Friday, 31 October 2014

The Simple Joys of Cooking

Since we’ve moved into our house here in England, I have been stuck at home Monday through Friday with no where to go and no way to get there.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m kind of enjoying it.  It’s like a long extended staycation.   We are in the process of trying to buy a car for me but have run into one problem after another (hard to believe you can walk onto a car lot in the US on any given day of the week and drive off in a new car an hour later because that is soooooo not how things are happening here for us right now).  There is only 1 bus that comes through town once an hour each day and it isn’t going in a direction that I am familiar with yet. 

So, basically I have been spending my time rediscovering my stay-at-home mom roots – doing laundry, cleaning, taking care of the girls (blah, blah, blah), and COOKING!  Oh how I LOVE to cook!  I love looking for recipes, love going to the farmers market and loading up my bags with more food that I can use in a week, and I love cooking from scratch.  I can easily spend the entire afternoon in the kitchen with nothing on my mind but what I am making, and as the entree is put into the oven for the finishing touches and I have a few minutes to relax, I put on some good dinner music, pour a glass of wine for myself and end up back on the computer searching for tomorrow's dinner.  

The one downside to cooking from scratch is that it takes time.  I don’t mind spending the time cooking.  That’s not the problem.  The problem, as many of you can attest to, is simply finding the time.  Back in Indy over the past year, I was working in the office again and didn’t have much time to cook from scratch.  In fact, the last month we were there, we were so busy that we ended up having takeout several times a week which is not like us at all.  But, when you are working a lot and moving your family to England, something has to give, and that something was cooking. 

Now that I am here and have more time on my hands, I have dove back into the wonderful world of home cooking.   It’s been a bit challenging as I don’t have a car to get to the grocery store during the day.  That means we take family trips to the grocery store twice a week:  once on Saturday morning (which includes a stop at the local coffee shop), and again one night during the week.  On that night, as soon as Eric gets home from work, we all pile into the station wagon and drive to Ashby-de-la-Zouch where I am treated to a lovely dinner out by my husband (everyone knows you should never go to the grocery store on an empty stomach, and certainly not with hungry children in tow) and then hit the local Tesco (the UK version of Super Target).  I bring with a well-planned list of ingredients I need to make the week's meals, but inevitably, I cannot find everything on the list because often the shelves are bare by evening and we simply haven’t been able to find certain foods that are readily available in the US. 

This rosemary bush is taller than Leah!
Because I have not been able to spend some leisurely time perusing the shelves at the grocery store by myself yet (remember – I’m shopping with the husband and 2 kids, so leisurely grocery shopping isn’t an option), we do not have the fully stocked kitchen here that I am use to.  So, I’ve had to be a bit inventive and keep things simple.  I am loving it!  Yesterday, I spent the afternoon in the kitchen making marinara sauce for the evening’s meal of Chicken Lasagna Rolls (which used leftover chicken that I had slow roasted in the oven the day before) and homemade Rosemary Focaccia bread.   We had run out of bread for the week so I searched the internet for a simple bread recipe as I only have the basic ingredients and hit upon this wonderful looking Focaccia recipe that consisted only of flour, yeast, water, salt, olive oil, and last but not least, rosemary, and guess what?  We just happen to have a beautiful, gigantic rosemary bush growing right outside the kitchen window!  
My afternoon's work!  Sorry, forgot to take a picture of the Lasagna Rolls.
As I cooked and baked away, the kitchen got very hot.  It was a mild afternoon outside, and even though this house is old, it has extremely thick walls and seems to be very well insulated.  Lucky for me, our kitchen includes this beautiful and oh so fun half door.  I’ve always wanted to live in a house with one of these.  So, I opened the top half to let in some fresh air and my what a pretty picture it makes.  

I hope to soon have a car and when I do, I very much look forward to exploring the area a lot more for good sources of food.  We’ve seen many wonderful looking bakeries, cheese shops and veggie and fruit markets that I can’t wait to visit.  I’m not sure I want to give up our Saturday morning trips to Ashby though.  I rather like having coffee with the family and they really do make very good mochas here!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The First Day of School

Monday dawned cold, rainy and breezy.  We had been in England for three weeks and the weather had been absolutely beautiful.  Sunny, mild temperatures, and little to no rain.  So it only goes to figure that the first day we have to walk to school we need to wear raincoats with fleece jackets under them.  Umbrellas this morning weren’t an option – they would have blown away in the wind.

