Saturday, May 30, 2009

One Small Step for Mankind, One Giant Leap for Anna

Anna is starting to show a real interest in learning to read. Helped by her new preschool she is constantly thinking about words, and in particular asking what letters they start with. Examples are, Luh, Luh, leave Mummy alone and O, O, Oh My God stop talking.

To encourage this, and to try and make up for a woeful lack of hands-on parenting in the last few months (thanks Lucy!) I have started doing treasure hunts around the house. Each clue is a piece of paper with a word on it, usually something simple that she can sound out phonetically, such as BALL (oh come on, who doesn't have a giant Pilates ball in their living room?!). This has proved to be so much more successful than just sitting together and helping her read a book. A treasure hunt has purpose, and more importantly, a reward of a few jelly beans at the end.

Ah, bribery, teacher of many a child.

After one of the hundred million treasure hunts I have been asked to devise over the last, morning (you think I jest), I told Anna it was quiet time, and that Mummy needed a rest (read: cocktail). Not realizing I had left her alone in our bed with a pen.

This could have been disastrous, not least for my lovely embroidered Pottery Barn duvet cover - one of the last vestiges of wealthier times. But no, another triumph for absentee parenting! While left to her own devices, Anna had decided to construct her own treasure hunting.

Reading to writing in one fell swoop. I bring you:


The slightly more obscure "BANANA" (great drawing)

and my personal favourite "HORSE", a clue found on her My Little Pony, and not (if you follow my twisted mind, on LK's stack of Playboys....

OK, maybe it's too early to call Cambridge, but Oxford surely?!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I Maddonari at the Santa Barbara Mission

Our traditional "May Grey" couldn't dampen the vibrancy of these street paintings at the Santa Barbara Mission over the weekend. It even inspired Anna to get a little creative.

Spot which one's hers.....

I'm glad it's a self-portrait and not a drawing of Mummy, otherwise I would have to seriously reconsider my choice of lipstick.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cross Dressing is the New Black

Me, standing in front of the mirror before work this morning, assessing the impact a few early morning runs, power-walks, an ocean swim, and most importantly a sleek all-black outfit have done for my post-baby body.

LK, drawling - "Hi, I'm Johnny Cash".

Saturday, May 23, 2009

US vs. UK - Diamonds

If you want to know the difference between the US and the UK then just look at the ring finger of any married woman.

Even the lowliest toilet-scrubber in the US will be sporting a cantilevered confection bristling with diamonds. I first noticed this while still living in the UK. My home town in North Yorkshire hosts a US Army Intelligence Base so it was not unusual for local women to meet and marry American serviceman. After having done so they could barely lift their left hands because Good Lord - where the UK engagement ring mantra seems to be 'it's the thought that counts' in the US it is definitely 'size matters'. It honestly had me wondering whether diamonds were ten a penny in the States.

Then I moved over here, and I swear the same DeBeers commercial that rhapsodizes 'how else can one month's salary last a lifetime' is two months salary in the US. I'm convinced I remember the 'one month' yardstick in the UK, but I'll admit I've tried and failed to google some proof of this. Am I just imagining this or are there really different standards in largesse? I really think so. Take a look at any issue of Hello magazine and you will see the wealthiest of Brits sporting the most modest of rings.

I inherited my engagement ring from my Nanna, and while it is definitely on the 'demure' side representing love in the North of England in the late 1930s it is priceless to me.

Having said that, I realise that whatever I write here may cast me in a jealous light as a result. I do notice what I call the 'Nordstrom effect' of being judged in shops by the lack of a carbon paperweight on my left hand. If you think I'm being paranoid, in high school LK used to teach kids tennis lessons at one of the swankiest clubs in town. The guy in charge pulled him to one side on his first day and told him to be most solicitous to the Moms with the big rings. If their child was worthless, persuade the parent that all he/she needed was extra tuition, if the child showed any talent at all, persuade the parent that private lessons would guarantee acceptance to the Ivy League school of their choice. If the ring lacked carats - don't bother with the kid.

