Monday, January 24, 2011

How to get a UK-based address to order British products and magazines

Yesterday I was flipping through knitting and craft magazines at the bookstore and just about died of sticker shock at the price of one of them from the U.K.: $16! Then I read the subscription card inside, which informed me I could get a monthly subscription sent to me here in the U.S. for "only" £144 (that's roughly $229.50). If I lived in the U.K., however, the subscription was very inexpensive, the equivalent of $25, cheaper, of course, because it doesn't need a plane ticket. But it made me wonder if there wasn't a cheaper way to get British products and magazines sent to me here in the U.S.

I'd heard about an American company called that lets foreign customers use a U.S. based street address to order products and subscriptions they can't get shipped abroad; the company then sends the items via air parcel delivery. A Google search on "UK mail forwarding service" got me a few hits, but one company, MyUKMail, seemed to be most like what I wanted. As with the American service, I could sign up by paying a monthly fee of £10 or annual £50. I'd get a street address to use in the UK, the company would collect anything shipped there, then I could arrange to have the subscriptions sent to me monthly or whenever I wanted them at a reasonable shipping rate. Signing up for something like this would definitely be a luxury for me, but in case any of you are going broke buying Hello! and British Vogue at the newsstand, a scheme like this may actually save you money.

Have any of you tried a service like this? Would you ever do it?

Friday, January 21, 2011

On knitting

I learned to knit when I was 8 or 9 but never took to it like I did crochet. After all, I was in grade school in the mid-1970's, the height of the granny square craze. I would sit around with the other 4th grade girls and churn out multi-colored acrylic granny squares one after the other.  I don't recall ever making anything with them; the fun was all in the process.

I took up knitting again in college, although half-heartedly. I went to Smith College, where knitting was practically a major. I had one government professor, the late Leo Weinstein, who would occasionally admonish those fiddling with cables and tricky Fair Isles in the darkened rows of Wright Hall auditorium to listen to what he had to say about Hobbes and his views on absolute sovereignty. I was too chicken to bring my own knitting to lectures for fear of being called out.

I picked up my needles occasionally once I graduated, but was convinced that my technique was horrendous. I was -- and am -- an English-style knitter, which has always felt deeply physical, vaguely pugilistic to me with my elbowing right arm punching out yarn around my needle..  Most of my friends knit efficiently in the Continental style, something I could never master. I also had a habit of balancing the knitting needles against my thighs, which my mother once remarked she did also when she knit, much to the amusement of my paternal grandmother and great-grandmother. These two women, of Scottish ancestry by way of the Maritime provinces, were effortless, graceful  knitters. I shuddered to think what they'd say of my odd style.

It was only until last year, in my mid 40s, that I've come into my own as a knitter. I picked up my needles again as a way to relieve stress (I'm an anxious, nervous person by nature.) I was reading somewhere (a blog? a book?) that with knitting today, any style goes. There's no right or wrong way to knit. As I started lurking around yarn shops, I'd see students as well as salespeople knitting without wrapping their yarn around their fingers for tension, or throwing the yarn around their needles far more aggressively than I've ever thrown. By this point, I'd learned how to "flick" the yarn off my index finger and around the needle in order to preserve the integrity of my hands, which I need for writing. I definitely knit far more gracefully than I did in my youth.

There are nights when I dream of knitting. A couple nights ago I received the vision of a camel-colored shrug with a raised star motif. Most nights it's just the repetitive knit-and-purl that soothes me. Today, I knit because it was another day of snow with my 9-year-old stuck at home. He knows I don't like to play racing games on the PlayStation, so he came into my office and said, "Mom, will you come out and knit on the couch while I play?" There was a nice ring to that. So I put my work aside and knit a couple rows of a sweater I'm making for him.

Later he was bored again, so I found this video. It includes the two things both of us love: dogs (him) and wool (me).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On celebrity mothers and tiger moms

It has been quite the month for motherhood. First, we have yet another annoying missive from Chris Martin-shagging Oscar-winning Anglophile Gwyneth Paltrow on her website GOOP about how we busy mothers can find balance in our lives. (She claims -- or rather her interns writing the newsletter claim -- that this question came in from a GOOP "reader," but I suspect it was a joke question from Gawker and GOOPers played right into their hands.) Toni from Expat Mum wrote a very funny opinion piece on Powder Room Graffiti about Paltrow's advice and I do agree with her -- the GOOP post is patronizing to mothers who don't have the benefit of money, personal chefs, a phalanx of nannies, and personal assistants. Had Paltrow made mention of her privileged life -- that she realizes most busy moms don't have these luxuries -- she could have related more to the masses. (At least one mother she interviewed, Stella McCartney, admitted she has nannies, although I was puzzled when she said her nanny left at 6:30 p.m. yet McCartney went out with her friends after the kids went to bed. Does she have a night nanny? Was hubby Alastair watching the sleeping angels?)

