Friday, January 18, 2019

Just A Spoonful of Sugar: The Mary Poppins Afternoon Tea at Aqua Shard


I was on cloud nine when I passed my UK driving test in November, so I took this feeling rather literally and treated myself to the Mary Poppins afternoon tea at Aqua Shard, a restaurant with stunning panoramic views of London located on Level 31 of the Shard.

Now, I don't want to ruin any surprises for you (in case you decide to treat yourself too), but suffice to say, the Mary Poppins Afternoon Tea is full of them. It's a tea for those who want to be delighted and dazzled; charmed and enchanted.



In short, it's anything but ordinary - and those who know P.L. Travers' books well will fan-girl all over the details.

From the menu etched into a gold-framed mirror (a recurring symbol in the books) to the plates adorned with Mary Shepard's original illustrations and the little bottles of "medicine" (homemade rum punch, lime cordial, and strawberry liqueurs that can be added to your champagne glass) - not to mention the warm scones which are presented at the table from within Mary's bottomless carpet bag - nearly every little detail from the books has been cleverly re-imagined for this afternoon tea with a literary twist.

Two bespoke teas have been created for this delicious afternoon tea experience, which I think work beautifully well with the selection of sandwiches and sweets: "Mary's Tea", which is an exotic but delicate blend of Darjeeling from India, Ceylon from Sri Lanka, Keemun and fragrant rose petals from China (a truly worldly blend!) and "Bert's Tea" for those who favor a smokier, richer fragrance to their tea (Souchong and Keemun from China, plus Ceylon from Sri Lanka, a hint of vanilla and Sussex cornflower).



The delicious finger sandwiches include Cackleberry farm egg and truffle (my favorite - I could eat that every day for lunch and never tire of it - the truffle lends a wonderful umami flavor), Dingley Dell honey roast ham and mustard, Ploughman's and a Devon crab and cucumber brioche (my second favorite!), plus mini crumpets topped with smoked salmon and cream cheese.

If, like me, however, you like to rush through the savoury bits of an afternoon tea just to enjoy the sweet selection, the Mary Poppins Afternoon Tea does not disappoint in this respect. My favorites were the oh-so-creative Mary Poppins' "hat" (mousse covered in dark chocolate with an edible flower brim and a black cherry on top) and the more understated homemade plum jam, which I greedily slathered onto warm raisin scones (pulled straight out of Mary's magical carpet bag!) before topping with clotted cream.

And of course, the "Fairground Candy Floss" (or "cotton candy", to my fellow Americans) was a very (and literally) sweet way to end the afternoon tea experience.




I savoured the view as much as I did the sandwiches, scones, and cakes (we had an incredibly sunny day, which offered spectacular views of the Thames and beyond) - and left humming, "Just a spoonful of sugar ..." on my way to the tube.

The Mary Poppins Afternoon Tea is the perfect gift for the New Year - I can't think of a better way to kick-start 2019 than with this whimsical tea (which will have you humming, "Just a spoonful of sugar ..." in no time).

Huge thanks to Aqua Shard for generously hosting us. All opinions are my own. The Mary Poppins Afternoon Tea is currently running until 3 November 2019 and is priced at £49 per person, or £66 with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Champagne, and £72 with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Rose. Book your table here




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Monday, January 14, 2019

One Whole Year



My baby's bedtime routine makes me drowsy. I have, on occasion, settled him in his cot and fallen asleep beside him - only to find when I wake that it's 10 pm and all the lights are off downstairs, with John already in bed upstairs.

Our routine begins with a warm bath, followed by a leg massage and milk straight afterwards, then at least two stories ("Goodnight comb and goodnight brush! Goodnight nobody, goodnight mush.") and then a lot of hand-holding and adjusting of various stuffed animals. It's very sweet, but also incredibly soporific.

Sometimes, he has trouble getting down, and I pick him up and sort of do this bounce thing. His head drops on my shoulder, his hands grip my arms, and slowly, I feel his breathing slow and his weight drop into my hands - that's how I know he's falling asleep, and I gently place him back in his cot.

