Friday, June 29, 2007

Help Wanted

These are trying times chez blahblah. I'm hiring a new assistant, which is always wearying to the point of wanting to curl up in a ball and die. I'm beginning to think it'd be easier to clone myself rather than find someone halfway decent in this town for $20/hr.

Maybe I should re-read that Craigslist ad, perhaps I inadvertently wrote; '

'Wanted: Complete Muppet.
Go ahead and surprise me with
what you consider relevant
experience for this job'

Below are just a selection of suggestions I would have for my current applicants. I'm not making any of these up.

  • Do not say you are 'currently working to make ends meet'
  • Do not list under skills 'general tasks'
  • Dear God please do not write that you enjoy watching movies and reading books.
  • Do not say you possess the skills to make a great medical office assailant
  • Do not write that your main responsibility at your current job is to 'rotate the candy to ensure maximum candy freshness'.
  • Do not list your contact e-mail as anything along the lines of '' or ''
  • If you're going to list a contact phone number, you're probably going to want to either answer that phone with more than a perfunctory 'yeah', or make sure your answering message doesn't say 'hi, you've reached Madison, I'm probably too stoned to reach the phone so you're s.o.l dude'.
  • If you're currently working as an equine masseuse/candy rotator/shelf-stacker at Vons, help me out with a cover letter that at least addresses what inspired you to think you could be my assailant.

I need a drink.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Music To My Ears

We took Anna to her first concert this weekend, we had thought that the open-air setting of the Santa Barbara Bowl would be a little more child-friendly, after all they allow you to bring in children under three for free.....

We couldn't have been more wrong.

The entire first half was John Williams conducting the Music Academy of the West. They played Shostakovich. Really, really quiet Shostakovich. You could hear a pin drop, and I'm not kidding when I say during a particularly delicate piece by the solo-violinist I actually saw a deer grazing in the scrub behind the stage. All you could hear was the plaintive song of the bow on the strings, and the toddler in my lap who kept saying 'OR-CHES-TRA!' very loudly and proudly in intervals of maybe ten seconds.

We were squashed in to the very middle of the audience and couldn't have left without causing major disruption so we were doing everything possible to quieten her down. She wasn't screaming, or behaving badly at all, she was just announcing things in a very clear toddler voice. Things that usually garner her much attention and praise, like ‘VIOLIN MUMMY’, or for example when I in desperation told her that we had to be very quiet, like a mouse she said 'A MOUSE, SQUEAK, SQUEAK!'. If we tried to put our hands over her mouth she would say ‘NO, NO MUMMY, NO HANDS’, or if we put our fingers to our lips she would do a very eager ‘SHHH’ sound.

She started asking for a dummy (a pacifier) repeatedly;


LK had been in charge of the Anna bag, and there was no dummy. I may have suggested more than once that in future it would be great if there was always a dummy in Anna's bag. To which LK replied 'say it one more time Wrigs and I'll pull one out my ass'. Things were getting tense.

It was a chuffing nightmare. How were we to know? What were the chances you could hear a the sound of a cricket’s heartbeat at an open-air venue? I bolted as soon as humanly possible (with Anna clapping enthusiastically) and spent the rest of the show hanging out with the other ostracized parents in the refreshment area below.

I asked Anna the next morning if she’d enjoyed her first orchestral experience and she nodded sagely and said ‘SHHHHH!’.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Skool Rools

Anna recently started at a preschool, and I've been putting off writing this post in order not to tempt fate but, damn, I'm so gobsmacked at how well she's doing. By all accounts she is positively thriving and we have trouble dragging her away at the end of the day.

I can't tell you how relieved I am that she cheerily carries her little lunchbox in to school, gives me a kiss, waves and says 'bye-bye' then happily trots off. I had been dreading this, and for good reason too. When Anna was a paltry three months old I went back to work, because this country has THE most draconian maternity rules in the developed world *seethe*. I'd been a bit worried about the number of friends who'd cheered on my swelling belly and then said 'so, have you thought about childcare, what are your plans? You have plans right? Thoughts?'. Then in response to my blank stare they would give me that same reassuring smile you would give to the newly pregnant woman who’s put on thirty pounds in the first two months of pregnancy, that ‘oh God, you clearly have no idea how fucked you are’ smile. Now I get it, the true horror that is finding affordable, manageable, reliable childcare, oh, and safe too, but that really is an afterthought compared to the rest......

