Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Etiquette of Ex's pt. 2

In part 1, I talked about the practice of signing written correspondence with "x's".

Now, lets talked about how this plays out in person.

I'm super-proud of myself because the last 2 times that I've greeted people that I know, I've totally pulled off the cheek-kiss.  I think.  It's the little things, right?

The other day, Ross and I were at The Trafford Centre picking up coffee pods for our Nespresso and having a wander.  We ran into Ross' cousin.  He went in for the cheek-kiss and I was totally ready for it!  No awkwardness at all!  (At least until afterwards when I pointed it out to Ross. "Did you see how I totally did the cheek-kiss!??!!")  

Then, this weekend, we met up with our friends Debra and Tom for lunch.  I greeted them both with the cheek-kiss.  Huzzah!  I'm getting the hang of this.

I think the only people I greet with a kiss on the cheek in America are close female relatives- like my mom and G'ma.  Maybe my aunt, but I'm not sure.  The problem is, now I've been corrupted and I can't remember if it's that I did before or if I would now so I think I did before.  Oh well.  

I don't know why this is such a difference between cultures, but it seems to be a default greeting in the UK.  I find this sort of interesting since I think of the American culture of being much more touchy-feely.  I'd definitely say Americans are way more huggy.  We're definitely more high five-y.

It was only in the last couple of years that I finally got the hang of a non-awkward adult handshake when meeting someone.  Prior to that, I languished in the adolescent "awkward wave" school.  It seems like a handshake greeting here would be totally out of place.  I feel like it would feel strangely formal and inappropriate in a social setting- even when meeting someone for the first time.  I remember when Ross came over for our second date, we went bowling with one of my friends and her husband so they could meet him.  My friend Cindy mentioned specifically that she loved that Ross did the cheek-kiss greeting when we said goodbye.  When I came over before our wedding and met Ross' family, I was totally wrong-footed by everyone coming in for the kiss.  I was overwhelmed by all these people I'd never met before putting their lips on my face.  Now it's 2 years later and I'm fine with it.  

But I do have one question.  I noticed that when I'm much more comfortable with the faux cheek-kiss.  That is- going cheek to cheek, but then kissing the air next to the cheek.  I've tried both ways.  I find that men generally actually make lip/cheek contact where as women do the faux method.  Is there an etiquette for this?
Will anyone be offended if I don't make contact and just faux cheek-kiss them? 

Monday, 30 May 2011

Burger Battles

The other day I was lamenting the lack of decent hamburgers in England.
I've tried quite a few at a variety of restaurants that have been just not right.
I can't put my finger on what the problem is, but I haven't found one that compares to Whataburger, Snuffers or Burger House.  

My darling husband, having heard my complaint, suggested that we go to Gourmet Burger Kitchen for pre-theatre dinner on Saturday night.  We'd been there before and I'd say it's the best burger I've had in England.  

While we were there, we discussed a few things.  
1.  Bacon-  I threw our poor waiter into a tizzy by asking if the bacon was British-style or American-style.  He was totally flummoxed.  I tried to explain the difference, and though he tried to figure out what I meant he was at a loss.  He helplessly raised his hands and said, "I'm Australian."  Hahaha!  I said that if he could bring me a piece, I could tell him the difference.  He obligingly went to the kitchen.  He returned with hope in his eyes and a piece of bacon on a plate.  Sadly, I shook my head and declared it British bacon.  

Crispy, dark, delicious!

Floppy, pale pink, also delicious (but not on a burger).

You can get the American style bacon at the grocery store here, but I don't think I've seen it at a restaurant.  Now I don't normally have bacon on a cheeseburger, but I guess I was having a "go big or go home" moment.   I guess the restaurant- or perhaps the entire nation- was trying to save me from over-indulgence.

2. Salad-  Now, in America, salad means- well- salad.

In England, it might mean that.  Or.  OR!  If we're talking about a sandwich or burger of some kind it could mean something entirely different.  It doesn't mean that you'll be getting a salad on the side.  It just means that you'd like lettuce, tomato, and onion ON your sandwich.  They never explain that though.  It's just one of those things that you're supposed to know.

