Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Menu

Thanksgiving 2014

I spent ages pouring over my Thanksgiving menu.  I'm super excited because Fran is even taking the day off work, which is practically better than Christmas.  We'll be cooking all day and sorting out the new house. It'll be our first real chance to settle in and unpack and inaugurate all those lovely bridal shower gifts. Plus it's THANKSGIVING. So excited!!!!! Since I spent AGES planning the menu, I'll share the over-ambitious list.

Our menu:
- Pecan pie
- Pumpkin pie
- Apple pie (?)
- sweet potato souffle
- shoe peg corn and green been casserole
- rice pilaf
- cranberry sauce
- dinner rolls
- bacon and bourbon stuffing
- spiced apple cider
- creamed corn
- green beens
- mashed potatoes
- one turkey

Thoughts: always start with dessert, of course.  Souffle of course isn't really a souffle, it's just sweet potato goodness.  The shoe peg corn and green been casserole has cheese in it-- sssh don't tell Fran. Stuffing or dressing? The infinite dilemma. Bacon won out this time.  Spiced cider or spiked cider?  I still don't know how I feel about turkey. Can you have a thanksgiving without a turkey?

Cooking my own Thanksgiving is something that has been really fun living abroad.  Because it's not a national holiday here, the great thing is most people celebrate it on Saturday, so I get extended Thanksgiving goodness.  This Saturday we're heading over to friends for round two.  And Amazon even does some great Black Friday deals so I'm not even too bummed about the shopping.

 I've thrown Thanksgiving  nearly every year I've lived away, I think all but the first.  I no longer rely on my mom or mema or aunts to cook up something spectacular.  I get to throw this all by myself and it's so inspiring! It feels like home. This year I'm particularly excited to have found creamed corn. Of course, it is from a can and won't compare to the home grown goodness I love, but still! It's the sentiment that counts. And because it's already 'Christmastime' in the England, I practically feel like it'll be minutes before I'm soaring home to see my family, so I'm not even missing them too badly this year.  Well, until I get the what's app from my mom that asks what kind of pie we'd like. (Kentucky Derby, mom? Ah, you're killing me!) Only be missing the sound of Carolina football in the background and playing catch during half time. Love xo

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Railway Cottages


the rear of the house


doors to outside

fran inside

the garden

the outhouse!

the range

the furniture

our favorite bit of the house

view to garden from upstairs window

behind the backyard-- a donkey field

a short walk to a stream

that goes by a horse field

This is our house! I know the last post boded doom and gloom and so we thought, but amazing things have happened.  I went home and cried and I read Isaiah 43:19: Behold I am preparing something new, do you not perceive it? And I did not, and not the next day or the next week. But the buyers lowered their offer and wanted it out of their hands and so this is home.  We'd love for you to visit. It is tiny, but we love it. If I've measured the square feet right, it's 500 sq ft! (18.3 x13 per floor?) All our love, xxx

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Thoughts on House-buying

Hi! So it's been a bit quiet on here. So many things going on and I don't even know what to think most of the time.  We're so happy to be getting married- yay! It's finally under the 100-day count and under the 3-month count.  Ten-month engagements are too long! For a lot of this time, we've been exploring where we would live.  We had a house all lined up, such a darling one too, and it fell through today.  We're pretty gutted as it seemed perfect, but these things happen and we're confident that we'll be completely taken care of come January 4!

Such a growing process! Here are some things we learned:

1. Don't use the estate-agent's solicitor. 
            - We didn't do this and we are SO delighted.  Turns out our estate agents played dirty.  They withheld a letter dated June 7th, 2013 from a kind neighbor explaining our questions regarding property boundary.  We didn't get that until October 11, 2013 after we had found the truth ourselves! If we had used the lawyer from J W Wood, we would have been pretty miserable wondering if they were on our side or really just working in the interest of our estate agent. You need friends going into this business and let your lawyer be one of them!

2. Employ the most competent solicitor, even if that means a bit more.
            - Fran sent off about a dozen emails to different solicitors.  He chose the one that replied the quickest and seemed most competent, even if that meant paying just a little more.  We're SO happy we did this!

