Sunday, July 29, 2012

Just Who Do You Think We Are?

I thoroughly enjoyed the Olympics opening ceremony, but based on the incredibly bewildered response I've been getting from Californians, I think I need to explain why. I think it did a brilliant job of defining what Britain is today, and what made it the modern country we now see. It spoke more to the Britain that I know, than the image that is often portrayed of bowler hats and tea shops. This was my country, every inch of it.

I love that it felt so inclusive, which is after all an Olympic idea. It felt like an opening ceremony for the people of Britain, and perhaps that's why it has been described as left wing propaganda - although what opening ceremony is not propaganda? A rosy retelling of Statehood? This at least was warts and all and based in reality. Giant baby and sick children trampolining on hospital beds reality.

I was joking with LK the morning of the ceremony that it would be funny if the Queen jetpacked in like they did with the LA Olympics - how hilarious then that she and Daniel Craig recorded that spoof of her parachuting in to the ceremony. That, and the Mr. Bean part lampooning Chariots of Fire was brilliant - we are a nation that likes to make fun of itself. Although - Mitt Romney learned that only the British can list our shortfalls, heaven forbid the foreigner that echoes our concerns. It reminded me of when someone comes to your house and you say 'oh heck, please excuse the mess' to which they're supposed to say 'oh it looks great' and absolutely never 'yes, it is a bit of shambles'. Perhaps you have to be British to understand that bizarre concept.

 I can really understand why a lot of people thought it was mishmashed and confusing though - not at all helped by the NBC commentators who blundered their way through scenes, failing to narrate or explain. Or perhaps a good show doesn't need an explanation - but then you run the risk of dumbing it down and Disneyfying things with  'this is what you should be feeling now' etc. It was so rich, constantly so much going on, that it was hard to take it all in. A visual feast or pandemonium, I suppose it could be interpreted as both. Over here it also went to commercial every five minutes which didn't help things, and apparently an entire section of dancing and honouring the victims of 7/7 was also cut.

I think the NHS scene has caused the greatest mystification amongst American audiences. Even Meredith Vierra was scoffing 'they feel so strongly about socialized medicine over here that they're choosing to use it to represent themselves.' I have to admit, the use of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells as background music did not help things, adding an Exorcist theme to the hundreds of children lying in their hospital beds, and the giant baby part was a bit weird. I loved what they were trying to achieve though - tying in Britain's rich history of children's literature with JM Barrie and JK Rowling with our history of free healthcare - literally no child left behind. Whether that was explained properly, that JM Barrie left all the proceeds from Peter Pan to support Great Ormond Street Hospital - the London hospital for critically sick children, was not clear. Or the fact that it was actual doctors and nurses doing the dancing, not paid dancers or State peons. There were more genuine smiles down there than I've seen in an opening ceremony before - although not from the Queen. Could she not have cracked a smile? I think she was hoping Danny Boyle would cut things short so she could go home and put her slippers on.

I loved the music montage - although quite frankly having Paul McCartney sing Hey Jude was probably a much better idea on paper than in reality, his voice being not what it was. They could have wallowed in the 'British Invasion' of the swinging 60s, but it was brilliant that they made it up to date - British music is still hugely relevant in the clubs of today. Not that I would know. Lucy was completely absorbed by the 'kissing scene' as she called it when the boy and girl kiss in front of Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral (and perhaps the first lesbian kiss broadcast in an opening ceremony? Did anyone else notice that clip from Brookside - or the fact that they juxtaposed Will and Kate's kiss with the dogs kissing from Lady and The Tramp?). Perhaps a little too inclusive for some people, but Lucy loved it. It's definitely something I could watch again, and not just because it included both David Beckham and Daniel Craig....

What did you think?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Note to Self

When I was Anna's age I used to spend all my pocket money on sweets from the post office down our road. All 10p of it. Anna wants to spend her money on apps, which makes me feel about a hundred years old. Apps, they're dentist approved!