Heart-warming, no?

Obviously there are exceptions to this, and I do know a lot of cool California chicks who sport the most pared-down of wedding bands, no in-your-face bling at all - something that I think is becoming increasingly popular.

Has anybody else noticed this? Any expat Brits out there fighting the good fight with their meek solitaires, or any Americans in the UK wondering why no-one else has 17 diamonds surrounding their 3 carat centerpiece?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Snapshots of Life

There are no pictures of my brother before about 4 months of age, and even then he is dressed in evil brown 1970s polyester and he looks quite rightly furious.

(If I lived any less than 8 THOUSAND miles away right now I would scan those pictures, but it will have to wait to July).

I always thought this lack of photos was odd, and that, coupled with the fact that he is only a year younger than me (which would mean for me to repeat that feat I would have to be pregnant right now! Ha! Holy Mother of God! No!) - these things mean I have always harboured a sneaking suspicion he is a changeling.

Hi Baby Brother!

Except we have exactly the same eyes, nose and mouth and when I walked in to a bar in his University town in North Wales the barman took one look at me and went "bloody hell, you have to be PW's sister". Not that flattering really considering he was at that point a 15 stone bruiser.


Back to the point of this. When I asked my Mum why there weren't more pictures of P. when he was an infant she said "your Dad's camera was broken". Which always made me think wha? No photos for posterity because you couldn't fix the camera? You couldn't find a way?

Well, for the last two months my camera has been broken and I haven't been able to take any photos, or more importantly, movies. Lucy has been growing and evolving, throwing out gymnastics moves and achingly cute gurgles and I have been glaring at her telling her we can't afford to record, so please, halt all development. LK obviously has his impressively large and manly camera so I've not been completely without a tool (bizarre sexual word play) but I've missed having my little point-and-shoot camera and my blog has become a barren wasteland of words when I know that all you really want to do is look at the pictures.

But then the recent wildfires made me realize that one of the things you grab in a natural disaster are your photos - your memories - and that made me quash my inner tight-wad and buy a new camera. I need, I want, I must have! I am a one-woman economic stimulus package. To hell with the expense, Lucy was experiencing serious second-child syndrome and I didn't want her growing up with a picture of her at birth and then one of her at graduation.

Except my inner Yorkshireman prevailed (short arms long pockets) and it appears I bought a camera without a memory card. Gah! Which is why there are no pictures from yesterday's ultra hip surfboard convention. An event that LK thought would be peppered with hot Roxy-clad chicks but was instead absolutely choc-a-block with mouth-wateringly athletic and sun-bleached surfer-boys and I had no camera! I can't apologize enough. That's just what you needed to look at with your cup of coffee and pastry on a drizzly Monday morning I know...

I will be buying a memory card today. Watch out world!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Post-Traumatic Stress

Doesn't it seem that all I write about these days are children or wildfires?

Well, today you're in luck. Today I bring you, children and wildfires. Please don't change the channel.

A lot of people have been asking how Anna has been handling the recent inferno/evacuation debacle, which is a good question. Children have a way of seeming to handle the most ridiculously stressful situations with complete oblivion, and then they regurgitate them at a later date to let you know that a) yes they are psychologically scarred for life and b) bad parent, bad parent, sit!

The first time we were evacuated I tried very, very hard not to mention the fire. It was late evening and the fire was behind the house and not readily visible from our subterranean lair. God knows why she believed we were taking our computer, guinea pig and several suitcases to our friends house to 'watch the Lakers game', but she did. Anna therefore recalls this incident as the time all the lights went out and Mummy started swearing. That's right, she doesn't remember the fire but she does remember the other F word.

The first night of the Jesusita fire we were not directly threatened. In fact we put up evacuees. The local school across the road was used as a helicopter staging ground though, and throughout the night helicopters were taking off and landing about 100 yards away. It was like Vietnam. Every 40 seconds one would thunder overhead. Until suddenly at about 4am it stopped. What, suddenly there's a City ordinance prohibiting mass air traffic from 4am onwards but before that's it fine? Regardless, the girls slept through it all. Happily oblivious to the military operation going on outside.

