Saturday, April 30, 2011

Royal Wedding Tea Party

Do you know how hard it is to persuade an American to eat a biscuit called a 'digestive'? It was much easier to hand out the champagne.

On the way to school on Friday morning a tiara-bedecked Anna asked 'but why is this important?' - which to be fair was a good question. So I explained to her that she is half British, and that her future King had got married that morning. I told her that Britain was one of the oldest monarchys in the world, and contained the most famous Kings and Queens of history. I said that this was a day to be proud to be British - even half British - to be proud of our heritage. We talked about her being a quarter Danish, a little bit German, a little bit Irish, and half British, but mostly American.

She thought about it for a while and then said 'people can have a lot of halves, can't they?'.

Yes, that is a telephone-box cake stand.

 And just to remain truly humble to the occasion I will admit that this was the first time I realized that the Queen doesn't sing our National Anthem, 'God Save The Queen'. When they were panning across the congregation in Westminster Abbey, there she was tight-lipped and silent. 'Wow, she's not singing' I said. To which LK replied 'well, duh'.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Glowing With Health

The earthquake in Japan had quite a few people on the West Coast of America worried. Not just for the tsunami that caused quite a savage ripple in the Santa Barbara harbour. A couple of days after the disaster struck, I was in a meeting put on by the local medical society. The nurse giving the talk spent a good fifteen minutes creating a maelstrom of panic about the radioactive cloud headed our way.

Apparently she'd already sent her husband to Costco. With a list.

There were worried glances. One of the less mentally agile in the room asked if we would be able to see the cloud coming. It was going to make landfall in a matter of hours. There was talk of iodine tablets, of stocking up with supplies for the five days we would all be quarantined inside our buildings. People asked if we should eat the vegetables in our gardens or drink out of the tap. Everybody does so enjoy a brief flutter of panic.

Bearing in mind this was IF the reactor blew and IF it came our way.

That's when I thought - hang on a minute. The Fukushima reactor is thousands of miles away from California. Thousands more miles than Chernobyl was to the north of England.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl meltdown. Twenty-five years ago this week a huge radioactive cloud drifted across the north of England, and we, well for as much as I can remember, we were told not to play outside in the rain. I think for a year we were advised not to eat local lamb as they had stayed outside in the rain - but that was pretty much it. I know for a fact that we ate the fruit and veg growing in our garden. We drank water straight from the local reservoir. Did we just panic less, or was there nothing we could do?

I am surprised there wasn't much mention of Chernobyl when Fukushima was threatening to melt down. I was even more surprised when my assistant at work hadn't even heard of Chernobyl.

God I feel old. And radioactive. Does that make me invincible? Like irradiated food, will I fail to go bad? I'm sure we all just got a dose equivalent to an x-ray or a half hour mobile phone call.

I am not discounting the threat of a nuclear meltdown. Not at all. There is a nuclear power plant about two hours drive away - Diablo Canyon - that is both on the coast, thus in a tsunami-risk area, and it's on a fault line. That is something to worry about. It was just interesting to be in a room full of panicking people and to find out that I'd actually gone through their def com delta moment before, without even realizing it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Where Does The Easter Bunny Come From?

For two countries with very similar traditions, Easter is a remarkably dissimilar holiday. Growing up in the UK, Easter always meant:

  • Hollow chocolate eggs filled with sweets
  • Hot cross buns
  • Daffodils
  • Big family get-together/dinner
  • 3 weeks off school, Friday/Mon off for the grown-ups

Over in the US, the key Easter themes seem to be:

  • Easter egg hunts
  • Dying Easter eggs
  • Easter baskets
  • The Easter Bunny
  • 'Peeps' (check out this link to Radmegan and her awesome needle felted peeps - it will also help all you Brits who are wondering what they chuff 'peeps' are, if not a group of Facebook friends....)
  • No chuffing time off work at all.   

.......I'm sure many of you have noticed that religion is missing from both of my lists - because we are essentially an agnostic family. Quite frankly, in both countries, chocolate appearing magically on Easter Sunday is pretty much a religious experience in itself. I'm not sure that John Lennon was fair in saying The Beatles were bigger than Jesus - but I'm sure chocolate is a pretty solid contender.

A lot of people are surprised to learn that the Easter Bunny, and the concept of hiding eggs is not native to the UK. I'm honestly not sure if England is still Easter Egg hunt free - I've been gone for 15 years after all - and somehow I think it's started to be adopted, in the same way that Halloween has become a much bigger deal.