Last night, I was doing this bouncing thing and staring straight ahead at the felt garland hanging above his bed - white clouds alternating with grey snow-capped mountains. Suddenly, I had a flashback of standing in the same spot, 11 months earlier, staring at a blank wall and just feeling so, so sad that I'd come home from the hospital without our baby.

And that, when I did, I was terrified of him; this small (yet robust!), jaundiced little human asleep in his bedside cot: arms raised by his ears, mouth set in a tiny down-turned line. Every time he looked at me, I felt like I'd been caught out - a fake, a fraud. Not capable of being his mother. Totally clueless. Unworthy.

And then the seasons changed, and the frost melted between us - literally and figuratively. We went to Baby Sensory classes: me sitting cross-legged with him on my lap, both hands clasped protectively around his belly, watching him watching balloons being tossed in the air or stars being projected onto the ceiling. I sang to him: during diaper changes, bath time, car rides ... all the time. I took him along to Baby Cinema, where I ate popcorn and watched Sandra Bullock orchestrate the perfect getaway in Ocean's 8 in a darkened, air conditioned theater, while he gurgled before falling asleep in my arms.

Today, nearly a year has passed and I'm soothing this baby who reaches out to me; who cries when, to his consternation, I've walked out of the room (we're working on this!). Who giggles uncontrollably and chews on a finger when I threaten to "roll him up like a sausage and eat him like a sandwich" while slinging him over my shoulder and burrowing my head into his stomach. Who is settling in with his new nanny before I head back to work next week.

This past year has been the most adrenaline-fuelled and terrifying - but happiest - dream ever.

And I don't ever want to wake up.
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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Am Sick; Will Travel



We just returned from a two-and-a-half week trip to Hong Kong and Japan ... and it was nothing short of amazing. The sights; reconnecting with family; the food (!!!) - we had a phenomenal time and some jaw-dropping moments.

Except.

All three of us were sick at some point - and I don't mean a little sniffle kind of sick, I mean a high temperature/food poisoning/hacking cough/ear infection kind of sick. 

John was sick for the entire trip (he had four different colds and food poisoning) and had three full days of meetings in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. Our baby was recovering from a upper respiratory infection on our way to Hong Kong, then got the dreaded "spluttering virus" (as John and I called it) followed by an ear infection towards the end of our trip in Japan. I developed a stomach bug on my birthday and was treated to the spluttering virus straight afterwards. 

I'd like to say it didn't affect our trip, but it did. Walking around Tokyo with a fever and a sick baby wasn't fun - when I wasn't attempting to syringe Calpol and Nurofen into his mouth (the UK equivalent of baby Tylenol and ibuprofen), I was either running to the bathroom or shivering with chills and aches. And poor John spent at least a day in bed, but gamely soldiered on and completed all sorts of hikes and even a canoeing excursion (which, I don't know how he completed, feeling as bad as he did!).

One night in Tokyo, it was clear that our baby was super uncomfortable and pulling at his ears ... we contacted our Airbnb host and asked if he knew of any nearby hospitals that would take us, but he couldn't really help, so we called six hospitals, one by one. Out of these six, only two receptionists spoke English and one insisted that we needed an "agent" in order to pay for any treatment (they meant medical insurance, which we had, but something was indeed, lost in translation!). The other, thankfully, was able to give me a number for an English-speaking medical assistance hotline and a very helpful man found a baby clinic less than a 10-minute walk away from our Airbnb, where were able to see a pediatrician who prescribed antibiotics for the ear infection and an expectorant for the cough.

But, my goodness - those two hours we spent calling around the hospitals were so stressful! It felt like we were getting nowhere and meanwhile, our little one was becoming increasingly distressed as his temperature climbed.

I know that tending to sick babies on vacation is part of being a parent (it felt like a rite of passage!) but I was surprised at the deeper, underlying lesson I learned about being sick while travelling: that, instead of "pushing through" the discomfort of being ill, it's okay to accept that you might have to spend a day or two in bed, no matter how much you want to go out and explore the exciting place you're in. Even though there were so many things I didn't want to miss out on in Tokyo, I realized I wouldn't have enjoyed them when I was feeling so sick (and, more importantly, that it wasn't worth making my child feel worse by traipsing around - though he was cozily sleeping in the sling 100% of the time!).

