Jul 15, 2014

23 weeks and feeling fine


Last night my friends threw a small Bastille party, complete with a fabulous spread of delicious crepes and all the fillings you could ever dream of. One of my guy friends asked me how the whole pregnancy thing was going and I launched into this (hormonal-induced?) diatribe of how great the 2nd trimester is and how happy I am and etc etc. I went on for a good 2 minutes before I realized he was mostly just trying to be polite and probably, as a single man, didn't really care to know all the intricacies of trimesters and weeks and hormones and the run-down I gave him. Oops.

It's a funny thing, pregnancy. I've had some pretty serious ups and downs with baby #2. We had been trying for awhile to get pregnant again and had two miscarriages after moving to London last September. The first miscarriage I shrugged my shoulders and said we'll try again, but the second one wrecked me. It was really very hard, made more difficult by the fact that nearly to the day of my second miscarriage, two of my sisters announced they were very early on in their pregnancies. After a couple weeks of taking it slow and just trying to come to terms with what had happened, I decided to focus on my health and to improve my eating habits and start exercising again, so I could feel proud of my body again. And I did it - I gained muscle and lost a few extra pounds, started eating more greens and grains, less cookies and ice cream, and after about a month I felt renewed. Two months later, I found out I was pregnant again. I was so nervous to even sneeze or run too fast for fear of miscarrying again, but here we are 23 weeks into the pregnancy and my belly is swelling larger every day. I finally stopped having morning sickness about 3 weeks ago, and now I just feel great. And yes, I'll tell anybody who asks all about how great I feel. :) I have so much energy, my focus is ever-so-slowly returning to me. I've taken on several projects "just because", including:
1. We are moving to a new flat sometime in the next two months
2. We transitioned Henry out of his crib, and he's now sleeping on his mattress on the floor. He's doing great with it.
3. POTTY TRAINING. Again, he's doing great but I feel like a prisoner in my own home. I thought potty training in 3 days meant he'd be totally good to go, no accidents, but of course things are never that easy. We are on day 6 and he was accident free today, but mostly because I badger him with "do you have to pee?" every 20 minutes.

Not to mention all the nesting I'm doing of shopping for baby girl, taking stock of what we have vs what we need, stressing over double strollers vs stroller/ride-on board.

I feel incredibly blessed and lucky to be in this stage of life. So many tender moments talking to Henry about the baby - he's taken to kissing my belly lately (he's also become quite the little kissing boy, it's hilarious) and will sing to the baby with me. I hate that I had to experience miscarriages and endure 3 unending months of horrible morning sickness, but it has made me so grateful for the miracle of pregnancy and feeling well again.

Jul 10, 2014

Henry's first photos and art direction

I've been pretty lazy about bringing out my nice camera this year, but occasionally I'll remember and start to use it again. I brought it out for Portugal and it's been coming on outings with us ever since. And one little boy is taking a notice. I can hardly take a photo without him running over asking to push the button or take a picture of something.

So the other day I let him take a few photos in our living room (while heavily heavily supervising him over a carpet). He wanted to take a picture of his bus, and then he insisted on another picture of the bus inside the dump truck. It was so cute to watch him think of new photos to take, and he directed me on where to put the bus and everything. Future director? Or just bossy? ;)

The first couple photos are test shots (by me). Just thought his little hands were too cute not to share.





Jul 3, 2014

Traveling The Algarve, Portugal

We've lived in London for nearly 10 months, and about 6 weeks ago, I finally heard about the Algarve. How had I missed out on this little piece of paradise my entire life? As an American, we mostly hear about European beaches on the Almafi coast and Greece and maybe some parts of southern France, but nobody really talks about this hidden little secret of the entire southern coast of Portugal. Due to my frantic attempt to travel as much as possible before baby #2 comes along, I booked us tickets lickety split and a few weeks later we were off! We 4 days in mid-June, which seemed to be the perfect time - weather wasn't too hot yet, and since school is in until July here, the beaches weren't crowded at all.