My first Easter Egg hunt was age 26 in Santa Barbara - and I took no prisoners. I do think it's a brilliant and fun tradition, although Anna admitted only tonight that she was a little confused about why a rabbit would leave eggs - after all, mammals have live young don't they?

She wanted to leave carrots out for the Easter Bunny, in the same way we leave mince pies for Father Christmas. The myth was starting to multiply. We did do a small hunt around our barrio backyard this morning, but the Easter Bunny also left more substantial gifts in the form of a much-longed for Easter Lily for Anna and a bumble-bee balloon for Lucy. We did not try to link Easter and its associated fertility rituals with the giant bumble-bee balloon. It's just something we knew would make her really happy. And it did, briefly, until it came loose from its ribbon and drifted skywards.

Is there anything sadder than a two year old watching a balloon gradually float away? They take a heartbreaking amount of time to disappear from view too. She was still pointing and imploring us to 'go get it' when it was a pinprick speck dancing a waltz with a SouthWest Airlines 747.

A couple of days before Easter, we'd dyed eggs at our friends house - 120 eggs painted every colour of the rainbow:

Jen chose the standard inorganic dyes on the right, but dabbled with organic homemade dyes on the left, she used coffee, beets, blueberries and turmeric - boiled up with white vinegar. They all held up surprisingly well, although they took longer to work than the shop-bought dyes, and took a lot more prep and washing up (something I would imagine - as not being a true friend, I managed to bugger off home long before the pans hit the sink.....)

Then, yesterday Anna went to another friend's house and dyed eggs, had an Easter Egg hunt, and made a huge Easter Bunny cake. 

It has been Easterpalooza round here, but a lot of fun - that is until the chocolate crash hits at 10am - as evidenced by this downed princess....a princess without a bumble-bee balloon.

Oh Easter Bunny, you fickle friend.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

How To Celebrate A Royal Wedding

I was a little bit older than Anna is now when Charles and Di got married. I still have the mug:

I like to give it to blokes when they have a cup of coffee at our house, and watch them squirm. 

I wish we could be in England for the Royal Wedding. I'm not a huge royalist by any means, after all, the funeral of Princess Diana created a national day of mourning out of my wedding day. I do like a good excuse for a party though, and living in California makes me feel a little like Fergie - everyone expects me to be involved in some way, but my invitation's been lost in the mail.

I will not be getting up at 3am to watch the wedding, and we will not be having a street party to celebrate. After all, the last memorable thing that happened in our neighbourhood was a car being stolen. It was recovered on the West Side of town with an assassinated gang member in it.

The good news is we've found your car.....

Still, the girls are harf English, (although Anna admits to being 'mostly' American) and I want them to acknowledge the enormity of the day. Whatever camp you fall in, you have to admit it's a what-were-you-doing-on-the-day kind of event.

We had a street party when Charles and Di got married. I remember treasure hunts, bunting, girls dressed as princesses and my Mum being very cross that our black and white TV did absolutely nothing for the fabulous dresses and hats on display at St. Pauls.

Instead of throwing in the towel and calling it a normal Friday, I've decided to hold a Royal Wedding Tea Party. In the non-Sarah Palin sense. Girls in princess dresses and plastic tiaras, Mums with cups of tea or champagne. I've splashed out on Union Jack bunting and good old English cake and biscuits:

I'm also going to have another stab at making flapjack - and this time I'm going to line the tin so it doesn't have to be chiseled out and eaten oat by oat.

Royal Wedding fervour is just starting to ramp up over here. We have been relatively immune up until now. I think things may have got a little out of hand in the UK - considering this story from Huffington Post: Apparently Waity Katie's image was found Allah-like on a jelly bean....

My guests will just have to make do with a jammie dodger.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Emergency Entertaining

Last night Anna came home and said that tomorrow her school were going to be spending the day at a campground - that much was known - and that I was signed up to bring a salad.

I've had to grow pretty adept at this kind of last minute catering, and I bring you my #1 crowd-pleasing, ready in 2 minutes salad/appetizer/potluck dish. Shamelessly cobbled from Sunset Magazine it is so easy that a culinary clown such as myself can shine. I always keep mini mozzarella balls (Ciliegine) in my fridge - they last for ever and are rarely the victim of a midnight snack cull from my husband. Baby tomatoes are also a staple in this household, being one of the few psuedo-vegetables my girls will eat. They are a no-prep lunchbox godsend. The rest is simple, assemble with a sliver of basil in between, dress (optional) with a wave of balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and 'Herbes de Provence' to really push the boat out.