Have you ever been sick on vacation? How did you deal? Let me know!
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Monday, November 19, 2018

#ShopSmall Spotlight: Small Bob


When our baby was born four weeks early, I was completely unprepared. I had no clothes for him, let alone any that would accommodate my postpartum, nursing body. I spent the first few days of his life shuttling back and forth between our hospital's Special Care Baby Unit, where he stayed after I'd been discharged. Nothing could have readied me for that feeling of arriving home without our baby. When we finally brought him home five days later, I was overjoyed. But he was readmitted to the hospital just two days after that. Crying, I called my best friend from the hospital room as he slept soundly in a tiny cot, stripped down to his diaper to receive phototherapy treatment for jaundice. I was distraught, recovering from a difficult and traumatic birth, and worried sick about my baby.

"What can I do for you?" she asked gently.

"I have nothing to wear," I sobbed. John had been running back and forth between the hospital and our house to bring me his oversized t-shirts and sweatpants, as nothing fit. I spent most of the time in the hospital topless as I had no nursing-friendly tops, but I didn't care what the doctors or nurses thought as I was completely focused on feeding my baby (plus, I was like a zombie!).

My friend showed up just three hours later with a bag bulging full of nursing tops and bras, the softest sweatpants I'd ever felt, and maternity tops in Breton stripes. Plus a packet of gummy bears and two glossy magazines.

I cried again.

Because sometimes, after birth, all the focus is on the baby, and not necessarily on the mother (if at all). I'd labored for 42 hours and endured a forceps delivery, plus an episiotomy. All I cared about was my child, but in that moment - when my friend brought over that huge bag of gifts - it felt so nice to be taken care of too.

And that's what I love about Small Bob, a company founded by Mica Martino in 2017 that sells thoughtfully curated gift sets for babies and mamas. From wonderfully soft Organic Zoo onesies to gorgeously scented rose and patchouli bath salts, these sets make the perfect gift for first-time (or repeat) mamas. Because - speaking from experience - self-care was the last thing on my mind hours after I delivered. But I also quickly learned that I had to have food, sleep, and relaxation in order to provide the nourishment my baby needed.


You can build your own gift set with Small Bob or purchase one of their stunning existing sets. I'd love to build a bespoke set for a friend - I'd throw in some hand cream (because you're washing your hands all the time with a newborn), a BIBS pacifier, and some baby milestone cards.


Small Bob also carries a range of their own nursery art - simple yet impactful prints in pretty pastels that would look sweet in any nursery (we've stuck ours up with some washi tape).

I'm thrilled to be sharing this wonderful brand with you and I hope you love it as much as I do. I'm running an exciting giveaway over on Instagram, if you're interested - the winner will take home a piece of Small Bob wall art of his/her choosing!

My gift set was provided courtesy of Small Bob, an independent brand I love. All opinions are my own. Purchase your own unique gift sets here.
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Friday, November 9, 2018

Expat Talk: I Passed My UK Driving Test!


You guys. After three months of lessons, a short hiatus (you know, while I gave birth and raised a baby, NBD), and two more months of lessons ... I passed my UK driving test!

It's probably my greatest achievement to date (besides giving birth).

I kid you not.

Driving in the UK is so hard.

"Oh, because it's on the wrong side of the road?" I hear you say.

No.

Because there are bikes that weave in and out of traffic, big red buses that look like they're heading straight for you, streets that are narrow AF, pedestrians who oh-so-casually just decide to dart in front of you while you're driving through a busy part of town because they can, and ... did I mention the streets are NARROW AF??

They are. (I once screamed during a lesson when a bus passed me because I thought we were going to collide. We didn't. Obviously.)

Not to mention, I was taking my lessons at 9:00 p.m. at night, when I was completely zombified after a full-on day (and night before) of taking care of an 8-month-old.

