Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 In A Nutshell (Where It Should Remain)

Alternatively titled, '2009 - Shut Up About That Damn Baby'

She can walk now, did I tell you that?

She's so advanced.

Really, she's amazing.

Much better than your kids.

I did this meme back in 2007, failed to complete it in 2008 (something about having a baby days in to the New Year....) and I'm re-attempting it this year.

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before? Parented two children. Obviously this was the BIG NEWS of the year. Lucy's arrival. Yes I'd looked after an infant before, but an infant and a 4 year old? It seems ridiculous now that I routinely look after both of them for hours, even days at a time, but that first couple of hours flying solo when LK went to a concert? Etched in my brain for ever. They both slept more or less the entire time, but I clutched that baby to my chest knowing that if she woke up and her sister woke, then the entire Universe would explode with impossibility because it just could not be done.
What else? I had something (a very little something) published in Real Simple magazine, and I started making money off this blog. Neither qualify me for giving up my day job, or even calling myself a writer, but it's a start. Perhaps.

and finally, I got myself organized with Skype and that was by far one of the best decisions of the year. Even though we were flat broke after I had Lucy I splashed out on a webcam for a Mac and my parents did likewise. It has been the greatest thing. During my maternity leave I would have hour-long natters over a cup of tea with my Mum while Lucy dozed in the background. My Dad, who is a man of few words, now participates in conversations, and they both get to see Anna and Lucy flit in and out of camera shot as they go about their business of dressing princesses or picking small objects up off the floor to chew. Now if I could just work out how to get Mun and Dad to babysit via Skype my life would be perfect....

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don't think I had any other than to deliver a baby with both of us intact. Next years will include drinking more water and trying to eat at least five fruits and veg a day. A girl can dream.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
That would be me. Welcome to the world Lucy Jane! Now almost an entire year old and 'practically a person'.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit? England. I would love to be able to go back every year. Anna said recently 'I wish I was two Anna's and one of me could live in England with Granny and Granddad and look for snails'. Well said that girl - I'd even take the snails.

We also went to Maine to visit LK's family, and I think that counts because if you live in Southern California then New England is practically a foreign country. A country where the only spices are 'ketchup' and 'more ketchup'.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
Can I say financial security three years in a row? Hell yes I can. Wishlist includes two cars that work, contraception that doesn't send me loopy, more free time to write.

7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Jan 8th - Welcome to the world Miss Lucy!
May 6th - FIRE!

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

See question 3 & 7.

9. What was your biggest failure?
I suppose it's good that one doesn't automatically spring to mind...

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I have had a migraine every day for the last 3 months. When I write it like that I'm amazed I'm stupid enough to think I can cure myself with 'drinking more water'. I think it's hormonal but in the meantime I'll just drink this glass of water...

11. What was the best thing you bought? A webcam to enable us to use Skype, plane tickets home, and I have to say, a ridiculously overpriced scarf I lusted after when pregnant. Flat broke, on maternity leave I shelled out for a beautiful handwoven scarf containing all my favourite colours. My justification was I'd just had a baby and a scarf was the only flattering piece of clothing I could wear. I've worn it at least 3 days a week ever since. It almost makes me want to stop buying crap at Old Navy and only buy one or two gorgeous pieces of clothing a year...

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? My friend Jen for volunteering to watch Lucy while I'm at work, enabling me to leave the house each morning safe in the knowledge that my daughter was in a household where people know how to cook fabulous food and a decorate with flair.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Mostly mine. Oh, and people who have faith in health insurance companies.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Mortgage and childcare. *sigh*

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Lucy sleeping through the night. Seeing my name in print.

16. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder?
Hard to say. Not that I'm unhappy, but being pregnant with Lucy and facing a 3 month break from work last year meant there was a lot to be grinning about. b) thinner or fatter? Definitely thinner. Squashier, but thinner. c) richer or poorer? I think this is the eye of the hurricane.

17. Who inspired you? My friend Fussy who got the recognition she so thoroughly deserves by getting a book deal out of this blog with her friend Alice. Also Geninne's art blog inspires me every single time I read it. Her work is just beautiful and I would spend a fortune on Etsy on her stuff, if I had a fortune.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
I wish I'd had more date time with LK. I also wish I'd looked after myself a bit better, more yoga, fewer 5th glasses of wine at dinner parties, more time by myself. - wow I wrote this in 2007 and it's still completely applicable. So now I'm just going to wish for more money with which to accomplish these impossible goals!

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Nurturing old wounds. 2010 motto - let it go! And stop getting drunk and blurting out all the stuff you're too wimpy to blog about. Oh, and stop worrying.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Home in Santa Barbara, missing my family but having a wonderful time with LK, my two girls, friends and American family.

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?
Yes. I have a crush on my smallest daughter and I want to bite her bum.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Mary Queen of Shops and Top Chef, tied for first. OK, and if I'm honest 'Teen Moms' on VH1.

23. What was the best book you read?
Oooo, I'm halfway through reading Girl With A Dragon Tattoo right now which I'm loving, so probably that book unless it has a singularly disappointing ending. Honourable mention has to go to 'Friday Night Knitting Club' not because I particularly enjoyed it (a bit blah to be honest) but I was reading it when in labour with Lucy and wrote my contraction times on the top of every page, so it's a book I shall keep in my library forever.

24. Favourite clothes shop? White Stuff!

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
The Killers. I am so very out of date.

26. What did you want and get?
Another child.

27. What did you want and not get?

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
I might have to come back to this one. I loved Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
36 and I can't remember. I must be getting old.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Babysitting on tap.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
I appear to be wearing a lot of scarves.

32. What kept you sane?

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I have to say, it was hard to muster the energy this year, but thanks to S&G for finding this tea towel for me:

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Universal healthcare. If I have to hear one more patient crying on the phone saying 'but I thought we were covered.....'.

35. Who did you miss?
My family. Every day.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
Loop the poop.

37. Most overused word or phrase of 2009: GENTLE!!

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.
Always shut the toilet lid if you have a baby that can walk otherwise say goodbye to your cell phone.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Once In A Blue Moon

I have a million* partially written blog posts about Christmas, New Year, tinsel and tantrums but stop press - I have just found out it will be a blue moon tomorrow night and that takes precedence I think you will agree.

What is a blue moon other than a croony 1950s love song? A blue moon is not, as I had been led to believe, a second full moon in a month, it's:

Most years have twelve full moons which occur approximately monthly, but in addition to those twelve full lunar cycles, each solar calendar year contains an excess of roughly eleven days compared to the lunar year. The extra days accumulate, so that every two or three years (on average about every 2.7154 years[1]), there is an extra full moon. The extra moon is called a "blue moon."

Whatever, Wikipedia, it is a rare occurrence, rather like the second shag of a month or a 13th shag in a year. Hence the phrase 'once in a blue moon' (may or may not be used to describe intercourse).

To backtrack; I had been writing my 2009 'year in a nutshell' post (bet you can't wait for that one!) and one of the questions was - what did you do this year that you've never done before? I was stumped. Other than parent two children rather haphazardly I had done nothing new. I have friends - you know who you are - who could answer 'visited Croatia! Portugal! North Africa! Bolivia!' and still others who were made partners of law firms or bungee jumped off tall bridges.

I wiped two arses.

It made me a little sad that my life was full of 'maintaining'. You think you have all this time, a year in fact, but then when you break it down in to spare time it actually appears you have approximately 4 hours to yourself, in 3 minute increments. No wonder I haven't done anything of value.

Then someone said 'blue moon!' and I jumped - someone's giving me a cosmic second chance. I intend to do something tomorrow that I've never done before in my life. I just haven't thought of it yet. Hopefully it'll be winning the lottery, but it may just be eating an oyster or tickling a marmoset. I'm giving you permission to do something out of the ordinary too, just let me know.

