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Tomorrow is our five year anniversary of marriage (The Canadian and Me).  We usually take a trip to the Caribbean to celebrate, but because it's been five years and because we've been in New Orleans for the last year, we decided to use our annual trip money to throw a fabulous party in Nola for all of our friends from Texas.

When I went to try on all of my fancy dresses to see which one I wanted to wear to the party, I had quite a surprise -- none of them fit, and not in the bad way.  Over the last 3 years I've lost 30 lbs (VERY slowly) and some of the dresses are a couple of years old and I just hadn't worn them in awhile.  So, imagine my surprise when I realized, I had nothing to wear.  Normally, I would go out and buy a new dress, but, note (as I said yesterday), that I have had the flu...so shopping has not really been an option.  My only choice, from my skinnier days, was a bridesmaids dress from my friend's wedding.

I know...I know.  You are all gasping.  Here's the deal though, I LOVE the dress, well, I love the style.  My friend let me choose the style (yay!!) -- but sadly not the color (booo).  I would have chosen black (my sister is no doubt rolling her eyes here since I've been fully ensconced in black for decades), but my very frilly, girly friend, chose pink.  Hot pink. Pepto pink.

Pink is my LEAST favorite color in the entire world.  Ever.  I am not really very girly (sexy is different, btw) and was quite crushed when my friend said I needed to order the dress in pink.  It was her wedding, naturally, but I still was sad to order this gorgeous dress in a color I loathed.  Nonetheless I have kept the dress in my closet in hopes that I might find someone to dye it black.  But for tomorrow, I will wear my hot pink dress, and hopefully look so hot that the Canadian will want to stay married for many more years.  (Or he will be blinded by the pink which will have the same effect...)

In other news, the flu has now moved into my intestines.  We stopped every 90 miles or so on the 8 hour drive for me to deal with my GI drama.  I am now sipping my hot pink pepto like it's a New Orleans cocktail (Sazerac? French 75?) in preparation for our gorgeous party tomorrow because I'd really love to be able to eat again.  And drink. (Upside is, I've lost 4 more pounds...)

 
I am not entirely sure where I first learned that 'la grippe' was the french word for 'the flu'.  I honestly think it was in a bathroom in Paris where some poster was telling the population to wash their hands for fear of 'la grippe!!!' -- the poster being slightly ominous with melodramatic cartoons.  In any case, ever since, I have not been able to think of the flu without in my head thinking of 'la grippe!!!'

Since December 26th I have had 'la grippe!!!', albeit a mild version, with fevers just barely clearing 100.  I haven't felt at all like posting but I have been reading my newest expat blog, Petite Anglaise (PA) - a UK expat to France. I felt it only appropriate to do some bicultural reading since my flu appears to be bicultural as well - at least in my head.  (Also, I'm all caught up on Not From Around Here, Sara in Le Petite Village, She's Not From Yorkshire, and Is There Such a Thing as too Much Cheese?")

This morning around 5 am, when one of my fevers was breaking, I came across PA's discussion about various words being 'French' or 'English'...and then a discussion on some 'false friends' in language, meaning, words that sound like they SHOULD mean one word, but instead mean another.  (The big one for me is embarasada in Spanish...it does NOT mean embarrassed.) 

PA notes that one french false friend is préservatifs - you might think it means preservatives, mais non, it means condom.  So if you should need to ask, according to PA, if your jam has preservatives, please do not ask "Cette confiture contient-elle des préservatifs?" instead, if it contains condoms.
 
My family has this strange tradition -- I have no idea from where it originated -- but it has been going on as long as I can remember.  We yell out "Christmas gift!!" to each other and try to be the first one to do it -- before anyone else.  Now, mind you, there's no prize for this -- just the knowledge that on Christmas day you managed to yell "Christmas gift!" before someone beat you to it. 

