Saturday, 28 September 2013

7 Quick Takes - THESIS MADNESS - Vol. 14

--- 1 ---
So on Saturday past, with David in the midst of Thesis Madness, the kiddies and I took the train up to Peterborough to see our friend Pippa who was on her way south from Aberdeen. She always makes a point of detouring out our way if she can, and the Peterborough train station happened to be a stop on her journey this time. We had a lovely visit and the timing was perfect, because I’d been thinking a lot of our journey up to Aberdeen at this time last year:

somewhere in Scotland -- Walter's first train journey

my seasoned traveler
 --- 2 ---
Life here mostly consists of Thesis Madness. Every day is full of highs, lows, and lots of stress. So, pray for us.
--- 3 ---
I ordered some clothes for the kids last week and was all set to write about how much I love online shopping. But that was a week ago, and it wasn’t until 3am last night that I got the “your order has shipped” email. Not cool, Vertbaudet, not cool. I like their clothing but definitely not their “order to shipping” speed – the same thing happened in July when my brother ordered something from them for Walter’s birthday. So I guess I could revise this to “I love online shopping when it’s Amazon or some place similar that actually manage to ship the order a day or two after I place it”, but that seems a bit wordy.

--- 4 ---
Did I mention Thesis Madness? Oh yeah? PRAY FOR US.

--- 5 ---
Walter is definitely entering toddler-hood, which means really adorable and more grownup behavior interspersed with tantrums. So far we’ve avoided the full on classic tantrum, but I get my fair share of loud scream-crying & growling, with the occasional foot stomp, on a daily basis. Aside from the deafening noise, my biggest problem with them is that I cannot keep a straight face and it is so hard to keep from dissolving into laughter. We’ve been sending him for quiet time in his crib when he can’t control his temper, and that’s been working, but man that kid can scream.

--- 6 ---
Between my introvert personality & years of torment at the hands of elementary & junior high school children, I tend to second guess whether or not people like me. Generally I err on the side of caution, and assume that they don’t, so then I get a pleasant surprise when they do (logic!). Thus imagine my delight when our local parish priest recognised me when I was walking with the kids today. Recognised, said hi, and made small talk! We’ve only been going to Mass there for five months and we’re not involved in anything so it was a great boost to my day. We haven’t frightened off our priest!

--- 7 ---
You know, just in case I haven’t made it clear – Thesis Madness. Pray for Us. Please.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Where we live now: Ely

I haven’t written overmuch about our time in Canada. Although it was lovely to be back with family, it was also really difficult as David had to return to Cambridge in mid-January. When he went back, all we knew was that:

- he would need to be in England for an indefinite period of time
- my job was probably being made redundant
- we had a decreasing amount of my maternity pay to live on each month

So with all that in mind, Walter and I stayed in Canada a little longer until we could see how everything was panning out, mostly because of the immense cost involved in getting Walter a visa. I didn’t want to spend that kind of money if David was only going to be gone for a couple of months.

Shortly after David returned to England, things panned out in such a way that Walter & I were able to come back. It was really hard to come back, because in order to return to England I needed to cut my maternity leave short and go back to work (part of the good news being that I at least had a job to return to). David was living in student accommodation, but as he’d booked it as a single person there just wasn’t enough space for the three of us, so we spent some anxious weeks trying to find a relatively short-term lease on an affordable apartment that was conveniently located for us to access what we need in Cambridge. The solution was to move to Ely (about a half-hour drive) and it was one of the best decisions we’ve made.

One of my favourite cottages in the center of town. I really wish we lived here!

Out for a walk with the kiddies -- you can see our building on the right. So not quite my tudor cottage, but girl's gotta dream!
We love Ely (pronounced "ee-ly" -- named after the eels that used to abound in its river). It is, according to Wikipedia, the 7th smallest city in the UK (with a population of less than 17,000). It houses one of the wonders of the medieval world – Ely Cathedral. It’s a gem of a city in a vast sea of East Anglian farmland, and the townspeople are a good mix of elderly folks and young families. People are really polite and friendly. Because it’s the only city within reasonable travel distance for anyone living in the fenland villages, it boasts a fair number of shops (both chain & niche) and has a great market so we rarely need to go elsewhere. Cambridge is only a short, and cheap, train journey away and there is a bus that goes directly from the city to my office.
A rather crooked shot of Ely Cathedral. We live on the other side of it.

