Sunday, 30 March 2014

Last of the Old & New Year Celebrations

I still have to clear up the minutiae of December-January celebrations. There is always so much crammed into those few weeks between December 22nd & January 7th.

David’s Birthday

David’s birthday was fairly low-key this year, as we had too much going on to do anything that involved a lot of planning/people. But as we’re both really family-focused, our low key fĂȘting of David still managed to make him feel loved and keep him as the center of attention. His birthday happened to fall on a Sunday, which is great as we both try to keep that as a day of rest.

Being Sunday, we kicked off the day with Mass in the morning. Then it was off to Peacock’s for chocolate scones & tea. And then it was back home for presents & pictures & naptime (for the kids). Meanwhile, I went off to make supper (ribs two ways (honey garlic & bbq); popovers; brussel sprouts; pineapple upside down cake with ice cream & whipping cream; beer).

Written down, it doesn’t sound like much but with the crazy hours that David had been keeping due to PhD work it felt like a gift for all of us just to be able to have a whole day with him.

the official commemorative photo
And, as an extra birthday treat, we sent him off to Cambridge so that he could see The Hobbit. I really wanted to go with him, but we didn’t think it was prudent to take the babies and it’s a bit awkward to find a sitter when you don’t know anyone in town! Fortunately he had a good time and I managed to survive a day alone with the kids.

New Year’s

We’re really rocking the low-key celebrations right now. New Year’s actually ended up being a blast, even tho’ it was centered on staying in & watching movies (Strange Days & The Hudsucker Proxy). We got a spicy curry box and some appie trays from Tesco, along with beer & a fine bottle of cava. At midnight we had our cava (and the cork managed to do a fantastic ricochet off of two walls and onto a sleeping Emily) and watched the countdown, I made my annual phonecalls (in which my family seems to think I’m really wasted because I find it really neat that I’m calling them From-The-Future in a completely different year and this just really doesn’t seem to impress them and hence they talk to me in loud, slow voices) , and I fell into a deep, cava-induced sleep.

On New Year’s Day we headed out for our annual tradition – New Year’s brunch. We went to Street Cafe to greet the day with a Full English (or beans & eggs if you’re Walter). This is the first year that we’ve actually seen people out & about on New Year’s Day, a big change from Cambridge (and even Victoria). I’d hoped to go for a family walk but the weather was so blustery that we had to scrap those plans and head home to warm up.
this is actually on Boxing Day, but her state of confusion remained the whole time it was cold & we were outside -- she's pretty sure that responsible parents keep their babies at home, indoors, & bundled up when the weather is bad!
 Ukrainian Christmas

While [most of] my Protestant friends have their Christmas decorations down by January 1st and my Catholic friends are happily taking them down on Epiphany (January 6th), we’re still going strong for at least one more day. Ukrainian Christmas falls on January 7th and we use it as a day to celebrate my heritage. We eat Ukrainian, or pseudo-Ukrainian, food and sometimes there are presents and always there are phone calls to my family. Calling Gramma for Ukrainian Christmas is one of my favourite things to do, because she is always so excited to remember that she’s Ukrainian. Ely has a few “continental grocers”, which a few years in England has taught me means Polish food. With a little creativity it’s not too difficult to assemble a meal that sort of picks up on elements from the food we had on special occasions as a kid – pierogie ruskie (perogies filled with potato & cheese), smoked sausage, kapusta (sauerkraut), dill pickles... I am so thankful for these Polish grocers, as it is so difficult to find these foods outside of them. This year we had perogies with fried mushrooms & onions, kielbassa, pickles, and some ginger cookies. It was a delicious meal, all the more so because it had been a year or so since we’d been able to indulge in these foods, and it was nice for me to spend some time introducing the babies to some family traditions. With the violence & unrest currently going on in Ukraine, we’ve all been thinking about our ancestral land a lot of late and blessing the luck of foresight & fate that pushed my Great-Grandparents to leave their country and start afresh in Canada.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Seinfeld Finale Night

As I know I’ve mentioned ten million times before, and will keep on mentioning until it is no longer reality, we move a lot. It could be pretty easy to give in to the stress and frustration of that, but we prefer to take it as an adventure. This requires a fair bit of effort, but what’s the point of living if you’re not living, you know?

