Wednesday, 30 October 2013

My Thirtieth Birthday

A scarce two months and a day after Walter’s birthday comes mine, and this year it was a big event as I was turning thirty. Puzzling over what to do with my birthday had been on my mind for months – with a new baby and David just completing his work I wasn’t sure if a big party was the way to go. So I thought about it, and thought about my introvert personality, and decided to skip the party and aim for a family day. It meant a lot less stress and something different from the usual.

By a stroke of divine grace both children slept in until after seven on the morning of my birthday. And then they gave me a fuss-free morning. David made breakfast, Walter went for his nap, and Emily cuddled on me while I stayed in bed reading The Return of the King and feeling spoiled.

I’d hoped to go on an autumn picnic, but the day was gray and the parks were insufficiently dry. So we spent a picnic lunch indoors. As I was assembling our lunch, Walter came barreling down the hall with a gift for me – a box of truffles from the local choclatier. Emily, meanwhile, was holding a giant card and a limited edition Loreena McKennitt cd for me. The cd has all of my favourite songs on it and is a real treat (I’m a big fan).

After lunch (moroccan humous, cheese baguette, french brie, tomatoes, victoria sponge cake, crisps, and cherry cola) we went for a walk. Over the past few weeks, David had been scouting out a fenland nature walk for us to take on my birthday. He wanted to ensure that we could get the buggy down the trails and that the route was one that could get us home easily at the end, in case the kids were freaking out or I was really tired. Knowing that I was on a custom-planned walk was one of the best gifts of the day. The weather cooperated beautifully, the kids were well behaved, and we prowled in the fens for nearly two hours.

My boys

standing on a bridge over the Ouse

enjoying the fresh air
The area between the River Ouse and town is, to the naked eye, mere pastureland with cows, horses, and the railroad. In actual fact there are hidden lakes, where water has flooded the deep clay pits. There are sail boats, fishermen, and all manner of flora & fauna. Brambles overhang the path, and at this time of year they are full of delicious berries. It was so wonderful to be out in the country and gave me a very memorable birthday treat.

boats moored in the clay pits

Ely Cathedral across the Water (sort of what the medieval view was like)

pasture on the way home
bramble berries! I love feeding these to Walter on our walks
Because we don’t eat meat on Friday, and because I’m very fond of our normal Friday routine, I opted to postpone my birthday dinner until Sunday and we went ahead with our regular pizza night. As it was my birthday, David obliged me in my movie choice and we watched the 1985 Anne of Green Gables, which is one of the first movies I remember seeing.

Fast forward to Sunday – David spent the afternoon cooking my birthday dinner (made to order, no less!). We had roast beef, roast potatoes, beans & carrots, yorkshire pudding (which I made, because we long ago agreed that every couple needs some secrets and my yorkshire recipe should be one of those), and my favourite chocolate cake (with many comments on the butter & sugar content, because some people don’t understand that when it’s birthday cake the sugar & butter NO LONGER COUNT). It was a lovely meal and such a treat to have it all cooked for me.

My twenties were jam-packed with adventures. I got my BA & MA, lived in seven different cities and three different countries, found a career that really suits me, married my soulmate, had two children, and got to participate in a style of life that my wildest dreams had only touched on (balls, formals, garden parties, punting, etc). My resume has grown with the various jobs I’ve taken all over the world, and my personality has grown with those different experiences. It’s not been without excruciatingly hard parts: verbally abusive work environments that made me sick with stress, the pain of realising that the Academic Dream wasn’t for me, and the dark uncertainty of the last year of David’s PhD. But the memory of the hard parts fades, and the beauty of the life that I am creating with my husband and our children remains.

I hope that my thirties bring us to a place where we can be a little more settled. Moving every few years is expensive and tiresome, even if it is exciting to discover new cities and countries. I’d like the opportunity to pay down our debts, to really get involved in a community without knowing that it was only for a short period of time, and to focus on building our home. These are, I guess, my material goals.

I hope that I’ll be able to spend the next decade indulging my creativity a bit more. I want to learn to play the harp, and I’d like to get into better physical shape through some sort of dance class. I’d like to have a couple, or a few, more babies, and if there is any time remaining I wouldn’t mind learning a new craft, like mosaic making. And, if circumstances come together in the right way, I would like to join a choir again. These are my goals for continuing to develop into the person I want to be.