This morning I tried to text "Christmas Gift" to my family, but my Uncle Paul texted back and said it had to be "in person or on the phone." So, apparently there are new rules that have been added to which I was not privy.  Technology will not interfere with our traditions, apparently.

Look, I have never claimed to have anything but complete dysfunction in my family. So, anyway from my family to yours, if you read the title of this blog post, then I beat you to it -- Christmas gift!!

We usually go spend Christmas in Fort Worth with MomE's enormous family (remember, she's one nine kids?!?!) but we were in Fort Worth last week so we decided to stay home and celebrate our last Christmas in our house in Austin for at least the next few years.  So, the Canadian and I along with MomE are headed to the Driskill hotel for a fancy Christmas brunch and I'm looking forward to stuffing myself with obscene amounts of food...I hope they have lobster.
 
Every year I have a set of Christmas Eve traditions:
  1. Watch White Christmas
  2. Wrap gifts while watching White Christmas
  3. Track Santa on Norad
  4. Most Christmas Eves I go to a church service (I really love Christmas hymns...can't help it) but this year the Canadian has food poisoning so we will likely stay in.
  5. Put out Christmas baking for Santa (see my recipe this year here...)
  6. And a few years ago I started another tradition: watch Love Actually.

Love Actually absolutely melted me the first time I saw it -- and even though I had my ultimate Christmas movie with White Christmas, I knew I would need to make room for Love Actually also...and so, now I have two Christmas movie traditions.

I suppose adapting my Christmas tradition was somewhat of a premonition to my upcoming move to London -- I'm now going to have to adapt my entire life to London and it's certainly applicable that most of Love Actually is set in London. 

So, Merry Christmas from Austin this year and next year, I'll be watching Love Actually from my flat in London and wishing everyone a Happy Christmas instead.

And for you, dear Santa Claus, here's a photo of the treats I baked for you yesterday which will be waiting for you along with a big glass of milk tonight.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
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Santa's midnight snack! Texpat Chocolate Almond Bar Cookies. Click the photo for recipe.
 
I love to cook, bake and eat.  I also love noodling with recipes and concocting my own.  I'm too lazy to make my own cookbook (mainly because precision is not one of my strong suits...) but I will occasionally post recipes on here if I feel like -- and you know? Today I feel like it! 

A year or so ago I read a Christmas mystery book (Oh, have I told you I love to read murder mysteries?) by an  author, Joanne Fluke, who puts recipes in her books. I was particularly intrigued by one of the recipes -- Candy Cane Bar Cookies.  Now, here's the thing, I don't really like the mint/chocolate combo (I know, sacrilege to all of the Girl Scouts Thin Mints lovers of the world...don't hate me) but I wanted to try the original recipe before I started messing with it.  So, I made a batch, and you know, it was pretty good, even with the crushed candy canes!  Nonetheless, I wasn't going to eat them so I sent the batch off to work with the Canadian.  I figure a room full of hungry men sitting in front of the computer ought to be sufficient impetus to polish off a batch of bar cookies.

In any case, I wondered how I would change this recipe to suit my own tastes and so I started rummaging around in my jars of extracts...et voila! Almond extract!  I would replace the candy canes and peppermint extract with almonds and almond extract.  So I give to you, Joanne Fluke's Candy Cane Bar Cookies (from her book Candy Cane Murder) adapted by Moi and now called: Texpat Chocolate Almond Bar Cookies.  (I challenge my genius baking friend Kate Payne of Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking to make a gluten-free version of this!)