Anyway, one of our secrets to happiness is to always look for a way to include fun adventures in our life. Having to move to yet another new city? Time to buy a guidebook and set out exploring (that’s my way), or just go for a long afternoon wander (that’s David’s way). Spending too much time working on separate projects? Share some articles or books with each other and then have a coffee date to discuss them. Forced to spend months apart? Share dinner dates over Skype. These are all things we’ve done in the past and they help. A lot.

David requested that I blog about one thing we did recently. We’re short on funds and can’t easily get a babysitter, so our lives revolve around reinventing the night-in. In the midst of Thesis Madness, David suggested that we watch Seinfeld from start to finish, all nine seasons. He purposefully never watched the finale when it aired years ago, because he wanted to save it as a treat for one vague future day. So I upped the suggestion by saying we make an actual Seinfeld Finale party night, since we weren’t together for the finale when it aired.

We both love pizza so the obvious solution was to have a pizza party. We spent a few weeks (ok, months), discussing topping options. This is the poor-man’s foodie art form, along with the burger, right?

We eventually settled on Spanish and seafood inspired pizzas. I made the sauce from scratch, because we wanted something that packed a spicy punch. Then it was time to load ‘em up. Our Spanish one sported chorizo, black olives, peppers, tomatoes, goat cheese, red onions & ‘mild’ cheese (similar to North American cheapo mozza). The seafood one had mussels, shrimp, spinach, mushrooms (on my half), mozza (the good kind), and more of the cheapo cheese. Verdict: delicious. Washed ‘em down with a bottle of red wine.

Homemade spicy sauce!
David used his mad chopping skillz
awkward selfie of the cooks (Walter was a taste-sampler)
Oven-ready, aside from the final dose of cheese
Seafood Pizza
Spanish Pizza
 It’s the little things like this that keep our sanity.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

English Christmas (in England!), 2013

So... Christmas! Or, as I’ve been calling it in my head, The Year We Wanted to Go Home but Couldn’t So I tried Extra Hard to Make things Nice. David tells me that I succeeded, which is great because it means my title isn’t a total waste of brain space.

This was our fourth English Christmas, but it did not contain the following things which I’ve associated with English Christmas: Clare College Advent Service, Clare College Christmas Formal, M.R. James’ Ghost Stories at the Leper Chapel, Christmas Dinner with my work team, and Christmas week hijinks at the office. All of these things were missed but most of them would’ve been impossible with the two babies anyway.

For something completely new, we got to attend the Ely Lights Switch-On. That should be fairly self explanatory. Market Square was absolutely packed with stalls and people, there was a big stage where various performers blared bad music (we are so not down with what kids these days are listening to), and the air was full of Christmas cheer. We shared a bag of roasted chestnuts, with Walter joining in on the action, and eventually fought our way to a nice bit of ground to await the countdown. Then the city lit up with Christmas lights and it was beautiful and magical and actually really special to feel part of the community.

Eating his chestnuts

Their Santa Hats from Baba arrived that evening
Our Christmas Pudding!
David really wanted an Advent Wreath, so on the first Sunday of Advent we walked home via the fens and gathered some winter greenery which I then wove into a wreath. I’m so glad that we did this, because it’s one of the first Catholic things we’ve done that Walter has shown interest in. He wanted the candles lit every evening, with supper, and he’d remind me to use the prayer book if I forgot. We caught him trying to cross himself a couple of times as well.

We once again did the tree decorating on the Gaudete Sunday week of Advent. This year Walter was old enough to help, which mostly consisted of him appropriating the Christmas tree box as his new most favourite toy. To save money I handmade most of the decorations and it actually turned out better than I thought. In England people like to hang bright, foil-wrapped chocolates on their trees so we went that route because it made more sense to pay for edible decorations than for ones we’d toss out.

