Sunday, October 21, 2018

Local exploring

Here's a quick recap of what I've been up to since my last post in early September:

Trying out the VRE station that's five minutes from our house for a day of commuting to meetings in DC - infinitely preferable to navigating traffic!

The VRE doesn't run on weekends, so the station does double duty as the home of our local farmers' market - great local produce and flowers.

Unpacking and renovating continue - at a slower pace now that we're nearing completion on both. Here's a shot of my very old slow cooker (a wedding present) cooking its first-ever batch of Disruptive Bolognese using a mix of farmers' market ground beef and turkey (a resounding hit!). In the background is the recently installed backsplash, the last major piece of work in the (now-complete) kitchen.

Thoroughly enjoying my first proper North American autumn in a very long time with some festive front-door decoration... well as the view from our new window seat - Miss B and I agree this lamppost is like a bit of Narnia on our doorstep...

...and having this view a few steps from our front door is pretty nice too!

When we can tear ourselves away from nesting, we're enjoying having DC close by for fun as well as work - it's kind of amazing to see these iconic buildings pop up in the distance as you wander the city.

And, last but not least - a new recipe to share as I re-deploy a time-honored strategy suggested many years ago by my English friend E: "make friends with cake". In this instance a batch of cinnamon sugar scones, which I brought to share at a coffee morning recruiting parent volunteers at Miss B's new school. I met a few people, and signed myself up for a few things - another rootlet put forward into our new community.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Settling in

Purchased in Rome in June; first use this weekend 

How glad am I that it's this weekend and not last weekend? So glad, indescribably glad. But I'll try to describe anyway.

We've been in our new house since Wednesday. It's now definitely more house than construction zone, but the boxes everywhere, as well as construction tools scattered around, indicate that it's still in a state of transition. It's also situated three minutes' walk from a lake and three minutes' drive from a Target, which is a sweet spot I didn't even know I was looking for until I found it.

The three minutes to Target is proving especially handy at the moment, when we're making daily trips as we unpack and get organized and realize that we don't have enough hangers, or any sponges, or haven't found the pillows yet, get the picture. On moving day I was there twice and DP went three times - an utterly unprecedented event in his experience. DP normally avoids commerce in all its forms, other than buying books at every opportunity.

His close encounter with the Target phenomenon produced a spontaneous observation Wednesday night of the who-are-you-and-what-have-you-done-with-my-real-husband variety: "Target really is great. I mean you can get absolutely anything there!"

(I suppressed all of the many, many inappropriate responses this suggested, and settled for a meaningfully neutral, "Yes, dear, I know.")

Meanwhile, Miss B started school on Tuesday. She's re-starting eighth grade because the Australian and US school years don't align, and the other option was having her miss half of eighth grade and jump into ninth grade. Everyone pertinent to the decision-making process agreed this was a terrible idea, and that the 10,000-mile move, cultural re-integration, and shift from a school with 850 girls to one with 4,000 girls and boys was quite enough challenges to be getting on with.

I think it's safe to say we were all feeling pretty nervous about this aspect of the transition, with anxiety levels ratcheting up slowly but surely over the month of August. I had chosen this school after a lot of research (and an in-person visit during a hectic week of school tours and house hunting back in April), and bought a house in the district on faith that I had made the right call. The closer we got to the First Day, the more I quietly fretted: What if I was wrong?

We were still in temporary accommodation on Tuesday, and we left the apartment shortly after 6:30 to make sure we had more than enough time to make the drive in early morning rush-hour traffic and be at school for 8:00. Miss B, normally a chatterbox, was almost entirely silent. When I reached the drop-off point at the main entrance, she looked at me and said, "Don't worry, Mum, I'll be okay. I can do it." Then she got out, squared her shoulders under her Tardis backpack, and marched into the building.

I made it to the Starbucks parking lot before I cried.

Pickup was in the same spot at 3:00. Miss B bounced into the car, and immediately said the following:

"I had a great first day! You made a good choice. You don't need to worry about me and school anymore."

And then proceeded to talk excitedly about her day, classes, teachers, new classmates, the entire way home, including a trip to the supermarket.

To say I was relieved and happy to hear this is a radical understatement. To have it confirmed by the rest of the week made every remaining hurdle shrink to inconsequential size. And now it's Sunday of the Labor Day long weekend - a milestone I've been working towards for months, when we'd be in the house, getting settled. It's nice to have it really be happening at last, and to be on this side of our 77-day transit.