3. If you're in England, make sure you get a very good copy of your title plan.
            - When we received ours, it was minuscule.  On an A4 sheet of paper, our property was marked out in red in about the size of the thumb print. This made land boundaries very difficult to distinguish.  Especially if it's a country house, land boundaries are very old and finnicky, so make sure you see a detailed report on size!

4. If things are taking a while, take things into your own hands.
            - It took AGES for them to tell us the property boundary.  It turns out the sellers and our estate agent lied claiming they were selling land they didn't actually own.  This took so long to figure out.  The seller's solicitor was so slow. He went on a 2.5 week holiday (that lovely British vacation-leave) during this time.  When he got back, gave us some very shady reply about "being common land."  When things were slow, we should have just gone to the land registry and checked it ourselves rather than waiting.  While you're lawyer should be your friend, no one quite looks out for you as you do! So don't be afraid to do a little sleuthing on your own.

5. If in England, the estate agent isn't your friend.
             - They are employed by the seller and want the seller's interest. They want the property to sell for as high as possible! And when they do take you around, they aren't like the cushy-kind.  They are gruff and after 30-minutes, they kick you out as they have another appointment to rush to meet (even if you're trying to see how badly the roof leaks).  They also won't know *that* much about the property (it seems like to every question I had, the reply was "I don't know"!), will tell you everything you can't do (I apparently wasn't allowed to test the electricity, lighting, or central heating), and occasionally, just flat-out lie (they told us the parking space was included in the land, when it wasn't).  Be shrewd as serpents. They can be worse than a used car salesman!

6. Very old houses are charming, but come with a host of problems.
            - Especially if your landlord is reigns from afar, in our case Jersey! They aren't there to look after the property as they would if they were living in it.  If it's not damp, it's the roof. If it's not the roof, it's the floor.  If it's not the floor, it's the walls. 

7. If you're getting a mortgage, trust your bank with the value of the house.
            - They definitely have a vested interest, like you! We thought our house was worth more even though the bank valued it at less. Turns out, now that we're on the deep end, that we think they are exactly right in what it's worth.  Even if the sellers don't.

8.  Don't be dazzled by charm.
            - Fundamental problems will continue to be just that, fundamental. Is it near a road with a lot of traffic?  Is it near a rail-way line? Does your house get any sun? Morning or evening light? Or does it face North-South? A bigger problem than you would expect in the terraced-house culture of England!  These are things that will not change, no matter how darling the house.

9. Involve your family
            - We've been so SO thankful for all the very shrewd advice we've received from family.  They even came up to look at the house to make sure it was sound, and they were just as delighted as we were! Once problems came up with the land, the advice they gave was perfect.

10. Don't crow too loud.
            - While we've honestly answered our questions revolving "where are you going to live once you're married?," we've only done so when people have asked, and even then, have been a bit reluctant to talk about it. Even when our offer was accepted, I'm not sure we told anyone apart from family.  From the beginning, we didn't feel like we could freely tell other people until we had signed the papers. What if it fell through? What if this isn't what God had for us? As it turns out, this was a good thing, as it didn't go through.  Imagine having to un-tell so many people after this seeming failure! As much as possible, we kept it close to ourselves and to each other.  This has helped us grow in closeness and excluded too many nosy opinions.

11. It takes a lot of heart.
            - Such an emotional expenditure!  We have been on the highest of highs and the lowest of lows regarding this house.  When things weren't going well, Fran and I were both at our desks vainly *trying* to work. When things were well, we imagined the vegetables we'd grow.  If you had told me it would be an emotional roller coaster and to steel my nerves, I would have laughed at you. Not so now.

12. Don't be afraid to renegotiate price
            -When our housing survey came back, there were some big things wrong with the house, namely a leaking roof that had caused damp.  This lowered the value of the property and our surveryer suggested we negotiate.  We thought about it, but were too shy when the sellers bullied us a little. And we loved the house and thought it would just about work out even.  When it came back that the parking wasn't included, we did have to renogiate. If we had tried firmly to renogitate before, it would have made renegotiating parking easier.