The first time I took (and failed) my test in London, I was 8 months pregnant. I waited too long to enter a mini roundabout and failed for "undue hesitation". I was so disappointed because I seemed to have the perfect test conditions: relatively empty roads, a sunny (but not too sunny!) day, a super easy route, and the easiest manoeuvre possible (pull over to the right and reverse two car spaces - versus parallel parking or bay parking).

I cried about it when I got home.

Then I went into labor two weeks later and had a baby.

Anyway.

This time, I had less than ideal conditions: heavy rain and heavy traffic. I was so flustered during my "practice run" with my instructor, I nearly burst into tears. Then, when I met the examiner, I was so nervous and disoriented, I started walking in the opposite direction to where the car was parked!

The first part of the test was the "independent driving" portion of the exam - basically, the examiner attaches a sat nav to your dashboard and expects you to follow the instructions for 20 minutes or so (they give you directions after that). You're allowed to ask questions for clarity, etc. but I nearly missed a turn, and thought two turns were much earlier than they were ... so, basically, I was pretty sure I'd failed early on.

At this point, I was feeling pretty miserable and, coming up to a mini roundabout (where I failed the first time around), I whispered, "What am I doing?" which probably wasn't the best thing to do aloud, but my brain somehow comprehended that I had the right of way, so I completed the turn with just about the appropriate amount of slowing down.

Phew.

By the time we returned to the test center, I was a shaky mess. And when the examiner turned to say, "I'm pleased to say you passed", my reaction wasn't one of joy, but of actual concern. I nearly began to point out all the mistakes I thought I'd made, but thought better of it at the last minute and clamped my mouth shut, mumbling a "thank you" instead, as she filled out my pass certificate (I ended up completing the test with only one minor fault).

Having taken nearly six months of lessons and taken the theory and driving exams in the UK, I can say that the standard of driving here is definitely higher than that of the US (though you wouldn't know it with the maniacs driving around where I live). For example, you're taught to check your mirrors each time before signalling, stopping, or pulling away (basically if you're ever changing speed or direction) which - unless I'm mistaken - we were never taught in the US. If you're caught signalling too early or too late (or not checking your mirrors at the appropriate time), it could be (depending on the situation) grounds for failing your test.

And yeah, I haven't driven yet since I passed (especially not with the baby in the back!). But I'm eager to get more practice in and build up my confidence again!

Do you drive? How many times did it take for you to pass your test? I passed my practical test in the US the first time, but failed the theory twice!

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Mama Talk: Mat Leave


The other day, I came downstairs and John had placed our baby on his playmat sitting in an upright position, where he (the baby, not John) played with the dangling toys he'd only previously looked up at while lying down. John was in the kitchen making tea.

I freaked.

"How long has he been sitting like that?" I asked. "How could you leave him like that? What if he falls?"

John shrugged. "He's been sitting like that since I put him there 15 minutes ago. And it doesn't matter if he falls - there's padding all around him," he pointed out, gesturing at his strategically placed pillows around the (already padded) playmat.

I approached the baby cautiously with my arms open, ready to catch him at any sign of toppling. He smiled a big, gummy grin and stuck a maraca in his mouth (his latest obsession) - still happily sitting with his legs splayed out in front of him.

I suppose I freaked because it's the first time I've seen him sitting unsupported like that, without the safety of a garish inflatable play nest around him, or my hands poised behind the small of his back - millimeters away, in case he fell over (which he did in music class last week, missing the mats and hitting his head on the wooden floor instead - which made me feel like a terrible mother).

I suppose I freaked because we're interviewing nannies for when I return to work in January and almost nine months have passed since he was born and how did that happen?

I suppose I freaked because - although we've enjoyed a fair of blue skies and sunny days despite it being mid-October - the chill in the air and the encroaching darkness is bringing me back to the dim memory of those cold, dark days I experienced at the beginning of his life, when I was discharged from the hospital without him.

Because my maternity leave hasn't felt like a "leave" at all. More like an arrival.

Like a train pulling into a station, these nine months have felt like the arrival into motherhood I have long been (impatiently) waiting for.