The only hard thing is to go shopping for the little wooden skewers - called cocktail sticks in the UK. Just you try asking for 'cocktail sticks' in your average Ralphs or Vons and you will be trawling the alcoholic beverage aisle in vain. In the US they are called 'party picks' which is much more prohibition-friendly and they are in the paper plate aisle.

Could I have made this any easier for you??! Do you want me to hold your hand?

Amazingly, these colourful, quasi-healthy snacks are a bone of contention with LK. Because LK does not like tomatoes, and bridles every time we turn up to a hastily-convened picnic or event with said snack. He wants to know why my signature dish excludes him so entirely. To which - I mean come on - I have to reply, when he is ready to whip up a strawberry walnut salad with goddess dressing on the fly, or a health-conscious, child-friendly appetizer that is not goldfish, then he's more than welcome. I mean seriously - when was the last time you attended a 'potluck' event at a school and a bloke had provided more than 10 hot dogs and some lighter fluid?

Tomato-basil-mozzarella skewers. Your new summer dish. Guaranteed to charm your friends and irritate your loved ones. It doesn't get better than that.

Do you have any last-minute crowd-pleasers you'd like to share? I would give you complete credit of course. If you happened to be at the same party as me.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Public Service Announcement

If this helps just one person out there - then my job is done.

I work with health insurance companies every day. I have learned that while I would like to believe that healthcare is a right rather than a privilege, I do understand the layers of argument beneath that. People will always want choice and the idea that they can spend a little more and get a little extra. Especially in this country. Everyone thinks that if they just work a little harder they can create a better life for their family. People blithely underestimate the chances that a medical condition will swoop in and take everything. I can understand that, I buy lottery tickets, I'm even looking at a private school for Anna (more on that later). I've lived here long enough to understand the entrenched desire for a free market, nobody wants to feel dictated to, everyone wants to feel like they're making an informed choice (even though OMG you have no idea how many times I hear people crying 'but I thought we were covered!!').

This is not a political blog, so I need to veer back on topic.

What I need to tell you: one thing I have learned that a staggering number of people do not know, is that if you have PPO insurance and are seen in a hospital and you are treated by a non-PPO doctor you do not have to accept out of network reimbursement as your final answer. 

It happens every day at our medical practice. People are rushed to hospital, treated by the on-call specialist, who just so happens to not be covered by their insurance, and they get a huge bill as a result. You can appeal this. It's very easy. You call the number on the back of your insurance card and tell your insurance company that while sedated in the ER, or semi-conscious on the ward upstairs, you were not selecting the physicians who were treating you. They were assigned to your case. The fact that there was no cardiologist, nephrologist, or other ologist on call who was contracted with your insurance company at your moment of need is not your problem. Your insurance needs to reprocess the claim as if the physician in question was contracted. They are not going to volunteer to do this, and the doctor sending you the bill will probably not either. If you make this call they have to reimburse as if the physician was part of their PPO. The doctors get paid what is rightfully theirs, and you have less out of pocket. These are your rights and your insurance company is sure as hell not going to inform you of this.

If this has happened to you, then this one phone call could save you a lot of money.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

You Can't Always Get What You Want...

But if you try sometimes, you find, you get what you need.

Did you know that a family with two daughters is most likely to be happy?

Well, I'm sure you do know that, because I'm never able to blog when I want to, and my friend Susie shared this gem with me days and days ago and the article has been all over the media since then, but still, interesting, no?

Before kids I would have said the ideal two child family would have gone:

Boy, Girl
Girl, Boy
Boy, Boy
Girl, Girl

My rationale would have been that everyone wants a son, one of each is preferable to two of the same and hence the order.