The next day though, the fire couldn't be missed. As I tore across town to pick up Anna, running in to roadblock after roadblock I was becoming increasingly frantic. The fire was an apocalyptic orange-black cloud covering an increasingly large portion of the sky. I sat in the parking lot of Anna's school for a lifetime (40 seconds approx) trying to put my 'hello birds, hello sky' flight attendant smile on so I wouldn't frighten the kids. Anna may have smelt a rat when she said "Momma I need to find my shoes" and through my perma-smile I cried, "we don't need shoes! let's just go home! no shoes! let's just go home! right now!!"

In the car, shoe-less, the fire looming over us I tried to pacify her with Raffi, but Anna wanted to talk about the smoke plume. Any fears that she may be terrified were quickly allayed when she said "Kyra said that cloud is a storm but I said it is a fire. Fuh-fuh-fire. Fire begins with F and so does frog and fashion and I would like to be a fashion princess when I get home when I get home can I put my princessdressonandcanIwearmysparklyshoesand......" You get the idea. There we were driving in to the eye of the fire storm, sirens wailing all around, me fielding phonecalls about my father-in-law packing up our house and our friend evacuating with Lucy, and Anna? She was planning her evening ensemble.

Several hours later, ash falling like snow all around us, we drove out to the Santa Ynez valley to our friend's vineyard. In a typically petulant 3 year old way she complained that she wanted to go home, she wanted to watch Noggin, she didn't like the valley, etc etc but then she fell asleep. The rest of the four days we were evacuated she had a rare old time, playing with her friend K and taking endless baths with her in the ranch's old Victorian bathtub that was so deep Anna disappeared underwater for a time (according to K, she was underwater for "about 8", but K's grasp of time can sometimes be questionable, case in point when I asked her how long her Spring Break was and she said "like, a really long time, I think 13 years, maybe 10".)

Here's some pictures of Anna enduring her forced wildfire evacuation. Doesn't she look stressed?

It remains to be seen how much this has affected Anna. I know I flinch every time I hear a siren, and I panic if I see anything orange at a distance. I need advice. I don't know how much to talk this through with her. I'm tempted to take my cues from her, but so far she hasn't mentioned the fire at all, which has to be some kind of denial. I don't want her growing up having panic attacks whenever someone produces a lighter. It would be rather embarrassing if she ducked for cover when we lit her birthday candles.

As for the true victims of the fire. Our tenants came to us yesterday to confess that they believe the violent shaking from the low-flying helicopters has caused their toilet cistern to crack. It boggles the mind.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


This is the view of the fire behind our friend's house. The friends who were looking after Lucy on the Wednesday afternoon. LK took this picture from Gelson's parking lot after we'd finally been reunited with Lulu. Believe it or not the fire had died down a little at this point as the winds were calming.

This afternoon we went up to LK's Dad's house to help them unpack and to see the damage. The trees at the edge of his property were singed and they are unbelievably lucky to still have their house. This is the view from their back deck:

While we were helping them unpack their cars a firetruck drove by with some no doubt very tired firefighters all the way from Orange City, CA - nearly 200 miles away. They parked the truck in front of my father-in-laws house and piled out to help unload the car.

Then they picked up brooms and started sweeping all the ash from the drive and the deck.

I'm not kidding, look:

They even offered Anna a tour of the fire engine. She declined the mommy blogger dream photo of her sitting at the steering wheel with a fire helmet on. Apparently she's a little scared of fire engines these days. Can't imagine why. Three wildfires and two evacuations and the kid's not even 4.

As a paltry thankyou we gave them a bag of (no doubt) smoky fruit from LK's Dad's citrus trees.

"Hi! Thanks for saving our house! Here's a lemon!"

They thanked us and promised to make margaritas with the limes.

Mmm, margaritas with sweaty firemen.