I hope to spend the next decade learning how to raise a Catholic family. I want to see my children learn from my example, and I want to see my own faith deepen and grow as I try to express it to them. I want to increase my prayer life into something meaningful and important. I want to increase the happiness and joy of those around me. I want to take part regularly in Adoration, sitting face to face with Christ and learning to commune with Him that way. These are my goals for developing into the holy person God wants me to be.

I’m looking forward to it.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Menu Plan Monday: 26/10 - 1/11

Linking up with for Menu Plan Monday 

Saturday: We’ve finally come to the end of Seinfeld. Since we didn’t know each other in the 90s, we decided to have a little Seinfeld Finale party now. The plan is to make pizza – I’m going to do a spicy sauce for the base and we’ll have one marinara pizza (thinking mussels & shrimp) and one Spanish-inspired (chorizo & olives) pizza...and possibly some wine.

Sunday: I’m in the mood for a roast chicken so I’ll be using David’s recipe & cooking one up for our Sunday roast. There’s gravy leftover from Thanksgiving and I’ll probably make some stuffing as I have a bag of celery in the fridge. Depending on the size of the bird I get with my delivery, I made be able to salvage enough scraps for some chicken, stuffing, & gravy sandwiches during the week.

Monday: I’ve been wanting to try an easy chicken wellington for awhile and the leftovers from Sunday’s roast will be perfect for this. We’ll be having it with rice & broccoli.

Tuesday: Although we’ve had a rather gloomy autumn, it’s time for a throwback to summer-ish foods with some teriyaki chicken wings, baked potatoes, and corn on the cob.

Wednesday: Since we’re going out in the morning I want something effortless for supper. Time to break out my last container of sausage & corn chowder.

Thursday: It’s Halloween! The kids are too little to go out but I still like celebrating so we’re going to have stuffed pumpkin & halloween beers (Hobgoblin for me & King Goblin for David) for dinner and some Halloween candy for dessert. We’ll kick back and watch some old Halloween specials as well. I’m really looking forward to it.

Friday: Pizza night!

Now a look at last week’s plan in practice:

Saturday’s roast turned out really well. I always stuff some garlic into the meat if I’m doing beef, and this time I used David’s technique of cutting the cloves into chunks instead of slivers. Then I coated the meat in mustard & pepper. It was delicious.

On Sunday I was really glad to have a relaxed meal to cook. The kids have been a bit high maintenance so it was really nice to not have to focus much on dinner. Sweet & Sour Pork is always a winner around this house – when Walter had his the next day I got a round of applause and lots of “yum. mmmmmmmmmmmms” while he was eating, which was great as his teething has made mealtimes a struggle.

Monday’s beet, apple, & pear salad turned out well. I won’t be making it again, as it was difficult to eat (the fruit was hard and kept sliding off the spinach & cheese), but it was tasty and really brought an autumn feeling to the evening.

Tuesday’s quesadillas were pretty good, but I didn’t like the addition of the rice & peas. We had beets in a sour cream sauce on the side, and I wasn’t won over by them either.

Wednesday’s pear salad was fantastic – so much so that the recipe made it into my recipe file. David was really happy that I remembered his recent cravings for sourdough bread and it was a nice, light, elegant meal.

Thursday’s spaghetti & meatballs was a great idea, although in practice it needed a little work. I overcooked the meatballs and the creamed spinach was a little too hearty a side for such a heavy meal. But it was easy to throw together and it’s definitely something I’ll be making again (since I still have another tray of meatballs!).

Friday was pizza night and it was delicious as always.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Menu Plan Monday: 19/10 - 25/10

Linking up with for Menu Plan Monday 

Saturday: The brisket I ordered for our Sunday roast had an expiry date of the day it was delivered, so it was brisket, rice & peas, yorkshire pudding, and corn on the cob for Saturday's supper.  

Sunday: Since we did Sunday roast for Saturday, I kept thing quick & easy with sweet & sour pork on Sunday. Meant a lot of relaxing time for me :) 

Monday: I’m trying out a couple of autumn salads this week. First up is apple, beet, & pear salad. We’ll be having this with white gondola bread from the farmer's market & some brie.  