As it happens, a nanny-sharing situation literally fell in to our laps and worked pretty much brilliantly until the girls were two. However, (let me apologize while I reign in my train of thought and get back on track here) Anna was not always spectacular about being away from LK and I. Our first nanny labeled Anna a ‘fearful baby’ and promised us with the conviction of someone going through City College Child Development Classes that there was nothing to be done about this, that she would always fear change, new situations and well, life, basically. I’m known to be a bit of a worrier myself, so this seemed plausible, although it did rather go against our experience of a smiley, sunny baby who was more than happy to be handed to any random stranger in a restaurant/bar/crack-house. Nanny #1 would call and ask ‘what do you do if she’s crying uncontrollably’ and I would swallow back that wave of guilt and panic, look at the huge pile of work on my desk, the huge mortgage bills yet to be paid and answer as best I could ‘well, it hasn’t really come up with us, but maybe you could cuddle her?’. I knew Anna was miserable with her, but I just had too much on my plate to re-organize an otherwise perfect childcare situation. I know, just writing that makes me cringe; perfect other than your child being desperately unhappy? Mother of the Year Award this way please. Things did get better, particularly with the advent of nanny #2, but Anna still had a tendency to freak out if she felt she was in a situation where people weren’t going to look after her properly. It didn’t fill me with confidence a couple of months ago when I pulled into the gym carpark and she started screaming ‘no, no Anna, Mummy ‘ome ‘ome’. I got about five minutes into that particular spin class before one of the gym childcare ladies knocked on the glass to say ‘your child, she is screaming’.

We knew early this year that our nanny-sharing situation would be ending and that we’d have to find a preschool for Anna. That’s where the horror began. What I didn’t realize was that there are two distinct group childcare options out there for toddlers;

Preschool – structured environments where the children learn and have fun. Usually ridiculously expensive and well-nigh impossible to get in to.

Daycare – a room filled with garage-sale toys, tired, screaming snot-filled tearaways and bored wardens/teachers only intervening when the biting draws blood. These still have waiting lists and only cost a little less.

On my first tour round a daycare I was thrilled to find it was run by nanny #1. Double trouble! I had to do the requisite tour, and smile through clenched teeth as she described Anna’s interaction with the other kids as ‘still a little reluctant’. I cried all the way home and vowed for the millionth time to leave this toxic town.

The second place I went to was the preschool she now goes to. So radically different an environment that after the tour I turned to LK and said ‘this is where she’s going’. We spent a year on the waiting list and finally only got in because LK ‘re-toured’ and the Argentine director clearly took a fancy to him. Maybe that ‘I heart the Falkland Islands’ t-shirt I wore first time round was a little ill-advised.

Anna now comes home from ‘school’ and when I ask her if she enjoyed her day she will nod sagely then say cryptic things like ‘paint’ or ‘shells’ or ‘singing in the boat’ (there is a boat in the garden where all her classmates sit for singing class). I know this could well be the honeymoon period of preschool, where the novelty outweighs the separation, but really, why should I find it surprising at all that she prefers a house and garden full of toys, toddlers and inspiration to time at home with me saying 'do you want to watch Blues Clues while Mummy plays on the computer?' Maybe not such a shocking transition after all.

Friday, June 15, 2007

All Creatures Great and Small

Most of the time we live a very sanitized domesticated life here in California. A life very different to the one I had imagined when coming out here. I'd heard about bears, sharks, mountain lions, coyotes, rattle snakes and black widows. I more or less expected them to greet me as I left the luggage carousel at LAX. Obviously I know now that those are the least of your worries in South Central LA.

Two days after LK and I met we went hiking up Jesusita Trail in the hills behind Santa Barbara. The sun was about to set and we were more or less the only people up there. We got to the top and took in the gorgeous views of the city below; the white-washed buildings with their red roofs, the ocean and islands stretching to the blue and gold horizon. LK cracked a couple of cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon (the signs were all there ladies, why didn't I run?), which promptly exploded from all the bumping up the trail. I immediately slurped what I could from the top of the can and LK said 'damn, you're my kind of woman'. *Sigh*. We paused, to take in the beauty of the moment and then he turned to me and said 'man, look at those lions'.

I must have literally gone 'wh-what?'. I do remember thinking, 'why aren't we running, should we run now? what about now?' I was just about to hurl myself off the ridge when he added 'we should have been surfing, not hiking'.

He was talking about lines of incoming waves, not lions. Lines not lions. The first of many, many verbal misunderstandings that have left him oblivious and me gathering fistfuls of sizeable rocks .