It's old.

St Etheldreda. Patron saint of our church, and I suppose of the whole city :)
We have a small flat that overlooks the River Ouse on one side and Ely Cathedral on the other. Day ‘round we can tell time by the chiming of the Cathedral’s great clock. Walter burns off his energy by playing on the Cathedral green and is learning about animals by watching the horses & donkeys that live in the pasture next to the Cathedral. It only takes us five minutes or so to walk out of the city and into the surrounding farmland, so we’re able to go on lots of nature walks. Basically, it is almost everything we’ve wanted in a place to settle, so we are making the most of the opportunity to live here for a few months.

The view at Walter's park

And a shot of the English countryside at sunset. Love love love our nature walks!

Friday, 20 September 2013

7 Quick Takes - Mostly Kids and then a Recipe - Vol. 13

--- 1 ---
Fridays are not good days right now. We like beginnings of the week, not ends. So if you read this and can spare a prayer for a family that’s caught up in the most stressful time they’ve ever seen, please do. Hopefully this thesis madness will be over soon and we can start getting back to something approaching normal.
--- 2 ---
What is good is that David thought watching through all of Seinfeld would be a nice way to unwind. We’ve been really enjoying watching all the episodes in order and seeing how the little inside jokes develop. What’s most interesting is how some of the plot action is now obsolete less than 20 years later. So many times there is a major crisis because one of the characters can’t access a payphone or because the friends are separated and can’t contact each other. This is so foreign now in the age of mobile phones. It’s weird thinking about how much life has changed since we were teenagers.
--- 3 ---
Walter had a cold two weeks ago. Then, just as he got over it, I succumbed to the lingering germs and caught it back. And then, because we are almost never separated, he caught it back from me. Fortunately it doesn’t seem to be bothering him as much this time around because the rest of us were getting pretty sick of toddler tantrums.
--- 4 ---
Walter finally had his 12 month developmental check, which was only interesting for me so far as I got his height, which at 2’7” puts him in the 91st percentile, and his weight – 24lbs! So he is a big strong toddler. The rest of the visit was a lot of questions peppered with the Health Visitor’s anxiety. She mentioned we should think about a gate for the stairs. I mentioned that since we live in an apartment, which she may have remembered since she was visiting us at home, it was unlikely that we would actually be able to gate off the communal stairwells. She was also concerned that we let him walk home from town... I was wondering if she thought we had him on some sort of forced march. The kid is pretty capable of asking to be picked up when he wants to.
--- 5 ---
Emily also had a few minor checkups, which were just as frustrating as Walter’s. I had a question about the healing of her bellybutton. The Health Visitor thought I needed to get a cream for it, but didn’t know what it was called, so suggested I ask a midwife or a doctor. When I saw the midwife later that afternoon, I asked her my question and she gave me a long lecture about the signs of infection and how Emily didn’t have one (which I ALREADY KNEW AND WHICH WASN’T MY QUESTION), then said nothing was necessary, and then decided that Emily has a possible hernia so I should get a doctor to look at her. I get so frustrated because whenever I actually have a question about the kids’ health, I can’t get an answer from the frontline professional and they end up saying “go see a doctor”. So it would actually make more sense to just go see a doctor and skip the front line. Appointment imminent.
--- 6 ---
Emily’s brain has reached a new level of development and she has increased her alertness. She’s always trying to crawl/kick her way up to our faces, and usually when she reaches David’s face she tries to suck on his nose. We’ve seen a few attempts at a smile – just a twitch of the corner of her mouth. She seems mostly out of the newbie newborn phase of cry-sleep-eat-cry and can handle being awake and looking around. She is also learning stealth, along the lines of being very quiet if Walter’s attentions are getting a bit boisterous, as he then tends to forget she’s there.
--- 7 ---
And on a non-kid note, I needed some comfort food and have been craving “cauliflower cheese” since I first had it on Induction Day at the hospital. The only tried & tested recipe I have for it is actually a pasta bake that has cauliflower and cheese in it. It’s super decadent. It’s super comforting. And it’s super, super good. So I made it for David and he loved it and I loved it and we may die of heart attacks next week but oh well: Cheesy Baked Penne with Cauliflower

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Ukrainian Christmas

Most people who have met me, or talked to me, or given me any reason at all to mention it know that I’m from a Ukrainian/Mennonite-Canadian family. I’m sort of obsessed with history and genealogy, yet between deceased grandparents and dementia it’s almost impossible for me to get anywhere with the resources I have to hand. So I cling pretty fiercely to the bits of family memory I can salvage and I’m proud of my heritage.