Marmosets beware!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Boxing Day

Finally, a new header - long overdue now that Lucy is almost one. I just couldn't live with her infant picture anymore now that she's racing around on two feet 'like a human' (per Anna).

This was going to be our Christmas card. I had it all planned out. It seemed like a guaranteed way to get two smiles out of two kids - they love the carousel and squeal with joy whenever they're on it. Best laid plans etc etc, I have to hold Lucy on the horse, so in order for me not to be in the shot I had to put Lucy on the far horse. As you can see, if we'd sent this photo it looks like we're saying 'so yeah, we had another kid'.

On that note, Merry Christmas to you and yours, and thanks for all your support and comments this year. You guys ROCK!

Friday, December 18, 2009

How Not To Rotate Tires

The tires on my Pilot needed rotating. LK said call the dealership and find out how much it would cost to have it done. I said 'the dealerships always overcharge, I'll take it out to Costco tomorrow morning when I pick up some formula and I'll get it done then'.

If LK took the car in to get the tires rotated this is how I envisioned it would go:

LK: Hi, I'd like my tires rotated please, here are the keys
Flunkey: No problem Sir! That'll be (at most, surely) $50, sign here
LK: Thanks, how long will it take?
Flunkey: We'll have it done in about 20 minutes, have a seat in our complimentary man lounge and watch the game
LK: Don't mind if I do (scratches balls).

How hard could it be?

This is what really happened:

Me: Hi I'd like my tires rotated please, here are the keys
Has All The Power: Did you buy the tires here?
Me: Nope!
HATP: Sorry, no can do, but if you buy tires then we'll rotate the others for you.
Me: Oho, because I'm a chick you're going to make me buy stuff I don't need...
HATP: Maam?
Me:Well you see it's only two years old do you think I need new tires?
HATP: When did you last have them rotated?
Me: Deer in headlights
HATP: Balanced?
Me: Eyes widen in panic
HATP: Could you show me your car Maam?
Me: Fuck
HATP: Yep, you need new tires all right, these here (points to random tire parts) are what we call 'legally bald' which can be highly dangerous (stares pointedly at my two car seats).
Me: Crap. OK, can you let me know how much that would be, and I'll call my husband and see what he thinks.
LK: "Hi, you've reached LK and I'm not going to answer, so don't even try texting 'I need to by 2 tires? help?' You're on your own. Don't screw up."
HATP: That'll be a staggeringly large amount of money. But we'll rotate your other two tires for 'free'.
Me: OK, two new tires please. *sigh*
HATP: Do you have tire sensors?
Me: Is this a trap?
HATP: Because if you do, you'll need new 'graphite/laudanum/diamond' sensors on each tire or your tire sensor won't work.
Me: Whatever, just buy me a drink next time you financially rape me.
HATP: Erm, Maam, there seems to be a problem
Me: (defeated) for the love of God, what now, do I need new tire 'sleeves', 'grommet casings'??
HATP: Your Costco card's coming up for renewal
Me: Of course it is.
HATP: Hmm, it looks like it's a business card, so you can either renew for the entire office where LK works for $gasp, or sign up for your own membership.
Me: My life wasn't supposed to be like this you know.
HATP: Sorry? Anyway, your grand total is eleventy billion dollars. It'll be ready in about 90 minutes. Good luck with those screaming children you have - that little guy sounds mad!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Seek And You Shall Find

My Christmas shopping so far consists of:

  • A ridiculous splurge on so-cheap-it'd-be-a-crime-not-to-buy-them presents for Anna at Costco.
  • Lots of internet shopping where I fill my cart up with an entire family full of presents and then fail to complete the purchase at the last possible second due to financial guilt.
  • An insane rush around World Market with a $10 off any purchase of $30 coupon (I spent $87 dollars, which wasn't quite how I'd planned it, damn you coupons). This World Market binge basically means that if you know me in real life then you will be getting a Chocolate Orange for Christmas, because I have always loved them and they were made until 2005 in York, but are now made in Slovakia which is a bit crap really, yet I still bought fifteen. Approximately. Damn you Slovak sweat-shops.
That's it. I have approximately eight presents for Anna (and I am not extravagant, just sleep-deprived and forgetful) and one (1) present for Lucy - even though it'll be her first birthday only two weeks after Christmas. One day she will read this and hate me, but honestly, her favourite thing right now is a bath and that is cheap, cheerful and hygienic if a little hard to wrap. She is too little to count presents, wears all of Anna's old clothes, plays with all of Anna's old toys, and quite frankly will have more fun with the wrapping paper, blah blah blah.

Anna on the other hand is getting a little more sophisticated when it comes to Christmas. Remember last year's heart-wrenchingly cute Christmas list? Well, this year she's got a bona fide list involving My Little Ponies, Barbies and various other pink plastic rubbish. In my mad dash round Costco I bought a violently pink barbie complete with bejeweled pink horse (shoot me) and some much more civilized Playmobil horse and stable play thing. Anna has pretty much never played with her Playmobil plane and airport, but I love Playmobil and will keep pushing it on her especially if it's almost 50% off.

Now, I managed my sprint around Costco child free (gasp). I patted myself on the back for securing two good, solid, cheap presents. Then it occurred to me that I had no idea where I was going to hide them. I thought about sticking them in the attic but couldn't remember where LK kept the step ladder. I thought about Marge Simpson hiding things in the salad crisper - the one place Homer would never look. Where was the one place Anna would never look? My closet under some clothes? Under the bed? Well apparently I was wrong on that score because she found the painfully pink princess and was gazing longingly at it when I walked in to the bedroom the other evening.

"Look what I found Momma!" she gasped, clearly thinking that if you just wish hard enough these things appear in the strangest of places.

I explained that it was for Christmas, that she would be getting it, just not right now and bizarrely, she was fine with that. A little too fine, which makes me think I should check my crap-old-clothes bottom drawer and make sure it's still re-hidden there.

I can't hide everything in my bottom drawer though, and thanks to some careless internet shopping at 3am recently there is more stuff on the way.

Where do you hide your Christmas presents for the kids? The attic? The trunk of the car? Knicker drawer? Salad crisper? Under the tree (brave, trusting souls). Help is needed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Nut Crack-Away, Nut Crack-Away, Nut Crack-Away!!

In England at Christmas I would have been taking Anna to the pantomime.

Oh no you wouldn't!

I love pantos, and I think Anna is on the cusp of really enjoying something like that. The audience participation, the cat-calling and throwing of sweets. She's still not very good with loud noises though - in fact at her school summer production she stood on the stage with her hands over her ears, declared 'it's too loud Mumma!' and exited stage left.

The Nutcracker is far more her speed, not least because she is a truly devoted ballerina and never misses an opportunity to launch in to an arabesque or a jeté. This can be alarming to fellow shoppers at the supermarket as very often it comes without warning.

I think it's interesting that the UK has the Christmas theatre tradition of more low-brow, vaudeville pantomime, while the US is all about the more high-brow Nutcracker. Or maybe I'm getting this wrong and posh kids in England go to the ballet at Christmas? I wouldn't know. It was panto or nothing for me. Growing up in the wilds of North Yorkshire we would always have a pantomime based on a fairy tale every Christmas but we very, very rarely had anyone famous in it. Even actors whose greatest achievement involves a walk-on part in Corrie draw the line at Harrogate theatre it seems.