Below are some photos from my camera, and we have many more from our iPhones I'll try to post here soon.

The End of the World (Sagres, Portugal)


The drive into Salema, the little fishing village beach. We drove back twice just for the fish. :)




Hen had a lot of fun building sand castles and collecting rocks

The best fish we've ever had in our lives. Caught and served on the same day.








White sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and laid-back feeling that reminded me of the Caribbean or parts of Mexico, and the most beautiful cliff-lined beaches I've ever seen. We stayed in Lagos, which is known for the Ponte de Piedade (point of rocks) with beautiful rock formations of grottos, caves, and secret, sheltered beaches. We rented a car and drove to Sagres to see The End of the World and Salema, a sweet little fishing village with a beautiful beach and the best, freshest fish I've ever eaten anywhere. We only saw a small part of Portugal and I've always wanted to visit Lisbon and listen to some moody fado and eat more of the incredible Portuguese cuisine. With any luck, we'll return someday to this beautiful country.

Jun 18, 2014

American biscuits

I have been craving so much American junk food. Doughnuts, biscuits and gravy, cinnamon rolls, eggos, and that's just the bready stuff. Don't get me started on my mexican food cravings. Anyway, I'm mostly craving things that I cannot get here, or are prohibitively expensive (though that didn't stop me from special ordering saltines and lemon-lime gatorade for like $50. first trimester probs.).

Most of these things, I've started trying my hand at just baking or cooking. I made a killer tortilla soup the other day. Carnitas tacos in May. I just bought a doughnut cookbook and things to make American-style doughnuts which are hard to find here, or again - really expensive (1.50 pounds for a krispy kreme glazed doughnut! come on.).

Last year, I purchased the Clinton Street Bakery cookbook and I've been wanting to make the buttermilk biscuits for a long time. I finally found some shortening (Crisco from Ocado) and made some big American fluffy buttermilk biscuits yesterday morning. It was LIFE CHANGING. Henry and I ate biscuits with butter and jam for breakfast. For dinner dessert, we made strawberry shortcakes with the biscuits. And this morning I made a mouth-watering bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit. Honestly, I want to die from happiness. Also, the biscuits were so easy to make, I see these happening a lot in my future.

So, here's the recipe if you are in need of the perfect buttermilk biscuits (you are).

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 TB baking powder
1 1/2 TB sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 TB unsalted butter, chilled
3 TB shortening, chilled
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat over to 350 F. Mix all dry ingredients together in a kitchenaid. If you don't have an electric mixer stand, use your hands (I don't have a kitchenaid here, and I used my hands - got a little sticky, but it was fast and easy). Add butter and shortening and use mixer (or hands) until crumbly texture. Add buttermilk and mix until dough comes together.

Turn dough onto floured surface, pat with hands into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. You're trying to get about 6-7 2-inch round biscuits. Use a biscuit cutter or a cup with a 2-inch circle. Place all the biscuits on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat. Sprinkle a little flour on top of the biscuits before placing into the oven. Bake for 15 - 17 minutes, or until golden brown and baked through. Rotate the pan halfway through for even baking.




Jun 16, 2014

Happy news!



I am pregnant. It feels so great to be sharing this news with you all, but it has also been very nice to have it as our own little secret for all this time. I had a really rough first trimester (much worse than I ever remember with Henry), and only started feeling like my old self again in the past couple of weeks. I'm grateful for that.

I'm almost halfway through the pregnancy, and we expect this little person in early November, right around Henry's 3rd birthday (we've got the Scorpio thing going on pretty strong. Help.), and I'm excited (I think) to have the baby in the UK. So far, my experiences with the healthcare system here have been very positive. I am loving that they provide so many resources for women, whether you want an epidural or not - it's up to you and all available. We are going to try for the natural route again, since they provide a doula (free!), private birthing tubs (free!), private and comfortable rooms in the birth center (free!), and lots of other little things that should make for a good place to have a baby. 

