Posted in London Life, Teaching, Uncategorized

Shoes on the Danube

It’s hard to know how to act in the aftermath of Charlottesville, but I’ve done a few things, including writing to the city council in my hometown to ask them to rename one of our elementary schools (it’s named after O. M. Roberts, a former Texas governor who led the state’s secession movement and supported slavery).

Today I’m in Budapest and I visited Shoes on the Danube. We remember: I remember the history of the Holocaust, I remember the history of slavery, I remember the history of racial injustice in America as well as our current racist system(s). I will teach this history as accurately as I can to my students and my own children. I can do that much at least.

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Posted in Cooking, Family Life, London Life, Uncategorized

Rhubarb, Blue-barb

It turns out gardening in England is much easier than gardening in Texas. In Austin, I planted a small rhubarb plant and promptly watched it shrivel up and die, despite watering it daily. Here in London, it’s about to sprout legs and walk around! My eldest little calls it “blue-barb” and we were planning to combine the lovely stalks with homegrown strawberries, but the boys keep eating those straight off of the vine:

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Anyway, I’m planning to harvest the first batch of blue-barb tomorrow, so naturally I spent a good chunk of today looking for tasty new recipes on Pinterest. Here’s what I unearthed (check out that pun):

  1. First up will be these rhubarb bars. I love lemon bars and rhubarb’s tartness should make a great change–in fact, I wonder if I could whip up a tart au rhubarbe…check out the finished product and review here.

2. Then I might make this old-fashioned rhubarb pudding cake, just to see if it actually works (magic pudding cakes are so much fun, although I find they don’t keep well).

3. Finally, to stick with the theme from my last post, here’s a vegan raspberry rhubarb crisp that uses nuts for extra flavour and crunch. (I haven’t made it yet but based on experience of cooking rhubarb, I’d double the sugar.)

And while I didn’t grow much in Texas, I did grow these carrots–I think it’s time to update the phrase “two peas in a pod”:

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Posted in London Life, Uncategorized

Translating Brit Speak: A Rough Guide for Americans

Confession: Despite the title of this blog, I never say “cheerio” – and neither does anyone else. It’s an outdated expression, but there are plenty of other British words and phrases I had to master when I first arrived in the UK. Here are a few, in case you find yourself struggling to grasp the locals when conversing:

To wind someone up – tease, annoy, or play a prank on; “Are you winding me up?” or “Your dad really winds you up, doesn’t he?”

To go pear-shaped – when something goes wrong; “It all went pear-shaped after I burnt the roast.”

To have the hump – be annoyed or irritated with someone: “Have you got the hump with me?” translates to “Are you angry/annoyed with me?”

Can’t be arsed – can’t be bothered, not worth the effort: “I’d like a cup of tea, but I can’t be arsed to make it myself.” Funny story with this one: when I first heard it, I was told the phrase was “I can’t be asked” (which some people do say). For months I used it in lessons with students until someone told me it was actually “can’t be arsed (or, in American, assed as in get off your ass). Apparently with my accent and speedy speech, students thought I’d been swearing in class on a regular basis. Whoops!

Bog standard – normal, unremarkable: “Yeah, the food there is bog standard.” or “I just need a bog standard car, nothing flashy.”

Take the piss – another way of saying make fun of, often by being facetious or appearing to be serious when you’re joking: “Don’t get upset, I’m only taking the piss.” Note: some people say “taking the mick/mickey” but this has anti-Irish connotations, so as a foreigner (am I still a foreigner if I’m married to/the mother of citizens? Hmm…) I avoid it. Also, don’t confuse this phrase with…

To get pissed – to get drunk. “You’re completely pissed” means “You’re very drunk”, not “You’re very angry.”

Come a cropper – fail badly: “The government’s policy on school funding is going to come a cropper in the next election.” One can only hope…

Throw a wobbly – have a fit or tantrum: “Mum’s going to throw a wobbly when she sees this mess!”

Pop to the shops (or anywhere else) – quickly go somewhere: “I’m just going to pop to the shops for some milk. Do you need anything?”

Curry – a general word used to mean all Indian food, NOT just dishes that actually involve the spice we call curry!! “Let’s get a curry tonight” means “Let’s order an Indian takeaway/eat at an Indian restaurant.” Top tip: don’t order anything on the menu that actually involves the spice we call curry. It’s not nice. Chicken tikka masala is a safe bet, or some kind of dahl (lentils) or jalfrezi (spicy but so yummy). I also highly recommend poppadoms and dips.

Dinner/supper/tea: Some folks call lunch, or the midday meal, “dinner”; these same folks probably call their evening meal “tea” or say “it’s teatime soon.” I’m told this is generally a working class phrase. Other (posher) folks call lunch “lunch” and “tea” means tea like with the queen, served in the late afternoon/early evening. These same folks call their evening meal “supper”, and dinner is nowhere to be heard.

The school run: dropping your kids off at school and picking them up again: “I’ve got to do the school run at 3, but I’ll be home after that.”