Santa Barbara though, Lordy Lordy. Not only is it a small town with grand artistic ideas, but it also had two Nutcrackers going on this afternoon, across the street from each other, both starting at identical times. A bit of a minefield if you're meeting up with several other tiny ballerinas from Saturday morning dance class. The street was awash with red taffeta and black patent-leather mary-janes. Anna was so excited, I had to grab her hand to stop her pirouetting in to traffic. LK was gratefully at home watching golf while Lucy napped, perhaps for the first time realizing that being the father of two daughters has its advantages. Anna and I were having 'girl time' as Anna likes to put it.

I wasn't too worried about her sticking out the entire performance, we've been taking her to the movies off and on for about a year now. She will sit still for a couple of hours and is working on sotto voce comments, although this afternoon she did let the surrounding audience know that the ballerina doll in the first act had 'big boobies like you Mumma before they went soggy'. Nice. Plus she was being bribed with an ice-cream at the end.

The first twenty minutes were unbelievable. The dancers twirled in their 'deep dresses' (sighed Anna), I think she was genuinely overwhelmed by the immediacy of having real, live, ballerinas performing in front of her. She sat perfectly still, hands clasped, in obvious rapture. Then the toy soldiers fired a real cannon and I spent the next ten minutes trying to pry her hands off her ears. Still, with the cunning use of Cadbury's giant chocolate buttons meted out over the next hour we made it through the first act.

"Ice-cream" yelled Anna. The disappointment palpable when I broke it to her that this was just the interval. The second half was a lot of wriggling, a lot of hissed 'I want to sit on your lap Mumma', 'when is this over' and 'I want an ice-cream'. Fortunately this was a child-heavy audience so she was not in the minority. There was one bloke a few rows ahead of us who seemed to take every cough, comment or movement personally, but honestly, he was going to a matinee of the Nutcracker, was he expecting a child-free zone?

It's not a little sad that Anna's going to grow up without pantomime. Unless we make it over to England for a Christmas one of these years. I took LK about ten years ago and he had that indulgent smile he has for all things quintessentially English, the smile that says 'you're all completely bonkers'. Instead I can see a lot of Nutcrackers in my future. I'd better bulk buy the Cadbury's buttons.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Bad Mother, Bad! Sit!

If you are having only half of the truly shitty week that I am (and it's still only Wednesday people), then you will need a little light relief, and really, what can be better than reading about other people's misfortunes. A little schadenfreude never goes amiss in the blogging world.

And let me just say that this latest fuck-up comes hard on the heels of my recent call from the Public Health Department about Lucy's salmonella outbreak.........

Last week Anna came home from school with a full lunchbox. Completely untouched. Now she is a preschooler and has been known to eschew the odd vegetable, but generally she's a pretty unfussy eater. As I opened her lunchbox I noticed that not only were the cherry tomatoes, the mini carrots and the peaches untouched, but so was the sushi and the boxed apple drink. It was the Marie Celeste of lunches.

Now, Anna not eating sushi does. not. compute. She LOVES sushi, second only to those complete mini octopi you sometimes get in calamari. I know, I have somehow managed to raise a daughter who will devour seaweed and tentacles with relish, but will turn her nose up at mac and cheese. I blame her fancy preschools. The one she currently goes to will allow the odd cookie, and even *shock horror* a packaged drink or yogurt - her old school had to have everything eco-friendly, a no-trash lunch, no wrappings, no packaging, no sugar. It made me want to send her with one of those untouched by anything healthy 'lunchable' things just to watch her teachers' heads spin.

Back to Anna - I asked her what the problem was and she said she didn't like today's lunch it looked 'yucky' so she said she ate a few grapes and gave the rest to unfortunate unnamed child x who Anna said 'likes to eat healthy'. I'm thinking - huh! I am not feeding other people's children thankyou very much, I'm sending PB&Js from here on in.

And then it hit me.

I had forgotten Anna's princess lunchbox at school the previous Thursday. She only goes to school Tuesday through Thursday. I had again forgotten to pick up the old lunchbox when I'd dropped Anna off at school that morning.

Anna hadn't eaten her carefully prepared lunch because she'd gone straight for her old lunchbox, the one with the FIVE DAY OLD LEFTOVER FOOD in it.

Amazingly no-one got sick.

Oh, and Lucy found a peanut on the kitchen floor yesterday, so apparently I don't have to worry about peanut allergies either.

I swear, if these two make it into adulthood they will have digestive systems OF STEEL.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Little Angels

Here's a selection of photos that will not be gracing this year's Christmas card....

Do you know where he has his hand??!

This one speaks for itself.

When are we going to be done......

I can't take this anymore..

Flames are beginning to shoot out of Lucy's head.....

The Christmas photo shoot. Such a delightful tradition.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Turkey Talk Continued

4am on black Friday, and my first thought as I was kicked in the gut by my 10 month old was, surely food poisoning would have hit by now? In which case, oh my God, maybe I managed not to kill everyone with my turkey. Just maybe I pulled it off......

I can't tell you how fantastic all your turkey tips were. I can't believe chole found the exact Bon Appetit article I'd been searching so fruitlessly for - thankyou! Wading through all the suggestions of roasting the bird at a high temperature early vs browning at the end, vs cooking upside down right from the start vs flipping the bird as it rests at the end, well, to quote my Aunty, I was 'in a tailspin of indecision'. So I'll tell you what swayed me. I'll admit I was very tempted to take Fluffy's advice and just buy a pre-cooked bird, but in the end I was too heavily invested in the challenge. I wasn't going to take a beating from the only land animal with a wattle more impressive than mine. I was going to cook the hell out of a turkey!! Round three!

In the end I abandoned my old method, tempted by a promise left in my comments:


Now that's a culinary phrase that appeals.

I invested in a Reynolds cooking bag, and as had been promised by Carrie and Anonymous (love her) the bird was simple, juicy, flavourful and edible.

Lord have mercy.

Now I'm not entirely sure why cooking a turkey in a condom works wonders, or even how food-safe it is but by jove that was one tasty bird. I'm sure the polyethylene or similar inorganic compound added a certain je ne sais quoi that my earlier herb rub was unable to reproduce -, it even browned nicely in there. Well, it looked lovely and brown until I cut in to the bag, dislodging the tablespoon of flour I'd put in there to keep the bag from popping and watched it cascade whitely all over the breast. My lovely browned bird was suddenly covered with mildew. Apparently there's foolproof, and then there's me. Anyway, I dusted off the flour and my Dad set to carving. I know I should have taken a photo, but by the time I remembered the carcass had been picked clean and was carried off by Beth to make soup. Perhaps I should suggest to her she makes the soup in a bag? Hmm, a whole new world of cookery just opened up...

Here's a photo I did remember to take:

My two little turkeys.

Oh, and before I forget, I also bought an oven thermometer, wisely suggested by Julie. And wouldn't you know it, I discovered that yes, my oven thermostat must be way off base because the 'oven ready' light comes on a good 100º before the required temperature is actually reached. I'm starting to think that all those fucked up cupcakes, birthday cakes, appetizers, and well, quite frankly food may not have been entirely my fault. I'm not quite ready to quit the dizzying heights of medical office managership for culinary school, but I am confident the meals round here may improve as a result.

I would also like to say a huge thanks to Chilly for supplying the bird, to my Mum and Dad for peeling a hundred thousand potatoes, cleaning the bathrooms (really, above and beyond), watching the girls, and to LK for doing a sterling job of keeping everyone the hell out of the kitchen so I could frenzy-cook in peace.

Now I'm off to make a cup of tea. In a plastic bag.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Let's Talk Turkey

I need advice. I'm hosting Thanksgiving in a week and I've got about twelve guests coming, two of whom are my parents and it'll be their first Thanksgiving dinner. Believe it or not I'm actually very excited at the prospect, I love Thanksgiving, it's one of my favourite American holidays. Any holiday based entirely around a large meal is alright by me. The problem is Thanksgiving doesn't love me back. Or more specifically, turkeys.

