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.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Round Up

It's been a manic couple of weeks here, coupled with a couple of big blog-related news items which I'll get to later.

Firstly though, Anna lost another tooth, her third in the space of ten days. The K household is hurtling towards a tooth-fairy related fiscal cliff and the girls are happily oblivious. Anna lost her first upper tooth, so we are waiting for her first 'tombstone' to appear, as LK calls those massive top teeth that dominate the mouths of most 7 and 8 year old kids. In the meantime she has a superb lisp going on that just makes me want to ask her to say 'super sausages' (thooper thauthages) all day long.

Please mind the gap. Apparently her teeth genes are British.

Lucy has been surprisingly, bizarrely, complacent about gift after gift appearing under Anna's pillow. It takes a lot for a three year old to comprehend that her time will come. Maybe she's just so groggy in the mornings these days that the injustice doesn't resonate.

Then there was Halloween of course. Here are my two in their super-thrifty costumes:

Anna was Hermione Granger in her preschool graduation gown and a Griffindor scarf handknitted by yours truly. Possibly the only female in the history of Santa Barbara to dye her white-blonde hair brown. The bathtub looked like a murder scene the next morning, and she's still only back to a strawberry blonde nearly two weeks later. Lucy was Cinderella again. I don't think she realizes she can be anything else quite frankly, and as it's both cheap, if a little large and off-the-shoulder vampish, I'm more than happy for her to wear it next year too.

Then I had an old Grammar school friend fly in for a couple of days, which was absolutely wonderful and I could sense my vowels flattening within hours (ow-wus) of his arrival. He is now an equity partner of a very large law firm, and I'm sure he was equally impressed with the fact that we have new patio furniture. Teak. Second hand. Craigslist. He may be able to retire in only a few years, but he is regularly up at 3am working towards a deadline, and I'm not talking about knitting Griffindor scarves with Halloween being only two days away....

Then - I know - I bet you can scarcely keep up. I went to a GATE meeting the School District put on for all parents who think their child may actually be Hermione Granger, one of the smartest young witches of her age. It was just an informational meeting, but you should have seen the furrowed brows when they tried to explain how a problem of splitting a square in to 81 spaces using as few lines as possible is an indicator of a gifted rather than a bright child. If you said 18 lines you're a muppet, if you said 16 (me), you're less of a muppet but sadly just bright, not gifted, and if you said 13 lines then you've spent too much time with a spirograph, or are a 'gifted' child. I'm not sure Anna would understand the question quite frankly, she would most likely suggest the correct answer was a Unisys, draw one in the box and then effortlessly argue her case until you're convinced she may have a point. Actually come to think of it, I may be rearing less a GATE kid than a future lawyer. Oh boy.

Actually what was funny is that I'd expected the meeting to be overrun with the quintessential Santa Barbara parents I bump in to daily, career over-acheivers who are pushing their kids as hard as possible. In actuality, there were only about thirty parents there, most of whom I knew - therefore a) I am clearly one of those parents that I am terrified of and b) I am competing with people like me. Muppet.

We may get Anna tested, but as with most things with this travesty of a school district, it probably will not make any difference and will not effect her ability to transfer to a better school. Having said that, we are really happy with the new school she's moved to, and once a kid is GATE 'identified' they are 'GATE' for life, so it wouldn't hurt to know. I'll keep you posted.

For me, by far the highlight of the evening was when I was chatting to some cohorts at the end of the meeting (all most likely thinking, well, I know my kid is bright, but really, what are you doing here) when a bloke with an English accent asked if I was Anna and Lucy's Mum. He introduced himself as someone who's been reading my blog for a while, having found it by looking up an ex-pat issue, and he said some really nice things about it which was equally shocking. So thank you Ian, it was really lovely to meet you. You made my day.

And then - what news could be bigger than actually being spotted by a reader (actually having a reader who is not my Mum???).

Having a reader who is an international film star. That's what.

No really.

I wrote this post several years ago about the fact that Daniel Craig had moved to Knaresborough a small village near my home town. It remains one of my most googled posts, which sadly says a lot about my blog. Well, last week I got a comment on that post from Anonymous which says:

Its not knaresborough but nearby 
Dan x

What do you think? Was Daniel Craig googling himself (oo err missus), does he go by Dan? Am I clutching at straws?