Taking off for school.  Pretty gloomy out.

The girls jumped out of bed so very excited to be off to their new school.  We were all getting some serious cabin fever being at home all day, every day in this tiny little village with no car for the past two weeks, so school was an exciting change.  We had breakfast and before I was even finished with mine, Ellie and Leah were upstairs getting their uniforms on.  I didn’t even have to tell them to get dressed or hurry up once!  And they look so darn cute in their uniforms.

Eric stayed home from work that morning so we all walked to school together.  They were excited on the walk to school, but once we got there, they both suddenly looked extremely scared, especially Leah.  The school secretary whisked them off to their classrooms, all the other kids were staring at them, and we barely had a chance to say goodbye.  After looking in on Ellie's class, we stopped into Leah's because we hadn't met her teacher yet.  Leah looked like a deer in headlights, very close to tears.  Luckily, there was a very kind and friendly teacher's helper in the classroom.  She noticed Leah looked very bewildered by the whole thing and took her hand and said she could stay by her until she got settled into the classroom.  And then we left, which was VERY hard.  I had never seen either of them looking so scared in their lives.  They’re my babies and I wanted to stay and comfort them, but they need to learn to fly on their own so out the door I went.  As Eric and I walked out the front door of the school to walk home, a lady came riding a horse right down the street through town.  We are definitely not in Indiana anymore. 

I watched the clock all day long waiting for it to be time to walk back to school to pick them up, and I was very nervous about how they would react.  Would they say they hate their new school and never want to go back?  Would the other kids make fun of them because they talk funny?  Would they have to sit by themselves at lunch because they don’t have any friends?  And the correct answer is -  none of the above.  I walked up to the back of the school (their classrooms have doors going directly outside and that is where we pick them up) and Ellie wanders out of her classroom first deep in conversation with a little blonde girl.  When she sees me, she gets a big smile on her face and says, “This is my friend Violet.”  As I turn to Leah’s class, out the door she comes trying to contain the smile that wants to burst onto her face.  I asked her how her first day of school went and she responds, “It was great!” 

In the end, I had nothing to worry about.  They both love their new school, love wearing uniforms each day and have become fast friends with all the little girls in their classrooms (haven’t heard much mention of any of the boys yet).  Each morning, we enter the school yard to a chorus of “Hello Ellie,” which is the CUTEST THING EVER when said by a little girl with an adorable English accent.   And after school, they come out of their classrooms with huge smiles plastered on their faces.  They both continue to amaze me with their courage and adaptability.  I mean holy smokes Batman, we just uprooted them from everything and everyone they know and moved them almost 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to a foreign country and plopped them down into a new school where they don't know soul - and they don't skip a beat.  Eric and I are truly blessed. 

A little about their new school:  It is tiny!  There are around 60 students in grades reception (sort of like kindergarten except they start at 4 years old) through Year 6.  Leah is in Year 2 and Ellie is in Year 5 so they’ll both stay in this school the entire time we are here.  Even though it's small, their school really is set up a lot like our schools in the US.  There are only 3 classrooms and one extra common space with some tables in it where they do special instruction.  Not sure if there's a library.  There were some book shelved in the hallway so maybe that is the library???  The classrooms were set up very similar to their classrooms in Indiana, but smaller and more crowded (everything is smaller here).  Leah is in Class 1 which is Reception through Year 2, and Ellie is in Class 3 which is Years 5 and 6.  Each classroom has a teacher and a helper. 

At the front of the school is a larger room with a higher ceiling where they eat lunch, have PE and school assemblies.  It's rather old, but I suspect that is the original school and the rest has been added on.  In the back is a nice playground area, and they even have a pond.  They go outside for a bit of fresh air 3 times a day, rain or shine.  For lunch today they are having Beef Bolognaise over spaghetti, sweetcorn and peas, mixed rainbow salad, garlic bread, and steamed pineapple upside down pudding (that means cake here) with custard, all made my a little old lady right at the school.  This is very different from the lunch menu back in Indiana (no Chicken Hip Dippers on the menu here).  All the kids 8 and under get free school lunches in England, so Leah usually takes the school lunch.  Ellie still likes to bring her lunch from home but takes the school lunch once a week, and so far, the school lunch has received good reviews.    
The above was written a couple weeks ago when the girls actually started school.  They went to school for exactly 1 week and then had a week off for fall break, so as of today, they haven't even been in school over here for 2 full weeks yet.  I’ve come to love our walks to school in the morning, no matter the weather.  It would be easy to just curl up on the couch with a book and hot cup of tea after everyone else has left the house for the day, but having to go outside each and every morning is very refreshing and gets you going for the day.  And it’s a beautiful walk through the village.  So today, I leave you with a few pictures from our morning walk to school.  Cheerio!

