Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Like Water For Chocolate

Oh, now I get it.

I'm not the world's best cook. It may even be stretching the point to use the word 'cook'. However, this is my last week of maternity leave, and dammit, I've been attempting to 'parent'.

I had a half-remembered childhood memory of edible Easter nests made with shredded wheat and chocolate. It seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, how hard can it be to;

a) crumble shredded wheat in bowl,

b) melt chocolate,

c) mix shredded wheat and chocolate to form nests.

What a great mother-daughter project! Instant happy childhood memories!

I even sort of remembered that you should melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Not having one to hand though, I decided to wing it. While Anna steadily ate her way through square after square of Cadbury's chocolate I set about boiling some water. I floated a dish in a pan (so far so good!) and put the chocolate inside. Genius! Except when I tried to stir the chocolate the dish tipped ever so slightly and the smallest amount of water mixed with the chocolate where it turned in to instant crap. Of course, I didn't realise what had happened and thought, hmm, it's taking an awfully long time for this chocolate to melt. Maybe I'll just turn the heat up a bit. After five more minutes of chocolate death I did what all self-respecting chefs do, which is swear profusely (sorry Anna) and dash upstairs to google 'my chocolate won't melt *sob* and all I'm trying to do is create memories for my child and the only thing she's taking away from this is a sugar high and the words jesus fucking christ how the fuck can chocolate not melt when it's 110 fucking degrees'. That search amazingly turns up all manner of articles.

Apparently even the slightest hint of water will make your chocolate wither and die. Like water for chocolate. *Oh*. Who knew chocolate was so temperamental? I did find a few 'post chocolate-death rescue ideas' on google but they mostly involved controlled temperatures, vegetable shortening (WTF?) and cookery skills, and as I was making these nests for a class of 3 year olds I decided a fresh attempt with new chocolate rather than possibly killing them all with random cupboard items was best. "Well Mrs B. I'm sorry the chocolate nests turned out a little strange, but I tried to rescue my buggered chocolate with vegetable shortening, but as I didn't have any of that I just used miniature carrots instead...."

Alarmed by the nuclear mushroom cloud above my head, LK fled to the shops for more chocolate. I had a cup of tea and prepared for round two. Which worked.

More effortless perfection from the kitchen of AliBlahBlah.....

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Us vs. Them: Driving

I love driving in California. Yes we have six lanes of freeway traffic, unbelievable congestion and people driving without licences or insurance, but that's preferable to driving in the UK any day.

It's hands down easier to drive over here and these are just some of the reasons:

  • For a start the roads were built after the invention of motor vehicles so there's no inching down medieval streets or narrow country lanes praying that you don't meet an SUV coming the other way.
  • In Santa Barbara I've never felt the pressure to overtake a tractor on a blind corner because I have sixteen irate Ford Mondeo drivers behind me wishing I had the balls to just make a move.
  • Over here it rains about five times a year, and granted you do get floods, raging torrents of water flying down State Street, but I'll take that over driving in snow, black ice or a heavy fog.
  • Cars start here. There's no early morning WD40, no rust, no cold engines. I used to look at some of the steep driveways in SB and think 'however do they get their cars up there in winter'. Not a problem. (I'm not the brightest bulb sometimes).
  • 99% of the cars here are automatics, there's no stalling, no hill-starts, parallel parking on a slope is a breeze. My driving skills may be atrophying here due to lack of a challenge, but I don't care!
  • Roads are built on a grid system making getting lost relatively impossible (although even geography graduates have been known to fuck up occasionally...).