Henry likes to talk to the baby every night. He tries to show people the baby by pulling up my shirt, and when people ask about the baby, he points to his tummy and says "baby in my belly". The other day he tried to pull the baby out of my belly button, "baby needs to come out and kick the ball with Henry". 

We have been waiting for this baby for a long time, and it wasn't an easy road to get here, but I'm grateful for every little thing that happened that made me feel that much more lucky to be a mother.

Jun 12, 2014

Feeling a lot of the things

I woke up this morning with a lump in my throat. I was grumpy. I didn't want to see the sun, I wanted a good old fashioned gloomy London day, thank you very much. I made some toast for Henry and me, drank some ice cold water, and just thought about the state of things. Then Henry tugged on my pants and pulled me into his room to play ramp.

If there's one piece of advice I can give, it is that there is no use in arguing with a two-year old. So off to play ramp, we went. His ramp is this gargantuan plastic Fisher Price thing that he remains obsessed with after 7 months of play. Not bad. We send all the cars down, they get in a traffic jam, we fix it, then we start all over again. Today, it was just the thing I needed to let my mind wander.

My mind wandered to change. I've really been wanting to move in recent weeks - to a bigger place, more centrally located to the great (free) museums in West London so we can have an activity outside the house easily on rainy days. But that seems impossible at the moment, so instead I decided right then and there I would rearrange Henry's entire room. First I pushed the crib up against the window. The chi was all wrong, so I pulled out the rolled up rug that's been sitting under the sofa since we moved in and laid it out in Henry's room, put his crib on the rug, threw down a sheepskin, and put a box filled with his books for reading time. It felt so much better to establish a little place for us to read every day and night. Hen loves it, too. After we finished rearranging, he took a look around and told me - It looks great! Haha. Thanks Henry. I think the change helped to clear my mind a little bit.

Mark came home from work early and I took the tube to Oxford Circus to do some wandering and Fathers Day shopping (and candy shopping, thank you very much Sugar Sin), and I came home exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally. There are many reasons for this, I think, maybe the feeling of unanswerable questions is too much for me.

Even now I sit here, wondering why I'm writing this blog post other than to help me remember that today was a day I struggled with too many thoughts about things I don't understand. These are strange times for many.

Jun 10, 2014

Life lately.

I look around my house, and I see scattered strawberries and watermelon bits on the table where a certain two-year old got sticky fingers...cookies that need to be baked...laundry to be done...toys scattered everywhere...sand bucket and shovel on the ground waiting to be taken to the sandbox...a new doughnut cookbook begging to be used...windows open letting the fresh warm air into this little flat.

It is summer. Everything in my life just lazes along right now, like summer does. I'll get to the messes later. I'll clean sticky fingers tonight. We'll take that bucket and shovel and strawberries straight to the park and enjoy these warm, sunny days that have finally graced us.

And I've got some serious doughnut-making to do. I'm trying to find my soul-doughnut. It's important to have that kind of stuff figured out.

Today I was laying down next to Henry before his nap and I said Henry is the best. He looked at me and said Mama is the best. And we laughed and my heart fluttered with happiness.


Jun 6, 2014

Doughnuts

London, it's not you, it's me. Our doughnut vibes are just not on the same wavelength.

The Brits just LOVE their filled doughnuts. Shove some delicious cream or jam in there, and sugar the outside and you've done it.

But my doughnut love language is definitely a cake doughnut or a really good yeasted doughnut. I have yet to come across cake doughnuts here (business idea...or Doughnut Plant needs to open a London office), but at least they have the old standbys Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts if I'm just looking for a plain old glazed.