Apparently that's not the case. The UK parenting website examined over 2,000 families to find out what the 'ideal' combination of children would be - and their results are:

1. Two girls
2. One boy and one girl
3. Two boys
4. Three girls
5. Three boys
6. Four boys
7. Two girls and one boy
8. Two boys and one girl
9. Three boys and one girl
10. Three girls and one boy
11. Two boys and two girls
12. Four girls

Singletons were not included in the study because, I suppose, it was about 'child combinations' but I think it's an odd omission. Plus I think there's the hugely important factor of age differences that is ignored - but having said that, I do agree that having two little girls is proving to be a very successful combination in the K household, and for most of the reasons cited in the study:

1. Rarely noisy
2. Help around the house
3. Very few fights and arguments
4. Quite easy to reason with
5. Play together nicely
6. Rarely ignore each other
7. They confide in you
8. Very well behaved
9. Rarely try to wind each other up
10. Really like each other

All this seems to ring true for us. They do both play quietly and volunteer around the house (often making the situation much worse as a result....). They don't squabble too much, and Anna is quite easy to reason with looks pointedly at two-year-old daughter.

Is this going to continue? To an extent I hope so. I doubt one will want to go to a monster truck rally and the other a princess pageant - I think they are more likely to have shared interests growing up - so I don't see much fighting in that arena  - but hello, what about 10 years time?? What about two teenage girls with rollercoastering hormones growing up in a financially impoverished household in a conspicuous consumption-obsessed town? Plus, does LK think two girls are fab when they both yell 'NO YAKERS DADA' (no Lakers dada) every time he touches the remote control??!

I know he wouldn't trade his girls for anything, and I suppose the bottom line for me is that once a child is born, he or she stops being a gender and starts being a person, an irreplaceable part of your heart.

But girls call you, and remember your birthday, and stop you dressing like a twenty years out of date nut-job when you're in your 50s.

There, I said it.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

When Going Green Turns You Red

There was a pretty self-congratulatory column in one of our local papers the other day, about how fabulously progressive Santa Barbara was in the realm of 'saving the planet'. I do agree that in a lot of ways, California is on the cutting edge of environmental consciousness - we have solar panels, electric vehicles, drough-tolerant gardens and green waste collection. But, California is still fighting the American 'bigger is better' battle. While it's true you would have a hard job to pick out your Prius amongst the dozens of other Prii (?) in a multi-storey carpark here, I wouldn't go so far as to call us the greenest of the green. People drive everywhere, and cars still have appalling mpgs. Nobody uses a washing line to dry their clothes - despite sunshine on tap. Food comes in vast over-packaged quantities. There is still a lot to be done.

What is definitely good, is the greening of our children. Local schools are working very hard to instill in our kids the need to re-use, re-purpose, and grow-your-own. The trash cans at Anna's school say 'recycling' or 'landfill' - that definitely makes you think twice. Anna's class were apparently having a discussion about how to 'save the planet' during group time the other morning. The big topic was water conservation - turning the tap off when you clean your teeth, etc. Apparently Anna had quite a novel suggestion - she was delighted to inform the group that her household was already very water conscious - because to save water, she and Lucy bath together, and Momma and Dadda shower together.


Monday, April 04, 2011

Suddenly Summer Staycation

Because we were really stupid didn't know any better, we had children far away from the helping hands of most of our relatives. Last week, being Spring Break, we had to patch together childcare using bribery, and thin on the ground vacation days.

Don't ask me what we're going to do for the THREE MONTH American summer holiday or I'll have to start breathing in to a brown paper bag.

I ended up taking Wed - Fri off, and struck it lucky. Michelloui from American Resident just asked what your favourite thing is about the town in which you live, and this is mine: I have many issues with Santa Barbara, but I have to admit, it is a great town for an impromptu vacation. You can have the most miserable work day on record, and within minutes be down at the beach, feet in the sand, sipping a beer. We couldn't find anyone to watch the girls - so I had vacation thrust upon me - and I made the most of it. There was a precipitation ceasefire and three days in a row of weather in the upper 80s - it was glorious.

This is the pool where we are lucky enough to have free access - this picture was taken at noon during Spring Break - and as you can see, it's completely deserted:

We invited friends to come and share our good fortune, and when they weren't available, I used the cunning diversion of colourful pieces of floating plastic crap. 

Lucy did not budge from that spot for hours

Going to the pool is becoming a pleasure. We're so nearly there. For the past five years it has involved mountains of swim nappies, floaties, spare clothes, many towels - all for a five minute dip with both children clinging like limpets before they turned blue. Now Anna can 'swim' - she doggie paddles like she's about to drown, and Lucy bobs around wearing armbands and a perma-smile. I reckon I am about two years away from being able to sit by the side of the pool with my nose in a good book. My kids may appear to be self-sufficient in the pool, but Anna is flirting with drowning with every puppy-paddle, and Lucy is just one deflated armband away from complete submersion.