You bet I am!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tooth Fairy - Stick To Cold Hard Cash

Well, the necklace from the tooth fairy was a big hit. Too good to be true as it turns out. This is what happens when you think outside the box and try to outsmart the tooth fairy bringing money.....

Anna: taking the necklace out of her tooth fairy bag "Is this what I think it is?"
Me: "Erm, a necklace?"
Anna: "No, Momma, the tooth fairy has brought me my dearest wish!"
Me: Huh?
Anna: in a reverential whisper "It's an amulet!"
Me: "Erm...."
Anna: eyes rolling "Momma, an amulet is a necklace that has special powers. My dearest wish is to be able to fly. The tooth fairy knows this!"
Me: "Oh, well,....."
Anna: "Not like jet-pack flying. Real flying!!!"
Me: "Oh God"

She then rushed downstairs and demanded I came too - for a demonstration. She said, and I quote, "watch out Mom, I'm gonna put this on and I'm probably just gonna bust right through that ceiling! This is going to be awesome. I'm gonna go to school, but then I'm just gonna fly right off and visit Lucy at preschool, or maybe I'll just hang around school, you know, showing off and doing flips and stuff."

And then, my crazy, sweet, hopeful, beautiful dreamer of a girl put the necklace around her neck, closed her eyes and flapped like crazy.

She failed to 'bust through the ceiling.'

My heart was breaking for her. She was crushed. So I said "maybe it has different kinds of powers?"

Perhaps this wasn't my smartest move.

"Or perhaps it only works when I'm alone, or perhaps it needs to get used to me?" she offered. At this point I probably should have said 'or perhaps it's just a necklace?' Instead we get to her 2nd grade classroom about an hour later and she rushes over to her teacher, shows her the necklace and says "Look what the tooth fairy got me! My Mom says it probably has powers, like being able to talk to animals or something!" Her teacher gave me a look and one of those mouth-only, no-eye smiles that said 'well, that explains a lot.'

It's going to be an interesting parent-teacher conference.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Oh, Tooth Fairy

This is a rich town, and when Anna looked under her pillow two days ago and found $2.50 in quarters from the tooth fairy she was quite obviously disappointed. She even looked under the pillow in our bed - just in case the tooth fairy thought she'd spent half the night there, as happens more often than not.

Apparently her friends have been receiving all sorts of things under their pillows. Gift certificates. Toys. Paper money. A guinea pig. Ok, that last one was a joke.

The thing is, she has a lot of baby teeth, and I'm not about to jump on the Santa Barbara bandwagon and start handing out stock portfolios with a little pixie dust every time she loses a tooth. Plus, even though I'd been given fair warning about a wobbly tooth, it fell out at 9:30pm leaving Mr and Mrs Tooth Fairy in a bit of a last minute scramble.

What does the tooth fairy bring in your household? I think I remember getting 10p, which I may ask my brother to corroborate. I know if I ask my Mum she'll roll her eyes via Skype and say 'I haven't a clue'.

Eventually, things cheered up around here. Not least because when she got in the car to school with her friend Sophie and said she'd lost a tooth and got ten quarters, Sophie replied "cool", which was exactly what Anna - spoiled brat - needed to hear. Later on that day she also said "you know how you know it's the tooth fairy? Because where else do you get these bags? You never see them!" Well, the answer is, I got this shimmery, gauzy, fairy-like drawstring bag at the Nordstrom make-up counter and I begged it off a Nordstrom-ite for free. You go tooth fairy! I also polish up the quarters I give her using good old HP Sauce, so that each coin has an extra gleam of other-worldness.

Mollified by Sophie, and putting on the back-burner the knowledge that friend R. received $10 and three model aeroplane kits for his latest tooth (how big is this boy's pillow??!!!), she carried on her day and started practicing her lisp.

Two days later she lost another tooth. This one didn't so much fall out, it was more like assisted dental suicide, having learned from her father that when a tooth is very wobbly it can be helped along with some fingers and a plier-like action. Urgh.

Anna holding her tooth-keeper necklace. That is not a life-size tooth that has fallen out of her mouth - despite the fact she is American and Americans do have giant teeth.

