Take Me to Your Leader

Who really runs this place?!  And why do I live in a country where I know so little about the government, its laws, and my relative role within this play?  I heard a rumor that they keep the Queen around because she brings in so many tourists each year, but I am intrigued by the general attitude Londoners have about their government leaders and politics in general.

The United Kingdom, comprising England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, is governed by a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system.  London is the capital and home to the parliament as well as the current reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor II.  (Her reign began when she was merely 25 years old; she had a four year old child–and I have recurrent nightmares about losing track of my baby, which I do not yet have.  Thank heavens I am not responsible for millions of people.)  I still don’t necessarily understand what the Queen actually does.  I think her purpose is to regularly give politicians the stink eye to remind them about the seriousness of their post and the needs and desires of the people they represent.  I imagine for them it’s kind of like knowing their mom (or grandmother) is always watching.  The Prime Minister is the head of the executive branch of government, similar to a U.S. President, except that I think I understand that the Prime Minister is appointed by the monarch depending on which party is the largest in parliament.  Members of parliament, however, are elected directly by the people.  I think.

Queen Elizabeth is also the monarch of 16 other commonwealth realms; I believe that there are figures to represent her among those governments though the Queen is reported to remain extremely knowledgeable and active in her duties, though she officially represents the people and rarely expresses personal opinions on issues.  I am quite surprised at how much admiration I am beginning to develop for the Her Majesty–not necessarily, yet, understanding the role of a monarch in general–but for her strength and sense of duty.  Of course, to know her seems impossible.  You may piece together what is said by those who deal with her directly and infer what she might be like through the studying of her many speeches…  You can take into account the appearances she chooses to make, her public choices, and foreign relations actions–but rarely does the Queen herself speak candidly or personally.

I tend to operate under the belief that we are more alike than we are different.  Though I have never been royalty, I have been a girl all my life.  She may be made of iron and she may have been bred for serious responsibilities from the very day she was born.  Based on my own disposition, though, I hope that Queen Elizabeth is just Elizabeth to someone–someone who knows her completely and loves her.  Really loves her.


Is it a sign that I am old and growing motherly when I start thinking about Her Majesty as someone I should care for personally?  And if I am, in fact, growing older–shall I expect wisdom to visit soon?

You’ll Need to Bring This Back With You.

Term of the Day: Bits and Bobs

  • Odds and ends

A good portion of normal, everyday Londoners order groceries online and have them delivered; they pop in to local stores for the random bits and bobs.  Within my frame of reference, that would have seemed very posh two months ago.  After discovering the challenges simple grocery shopping poses in a big city like London, I now fully appreciate the concept.  Space is at a premium so not all stores can stock a full range of items, it’s hard to carry your groceries if you can’t manage to do a little shopping everyday, moms+kids+groceries+public transport= : ( , and you might have to visit several stores to get everything on your list–or do without Maple Syrup this week.

I met one of our neighbors two days ago.  She is lovely and has lively Terrier who rather liked me.  Maybe she could sense how desperate I’ve become for some animal attention.  Dang Gina, I miss my cat.  So, the neighbor filled me in on some very interesting news–news that might put you at ease.  If you must come to visit in a large group, or you need a little more privacy than we can offer you, there are six guest flats on campus that we can rent.  We actually live next door to a double (£45/night) and a single (£27/night) guest room.  I am not encouraging you to stay next door, but if you all come at the same time it may be an option we have to explore.  Large groups could be fun actually…

For those of you reading who may be looking for a solution to your quest for shortening in the UK, I would like to recommend Stork and White Flora.  If these products are stocked in your local grocery they will most likely be refrigerated and you will find it near the margarine.  They don’t advertise themselves as shortening, they are “cooking products”, so search for the “great for baking” and “great for cakes and pastries” wording on tubs.

The Sainsbury’s in Islington has now trumped my local Waitrose to become my favorite grocery store.  As my idea of the size of my local neighborhood expands, so does my level of expectation grow.  Such good things are hidden in the nooks and crannies I haven’t yet explored.

I know that you are all curious about medical care here within the NHS.  Of course, being the responsible investigative reporter than I am, I have taken it upon myself to discover how it all works–which translates to “I am running out of birth control soon.”  

Some of the straightforward information I have gathered regarding seeking medical care within the NHS, so far, is as follows.