She doesn't yet have her own iPhone or iTouch or any of that, I'm still very much in control when it comes to all her viewing, so any app purchases have to be downloaded on to my phone and come out of my iTunes account. Basically I pay her allowance and she hands it back to me for 'Dragonvale' or 'Butterfly Farm' or another such game that sends me push notices at work which text me and say "your snarkle needs a friend" or "your lightning dragon just hatched, put him in the nursery!" That just screams professionalism in the middle of an EHR meeting. "I'm sorry gentlemen, will you excuse me for a moment, it seems my baby cyber-penguin just texted to say he's lonely and hungry."

But just in case you're rolling your eyes and thinking that this generation of children are growing up too fast, that Anna is 7 going on 17, she then goes and does something that is pure kid:

We had downloaded an app for her, but it was getting late so I said she couldn't play until the morning. Wanting to make sure she got a jump on the day, and could cram in as much 'screen time' as we would allow prior to going to summer camp she came up with this foolproof (her words) idea to make sure she woke up early and ready......

The precursor to the sticky note. Just sellotape it to your head (text side down of course - you want to make sure you can read it!). 

Good job she saw the sellotape before she saw the stapler!! 

Here's one I made earlier....

Yes it fell off, yes she still remembered to wake up at 6:30am to grab my phone before I had chance to say no.....and yes, I'm still laughing.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Late Bloomer

I don't have a green thumb. I find it hard enough to keep my kids alive, let alone plants. I have one tub of tomatoes that I'm 'nurturing' and that is proving to be enough hard work. Our house lies at the foot of a flip-flop-snappingly steep slope. The only way to keep plants alive is to keep them at the top of the slope where they have access to more than three hours of sunlight a day, but then we have to water them by hand as our sprinklers are temperamental at best, and at worst cost us hundreds of dollars in irrigation a month.

Our back garden is mostly notable for gophers, collections of terracota pots that may or may not contain something that might grow and an old turtle-shaped sandbox that now contains Anna's 'garden'.

We've been trying really hard this year (ie we've been remembering to water almost daily...) and I have a healthy crop of green ball-bearing sized tomatoes and Anna has one ambitious and incredibly leggy pea plant. Yesterday Anna came tearing in to the house clutching a ripe cherry tomato and a pea pod. "Let's have a salad!" she cried, which was both sweet and over-reaching in a loaves-and-the-fishes kind of way.

Let's have a salad! 

In the end we had carnitas tacos and everyone had a quarter of a cherry tomato and either one or two peas, which all felt very Dickensian. LK declined his tomato so that Tiny Tim (aka Lucy) could have a full half.

Next week we will be attempting to make chile verde out of three tomatillos.

I am actually very much enjoying this foray in to gardening. I like hiking up the hill each morning to see if anything's flowered and/or ripened. I know for a fact that it is all going to peak in an explosion of bounty the minute we head off on holiday in a few weeks.

As with most things in life though, you can work really hard at something and see no results, and then something you've been neglecting in the corner suddenly springs to life and Mother Nature makes a mockery of all your careful tending.

Take this night-blooming Cereus which just appeared early one morning and wilted about thirty minutes after this photo was taken:

You cannot be Cereus.

If it hadn't been a weekday morning then we wouldn't have been up with the birds and we would have missed it entirely. They flower very rarely, only overnight and are gone by morning. The flower above is about the size of a large grapefruit.

I said to Anna "isn't that the biggest flower you've ever seen in your life" to which she replied "it's giant but the biggest flower in the world is in Borneo and is a staggering one meter across" which once again proves she is not just reading but memorizing her National Geographic Kids magazines.

Still, I thought it was spectacular, and all the more beautiful for choosing to flower in our   wasteland of a back yard.

What's your garden surprised you with this year?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fresh But Not Quite So Easy

About a year ago they knocked down our local butchers shop. Not just any old butchers, but the place where Julia Childs used to buy her meat. In its place they built a supermarket, but what could have just added insult to injury, actually turned out to be the silver lining to yet another metaphor.