There are a couple of exceptions that prove the rule though:

  • Firstly, we have smog tests here but no MOT. If you're in a car that's not obviously impeding traffic, whatever the dangers lurking beneath the hood, then it's considered roadworthy. That coupled with the fact that cars don't rust means you have the worst selection of cars driving around. Accidents waiting to happen. Old VW wagons shuddering on to the freeway at 12 miles an hour, tires more threadbare than our bank accounts, brakes so spongy they make my stomach seem like a six-pack. I should know. We used to drive a battered VW Rabbit (a Golf for those in the UK). One day I was cruising down a steep hill to a traffic light at the bottom. A heavy marine layer had left the road if not wet then moist. I hit the brakes. Nothing. The lights at the bottom of the hill turned red. I frantically pumped the brakes and slowed perhaps 2mph. I was still hitting the brakes as I careened across the intersection miraculously avoiding traffic. That same car's clutch cable snapped on the freeway a few months later leaving me trying to slow down but unable to change gears. All of which would be caught by an MOT, oh, perhaps seven years prior.

  • The most glaring difference between driving in the UK and here though is the freeway on-ramps and off-ramps. In the UK you'd better be paying attention to your exit, because if you miss it the next one is Sheffield, 30 miles away. This can leave a car full of nervous passengers if the driver has a short fuse let me tell you. Over here, exits come by the street, not the town. They are everywhere. Convenient, yes. Practical, not so much. Sometimes in their enthusiasm to have as many on- and off-ramps as possible they combine the two. Case in point the one particular off-ramp in SB that I navigate every day. It's also an on-ramp. That's right, cars merging on to the freeway combine with cars using the off-ramp as a regular street, combine with cars moving off the freeway. It's high-octane hell. As if that weren't bad enough, it's the only freeway exit to the City's main hospital. This leaves you driving past watching for cars merging on to the freeway, or exiting the freeway, or driving along the on-ramp having no intention of getting on the motorway, many of whom are driving sick loved ones to the hospital and aren't exactly paying the best of attention in the first place. Bonkers. Then there are the on-ramps in Montecito that are approximately 15 yards long giving a Formula One car racing start a run for its money, or my personal favourite the on-ramp that enters onto the fast lane of the freeway. Try navigating that one in a car that does 0-60 in five minutes.

  • That's it though, my pet peeves of Southern California driving (well that and people NEVER using their turn signals/indicators over here). Am I supposed to read your mind dear? From the look on your face even you can't decipher what's going on in there.

Despite this, it's still, so, so much easier to drive over here. Not an errant sheep in sight. No sideways sleet, 14th century bridges, or hill-starts.

I do hate stop signs though.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

No Smiling I'm Half British

Lucy is now a whopping 10 weeks old, and you know what that means in the K household?


Here's Lucy's picture, and below that Anna's, also taken at 10 weeks.

What do you think? Sisters?

I think they look very alike, except Anna was a cheery old soul with a rounder face and a too-cute-to-be-true hair tuft and Lucy has the weight of the world on her tiny shoulders and has perfected her new-world-order economic-meltdown look of gloom.

As it happens I also have to renew my passport, which you can do out of the country if you can pony up one hundred million dollars and lure a current British passport holder to counter-sign your application. Amazingly I am able to do just that (well, the second half anyway) due to a freak birthing of my friend Mooks in England while her parents were studying Shakespeare in Stratford. I knew I liked her.

So there we were in Sears, Lucy frowning in to the camera perfecting her superior British scowl, apparently unaware she was posing for her American passport and cheerfulness was allowed. I gave my hair a cursory finger-comb, tried to look British and OH. MY. GOD. the chins, the eye-bags, the lank unstyled hair. Don't get your passport photo taken two months after you've had a baby.

Is it vanity to think your passport photo is so bad you want to rush to another photographer and have it retaken? Well yes of course it is, but bloody hell I'd even slapped a bit of lippy on, but obviously to no avail. I will grant you than any photo of me wearing white, against a white background leaves me looking pale at best and bizarrely suspended nostrils and eyelashes at worst but damn.

It isn't helped by the fact that my last passport photo is really rather good. So good that several INS workers have looked at it, looked at me, and concluded that either we're different people or that that was one hell of a bad flight.

You could think positively on the situation and conclude that, well, your age 35 photo is really shitty, but in 10 years time if you have a good photo taken then you'll actually look better than your 35 year old self. I couldn't look worse surely. However, I know what it's like to live with a shockingly bad passport photo.........