Here's who I have more respect for as a busy, working mom. Amy Chua. OK, before you come at me with picks and axes, let me explain. Chua, the author of the hotly controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which was released in the U.S. last week, is a Harvard-educated Chinese-American attorney who teaches at Yale Law School and is the mother of two teenage girls. Her memoir shares how she raised these daughters the "Chinese way," by pushing them relentlessly to succeed in nearly every aspect of their lives -- from school to (and especially) music. Her methods of getting her daughters to perform border on cruel and excessive: she would make them practice music for hours and not let them get up to eat or use the bathroom and she threatened to throw out toys. Ooof. Chua is getting bags of hate mail accusing her of everything from racism to child abuse. Yes, I found her parenting style extreme - that said, I read a lot of humor in this book and by the end, Chua gets her comeuppance. I really enjoyed the book and think she made some valid points about how coddled children in the West have become through overly permissive parenting.

What really impressed me was how hard Chua worked to raise her daughters. There was one section of the book where she described how she was running office hours for her law school students, then excusing herself to run home and drive one daughter to music lessons before coming back to finish office hours. Then she went home to supervise more lessons until the early hours of morning. All this while teaching, writing books, and managing a speaking schedule that often had her on the road. (Yes, Chua and her Yale professor husband live an upper middle class life, but I could see throughout the book they did such mundane things like walking the dogs, washing floors, etc.) I got exhausted just reading about her day! Chua was nonchalant about her sacrifices -- if she needed to get by on less sleep to achieve her goals, she would. As she wrote, "I am tough."

Sorry, Gwynnie, but Tiger Mom puts you and your rich friends to shame.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Are we all holding our breath for Piers Morgan tonight?

So Piers Morgan is set to fill the seat vacated by Larry King at CNN's 9 p.m. timeslot starting tonight, and I'm curious if any of my state-side  readers will be watching. When I heard rumors months back that Morgan (I keep wanting to write Anthony -- guess I'm reading too much sci fi!) would be taking King's place, I thought, Hmm, now that's an interesting choice. I thought of him as the "nice guy" on Britain's Got Talent, Simon Cowell's foil of sorts -- the sweet-faced chap who inspired lust in Susan Boyle and who actually treated her very kindly.

Then I'd heard that Larry King admitted he didn't know who was Piers Morgan was, and Morgan got kind of huffy in the press about this. I wondered if this guy didn't have a bit of an ego problem. Larry King is the Methuselah of the news world and he probably doesn't remember his sixth wife's name. Lighten up, Francis.

Next up: Morgan recently got in a pissing match with a NY city news reporter on Twitter who dared to criticize him. Instead of ignoring the guy and taking the high road, Morgan started mocking the guy for having fewer Twitter followers than he did. Maybe this is something a serious journalist in Britain can get away with, but here, that was a cheesy thing to do ... something one would expect of a reality tv judge. Oops.

Now every time I turn on CNN I get a big dose of how Morgan is this hard-hitting journo who's going to ask the tough questions of his guests. And it makes me wonder -- how hard-hitting can this guy be if he flies into a fit after a bit of criticism on Twitter? And Oprah for his first guest? That's supposed to be a tough interview? What's he going to ask her ... what she really thinks of Jonathan Franzen?

Monday, January 10, 2011

BREAKING: Paula Deen cracks the code on English peas

Many, many Americans are absolutely helpless in the kitchen, so thank the Lord almighty we have Paula Deen and her can opener. For my readers in the UK and elsewhere, Paula is an institution (or drives people to institutions, take your pick). This celebrity chef has tv shows, books galore, and a fan base on par with Nigella's. Like Nigella, Paula has no problems dousing her food with cream, butter, mayo, or salt. Being a Southerner, she lays it on thick with the lard and shortening to boot.

So today my friend Linda alerted me to a new recipe Paula's come up with through the Food Network's site. Linda thought of me, I'm sure, because a. I'm a food writer IRL and love new recipes  b. the word "English" appears in this recipe and c. who isn't looking for a fresh, new way to cook peas? Once you've checked out this recipe, you, too, will be rushing to your pantry and fridge for all the ingredients -- well, two to be exact --  to create a meal your family won't soon forget.

Oh, and be sure to read the comments on this recipe.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Queen is a great-grandmum

Last Wednesday, Peter Phillips and his wife, Autumn, became parents of a daughter, making Queen Elizabeth II a newly minted great-grandmother.

So today the newspapers are announcing the baby's name.


Yes, Savannah Phillips.

Somewhere, Brooklyn Beckham and Paris Hilton are having a good giggle.

What do you think of the name? Fresh and modern, a nice change from the Georges and Beatrices? Or too chavvy for you?