I've hosted Thanksgiving before, and I've cooked turkeys before. I had a dynamite Alton Brown turkey recipe from Bon Appetit magazine that has produced a very tasty turkey twice. I've now lost the recipe and can't seem to find it on the old interweb. I wasn't too phased, after all I've done it before, how hard could it be?

I decided to hedge my bets and cook a practice turkey. It went badly. I cooked another. Even worse. LK has admitted he 'doesn't know if he has another practice turkey in him', so the next turkey I cook will be on Thanksgiving. I'm hoping for third time's the charm, but luck favours the prepared, so here's what I did wrong, and if you have any advice I'm all ears. Specifically, where do you stick the thermometer and at what temperature do you pull the bird out?

Turkey A

Liberally spread with herbed butter both under the skin and above the breast. Blasted with heat for the first 20 minutes, then cooked upside down until the thigh thermometer read 175º.

Problems: The turkey turned out both rubbery/tough yet moist. WTF? As LK said "wow, you sure cooked the hell out of that turkey". Oh, and we also had the minor problem of me cooking the bird with the giblets still inside. In my defence I had taken out the neck thing, done a thorough cavity search (not that thorough it turns out) and concluded like a moron that this particular bird was giblet free. I discovered it wasn't when LK took a scalpel to the bird and produced a plastic bag full of entrails. Yum! I have a feeling that cooked plastic aside, this may have been a good cooking method except that it was a stringy old bird and that's why it was both tough and moist? Am I kidding myself?

Turkey B

After further googling I decided to stick the thermometer in the breast this time and not flip the bird. I even (oh and how stupid was this in hindsight) invited my in-laws over for some practice turkey. I confidently lubed the bird, removed all plastic (genius! this was going to be good!) roasted for 20 minutes, lowered the temperature then removed from the oven when the breast temp said 161º. Of course, this bird's thighs proved to be as red and raw as a North Yorkshire schoolchild forced to do a cross country run in sideways sleet. Now I love my in-laws, and that is why they are still alive. I do not deal well with frustration. *understatement* I was PISSED OFF and my air hostess smile was cracking under the pressure. Of course everyone was lovely, terrified but lovely. Oh my roast potatoes were simply marvelous! The carrots, a revelation! Such a shame we can't stay until the turkey claws its way back to room temperature. So sad to hear about Lucy having salmonella! Must dash!

OK, they weren't that cruel, they manfully ate their way through all the side dishes and then waited a further hour til the turkey re-emerged from the oven. They are family after all, and being family means you have to suffer through your daughter in laws 'cooking'.

Please don't let me kill my guests. In this horrid economy I need all the friends I can get. All I'm asking is for a recipe for the perfect turkey. How hard can it be?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Paradise Lost

This is where I live. It's pretty gorgeous I think you'll admit - particularly if you're knee deep in North American snow or leaf mulch right now. White sandy beaches, palm trees, tropical flowers, hummingbirds, year-round sunshine and margaritas. What's not to love?

Yesterday a man walked in to my office and noticed my Yorkshire calendar on the wall. A lovely snapshot of Staithes (try finding a Yorkshire calendar without this picture quite frankly).

"Is that where you're from then?" he asked.
"Yes, but I've been here about 15 years"
"How'd you end up here?"
"My husband's from Santa Barbara"
"And what do you think of it?"
"Well, I always say he'd have had to have done a lot more talking to get me to move to Gary, Indiana".

Which is what I always say, even though I've never been to Gary, Indiana and quite frankly after all these years I feel more than a little guilty about using their name in vain like that. It's my way of deflecting the inevitable question, the inevitable 'aren't we lucky to live here?' question.

Which is why what happened next almost made me fall of my chair.

"But what do you really think of the place" he pushed, "I mean, I've lived here all my life and I'm always curious".

At this point I started looking around for the thought police. Never one to start a fight with a patient at work (well, OK, that's a lie), I said diplomatically "oh, it's a beautiful place to live". You could just hear the "aren't we lucky to live here" tag line hanging in the air.

"Really? I've come to think that this is probably one of the worst places in the country for any young couple, particularly if they have children. I'm telling my girls to get the hell out of here".


He went on to say that he'd been a loan officer for over thirty years and that no middle income family could survive the place and stay married. "The pressure's too intense" he said. "You end up mortgage poor, bickering about money all the time, you want kids but you can't afford them, or you have kids but you can't afford to spend any time with them you're working so damn hard, and then the worst case scenario is if one spouse was born here because they'll do anything to hang on here, and the other spouse will be desperate to leave and can't understand why they're making their lives so miserable staying in Santa Barbara. Then it ends up heading towards divorce, except where does that leave you? Two single parents who can't stay in the same town to be with their kids because it costs too much".

I swear to God I almost burst in to tears. Except I didn't, because I was at work, but my stiff upper lip may have trembled a little.

You may be thinking - what the hell was he doing? How about a little light conversation instead of this descent in to inevitable divorce. Not exactly a barrel of laughs mate, but he was actually a really nice bloke chatting about his daughters and their future and reading my chuffing mind.

It's what I think every day. I do love this town and we make the most of living here. My Mum and Dad are flying out in a couple of days and I bet right now they're packing their swimming cozzies and their sun tan lotion thinking 'I can't wait to get to Santa Barbara, seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness my arse, give me a beer by the pool any day'. To hear someone from SB, a native no less, say so succinctly what I've concluded after fifteen years of living here was gobsmacking. Santa Barbarans never criticize their town. It was literally like he was reading my mind, or my blog (far more likely that he was reading my mind....).

I've become so used to this 'aren't we lucky to live here' mentality that I really have started to doubt myself. It's as if everyone is under a collective delusion that this is a perfect town. A Stepford town. I questioned, was I digging in my heels and criticizing Santa Barbara because I hadn't fully committed to living here? Did I really only have a problem with this place because I hadn't let go of England? I have one friend from Boston who wholeheartedly agrees with me, but we both like cloudy days and a bit of drizzle, so I'd ended up concluding we were both bonkers.

It was so unbelievably refreshing and validating to hear someone come to the same conclusions.. This is a great town, but it's toxic. I half thought his comments were a trap, I half believed I would find my in-laws crouched behind a filing cabinet waiting for me to agree with him so they could leap out and yell "aha! we knew you were planning on stealing our son from us." I also thought, hang on a minute, why's he saying all this to me, why does he know it'll resonate? Do I have the worry-etched face of the negatively amortized? Has he been doing some research - is he going to spring a loan proposal on me? That's how rare it is to hear anyone, anyone say anything critical about this town.

I know that these days people are struggling to live everywhere, but to deliberately set yourself up to fail in a town that's too expensive to live in has always seemed insane to me. I've always felt like saying, it's not that great. Yes it's beautiful, the climate is amazing, and we can swim in the Pacific whenever we want, but is it worth it? Is it worth the sacrifice? I've always felt a little alone in questioning this town's halo. I'm not trying to say we'll be leaving any day now, I do honestly enjoy a lot about this place, I'm just trying to put in words how nice it felt to feel understood by a perfect stranger, to not have to initiate the conversation, to be on the receiving end of someone else's conclusions that echoed mine and made me feel a little less alone and a little less insane.

Somehow Santa Barbara seems a little more beautiful, a little more livable and human now that somebody else has seen its flaws.