I've been waiting for about 8 months to try the legendary doughnuts from St. Johns Bakery, and finally made it over there this morning in honor of the beautiful and necessary US holiday, National Doughnut Day. We got 2 chocolate filled and 2 vanilla cream filled (they didn't have any jam). The chocolate doughnut was just not it for me. The chocolate filling itself was too heavy and the doughnut was slightly dried out, and the combo had me dying for some ice cold milk. The cream doughnut was better, because the vanilla custard was much lighter than the heavy chocolate. But the doughnut was still dried out! How could this be, legendary doughnuts!

I did a little research and it turns out the head pastry chef recently left St Johns (GASP) to start his own venture. So guess who will be headed to Borough Market (hopefully tomorrow) to try the doughnuts from new Bread Ahead from chef Justin Gallatly. I know they will still be filled, but I'm hoping they can make me believe in the Brit doughnut.


Jun 2, 2014

June, is that you?

Hello from Camp Will-it-ever-get-warm-here AKA Camp Whines-about-the-weather-too-much.


I knew what I was signing up for when we moved to London, I did. But my body won't get on board with it. I'm waiting for the clouds to part, the sun to shine, the heat to tell us "get thee to the pool", but instead it gently nudges. Hey, girl, slip on that cardigan and mosy on over to the wading pool where it will be icy cold, but hey - your toddler doesn't really care. So that's how we found ourselves in the Hampstead wading pool this morning, Henry stripped down to just a diaper, running gleefully around in 65 degree weather wading his little piggies in cold water.

Was he happy about it? Yes, he was. Since Henry is Mark's child, and I merely carried him for 9 months, birthed him, and raised him to the current stage of his toddlerhood, Henry prefers to be in cooler weather with clouds. I'm sure of it. Mostly because every time we step out into the sun, I get this grimacy face. (see it?)

So, we are just carrying on. Keeping the sweaters out, donning our trousers instead of shorts and summer dresses, and telling myself - hey, maybe I'll never sweat again. I'll live a life of comfortable weather with no need to go to the pool or eat a drippy popsicle or any of those dull summer tricks. I'll never feel that blast of cool AC walking into a building from the humid 100 degree DC streets.

In the meantime every day of sun we have, we spend it all outside. Last Saturday we went to the Princess Diana memorial playground - Henry asked to go again today ("playground with sand? big ship?"). It was a beautiful day and when we came home, I tried to wipe the specks dirt off Henry's nose, and realized it wasn't dirt, it was a few brand new freckles! I died!


May 28, 2014

Weekend in the Lake District


We just returned home from a long weekend in Northern England's Lake District. If you've never heard of it, just imagine a flowering paradise with stone houses, beautiful serene lakes, sheep upon sheep, mountains, winding roads, and the nicest people on earth and there you are. I can't believe that such a place exists, really. And that people get to live there all the time, it seems entirely unfair to the rest of us sucking in smog and paying high rents in the city. I digress. We took the train north and rented a car so we could explore the small villages and lakes, and I'm so glad we did, despite the weird UK car rental quirks*.

I wasn't sure of the best village/lake for us to stay. I read that Lake Windermere was the most popular and gets quite crowded during summer, but I figured we were early enough in the season that we wouldn't be dealing with too many crowds and we could have this place as our base with lots to see/do/eat. We stayed at the Lakeside hotel at the southwestern tip of Lake Windermere, in Lakeside. It ended up being the perfect place for our current needs. We wanted somewhere family friendly with comfortable beds and great food, close to attractions for Henry, but away from crowds. Oh and also, we wanted a pool. So, we found the gem that is Lakeside Hotel, and though it was more than we wanted to spend, we felt it was completely worth it. The staff were amazing, the food was incredible, the pool was fun and had a view of the lake, and the beds were oh-so-soft and cushy. We probably won't stay there again, only because I want to stay on a different lake next time with bigger mountains nearby for hiking, but if anyone asks, I'd completely recommend it.




