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Boy, it’s been nearly a month since my last post. In that time I have interviewed, dreamed about what I could do with my pay, ridden my bike a lot, flew to another country without my passport, gone to the beach, and gotten a bit of a tan. I also got to hang out with a pretty cool three year old who has discovered, “What?” and its cousin, “Why?”, much to her mother’s and my dismay.

I’ve spent some time sewing, spent some money, hung out, and went to my mother’s wedding reception (the wedding was in Vegas, before I got my passport back). Life has been pretty awesome, but I’ve been too lazy to write in the blog. I’ll catch up soon, hopefully with pictures.

Can’t wait to get back to my husband, my pillow, another pair of shoes (who brings only one pair of shoes on vacation, the pair that still needs breaking in?), and our garden. I wonder how much it’s grown? I hope the peas are flowering, I’m definitely looking forward to that.

I have been eligible to vote for 14 years now, and have rarely used my enfranchisement to much good. Though Florida, where I was raised, is a swing state, I was only able to put that to use in the 2000 elections, and we all know what good that did! Actually, do we? I wonder how much of the fiasco made it through to the average British citizen, and especially those who were my age at the time. Recently, I had a near-altercation online with someone who thought it was “ironic” that America went to an illegal war over oil, killing British soldiers, and civilians, and now oil was washing up on our shores. I countered that the American government had started that war, and that neither I, nor anyone I cared to know, had supported it. This person came back with something along the lines of “By the people, for the people and of the people”; I responded, “Yeah, because everyone in this country is a chav or a Tory,” very close to blasting them about civic participation, gubernatorial representation, and did they feel their government adequately reflected their opinions and ideas? In my froth of rage, I wanted to school this person on the 2000 elections and the recount that was called off by Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who just so happened to be under George W. Bush’s brother, Jeb Bush, and then, shockingly, working in Washington soon after. My subsequent realization that I was being trolled cooled me off, but it made me think about elections and my part in the various states in which I’ve lived.

Florida: just 18 for the 2000 elections. Paid attention, discussed the happenings with friends. Ignored local politics. Voted.
Minnesota: The first place I wasn’t oblivious to politics, excited about being a social worker and living in a historically politically active, liberal, democratic state. I wasn’t there long enough to delve heavily into local politics, but I voted for governor, though I suspected that Tim Pawlenty would win, once it was known he had George W. Bush’s support (I was right).
New York: Though I lived in NYC for 6 years, it never felt permanent, and I moved so often, through various municipalities, that I lost steam for local politics.

Local politics are extremely important, moreso than a lot of people think, yet we often neglect them in favor of national politics. Presidential elections only come around every four years but local elections come around much more frequently and have a much larger effect on day-to-day life. I’m really feeling the need to get involved in local politics again, and as such, was extremely excited when last night, a Briton told us that based on his French partner being able to vote, he thought that we, as leave-holders, may vote in local (council) elections. This morning I did a little research, having been saddened that my residence didn’t come through until three days before the election, much too late for me to vote. I did a little searching this morning, but it didn’t take more than a cursory read to realize that neither I nor my husband are eligible to vote in any kind of election in the UK. It would take citizenship for us, though it seems like practically the rest of the world is allowed to vote in, at least, council elections. Below, the requirements. I make sad face now.

Who can register to vote?

You can register to vote if you are:

* 16 years old or over and
* a British citizen
* or an Irish, qualifying Commonwealth or European Union citizen who is resident in the UK

If you are 16 or 17, you can only register if you will be 18 within the lifetime of the electoral register. You cannot vote until you are 18.

Below is a full list of Commonwealth and European Union countries. If you are a citizen of one of these countries, and resident in the UK, you are eligible to register to vote in UK elections. To qualify, Commonwealth citizens must be resident in the UK and either have leave to remain in the UK or not require such leave. The definition of a ‘Commonwealth citizen’ includes citizens of British Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories.

Citizens of the European Union who are not Commonwealth citizens can vote in European and local elections in the UK, but are not able to vote in UK Parliamentary general elections.

European Union countries

Austria
Belgium
Bulgaria
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Ireland
Italy

Latvia
Lithuania
Luxemburg
Malta
Netherlands
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
United Kingdom

Commonwealth countries

Antigua and Barbuda
Australia
The Bahamas
Bangladesh
Barbados
Belize
Botswana
Brunei Darussalam
Cameroon
Canada
Cyprus
Dominica
Fiji Islands
The Gambia
Ghana
Grenada
Guyana
India

Jamaica
Kenya
Kiribati
Lesotho
Malawi
Malaysia
Maldives
Malta
Mauritius
Mozambique
Namibia
Nauru
New Zealand
Nigeria
Pakistan
Papua New Guinea
Rwanda

St Kitts & Nevis
St Lucia

St Vincent & The Grenadines
Samoa
Seychelles
Sierra Leone
Singapore
Solomon Islands
South Africa
Sri Lanka
Swaziland
United Republic of Tanzania
Tonga
Trinidad & Tobago
Tuvalu
Uganda
United Kingdom
Vanuatu
Zambia
Zimbabwe

On a lovely warm Sunday afternoon, the much-improved end to the 50 Fixed Women Ride’s rainy start, a bunch of us were gathered at The (old) Ship, in Fulham, and it was discovered that one of the ladies rides a bike that has a 52×52 cm frame. This is exactly what I’m looking for, after having discovered that for longer rides, exactly the right size frame is kinda necessary and my 52×54 (seat tube x top tube, for those not conversant) frame is just a bit too big for me. This wonderful, metallic cherry-lipstick-red frame only had clipless pedals though, and I can’t ride clipless yet. But what do you know? The owner of said frame also wears my size shoe and was perfectly OK with swapping shoes so I could have a clipless experience!