The beautiful old church just down the street from our house.
Stone walls everywhere.
Many houses have plaques on them like this.
Nastarium - I LOVE that this is a perennial here!
Almost November and there are still lots of flowers blooming here.
Beautiful fall berries.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Peak District but First a Bit About Alarm Systems

Today I share with you a funny little story from last night.  I do actually have some pictures of England at the end of this post, but this was so much fun, I need to share with you first (I hope you can sense my sarcasm).  So here goes.

The house we are living in here in England has a security system.  When we first visited the house, I asked the relocation specialist (she helped us get settled in over here in England) about it and she said most houses in the UK have one, but they are seldom actually used.  As we moved into our house, we really didn’t give the security system much thought, assuming it works like alarms in the US – you need to pay an alarm company to hook it up and use it.  Therefore, we assumed since we had not paid an alarm company to hook it up, it wasn’t on.  When we moved in, we were given a very short user’s manual that has “Alarm?” written across the top of it so we aren’t even sure it’s the correct manual.  And no security code was provided.  We really didn’t think much more about the alarm, but something was nagging at me a bit.  What would happen if for some strange reason that alarm started to go off?  We would have no way to shut it off. 

So Eric sent an email to the letting agent (basically, he is our landlord right now because the people that own this joint are currently residing in India) but he received no reply.  We continued to be rather busy trying to get our house set up, working, attempting to buy a car (boy is that another story AND I still don't have a car) and planning our first major trip to mainland Europe, so he never followed up with the letting agent and it never really crossed my mind again.  I think you may have some idea now where this story is heading!

As fate would have it, around 7:00 pm last night the electricity in our village went out and the alarm on the outside of our house started blaring (not sure why it was only sounding outside our house and not inside???).  Basically, it sounded like a fire alarm was going off on the outside of our house and all I could image was our neighbors shaking their heads at the silly Americans who couldn’t shut it off (this is a very small village and trust me when I say everyone knows which house the Americans live in).   We knew nothing about this alarm, had no security code to try and turn it off and weren’t sure how to do that even if we had the code.  We’ve never been given the number to an alarm company and given that we only have cell phones over here, there was no way the alarm company was going to call us to find out what was going on or to assist us in shutting it off.  I’m not even sure it really is connected to an alarm company like security systems are in the US.  AND, we had no phone number other than the office number for the letting agent mentioned above and obviously he wasn’t sitting in his office at 7:00 pm on a Sunday night.  Needless to say, we found ourselves in quite a pickle. 

What we did have were 3 email addresses for the letting agent, so to make sure I got his attention on a Sunday night, I sent an email to all 3 addresses, putting the following in the subject line: “We need HELP at the house in Worthington NOW!  I can image what he thought when we saw that, but it must have worked because a few minutes later he emailed back and said he was trying to contact the owners in India, the former tenants and anyone else he could think of that might be able to help.  By this time 20-30 minutes had passed and suddenly the alarm went silent.  The electricity still wasn’t on, but at least we didn’t feel like the new kids on the block disturbing the peace here in this little village with our very loud, very annoying alarm anymore.

That is, until a few minutes later when the electricity came back on and we all whooped for joy, only to have it immediately go out again and, yes, you guessed it, the security alarm started ALL OVER AGAIN!  So, we all sat at the kitchen table by candlelight (I had thankfully bought a couple of candles to make our house smell nice) reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone while trying to ignore the blare of the alarm once again.  At least the girls thought it was fun!

Fun Fact:  Did you know the first Harry Potter book is really called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? A Philosopher’s Stone is a legendary substance believed to be the elixir of life and capable of rejuvenating the body and possibly achieving immortality.  Hence the reason Voldemort wanted to get his grubby little hands on it.  But, the American publisher of the book didn’t think the US audience would find the term “Philosopher” magical enough, so they changed it for the American audience to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

I leave you with some pictures from a Sunday afternoon hike a few weekends back in the Peak District just north of Derby.  We hiked along a lovely canal and were amazed to see this beautifully painted riverboat going by being pulled by a horse. 
The boat in the picture of the girls was being pulled by this horse walking along the trail we were on.
The colorfully decorated riverboat was steered by this man in the back.

