Several years ago, through a mutual friend, I met the uber-fabulous, creative, thrifty and genuinely lovely, Kate Payne.  I have always admired Kate's tremendous tenacity, unique outlook and the wonderful people with whom she surrounds herself. 

One of my favorite memories with Kate is one in which the Canadian and I spent a very quiet Christmas Eve with Kate, her partner Jo and a few other friends in the tiny house she was living in at the time.  Normally the Canadian and I would travel to Fort Worth to see MomE's family, but that year we were in Austin while most of our friends/family were out of town.  Kate invited a few of us over and we cozied up to each other on the couch, chair, and floor in the sweet little space, drinking hot chocolate, listening to Christmas carols and laughing.  When the Canadian and I left that evening, the city was still -- a Silent Night -- and we have both remarked in recent times that that evening remains among our favorites.

The reason I tell you this is because, I want you to know how special Kate is and what an amazing person I consider her to be. A few years ago Kate and Jo moved to New York and it was there that the intersection of creativity, necessity, frugality and inspiration occurred.  Kate's work-life and home-life were often one and the same as she worked out of her tiny place in Brooklyn and it was this situation that was the impetus behind making a space for herself that was both organized and inspired -- on a budget.

And thus her blog, and subsequently her book, were born.
As a fellow blogger/friend of Kate, I had the privilege of receiving a copy of her book to give away to my blog followers, so it with great delight that I present to you my first giveaway: The Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking!
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A quick review: I was so excited to receive my copy in the mail from publisher Harper Collins.  Crisp and fresh off the presses there is something a little intoxicating about being able to hold a book that hasn't even been in a bookstore yet...not to mention seeing my friend's NAME at the bottom. That is just. so. cool.  Further, I know (because of conversations with Kate and just following her life in general on Facebook) that this book is the culmination of some hard work, major deadlines, more than a few sleepless nights, giddyness at one's first publication and a lot of really wonderful doors opening at *just* the right moment, making this an extra-special read.

So I jumped in and have been reading and re-reading ever since!  The chapter I was (and still am) most excited about is the one on preserving/canning.  I've been the recipient of several phenomenal batches of Kate's jams (blueberry lemon and meyer lemon marmalade are among my favorites!!) but have always been seriously intimidated by canning.  Kate's easy-going writing style makes canning seem as simple as it probably is and she has inspired me to tackle canning as soon as I get to London...watch out world, a can-goddess is in the making!

The book is packed with all kinds of innovative ideas and fresh perspectives on domesticity, but don't mistake Kate for Martha Stewart - she doesn't have a giant team of designers making her life pristine for the camera. She's a trial by fire kind of girl with the sort of authentic advice that tells you this is not her first rodeo.  For example, a few bouts of food poisoning due to eating leftovers LONG after their expiration date led Kate to research food-poisoning remedies such as Oregano-oil (a tip from her book). 

This book is slightly geared toward the beginner (a lot of what Kate writes about is pretty familiar territory to me), but, there is something in here for absolutely everyone.  You will read great tips from her family, follow her thought process as she tried to solve some domestic issues on a major budget, and laugh with her as she tells you about a few failures that led to great successes. 

For more info about the book go here

And now -- the giveaway rules:

1) How to enter: Leave a comment on this blog entry for one entry into the giveaway -- tell me about your most brilliant domestic accomplishment

You can earn ONE additional entry by either:
**following me on twitter (@texpatsabroad),
**subscribing to the blog on Feedburner (to the right of this post on the sidebar),
**writing a post on your blog about this giveaway (with the link to this entry),
**OR tweeting about this giveaway at least twice.

If you do the additional entry, you need to comment on this blog again to tell me that you've done it and if you linked to it in a post, please include the link in your entry comment (for a total of two comments = two giveaway entries)

2) What you get: You will get a brand new, hot off the presses book, The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking and (I haven't asked Kate this yet, so no promises) but, I will try and get her to sign it for you.  ALSO from me, you will get my grandmother's homemade banana pudding recipe.  My sister used to make a vat of it and would eat two or three bowls a day (she barely weighs a 100 lbs *sigh*)

3) Contest dates: The giveaway will run from April 28th - May 6th - the drawing will occur . 

4) Who is it open to: It IS open to expats (and of course US/Canada) -- I will ship *almost* anywhere in the world (depends on price but I'll do my best...no promises if you're in Somalia or the DRC or somewhere equally as difficult)

5) How will the winner be decided: Radom.org drawing on May 6th -- announced here and on Twitter.

Also, check out some of Kate's 'how to' videos below:
 
You'll be happy to know that I've recovered from my dairy incident, and all is back to normal.  (Well except for my left knee which I fell on after drinking too much champagne and wine the other night at a friend's house...)