Tuesday: With a relatively healthy meal the day before, we’ll go the comfort food route on Tuesday with beef quesadillas and creamed spinach. I still have some leftover rice & peas so I'm planning to put it into the quesadillas.

Wednesday: The plan is to go to playgroup on Wednesday, so I’m going to try a relaxed evening meal of roasted pear salad, brie, and sourdough bread.

Thursday: After two dinner-salad-days and with a meatless Friday before us we’ll probably be craving a hearty meal for Thursday, so I’m going to cook some of the meatballs my mum made on her visit and we’ll have spaghetti with meatballs (and garlic bread). She froze two huge batches of them so I may be able to make enough cooked food to freeze for a second easy reheat meal.  

Friday: Pizza Night!!!

Now a look at last week’s plan in practice:

Saturday’s dinner ended up delicious but it didn’t seem like it was going to make it. For some reason I just can’t get rice to cook properly in England. The water to rice ratio (2:1) never works so I eyeball the liquids to a level I know will cut it. This doesn’t work, however, if I’m making rice-with-stuff, like rice & peas or rice pilaf. So the rice burned on the bottom and took FOURTY MINUTES to cook through, while the sweet & sour glaze on my ham slowly burned itself onto the baking sheet (still haven’t managed to get it all off), and dinner was kind of lukewarm, and the rice wasn’t spicy enough because I was serving it again on Sunday and didn’t want to over-pepper our guests, and I just pretended that the smoky flavour, from the burnt bottom, was supposed to be there. That said, even with all the accidents it’s hard to go wrong with ham and rice & peas, so we enjoyed our meal when we finally got it.

Thanksgiving Dinner on Sunday was excellent, or so I’ve been told. Between juggling the children (I had help but I’m also a mother so I am more in tune with their capability for destruction than anyone else on the planet) and being tired from getting everything to the table, I wasn’t really able to savour the fruits of my labour. But I was pleased that everything went smoothly & according to plan – mostly due, I think, to doing all the chopping prep the evening before.  

Monday, as planned, I was out for dinner. I had a lovely meal of sausages & mash with carmelized red onion gravy & two giant onion rings. Many North Americans may complain about British food but I have little sympathy for this. You want a good meal in England? Go to a local pub of good repute and order something English. My meal may sound simple but it was excellent.

Tuesday was a day from hell, with both kids screaming and fussing all day, so I was glad that dinner involved almost no work. Reheating enchiladas proved almost too difficult a task РI forgot to put them in the oven! I managed to find the dregs of my energy to make creamed spinach as a side. I vaguely followed my usual creamed spinach recipe, but cut down a lot of the time consuming bits РI just saut̩ed a red onion and two cloves of garlic in butter & olive oil, tossed in some thawed & drained frozen baby leaf spinach, and doused the mixture in the remains of the Thanksgiving double cream. It was to die for.

On Wednesday I met up with some friends for lunch and the day sort of flew by in a haze of going out and coming home. It was pouring with rain and the kids & I got soaked. I was really glad that I’d planned leftovers of our hearty corn & sausage chowder for this night, as I had no energy and just wanted something warm and filling. I never got around to making biscuits so we had it with a cheese baguette.

We were almost completely out of most staples by Thursday so I took the children on a morning fun run to Tesco. There was a “dine in” sample truck there, which meant Walter and I could sample a good range of things. It kept him occupied and gave a nice treat to the day. Best for me was that the samples included wine... I wonder if anyone noticed me downing the glass when Emily started screaming and Walter tried to escape from the front of our buggy. Anyway, one motivator for our Tesco trip was the need to get another baguette for our meatball subs. I served them with a side ‘salad’ of sauteed peppers, red onion, garlic, and tomato. It was a real winner with everyone but Walter, who ate his bread & vegetables and the proceeded to chuck the meatball pieces onto the floor.