Ended the evening with Christmas baking, of course!
Instead of supper out, we had our pub outing for lunch on Christmas Eve. Then we made ourselves brave and woke the sleeping babies in time for the 11:30pm Carol Service at our church, followed by Midnight Mass. It was funny being out in the middle of the night with the double buggy, all of us dressed respectably for church, and walking past the long bar lineups and the police vans in downtown Ely. When we got home it seemed that Santa had dropped off a couple small packages for the children, although Walter was mostly interested in stacking them and Emily had no idea why we wanted her to rip paper.

We all got to bed at around 2am, but at least the kids didn’t want to wake up until closer to 9. And they’re too little to understand about presents and Christmas morning, so we were able to take things at our leisure. It was a lovely day, with lots of talking to family, and relaxing, and no heavy cooking. Both kids were a bit out of sorts, wanting long naps, so it meant that David and I had a fairly easy time of it once we got them to sleep. Our special gifts for them this year were ikons from the Ely Cathedral Shop: St George & the Dragon for Walter and the Old Testament Trinity for Emily. We wanted them to have something that they could keep for years to come, especially as they are too little to know that we are short changing them on the toy front!

Trying to eat his new cutlery set

We saved our big Christmas dinner for Boxing Day, because cooking a big meal for the whole family with two kids is an epic undertaking. The cooking was mostly stress-free and we ended up enjoying a lovely meal together, right before Walter's bedtime.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Hallowe'en / Bonfire Night

I got relatively caught up on “life blogging” only to lose track again. That’ll teach me. Anyway, I forgot to write about Hallowe’en, which is silly because it’s one of my favourite holidays, and in England we get to stretch the celebration all the way out to Bonfire Night (which should be on November 5th, Guy Fawkes Day, but is always stretched to the weekend following).

Right. Hallowe’en. Hallowe’en in England is not the big thing it is in North America. There seems to be some custom where you take the kids to the houses with the lit jack-o-lanterns if you want to guarantee candy. As I’m not really versed in this custom, and as the kids are too little to be allowed candy (yes, I’m that mean mum who tries to keep control over their sugar intake), we thought we’d give costumes & trick-or-treating a pass yet again. Yes, I long for the day when I can dress the children up in costumes, but it seemed more prudent to stay in and have our own celebration.

We did get Walter a little pumpkin to carve. It was one of those silly things where he won’t remember doing it and we didn’t use it, aside from lighting it on Hallowe’en, but it was good family fun anyway. Walter was interested in the whole process, he didn’t eat the pumpkin seeds, and he gave it many benevolent smiles from his highchair (the finished product being perched in the middle of our table).

lid on, lid off
On Hallowe’en Day we ended up having to make a trip to Cambridge, as David’s University Library card was expiring and, given his odd status as a non-student-non-alumnus (because he’s submitted his thesis but hasn’t graduated) it was necessary to speak to a Librarian in person about how best to renew his card. The kids & I went on an epic adventure to buy some shoes for Walter (and thanks to St Anthony found a super pair of Clarks for 50% off and Emily’s Christmas dress at Marks & Spencer for only £3 – trust me, it’s not that trivial to ask St Anthony for shoe finding help, as I’d been trying for months to find something Walter could walk in and we were getting desperate). On our way home we decided to drop into Fitzbillies and pick up Hallowe’en themed pastries for afternoon tea: a fairy cake for me and a fondant toad for David. Delicious.

the frog got a bit bashed on the journey back -- makes it look my Hallowe'eny
Supper was one of my special treats – Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good (bread, cream, bacon, & cheese). The pumpkin, being one of the mass market carving ones, was lacklustre but the filling was delicious. We also had Hobgoblin beers & a dish of Hallowe’en candy.

David suggested we watch a spooky movie, so we settled on The Skeleton Key. There’s always a big debate in this house when it’s time for scary movies. I’m a huge fan of vampires, but not really of other monsters. I don’t like watching movies, or reading books, that have a heavy dose of supernatural evil in them. David doesn’t like watching movies about serial killers/mass murderers, even though this is my favourite kind of horror/thriller movie. So to find a movie that manages to strike the right balance is a bit of a challenge. Skeleton Key ended up being a great choice. It had a supernatural element, but it was one that I could handle (it’s movies about demonic possession etc that I really can’t watch). It was cheesy but also managed to be creepy. I’m still going over the plot a few months later, because I thought that the story was interesting even if the movie wasn’t worth watching again.