When I was sixteen my family were driving down to Harwich? to catch the ferry over to Belgium to spend Christmas with my Aunty and Uncle. It was a Saturday, the day before Christmas Eve. I think it was an overnight ferry and it was pretty late in the day as we were nearing the coast. That's when I casually asked my Dad - "since I'm 16 now don't I have to have my own passport?"


The answer of course was, yes. The reality was, no, I did not have my own passport.

To cut a long story shockingly full of expletives short, we filled in some emergency passport forms, and I had my photo taken in a crappy WWII throwover photo booth. I think we boarded the ferry with an idea that we could certainly be able to leave the UK, but there were no guarantees I would be able to get back. From Belgium. I thought that was bad. Then I saw the photo.

This is the picture I carried with me as my only form of ID in the States for many years.....

There's really no excuse for any of it. All I can say is, from the looks of that jumper, thank God it's a black and white photo.

Fast forward 10 years and we have this ethereal photo. As I said, pupils, nostrils and not much else.

Quite a transformation from 16 to 25 don't you think? As a bouncer in SB said when reviewing my passport as ID 'hon, you've grown in to yourself well'. Well the degeneration from 25 to 35 is no less dramatic, and that's why I'm going back to get my photos retaken this afternoon.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why Sisters Don't Babysit

Honestly, you leave the room for 2 minutes and someone 'decorates' your baby....

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Lyrics

At the beginning of the year we moved Anna to a new preschool. We (well, I) agonized over the decision, wondering if switching schools coinciding with adding a sibling would blow Anna's conscious world to smithereens.

Her old school used to be brilliant, we were absolutely thrilled to get her in there. No mean feat in this town. Then they expanded and suddenly her cute, artsy little school became a heaving morass of screaming toddlerdom.

Anna has never been particularly rambunctious, and she's definitely a follower not a leader. The sudden transition last year to a larger more impersonal school really shook her. We know that now. Suddenly six months after being potty trained she started having 'accidents' and crying at drop-off. Being pregnant, overworked and quite frankly oblivious to some pretty glaring signs of unhappiness I was clueless for a long time. I work long days and was dropping her off early when there were only a few other kids at the school, and picking her up late when she was one of the few remaining kids. It kills me that for so long I had no idea what a zoo the place had become.

Finally a friend of mine looking for preschools for her own daughter, visited Anna's school upon my recommendation and gently explained that Lord of the Flies wasn't exactly what she was hoping for at a billion dollars a month tuition. LK visited in the middle of the day after that and was pretty shocked. Anna was not an attention seeker, not a trouble maker, and consequently was being left to her own devices. She had been having accidents because as she explained later, she couldn't find a teacher to help her with her clothes.


Being a parent means assuming all sorts of guilt, and I feel terrible about what Anna had been going through. It took my friend and then another parent of one of Anna's friends to wake me up to what was going on. My drop-off and pick-up had taken all of 5 minutes each day, I was on a 'hello only' basis with all but one of the parents. I had written most of them off as unapproachable SB Bugaboo Moms. A little extra time, and a little extra effort to get to know the other parents might have clued me in faster. It was a stark lesson that I needed to get that insecure 'I'm not worthy' chip off my shoulder in front of terrifyingly wealthy and confident SB parents, for Anna's sake.

So, in January, just a few days before the tectonic shift of her sister's arrival, Anna started at her new school. It's a brand new place run by a favourite teacher from her former school. It's small, funky, laid back and friendly and we both love it. Her best friends from her old school also made the transition and Anna has blossomed in to a chatty (oh Lord!), confident girl who gives barely a backward glance at drop off. When she first started she would say every day in the car ride over there 'they will be so pleased to see me!' with the unconscious self-assurance of a happy child.


I try and remind myself of that fact now that the commute to her preschool is 20 minutes not 5. Oh well.

I agonize over even the simplest of decisions, particularly those relating to my daughters, but this I think was a good one. Underscored by this little gem from a couple of days ago.