Sheep in the parking lot! We had to pay to park in this lot.

After our hike, Eric took us a bit further up the road to a little market town called Bakewell to enjoy a piece of their famous Bakewell Tart.  Yes, my sisters will LOVE the little shopping towns here.  They really are this cute!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Our First Week in England – Part 2

Welcome back!  Before I continue with Part 2 of our first week here in the UK, even though we just started this blog, we will be taking next week off.  The next post will be Monday, Oct. 27.  Got some things to do (wink, wink)!

Now, where was I.  We stayed at the hotel in Derby for the first week.  Tuesday morning, a rental car was dropped off at our hotel, and my, what a car it was!
The Mercedes C200 in front of our house.

The interior looked like no car I have ever seen before.  It took us 15 minutes just to figure out how to put it into drive, and another 15 to figure out how to turn on the heat!  Luckily for us, our fancy wheels even came with a built in navigational system which proved to be extremely helpful during the rest of the week.  Sadly, we only had the Mercedes for a week and then had to trade it in for the leased car – a VW station wagon.  Ummmm, not exactly the car we were expecting to have here in the UK (most cars here are tiny - to fit into the tiny parking spaces I suspect :).  As many of you know, I am sooooo not a car person.  Really don't care what car I have as long as it works and looks decent.  But, I mourned a little the day Eric came home with the station wagon and the Mercedes was no more. 
After getting our fancy ride at the hotel, we headed to the town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch and picked up the keys to our home sweet home for the next two years – Quarter Moon Cottage.  

We didn’t officially move in until the following Monday (more on the house in a later post).  It took that long to gather enough supplies, beds, sheets, food, etc. just to spend a night.  I did not anticipate the huge amount of work that goes into stocking a home with everything you need to move in when you are starting from scratch.  We ran around like mad all week long trying to figure out which stores to go to get this and that.  We spent several hours at Ikea picking out and purchasing some furniture.  And three weeks later, we still don’t have a TV, microwave, hair dryer or the vanity table at which it will be used and some other things, but we are SICK OF SHOPPING, so I don’t even care that much.  And it feels a bit liberating to know we can live quite comfortably in a house with the bare essentials (we don’t even have paper yet for Ellie to do her first homework assignment on).

We continued to enjoy some good food though!  The girls had the best kids meal ever at this Italian restaurant we visited (same place the pizza photo below is from).  Their kids meal started with carrot and cucumber sticks with a delicious dip and warm garlic flatbread, followed by the main course of pasta (they both chose small pasta noodles in a creamy pesto sauce with fresh Parmesan cheese on top).  Then came dessert of course - Hazelnut meringue, vanilla gelato and fresh strawberries.  And, last but not least, a Babyccinos - frothed milk dusted with chocolate.  Beautiful!
Leah trying out the kiddy chopsticks at Wagamamas in Derby.

We ended our first week in the UK attending a BBQ at the home of another Hoosier couple and it was great to sit and talk to fellow Americans (sorry no pics – forgot to take any).  Eric has worked with Jeff since he started at Rolls-Royce in Indy and Jeff and his wife Jo Ellen have been living in Derby for the past year (it was Jeff who Eric was with in Derby when Ellie was born).  We’ve known them for quite some time and let me tell you, after the craziness of the first week here in the UK, it was GREAT to see some familiar faces and meet a few other people over here from Indiana as well.

And that was our first week in England.  I leave you with a few pictures from a lovely little village not far from here called Ticknall, compliments of Eric, the family photographer.  Cheerio!

Do I really need to say anything?

Soooo, we thought we would walk back to this place called Calke Abbey because of the beautiful driveway, but changed our minds when we discovered it was a 2.5 mile long driveway.

Again, do I need to say anything!
Horses, horses everywhere.  Ellie is in heaven!

Beautiful, juicy autumn grapes.


Thursday, 16 October 2014

Our First Week in England - Part 1

Welcome to England!