Saturday, November 07, 2009



Well that was certainly interesting. It appears the answer was e) none of the above. Lucy had salmonella. There's nothing like getting a phonecall from the Public Health Department to make you feel like parent of the year. They had a huge list of questions, including 'was she born in this country'. Perhaps they suspect that only Americans use chlorox to wipe down their surfaces instead of giving the kitchen counters a good rub-down with an uncooked chicken like the British do. I found the questions about her diet rather ironic, because she only technically eats formula and organic babyfood, but she does put everything else within reach in her mouth too; soil, rocks, her sisters shoes, dogs noses. I have always been of the mindset that 'it takes a lot of dirt before you die', but apparently not, it just takes a quick nibble of a contaminated item, whatever that was.

The good news is that Lucy is now completely fine. Her second round of stool samples (boy was that fun) were given the all clear and nobody else in the K household is sick. This makes me think it's not lax housekeeping on my part, rather lax parenting. I swear to God we went to a party down in Ventura two weeks ago, and such is my life right now, I was assembling hors d'oeuvres in the front seat of the car waiting for my husband to finish work, while both Anna and Lucy played in the carpark. I was spearing a tomato/basil leaf/mozzarella ball and watching Lucy try to teeth on a large pebble when I thought 'God I would never have let Anna do that as a baby, but I've either stopped caring or stopped worrying'. Incidentally, if you read this blog and went to the party, I'm a lot more careful in my front-seat food prep then I am with my carpark parenting.

While these last few posts may seem like I'm up to my ears in catastrophes, I actually feel very lucky. Yes, LK and the girls were in a freeway crash - but no-one was hurt, and yes Lucy was very sick there for a while, but her 9 month old constitution was able to fight the bug. I even lost my wallet in the parking lot at Costco last week and some kind soul handed it in - my six dollars of hard cash still intact.

I will be trusting my judgment in the future regarding when to take my daughters in to the doctors. We made two phonecalls to Lucy's doctor's office regarding her bloody diarrhea. The on-call doctor told us to push fluids, and the nurse a couple of days later tried to convince us that it very rarely is blood that parents notice in a diaper, usually red pepper or tomato skin. Hearing that I was thinking - listen lady, I know my daughter goes around licking the ground you walk on, but I think I would know if she'd suddenly switched to a Mediterrannean diet....When we finally took Lucy in to see the Nurse Practitioner five days after Lucy's diarrhea started she took one look at her diaper and said 'oh yes, that's blood, you should always bring them in the minute you see any bloody stool'. Thanks for that. I could have kicked myself. It's amazing how a brief phonecall with a doctor can take precedence over your concerns that your daughter is a) the colour of wallpaper paste b) has suddenly started taking 6 hour naps and c) is shooting blood out of her arse.

To all those coming to Thanksgiving dinner in three weeks; I will be washing my hands thoroughly. And then drying them on that 3 week old tea towel.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Plague Upon Your Home

Wow, nothing puts the idea of a third child on hold like the entire family falling ill. We've had runny noses, sore throats, diarrhea, diarrhea with blood, more blood than diarrhea and teething. All of which has meant that neither Anna nor Lucy has been capable of sleeping by themselves for more than an hour at a time in the last few days. I just looked at myself in the mirror and got a mug shot in return. A meth addict mug shot. I look done in.

I'm finally hopeful we're on the mend. Lucy took the brunt, poor thing. She started off with teething - her first top tooth, which meant two days of non stop unexplained mithering. I love her dearly, but the sound of an unhappy baby for days on end can bring you to your knees. It's a cruel fact that when they need you the most, when they're in pain and uncomfortable they are completely useless at communicating their needs. You feel like yelling what? WHAT?, when the Tylenol, the soothing, the back rubs, the bath, everything fails. 48 hours later you feel completely rotten as that tooth appears and their teary face screams "see, see what I was dealing with". Then as if to really rub it in she began sneezing, and shooting out foamy green poop. I really hope you're not eating dinner whilst reading this. Our 'experience' as parents allowed us to take the poop shoot in our stride. That sentence doesn't read right does it? Anyway, we were calm, we increased her fluids, checked her temperature, slapped the butt lotion on and took her to the beach; all the usual things.

All of sudden, what seemed like a run of the mill case of diarrhea (I'll have you know that I've written that word so often lately that for the first time in my life I can write it without having to spell check it first,...) transformed into blood-streaked poop foam and then mostly blood, every ten minutes. Things happen fast with small children, and you don't want to overreact but also you don't want to sleep on the job. We didn't know what to do. We were making dinner, it was cocktail hour.

I decided that unexplained rectal bleeding - try googling that and concluding your child will live - merited an after-hours doctor phone call. He basically said 'there's a lot of it about, slap some cream on her butt and keep her hydrated'. I felt such a fool. To make matters worse, Lucy was fine in between bouts of agonizing foam pooping and I was still reeling from getting 6 out of 10 on this 'when should you take your baby to the doctor quiz'. We concluded she was either:

a) suffering from an irritated bowel/rectum due to fighting a virus
b) had a urinary tract infection
c) had a bowel obstruction and was going to explode in a matter of minutes
d) all of the above

I think it was a). She seems brighter this afternoon. Poop-watch '09 shows a dwindling of foam and less BRIGHT! RED! BLOOD! Plus she's happily chewing on a barbie. This parenting lark is hard work.

I only want to hear comments from people who scored worse than me on the baby to the doctor quiz. Unless you're my childminder of course.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's Just Rain People

I wanted to add to yesterday's alarmist post, it's just rain people, calm down. Me included. The UK grinds to a halt when it snows and Santa Barbara twitters about the first big Pacific storm of the year as if it's an ice storm, or a hurricane, or a Nor'Easter instead of a couple of days of heavy rain. We have a climate here. We don't have 'weather'. It's a phenomenon and people are completely thrown by it. It was the headline news. Patients canceled appointments, children were sent home with notes from school, people squelched around town in sodden Uggs searching for umbrellas.

Then LK phoned with the words 'everyone's OK but....'. You see, it's not just rain. It's the first big rain of the year, leaching months of oil to the surface of the roads. People don't have the benefit of wet traction tires or the experience of driving in the wet. LK had been south bound on the freeway with both girls in the back of the car when the woman in front of him braked too suddenly, hydroplaned, swerved out of control and starting spinning, pirouetting towards him in terrifying slow motion. Fortunately he is the most level-headed driver I have ever met. Thank God more like. He didn't oversteer and cause our car to slide out or even worse, flip. He gently moved over to the other lane and consequently the out of control car only clipped the back of ours on it's way in to the centre divider. Everyone was fine. Everyone was insured.

We got so lucky. My whole life was in that car. I was at home revelling in the peace and quiet of an empty house. Ironically. When they finally returned and I'd hugged everyone to within an inch of their lives, Anna looked at me with serious four-year old eyes and said 'Dada said FUCK!'.

I'll bet he did.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Here Comes The Rain Again

I didn't make it to every lecture at College. For some reason it was much harder to get up for a 12 noon lecture than a 9am one. I know, it was a tough few years.

My fellow geographers and I would trade notes on any missed lectures, so our studies wouldn't suffer you understand. I recall one frigid East Anglian morning as I dozed at my desk, my toaster at my feet was my only source of heat. In blasts S. brandishing the most outlandish lecture notes I'd ever seen, and trust me, we'd had our fair share of early agricultural maize dispersal maps and post-modern polemics. Apparently S. had sat through an hour about a global climatological phenomenon called an El Nino in which 5O THOUSAND SEABIRDS DIED!! SUN SPOTS?! Her emphasis. As I re-typed the notes in to my trusty Marks and Spencer word processor and pressed save I thought ­thank God I stayed in bed and nursed my hangover on that one. Didn't miss anything there. Goodbye El Nino, won't be seeing you again.