  • You must register with a General Practioner (GP) in your local area.  If no GP in your area is able to add another patient, you may appeal to see one outside your area.  GPs are paid based on the number of patients registered with their practice.
  • To register you must show ID and turn in your paperwork to the clinic.  Within 48 hours your address and National Insurance (NI) number are verified so that you may call to make your first appointment and any records may be transferred from your previous physician, if necessary.
  • Physicians make house calls in special cases, for home bound patients, and to mothers with newborn babies.
  • To see a specialist, your GP must refer you.
  • Not all GPs prescribe medicine; it depends on their specific training and degree level.
  • Pharmacists can prescribe certain medications and are especially knowledgeable in the area of topical medications for irritations and rashes.  These professionals have special training in the area of medicine and prescribing; sometimes more than certain types of GPs.

Finding a nearby clinic was easy with a tiny bit of research.  I was able to visit their website, print out the necessary registration forms, and drop those off yesterday.  Dropping off my paperwork took me less than one minute and the receptionist gave me a specimen cup to bring back my urine sample on my first visit.  Ok, that may have been strange.  Some of me is still wondering if this is a joke they play on brand new patients.  I will definitely inquire about it when I call to make my appointment.

I know you are wondering what in the world I have done this week.  I wonder myself.  HHmmm.


Identified new vacancies for which I will apply, Grocery, Borders (to get the recent issue of Design Week for Drew), Christmas trip planning, normal housework


Sent CV in reference to 16 vacancies, normal housework, scheduled a preliminary interview for Wednesday morning, scheduled a preliminary phone interview for Wednesday afternoon, met Drew at his office, had dinner with Drew and Janita when they were finally ready to leave at 10p (A “fire” started while I was in transit to the office; I owe Nashville echoneer, Anton, Maynards Wine Gums for his awesomeness in firefighting.)  Fun times.


Attended interview, emailed my Dad (Happy Wednesday!!) registered at local clinic, topped up cell phone service, grocery, normal housework, called my sister to check in for the big day (my Mom is having her supersonic hearing installed–next Christmas we might buy her X-ray vision.  A little over the top?), attended(?) phone interview, called home again, made cupcakes, had a frosty beverage at the local pub (The Shakespeare) waiting for news from my sister, received an update, made dinner (dishes), and crashed
in the oven

fuzzy cupcake


the shakespeare

Today I am still a little tired and waiting for it to be late enough in the day that I can call home again.  I am so thankful the dark morning has given way to a good bit of clear sky and sunshine.  I be will carrying cupcakes to Drew’s office at tea time–doing it in the dark and the rain doesn’t sound appealing.  The cloudy, dark sky also tends to make the bed seem like a very, very wonderful (magical, even) place to be.  It’s good that we don’t have more days like that.

Strange New Day

Last night Drew worked well into the evening and he’s fighting a cold, so we snuggled a few extra minutes this morning.  He had decided to go late to the office if he woke up feeling as lousy as he did yesterday.  Though he didn’t sleep very much later than usual, it felt strange to make a big 9 am breakfast while he checked his first round of emails…  Feed a cold, right?

Anyway, I was blown away as we ate by the news of an anti-government protest that shut down the Don Mueang airport in Bangkok, Thailand.  The story is fascinating.  I hope that the protest is peaceful as long as it continues and that no one is harmed as the Thai government attempts to return the airport to normal operations.

Some of the passengers stranded in the airport were complaining to the protestors, who were offering the same stranded passengers food, that some of them would be missing Thanksgiving celebrations with their families in America.  Suddenly, this holiday that had been so firmly ingrained into my internal calendar became as foreign sounding to me as it was to these Thai natives.  Living for a few weeks in this melting pot has already given me such a greater sense of the size of the world and the nearly infinite number of cultures in it that I can not help but experience moments in which I am utterly disconnected.  Of course, it takes mere seconds for the familiar to flood back in; I am saved by the invisible lines drawn between us.  Our relationship saves me from being lost at sea.

Home means more to me with each passing day, but being home is becoming less about about geographic location and more about the feeling I get each time I am where I am supposed to be.  Being on this adventure with Drew, across the ocean from the only place we have ever lived prior to October, is just as unexpectedly inexplicable as I thought it would be.

When You Put it That Way…

Word of the Day: Biscuit

  • (UK) Cookie–and sometimes cracker
  • (US) Small, savory, bread-based food item eaten most commonly at breakfast

A girl (and hopefully a boy) can be happy anywhere by creating little bits of familiarity around them.  What else is a house wife to do, then, besides make familiar foods?  I’ve tried something like vegetables and dumplings.  We’ve had veggie patties with steamed broccoli and baked carrot/sweet potato/butternut squash medley.  There have been those nights that we enjoyed Thai dishes, but we have worn out pasta with marinara sauce.  I have even managed to find black beans for burrito night!  What I really wanted to do was surprise Drew some Sunday with flaky, steamy, yummy biscuits like his mom and Granny make.  