Anna (from the backseat whilst driving back from school): "We sang a new song today!"
Me: "Brilliant! Let's hear it!"
Anna: "Oh you can't always get what you wa-ant. Oh you can't always get what you wa-ant. Oh you can't alway get what you wa-ant."
"Oh you can't always get what you wa-ant. Oh you can't always get what you wa-ant. Oh you can't alway get what you wa-ant."
Me: "but if you try sometimes, you get what you need?"
Anna: "No Momma! I'm singing..."
Anna (starting again): Oh you can't always get what you wa-ant. Oh you can't always get what you wa-ant. Oh you can't alway get what you wa-ant.

This continues for another 3 freeway exits, I'm practically crying with laughter wondering how you unstick a record if the record is your child when we finally fit the off-ramp, jolting my little Rolling Stone to say:

Anna: "Oh you can't always get what you wa-ant. But if you try sometimes you might get what you, oh Momma look! Purple and white flowers can I have some?"

That's an education worth paying for.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

British Slang vs American Slang

Anna is very verbal and has always been able to express herself very clearly. I am thrilled that she shows little of the debilitating shyness I experienced as a child, even if it is at the expense of a little modesty on her part. Going out on a limb it seems that American children are much more self-confident and vocal than their British counterparts. Or maybe times have changed and I'm talking out of my arse. I certainly don't mean to suggest that the old 'children should be seen and not heard' culture still exists in the UK, but it does seem that American kids are more encouraged to voice their opinions. They are not backwards in coming forwards. Again, it comes down to the idea that freedom of speech seems to result in Americans feeling that they have to share their thoughts all the time.

What I'm struggling with, still, is not what she has to say, but how she chooses to say it. I've long since reconciled myself to the fact that my little cuckoo won't have a British accent, unless we move back in the very near future. I will try my best to avoid her having that peculiarly nasal whine that a lot of Californian women have, 'Sanna Barrbrah!'. Sorry. King Canute might have a better chance. What I'm still finding it hard to deal with, what I struggle with myself, is that it's not how you pronounce a word, it's what words are being used. What grates more than her accent is her phrases, her word choices. And quite honestly mine too. I find myself wondering what I used to say before I started every sentence with 'like', or when precisely I started using 'mad' instead of 'cross'. I used to have to translate myself to be understood, then the translation became automatic and suddenly I can't remember what I made the translation from anyway.

I'm going to sound like the complete snob that I am when I write that it bothers me to hear Anna talk Californian slang all the time. I wonder if she's going to be at school writing 'dude, it was such a bummer that the weekend was totally fogged out and we like had to hang indoors for like, ever'. Is it worth fighting? Is it the equivalent of a New York parent moving to the South and hating their kids say 'y'all', or kids from the north of England moving to London and suddenly ending every sentence with 'yeah'???

Re-reading this I sound as if I'm about a hundred years old. How much does it matter these days anyway? I'm not suggesting I want a precocious 3 year old parroting her pretentious parents by saying 'mother, the weather this weekend was so utterly abhorrent we were completely unable to go outside'. Some middle ground would be lovely (how English of me). In some ways it's just as startlingly odd to hear a small child use grown up words such as 'perplexed' and 'ravenous'. As much as I hate hearing her saying 'bummer!' (my pet peeve) I have to conclude that it's just my inherent snobbery. After all, I'd be so much happier hearing Anna use British slang and admit to being 'bloody knackered' instead of 'wiped out'.

I am trying to get her to replace 'bummer' with 'bollocks' though.

Friday, March 13, 2009

On Parenting Two Children....

Act One: Harried mother tries to get two children under the age of 4 in to the car whilst remembering snacks, diapers, water, swimsuits, swim diapers (I forgot them), a book (ha!) and sundry parenting crap.....