My dad as a baby, outside their prairie shack somewhere in Manitoba
My family isn’t big on many Ukrainian traditions. We don’t speak Ukrainian, we weren’t enrolled in any Ukrainian activities (like Ukrainian dancing), and we all grew up on Vancouver Island, where there isn’t a large Ukrainian community. My mum and I keep up a few traditions that she sort of remembers, but as her family had lost touch with the Orthodox faith even these are sort of secularised. Not that it makes much difference to us, because we mostly center our family traditions around yummy food!

Or in this case, Gramma centers her Christmas tree amongst some Ukrainian Easter eggs...
So, as we had spent English Christmas in Victoria, we convinced my parents to postpone (relatively, as my 23-year-old baby brother still needed an English Christmas, apparently) Christmas until Ukrainian Christmastime (which falls on January 7th). Then we had to change the date again, since John needed to be back at University before then, so on January 5th we celebrated our English-Ukrainian-Christmas. This was David’s first time to celebrate Christmas with my family, so I was really excited.

decorating the tree a couple of weeks beforehand -- somehow John always ends up getting garland/beads/ribbon wrapped around him as a trial run. I wonder who's responsible for that...
We like to do all our present opening in one go, stockings first, then tree presents, so that’s the way it rolled. I always love opening the stockings, because “Sandy-Claus” usually fills them with some choice picks of chocolate, a few little bits & bobs, and then a new piece of jewellery for me. Everything a girl could desire! This year was no different. And then the under-the-tree My parents had gone all out, which was really unexpected since they’d helped with the cost of our flight home. My brother, who hands out the presents, is always guided to ensure that we all get our ‘big’ present last, which this year was just as well as it was pretty hard to get me to focus on anything once I unwrapped a brand new Kindle. I love to read, but with all the travel and juggling of a baby it’s been so hard to get through paper books (and they’re so heavy to pack). The Kindle was an ideal solution, and my book-reading has almost returned to normal now that I can access e-books.

Walter amazed everyone by interacting with his presents, and we took videos in which you can see my brother & parents intently focused on Walter and his gift opening, while David and I sit in the background playing with our new toys (David got a fancy electric razor) and basically passing off the parenting responsibility... Walter’s big present from my parents was a Baby Einstein Jumperoo. In order to ensure he got a lot of use out of it he’d been given it when we arrived in December, so by Christmastime he was an expert at jumping. It was a great gift for our mobile little guy.

Walter gets some help with present opening from Uncle Johnny
After presents and clean-up my mum made us a delicious breakfast of German pancakes (like crepes), peach & whipped cream filling, and bacon. Then we relaxed and helped cook the big Christmas dinner, which is a mix of Canadian foods (like turkey) and Ukrainian food (like the perogies mum & I made from scratch). My Gramma and some family friends came over to join us and it was a really lovely evening. It was the first time I’d been home for the holidays since 2008 and it was wonderful. Even with all the stress of travel and not knowing where we were going to be living come spring, we are thankful that we had the opportunity to spend Walter’s first Christmases with our families back home.

We also had snow! So that was nice and Christmassy, although it delayed our trip back to Victoria by a couple of days since the roads weren't in good driving condition. Made up for it with lovely woodland walks.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

7 Quickish Takes - (Vol. 12)

So life with two little ones is crazy and most days there’s at least one episode in which I think of giving the whole parenting thing up and decamping to the moon. I feel that the moon is at least a respectable place to run off to... Anyway, David always steps in and comes up with an idea to save my sanity, and then peace is restored and I can get back to serene thoughts about how nice it is. Seven Quick Takes is probably the closest I can get to summing up the last bit of forever. In no particular order:

--- 1 ---
We celebrated our three year wedding anniversary, which is a pretty amazing feat (I mean the celebrating, not the fact we’re still together) given everything that happens in August. On the actual day my mum watched Walter for a bit so that we could go out for mid-morning tea at Peacocks. It was lovely. I then decamped to the spa, where I got so relaxed that I thought I was finally unwound enough to go into labour, and subsequently spent a good chunk of the middle of the night in the hospital, hooked up to various machines because Emily’s heart rate was being wonky. Left at 4am, still pregnant.