Finally, let's talk about the use of the term "burger".  In America, the fact that the burger is made of beef is implicit.  In the UK, you'll hear anything on a bun referred to by the "burger" name.  I guess in the US there are things like a turkey burger- made from ground turkey meat.  But in the UK, a chicken breast on a bun is a chicken burger.  It always sounds strange to me.

Do you prefer British bacon or US bacon?
Where do you find a great burger?

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Cheerful Sunday

My husband has a blog, inspired by the Ian Dury song "Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3"
It's a very cheerful song and always makes me happy.  (Possibly because it makes my husband so happy and he dances around real cute-like!)

So I'm starting a new Sunday series.  I think it's a good way to live- finding reasons to be cheerful.
Each Sunday, I'm going to tell you something that makes me cheerful.  Join in!  Won't this be fun?

I'll start out by sharing the video that Ross made to illustrate the (very wordy) lyrics of the song.

For a more detailed explanation of the song, you can check out the first entries of Ross' blog, where he dissects the song, line by line.

What song makes you feel cheerful?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Word of the Week


Definition:  a delicious or disgusting (depending on who you ask) vegetable 
Used in a sentence:  My mommum only likes zucchinicourgette if it's in a tasty sweet bread.

Friday, 27 May 2011

A table for 2

Remember forever ago, when I teased you with this picture?

Well we finally got around to pulling it out of the warehouse.  The fact that my mom is coming for a visit next week is a good motivator.   So here's what I'm talking about:

Ross' great-aunts gate leg table

Ok, so the table came apart in transit.

The initial plan was for me to refinish the table at the warehouse, but we decided that it would be better to just bring it home.  It needs some TLC, but we can put it to use now and refinish it later when we've got more time.

It's SO much better than our old table.  You can see it in the picture below that's from this post.

Yuck!  It looks like the ones that we used to have in the common areas of my dorm back at Austin College.  And it takes up way too much space, considering that it's usually just the two of us.

So, Ross steam cleaned the whole thing while watching Emmerdale.  (Anyone else over the whole Charity and Whatshisname story line?  I don't get them together.  She's much more interesting with Kane.)  It was pretty grimy from having been buried in the warehouse for a long time (Ross estimates 10 years!).

Then he went to work with another of his all natural cleaning methods.  He used a combination of the miraculous bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and cider vinegar.  I can't believe how well it is working!  The mixture is pulling all of the grime out and too the surface.  We may not even have to refinish the table at all!

Can you see the clean bits and dirty bits?


Stay tuned for how it all shakes out...

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Coming Full Circle

My great-grandmother was British.

My mom's dad's mom, to be specific.  When she was a little girl (9 years old, I think) she and her father took a boat from Newcastle over the sea to America.  They went through Ellis Island and Mary Jane Lee stayed and lived with cousins of hers.  Her father returned to England.  She never saw him again.  She did go back to England eventually, but not for 40 years.

No one in the family seems to know too much about her life in England.  Apparently she didn't like to talk about it.  Perhaps she was homesick and it made her too sad to talk about.  I can't imagine being that young and separated from your family.  Especially then when there was no internet, Facebook, or Skype to make keeping in touch easy.  The story is that she was sent over after her mother died, but it's not clear why she was sent, but not her siblings.

I don't have any idea how she and my great-grandfather met.  They raised a large family in Erie, PA.  My grandma and papa lived with them when they were first married when my papa had come home from the war.  They had a little attic bedroom.  Can you imagine being a newlywed and having the only access to your bedroom being through your in-laws bedroom?  Yikes!

I don't have any pictures of her with me here, but she was a redhead.  Originally, my mom was going to be named after her 2 grandmothers.  Mary Emily.  But when she was born, with such thick red hair that the nurses brought her to my grandma with a bow in her hair, my grandma's mom said she should be named after her red-headed grandmother.  So my mom was Mary Jane as well.

At our rehearsal dinner, my papa made a lovely speech about how my moving to England was bringing the family full-circle.  I wore my great-grandmother's gold bracelet on my wedding day as my "something old".

My wedding day jewellery.  You can see a bit how old and beat up the bracelet is.
I love it!