The store in question was Fresh and Easy - not just a supermarket but a British-based supermarket, owned by none other than Tesco. Be still my beating heart. We waited a couple of days to try it out, so we didn't seem too American and keen, and here we are marveling at the 'British Foods' section. All 10 square feet of it.

Wow! Branston Pickle, and only four blocks from our house!

I was so excited. I love my old mainstay, Trader Joes, but they don't have the staples that you end up needing, like shampoo, tin foil, goldfish and laundry detergent. Fresh and Easy had the name brand stuff, but also, that English mainstay 'ready meals'. American pre-made meals tend to come in two varieties 'Hungryman' and 'diet', and both varieties are processed within an inch of their lives. Fresh and Easy comes with main meals, side dishes, salads etc, all pre-made but with minimal processing and very little rubbish added. I could see a future of decent meals of an evening. Variety. Nutrition. It was going to be fabulous.

Unfortunately Fresh and Easy mimics the British supermarket model in one other critical way - and that's the self service checkout. And that, well, that's causing a bit of a problem over here. The first time we went there were Fresh and Easy helpers everywhere, eager to educate people on the finer points of scanning their own groceries. I was game for the challenge, no technology can defeat me, and worked my way through scanning my four British food items. Two weeks later, and I'm there on a Friday afternoon with two exhausted children and an entire week's shop, queues a mile long and one incredibly harried looking checkout helper.

It was an unmitigated disaster. Every four items the belt would freeze as one or both of my girls would lean on the conveyor, activating the weight sensor and causing the machine to freak out that my scanned greek yogurt was actually 4lbs heavier than predicted and thus there was a *foreign object unscanned* so the lady would have to come and unfreeze the scanner, while simultaneously trying to help every single other customer having the same issue. Then the sheer volume of groceries started backing up, on to the conveyor, causing yet more error messages, then it wouldn't accept the sku code of my baked potatoes, then Lucy touched the sensor again and I'm glaring at her like 'so help me if you put a finger out of place again I will snap you like a twig', while the increasingly frazzled assistant is both bagging, re-setting the sensor and wishing she'd had the qualifications for a job at H&M instead. To cut the glacial atmosphere I joked "wow, it's not exactly family friendly this system is it?" as Lucy dumps a pile of bananas on the conveyor without scanning them first - oh the horror!!! and the computer beeps frantically. And then the assistant glares at me and says "they brought it over from the UK to take away our hours" and I'm thinking "OK then! Trader Joes it is! They have stickers!"

This is how mad the Fresh and Easy clerk was at me - milk, olive oil and a ten pack of capri suns in one flimsy plastic bag. Do you think she was trying to tell me to bag my own groceries?

I will be back, for my clotted cream and Branston Pickle, but only when I'm buying a maximum of two items and only when I'm child free.

To be honest this is probably the way of the future, but to launch full throttle in to self-scanning (as your only option) in an American grocery culture where customers are not even bagging their own stuff is maybe too much of a great leap forward. This is still a customer service heavy culture. Self-scanning works for one item by not for a family-sized shop.

Still, the Thai green curry was very tasty though, and that bread for 98c wasn't bad either....

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Games People Play

LK loves to find treasures at thrift stores (charity shops, for those in the UK). Some of his finds are pretty good:

and some, well, you get what you pay for.

Take this game of Jenga. You create a tower from wooden blocks, and each player takes a turn pulling out a brick and placing it on top, creating an increasingly unstable structure. Perfect rainy-day family fun, except it never rains here.

The girls opened the package and started building a tower out of the blocks. They were pretty excited to begin playing and called us over to take part.

"Err, you might want to take this one back to the thrift store" I tell LK after only the briefest of glances at the game.

"You can't take stuff back to thrift stores" says LK.