Texpat Chocolate Almond Bar Cookies
(inspired by Joanne Fluke's Candy Cane Bar Cookies)

*Note, I use organic and natural wherever possible.  Feel free to substitute however you see fit.
1 cup of organic unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup of organic, natural (not refined) sugar (I use Whole Foods Fair Trade evaporated cane juice)
1 egg
1 teaspoon almond extract (I use Simply Organic brand)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I use Simply Organic brand)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup toasted sliced almonds
2 cups flour (unbleached, unbromated, organic -- I use Bob's Red Mill brand)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (6oz bag)
-------
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (12 oz bag)
1/3 cup toasted sliced almonds
  • Preheat oven to 350. 
  • Melt the butter in a microwave safe bowl on high for 1 to 1 minute 30 seconds.  Set on the counter to cool.
  • Place the sugar in a bowl to use with an electric mixer (can be mixed by hand but it's way more work!).  Add the egg and beat it in until it's thoroughly mixed with the sugar. 
  • Add the almond extract, vanilla extract, salt and 2/3 cup almonds.  Mix it up.
  • Feel the bowl with the butter, if it's cool enough to cup your hands around it, then it's ok to mix.  Pour in and blend slowly.
  • Add the flour in half cup increments, beating after each addition.
  • Stir in 1 cup of chocolate chips by hand.
  • Spread the batter evenly in a greased or Pammed 9X13 inch pan.  Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes or until it feels firm on top.
  • Remove the pan from the oven and immediately sprinkle the remaining 2 cups chocolate chips on top.  Immediately cover with a heavy duty piece of foil or cookie sheet.  (This keeps the heat in). 
  • Let it sit for 3 minutes then take off the cookie sheet or foil and spread out the chocolate chips as you would frosting with a rubber spatula or frosting knife.  
  • Sprinkle 1/3 cup toasted sliced almonds on top.  (If you wanted to make it more festive you could use snowflake 'stencils' and make powdered sugar snowflakes on top instead!)
  • Cool completely and then cut into brownie-sized pieces.

 
So I said in my last post, that I needed to clean out my closet and that I was going to procrastinate...but instead, I decided to clean out my closet. 

So the Canadian and I got busy last night (not in the biblical way, but in the closet cleaning way) and went through mounds of clothes.  It's actually really difficult to get rid of clothing -- so much of it has less to do with how it looks but about its sentimental value.  For example, I made the Canadian keep the awful orange shirt that he wore on our first date. 
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Not really the most romantic first date shirt...he's much more fashionable these days.
And I just couldn't seem to part with some of my old t-shirts.  The Canadian had to pry my old powder puff football t-shirt from HIGH SCHOOL out of my hands.  Never mind that it was literally in shreds (with giant holes in inappropriate places!) and covered in yellow stains.  I finally relinquished it to the garbage.

But, I'm quite proud of our accomplishments.  Not only did we get rid of tons of clothes, we got rid of HUNDREDS of hangers (both plastic and dry cleaning -- it's really embarrassing how many there were).  It's amazing how much room is now in our closet.  I think I have one more round of purging to do before we move, but this has been a really good start. 

I should also say, I promise we are not crazy hoarders -- the rest of our house is regularly purged...I think the closet sort of got away from us. 
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You should see the bin with the dry cleaning hangers!!
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Our mound of clothes. Note that the Canadian is parting with his 'I am Canadian' t-shirt.
 
Preparing for a move to London means that I have an extraordinary amount to accomplish...like:
    1) Cleaning out all of my clothes
    2) Sorting through books
    3) Going through ALL of my photos (I'm so daunted by this)
    3) Going through filing cabinets and ALL of our paperwork (double ugh)
    4) Transferring all of my CDs onto my computer (I'm so disturbed that this hasn't been done by now)
    5) Make 10 bajillion trips to donate all of this excess *stuff* to charity
    6) And more to do's I can't even begin to think about now (said in my best Scarlett O'Hara voice)

In thinking about this, I've decided to procrastinate.  This graphic (created by Jorge Cham of PHD Comics) is a useful representation of how I feel about getting started on turning my life inside out:
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Click for attribution
 
For the past 5 days I have been in Fort Worth to see family.  I won't go into the sad circumstances behind it (because frankly, I really don't like reading sad blog posts) but suffice it to say it was an emotionally exhausting time for several days there.  I actually have two sets of family in Fort Worth -- my MomE's family and my paternal grandmother (Mama).  I haven't really introduced Mama yet -- she's quite a presence actually -- but I think if you've ever watched Keeping Up Appearances with Hyacinth Bucket (Boo-kay) then you have met Mama.