Lucy: Waah, waah, waah, waah!!!!
Anna: Mom! Mom!
Me: What?!@!
Anna: Momma, why are you so mad?
Me (slapping on my air hostess everything's fine smile): I'm not mad love!
Anna: Well your face sure looks mad

I thought this was funny. I think I even snapped out of my defcom delta parenting mood and smiled. What's not so hilarious is me relaying Anna's words of wisdom to a fellow Santa Barbara parent when we finally arrived at the pool and receiving this in return "I know, kids are so receptive to your moods aren't they, you know, sometimes if you just take a deep breath and think it won't always be like this it helps".

Or you could laugh with me, not at me lady.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sleep, Perchance to - Sorry What Was I Saying?

In a recent Hello magazine interview TV mathematician Carol Vorderman noted that after having children her ability to solve Countdown puzzles went down by 4%, never to return. As I absent-mindedly poured boiling water from the kettle on to my cereal this morning I had the chilling thought - what if this is the new me? What if baby brain is here to stay?

You would think that a great deal of my scattyness is due to sleep deprivation, but I'm not losing that much sleep this time round. When I had Anna I was constantly running on empty. With Lucy we took some valuable lessons learned first time around and developed a much better system. I go to bed with Anna at about 9pm (I have no life!!) and then LK stays up to give Lucy her next feed at about midnight or 1am. That way I get to sleep for a blissful 7 hours straight until she next needs feeding at 4 or 5am. This leaves me tired but functional (and writing bizarre emails to people at 4:45am).

Now, 7 hours sounds like an adequate amount of sleep, but I'm used to a healthy 9 hours + a night. It's what I basically blame for my underachieving life. If I could manage on less sleep a night just imagine what I could accomplish! Even more crazy emailing and blogging. Maybe I'd even write more than one paragraph a year of my novel.

The good news is there's no waking up at 3am unable to get back to sleep. There's no thinking, crikey I didn't get any exercise today, I'll never sleep tonight. I could sleep balanced on a washing line right now. I could even have a snooze on a plane. So, yes, perhaps I am a bit knackered.

What I'm noticing most is how absent-minded I am. When we went back to the UK a few years ago my brother made me watch a show called Green Wing (?) where one of the harried employees has such trouble getting organized that she turns up to work without a skirt on. That's exactly how I feel. I need a sign on the front door so that when I leave the house I have a checklist of - are both flaps of your nursing bra fastened? do you have both children? are you wearing clothes? Sadly I need to remind myself of all those things and more these days. I am so hyper-aware of my forgetful state that LK loves to wind me up. He will creep up behind me and say in a really worried voice 'where's Lucy?' and I'll freeze in panic. Even if I'm currently holding her.

How am I going to cope at work? I go back in less than a month (thanks America!) and I'm literally having trouble finishing sentences. A couple of days ago I actually had to do some work-related stuff, someone calling to 'pick my brains'. Dear God. She would fire questions at me and it was all I could do to just repeat the last words she'd said.

Her: So do you find that helps with your cost ratios?
Me: Cost ratios!
Her: What's your opinion regarding server-based or web-based systems?
Me: Pineapples!

It's my word-recall that's the worse. Not exactly helpful when trying to be impressively professional on the phone. Then there's my 'surefire' way of remembering a forgotten name/word, which is to go down the alphabet until I hit a letter that triggers my memory. Except that leaves me on the phone, talking about practice management software whilst reciting my ABCs.

It's going to be fun.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Keep Calm and Carry On

About a year ago I found this poster online and for obvious reasons, it resonated. Not only were we going through some hard times, but it was so quintessentially British, such a clipped, stiff upper lip war-time message that I had to have it. What a perfect inspirational mantra to have in my office while wrangling our finances I thought. Having found the poster through an artsy Swedish blog, I was quite pleased with myself, thinking I'd found something a little bit different.

Apparently I couldn't be more wrong. Oh yes AliBlahBlah, you are so edgy, so hip and urban. Like a pair of Marks and Spencers pants.

Imagine my disappointment, when visiting the Victoria and Albert museum last year to find an entire section of the gift shop devoted to this poster. Oh well, I thought, at least it would still be unusual in the States.