And now, a few updates.

1) We've finally resolved our banking dilemmas, and have successfully opened an account.  We were originally trying to go with First Direct but they wanted so much documentation that we didn't have so we switched gears and are now proud bankers with...drum roll please....
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Kudos to Barclays for their super helpful customer service (I didn't experience it firsthand but the Canadian reported that it was excellent).  Also, thanks for making the process as painless as possible given the drama an expat generally has to endure opening an account in the UK.

2) The Canadian is coming home for a 10 day visit this week!!!!! In spite of our nightly Skyping, I'm afraid I'll barely remember what he looks like! Also, I am a little nervous that in the 8 weeks since I've seen him, I've become rather accustomed to having the bed ALL to myself.  Not sure I'm terribly excited about sharing again...we'll see :)

3) I'm back in Nola this week and I cannot even tell you how happy I am.  I was a grinning fool driving through south Louisiana today, stopping in Lafayette for some phenomenal seafood gumbo and Louisiana shrimp, dirty rice, breaded fries and corn maque choux with giant biscuits and fluffy maple butter. (And yes, it was damn good.)  I'm staying with Sonia again and we are already having the best time catching up on gossip (she totally hooked up last night!) and working on our respective presentations. (I have to give mine on the food crisis in Libya tomorrow)

4) The Canadian looked at some houses today -- most of them were *not* ok -- but he did find one that was pretty close to perfect.  The neighborhood is a bit edgier than some we've been looking at, but that actually works for me as I tend to prefer a more 'interesting' place to live.  In New Orleans, we lived in a beautiful condo building on the edge of the French Quarter....directly juxtaposed to the Saint Louis housing projects.  In Austin we built a brand new house, across the street from a crack house.  I am not lying when I say that a guy from the house offered me a free sample of crack on Christmas Day -- I can assure you I did NOT accept -- however, I did appreciate his Christmas spirit.  (We actually worked with the city to get the crack house shut down, but nonetheless, it was a part of our lives for a couple of years...)

4) And finally...I have two fabulous giveaways coming up...so stay tuned!!!!

Love from New Orleans,
the Texan

 
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(If you are someone who doesn't like oversharing (aka TMI)...then you should not read this post.  Forewarned is fairwarned.)

At around 9:30 tonight, I found myself at the grocery store, in the dairy aisle, grabbing milk, cream, half and half, yogurt and cheese off the shelves.  I shoveled them into the basket ignoring the other aisles and racing to the checkout.  I threw my items on the belt and had my credit card swiped before the cashier could even begin ringing up my items. I tossed them into the car and flew home...

Why was I so frantic for an overladen cart full of dairy products, you might ask? Well.  Let me explain.

March 17, 1989 (St. Patrick's day) radically changed my life forever. You see, that night two things occurred. I spent the night at Courtney's house (it was her birthday), and I also had my first period. 

The ensuing hormone swings (aka PMS) that have led up to each subsequent occurrence of my little gift, have been a real pleasure to manage. It's gross understatement to say that my PMS is accompanied by 'irritability' -- that's like saying Charlie Sheen is just having a few personal problems.  It takes just about all the self-control I have to navigate daily life without biting someone's head off for a few days.  I'm also frequently unable to sleep, and have horrible bloating (uhhh, everywhere if you catch my drift)

In addition to my general anger management issues, there's also the cravings.  And for me, they're never the same (which means I can't keep whatever it would be 'stocked' in the house for emergencies) and furthermore, the cravings always hit at the strangest, and frankly most inconvenient times.  One night, at midnight, I sat straight up in bed craving blueberry pancakes. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't fall back asleep.  So, I hauled myself out of bed, went downstairs and made blueberry pancakes.  Let me tell you, when I bit into them, I screamed like I was having the big one...if you know what I mean. 

And as it turns out, at around 8:45 tonight -- I wanted dairy. I mean I NEEDED it.  Some kind of dairy.  ANY kind of dairy. So, I looked in my fridge and I was COMPLETELY out (of course), which meant, that I *had* to go to the grocery store.  So, I put on some clothes (naturally I was already in my pajamas) and go to the grocery store, load myself down with my cow-generated products and head home.  When I walked in the door, I dropped everything, grabbed the milk and poured myself an enormous glass and guzzled it, finishing it with a milk mustache.  I poured another glass, drinking this one more slowly, and resisting the urge to drink out of the carton.  After my third glass I was fairly sure that I was safe enough to go back upstairs, put my pajamas BACK on, and get BACK into bed.  As if I really have time to manage my PMS cravings...*sigh*

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This is not really an exaggeration...(click for source)
 
These two things are completely unrelated, but, since they happened in the space of about 15 minutes, I figured they were worth mentioning together.