13 A level one survey will do
            - We paid for a level two, because we thought we'd have to live there and wanted to figure out how to make the repairs.  But it's more expensive and wasn't worth it in the end. We'd have received mostly the same information with a level one survey, just not in as much detail.

14.  Houses aren't forever.
            - This too will pass.  It has engendered so many conversations between us about identity, paternity, and eternity.  I wouldn't trade those for anything.

Whew! So that's what we've learned from our experience.  Right now our over-riding emotion is relief! Relief from uncertainty and freedom from unsavory experiences. Keep us in your thoughts and if you find any super-awesome housing, let us know! xxx

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Lurgey

The lurgey has got me in it's death grip.  Basic things like breathing and sleeping are now monumental efforts.  My nose and sinuses. Imploded.  I really just want to get better, please. Please.

Since the lurgey attacked, I have:

1. Put my slow cooker to use by having hot apple cider on the boil all day long
2. Watched all of the Harry Potter films. And discovered TWO are missing. So upsetting. 
3. Steam baths. Steam baths make my heart beat fast.
4. Zelda. To Zelda or not to Zelda. That is the question.
5. Bought ridiculous things for the wedding. [Cone of shame]
6. Not left the house for four days.
7. Developed a thorough hatred for dust.

In other news, as of today, I get married in 3 months! It was has been a 10-month engagement, and it's nearly over and I'm so excited! Wahey!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The start of September

Mailing letters, a lovely walk, some gorgeous days of sun, a trip to south shields, a view of the chapel, a door I hope to call home.

Enjoy your weeks!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The last of August

After returning from the States. A walk through the woods.  A bank holiday weekend at the regatta. Dinner on the roof. A trip to a&e for a sprained ankle. A little bit of northeastern culture shock. And a trip to Gateshead watching races, a concert at the Sage, and a stop at the Angel of the North.  I like it now. I'm not sure I liked it before.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thoughts on a Thursday

- This is August. It must be butterfly season. They are simply everywhere. I saw one flit though the bottom of an open window, have a look about the room, and then flit through the top of the window to leave.

-  I will never understand instagram food photos. So gross.

- The Spurgeon Morning and Evening phone app has been one of my favorite things lately.  I have enjoyed it so thoroughly and this surprises me.

- I have taught Indy and Felix to feed from my hand.  This appears a very good agreement between us. They are delightful.

- I have rediscovered my highschool love for running.  What a dormant thing it has been, for such a long time.  It is interesting how something so forgotten can give the same, what shall I call it, shall we say pleasure, once again?  Lewis makes a big fuss about something like this.  And then, what was it that Eric Liddel said? 'When I run, I feel God's pleasure'?
  Yes, that was it. The riverside of Durham is easily one of the most beautiful places to imagine that possible.

- Reading has once again become a pleasure. American literature, especially Southern Literature. I love it. I love the old Southern world Thomas Wolfe paints with his biscuits and collard greens.  I am charmed by Walker Percy's one-liners. Like this one:
"At night the years come back and perch around my bed like ghosts.” -The Moveigoer

Or this:
"Have you noticed that the narrower the view the more you can see? For the first time I understand how old ladies can sit on their porches for years.” -Lancelot

It has been awhile since I have truly been taken with an author or a book, but those mopey lost-generation authors have done it. Fitzgerald and Hemingway. I read them first at fourteen and this time round, I think, perhaps, I understand them better.

Monday, August 19, 2013

While at home

Home was just as lovely as ever. Food was a big highlight.

  • I ate my body weight in queso and chips
  • We had a low-country boil
  • I ate boiled peanuts as my dinner four times
  • Fresh vegetables from the garden
  • More BBQ than I could shake a stick at
In addition to that it included:
  • a most lovely bridal shower
  • wedding planning stuff 
  • shark week
  • a trip Georgia to see family
  • skeet shooting
  • a week at the beach 
  • a trip to Charleston 
  • kayaking on the Edisto River
  • fishing boat in the ocean 
  • reading
  • porches and rocking chairs and sweet tea 
  • lots of good time with family
It was so good and so lovely and I had such a good good time.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Centre Parcs and Newcastle

I've been spending lots of my time lately in Newcastle.  Not exactly exploring, but an occasional wander.