In the UK there is practically nothing in nature that can harm you. There is one poisonous snake, an adder, that I have personally never seen and my Mum and Dad have only seen once. Snakes are only active when it's sunny, thus making it even less likely to see a rare snake in the wilds of cloudy North Yorkshire. Other than that, nothing. The real James Herriot was knocked over by sheep, and I've heard tales of angry badgers, but that's about it. California has wilderness, and creatures with teeth and barbs and venom. We went to a party last week at an avocado ranch just outside Santa Barbara which is regularly frequented by bears. LK has seen mountain lions when fishing with his Dad. We used to have a black widow spider in the corner of our shower (think of that next time you reach for the Timotei). I also once trod on a potato bug when walking out of the bathroom of our 'studio' (converted garage) in Carpinteria. If I hadn't just been to the loo it could quite literally have scared the crap out of me, because have you seen one of these things?

Wow, that picture is about true to scale too. They are like ants on steroids. Urgh.

We've also come across snakes too, but they are fortunately few and far between.

Not so yesterday as it happens.

We got home from work, said goodbye to our nanny, shut the door and then five seconds later heard her scream, and then start banging on the door pleading 'fuck, shit,' bang bang bang 'God let me in, Jesus Fucking Christ'. We opened the door and she was laughing saying 'oh my God, there's the biggest fucking snake out there'. True, a two-foot long snake, was lying right across our path. Right here, where less than a week ago we took this picture of Anna on her first day at pre-school:

I know, cute picture, but there could have been a snake lurking in the shrubbery that very second!! And dear God those snakes can move fast. Not as fast as a nanny and a Mum holding a two-year old though. It sped straight towards us and we literally flew back in to the house. Anna thought it was hilarious, and now has a much-expanded vocabulary which I'm hoping she won't be using at her new pre-school.

God I hate snakes.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Dear C.

My best friend is leaving SB. The first friend I ever made here. The one who threw my baby shower and when I told her I was pregnant said 'you're lying, shut the fuck up, you would never tell me like this, over the phone, you're lying'. Her husband yelled 'I bet it's a girl'.

When she was pregnant we had to stop going out for cocktails, so instead we went to see every movie out in the cinemas, and in a town as pretentious and arty as this one we saw some pretty weird shit. Remember those 70-year-olds having sex? I can't seem to get that one out of my head. C. is awesome to go to the movies with. I think I will miss that the most. Mrs Skeletor is pretty damn good because she sneaks in a bottle of wine and always pours it during the quietest part of the film, but C. is the dogs bollocks because of her loud and wholly inappropriate laughter. Do you remember when the grandfather shot the son in Monsters Ball? I do, because C. was eight months pregnant and we screamed and laughed so hard I thought she'd deliver right there and then.

We have been through two children and three last names together. We were the undefeated champions of the Santa Barbara tennis league in 2000 (I'm not telling you what division). We used to play singles for hours in shorts and T-shirts dripping with sweat. I always knew not to mess with her when we'd turn up for an early match and she didn't have her eyebrows on yet. We regularly fought over the 'chalice' the mac daddy of all trophys. For the record, I still have the chalice, she never did win it back from me.

She will kill me for publishing any photo of her. She is already sweating bullets and scanning down this post having read that last sentence thinking, 'oh no you didn't'.

LK and I went to their wedding in Maui; we were two of only five people on that beach and it was gorgeous. I saw her son on the day he was born, he was the first newborn I'd ever held. Her husband called me from the OR to say it was a boy and that he was called 'Colin'; her insides were still on the operating table and she was still managing to mess with me. He's not called Colin, thank the Lord. She told me that if she had a girl she'd call her Brandy Star and I said I'd buy her a pole for her crib. I told her what my girls names were and she called me a stuck-up cow.

I have testified in court for her.

She was the only non-relative who stayed in the waiting room in the hospital for Anna to appear. She had to sit on a couch between LK's Mom and LK's Dad's girlfriend for hours. No friend should suffer that.

When I was 8-months pregnant with Anna I was walking through the make-up section in Macy's when it suddenly hit me that I might be having a girl and that I knew nothing, nothing about make-up, or the 'right' jeans or any of that stuff. The only thing that kept me from curling up in a little ball was the thought that if my daughter wanted to know about anything girly I'd always be able to refer her to C. God help Anna now.

It is hard living in a town where my husband grew up, where he knows everyone. It took me a long time to make some good solid friendships of my own, friends that will last the test of time. I know that C. is one of those friends and that's why I'm truly gutted, but also happy for her because I know she's got a better life ahead of her, and I know she'd better keep in touch because I have no idea what I'm doing out here without her.

I give it one hour before she phones me to tell me to take the photo down.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Just Be Nice

As I was saying, before being so rudely interrupted by my mother, the advice given to me for how to survive as American/British tourists in Paris had been 'just be nice'.