Once Hallowe’en was over it was time for the English to break out the Guy Fawkes traditions. David’s viva was on November 5th, so we had no trouble scoring a box of fireworks to set off in honour of his pass. When we went to the park to light them, we were able to watch the fireworks from elsewhere in the city. Walter loved watching the beautiful explosions and it was a really fun little expedition.

Ely was having a big charity fundraiser fireworks display on November 9th. We’d planned to go, but when I looked online that day I discovered that they were charging £8 for a family entrance fee (in Cambridge it was always “by donation”), and we don’t have money for those kinds of extras, especially as the kids are too little to really care. It worked out just as well – we were able to watch the whole display from Walter’s bedroom window. The fireworks exploded over Ely Cathedral and it was just gorgeous. Walter perched on his windowsill and had a great time watching the event. I think we got a better view than if we’d gone to the park.

we were heading to a wedding after the fireworks, hence the suit

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

2013 in 13

After finally catching up I am, once again, woefully behind on blogging. I still need to post about Hallowe’en, and Christmas, and all that other stuff. But the kids are being normal kids, instead of those ones that baby experts seem to base their books off of (dolls, maybe?), so sleep is short around here and time is shorter and and and...

And and and, it makes sense to cover off 2013 in a picture post! Because I can look for pictures with one hand while feeding Emily with the other. So here we go, and if you like the idea you should join the link up.

2013 in 13 Pictures

I love this picture, mostly because it makes my mum look like a hobbit. Also because the back story is literally a back story – she was having all sorts of weird pains with her back and neck and could barely move, but it didn’t stop her from trying to finish the kitchen renovations. Anyway, that’s not why I picked this. I picked it because the hominess of it sums up all the wonderfulness that is just being at home with a loving family. Even if the circumstances that brought me home weren’t ideal, it was wonderful being able to spend so much time with my family:

This picture has been affectionately titled “Walter Needs a Visa”. The expression on his face pretty much sums up how I felt for most of last winter when I let myself dwell too much on the uncertainty facing our family. This is Walter’s visa picture, so it was taken when I at least knew where I was going, and that I had a job to go back to, and that we wouldn’t have to be away from David any longer. I knew the upcoming months would be difficult, but at least we’d be together:

This is Easter, 2013. Walter & I were both horrendously sick with the ‘flu and couldn’t make it to the Easter Vigil, which broke my heart. We were also still in transition, not yet settled, and everything still seemed dark and dreary. So I sang. I sang the Exultet to Walter, to welcome in Easter Morning, and as I sang the dark cloud lifted and broke and I felt as if there was hope again. And miraculously enough, that was the day our flu cleared up:

We moved to Ely, thus fulfilling my dream of living out in the English countryside. It’s been marvelous:

David & Walter at the Eel Festival. Why? Because it was one of the first outings we had once we got settled in. But more than that, because it’s my little boy back with his daddy, having the time of his life. Two months apart was way too long:

A bump! And at this point in time I was still hopeful that I would give birth “on time”. And I finally was looking pregnant. And the ultrasounds were looking good and the pregnancy was on track and it seemed that despite some worrying in the first trimester, Secunda was here to stay:

Ely Folk Festival, which kicked off the start of my maternity leave. This family loves folk music. Being able to take Walter to his first festival and experience it with him was amazing. It was one of the highlights of the year, especially because it was so nice to just be doing fun things as a family again:

Emily, less than two hours after birth. So thankful I had to be induced, because it kick started natural labour while I was at the hospital and I went from 4cm to Baby in about three hours, which would’ve been a nightmare if we’d been driving from Ely. And it was so nice to experience a normal birth and to have that special time where the three of us could get to know each other:

My mum came to visit, for a month, and although most of that month was a blur of me being super exhausted and grouchy and way too pregnant, it was still lovely. She got to spend so much time with Walter and that is really special, especially since she was the first person he saw when he crashed into the world the previous August:

Aside from Emily’s birth, this would have to be the highlight of the year – David completed & submitted his dissertation on time, and passed his viva, and very very soon I'll be able to sign myself "Dr & Mrs". I still cry when I think about the day we went, as a family, to submit his dissertation. To take all the blood, sweat, & tears, particularly of the last two years, and see that the sacrifices really did accomplish something... words fail:

I got my nose pierced, after wanting one since I was a teenager. And I finally feel as if I look like myself and as if one more key to understanding my personality is visible:
I turned thirty!

Being able to celebrate Christmas in England with my England Babies. It was special to have our own Christmas this year, to introduce them to our little traditions, and to enjoy watching them experience the holiday:

2013 was a hard year. But it wasn’t as hard as 2012 and it at least brought us forward instead of keeping us in a horrible limbo. I don’t know what to expect from 2014. I’m nervous about this next stage of life, with everything so uncertain and unsettled, so I am trying to take it one day at a time. But I think we're going to be ok.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

You're probably not as inadequate as you think you are...

Every month or so my Facebook goes a bit crazy with reposts of articles aimed at making mothers feel better for not being able to do it all. They usually make me feel a bit better about life, because even tho I don’t think I suffer too much from feeling inadequate compared to other mothers, I do like knowing that other people are going through the exact same struggles (or worse!).

I try not to waste much time on feeling inadequate, so after the last plethora of “feel good, Mum!” posts I sat around thinking of the activities I do with the children that make me look like a super mum or could at least make other mums feel like they’re not quite keeping up with the Porters. The main thing I got from this little exercise was that all the things that I manage to do with the kids, or in spite of the kids, are things that I am really passionate about. For example:

- there’s a lot of home cooking going on
- we go for many a nature walk
- lots of trips to festivals, museums, other points of interest (Tesco!)
- I’m as on top of the laundry as someone with no dryer & only one air rack can be
- I still do my embroidery (although not quite as much as before)
- I read a lot

Everything on this list is something I love to do. These are activities that in one way or another relax me. And, because they are things that I’m passionate about, they tend to get prioritised and they tend to work out to my satisfaction.

I could just as easily put together a list of all the things I cannot do as well as other mothers. I may be a good cook, but when it comes to turning out beautiful baked products please look elsewhere. I suck at keeping up with the housecleaning, aside from laundry, and the house is always in an organised state of clutter (worse right now due to the complete absence of storage BECAUSE APPARENTLY CLOSETS ARE TOO MUCH TO HOPE FOR). There’s not a lot of structured learning playtime around here, and if Emily has ever had some actual “tummy time” it’s because she’s lurched onto it from her pillow nest when my back is turned.

The thing is, when you start comparing yourself to others you need to be fair and focus on where your strengths & passions lie. Rather than being depressed that my cookies look like dog biscuits or my house never reaches that level of all rooms sparkling at once, I speak to myself honestly and admit that those are just not my strengths and, more importantly, that they don’t really bother me enough to make them into strengths. I mean, why would I want to waste time learning to decorate beautiful cookies when I could be reading a book or cooking something tasty for dinner?

I also find that it’s important to set goals rather than make plans. Every parent knows that the path to happiness lies in being flexible when possible. One of my goals is to embrace my vocation by trying to clean the house every week. It rarely works out, and that’s why it’s a goal to aim for rather than a plan to stick to. I’ve found that it pays off for my mood, and thus the mood of everyone in the house, if things are clean & less cluttered. But if I’m forcing myself to do those things on days when I’m exhausted because the baby hasn’t slept well or I’ve been running errands or doing other important things, it becomes too much and only makes the situation worse. So I follow my goal-plan for the week on an hour by hour basis each day, so that I can adjust it with the flow of life.

Getting married and, if so blessed, adding children to that mix is about embracing life. And life is alive – so why spend time looking at one perfectly captured moment on facebook/pinterest/a blog. It’s not the whole story, but a brief second in time.