Still, I got to float around in this beautiful outdoor pool every day, thinking about David Hockney and how we're both a long way from the North of England - and I tried not to dwell on the fact that my body was not at all prepared for a bikini in March.

We also played tennis,

Drank smoothies,

Ate some rather shi-shi frozen yogurt,

Shopped for gingerbread men, and played on playgrounds.

I had such a good time. Let me just say, looking after two small girls all day may sometimes be harder than working full time, but being a stay at home Mum beats trying to juggle being a full time Mum and a full time employee any day of the week. It was so nice to not be rushing everywhere, not to have to race across town at 5:15pm from a long day of work to pick up two overtired and over-hungry girls from school. We had a ball. 

Now - how do I conjure up a three month summer fakecation?

Friday, April 01, 2011

Zero Tolerance

I'm wondering if anyone else has experienced this. Since Lucy was born I have developed an increasing intolerance to alcohol, to the extent that one drink these days will give me a hangover of collegiate proportions. It's not fun. Particularly because I really enjoy a glass of wine with a meal, or a ridiculously overpriced cocktail at any restaurant in this shi-shi town. To say I was reluctant to believe I was becoming intolerant to my evening glass of wine, is an understatement. I wanted so badly to believe that it was maybe just red wine, just sulphites, or stress, a waning moon, pixies, anything other than that one glass of something to unwind with at the end of the day. 

It turns out that it wasn't hangovers I was dealing with. It was migraines. When Lucy was six months old I went back on the pill - except I couldn't remember what pill I'd been on in the four years post-Anna, so they tried me on a low dose hormonal thing. I spent the next two months with pounding headaches, pain like an iron stake behind my right eye, and vomiting every morning. Not ideal, so I changed over to a different brand which left me with the same migraines and vomiting, plus the hormones of a banshee. Without going in to details I will say that feeling emotionally precarious, having noise-sensitivity due to migraines, and living with two small children and running a busy medical practice - not a great lifestyle.

I know very well that there's medicines you can take, for both prevention and relief, but I've been reluctant to go that route. I think it's because I see so many patients with horrific, intractable migraines, that I've been unwilling to admit that I may have that future ahead of me. Unfortunately I do have to  take migraine pills in order to just function on some days. The few I've tried generally just turn down the volume of the pain, do nothing for the nausea, or leave me a jittery mess with the parenting tolerance of a Victorian governess. 

To cut a long story short I stopped the pill, and I stopped drinking. I officially gave up for Lent, in support of LK who also gave up booze for Lent. It wasn't such a stretch for me, obviously, as I'd all but given it up anyway. I do feel better, but not miraculously so. I still get migraines, but they are not as frequent. Sadly, it seems that all alcohol is a guaranteed trigger, and because I don't like what's out there to treat migraines, I want to try everything in my powers to try and avoid them - and that's why I've been looking at what causes them, just in case it's not just alcohol, or not alcohol at all. Briefly, migraine triggers can be:

  • Sleep disturbance (I'm looking at you Lucy)
  • Stress (ha!)
  • Alcohol *sigh*
  • Chocolate/sugar
  • Caffeine
  • Aged cheeses
  • Processed meats
  • Salt (increased blood pressure)
  • MSG
  • Having any kind of fun AT ALL

To eliminate all that from my lifestyle reminds me of a 'Wellness' seminar I went to a few years ago. The speaker stood up and gave a run-down of the things you need to do in order to live a long life: go to bed at 9pm, wake at 6am, run, eat steamed fish, fresh vegetables, yoga, no stimulants, no alcohol, etc etc. He concluded by saying that this would not guarantee that you would live til you were a 100 - it would just feel like that.


I've spoken to my doctors - and the good news is (!) - roll on menopause, it seems this too shall pass, and I will be merry again. In the meantime I feel like I've been launched in to premature middle age. It's not that you have to drink to have a good time, it's just that not drinking is such a statement. No, I'm not pregnant. No, I don't mind if you drink, please go ahead. It's ridiculous that it's such a conflict. Maybe our culture out here is too booze-centric. We do live in wine country after all. I know I should be grateful that I have identified a trigger that, when avoided, cuts my migraines in half. Plenty of people live with this pain day in, day out. I just wish it was cheese, or processed meats, or even chocolate that I was sensitive too. Yes, I'd even give up chocolate for a glass of wine at the end of the day.