--- 2 ---

The big part of our anniversary celebration, since I failed to bring home a baby on the day, occurred on August 20th where my mum once again stepped in to watch the babies while David and I went out to meet Neil Gaiman. It was hosted by the local, and one of the world’s best, bookseller, Topping & Co., and due to the size it was held in Ely Cathedral. Neil Gaiman is hilarious and it was so nice to get out and do something relatively grown-uppish and belonging much to live before children, when we used to go out to things like this all the time. And did I mention that there was complimentary wine and I could now drink??? Due to the number of books being signed there was a long intermission, in which we brought home thai food, checked on the kids, ate supper with mum, and then returned to the cathedral for the world’s longest wait (ok, it was 2 hours but since I’d given birth four days before it was really painful for me), and I was starting to regret coming back to meet Mr Gaiman but then, even tho’ he’d been signing books for close to four hours, when we met him he was funny & nice & drew a heart in our copy of his latest book & generally made us feel like individuals instead of just one of many cogs on the Victorian assembly line. And the walk home was moonlit and full of fairy lights on the cathedral green. Win all ‘round.

--- 3 ---

My mum was here for a month. And it was lovely. And every time she comes out to visit me/help with the baby birthing, it’s like being an only child again which is lovely (no offense, Johnnykins). I don’t think I was very good company, what with the being tired and grumpy and spaced out most of the time, but I think getting a whole month of Walter made up for it. He’s the only person on the planet who can get away with waking her up before 7am (he even got breakfast in the bargain. My main regret is that Emily came so late that Mum only got a few days with her before her flight back. David’s main regret is that the nightly stream of desserts to his office has stopped... 

--- 4 ---

The English summer has reached my favourite point, and hopefully it stays relatively like this until November. The days are warm-to-hot but the nights are cool – this seems to be the weather that housing and heating was designed for in this country, meaning that we don’t need to use the heating (which is good, because I’ve yet to find a place in Europe with heating that works like it does back home!) but the house isn’t too cold or too hot. There’s an apple tree ripening outside the north windows of our flat. Walter likes to look at it when he has his naptime bottle. I’m really glad we have one more English autumn to look forward to.

--- 5 ---

With the colder nights we’ve taken to relaxing with a cup of hot cocoa (and an episode or two of Seinfeld) before turning in. For convenience, and for the sake of our waistlines, we buy instant hot chocolate. But every once in awhile, when a particular treat is in order, I turn to my favourite recipe (which nothing I’ve found in store can compare to). It’s particularly good with some whiskey added for extra warmth:

Chocolat Chaud

  • 6oz. dark chocolate, chopped
  • ¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons hot water, divided
  • 3 cups hot milk (or 2 cups hot milk + 1 cup light cream)
  • Optional: 2 tbsp almond liquer OR ½ tsp almond extract or 2 tbsp whiskey (or any other good warming alcohol)
  • Sugar, to taste
  • Whipped cream
Using a double boiler or a heat-safe glass bowl over simmering water, melt the chopped chocolate into ¼ cup of the water. Stir in the 3 tablespoons hot water and milk (and almond if using) until the chocolate mixture is smooth. Taste and add sugar as necessary. Whisk again until smooth, then pour into mugs and top with whipped cream. Serves 3-4.

--- 6 ---

Carrying on with the chocolate talk, Cadbury’s has come out with a new chocolate bar that is full of jellybean coated pop rocks. It’s weird and delicious and now that Walter is napping I can really enjoy my chocolate break without having to fight off a toddler.

--- 7 ---

And finally, life around here, or the scene five seconds after I caught Walter crawling on top of his sister/the bouncy chair to take her soother. “Oh, was this the soother you wanted me to leave in her mouth?”


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!