This Mothers Day there are 30,000 grateful Santa Barbarans returning to their homes. That's a third of the population of the town. Basically, if you weren't evacuated you were housing someone who was. Despite the terror, the frantic packing and re-uniting, there was such a wonderful sense of camaraderie that is only rarely seen in this often snooty town. Hotels gave evacuee discounts, people took in strangers or took care of friends children if their parents were stranded. We ourselves had an 86 year old neighbour of our father in law staying with us until we in turn were evacuated - quite what she made of sleeping in Anna's princess bed is another story I'm sure. All over town there are homemade signs on every street thanking the firemen and the police, and I'm certain their money's no good wherever they try to buy food or drink.

On this Mother's Day I'm sure each and every Mum is re-entering their freshly smoked home, so happy to be back and re-united with things they thought they might not see again.

I'm certain a few of them are on their 10th load of laundry having hauled their entire jumbled household contents back inside thinking - some Mother's Day this is. This sucks. I want a rain check.

OK, maybe that's just me.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Evacuation Vacation

Really, I could write a book about this shit. How to pack an entire house of valuables and memories in less than 10 minutes when threatened with evacuation.

Yes, it is just 'stuff', and trust me when I was finally reunited with Lucy in a parking lot on the corner of State and Las Positas yesterday afternoon, flames screaming towards the sky behind us, I didn't need telling what the most important things were. 

However, having been evacuated from our home twice in the last six months (and we pay a premium to live here - are we fucking insane?) I can say that there's stuff and there's stuff. Toothbrush, passports, birth certificates etc are all fine but when you're lying in a friends bed wondering if your house is on fire, that's when you go 'oh crap, I wish I'd packed that photo of my Dad and brother instead of all of Anna's pairs of pink shoes'.

My assistant lost her house in the fires yesterday. When we spoke yesterday afternoon before we both bolted from work she gave me the best piece of advice I've ever received about being evacuated in a hurry:

Pack your laundry basket. Don't stand in front of your wardrobe wasting valuable time looking for that pair of pin-striped work trousers, and that top you always wear them with, which necessitates that bra and those shoes. Get a black bin bag and tip your entire washing basket in there. Those are the clothes you wear all the time and the clothes you will miss the most.

Unfortunately her fiance had to run to get out of his house before it burnt and they lost everything.

Other good advice? Don't drive over the speed limit, on your cell phone, looking at the fire, eyes blinded by tears because the fucking Sheriff has blocked the road to your daughter's preschool and then swear at the police do an exaggerated one-handed u-turn and try and remember a sneaky back roads route to Hollister - because that's exactly what everyone else is doing and you need to pay attention to them because they are surely going to kill you a lot faster than that fire.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Fuh, Fuh, FIRE!

Firstly, a huge hello to all the readers of Julia's site who have accidentally clicked their way over here. Welcome! Feel free to walk around, admire the scenery and I will try and tidy things up a bit around here for you.

Actually, there I was, falling off my computer chair the other day when looking at my stats wondering where the chuff did all these new readers suddenly come from when I am used to only my Mum, my brother and a lovely lady from Missouri popping by and then suddenly hello interweb! It's a bit like coming home and finding 100 people on your couch nattering and having a cup of tea.

So there I was thinking, crikey, I'd better find something a little more entertaining to write about than me trying to cure Lucy's eye infection by squirting breast milk into her eye (you think you're surprised, you should have seen Lucy's face - she was like hey! lady! my mouth's over here!). When suddenly.........

Another wildfire.

Another mandatory evacuation.

So much worse than last time. 

We are camped out miles from home at a friends ranch (it doesn't hurt that it's gorgeous up here). I will post more later about the fire, but I will leave you with the fact that for 2 hours yesterday while the fire raged out of control, traffic snarled in every direction I couldn't get to either Anna or Lucy. That is a special kind of terror.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Tempus Fugit

Anna: Momma! Momma! Momma!
Me: What!
Anna: Momma! Momma! Momma!

.....etc etc

Me: *sigh* Anna if you need something come downstairs please, I'm feeding Lucy
Anna: But Momma, I've been waiting since the dinosaurs.