So why am I telling you all this now?  Well my mom is coming for a visit next week.  She's going to Scotland for a work thing and is tacking on a visit with us at the end.  After all, it would be silly to be so close and not see us, right?  So, we're driving up to Glasgow to pick her up.  Then my darling husband suggested that we should come back home (semi-circuitously) via Newcastle.  What a brilliant idea!

So we started doing a little research to see if we could figure out where exactly my great-grandmother and her family lived.  Ross did a little searching and found this, from the 1901 census.  It appears someone just went door-to-door with this sheet and wrote the answers the questions.

The handwritten census form that lists my family!  So cool.

Here's a close-up of the relevant people (Ignore the top line. She's not part of the family, but I had to include her because the page was scanned in crooked.):

You can click to make it bigger.  There's some old-timey shorthand like "do" for ditto.

The handwriting is fairly hard to read, so I'll make it easier for you.  It says that at 8 Garden Terrace, occupying 3 rooms, lived:

John Lee, 29, Head of the Household and a Coal Miner (Hewer) worker
Jane Lee, 36 (!), wife  (an older woman!)
Florence Lee, 3, daughter
Mary J. Lee, 2, daughter- My great-grandmother
Elizabeth L. Lee, 6 mos, daughter
Mary A. Lee, 63, mother

I know that Mary Jane also had a brother named John, so he must have been younger and born after this census.  Oh those crazy days before birth control!

I did a little googling and found that a hewer is a mine worker who uses a pick axe to undercut coal- a pretty menial job.  Google street view seems to indicate that the house they lived in is still there.  So, we've got plans to visit the "ancestral homeland" with my mom.  It should be neat to see!

Have you ever found out anything interesting about your family history?
Who knew geneology was so fun!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

WFW: Bridal Portraits

I found a weekend in late October when my mom could drive up from Houston and scheduled my bridal portraits.  Now this is a southern tradition, that I never realized wasn't common elsewhere.  It serves as a great dry-run for your wedding day look and frees up time on your wedding day, since you already have a million gorgeous pictures of yourself.

We went back to the Dallas Arboretum, where Ross and I had taken our engagement pictures.  I brought both my mom and MOH M with me to be my helpers.  It was great to have people help carry my stuff and help me get dressed in the parking lot.  Yeah, remember how I said that you can't get dressed inside the Arboretum?  Since all 3 of us had itty-bitty Hondas, there was no way to get into a giant wedding dress in the car... So I wore my bustier bra and boy shorts under sweatpants and a zipper hoodie.  We parked in a spot off to the side and threw down a sheet on the empty parking spot next to us.  Then we gently pooled the unzipped dress on the sheet and I stepped into it.  When it was pulled up, I ditched the hoodie and wriggled out of the pants.  Then the girls zipped me up!  It was super-classy.  It was actually really quick and easier than I'd thought it would be.  We'd brought a second sheet to hold up to shield my modesty, but it ended up being pretty unnecessary.  The sheets came in handy later for when I was laying on the grass or sitting on dirty surfaces.  (Hint: Bring ones that are similar in colour to your dress so they blend in.)

Another added benefit of my helpers:  All too often, I end up with a smile on my lips, but at "take the fricken' picture" look in my eyes.  Working with our awesome photographer, who captured natural shots and having mom and M to make me laugh really minimized this phenomenon.

Doing the pictures at the Arboretum, means that we had a variety of backgrounds to choose from and that we could repeat locations from the engagement pictures which was very fun.

OK, enough talk...

Mom and MOH M were dancing to make me laugh.

These were very strange to take, but I love how they came out.
The photographer wrapped my veil around me to make it look dreamy.

MOH M is just out of frame to the right.  There was no wind.  
Just M holding the veil high and letting it go.

How sweet was this little girl!?  
She was there with her mom and sister and got excited when she saw me in my dress.
Her mom kept apologizing that she was in the way, but the photographer loved it and snapped away.

I had fun pole dancing in my dress ;)

This is the one that we displayed at the reception.
(That's one of the purposes of the bridal portrait- to have one to display at the reception.)