Great decision that. On a par with me deciding not to learn Spanish in the sixth form because 'I couldn't see myself visiting Spain that much in the future'. I'm a right little clairvoyant.

It's just starting to rain as I write this. The beginning of my second El Nino in California. The first was in 1998 when we were first married. It rained so much a mudslide tore through my husband's place of work. He works outside so when it rains he doesn't work. We were newly married though and surviving on love and freeze-dried noodles. We didn't care. Now we have two hungry mouths to feed, two even hungrier mortgages and we have relocated to the bottom of a hill denuded of all vegetation by recent wildfires. This is going to be great.

El Ninos are predictably unpredictable. They happen in cycles of 2-7 years, much like my kitchen floor cleaning. A lot of research is being done in to their causes. SUN SPOTS! Scream S's notes. One sign here in Southern California is warm ocean water. If you've ever watched Baywatch and lived in So Cal you will know that every time David Hasselhof threw himself in to the surf they had to bleep him saying FUCK ME THAT'S COLD. Pamela probably had fake boobs to provide some extra insulation. Our water comes direct from Alaska. Do not pass go. Do not pick up any heat. None. That's why we use wetsuits in August and laugh at the perplexed looks on the faces of the MidWestern tourists. Right now the water is 68º, almost 10º higher than usual. Everyone
is talking about this being the bouncing 12lb newborn El Nino with no epidural.

Now I really miss rain. I miss cloudy days and cuddling up on the sofa watching a good movie. It's so hard to do that here with gorgeous blue skies chastising your idleness. Santa Barbara doesn't do drizzle. The Pacific storms slam in to our mountains and the rain pours in torrents back to the ocean, turning streets in to rivers and burn areas in to mudslides. It's primeval, humbling, and not a little scary when you're responsible for the roof over your head and the heads of several tenants.

A massive storm system is poised off the coast right now, the light rain of five minutes ago has turned in to a downpour. LK is probably looking in to getting expanded cable. I'm going to put the worrying on hold and plan on a luxurious soak in the tub with a glass of whiskey while I listen to the rain cascading down tonight.

First let me turn off the sprinklers....

Friday, October 02, 2009

What Not To Not Wear

On Mondays LK watches both girls. It's his favourite day of the week, however exhausting. Every Monday at noon he picks me up from work and we all go for a quick lunch somewhere. He gets a little help with the kids and I get to flee the Monday madness at work.

Last Monday we headed to our favourite cheap and cheerful café. For once, I was pleasantly surprised by what Anna was wearing. What is it with men dressing their kids? Sometimes the outfits sported by my daughters are so outlandish, so bizarre that it looks like a thrift store has vomited on them. A colour-blind thrift store. It's occurred to me that he may be doing it to wind me up. "That's a pyjama top" I'll hiss, or "For God's sake, those aren't leggings, those are tights, and why is she wearing a swim suit over them?!" Anna will take it one step further so sometimes there will be fairy wings or plastic princess high heels involved too.

Last Monday Anna was wearing a simple flowery dress with a coordinating t-shirt underneath. Her hair looked like she'd been electrocuted but on the whole she was presentable. As she stood by our table, twirling away 'practicing' her ballet with violent arabesques and pirouettes I gave myself a little bit of a talking to. Maybe I was being too 'matchy-matchy' anyway, requiring a coordinating outfit and neatly plaited hair. What did it really matter, she was four for God's sake. As long as she thought she was beautiful (twirl), as long as she was comfortable (grand jeté) as long as she was wearing knickers.......

.....which of course she wasn't.

I've never seen LK move so fast.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Results Are In...And..

OK, you were right, I wasn't really waiting to add up the 'go for it' messages vs the 'get your tubes tied' comments in order to make our decision. 4 replies say yes, two say no, so get your kit off LK, the internet has spoken.

I do want to say a huge thankyou to everyone for the wonderful and heartfelt input though. I loved everything you had to say. It all made complete sense. Yes, babies bring their own bread - I love that proverb too, but so far they do not appear to be bringing their own plane tickets, which is an issue for us!

I do think my hormones are playing a large part in this incessant broodiness. That coupled with the sadness with which I view Lucy desperate to leave her babyhood. Perhaps when she gets a little older, and stops being so stinking cute I will be able to wean myself from the idea.

Nothing is as effective as a whining toddler when it comes to contraception after all. Besides as LK pointed out, a tad sarcastically, in order to have a third child we would actually have to do the hibbity-dibbity, and had I really thought this through?

Every silver lining has a cloud....

There is also a mad scientist part of me that just wants to see what my future kids would be like. Anna has my wariness, my bookishness and Lance's, well, hair, whereas Lucy has Lance's athleticism, his daredevil nature, and well, my lady parts. That's it. When you look at the Duggars you see every combination of the two parents, every personality trait, every physiological nuance. Plus I was thinking last night, as you do, that with 18 kids, statistically shouldn't at least one of them be gay, and how on earth's that going to work? I think rather than having 19 kids, it would be easier to just use this website.

I've told myself that we'll leave it for a year to mull over. No rash moves here! I think we both realize that adding a third would likely mean moving away from SB, which would likely mean a change in countries, which would require an economic miracle for us to be able to get out of our money pit. Nothing makes this debate seem minor compared to the discussion of whether to continue living in Santa Barbara or move back to the UK.

In the meantime I'm buying lottery tickets.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Three Is The New Two

We had a garage sale over the weekend and made gajillions of dollars, helped mostly by my inability to speak Spanish.

NESP (Non English Speaking Person): "How much?" pointing at tiny refrigerator dumped by our former tenants.
WASP (Me): Hmm, lets see, it's the end of the morning and I can't be arsed to lift it back in to my car. "Fifteen dollars."
NESP: "Nah. Too much."
WASP: Dude. Less than $15 for a 1 year old fridge. Are you high?
NESP: Returning two minutes later. "Will you take forty dollars."
WASP: "Hmm, OK." OMG she thought I said fifty!!! Stop grinning like an idiot! Stop it! Keep a straight face and take the money, take the money!

Apart from random household electronics, we were mainly selling baby paraphernalia. I can't tell you how many people looked at Lucy and said "I'll give you $10." Oh you slay me.

Emotionally, getting rid of all that infant clothing was very hard to do. I'd put aside some of Anna and Lucy's most special clothes. There are those pieces you just can't part with; first outfit home from the hospital, first party dress, first outfit worn whilst eating solid foods, first outfit worn in a stroller in a light drizzle (OK, I found it hard to let go). Still, we had a lot left over, and I knew by selling them for a $1 each that the clothes would be going to a good home.

I also sold some 'sundry baby crap' items, bouncy chairs, a swing, steam sterilizer, boppy etc. The stuff that makes your living room look like a yard sale in those first few months post-birth. I did not sell my breast pump. You want to know why? Because everything else can be re-bought on Craigslist for cheap. After all, we bought our co-sleeper online for $50 and sold it 6 months later for $50. My breast pump was a shed lot of money and I don't want to have to buy another brand new one, and the idea of a second hand mammary device is a big no. But why would I need to use it again?

Because I'm not certain I'm settled at having just two children, and LK is even less sure.

Pause for the enormity of that statement to sink in.

That's right - you think I blog sporadically now. It wouldn't get any better I assure you.,

When you ask my friends with two children whether they're done, or whether they're still open to negotiation on the subject of more kids they give you a good hard stare, tell you to sit down and then put a cold compress on your forehead. Either that or they'll tell you they took a pair of scissors to their husband and performed a home-vasectomy the minute they got home from the hospital.

They are done.