For Friday's pizza night we decided to use some of the red pesto we had left from our meatball subs. David did a pesto base, topped by sauce, topped by shaved garlic. It was a real winner, because the oil in the pesto gave a nice bit of flavour to the pizza without making it too soggy. We think it’s a new winning combination in our quest for the ultimate at home pizza.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Canadian Thanksgiving: The Ely Edition

It’s a sign that I’m getting back to a good mental place when we start having dinner parties again. There is a part of me that cares what people think, much as I try to crush this for all the insecurities it whispers, so it’s taking a lot of mental effort to ignore that the house is nowhere near the state I like it to be in when we have people over. By this I mean:        

  • we may be in our thirties, but this is still a student household and so we live like the vagrant students we are – most of my nice stuff, like my wedding china or our art collection, is back in Canada.
  •  as per above, and because our old student accommodation was furnished and no one outside the university will rent a furnished place to people with children, we have almost no furniture
  • our flat has NO STORAGE (the only closet houses the boiler & has no extra room for anything else), and I didn’t want to invest a tonne of money into buying wardrobes and dressers, so everything is just out there. Or in boxes. And with Walter rampaging around, we live in a state of constant clutter because he helpfully rearranges all the rooms all the time.
  • we live in a two bedroom flat, but David works from home & needs an office, so I have a sitting room/bedroom, and there’s no real “living room” anymore
Our lives are in a transition phase, which is why living like this works for now (and I try to keep my house-envy under control), but I feel a twinge whenever people come over, like I need explain why things are the way they are. Then I think about one of my best friends who used to host upwards of five people in her bedroom for Sunday lunch when she was a student, and how it never mattered if people were perched all over the place because the fun was that we were all together and it was always “the more the merrier”, and I think that as I’ve aged I’ve started caring a bit too much about things being materially-acceptable, and that I should just get over it. I don’t want to start caring about appearance & possessions more than I care about people.

Long preamble complete. Thesis Madness is over and Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend was the nearest holiday. We like to keep up with our Canadian holidays, so it seemed like an opportune time to invite some of our oldest British friends over: Emma & Rob. They used to live downstairs from us at St Regis, and they were the first people David really got to know when he moved here. They have been excellent friends to us over the years, even providing David with a place to stay for nearly three weeks when he had to return to Cambridge last December. 

We even spent our first UK Halloween with them -- this is at the Clare MCR Halloween Formal
 We had a lovely time. It was so nice to see grownups again! Walter and Emily behaved beautifully – there was only one time-out and minimal baby fussing. I managed to do the cooking without stressing myself out (so, so thankful I pushed myself to do all the prep the night before), David got the flat cleaned and fairly de-cluttered, and it was a warm and cozy evening. 

I was too busy chasing children & visiting to take a picture of the spread, so here is a picture of my ingenuity in creating a chip & dip plate from one of Walter's suction bowls & my special sandwich plate.

And besides all that stuff, Emma & Rob made an amazing pecan pie (which was nuts & chocolate in a pastry shell, so what’s not to love). They also obliged us by taking pictures of our family:

And, of course & most importantly, the things I am thankful for:

  • my babies. The children may make me question my sanity on a daily basis, but they also remind me to relax, to take life as it comes even if it doesn’t follow The Plan, and to find joy in my surroundings. Besides, there is nothing like a Walter-giggle or Emily-grin to chase away any fear or gloom.
  • my husband. Not only does he do amazing things (like complete his PhD on the University’s timeline requirements while also raising two babies, including full-time-parenting while I was back at work), but he understands me in all my moods, always is looking for fun things for us to do as a family, spoils me on a near-daily basis, and is the only human on the planet that my little introvert self can stand to be around 24-7.
  • the roof over our heads. This time last year we had no idea where we’d be living or what we’d be doing and it is just nice to have a place to call home again.
  • my family. I am thankful that I have a family whom I get along with. We don’t have fights or intrigues. I can trust my brother, which is something so easy to take for granted until you start hearing horror stories of how some siblings act. My inlaws are like a second family, which is such a blessing.
  • my friends. I am so thankful that I have real, true-blue friends. Friends I can count on. Friends I can be honest with. Friends who stick by me, who don’t judge me, and who don’t use me.
  • simple pleasures. I am thankful for all the little things – for long walks in the fens, for the view of a medieval cathedral from our apartment windows, for the changing seasons. Every day brings something new & beautiful if I stop worrying long enough to look for it. Although it would be nice to lose a lot of the current stress, having it just means we need to be creative in finding new ways to see happiness & joy.