Three weeks ago, the Engebretsen family moved to England.  Welcome to our blog where, at the request of friends and family and for our own records, we will chronicle our adventures, observations, and just life in general here in the UK.  We’ve only been here for three weeks and already have much to share.  The plan for now is to post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, except when we are on holiday (vacation).  Some posts (like this one J) will be longer and some just simple short observations, photos, etc.  We truly hope you enjoy visiting England and the other countries we make it to with us on this blog.  Please feel free to comment on the blog or email or Facebook me and let us know if there is something in particular you would like to know about or hear more about.  Now, grab yourself a cup of tea and enjoy! 

Our kitchen in Zionsville the day before we left.
This adventure really began back in August when we finally received word from Rolls-Royce that we could move to Derby, England for 2 years.  At that moment, as they like to say in Indianapolis, let the race begin!  The next month and a half was a crazy, crazy push to get everything ready for us to move.  Eric was on his way to England for work when we found out we could go, so he ended up spending an exhausting 2 weeks here, not only doing the work related things he had originally come here to do, but also scouring Derby and the surrounding towns and villages for our home for the next 2 years.  Meanwhile, I was at home trying to wrap up my job at Cornerstone, pack up the house for the renters who would be living there for the next 2 years, and get the girls back to school in Zionsville, even though they would only be attending Union Elementary for 5 short weeks.  We had financial things to figure out, insurance issues, flights to book, packing for a 2 year move, lots of house stuff to take care of, and for some strange reason, we decided then was a good time to throw in a major landscaping job in front of our house. 

Leah's recycled cat art.  It's amazing what kids will come
up with to do when all of their toys have been packed up.
We later found this lovely cat art stuffed in her suitcase.

Finally, the day came for us to leave Indy with all of our luggage in tow and drive to Wisconsin where we spent a wonderful week with family and friends before heading over to England.  On Sunday, September 21, my sister Sheryl dropped us off at the Minneapolis International Airport and we were on our way. 

Our luggage.

Ready for takeoff to England!
Our flights were pretty uneventful.  The girls really enjoyed their first plane rides and the flight attendant even let them sit in the cockpit after our first flight.  No one got sick – whew (we were a little concerned about the ginger child who is known for her car sickness).  We were exhausted when we landed in the morning here in the UK and then had to stand in a long customs line for a good hour.  When it was our turn, the custom’s official asked the usual questions, scanned all of our fingerprints, and then disappeared in the back room with our passports for several minutes (apparently there is a bit more scrutiny when you are moving to the UK for 2 years).  When he came back, all must have been well because he stamped our passports and we were officially in!

The girls in the airport before taking off on their first airplane ride ever!
In the cockpit after their first flight.  If there had been room,
Eric would have been in there too!
A driver picked us up at the airport.  As we were waiting for him to pay for parking inside the airport, a young woman came up to us and asked if we were from Zionsville.  We looked a little bewildered at her and then realized she saw our address on the luggage tags.  Strangely enough, she turned out to be from Bloomington, Indiana and was moving to the UK as well.  Small world!

The driver dropped us off in front of our hotel right in the heart of Derby, also known as the city center (if you say you are going downtown here, they have no idea what you are talking about).  We checked into the hotel, and as soon as we got into our room, despite Eric’s protest not to go to sleep, we all climbed onto the same bed and woke up a couple hours later like a pile of kittens all snuggled together.

Jet lag
It was when we all got up from our nap to freshen up a bit after our day of traveling that I noticed the first big difference between the UK and the US – there are no outlets in the bathrooms.  Not one single bathroom I have been in since I’ve been here has had an outlet in it.   Apparently, blow drying, curling and straightening your hair does not take place in the bathroom.  That may also explain why not one bathroom I have been in here has had a countertop.  All I have seen are pedestal sinks with no place to sit a blow dryer even if there was an outlet in the bathroom.  I have never fancied myself as the vanity table type, but looks like I have no choice here. 

After freshening up a bit, we were all starving and wanting to stretch our legs, so we went out and walked around Derby’s city center.  A large portion of it is blocked off from vehicles and only open to pedestrians, and it is lined with lots and lots and LOTS of shops.  You can get just about anything you need down there (including Leah’s birthday present from the Disney Store).  Lots of bakeries, cafes, pubs and restaurants too.  We definitely felt like we were in a different country not recognizing any of the store names, and the architecture really makes you feel like you are in Europe.   Ellie kept saying she felt like she was walking down Diagon Alley.  And, we found some great food!  
Our first meal in England.
Beautiful food.  Beautiful company.