So I arrived in Fort Worth and spent a lot of time with MomE's family but my trip coincided with a big party that Mama was hosting at this fancy schmancy club and my sister and I were invited to attend.  So we stayed at a hotel not far from the club.  We called the valet to bring around our car, which happened to be a rental Tahoe.  (The Canadian and I are a one car family and since I had to leave town in a hurry to be with my family, the Canadian needed a vehicle so he drove up separately a few days later.)

So, we (the Canadian, Sister, Brother-in-Law, Sister's friend and me) get down to the carport and I walk out to the Tahoe to put the Christmas gifts in.  I lift the back door and my sister says, "Are you sure that's your car??"

Me: Of course that's our car -- the Canadian rented a Tahoe (I say this as I'm piling in the gifts)
Faceless Voice: Actually thats MY car!!

At this point, I turned and saw a very angry blond woman staring at me with her hands on her hips.  I look back at the Tahoe and realize, the interior colors are different!  Hers is black and ours is tan.  I started sputtering some apology while trying to push down the automatic back door -- which then made a horrific grinding noise -- echoing in the carport.  I jumped away (nearly falling over myself in my high heels on the cobblestones) and stumble towards the OTHER black Tahoe (slinging Christmas gifts) to hopefully make my speedy getaway. 

As we jumped in the car my sister said, "My favorite part was the grinding noise as you shoved the automatic door down.  That was awesome." 
 
said Dick the Butcher to Cade in Henry IV by Bill Shakespeare...

Now, as a daughter of a lawyer, I would say, at least spare one (my fabulous MomE).  But you can take the UK solicitors who gave us somewhat suspect advice.  As the daughter of a lawyer (for the past 34 years or so), either by nature or nurture, I have the typical lawyer mentality of being somewhat suspicious of accepting something at face value.  It was this part of my brain that was sending warning bells when the solicitors gave us our most recent Tier 1 Visa advice. 

Actually let me start this story at the beginning....

As you might have read in a previous post, we are in an enormous rush to get our Tier 1 Visa application into the UK because this particular visa class is ending in March.  So, every day is critical and we really can't afford to waste any time.  One of the requirements of the UK Tier 1 visa class is to prove that you are financially sound.  The way they ensure this is to have you send in all of your financial statements indicating that you have kept a certain amount of money in these accounts for the past 3 months. 

So, we have three different accounts, thus we needed to send in statements from all of them.  The solicitors told us the only thing we needed was the statements.  I told the Canadian, that I was suspicious of this...wouldn't they need to be stamped? Verified? Notarized?  He asked the solicitors -- No, they said.  Just the statements, and we should be fine.  *sigh*, I said...very skeptical.

Enter ING bank.  So I call them to order our statements.

Me: "Can you mail me statements?"
ING: "Yes but they are identical to what you will print out -- we will do the same thing you would do which is print them out"
Me: "Yes but I need YOU to print them out and mail them -- that is what the United Kingdom wants"
ING: "But they are going to be exactly the same as what you would print out.  Plus we are going to charge you $5.00 each"
Me: "I know but this is what our solicitors told us" -- I said this with all doubt and trepidation.

...4 days later...

We receive the ING statements and mail everything in to the courier in Los Angeles who will walk our giant bundle of stuff to the UK Consulate.  (As an aside, they asked for the Canadian's college diploma which has been laquered onto a giant piece of wood...so that was fun to send in...)