Vegetable shortening has been on my list for three weeks now.

Today I was determined to have my hands on the last ingredient to evade me, for the sake of Sunday’s brunch menu.  I bravely stood in the baking aisle, holding my ground while daddies ran me over with their recklessly driven strollers and little old ladies wobbled into me with their big bags and trolleys.  Busy Londoners stepped right in front of me to contemplate which varieties of Pot Noodles were part of the 2 for £3 special, but I stayed.  The thing I eventually picked up was Atoralight Shredded Vegetable Suet.  


The first thing I did back at the flat was research the word (please don’t click this link if you have a weak stomach) suet and attempt to discover if I had completed the mission.  Ick.  EEeeww.  Yes, I had, but I was suddenly less interested in flaky, steamy biscuits.  I wanted more information about how vegetable “suet” is made so I researched shortening, quickly navigating away from the photos of suet.  I found out some interesting things about how shortening works.  Did you know that you get better results from using cold or frozen Crisco?  If your recipe calls for water, use ice water.  Still, what is hydrogenation and how does it create trans fats?  (Man, I miss chemistry…)

Basically, what I’ve decided is that biscuits should be enjoyed rarely and I should attempt to find healthier fats to use when cooking.  I guess any time we “process” food we alter the nutrition in it, but our bodies haven’t been altered to deal with this, only our tastebuds.  Wow, a simple trip to the grocery stored turned into a science research paper.  Sorry folks.

We’ll enjoy our Sunday brunch with biscuits this week.  Then we’ll take a walk!


Word of the Day: Prawn

  • Basically, shrimp.
Today’s Most Missed Thing: my mixer
You know what’s strange?  The baking section in city grocery stores is very small, if it exists.  I wonder if people don’t have time, don’t have space, don’t have space to store the tools, don’t like cake, or generally get confused about the use of ovens for purposes other than drying socks or toasting a baguette to go with soup.  I think the reason why you don’t see cake mix or brownie mix on most shelves is related to the phenomenon mentioned in a previous post about ready-to-eat food.  Cooking, REAL cooking, is uncommon.  Yeah, I saute veggies and throw sauce on them.  Somebody else made the sauce, though.  On a scale of heated it up to gourmet, made-from-scratch, I usually try my best to fall somewhere in between.  It has to be healthier.  When I worked all the time I was barely aware of what I ate.  Obviously, but that’s not the point.  I just realize how far away we have moved from the table to fast-paced meals made from previously frozen and re-hydrated food flavored materials with preservatives.  I have also noticed how easy it is to eat the same types of food repetitively due to price and ease of preparation, like pasta and mayonnaise based sandwich fillers.  Even good foods, like peanut butter, have quite a bit of fat–I know it’s good fat, but the number of times we choose it over a vegetable because of its convenience is staggering.
This was just not something I thought would be so amazing to me.
My friend Janita has really been encouraging me to bake since we’ve moved into the new flat.  Trust me, I have the serious itch to do it, too.  I looked around and realized I had no mixer and only one large glass measuring cup.  No measuring spoons, no measuring cups, no cake pan(s), no spatulas, no whisk to be found.  They do have those cute little egg holders that people use to eat hard-boiled eggs (I think).

egg holde

And twice I have wanted Vegetable Broth.  First of all, it’s called brine here.  If you get broth it has stuff in it.  Anyway, it’s super hard to locate it if the store has it at all.  Maple syrup, tofu, vegan cheese, vegan “ice cream” all belong on the things I miss list.  Sometimes there is one jar of maple syrup left, but it is expensive because they flew it over her from Canada.  I did find one choice of tofu and some strange looking tofu dogs.  Without a freezer, I must learn new ways to cook tofu and tofu dogs for two…  I also need to find a International grocer.  They will most likely have more options.  I just pray that I don’t buy squid by mistake.

Enough whining, I think it’s time for an Episode of Ugly Betty and some snuggling.  I like snuggling in London.  I like snuggling when it’s chilly.  I like snuggling when it’s rainy or stormy and when I don’t feel well.  It’s also nice after a glass of wine or some ice cream.  Sometimes snuggling is great when you’ve had a long day–or before you start the day.  Ok, I am snuggler.  Sheesh.