Working lots at the Lit & Phil. Really love it there. So atmospheric.

This is us stopped in a little village of Tewksbury for lunch. Such a lovely medieval town. 
I'm learning to drive on British roads these days. It's a much different animal to the wide and straight roads of the States.  Fran's family had planned a trip down to Centre Parcs, and we drove, allowing me to have ample practice.
At Centre Parcs we seemed to see and do everything.  Here is mini-golf, themed just to suit my tastes.

Fran's cousin pulling the sword for the stone.

We went biking in the rain. I don't think I'd been on a bike in about ten years!

Several games of pictionary. Can you spot Fran's drawing of Spiderman and Nightmare?

We even got to stop in Southampton and see the dog.

Here is Indy and Felix, having a little rest from foiled attempts to breach the fence.

And this is me, studying for my motor theory exam in the Newcastle train station.

This past weekend we did indeed trek down to Centre Parcs to see Fran's family.  It was good to see them all again. Centre Parcs I found was more of a conquering of fears, such as riding a bike, or dislikes, such as swimming in public pools, though I did thoroughly enjoy being active the entire weekend. I've been trying to get back into the habit of doing a photo-a-day and though not terrible successful, find that it's a lovely way to remember.  I have indeed been learning to drive, and studying more diligently than I ever did at UNC, to pass my theory exam. Who knew that the incentive to finally get me to study was the humiliation of having to pay £36 again?  And now, we're off again, tomorrow, to the States! Very excited to see my family, and of course, my neurotic dog (we haven't seen either since our engagement) and then there's food. I may have been dreaming about fried chicken last night. xo

Monday, July 22, 2013

A weekend and thoughts on home

Fran's parents & grandmother were here this weekend.  We had a lovely time strolling around the countryside, swimming in the hotel pool, and eating lots of fabulous food. They even went rowing and were good enough to come along to see the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibit in Durham.  This weekend also boasted a beautiful bridal shower for a sweet friend.  We drank tea, played games, gave toasts, unwrapped gifts, and ate and ate and ate. It was perfect.  Weddings are lots of fun.

In other news, I've been made the social secretary of my college, which is good fun. That takes up some time now too.  I've also been thinking lots about being a TCK, and growing up in a culture not your own.  In the recent past, I've tended to not embrace this, to downplay it, to think, well it was important, but it was only a little while and you're American now.  But the longer I'm over in England, the more sense of distance I feel from America.  This makes me very sad, but it also reawakens the same feelings I had growing up in Singapore.  A sense of distance and removal, a sense of searching, a sense of wondering about home, and homeland. Some things never really go away. I think this might be one of them.

Fran often says I look forward to things too much and don't take enough time to savor what is happening now or what has already happened. Perhaps that's another token-TCK indicator.  Even as I write this, I'm thinking about my PhD to-do list, my before-I-leave-to-go-to-the-States  list, and more excitingly, what-I'm-going-to-do-when-I'm-home list.  I'm so excited! I can't wait! I'll get to see my family! And eat food! And make about 5,000 wedding decisions in the space of ten days. I've been planning my meals for about three weeks now.  Can you guess what's at the top of my list? Right here.  But before I get too carried away, here's to being grateful for our daily bread, and the space in between.  Love.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Some things in July


Attended Louise and Martin's wedding celebration in Northern Ireland

Made my way through my first hedge maze

Celebrated the 4th of July in style

Wandered about the Cathedral with MEMSA's conference

Went strawberry picking

+ The weather here has been glorious and sunny. I've even gotten sunburnt!
+ Strawberries here actually rest on straw
+ Trying to do things like my mom, like putting up strawberries or wrapping gifts
+ Finding that bad haircuts are not as traumatic as they were when I was in the sixth grade
+ Thinking about the differences between Ireland and Northern Ireland  
+ Loving the conference MEMSA put together this year
+ Having successive nightmares thanks to The Killing
+ Learning to drive in Britain, asking smart questions: "Wait, so when do I put the clutch down?"
+ Loving early morning starts and the lengthy days of sunshine.