WTF thought I. Moi? Always nice. As it happens, so were the French. True, I did get my fair share of being shoved out the way if it came down to an available seat in a cafe during a rainstorm. Having a baby does not apparently mean you get any priority with seating; restaurants, the metro, anywhere. Maybe I'm just being provincial. The English are known for being almost absurdly gallant when it comes to giving up seats etc, walk on to a crowded bus in Harrogate holding a baby and the entire bus-load of passengers will spring to attention to offer you a seat. You could accuse me of stating the obvious though when I say that Paris is a tad different to North Yorkshire. It's a major metropolis (Geography degree coming in useful there), and I wonder how many people give up their seats on the tube in London these days; about as many as return eye-contact probably. On the whole though, people were really lovely, and this is despite me wandering the streets singing 'I don't understand the Parisians' a la Leslie Caron.

I suppose the trite moral is 'be nice and people will be nice to you'. You may be expecting them to rob you blind and spit in your coffee and they may be expecting you to demand ranch dressing on your salade and ketchup on your omelette aux fines herbes but if you have a stab at speaking French, they'll at least try to keep the sarcasm in check when saying 'ahh, you speak French, but you are English?!'

Plus as is usually the case when out and about in Europe, people were incredibly knowledgeable about all things political, asking beaucoup questions about the Presidential race, listing all the candidates and weighing their pros and cons while I just about knew that a new French President had been elected and that he was right-wing with a name with a z in it. Nice. Maybe I should read more than the 'magazine' section of the BBC website when I log on in the morning.

The Parisians we met were head-over-heels with Anna, and if we ever actually managed to squeeze her jogger in to one of those ridiculously tiny French cafes they were showering her with bread and cheese in minutes. Toddler - international credit-card you'll find, (to paraphrase Eddie Izzard).

Talking of credit cards. Another thing that made me feel like a club-wielding cave-dweller whilst in Europe was our American credit card. In the last few years the UK, and apparently France too have gone Euro-techno with their plastic and treat my BofA card like it should belong in a museum. Example:

Checker - "Hello dear. Oh and isn't she bonny? What's your name love?"

Anna - "Choclit?"

Me - "I'm sorry, it's an American card and it doesn't have a chip so you have to swipe it"

Checker - "Oh really, you'd think they'd be more advanced over there wouldn't you? I don't think the machine'll let me do that. I think I have to stick it in first, then it has to realize there's not a chip."

Checker - "Hmm, it says 'swipe card'"

Checker - "CHRISTINE! My lady here as an American card with no chip"

Christine - "Just swipe it Maureen"

Checker - "Oh yes, it'll let me do that now. Funny, you'd think the Americans would have done this first wouldn't you?"

Lance - stony-faced seething

Anna - "Choclit?"

Repeat said scene fifteen billion times every day.

I know we have debit cards and pin numbers in the States, but I'm not kidding, every card over there has a chip and a pin regardless of whether it's credit or debit. In France too. And in all restaurants the waiter brings this little hand-held credit-card jobby to your table and voila bill-paying is over. Even the shabbiest French bistro we went to had these things. I suppose it's less convenient in the US where you have to tip and it would be a tad awkward to punch in tip = $2.50 in front of Jaden/Braden/Hayden/Cayden your waiter who tried to do a good job whilst waiting for decent waves but really wasn't the dogs bollocks.

Thus in conclusion (I had to add that bit for Ms. T) I loved Paris. I loved the fact that every morning we'd walk out of our apartment, buy some pain chocolat and croissants and just walk in a random direction. Neither of us had ever been before, so we had to do the obvious touristy stuff, but instead of queuing for hours to go up the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe, LK has come up with a much better solution. Kick the thing. Have you seen the Eiffel Tower, yep, I've kicked it. Notre Dame? Gave it a good one-two. It's very satisfying and generally you don't have to pay. Lovely.

By the way the best diss of our holiday francais came from my brother, who else? We almost bought ourselves some Lacoste shirts because honestly, why not, we were on the Champs Elysees, it was sunny (briefly), and then we saw the price. The exchange rate is not kind to those of us with dollars these days. I could see Anna's preschool tuition in each carefully appliqued crocodile. Needless to say we gave it a miss, but mentioned to, lets just call him, 'Pierre' that we almost bought him a polo shirt. To which he replied 'oh, is that considered trendy in the States? It's a bit chavvy here to be honest'.

Just as well we didn't really. Anyway, for the record, here's a picture of LK kicking the Eiffel Tower:

Friday, June 01, 2007

Hard As Nails

Surgery was a success. Huge sigh of relief all round, and some serious drinking to be done...