The courier (to whom we sent our package of every single document verifying our identity and entire life), was a visa processor in the consulate for 15 years and she knows what they consulate is looking for.  She calls the Canadian:

Courier: Your ING statements look like they were printed out -- because they are in black and white
the Canadian: They are printed out, but ING did it and mailed it to us
Courier: But everyone knows ING is orange and these are in black and white
the Canadian: The solicitors told us we didn't need anything other than the statements
Courier: The UK will be suspicious and think you printed these by yourself....they need to be on ING orange paper and verified somehow. Your solicitors were wrong
the Canadian: *sigh*

So, I call ING back.
Me: Hi, I need new statements.  The same ones you sent me before, but this time, printed on color paper -- and notarized.
ING: I don't think we print in color.
Me: But I am paying 5 dollars per statement -- can't you find a color printer?  Apparently the UK knows that ING is orange.
ING: You could print them in color since they are the same statement you would print out from your account.
Me: I realize that, and I realize that this is absurd, but I still need ING to print out my statements, in color, with ING orange everywhere and have them notarized because the United Kingdom seems to think I will not be able to magically produce fraudulent ING orange statements by myself on my own color printer but that I can produce black and white.  Somehow the orange paper means I haven't fabricated the statements and that they are real.
ING: I think we only print in black and white.
Me: Look, I really don't care if you have to walk down to Kinko's, log on, and print my statements using their color printer.  I just need orange statements with a signature of a valid notary saying that I haven't magically created bank statements.
ING: Ok, I'll make a note in your file.
Me: *sigh*

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Everyone knows ING is orange...As an aside, the Canadian called the ING cafe to see if they could stamp or notarize the statements?'Oh no sir, we don't have access to your account to do that...' *sigh*
 
Yesterday the Canadian and I drove to a nondescript strip mall in the suburbs of Austin to do something rather nefarious (at least it felt like that to me)...we had to relinquish our identity to the United Kingdom.  The Canadian has already had to do this, so he is familiar with the process of the complete abdication of one's privacy.  When he became a U.S. citizen (he's dual now) he basically put himself squarely on the grid and on the radar of the U.S. government by giving every single print known to man.  I was not envious of that aspect of the process of becoming a dual citizen because I'm actually a very private person.  (Even though I've always wanted to have several passports, including one from some island in the Caribbean)

When we arrived there were big signs yelling at us
NO CAMERAS!!
NO CELL PHONES!! (this was really depressing because I couldn't play Sudoku on my iPhone)
NO VIDEO!!
YOU ARE BEING WATCHED BY EVERYONE -- INCLUDING OUTER SPACE!!!
(ok, they didn't really say the last part, but it kind of felt like it.)

So, we go in, get a number and proceed to wait.  Then they call me and the girl proceeds to take my whole hand print, each fingerprint individually (and rolls it from side to side just in case I decide to remove the actual fingerprint itself, they still have the side print) and take my photo.  Frankly, I'm surprised I didn't have to pull down my pants and sit on a copy machine.

This is all part of the process for our Tier 1 visa.  The Tier 1 is basically a migrant with a special skill set and the Canadian will be consulting for a couple of years on behalf of an American company for a French customer who has their IT operations in the UK (how multinational is that?)  Meanwhile, I will try and find a job and work on finishing my dissertation. 

The snag is, the Tier 1 is disappearing in March and applications have already been made through February.  So we might not make it in time to get a Tier 1 -- which means the company the Canadian works for will have to move him over on an intercompany transfer.  Except that it's a tiny company, and they don't have a UK office.  Which means they will then have to establish a UK office and then make the Canadian an intercompany transfer employee.  *That* will not be pretty if it happens that way...so we're trying to slide in to the Tier 1 before it closes.  Cross your fingers folks.

As an aside, the USCIS office who took our biometrics (fingerprints, etc.) asked us to fill out a survey rating them on their friendliness, efficiency, and our overall experience with room for comments at the end.  Do you suppose I will find that in the UK?  Maybe once I get over to the UK I will carry comment cards in my pocket for rating my experiences with governments in Europe and then just fill them out and hand them to the employee with whom I've dealt for whatever transaction just took place.  I'm thinking this could be an interesting idea....I will keep you posted.

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