Thing 1) I haven't told you yet that I like to garden, but I do.  Gardening is one of those things that I do to 'restoreth my soul' (you can count swimming and yoga in that category too).  For example, I just spent the last 2 hours creating a presentation on the conflict in Libya -- reading about the food insecurities, the people who are starving because of price escalations resulting in an inability to buy food, the bombings by Gaddafi's army, the NATO responses...it all just breaks my heart and because of what I study, I am wrapped in these sorts of issues every day. 

So, after 2 hours of reading about the tragedies occurring thousands of miles away, while I sat on my couch with my laptop, drinking tea and making a presentation about human suffering (which makes me feel angry, guilty, helpless and frustrated), I had to go outside and dig in the dirt a little bit....which happens to be the title of one of my favorite Peter Gabriel songs...like how I worked me some PG in there?  (if you're interested, he wrote this about going to therapy.)
In any case, when I went outside to do some weeding and to move some plants around and saw that one of my plants looked like it had been mulched...so I dug around in there and found a caterpillar who was absolutely shredding one of my new salvias.  Now, I just *can't* kill anything that cute and fuzzy but, the little bugger was NOT going to eat any more of my plant, so he was moved to the woods behind my house.  And then I went to another area of the garden...and look what I discovered??
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My first strawberry of the season! It tasted so sweet!!!
Thing 2) After eating my awesome strawberry I came back inside and sat down on the couch.  As I did that, the Rotten One ran upstairs and then came barreling back down the stairs...and deposited this on the couch next to me. 
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Mama...fill my kong with peanut butter!!!!!
p.s. if you don't have your own Rotten One and have no idea what a kong is -- it's a rubber bouncy thing that you can fill with cheese or peanut butter.  Once upon a time it was a treat for the Rotten One to get a peanut butter kong, but apparently we have now transitioned to demanding it...oy. 
 
A few updates on the move...

1) We've scheduled the movers (in 3 weeks to actually come to the house and see what we're moving -- basically an inventory check.)  They are going to ask us which items of furniture we want to move, and which are going into storage.  They *might* expect an answer other than...um. I, uhhh, don't really know.  So, at this point, we haven't decided if we're renting furnished, part-furnished, or unfurnished.  I'm assuming I should *probably* make some of these decisions relatively soon. Non?

2) Also, at this point, we really don't live anywhere, which is apparently problematic when you're trying to get a bank account.  The bank wants to see documentation that we live somewhere in the U.K - i.e. a bank statement with our names and address on it.  So we go through the hassle of changing our U.S. address on our U.S. bank account to the Canadian's address at the UK corporate apartment. (Follow me?) 

The UK bank we've decided to go with calls him and said they need another piece of documentation like a utility bill (nope, corporate apartment) or a council tax bill? (negative -- corporate apartment) -- well then, you need another bank account statement...from a different bank.  Fortunately we actually have a savings account at a different bank but what if we didn't? Is there such a thing as address discrimination?  *sigh* So now we have to change THAT bank's address, wait for that statement to arrive in the U.K. and then...wait for our next bank account drama?

3) The Rotten One is likely not sailing on the boat with us, so now we have some decisions to make.  Basically what this necessitates is that she stay with someone here in Austin while we get over there and find a place to rent that will allow dogs.  Then we need to get moved in.  Then the Canadian will fly back to Texas to pick her up and turn around the next day and fly back to the UK around a month after we arrive in London.  So....anyone want a Rotten One for 6 weeks? 

4) The Canadian has been scouting out various Mexican food and Southern food places in London.  I'm going to try to get him to review a few of them on here for you, just in case you get a hankerin' for something from back home (for you Texpats...or Texas food lovers...)  As an aside, I think I'm going to take a few stabs at making my own tortillas.  I don't think it's all that difficult and I might be able to make big batches and freeze them while in the UK.  If I master them, I'll have a big ol' Texmex party at my new house -- you're all invited.

5) Speaking of that, the Canadian has been checking out the various 'hoods where we might live.  He likes a couple of areas Kensington/Chelsea, Hampstead Heath/Primrose Hill or further out London Borough of Wandsworth or Richmond Upon Thames. 

6) School is kicking my ass.  Which is why I haven't blogged in awhile. I feel like someone should give me a degree in project management since that is pretty much all I do these days -- manage the projects and papers that are due at any given moment.

7) I have also been drinking a lot to manage the stress....

...Ok let's be honest, I always drink a lot, it has nothing to do with stress.  I just really like to drink. 
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