* Funny but true aside- one of the docs I work for asked me in my first year at the practice if I could contact the V and A for him. The Victoria and Albert Museum I asked thinking, crikey, that's a bit odd, but no, the VNA, Visiting Nurses Association. Much more useful for a neurologist but not half so interesting. *


While my Mum and Dad were staying in January, my Dad noticed an article on the BBC website about this very poster, 'the greatest motivational poster ever'. I had inadvertantly bought the 21st century version of the 'hang in there baby' cat poster.

It's a great story though. The poster was found in a dusty book shop in Alnwick and when reprinted and featured in a catalog 'all hell broke loose'. And I don't care if it's common as muck, it means a lot to me, and I may, possibly, be the first person to own it on our street (it's a small street) so that's cutting-edge enough for me.

Given the recent economic climate though, I think this version may be more appropriate:

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Much Ado About Nothing

Seriously, State of California, where is my money? My disability payments seem to have disappeared in to thin air, and yes, while the EDD phone center is useful in confirming that my last check went out at the end of January, it's not providing a lot of assistance with where the rest of my money is at, beotch. I'm *this close* to storming their offices, except I'm meek, hormonal and fearful that they will give me the minimum wage earner eye-roll and tell me 'lady where the hell you been, there's a budget crisis going on'. Yes? Well, there's a budget crisis going on chez K lady and we're about to go all Grapes of Wrath on your ass and start eating cheerios with breastmilk.

In other news, a few days ago a newborn was snatched from the very hospital where I had Lucy less than two months ago. Not some downtown County 'Southland' hospital where you imagine these things happening, no the chichi-la-la Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital where I couldn't take Lucy out of the room without her little ankle tag screaming bloody murder. The woman was apparently posing as a nurses aide and told the new Mum (whose baby was only a couple of hours old) that the child needed fingerprinting. Obviously she handed the baby over, as I did many times to many different nurses. They did eventually catch the woman, nearly 75 miles away and the baby was returned to the distraught parents but it's terrifying to think how close a call that was. Apparently the woman already has 4 children and had been telling her current boyfriend that she was pregnant, to which LK replied 'dude, there was no mistaking you being pregnant, he must be a moron'.

On the subject of being all meek and fearful, we were out for a family drive yesterday and rolled up to a stop sign while it was being graffitied by a local ne'erdowell. Bold as brass, right down town, traffic driving past left and right. As we drove past LK said 'we should do something' and I was thinking, yes, we should, but please don't start anything, I'm hungry, we're on our way to get lunch, the girls are sleeping, and more importantly I would hate it if you got in to a fight and died because I haven't sent the life insurance payment in yet.

I hate confrontation and LK is always chiding me for walking mutely past the high school students who like to eat lunch on our front lawn. I'm always afraid they'll retaliate by tagging our white building and instead I plot endless passive-aggressive counter-measures like setting the sprinklers on during lunch break or planting pricklier grass. Useless muppet that I am. Not LK though, no, he doubled back around the block, watched the graffiti kid walk in to a house, then called the police. Quite frankly I'd expected the police to cite LK for busybodying, but they were all over it (must have been a quiet day, no baby snatching that morning). They called later to say they'd sent the swat team round and after a brief skirmish the perp was shot dead for evading arrest. Not really, he admitted it and was issued a citation. I still don't know how I feel about this. I'm definitely ashamed of my 'not my problem' attitude, proud that I married the right man, and then again, not a little scared that property ownership has turned my sweet surfer-stoner husband in to a vigilante. Hmm.

On a lighter note, Anna keeps cracking me up by starting all her sentences with 'when Lucy becomes a human' as in 'when Lucy become a person she will love to listen to me sing'. She was also watching her favourite kids TV channel yesterday morning where they have a little cartoon montage about our new President (funny, I don't remember them having it when Bush was elected) and she bounced up and down and said 'Oh, Barack Obama, I love this show'.

So there you have it, a dashed-off synopsis of the last couple of days with no mention of uterine masses at all.