"Oh I'm pretty sure you can take this back" I say as I hand him one of the blocks, the one that says 'fake an orgasm'. Each one of the blocks had a handwritten message on it, 'mas cerveza', 'take a shot from the belly button of the person on your left', 'remove an item of clothing'. You get the picture.

"Oh man" says LK


"I totally went to the wrong college. Where were these parties when I was at school and what the hell is 'lefties'?"


Meanwhile Anna wants to know how to fake an organism, so we start talking about bio-ethics and Dolly the Sheep as LK packs up the game making sure to read every single block.

This is the PG-rated selection, but somehow I don't think 'lefties' means 'socialists'.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How The Real World Eats

I get home at about 6pm with both girls and LK walks in at about 7:30pm. While I'm waiting for him to get home I feed the girls. As soon as he walks in the door I head out to go for a 30min migraine-busting run. Consequently we eat late, and as I have my lunch hour from 12 til 1 at work, I'm ready to gnaw the ulnar of an unsuspecting child by the time dinner's on the table.

Tonight I came home and as dinner was cooking, I helped myself to a few crisps (chips). LK chimes in "your body rebuilds after a run with whatever you eat directly after", so I counter "well, where's my perfectly balanced dinner waiting for me when I get home?" He fires back "you should have run longer". So there we are, a happily married couple bickering away due to low blood sugar.

Cut to me, wishing the Trader Joes frozen Cioppino would cook a little faster, turning the gas up and watching it boil.

LK: It's boiling already.
Me: I just want it to cook faster, I'm hungry.
LK: It's not going to boil any boilier.

I had to laugh. We need a wife.

Do any of you work long hours and still cook when you get home? How do you avoid reaching for pre-made junk food or ordering a takeaway? I suppose I could eat with the girls as soon as I get home and let LK eat alone, but I think that way I'd end up eating two meals and defeating the whole purpose of a run!

Monday, July 09, 2012


It's week four of summer - it must be gymnastics camp. This one was a new experience for all of us. I'd personally never fancied gymnastics as a kid - something about the violent j-curve of every gym-rat's spine screamed 'stick with ballet'. Anna was persuaded in to it by a friend from school - one of those zippy little girls who can effortlessly cartwheel seventeen times in a row. On the way there I told Anna that she shouldn't do anything she wasn't completely comfortable with (a recipe for a dull but spiral-fracture free life.....). "what" she replied "like a double back flip?". Well, yes, that definitely qualified.

Two days in to the camp, and I got the call. The gymnastics teacher phoned me at work to say there'd been an incident and I needed to come out there. The call every parent dreads.

"She's got dry skin" the camp coordinator said, "we've tried sunscreen but she says it's really itchy and she needs you to bring some lotion."

Leaving work to bring some Aveeno to your child hardly screams professionalism does it? I did feel a tad guilty though. When Anna was born her skin was so soft that our fingertips felt too coarse to do it justice. To truly appreciate the combination of silk and velvet of her newborn skin, we had to touch it with our lips or the back of our hands. It was other-wordly soft. Cut to age seven and three weeks of tennis/swim camp, with its endless round of pool, sunscreen, sweat and sun exposure meant her skin had changed into a hide that would make an eighty year old Floridian proud. She was positively scaly and I made a big production of lubing her up every night with lotion or the incredibly greasy but effective Aquafor.

I'd dug my own grave. By commenting on her dry skin it had become a 'big deal' one that meant she had to call me in the middle of her camp. I fobbed her off until lunchtime, hoping that if I left it a couple of hours and called later they would tell me everything was okay and she'd stopped complaining. No such luck "she's still asking about it" they said.  Perhaps there is some gym camp rule that means they can't apply lotion to a minor, perhaps the act could be misconstrued, perhaps they wanted to see just how over-indulged this child really was. Who knows. I had to remind myself that she's only seven, and more importantly, that I could make her pay for it later. I still can't believe I spent my lunch hour driving lotion to my crusty child. I suppose I should just be glad that she had a good time at the camp, and she did, she had a great time. The lotion call wasn't a ruse to get to see me during the day (even I can't flatter myself that much).