This day was a lot of fun!  It was close to Halloween, so there were lots of kids in costume.  More than one asked if I was a princess.  The Arboretum is a popular place for portraits and even weddings, so I saw plenty of brides scattered around.  It was a fabulous way to gear up for the big day and get comfortable with my dress and veil.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Chocolate Pear Mugs

This recipe is pretty easy to throw together with pears and a few ingredients we usually have on hand.  You could also use apples, or a mix of pears and apples!  It's a nice, sweet dessert with no butter (so ZERO saturated fat) and at least 1 (depending on how much fruit you use) of your 5-a-day.

First preheat your oven to 320F/160C/140C for a fan oven
Then, peel and cut up your pears.  I used 4 small ones.

Put them in a saucepan with a lid and squeeze the juice of half a lemon over them.

Sprinkle the pears with 1 tbsp. of whatever sugar you like.  I used caster (extra fine sugar), because that's what I had, but you can also use muscavado (brown) sugar.

 Drizzle a little vanilla extract over the pears.

Cover and bring the mixture to a boil, then let it simmer.  The pears will make more liquid, so even though it doesn't sound like you can bring a pan of pears to a boil- you can.  Let it cook for about 10 minutes.  Keep an eye on it and stir it occasionally.  Make sure that the fruit doesn't start to stick or burn.  It should be fine, but check it to be safe.

 It should look like this.  Take the lid off and keep simmering it for another 10 minutes or so until the liquid reduces.  Stir it occasionally.

While your cooking the pear, you can prepare the topping.  Start by beating an* egg white.

Bet it until the egg is pretty stiff.

 Take 50g of powdered sugar and 1 tbsp. on cocoa.  (Or if you're like me, realize that you only have 30g of powdered sugar, so use caster sugar for the other 20.  If you look real close, you can see the 2 kinds of sugar on the plate!)

Sift the sugar and cocoa into a bowl.

Add in 25g of ground almond.

Stir it all together.

Add the stiff egg white.

Stir it gently into the sugar mix.

Keep stirring and realize that you need more egg white.

Beat a second egg white and add it to the mix. (*You could, of course, just do 2 egg whites at once.  But what fun would that be? :))

See!  That's better!

Put 2 oven-safe mugs on a baking sheet.

By now, your pears should look like this:

Divide the pears between the mugs.  Psst, you can add a tbsp. of liqueur or congac if you're feeling fancy.

Divide the chocolate mixture between the mugs as well.

 Cook it for 25 minutes.  If you didn't run out of powdered sugar, you could sprinkle a little on top to make it look nice. (This is even more delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or Swedish Glace on top!)


Monday, 23 May 2011

Couple time

Meg's note:  Don't worry.  The beginning of this post might sound like it's going to be about something a little R-rated, but it's not really.  So just keep reading, and don't think too hard about the first part if it freaks you out.  It's only included for context.  

For Ross' birthday last year, I bought an "adult" game.  I thought it might be fun.  It was sort of lame.  I think we've played it once.  The things on the cards swung from either really lame things we already do ("Tell your partner which mannerism he/she has that you think are cute.")  to  WAY more raunchy than I'm ok with.

So the game has cards with prompts of things to either talk about or do.  We were playing the game and rolling our eyes at some of the prompts (or baulking at the lewdness of some of them.  Yikes!)  Then, we came upon a card that has a continued impact on our marriage.

I just spent a good 30 minutes searching for this card, because I was going to take a picture of it and insert it here.  I read through every stupid card at least twice.  No dice.  But I swear it was real!  Maybe we lost it...

So now, in a very anticlimactic manner I will tell you (approximately) what the card said:

              Laughter is sexy!  Try to get a running joke going.

After reading this card, we burst out laughing.  Seriously?!  Does this game know who were are?  I mean, I guess not, since it is an inanimate object.  But still.  Ridiculous.

We lamented, "If only we'd thought to have a running joke before!"
"But how do you start a running joke?"
"If only we enjoyed laughing together or doing bits!"

So now, we have a running joke about running jokes.

Side story:  The other amusement this game has provided me involves my dad fixing our wardrobe doors when he was visiting last year.  It also involves the game in the bottom of the wardrobe and a clothing rod falling so that it was exposed.  It then involves my dad throwing something on top of it to cover it and pretending he didn't see it.  Awkward + funny = awesome.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

New Curtains

This is the story of how I got new bedroom curtains for free.
Or how I got new bedroom curtains for several thousand pounds... either one...