Breakfast was included in our room cost, and we made sure to fill up for the days excursions every morning. Freshly baked breads, pastries, fresh fruits, locally made yogurts, cereal, freshly squeezed OJ - as much as you want. You also got a choice of about 8 options from the menu for hot breakfast, and we mostly went with some version of eggs, cumberland sausage, and toast. Mark really took to the black pudding and even admitted to liking it by the end of the trip. One more check on his turning-into-a-Brit list.

Ok, enough about the hotel. Onto the important parts: the lakes!

The first full day of our trip: Henry's Day!

We did the Rail and Sail day - took the roundtrip Lakeside & Haverthwaite steam train (about 20 minute ride each way), and then took the boat cruise to Bowness, a tourist village across the lake. Henry was so excited and happy the whole day and we were happy to stuff him full of ice cream and french fries and make it the best day of his life. In Bowness, we ate lunch at a little cafe then walked over to The World of Beatrix Potter attraction, which was basically a dark cave full of Beatrix Potter's little storybook characters - some animatronic animals and interactive screens for kids to play with. Henry ate it up. It was a good way to learn more about her life and stories and on the way out we picked up a little Peter Rabbit for Henry, which is his new favorite little friend now. We went back to the hotel that night, took a quick swim, then ate dinner in the hotel Brasserie. Perfect day, but I was excited for the next day where we would actually get out for some walks and see other lakes.


  

Day two: Climbing mountains, exploring villages, and eating our way through the Lakes

We drove north to Ambleside, stopped at the Apple Pie cafe to pick up lunch for post-hike food (they have AMAZING sandwiches, buns, jam donuts, etc. We liked it so much we went back the next day.), then continued north to Keswick. We stopped quickly at Castlerigg Stone Circle, then drove to the west side of Derwent water to hike Catbells, a scenic walk/scramble up the mountain with amazing views of surrounding lakes and villages. We drove from Catbells through small villages - including Borrowdale, maybe the most adorable place I've ever seen - and ended up driving the terrifyingly steep Honister Pass to Buttermere, the skies opened and it rained so hard the entire time we were in Buttermere, so we stopped for ice cream at Skye Farm (they make their own ice cream from their cows), and hopped back in the car to drive back to Lakeside. Drove back home through Grasmere, stopping to grab a quick dinner and just missed the famous Grasmere gingerbread (they sold out as I was standing in line).







Day three: Ullswater, Aira Force, and driving home

Our last day, we ate our big breakfast at Lakeside, then packed up the car and headed north - this time to Ullswater lake to see the Aira Force waterfall. We drove through Ambleside, stopped again at Apple Pie for our amazing roasted chicken sandwiches, then drove the Kirkstone Pass - up the mountain, passing the innumerable stone sheepfolds and stopping to admire the views every so often. That drive was my second favorite drive (right after driving through the area around quaint Borrowdale), it was so scenic and majestic. We passed the cute villages of Patterdale and Glenridding and then onto the short hike to the Aira Force waterfall. A perfect ending to our weekend in the lakes. We were charmed by the surroundings and the beauty. I think our next trip to the lakes, we'll probably set up our base on Ullswater lake. It felt quieter and less touristy than Lake Windermere, and still had ferries on the lake for our little boat lover.




*Our last day, we were supposed to catch the 4pm train back home, but we ended up driving back to London instead. The Kendal Enterprise-Rent-a-Car was closed on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, but I thought we could just leave the car and drop our keys in a drop box, as you can in the US. Not so. There is no drop-box system (at least in Kendal), so the only other options were to extend our trip (not possible) or just drive the car back to London and drop it off there Tuesday for a nominal fee. We chose to drive back to London, and I was SO nervous all weekend to make that drive. I'm getting better at driving on the left side, but in my experience driving in London, I've only had bad experiences - with traffic, getting lost at roundabouts, near accidents and clipping parked cars - so I was really dreading the long drive. Luckily apart from some rain, we got home before sunset and didn't hit any traffic! I was shocked. And I think the Lake District driving through incredibly narrow roads next to stone walls for 3 days trained me on left side driving.