I wish that everyone else could be having as peaceful a weekend as we are. I hope you are.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Next phase

View of the Potomac and Georgetown from the Key Bridge on a hot August afternoon
We are poised at the top of the roller coaster - that brief, interminable pause before the plunge. We've spent two and a half months in transit, and now we're on the threshold between this phase of the transition and the next one.

School starts tomorrow and Miss B, brave and resolute, will walk into a population of some 4,000 students, of whom she knows not one. On Wednesday, our shipment arrives from Canberra, and we begin the process of unpacking the boxes and settling ourselves into our new house and community.

As I write this, late on Monday night, I have a baseline hum of anxiety that flares up with every thought about any aspect of any of our futures. It's all unknown, and right now that's a little bit terrifying. We're stepping out of limbo and back into reality. I've been re-reading this BrainPickings post to remind myself that what I'm feeling is not only normal but universal, and trying to focus on the fundamental things to keep my perspective: we're together, we're healthy, and we've got a roof over our heads. From that foundation, we'll find a way.

Wish us luck: here we go.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Status update

New kitchen installation, Day 1.

Short version: our transition is ongoing.

Slightly longer version: we've been camped out in northern Virginia in a friend's basement for 5 weeks; tomorrow we shift to a short-stay apartment closer to our new house/construction site. We have now officially entered the intensive phase of renovation, and our household goods are expected to arrive in port from Australia shortly. Summer vacation 2.0 is entering its final phase for Miss B, with just over 2 weeks until school starts. DP is enjoying settling into his new job, and my working life has entered an interesting phase, of which more later - right now I'm mainly focused on juggling between work and contractor responsibilities, interspersed with occasional interactions with spouse and child.

My mantra of the moment: "It'll all get done somehow." And I'm not complaining - I knew what August would be like when I signed up for this.

One of the main reasons that makes it all worth it: being able to join my family's Cape vacation for the first time in ten years:


Desserts: my mum's chocolate cake, with vanilla buttercream frosting (top);
Food52 Shortcut Pie with a gluten-free cookie crust filled with roasted peaches and raspberries (bottom)

Highlights included s'mores on the back patio and a mass birthday party for all the summer birthdays in my family (about half of the 15 people in attendance - I contributed the desserts). Other highlights, not pictured: the cousins' sleeping loft; Mexican train dominoes; loafing in rocking chairs on the porch; unscheduled time with a lot of people I've been missing for a long time.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Settling in

Chocolate-cherry birthday cake; flavor combo requested by the birthday girl (host family/friend turning 14) and executed by me using my mother's Chocolate-Chocolate Cake with a layer of cherry jam in the middle and fresh cherries on top

It's exactly one month today since we left Australia. It's a rainy Saturday afternoon and the temperature is in the mid-60s F, a welcome change from the pretty consistent 90F (30C) weather we've had since we got to the northern hemisphere, first in Italy and now here. The friends who have been kind enough to let us camp out in their in-law apartment are away for the weekend, so the house is quiet and empty apart from the three of us. And it's the first weekend day in a while with no commitments or major errands on the schedule, which feels like a luxury after everything that's been happening.

People keep asking me how the transition's going, and I list off all the things we've accomplished since we've arrived, which mostly involve acquiring things like cars and phones, or plugging ourselves into the local infrastructure: school registration, utility bills, library cards. All important, and necessary checklist items for getting everyday life up and running efficiently.

What feels more important to me, though, is the less tangible accrual of local knowledge that I am compiling, starting more or less from zero, and which I need to make me know that this is a place I am going to live. How to navigate the VRE/Metro journey that will allow me to get into DC without driving. Which of the local supermarket chains I am most likely to shop at regularly. If the ice-cream shop in our new town is a worthy local stand-in for the best ice-cream shop of all (last night's first visit was a promising start). Where our local post office is.

We've also had the chance to catch up with lots of friends and family already, and there's plenty more on the schedule; DC is definitely more of a destination for my personal network than Canberra, as well as being much closer to where lots of my key people are based. All of that helps me feel as though I'm re-integrating pieces of my life which have felt fragmented for a very long time.

We're still somewhat in limbo: our household goods are making their way across the Pacific Ocean, and our new house is in the throes of renovation. We've probably got another month before any of that changes. So we're not fully transplanted yet. But I feel like I'm starting to settle in, and to look around for where to put a root or two.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Farewell Australia

Sunrise over Mt Ainslie, June 2018

The time has come - after a hectic six weeks three months we are sitting in the airport waiting for our first flight on our last Great Trek north from Australia. (We're heading back to the US via a 10-day holiday in Italy, so updates from there as WiFi permits.)

