Reversepilgrims Blog

a northwest family moves to the UK

French lessons September 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 9:10 am

“We’re learning French!”, my nine-year-old told me about a week ago. I mentally placed a check mark in the ‘definitely worth it’ column regarding our recent move to the UK, as it would have been 5 years before he learned a foreign language back home.

“What did you learn?”, I asked.

“Bon Jour, Mademoiselle!”, he piped up, “it means hello to a girl” he said with a cheeky smile. Well, that’s useful, I thought. His accent even sounded quite French, too. “Great job!”, I exclaimed in my best proud mom voice.

About two weeks later…

“We learned more French today!”

“Oh, what did you learn?”

(insert French for “where do you live?” here)

“So, let me get this straight, you’ve learned how to say hello to a girl and then ask her where she lives?”

(insert a speechless nine year old boy here)

What ever happened to learning the basics like the alphabet and how to count? How about ‘Can you please tell me where the bathroom is?’ or a simple ‘Thank you’? I took three years of Spanish and all I remember is how to ask someone if they like to play volleyball and the words for shirt, pants and shoes. And, I do not recall speed dating being on the syllabus.

Being the trusting soul that I am, I have to assume they know what they are doing. I’m sure they taught the children an array of French phrases and my son simply chose to remember the two that will come in handy as a twenty-something tourist, or for that summer job as a taxi driver in Paris.

My husband, as you may imagine, found this all quite amusing. He even gave our son a big thumbs up and a high five. It doesn’t take a genetic test to determine where my son gets his selective memory.

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Toadally silly food September 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 10:12 pm

The concept of giving a silly name to a clever dish or unique snack food is not completely foreign to me.  I grew up eating Pigs in a Blanket, which is a hot dog wrapped in bread dough, a classic kid favorite that’s easy to make. You just buy hot dogs and pre-packaged dough that comes in pressurized paper canisters, wrap the dogs and throw them in the oven. (I personally hated waiting for the ‘pop’ as I peeled back the cardboard and would just whack the tube-o-dough on the edge of the counter to get it over with.)

It was a silly name, but it made sense…hot dogs are made from pork, aka. pigs, and the bread was like the blanket. You could even entertain your friends and family by holding one up and walking it around with it’s little piggy head poking out the top and stubby feet sticking out the bottom.

So, part of me says that I shouldn’t throw stones. However, by any standard, “Toad in the hole” is particularly silly. I thought my friend was kidding about the existence of such a thing until she showed it to me in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store. It is described on the package as ‘3 Pork sausages in a light and crispy batter’. Sausages and batter? I had to try it and if it was good, I wasn’t sharing, so I got two. After a good hearty laugh, a tasty meal and more than a few moments spent pondering the name, I find myself pleasantly full, yet thoroughly puzzled.

The encyclopedia Britannica describes a toad as: any squat, rough-skinned, tailless amphibian. If anyone knows what a Toad has to do with sausage, or light, fluffy batter has to do with a hole where one might find an elongated amphibian, I’m all ears.

And, in an obvious attempt to taunt the gods of nomenclature, for those with an aversion to toad and/or pig meat, there’s Vegetarian Toad in the hole!

 

Rainy day ride September 21, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 7:14 pm

I am a wimp. You can ask the little girl in the pink rubber boots and matching rain coat who was happily walking the half mile to school with her mom in the drizzle to pick up her older sibling. I am pretty sure she pointed the wimpy American lady out to her mom as I drove past in the car on my way to pick up my boys, but I didn’t actually see the whole thing because I had my hand up shielding my face from the complete humiliation.

To be fair, I wasn’t feeling well. I rode with the boys to school and back in the morning despite the oncoming migraine. (It’s a little less than a mile each way and relatively flat, so I don’t expect a gold star, but it’s definitely more than a couple of blocks). In the afternoon, I was all decked out in my rain coat again, heading down our driveway on my bike when the clouds kicked it up a notch and splattered my helmet like a woodpecker. I paused and reluctantly contemplated driving. If this gets worse and I get soaked, the migraine will kick in full blast. The brave stalwart in me argued that it would set a bad example for the boys, wimping out like this in our first week. The nauseous side of me thought about riding the two miles in soaking wet jeans. I was OK with my decision to drive…until I saw the tyke in the pink. As with many experiences I’ve had here in England, it made me contemplate what I’m truly made of.

Back in the northwest, I was not exactly a candidate for a Pemco ad (for the benefit of my UK friends, I have included a clip below), but I have strung up a few blue tarps in my time and I’m not generally afraid of a little rain. I do pass out the parkas and head out even when the forecast calls for a little drizzle. Here is a photo of a recent outing to the park to prove it. We’ve been wet before and we’ll be wet again, but there is something a little different in the general attitude toward the elements here in England. Everyone gets wet, especially kids, and they’ll be fine.

When it comes to getting to school in the rain, I consider myself less wimpy than many American parents. I made my kids walk the 200 yards to the bus stop in the rain. With an umbrella, of course. (OK, truth be told, I picked them up during a downpour or two, but the little wimp meter in my head was definitely maxing out.)

I say less wimpy because there are many parents who drive their kids to the bus stop if it’s raining, which is always less than a half a mile from their house. Some even just drive them all the way to the front door of the school to save the fuss. (There is an elaborate dropoff and pickup routine established in front of the main entrance to most American elementary schools so kids can hop out of their cars and be ushered into the front doors without the parents even getting out of their cars. I wouldn’t be caught dead doing that to avoid the rain–a Washington native has to have some self respect!)