I've never loved our bedroom curtains.  They were shiny and pewter coloured.  I didn't hate them, but they didn't really go with anything in our bedroom.  The throw on our bed is made out of a similar material, but in orange, so I lived with it.

Old curtains

Shiny close up

But!  But.  I was secretly always on the lookout for alternative window coverings.  I couldn't justify spending too much on replacements as the ones we had were perfectly fine.  I kept an eye out, but never saw anything great.  Ross sells a fair number of curtains, so I also kept an eye on our inventory for any possible curtains to "steal".  No joy.  There were some green sheers that would have gone with our bedding, but they were- well- sheer.  No bueno.

Then, one magical day last week as Ross was unloading the van of items purchased at a recent auction, he brought me a packet and said, "Did you see these?"  Oh huzzah!  They were white curtains, that were sheer and floaty, but also LINED!  They were in a size that fit our window.  The angels sang.  Well maybe that's an exaggeration.  They've got this pattern embroidered on them that I'm not in love with.  But I'm not mad at it either.  They're fine, but in a much better way than the old curtains were fine.  So I call it a win.

Yesterday, I opened the package and gave hanging these babies a whirl.  Ruh-roh.  They're meant to be used on a drawstring!  We've just got a regular old pole.  But, not to be deterred, I soldiered bravely onward.

First I dug around in our spare room (the black hole of all crap in our house)  to try and find the rings that had come with our curtain rod.  We hadn't needed them since our previous curtain was tab top.  Since Ross had installed the old curtain before I arrived in England, I knew that the rings would not have been thrown away.  Hahhaha! Ross.... throw something away.... hahahahh.... It's ok, I'm ok.  I've stopped rolling on the floor with laughter.    After just a little digging, I was able to locate the rings.  Then, because I've got a mind like a steel trap, I remembered that I'd seen a pack of curtain hooks on the floor in the spare room (probably a sample from something Ross was looking at buying a while back).  Haha!  Awesome.


Random free curtain hooks

This project was going to be completely free!  (If you don't count all the money that Ross spent at the auction...)   So, I removed the old curtain, settled on the bed with my supplies, and got to work.

Yes, that picture frame is empty.

I noticed this label on one of the panels and had no idea what it meant.

oooh... blurry picture...

I tried to just put a curtain hook through the string at the end of the curtain, but the string pulled free.  I figured it would happen, but it was worth a shot...

The string before I put the hook on.

The string after I put the hook on.

So, I pulled all 3 strings loose and started pulling on them.  The curtain started to pleat.  

I kept pulling, from both ends, until the pleats were pretty tight.   I estimated that the curtain width would be ok, even though I had a niggling suspicion that it would be too narrow.  I ploughed on and pleated both curtains. (Did anyone else hear that ominous music of foreshadowing?)  Then I tied a knot in the strings at each end of the curtain panels.

Pretty pleats!

Next I did some fancy calculations to determine that the hooks should be 11.5 pleats apart.  By fancy math, I mean just regular division.  And yes, I counted how many pleats there were.  Making an executive decision, I alternated between 11 and 12 pleats.

So, after I'd completed my complex mathematical equations, I attached the hooks to the top cord.  Here is a series of pictures that shows that process.

Pointy end inserted from the bottom.

Twirl it until the pointy end points down.

Ta-da!  You can also see the knot tied in the end of the strings.

Then I slid the ring onto the hook.

Then I repeated that process many many times.  (Well 16...)

Then I put the curtains on the rod and hung the rod back up.  Ta-da!


Remember that foreshadowing... yep.  Too narrow.  So I took it all down, undid the knots and loosened the pleats.  Then I put the rod back up and...  TA DA!

So light and airy!

And open...

Finally, I put a couple of little hooks on the wall, so I could use the matching tie backs that came with the curtains.  The first thing I do most mornings is open the curtains and let the light in.  I love how the tie backs hold them back and look nice and finished.

Don't they look so much better than the old ones?  Here's a night shot.

Wasn't that fascinating?
I bet you were riveted the whole time.
Did you see the plot twist of too narrow panels coming?

What's the cheapest home decor item you've ever used?