wednesday morning I want to just wake up, put on my travel outfit (yes, I have a travel outfit), and walk downstairs to grab the suitcases we've gotten packed and placed in the hall. I am not a morning person; I do not want to leave anything to chance when we need to get to the airport on time. So tomorrow, I will pack as much as possible. Then I'll make a list of the things which need to be put in the night before, after which I'll make a second list of things which must be popped into my carryon that morning (my phone and charger, mainly, but there are always a few more things I've not thought of).

I packed my carryon already, as it's the one that holds the important things like passports, residence cards, flight itineraries, and copies of documents they may request to see at passport control. We have been asked once for adoption documents, and we didn't have them, believing the children's passports to be enough. They let us go, but we got a reprimand and were told we had to produce them in the future if we are asked. So I have a binder into which I put copies of everything. I know, tech people, I know that I could just put digital files on my phone. But once we had a situation in which a phone was relied upon for something I'd wanted to print, and that situation was very stressful for me, and now I print everything, I'm not sorry, the end.

I think that the lead up to a trip is the hardest part. Once we are on the plane, it will feel less stressful. Until then, expect me to continue my countdown and keep you up to date with my trip preparation progress. You are thrilled, I can tell. You're welcome.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Coming Home

It's just one week before we will be in the USA. For most of the visit, we will be staying where I grew up. My parents have a farm, and when we stay with them, our kids have a lot of freedom to roam and be outdoors. It's a nice change of pace, and a benefit to being so far away from home for a short time. (The other main benefit is Target. I mean, aside from seeing people that we love.) I look for these benefits, because this trip feels like a big undertaking. It feels somehow harder than other trips we've taken back to the USA, and I really don't know why.

Or maybe I do, and it's too complicated to type it out. The USA is just not a place I'm interested in visiting right now. I think we can leave it at that. (For now.) But I am glad to travel to celebrate my parents managing to be married for half a century. I am glad that we will see friends and family, who we love. I am glad that our kids will get to trick or treat in America and get so much candy that they will be fully stocked with treats for a month (or at least for the flights back).

I am glad that, at the end of it all, we will get to come home. When we are in Missouri, many people will ask me what it feels like to be home, and I will just smile and say it's good. They will assume I am talking about Missouri, because that is where I come from. But I'll be talking about London. This is where we've made our home. Even though we haven't left yet, I'm already looking forward to the moment walk back through our own front door.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Happy to Be in the Now

As busy as I've been lately, it's not lost on me that my life as a parent is getting increasingly easier in some key ways. The fact that both my children use the toilet independently is enough on its own to warrant a feeling of ease, but they are both self sufficient in a lot of other ways, too. I feel like I get the best part of the caring work, but I don't have to do the most inconvenient and messy things anymore. I am really happy about this. My children at ages six and eleven are amazing. They are doing well in a lot of ways, and I don't miss those early days one bit.

This has surprised me. I know a lot of people who aren't fans of young childhood, but I am. I love babies and young kids. And I loved my kids as babies and young kids. I didn't wish they were older, ever. I mean, they were both so amazing in their first days and years with us - how could I wish those days away? E was the cutest baby imaginable, and she made friends with absolutely everyone. She was messy and spunky and hilarious. Her baby and toddler years were filled with joy in a lot of ways. Z was at the end of her toddler years when we met her, and she was the most beautiful child I had ever seen, with the cutest accent and the best funny faces. Getting to know her was incredible - she showed up as her own person, and I was amazed at her from the first moment I saw her. We had some brilliant moments with both of our kids when they were small. I treasure those memories. Of course I do.

But both my kids' early days with us were painful sometimes, both physically and emotionally. Both girls had medical procedures done, and both lived through the grief of finding themselves in a second family with no choice in the matter. It was hard. So, so hard. And I would never want either of them to live through those most painful parts again. The things we have walked through as a young family belong in the past. Now we see the payoff of the hard work that has been done, by the kids primarily, with our support and guidance as their parents, and I would not trade this time for even one moment of those early days. As I look through the photos and videos (toddler ballet - ohmygoodness!), I have realized that this is enough, to be able to look back at those times and enjoy the best parts.

Surely if we could get one day or one hour back, I would want that. I would choose the very best moments, when no one was sad or having blood drawn or unable to sleep. But that's not how it works. We can't go back in time. And they are growing into such wonderful people besides - I am thoroughly enjoying seeing who they are becoming, how their minds work, what they excel at, and what piques their interests. It is a marvelous thing, watching them grow up. I am happy to be right here, right now.