My English friend Fiona finds it hilarious, both the fact that the bus stops are no more than half a mile from our houses and the extent to which we go to stay dry. After just one rainy day pick up experience here in this English village, I can see why. Parents here walk their kids into the playground at the back of the school to meet their teachers in the morning and afternoon. Parking on the long, skinny street in front of the school is parallel parking on one side. As you can imagine, most drivers (parents coming from work or other villages, I presume) end up walking several blocks. As I stood in the playground to pick the boys up, I realized that I was the only one who had both an umbrella and a rain jacket. The other adults had one or the other, but not both. The looks they gave me are all too familiar, like the day I wore a baseball cap to the grocery store. It’s simply not done around here.

The kids generally seemed to think nothing of getting a little wet, a few pulled up their hoods or got under umbrellas with their parents, but most of them just seemed to be oblivious to the weather. The most astonishing sight were the older kids who had walked from the secondary school in their blazers and ties to pick up their younger siblings, with no waterproofing of any kind. It wasn’t what they did that struck me, but what they didn’t do. They milled around the paved playground with the rest of us, chatting away with the other soaked teenagers, seemingly unperturbed by their wet hair hanging in ringlets or plastered to their heads. I imagine most American teenagers would be at least pouting, but more likely whining and texting for someone to come save them.

I decided to act as if I had every intention of having the boys ride their bikes, rain or no rain. It turns out that it was a mute point because they both came out and headed straight for the bike racks, just like the three of us normally do. It was a bit embarrassing to explain that I had driven the car, especially after nearly two months of learning to ride the buses and trains and bikes to accomplish our goal of being a one-car family. (Go figure that the first day my husband kicked in his ride sharing scheme, I get a migraine.)

‘You drove here???’, they asked with their faces all screwed up. ‘Keep it down!”, I whispered. The car was blocks away, but I didn’t want anyone eavesdropping and eyeballing us as we formulated a plan. The older son would ride home ahead and the younger one would let me follow him in the car and supervise the street crossings. As I waved the wet little rider across the road at the roundabout, I knew we had accomplished a little bit of what we set out to by moving here. Stalwarts 1, Wimps 0.

 

On the absence of ironing September 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 11:29 pm

Sending the boys off to school in a uniform every day sounded a bit stuffy to me at first. And, to be perfectly honest, more than a little daunting. What I’m really trying to say is…I am not particularly skilled in the ways of removing wrinkles. I believe the politically correct term is ironing impaired. I also have a fear of heavy, awkward, relatively unstable appliances that are extremely hot.

Resigned to put them in polyester if it came to that, I got over my initial fears and set out for the store. As with most delusional thinking, it passed in the face of concrete evidence to the contrary and the entire family has warmed up to the idea of school uniforms for one reason or another.

First of all, they are not the pressed collars, creased slacks and itchy socks I had envisioned. In primary school (which is generally preschool through 5th grade), they wear a white or light blue polo shirt and school jumper (sweatshirt) with black or grey trousers (politely refrain from calling them pants, that’s short for underpants in this neck of the woods) and black shoes. It all sounds terribly comfy and the boys seem to agree.

Secondly, they are cheap. You can find school uniforms everywhere, even in the grocery stores. The shirts are sold in packs of two or three and work out to about $3 each. Trousers are under $10, even for a top of the line brand with an adjustable waistband. So, counting socks, both boys are all set up with the basics for about a hundred bucks. Seriously! With shoes and the jumpers, we’ll go a bit over $200 total. Now that’s something to write home about!

My favorite part is where I don’t have to iron anything. (insert audible gasps from the neighbors here) This is due to the fact that, unlike most of the people I have met here, I actually plan to utilize the clothes dryer located in our house. I am aghast at how many people I have met–professional people, people with multiple children, people seemingly normal in every way imaginable–who tell me that they have dryers, but they simply don’t use them. Ever. Well, maybe once or twice in December. I have popped into a friend’s house on more than one occasion to find her husband ironing away, briskly working his way through a stack of line dried t-shirts, linens, pajamas and trousers while taking in a little telly through the French doors. Amazing. I should also note that said English people are likely equally aghast at the fact that I don’t iron unless I absolutely have to, i.e., when my husband is out of town and I have an engagement at a five star venue. In a nutshell, never.

When I ask them why they don’t use their dryers, they scrunch up their noses and grumble about the fact that it’s expensive, but I suspect that there is more to the story. I sense a mixture of habit, tradition and preferring not to be like all those bloody lazy yanks, except they are too polite to share that last bit.

I will admit to buying a clothes horse and testing the waters. You can still catch me hanging the odd linen or synthetic item up in my kitchen, but I’m not currently willing to iron the itchy wrinkles out of my nightshirts on a regular basis. Upon receipt of our first electricity bill, I may be ironing along with the best of them, but for now, I am blissfully toting load after pint-sized load out to the dryer in the garage where they dry in an hour or so and become relatively wrinkle free in the process. That is, of course, if I collect and fold them when they are still warm…hey, maybe that’s it! Maybe they just don’t want to be tied down with all that hovering about to pluck the clothes out in that ever-so-precious ‘wrinkle free window’. Maybe they like the idea of ironing when it darn well suits them. As for me, I”m contemplating buying an even bigger dryer.

 

Horrible Histories is a big hit September 1, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 8:14 am

The boys love the show “Horrible Histories” on BBC. It is dark comedy at it’s best and educational to boot! Here is a relatively tame clip, you can search youtube for more. Enjoy!

 

 
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