Monday, April 08, 2013

Maggie - Upon Reflection

A few weeks ago we were driving along and I was chattering away telling Anna that she could grow up to be the President of the United States, because I'm that kind of mother, and she replied:

 "Mom, I can't be the President, I'm a girl"

And then I drove in to a tree. Well, I didn't obviously, but holy hell where have we gone wrong for Anna aged 7 to think that. I was truly, deeply shocked.

Whatever else I may have thought about Margaret Thatcher, she was Prime Minister throughout my entire childhood and because of that fact I never once thought that I couldn't do anything because I was a woman.

Except perhaps change down from 5th gear to 2nd gear. I still can't do that so I moved to the land of automatics.

If you grew up in the North of England like me, there were plenty of reasons to dislike Maggie. Whenever we went to see my Nanna in Barnsley there were 'Coal not Dole' signs in every window. She also made it impossible for any woman over 40 to wear a blue skirt suit without being told she looked like her. Issues people, issues.

I have nurtured a more deeply personal resentment. When I was Anna's age one of the best parts of school was being chosen to be the person to put the straws in the school milk.

Every morning a crate of miniature milk bottles was delivered to our classroom and the lucky milk monitor, allegedly chosen at random, got to spear the lids with a straw. Anyone who knows the joy of plunging a spoon through the foil top of a Nutella jar or a jar of instant coffee *English joy only* knows what I'm talking about. I didn't get to do it very often. It always seemed to be someone else's turn. Some naughty kid who'd finally done something good, or some new kid who was being made to feel special. It got to the point that I finally plucked up the courage to ask my teacher if I could please, please, please be milk monitor soon. And she said yes. And then Margaret Thatcher abolished milk for kids in schools and I never got to relive that joy.

I understand that she was trying to save money. Upon reflection I do see that there weren't a whole lot of kids running around with rickets in the leafy lanes of Harrogate BUT how was I ever going to make it to Prime Minister if I couldn't even become milk monitor? It still rankles.

So now I'm going to lecture my daughters on why America owes them a female President, and then I'm going to have a Nutella sandwich with milk.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fred is Dead

One of the things I miss most about the UK at this time of year (apart from chocolate. OMG chocolate) - is daffodils. I love the fact that vast swathes of countryside, particularly bland and boring roadsides are suddenly covered in yellow. Everything just looks so cheerful, so hopeful.

This is my poor attempt at a California recreation:

A planter from Trader Joes. When these lovely daffodils finally succumb to old age and sporadic watering, I replant them at the base of our sycamore tree.

Not exactly a riotious springtime display - but these daffodils must be pretty hardy, because by God, they come up year after year through this concrete-hard California 'soil'. Nutrient-parched earth that is a constant reminder I need to start a compost bin. The real problem though is to do with that metal contraption in the middle. That's what we're really dealing with. We have a problem, and his name is Fred. Our backyard is gopher nirvana. A steeply sloping, beautifully drained rodent idyll and Fred, so-named by the girls, has made himself quite at home. I'll be damned if he gets my daffs.

He's a bit cocky is our Fred, and LK decided to teach him a lesson. Fred was too sharp for our metal traps, but was more than happy to poke his head out of his hole inches away from the playing girls, so LK arms Lucy with a mini baseball bat and instructs her to play whack-a-mole. Five seconds later and he turns round to find Lucy delicately hand-feeding 'Fwed' with clumps of clover. Apparently Fwed can be quite persuasive. He became a fwend. I could see LK thinking 'this would have been so different if I'd have had boys'.

Anna even made a pop-up drawing with Fred able to appear and disappear out of his hole:

This is Fred - compete with mouthful of clover.
Yes, we do own a hairbrush, but no-one can ever find it.

So far Fred has left my daffodils alone. We are arming ourselves with smoke-bombs, more traps, and the thought of raised beds, or even these cool pallet gardens:

Meanwhile, there I am thinking you know, gophers really aren't such a problem in the North of England, what have I signed myself up for....and then my brother sends me this photo:

Daffodils and snowdrops - allegedly.

and suddenly springtime in Southern California's not looking too shabby.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


The other day Lucy came home from school and said "Today I did calendar, and it is Tuesday and March and a number", which is exactly how this last month has felt (with apologies for a Valentines post stretching in to mid-March).

The truth is I am training for a marathon, which is coming up in just over two months. As a result, I spend 50% of my free time jogging slowly and stiffly up and down the Santa Barbara beachfront. To say I was naive about signing up for a marathon is an understatement. Not only did I not consider how it feels to run 16 miles only to contemplate the horror of another 10, I hadn't really thought through the time commitment. If I'm not working, I'm taking care of the girls, or sleeping. It takes me hours to run anything over 10 miles. LK is having to be very supportive, and thankfully he is. I think he and I both realize that the combined cocktail of endorphins and the meditative effect of long distance running is doing wonders for my mood and consequently our relationship.

Still, I often wonder what I've signed myself up for. 8 miles in, with a complaining left hip and nothing but 'Misery' by Maroon 5 on my iphone and I wonder why I'm not lying on our sun lounger flicking through Vanity Fair like the rest of Santa Barbara (actually - I've pretty much established that the rest of Santa Barbara is out running, it's that kind of town).