Monday, October 8, 2018

How I Know I'm Too Busy

I don't remember which day I lost the mug that you see there on the shelf of my wardrobe, but I do know it took me two days to find it. This is the kind of thing that I do when I have too many things going on at once. I start putting my phone - which I misplace at least once a day anyway - in increasingly stranger places, and then I start losing other things which I don't normally lose track of. This mug is not small. I should be able to find it fairly easily. I can usually retrace my steps and locate whatever I've set down pretty easily. But on the day I set this mug down, I did so many things that I had no clue what I had done when, so retracing my steps was impossible.

It's time to slow things down.

We leave for the USA in nine days. I wanted things at home to be in good order before we left, because it is so nice to come home to a clean and organized house. I think that unless a cleaner and an organizer show up on my doorstep, I need to accept that this will not happen and instead make sure that nothing gross develops over time. I mean, if there is cream-laced coffee curdling in a wardrobe for two weeks, that's going to be a problem. Better to have a few extra things out and a dirty kitchen floor than to find something rotting in the deepest recesses of our house in December, am I right? I'm pretty sure I'm right. If you think I'm wrong, feel free to come over and do some cleaning.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Things I Made With Green Tomatoes, a List

Every single tomato - green and otherwise - that I picked has now been made into something else. While I wouldn't call it a herculean effort, it was certainly a sustained effort, and the lack of effort for most other things* shows. But I can catch up on those things later. For now, there will be no tomatoes rotting in my kitchen because I gave up on figuring out what I could do with them. Here is what I came up with:

  • Green tomato, apple, & mango chutney (good, will be happy to use it and give it to others)
  • Green tomato, apple, and sultana chutney (amaaaaaazing - I ate some plain)
  • Green tomato pasta sauce (smelled fantastic but tasted awful, went straight to the compost bin - I might have been able to salvage it by sweetening it a bit, but I didn't have the time to mess with it)
  • Green tomato and onion chutney (the replacement for a second batch of pasta sauce, a solid effort that would be perfect for frittatas - if only my family liked frittatas)
  • Slow cooker green tomato salsa (not yet done, but there's a lot of it, so I hope it turns out okay)

And if you're wondering if I also made the banana bread I mentioned in yesterday's post, the answer is yes. I made two loaves, and we ate half of one for lunch. Then I mixed up some cookie dough, because if I'm taking things to the next level, I may as well include something into which I can dump some M&M's. (They were on sale. I couldn't help myself.) I'll bake the cookies tomorrow. For now, I'm done. 100%, without a doubt, DONE.

I think I'm going to sleep well tonight.

*We did some homeschool lessons and everyone got to eat plenty, but that's about it. Please don't show up at my house unannounced...unless you want to clean and organise and do laundry.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

I'd Rather Be Napping (But I'm Hanging Out With Tomatoes)

It appears I'll be spending my whole week with tomatoes. And with my children, naturally. Sometimes both at once. I'm beginning to feel jealous of my cat, who can slip upstairs and burrow under the covers whenever she'd like. But my cat has to eat cat food, and I am allowed to eat what it turns out is fairly good chutney, so I will keep my own life, and keep cutting tomatoes and mixing them up with various other ingredients to get things which are hopefully all edible. Round one of chutney - to which I added mango and apple - was a success, so I'm feeling good about my chances.

At this very moment, there is a slow cooker full of tomatoes and onions bubbling away on my kitchen counter. I overestimated the amount of tomatoes and other fruit that would fit in my largest stock pot, so something needed to be done with the extra tomatoes and onions which had already been cut and salted. I figured I'd try to make pasta sauce. I put in oregano, basil, rosemary, parsley, some frozen garlic cubes, and a good bit of olive oil. It smells heavenly now. We'll see how it is after it's simmered overnight.

Tomorrow will be another day of chutney making, this time with apples and sultanas. If the pasta sauce turns out well, I've got enough tomatoes and onions for another batch already washed, cut, and salted. And then there are still more tomatoes. I know. This is out of control. I should probably quit before my house descends into the kind of chaos normally observed on an episode of Hoarders. But I just can't do it. I picked those tomatoes, and I intend to use them.

My plan at the moment is to use the last couple of kilograms to make salsa. This is why I have two slow cookers, so that I can be making more than one experimental sauce type product at a time. Why make just one sauce when I could make two? Or in this case, three, if we include the chutney that will be on the stove. There's actually room for a second large stock pot on the stove, and I considered dividing out some of the tomatoes for something else exciting, but then I figured I'd better quit while I was ahead. Or, um, maybe just not terribly behind.

Because did I mention I am also making banana bread tomorrow? I am. If I'm on the avoiding-food-waste crazy train, I may as well ride it all the way to the last stop.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

An Accidental Gardener's Work is Never Done

We've just had mint grow itself in our garden. This was not really a surprise, as we've already had lilies, poppies, and an enormous tomato plant grow themselves without us lifting a finger. It seems to just be the thing our garden is doing this year, and it's doing it very well. The tomato plant got a bit of water in the beginning, and there was some small effort to support the vines, but mostly we did nothing. And it worked brilliantly. At this moment, the vines have stretched themselves so far in every direction that there remains only room for our table, the compost bin, and a medium sized drying rack. The back garden belongs to that tomato plant. It owns it.