May 14, 2014

Obsessed

Every day, several times throughout the day, I look at the weather app on my phone. I'm obsessed. I always have London and Washington DC and always compare the two. When we're having our millionth day of Spring here (seriously, how many days of 55 F can one person take before protesting in a Tshirt?), DC has been heating up to the 80's and even 90's! If I were back there, I could be beaching it up and living in summer dresses already! Instead, I'm protesting by staying inside most days, huge sweater wrapped around me, thick socks, and thinking of soups for dinner.

Every couple of weeks I put different cities on my weather app to get an idea of where I should be traveling for better weather. So far, it's too cold for the green waters of Cornwall (maybe July), still cold in the Lake District (though, we're going in a couple of weeks anyway for some R&R), Corfu is pretty perfect, Seville is getting there, and it's WAY too hot to travel to Marrakech right now - 100 F every day.

I can't be the only one who does this, right? The perpetual dreamer of going other places with perfect weather? Is it a British thing?

They're calling for a heat wave this weekend. It is supposed to be up to 70 F. Seriously. HEAT WAVE.

May 2, 2014

Springtime in Regents Park

I think my favorite thing about London has to be its parks. Might be my current buddy really prefers running around to being pushed around in a stroller around the city, but who knows. :) Each park has its own reasons to fall in love with it - the well-kept gardens, the wild craggy trees, the ponds, the funny looking birds that have us guessing what they are, the list goes on and on.

Last month while Papa was in town, we headed to Regents Park for part of his birthday celebration. We brought some bread to feed the birds (who will eat the bread out of your hands if you're not careful), walked around admiring the tulips, and just taking in one of the sunnier Spring days we've had here this year. I love Regents Park for its quiet beauty, seemingly endless paths to explore, and the rose garden that blooms in the late summer months which is obscenely beautiful. 






Apr 28, 2014

Family in town

Today, and for the next couple of days or weeks, we are coming down from our visiting family high. We've had family in town for the past month and not a day passed that wasn't completely fun and fulfilling. Marks parents were in town for a week and just left yesterday. We woke up this morning to an empty house. Mark back at work, no air mattress in the living room, no grandparents to play with Henry and dote on him. Just me and Henry - the OG. So we did our best to make the most of it. We watched a little trains, then took a bubble bath, then took ourselves out to lunch at Sable D'or for fancy sandwiches and juice. I mean, it's not much but it's a pretty perfect morning in my mind.

I need to dig up some pictures to post, but we toured the heck out of London this past week. Tower of London, Borough Market, St Pauls eventide, Matisse at the Tate Modern, the V&A, the British Museum, the Natural History museum, Hampstead Heath, afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason, Liberty...we were all pretty beat by the end of the week, but happy to have enjoyed great company, only one rainy day the entire week (museum day! perfect.), and Henry had the time of his life. He keeps asking for Tootie and Pop Pop this morning, even though he knows they left. I think he must think it's easy to just go see them - what are we waiting for? :)

Anyway, transitioning back to just the three of us is a harsh wake up call, but lucky for us, May is just around the corner and I can practically taste my first British summer. Come to me, sunshine and warmth!

Apr 8, 2014

Primrose Hill



Last month, the Saturday forecast was 70 degrees and sunny, so we trekked over to Primrose Hill for a picnic. It was the nicest weather we'd had since we moved here in September, and it was the nicest weather we've had since that day! It was a warm weekend, flowers blooming from the earth and on the trees. It turned cold again, and it's been in the 50's and 60's for the past few weeks, so I am glad we took advantage of that fleeting sunny day when we had the chance! Primrose Hill is the most beautiful spot of earth, looking onto Regent's Park with amazing views of central London. Not the easiest place to get to, but I like to make it even more difficult of a trip by swinging by St Johns Wood for bakery and produce items from the famous Bread Shop and nearby gourmet grocer. It's a beautiful area and if we move anytime soon, I wouldn't mind living close to these sweet little spots in London.