It's hard to realise that we've been here for six years this time around - the longest we have lived anywhere since DP and I began our international roving twenty (gulp!) years ago. The process of wrapping up our life here and saying our farewells has been an emotional roller coaster at times, especially over the past week. But in spite of saying goodbye to many people and places that we love, I don't think any of us has any doubt or hesitation that this next move is the best thing for all of us. When we left in late 2009, I didn't feel like we had fully finished our Australian chapter; this time around I've given away all my UK/AU cooking appliances, which is about as significant a gesture as I  can think of to indicate my intentions.

So long, Australia. It's been good to know you.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Intercontinental 7.0

Once again I have a major announcement that I can't put off any longer than I already have, trying to wait for the "ideal" moment or way to announce. (You'd think after this many go-rounds, I'd have worked out there is no such thing; or if there is, I've already had my best shot at it.)

So: our Australian sojourn 2.0 is coming to an end; in late June, we will bid farewell to Canberra and set forth on our next adventure - back home to the US. (That's US 4.0, if you're still counting.) We won't be quite back on our home turf, but we'll be closer than we've ever been since we began our international jaunting 20 (!) years ago - metro Washington, DC, just a hop, skip, and jump away. And a pretty interesting place to park in its own right; we're looking forward to getting our second summer of 2018, and starting to find our way around as residents rather than tourists we have always been previously. But first we've got goodbyes to say, belongings to organize and cull, and a fridge and pantry to eat down - let the next stage of the roller-coaster ride commence!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

New babies

Most Saturday mornings I’m up around 7, so I can get to the farmers’ market before it’s overrun. This past weekend, I set the alarm for 6, much to DP’s disgruntled surprise.

“Why are you getting up so early?” he grumbled.

“We’re going to see the new baby today,” I responded, in my best “duh” tones.

“Huh?” he said, but then fell back asleep before I could explain that I was getting up to implement my three rules for visiting new babies and their parents:

  1. Bring presents for the baby. I aim for two: a practical one that the parents will like, and a fun one that the baby will like. (We brought two Australian standards: this Bonds Wondersuit to help Mum and Dad build the autumn wardrobe, and this instant classic to entertain the baby.)

  2. Don’t stay too long. This one requires some judgment of whether the parents’ need for adult interaction outweighs their and the baby’s exhaustion, or vice versa. This visit we stayed for 90 minutes, which was on the long side for me, but then I have been known to depart after 15 minutes – usually because the mother looked ready to drop and I didn’t know her well enough to say, “Give me that baby and go take a nap!”

  3. Bring food. Ideally food that can be pulled from the fridge and devoured with one hand when ravenous but still baby-wrangling. I brought:
-       a batch of my favorite pasta salad, with a few handfuls of shredded parmigiano Reggiano thrown in to add protein and make it a more complete meal; and
-       this Upside-Down Polenta Plum Cake from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now – I substituted a mixture of cranberry and peach jam for the plums.

All of the above were well received, and I even got some baby-snuggling time, so that's a win-win in my book on etiquette and enjoyment.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Peaches plus

Peaches and rhubarb are only the beginning of peaches-plus combos I have come to love over the last few years; just this summer I’ve also experimented with peach-raspberry tarte tatin, peach-blackberry crumble and, over Christmas, peach-redcurrant jam.

Peach-redcurrant jam
I used what I had in the fruit bowl to make this when I realized I had enthusiastically overbought redcurrants, forgetting that no one but me likes them. This batch was probably about 600 g/20 oz fruit, roughly 65/35 peaches/redcurrants. I added in half the weight of sugar – some of it from my stash of citrus sugar. It wasn’t a long cooking job, as it was such a small amount; I followed my usual method and I got about 2 jars out of it – one 360 g/12 oz size, and one 240 g/8 oz. I didn’t bother with canning for only 2 jars, just stashed them in the fridge for easy access for breakfast toast, yogurt-and-granola, etc.

The peaches and redcurrants make for a great sweet-tart combo – worth a try if you can a) get your hands on some redcurrants (this batch is the only time I’ve seen them for sale anywhere in Australia in the past 6 years) and b) don’t immediately eat them all yourself.

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