But it's not just lying around doing nothing. For months now it has given us lovely little cherry tomatoes, too many to count. I've put them in salads. I've put them in guacamole. I've slow roasted multiple batches and stowed them in the freezer for winter soups, pastas, and other hearty meals. I thought I would be done by now. But the tomato plant keeps giving, and giving, and giving.

I'll admit I was tempted to just call it quits after the last hurried batch that I slow roasted a bit less slowly than the others. We've got a full schedule and a big trip coming up. I don't think anyone would blame me if I picked some more as they got ripe and used them in a few meals, then let the rest go. But I couldn't do it. It felt wasteful, like I was denying a gift I've been given. The vines were full of green tomatoes, and I knew that there would be something that could be done with them if I would only take the time to do it. I asked a friend. I asked the internet. The answer was the same from both: chutney. Green tomatoes make fabulous chutney.

And so I am currently wading through a sea of green tomatoes which need to be washed, quartered, salted, and left overnight. It took two days to find the time to pick them all. I got through about half of the washing and cutting today. Tomorrow, I'll make the first batch of chutney. I've gotten some mango and apples to put in it. I hope it's good. Regardless, there will be enough for a second gigantic batch, and for that there are more apples and some sultanas. By week's end, I hope to be done with these...for now.

I still have to figure out who's going to eat all this chutney.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

What Day of Christmas is September 30?

On Saturday, I walked into Marks & Spencer to the most ridiculous sight: Christmas trees. On every floor, there were Christmas things arranged in pleasing displays. This particular M&S has four floors. That's a whole lot of room for pre-October Christmas displays. I was slightly annoyed, but also? I...well...I kind of liked it. The lights! The gift wrap! The reindeer candelabras! I just went ahead and acquiesced. It is now Christmas season. Yes, I know that it's not been Halloween yet. And I know that there's Thanksgiving in the USA, which I know is meant to happen prior to Christmas. But we are not in the USA. We are, apparently, on Christmas Island (formerly known as Great Britain).

The thing is that I've been Christmas shopping since July. I know that it's unnatural. But it also saves a lot of money! We give each of our kids something to wear, something to read, and something to play with. I'm already done buying the things we need for E, thanks in part to scoring 1/3 of her gifts at Poundland in July. Yes, you read that right. I got one of the gifts at Poundland. In July. She'll love it, and she'll never know where it came from. Well, unless you tell her. (I'm not opposed to her knowing, just maybe it would be best to wait until she understand the triumph of a good bargain.)

I really love the Christmas season, and I hate having lots to do when I could be enjoying the holiday lights and trying out all the different flavors of hot chocolate that different coffee shops come up with. I've been doing my shopping early for years now. I always end up needing to get a few things last minute, because I am forgetful, but there's nothing big to get done right before the big day. I aim to get done by my birthday, which is November 28, and that usually works out.

Judging by the pace of autumn so far, before we know it, the Christmas markets will be open, and it will be time to eat churros in the dark at 4:30pm. We'll be away in the USA for the last half of October, so this will quicken autumn's pace even more. Really, we're just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the part of winter in which I start moaning that it's been cold and dark for too long. So for now, I'm going to enjoy what is. It's autumn, and there are Christmas trees in Marks & Spencer. Fantastic.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Better Expectations

Today was much better than last Monday. I no longer feel betrayed by Monday. Will Monday be my BFF again? Sadly, not this term. It was still a full day, and I really hate that we don't have dinner and wind down from there, but instead have to get to and from an activity, then eat a bit more, then get down to business with baths and bedtime. However, today went just fine, and I can chalk that up to just one thing: adjusting my expectations.

I decided this morning that my only goals for today would be to get our book work done, visit our neighbor, and get the kids fed and out the door in time to get to E's ballet class on time. Anything else that happened to get done would be a bonus. No pressure. And also, no laundry. I can't do laundry on Mondays anymore. I will not expect to be able to do it.

Without the pressure to get a lot done, I ended up doing a lot that I hadn't planned on doing. Eliminating the rushing around and the feeling of being behind on things made the extra tasks I did go more smoothly. And I could stop whenever I felt like it was enough. I got dishes done. I picked a ridiculous amount of green tomatoes (more on plans for that later, if they work out and I feel like sharing). I made my epsom salt spray and put it away where it actually goes. I'm not going to lie, when I am in a rush, things get left out a lot. But not today!

I won't guarantee that every Monday - or any day, really - will go as well as today did. It's not always possible to keep my expectations in check. But today went well. I'll take it.