And so, I find the term "leave" so fascinating. Although technically, yes, I've taken a "leave" from my day job, I haven't been absent; I've been present in every single other aspect of my life.

I've been right here.

So, when friends ask, "How do you feel about going back to work?" I'm not really sure what to say. The truth is, I'm excited and looking forward to it, and I know that our baby will be in good hands with whoever we hire, but the real answer is ... mixed.

It's not leaving him behind that I struggle with, but rather, leaving these moments behind: the moment when nursing became enjoyable and one of my favorite bonding experiences with my baby; the moment when he sat up for the first time, completely unsupported and without toppling over; the moment he tried a satsuma segment and found it hilariously icky.

To savor these moments is not enough; it's that I have an inability to let them go.

I have loved every moment of my maternity leave - even the scary, dark, and uncertain ones. I've steered this ship through a storm, and I'll see it through many more.

But for now, I just want to soak up every cuddle, every feed, and every music class.

A - I'm so lucky to be your mama.
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Monday, November 5, 2018

What Podcasts Are You Listening To?


Recently, I've fallen into a new morning routine: I put the baby in his highchair, make myself a bagel (and porridge, fruit and yogurt for him), and ask Google Home to tell me the latest news headlines. Then I sit down to feed him and ... tell Google to play me a podcast.

It was an idea that John had long ago, when our baby was much younger and I still didn't have much semblance of a morning routine ... I was an exhausted feeding machine and my only respite was the time I had in front of the TV while I fed and fed ... and fed. I barely had the energy to do anything else. Observing me watching the nth episode of Gilmore Girls (for the nth time), John said, "I know, why don't you listen to podcasts instead? That way you can still go around the house ... doing stuff." I think I wanted to reach over from my position on the couch and - using what little reserved energy I had - throttle him. At that time, television was my only saving grace; it helped keep me sane, comforted, and entertained all at once.

But now as my baby's a bit older and beginning to comprehend the world around him (and I've got a bit more freedom - emphasis on "a bit"), I'm conscious of the amount of TV I have on in the house. Don't get me wrong: when I really need to get something done (like shred the pile of papers threatening to become a trip hazard by our home office door) and every single toy is just not good enough, I have been known to dunk the baby in front of the YouTube channel playing his favorite songs (I like Super Simple Songs, FYI) for 15 - 20 minutes. It happens.

So, I'm loving my - our - new podcast routine. I get to listen to something relatively engaging while getting things done and my baby isn't a TV zombie (yet).

Through Google podcasts, I've learned something new through TED Radio Hour (which takes excerpts from Ted Talks and interviews the presenter) and listened to fascinating interviews via NPR's Fresh Air (like that uncomfortable one with Leonard Cohen's son, Adam Cohen - well, at least, I found it a little awkward when he declined to read a poem on air after being asked to).

I listened to this incredible podcast about Jorge Bracero, who played an instrumental (and truly inspirational) role in Puerto Rico's recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which hit the island in September 2017. I then found his Facebook page and told him just what I thought ("You're incredible! A hero!"), and he replied to say thank you! It was pretty cool.

One day, John came downstairs and asked me what I was listening to. "I don't know - it's a podcast about mushrooms, I think," I replied, spooning another glob of prune puree into a wide little mouth that resembled an eager baby robin's beak (my child's method of eating involves opening his mouth as wide as his jaw will allow, raising his eyebrows into two inverted quotation marks, and making appreciative "Mmm mmm" sounds as he swallows).

"This is so boring!" John exclaimed. "And this guy's voice is so annoying!"

"Well, kind of," I said. "But I've listened to all the other ones and there's nothing else on that I'm interested in."

So, I'd love to know ... what podcasts are you listening to? Do you have any to recommend? I'm not really into podcasts about politics (because they just make me angry, and I prefer reading articles about this anyway) or finance (because I sort of glaze over), but I do have a wide range of interests ... I'd be up for anything, really. Especially anything random, but interesting.

Please help! I can't listen to another podcast about the powers of psychedelic mushrooms or Miriam Webster's "Word of the Day".

Thanks! And muah. 


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