She showed me how to clip my dominant side in, then sent me off, and I pedaled slowly around the pub’s green past kids on scooters, fellow imbibers, under trees, past brick walls, along the river path, avoiding stairs, and back around, three or four times, completely unsuccessful in my attempt to clip the other shoe into the pedal. I finally gave up and got an explanation on how to get the other one in (tip toe towards ground, push) and was off!

Joy! A responsive bicycle experience is suddenly so much more responsive! Can I skid to a stop? Let me try! Pedal, pedal, pedal towards friends, lock legs, skid to a gorgeous stop exactly where I had intended to, on dry pavement (!)……and fall right over, slow-mo stylee! I just had to laugh, I was barely hurt, just a few grazes to my left lower leg, and then discovered I was stuck in the pedals! Cue more hilarious laughter from friends and onlookers alike, and the eventual discovery that I can, indeed, unclip from the pedals while laying on the ground.

Oh man, I gotta try more of this! Am currently on the hunt for shoes, cleats (to go in the shoes), and pedals, and will detail the continuing adventures of yohabloespanglish y los equipos sin clips!

I looked back over my posts to see if I’d written anything more about my non-official internship but couldn’t find anything, which seems like a good indicator for a new post. There is some confusion on what to call myself while discharging my unofficial duties. I’m not associated with a university, so am not a student social worker, and I’ve just learned that to British minds, the term “intern” conjures up images of the incarcerated. As a Qualified Social Worker registered with the General Social Care Council, I will have some clout and be able to command better pay than a social worker’s assistant, but I’m not there yet. So do I say “volunteer social worker”? I guess it’s the best I can come up with now. It would behoove me to speak to more Brits and see what they have to say about it. I had no idea that “intern” is a term really only used by Americans. They say “internship” here, so why aren’t they “interns”?

My destination point is 12.5 miles away from my home, over a couple of hills that I can now recognize as medium-difficulty rises, after accidentally trying ride up a hill so long and so steep that I had to get off to finish it and then being told it was one of the easier hills in south London. Gypsy Hill is not easy for someone on a fixed gear bike. I wonder if I’d like to try it again when I somehow manage to get a geared bike (anyone going from NYC to London anytime soon who would like to be paid to bring an incomplete bike to me? There’s a bike bag and everything!).

After a few weeks of riding the entire 25 mile commute, working 8 hours, and cramming tons of new info into my head, I pooped out and started taking the train in the morning and riding home in the evening. It is glorious! I feel so much more awake and alert, and less grumpy, too! Wednesday, when I changed my start time at work from OMGearly to 10 a.m. I got a little lost on the internet and missed my train so had to ride in. The difference was startling – I was calmer, stronger, and felt better the whole way. I’m not sure whether to put that down to strength, less exhaustion, or the later start time. Either way, while I’m still volunteering, and thus coming in later, I will attempt to ride my bike some mornings as well.

Beginning a new commute is always a bit daunting; I usually Google map things and then do the driving directions, dragging the route around until I craft the shortest line between point A and point B. This is not always the smartest thing to do. Things such as needing to cross busy roads without the benefit of a light, and hills, and how busy a particular stretch of road is must be taken into account. Someone recommended Cycle Streets, a UK cycling route planner, but it gave me this really complicated yet cycle-friendly route that I didn’t feel like memorizing. My present route has me riding on many extremely busy roads, but I’m confident now and generally navigate the difficulties well. I’m enjoying my hills to the extent that I can, and am getting stronger.

Some people ride really fast, all the time, some people ride really slowly, all the time. I’m somewhere in the middle. Sometimes I wish I were as strong as some of the racing girls, but I won’t give up chocolate or ice cream to off-set the added muscle and keep my legs at an acceptable size. I manage 12.5 miles in an hour without feeling like I have to try too hard to keep up the pace, and I’m happy with the speed of my journey. I’m happy with the state of my legs. I’m not the slowest, I’m not the fastest, and I get where I need to go without killing myself. I’m cool with that!

Still no news on the visa front; I was told that I can check the progress of my visa through the system, when I enrolled my biometric data (no retina scan, sadly), but have been unable to find the section of the UK Border Authority’s website that would let me do that. I can’t even find where to ask someone about it. And all numbers given are pay numbers. They sure don’t make it easy for you to navigate that system, do they? Probably the same in every country.