Holidays – any time off, not just Christmas/Hanukkah, usually involving travel: “Have fun on your holidays! Where are you going again?” or “It’s school holidays soon. Shall we meet up then?”

Bank holidays – public holidays that many/most people have off; some shops etc. are likely to be open but with more limited hours: “It’s a bank holiday this Monday. Should we have a barbeque [aka cookout] if the weather’s nice?”

Term time – when school is in session; most schools have three terms called autumn, spring and summer (they like to pretend winter doesn’t exist): “It’s hard for me to meet up during term time since I have to manage the school run on top of everything else, but I’m free over the holidays.”

Half-term – a break in the middle of a term, usually one week in state schools but sometimes longer in private schools: “I can’t wait for half-term – it feels like ages since the winter holidays!”

And that’s all I’ve got for now. Please feel free to correct me in the comments, since I’m definitely not a native speaker!

Posted in Family Life, London Life

Expat Life: Dealing with Family Visits

When I first lived abroad, I looked forward to every visit from family members, and every trip home. Now, after more than a decade of living abroad (and a few years hosting my spouse’s family when we lived in Texas), the novelty has worn off and irritation can easily creep in on all sides. I thought I’d share some of my experiences in the hopes that you might be able to avoid my mistakes. Read on to minimize family feuds annoyances and make the best of your time together.

#1: If at all possible, do not let your family members stay with you, especially if (a) they’re American and you live somewhere that is not America, and/or (b) you have a small house. We live in a 1250 square foot house in South London and it is the biggest property we’ve rented in this country. With two adults and two kids, there’s really not much room to spare. My best friend and her (German) husband and son recently crashed on a foam mattress on the floor for two nights, but there’s absolutely no way my parents or siblings would ever tolerate this set up. Much better for everyone if they get an airbnb or a hotel room (airbnb is always cheaper, plus you can cook). Otherwise, be prepared to put up with a constant stream of comments about how small everything else, how uncomfortable and old-fashioned everything is, yada yada yada…seriously, it was bad enough listening to my mother complain about the washing machine (and lack of separate dryer) at the airbnb property they rented.

#2: Think about local holidays that may impact (positively or negatively) on travel plans. If you live in a touristy city or area, make sure you let your family know if something is going on around the time they want to visit. My parents recently visited for two weeks that exactly lined up with the Easter holidays here, so all of the London places they wanted to visit were super busy. They managed, but it’s worth warning people in advance if there’s a local festival, holiday, sporting event, etc. – especially since it can also drive up airfare and accommodation costs. 

#3: Give your relatives advice, but if they’re anything like mine, be prepared for them not to take it. My brother once flew over for three days to meet his new nephew. I was so flattered that he went to so much effort to come and see us, and delighted that he abided by rule #1 and stayed in a hotel (especially since at that time we lived in a 650 sq ft flat). Unfortunately, he did not listen to me when I told him a single room wouldn’t be big enough for his 6’3” frame, and he spent his three nights in a very cramped bed that was most likely designed for adults from Shakespeare’s time (you know, when everyone was shorter and smaller, right?).

Another example: my parents wanted to take a day trip to Oxford and when they looked up the train times, it said it would take just over an hour to get there on the train from London. Of course, what they didn’t know was that it would take at least another hour just to cross London on public transportation to get to the train that would take them to Oxford. And did they listen when I told them? No. And did they have a nice day out? No. They barely managed to see the spires at all. So like I said, feel free to give your relatives advice, but try not to stress out if they ignore you.

#4: Resign yourself to dealing with tourist cliches. I took my mom to Paris and she wanted American wine. Ha! My dad loves to make jokes about English muffins. Ugh. I’ve taken almost every guest I’ve ever hosted to a red telephone booth and Big Ben/Buckingham Palace/Tower Bridge. Mostly I take refuge in introducing them to one of my favorite pubs at the end of the day. Top tip: try to work in at least one thing you like doing during a day of sightseeing, otherwise you’ll be a miserable tour guide.

#5: Set clear expectations in advance. This one is slightly more serious. Some family members will want to spend all their time with you. After all, if they only see you once or twice a year, they want to make the most of it, right?! Other family members will want some distance. They’ll see you for a bit, but not all day, every day. Other times family members don’t feel comfortable traveling abroad and are reliant on your for everything, while a different group of folks might view you as a convenient stepping stone to expanding their traveling horizons.

It’s best to try and find out how much time they want to spend with you, and be up front about how much time you can offer to spend with them, even before they buy their tickets. This will prevent major arguments and hurt feelings down the line when, say, they’re tired and want to have a night in, but you’ve made plans to take them out for a meal. Or vice versa when they want to spend every waking minute with you but actually you’ve got to work and also it’s your friend’s birthday drinks, etc. Just try to have a conversation about it in advance.

And if this advice sounds totally bizarre and irrelevant to your life as an expat, congratulations: you win the family lottery. Otherwise, feel free to comment below with your own tips and advice.