Quite honestly I can't work out why I don't feel the same way, I never really saw myself as a particularly devoted mother. Until a few years ago I honestly thought I was considering children more out of a sense of conventional obligation rather than anything else. It certainly explained the panic and emotional turmoil I went through when I first found out I was pregnant.

Either the idea has grown on me or I'm too worn down by fatigue and diapers to remember how joyous my old life was.

Do I want to be pregnant again? No! Do I want to go through labour again? Ha! Stupid question. Was I not lucky enough getting two healthy babies after all that nearly went wrong?

The desire to have another child is irrational. When you get right down to it (and I am talking finances here) it's downright irresponsible. Is it my hormones? Is it my subconscious need for a son, for completion? Am I a sucker for punishment? Remember, Lucy was very briefly a twin. Two could become four. Hell, a primary school friend of mine tried for a third and then had triplets.

We have been canvassing our friends with families of more than two. Was it a good idea? Do they regret it? We have had some remarkably candid replies. Some people have told us flat out, don't do it. They love their kids but lost too much of their lives, became too worried about money, about college, felt that their other kids lost out. Other friends have said it's just more people to love (LK's philosophy).

I am asking for your comments - please feel free to be anonymous. Do you wish you'd had more children? When it comes down to brass tacks do you regret that last little bundle of joy? (Mum - my brother may be reading this.......). Did you yearn for another child but when the dust and hormones settled are you now glad you stayed with the number of kids you had?

I do realize that we struggled good and proper to even get pregnant with Lucy, so this may be entirely moot, but my hormones and my rational mind are at war and I need some perspective.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Well That Was Unexpected

Anna's new phrase, uttered a hundred times a day is "well, that was unexpected". Even when it clearly wasn't - case in point Lucy grabbing Anna's bowl of 'Gorilla Munch' cereal and dumping it on the floor. I mutter 'oh bloody hell' trying to blame Anna, but seriously, I put a 4 year old in charge of a 8 month old, who really needs reprimanding? Anna will look cheerfully at the puddle of milk rapidly soaking in the carpet and repeat "well, that was unexpected". Lucy, ecstatically slapping her milky hands on the table in agreement.

You would think that if Anna were going to pick up a phrase from our house to parrot it would be "oh for the love of God, someone get a cloth".

I know that unexpected things are not always a disappointment. I once received a Tiffany diamond necklace in the pocket of a dressing gown after all. My trouble is when I mentally expect something new to be fabulous and then face crushing disappointment.

Well, may be not crushing disappointment, most of the things on the list are food items after all, but you'll get my point.

I grew up watching Paddington Bear and reading Narnia books. I longed for marmalade sandwiches and turkish delight.

Bleurgh. Disaster. Why did Paddington Bear hide marmalade sandwiches under his hat? Cheese and pickle - now there's a snack to squirrel away. As for the White Witch giving Edmund turkish delight - I had visions of the most delicious confection known to man. I've developed a taste for it now, but that first bite of rose-scented gelatinous goop as a child was a devastating blow.

There were equal disappointments when moving to the States and faced with an entirely new culinary world. Twinkies? I think you have to grow up with them to appreciate these bizarre anemic sponge cakes - and I'm not just knocking American junk food, believe me, I could live off Jalapeno Cheetos and I don't think there's a natural ingredient in them.

Root beer? Can you imagine more of a disappointment to a Brit than coming to the US and discovering that root beer is what the British know as mouthwash. Strange but true. Mouthwash in the US is mint flavoured. In the UK it's mouthwash flavour - ie 'root beer' flavoured. It's a bit of a shocker that first time you have a root beer float and discover you're having a big dollop of ice cream in your mug of Plax.

One man's root beer float is another man's mouthwash cocktail.

This same bizarre taste/flavour reversal happened on our recent trip back the UK. When I left England many years ago every high street was awash with the nose-hair strippingly strong scent of Body Shop 'Dewberry'. In the last 10 years Molton Brown have become the new must-have toiletry. On my first visit back I actually thought this was a shop peculiar to Harrogate. Why I thought that when a) it wasn't related to tea, and b) it clearly said 'Molton Brown London' is beyond me. One more visit back home and suddenly every single bathroom sink was sporting a bottle of MB lotion. Not such a shock really after I found out that my Mum had been giving it to every relative for birthdays and Christmas.

The point is, I loved the smell of their Rose Granati, and had already made up my mind to buy a bottle of shower gel while we were back in England. Economic meltdown be damned, I was splashing out.

Well, imagine my disappointment when I found out that they only do Rose Granati in hand soap - not in shower gel. I had to purchase something though, as Little Britain has mentioned before, the US under-performs in the area of shower gel, and I knew if I was going to get some I had to get some in England. LK was already beginning to tire of the Molton Brown shop, the pull of the whiskey in the nearby Oddbins was getting stronger, so I made a snap decision.

Heavenly Gingerlily sounded good to me. I bought it (even in pounds it seemed like a ridiculous amount of money for some smellies). We lugged it back to America and I started using it. After a couple of seconds I thought - hang on, this smells awfully familiar. Why is that? I couldn't quite place it - it was reminding me of something medicinal, but clearly the sweet smell wasn't at all clinical. What could it be?

Nair hair removal cream.


I no longer smelled expensive and exotic, I smelled like cheap supermarket hair remover. Thanks Molton Brown!

There is a happy ending. My Mum - probably thinking that our sink needed a little something - sent me some Rose Granati for my birthday. I am thoroughly enjoying using it. Until I realize it smells like toilet cleaner of course.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

If You Did This You Could Make Your Kid Happy

Anna is 80% princess and 20% mad scientist/marine biologist. I think that generally sums up a 4 year old girl. A couple of days ago she came up to me to say "you know what we could do together that would make a kid happy?"

I was guessing the answer would involve ice-cream, TV, dressing up as a princess, or possibly all three combined. I was wrong.

"We could make a wormery". Wasn't expecting that one.

Thanks PBS! As luck would have it, one too many mornings spent watching TV and battling the excesses of the previous evening had made me a bit guilt-ridden about slacker parenting. I was ripe for a project. Plus, I've just celebrated a birthday and one of my gifts was a huge display of truly horrible flowers from my office (orange, brown and yellowy-green with a purple bow). LK took one look at them and said "wow, sorry your husband just died". Anyway, the point about the flowers - their only redeeming feature was a large rectangular vase (I say varze, you can say vace if you prefer). Perfect for a wormery! We were off to a good start. I told Anna that as soon as the flowers died we could begin. That wasn't soon enough apparently. She eyed the florid display and started pulling off petals. Some battles just aren't worth fighting, and faced with a flower massacre, we made several small bouquets out of the huge display and freed up the wormery.

Thunderbirds are go!

Step #1: Make Your Child Eat A Banana

Apparently worms don't just need soil and sand, they need food. This could be accomplished by sticking a few leaves and sundry mulchy items in there - but, what a perfect excuse to get your child to eat an entire fruit. Anna set to work, and was rapidly overwhelmed by the enormity of the task;

Step#2: Fill Wormery With Layers of Sand, Dirt, Leaves & Banana Peel
This started off a little too slowly for my liking:

Her ladyship filled the varze at a glacial pace, but I couldn't really criticize as she was skipping with joy between each teaspoon full of sand. I merely shoveled like hell whenever her back was turned. "Way to go Mom" she cried, "we're such a great team. A girl team! This is going to be the best wormery ever". She was a one woman pep rally, thanks to her endless hours of watching preschooler TV.

Eventually we were done - a worm des res:

Step #3: Find Some Chuffing Worms

I was more than a little worried about this bit quite frankly. We don't live in rural Shropshire after all. We live in an urban area in Southern California. A very arid area where it hasn't rained since April (except that week when my Aunt and Uncle visited - thanks California!).