Her big finale on Friday was the back-bend / bridge (?) seen above. Not a double back flip in sight, and what gorgeous shiny skin.....

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Do You Have A Flag?

I have to admit, I love this American flag that Anna made at camp yesterday. I like to think that her half-British subconscious caused her to draw it backwards.

I realize that for most Americans this holiday is more about the birth of a nation, than it is about overthrowing Colonial rule. Even so, it is a difficult holiday to be both British and American, so this flag is a keeper.

In the spirit of the holiday though, I'd like to write a list of all the little things that I think make America great. In no particular order. Please feel free to add your suggestions and I'll repost the list with your name and a link.

Reasons to Celebrate America:
  • S'mores
  • Mailboxes
  • Confident children
  • LL Bean flannel sheets
  • Ranch dressing
  • Jeans
  • Thanksgiving
  • Drive-in movies
  • Drive-thru restaurants
  • Cocktails
  • Have a nice day
  • Road trips
  • Going out for breakfast
  • Customer service
  • Coffee
  • Free refills and ice
  • Hummingbirds
  • Why are so many of these food related?
  • My LK
  • Summer camp; Brunch; Fireflies; Cardinals (the birds, not the catholic priests); Crate & Barrel; reliable beach weather, bagels and challah bread - Nappy Valley Girl
  • Marshmallows - Anonymous

Please feel free to add your suggestions and I'll repost the list with your name and a link.

Anyway, I hope you had a very happy day, whether it was Independence Day, or just Wednesday.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

How To Pay For Summer Camp

I think this time of year actually unites working Mums and stay at home Mums. What a concept. The summer is brutal for both. Unless of course you actually like spending every waking minute with your bored progeny, explaining why they can't spend 18+ hours a day rehabilitating cyber kittens in their virtual vet clinic.

This time of year has got to be hard for both species of Mum. Stay at home Mums are suddenly in the trenches all day as schools let out, and working Mums have to stitch together a patchwork of camps, odd pick-up times and ride-shares. It's another full time job.

This summer Anna is doing tennis camp, swimming camp, gymnastics, Girls Inc, her old preschool and her top pick 'farm camp'. We are also - amazingly - going on vacation for a week, so that left only TEN weeks of vacation to cover. I have so many camps, with so many weird drop-off times to manage that I wrote it all on the calendar because if I get hit by a bus in the next few weeks it will kill me that my carefully spun spider web of activities will be for naught. I also wrote it on the calendar because you can guarantee that LK has invested as much time in planning Anna's summer of 'enrichment', as I have planning England's European Cup victory party. Nada.

Don't even ask how much this is costing.

Did you know that there is a very real possibility that budget cuts will mean the next school year will be three weeks shorter? By my reckoning that means that Anna will only actually be in school for three days in February and four days in March.

Good job California - what a great way to plan for an educated and productive future workforce. No really, I think you should keep all those State retirees at full pension. It's the only obvious course of action!!

Lucy on the other hand is in preschool, which - thank the Lord - means she only has one week of holiday to cover. Otherwise my head would explode with the logistics of it all.

Anna is happily oblivious to all this. Like me, she sees an unending summer of camps, but where I see thousands of checks written and calling in a year's worth of car-pooling debt, she sees the possibility of new friends, new skills and new opportunities. She is already nut brown from spending every day of the last three weeks in the pool (if you're reading this from the UK - yes American schools finish in the first week of June). She is having a wonderful summer.

The rationale behind this GIGANTIC summer vacation is that America was an agrarian economy and children were needed to work in the fields over the summer. So it seems a no-brainer to me that we should be allowed to let our children actually work in the fields over the summer. Right? That way instead of paying $250 for a week of 'organic farm camp' at the Center for Urban Agriculture, Anna actually gets hands on experience picking strawberries down in the fields of Oxnard. I get childcare and the family gets a little money coming in instead of going out.

But apparently that's against the law. Sheesh.