All this running has not left much time for writing, and I miss it. Fortunately I have my ever-entertaining muses, who provided me with this gem only last night:

Anna (pretending to be a school mistress): "Lucy, can you tell me what a cheetah likes to eat?"
Lucy: "erm, meat?"
Anna: yes (schoolmarmish eye roll): "but what kind of meat Lucy?"
Lucy: "I fink prolly like a herd of envelopes?"

Monday, February 18, 2013

44 Valentines Later....

I think if America altered the way school children celebrated Valentines Day then we might be halfway towards solving this global warming problem. Nothing says no to that third child more than the idea of crafting 66 + valentines instead of a paltry 44. And nothing says waste of resources more than throwing away 44 handcrafted valentines within minutes of them being strip-mined for candy by your children. Because of course 'no child left behind' really means that every kid has to get a valentine. If you haven't started on your 2014 valentines yet, then you are way behind.

At first I was aiming to get all 'Pinterest Mum' with these deceptively simple treats:

After all, even I've discovered the proper way to melt a bit of chocolate (here's the wrong way) and learned that 'cocktail sticks' are called 'party picks' in American grocery stores. This would be something a little bit different. Fun.

Well, I started off with Lucy, because even though she has fewer children in her preschool, some of them have quite pretentious ambitious names and it's hard work sitting with a 4 year old while she painstakingly prints 'To Aloysius Love Lucy' and then cries 'Momma I'm done with my Valumtimes' and you have to coerce 'just another seventeen to go, my dove!' Plus, quick as a flash while I escaped the Valentines gulag to print off Anna's second grade class list - this happened:

Lucy had taped all her completed Valentines to a piece of paper and then taped them all to the wall. Why??? And when Lucy tapes something, she doesn't do it by halves. Those hearts were on that wall in perpetuity. Redoing them, slapping them on a cocktail stick, putting the cocktail stick in a marshmallow, dipping the marshmallow in chocolate and then dipping the chocolate in sprinkles, and then repeating for Anna's class was just more than I could bear.

So for the first time I bought ready-made cards (you're Dino-mite friend!!), and even though we lost some to Lucy suddenly writing in cyrillic, we got through it. Of course the girls had brilliant fun, they want to do it all again, right now. Plus, they did get some genuinely sweet cards like this one received by Anna that gives me hope that she's not the marginalized nerd misunderstood bookworm her mother was.

As a result, I have to know America - at what point does the whole-class valentine routine end? I can't imagine they still do it in High School. I know a lot of stuff goes on in our local High School (most of the detritus of which washes up in our back garden), but I doubt they are sending fishbowl shaped 'so glad you are in my school!' cards aged 16. Middle School? 4th Grade? Is there an end in sight?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lucy Takes On Grammar And Wins

Thank you for your kind comments. You lot rock. It was a busy Christmas. My Mum and Dad flew out for a month to help look after the girls for the Christmas break, and then at the last minute LK's Mum and friend announced they would be there too, for the exact same month. Whether by accident or design it made for a busy few weeks.

It has seemed very quiet ever since, and that's with Anna rocking Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance' at the top of her lungs at every available moment. Lucy on the other hand has decided to master the enigma of reading. She is constantly sounding out words, like 'f-f-fart' and 'c-c-sea otter'. I think it would be easier for the world to just call it a cea otter than challenge Lucy on her phonetic logic, especially as she's trying so d-d-damn hard. She's also in the thick of that lovely little kid phase where if they come across an unknown word, they try to cram a known word in to it to make sense, hence a sea (sorry, cea) anemone becomes a sea enemy, and Kingston's Candy Company becomes 'Kingston's Candy Come-to-me'. Can't argue with that.

Last night she crept in to our room and declared that Anna needed some medicine.

"Does she have a cough?" I asked (knowing full well that Anna's tuberculin death-rattle was keeping Lucy awake in their shared room).

"No Momma, she doesn't have a cough" replied Lucy "she has lots of them".

Take that English language.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Thin White Line

This is our family. Our family that will be working on Martin Luther King day - because it's one of those fake holidays according to the private sector. A day only honoured by banks, post offices, schools and preschools.

It's important though, Martin Luther King made huge strides for this country. He questioned a nation's rights and perceptions of equality. This was explained by Anna (7) to Lucy (4) tonight as we toweled off from the pool.

"Lucy, you'll learn this, probably in Kindergarten or 1st Grade, but I'll tell you now because it's something you need to know. Martin Luther King who also was called MLK was a really important man. A good guy. Before he came along people were told they could or could not do things just by the colour of their skin. They would take a look at your skin and tell you how it would be. A long time ago, before MLK if you had dark skin you didn't have any rights."

Lucy suspends her toweling and Anna continues.

"So, that means that before MLK we would have been OK. You, me, Mumma. We would have had rights because we have white skin. But not Dadda. He would have had to sit at the back of the bus, and he couldn't marry Mumma, because he has dark skin."

I think my Danish-German-American husband needs to slap on a little more sunscreen. My oldest daughter is the worst kind of pigment puritan.

For the record, LK's arse, which being an American arse has NEVER seen the sun, is so white it could give you snow-blindness. He spends almost every day working outside though, hence the tan. Plus it was 75ยบ today, in January.

I love that the important message about racial inequality, drummed in to every Kindergartener is shown up for its compete arbitrariness when Mr. 1,000 years of rarified endogeny is questioned about excessive pigment by his daughter.

Thank you Mr MLK for all you have done for our family and for our country, for allowing me to sit at the front of the bus with my dark-skinned husband.