We tried our best. We dug hard, in multiple locations. We tried to put ourselves in the mindset of an earthworm. Where would we be most likely to live? Not in your chuffing back garden seemed to be the answer. Anna was crushed:

Not a sausage. Then, a brainwave! Seeing LK and Lucy watering the garden made me remember the crappy leaky hosepipe which I constantly blame for our astronomical water bills. Eureka! An oasis in a desert of concrete and sand. Worm central! Well, not exactly, we found five, and quite frankly I think it was only five because #4 was chopped in half by some overly enthusiastic troweling.

Step #4: Transfer The Worms To Their New Home And Watch Them 'Thrive'

Lucy could barely contain her excitement:

Go worms, go!

Several hours later and I have noticed a couple of worms 'resting' on the top of the wormery, clearly not enamoured with their new home. I may have to make some convincing worm tunnels with a plastic drinking straw, but it won't really matter, because for a few short hours at least I did manage to make my kid really chuffing happy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

When Jekyll Won't Hyde

At my first parent teacher conference when Anna was a whopping two years old, I was told she was a little introverted and that to encourage her integration in to preschool I should try and arrange 'playdates' with her peers.

I think those are the words the teacher used. What I actually heard was 'you thoughtless parent, a school is more than a place to corral your child while you earn money, you must talk to those terrifyingly aloof Bugaboo Moms with their 10 megawatt diamonds who sneer at your unchanging work attire and Pilates-free abs, and attempt to infiltrate their impenetrable clique.' Seriously, that's me in a nutshell. My insecurities raged as I used all my powers of small talk to corner a parent or two at drop-off. Eventually I beat S's Mom in to submission and we had Anna's first ever playdate at the Botanic Garden. S turned out to be Anna's first ever BFF and all was right with the world. I let out a huge sigh of relief and crawled back under my rock.

Playdates waned a little with Lucy's birth - somehow the idea of toting both children to somebody else's house, or round a playground seemed far too overwhelming for the first six months. Besides, Anna was thriving at her new school, her social calendar replete with birthdays and events.

Last Friday one of her many new friends, K, came round for a first playdate at our house. Prior to their arrival my biggest concerns were K's limiting gluten and dairy-free diet - but I had decided that we could pick homegrown tomatoes and the girls could either eat them or starve. I was also worried about our pigsty of a ghetto dwelling, but ha! little did I know that that would pale into insignificance once Dr. Anna Jekyll made her appearance.

I won't go into the full horror of the 90 minutes of hell. I will just leave you with a few choice quotes from my darling daughter:

"You're not pretty in that dress"
"My dress is deeper (read, longer) than yours and I am more beautiful"
"Stop following me"
"You're not allowed to play with that. Mom stop her touching my stuff"
"I want you to go home I don't like you"

Oh it was a joy. Then Lucy choked on her fistfuls of Cheerios and projectile vomited all over the carpet.

K's Mum was of course there throughout, 4 year olds being considered too little to 'fly solo' at a playdate. She was very sweet, and tried her best to be helpful. "This is why we have playdates" she cried cheerily. "It's just their age". I smiled and tried to communicate certain death to Anna by giving her Paddington's hardest stare.

After they left, or rather, fled, I waited the requisite 5 minutes in case they'd forgotten anything then sat Anna down for a serious talk. There were tears of uncomprehending rage. And from Anna too. She couldn't see anything wrong with her behaviour. She clearly felt she was just asserting her rightful ownership. In the end the punishment meted out was no TV for 2 days (I was the real victim with that one) and her Barbies were also confiscated for two days. I know! If only the UN took such a hard line!

We have had one playdate since, with a different friend, on neutral ground (Switzerland). It went well. Still I'm not sure whether I'm ready to replicate Annagate. At least not with friends whose mother's I am not on a drinking-relationship level with.

This parenting caper is far too stressful.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Mourning Has Broken

It's our wedding anniversary today. 12 years ago Princess Diana was laid to rest and Britain observed a national day of mourning. Scene stealer.

I'm sure many of you have woken up on your anniversary to roses, cards, jewelery. Perhaps a fresh cup of coffee.

I woke up this morning to find that Anna's giant metallic Thomas the Tank Engine balloon had migrated up the stairs, along the landing, coming to rest directly above my pillow. His giant moon-face hovering above me at 6am.

That'll wake you up in a hurry.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

If You Can't Play Nicely

I hadn't really thought about how long I was going to nurse Lucy. Anna self-weaned at 6 months, and I suppose I was expecting another gradual dwindling of interest. At the very least I thought it would be my decision..........

Lucy has been happily continuing her love affair with the boob, and I had a mental tally of breastfeeding pros and cons, resulting in the following scattered list:

  • Mother and daughter bonding time.
  • It's free!
  • Assisted weight loss, or rather, no weight loss but guilt-free eating.
  • So much easier - never caught without baby food, and no faffing around with bottles and formula.
  • 15 minutes of down-time twice a day at work while I pumped.
  • No saggy post-nursing boobs
  • Quite possibly our last baby so huge amounts of sentiment involved.
  • Lugging the breastpump to work and back. That thing weighs a tonne.
  • Cleaning and sterilizing the pump bottles and sundry pumpish items. Every. Chuffing. Night.
  • Al fresco boobs in the office. Even behind a locked door it made me squeamish.
  • Giant boobs - only having two bras that fit.
  • Giant boobs - made all t-shirts look like crop tops.
  • Giant boobs - having to jog in two sports bras.
  • Giant boobs - look but don't touch!
When you look at that list we had an obvious winner. Nursing is free. Formula is expensive. In these fiscally responsible (desperate) times the bottom line is the bottom line. I was game to keep nursing til she went to college. One less kids meal at Macdonalds!

Oh, and I will be honest and admit that it was lovely to hold her and nurse her in to a blissed-out milk coma. I mean really, look at that face! What a little cherub.


Don't let her deceive you! In fact, keep all hands, feet and loose clothing away from her because that tiny angelic human is a BITER and I am her poor chewed-upon victim.

She only has her lower teeth right now, but let me just say that 'only' was not the word ricocheting round my brain as she clamped down. I squealed and tried to prize away her vice-like jaws and oh how she laughed! How funny! The noises you do make Mummy! Let's do that again!

And because I'm a muppet we did. I gave her the benefit of the doubt, several horrendously painful times. I think I kept trying because I couldn't quite believe it would end like that. I was the lovestruck teenager wailing "It's over? But we were so good together!"

I was deflated, and so were my boobs. Pfffffffttttttttt.

In her defence, she is teething, but this girl is in such a rush to grow up. She is already standing and creeping between pieces of furniture. She started crawling at 5 months. She's already bristling with teeth. Slow down!

I was actually surprised how deeply affected I was by the abrupt end to nursing. Maybe it was compounded by hormonal fluctuations as I went from 60mph to 0mph in 1 day. I felt really flat and depressed. I even googled 'biting babies' and 'breastfeeding a crocodile', and that really cheered me up.. Thanks internet! Because the advice that was given was so asinine, so breast-feeding Nazi-ish that I had to laugh. Seriously:

"Don't flinch or scream when your baby bites as they will enjoy this reaction".

Honestly? You try it. I will punch you repeatedly in the balls or ovaries and watch you try and keep a straight face.

"Stop giving you baby a bottle as chewing on a plastic nipple only encourages this behaviour"

Great so now I have a hungry and pissed off biter. Not such great advice.

In the end we compromised. No more breastfeeding during the day, only a touch of comfort-nursing last thing at night when she seems to sheath her tiny fangs.

I'm not yet sure who needs the comfort most.