I can’t even remember when I sent everything in. It seems like it may have been about 5-7 weeks ago, and the maximum time length given for expected return of an uncomplicated spousal visa (right of abode) is 14 weeks. I think it has been about 3 weeks since I enrolled my biometric data, where I was told that after the data was compared against national and international databases, and I was vetted, my application would be assigned to a case worker. The husband and I are hoping that it will be no more than another 3 weeks until I get the visa. Apparently I will receive a letter first, letting me know that I will be getting my national identity card (new thing!) and when I do receive that I can breathe a sigh of relief.

As for “work”, my “internship” has been going swimmingly. Well, if by “swimmingly” you think of the frustration of trying to cram a load of new information into your brain in a very short time, then yep! It’s going swimmingly! I’ve been given no more promises than a shot at an interview, but that was more than I had two weeks ago so I’ll take it! Most of the managers have taken the time to come up to me and tell me what a good job I’m doing and how helpful I’ve been around the place, it makes me feel really good. It just seemed like I was floundering around and probably being of some help, but without training I wasn’t sure if I was anywhere near the mark of what kind of work I was supposed to be doing. Now I know there will be training available, on both the caseload system we’ll be using as well as on work-flow and the manner in which to undertake an investigation. I believe I’ll be well supported, and the team is filled with really excellent people I enjoy working with. It’s pretty much a win-win situation.

The garden is coming along, but as my landlord-roommate is painting the fence you’ll all have to wait for update photos. At least the light is out much longer in the day now, I’ll try to take photos during the coming week. For now, a blurry photo of our laundry covered wagon. Laundry fort?

After a beautiful, often sunny several days, the weather decided to kick us in the nads last week and turn back into winter again. None of us in the house noticed this, so the heating stayed off and we started getting torpid and shivery. A couple of days ago, the husband was asked what he wanted for dinner and came back with, “Comfort food,” after which both of us said, “I want mac and cheese!” Never Enough Thyme’s Cheesy Beefy Mac recipe was what we decided upon. The inclusion of vegetables sounded like a really good idea, so I got to work.

I’m not sure if it was just the fact that I didn’t measure anything but the shredded carrot (if memory serves, I accidentally doubled it), or if people don’t like their macaroni and cheese to resemble the gooey goodness of Velveeta Shells n Cheese (note: this is most likely just nostalgia talking), because most recipes I find call for a much lower cheese-to-pasta ratio than I wanted, and this was no exception.

So I doubled the cheese sauce. It had to be done, even if that means I used more cheese than you can shake a stick at in this recipe.

1 8 oz package elbow macaroni
cooking spray (or olive oil)
1 cup chopped onion
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
2 tsp. minced garlic (optional)
1 cup shredded carrots
1 pound lean ground beef (I used 500g)
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup low-fat (or fat-free) milk
2 tblsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, grated (most of a med-large block)

I didn’t fuss with all that low-fat malarkey, we used mostly semi-skimmed versions (in the UK, 2% is considered “semi-skimmed”). I couldn’t imagine it being creamy enough without some milk fat.

Preheat oven to 350 F (190 C).

Cook the elbow macaroni while preparing the rest of the recipe. Drain and reserve until called for.

Cook the onion, celery, bell pepper, carrots and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat, sauteing 4 to 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and set aside. Add the ground beef and cook until browned, stirring to crumble. Drain the ground beef and return it to the pan along with the reserved vegetables. Add the tomato sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Stir well to combine.

Add the cooked macaroni into the beef/vegetable mixture and stir to combine well. Spoon the beef and macaroni mixture into an 11×7 baking dish. The recipe says to coat it with cooking spray but I used a bit of olive oil because I didn’t have any spray.

Make a light roux by whisking milk, flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan until well blended. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly with a whisk. Add 1 cup cheese, stirring until smooth. (This is what I doubled.) Pour the cheese mixture over the macaroni mixture and stir together. Top evenly with the remaining 1 cup cheese. Bake at 350/190 for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

I think this would be super easy to make for kids; if your kids won’t eat any particular vegetable addition, just nix it in favor of something you know they will. This week. While this isn’t exactly “mac n cheese”, it is delicious, and I recommend trying it at least once!

We got the rubbish pile organized and all the herbs in pots. The washbin had to have holes drilled into it, as well as the galvanized steel pail that we planted the strawberries in. We also drilled holes in a decorative pot that had been used mostly to allow water to stand in it and become fetid. It stank up the whole back garden as well as the kitchen when we dumped it out. Now it’s being used to grow tarragon, thyme and coriander. It may be too small for so many herbs, or we just won’t get as much of each as we’d like. But how much of those herbs will we possibly use?

We had to put bricks between the fence and the raised bed to help keep it from falling apart as we couldn’t attach it to the posts. Then we put in the “walkway” in front of it and marked off the outer edges of the bed at the right so the few rogue pea plants I put in over there won’t get stepped on when the decking and shed start to get built. I also put in more red onions back there and filled in the row behind the rocket with white onions.

lavender and rosemary

herbs & bucket o' strawbs

Here is when we started the project.

I seriously want to try this upside down plant idea, I don’t like the bags (Topsy Turvy), I think pots are the way to go, even though its more plastic.