This happened at school and she came home with a brilliant tooth-keeper necklace that she was understandably very proud of:

Now who's glad she didn't spend $$$ on a tooth. These things are dropping like flies. Anna has now announced that she 'looks like a beaver' having lost both teeth surrounding her lower two teeth, and when I asked what she was going to do when she lost her wobbly top tooth (the thing is days away....) she said 'then I shall just have to call myself a jack-o-lantern'.

Smart stuff. Actually, as I write this, she is fast asleep with the tooth fairy bag under her pillow filled with a flower-shaped necklace from Claire's. Because the tooth fairy is a victim of societal pressure and Mr. Tooth Fairy had time to pop to the shops.

Now Lucy, aged three, is convinced she has a wobbly tooth. Of course she does, that one never misses a trick.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sister Comfort

Lots going on, many, many half written posts, but this I have time for:

At breakfast this morning Lucy was mournfully describing her nightmare, and the reason she crept floss-haired and teary in to our bed at 6am.

Lucy: "It was a lizard and he bited my arm and I hadded to move my arm away from him but he bited me again."
Anna: breakfast spoon poised thoughtfully in front of her mouth "Lucy, what kind of lizard was it?"
Lucy: "The lizard was big and the lizard was green"
Anna: with a knowing nod "that was a monitor lizard Lucy. I can see how that was very scary".
Lucy: "It was"

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Wose By Any Other Name

Meet the two newest members of the family:

Thanks to my friend Jen, the girls came home with these beautiful betta fish last week. I didn't know much about bettas before these guys came home. They are originally from paddy fields, so they're used to very shallow water and are kept in ridiculously small cups of water in the pet shop:

This is how the bettas were first housed, until we splashed out on $1.22 bowls from the charity shop. Thanks to Raph for the photo, and for putting it on facebook......

 Although as LK said - paddy fields may be shallow, but they are wide so he felt it only appropriate to liberate them from their tiny cups. More to the point, I was worried that a fish just lying around in a glass would be accidentally picked up and drunk. Especially when you see the photo above.

Ok, I was worried that I would accidentally drink a fish.

Another thing about betas - it's the boys that are pretty. Pretty beautiful, and pretty aggressive. Their alternate name is 'Siamese fighting fish' something we have yet to put to the test as they're in their own bowls as a preventative measure. No fighting to the death for you my boys! These aggressive lads have been named by my two girls. Are you ready for it? Meet:



"Rainbow Unicorn"

or as Lucy says 'Wainbow Unicorn'.

If I was a proud male beta that would make me a tad aggressive too. Any comedy pet names in your family history? Lucy's original fish was called Rose 'Wose' but he swam off this mortal coil after only 24 hours, likely due to the ignominy of his name.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Boden! Or, Twee For Two

I love Boden. If at all possible I will sneak away for ten minutes with the Boden catalogue and daydream about fun prints, effortless style, and which three items I will purchase to make my fourth item free. Because free is all I can afford from the Boden catalogue.

Then a couple of months ago I was on a birthday shopping trip with a friend at Nordstrom, somewhere I only ever go to the use the loo, and two Boden dresses jumped off the rack and mugged me right in the childrens section. I swear. On sale, in my daughter's sizes. AND, in a blueberry print, perfect for our upcoming trip to Maine.

Now, the nice thing about living in Southern California is that - unlike your normal UK high street -  you are us unlikely to see a Boden print walking around as you are to see a pair of Marks and Spencers knickers. The chances of someone else wearing the same dress were slim to none, and the chances that someone else (my husband) knowing that I'd spent Boden prices on dresses, even when on sale, were negligible too. Hooray for me.
Here are my girls in a complete mockery of a Boden ad. 

Anna looks like she's got a serious case of rickets....or she's about to launch into some morris dancing. What is it about these two and not being able to smile at the camera?!

Anyway - the point of this is obviously not to prove how photogenic my children are (!) The point is they are in matching dresses. Something they get a bit of a kick out of, and I'm quite fond of the idea in a nostalgic kind of way. With a three and a half year age gap and Anna approaching eight, there's not going to be much opportunity for this kind of sisterly display in the future. They love wearing the same thing, and that's the important thing - BUT, I bumped in to the mother of an old friend of Anna's the afternoon these photos were taken, and she took one look at the two of them, gave me a knowing smile and said "I'm guessing someone's Grandma did that to them, am I right?" To which I could only give an embarrassed grin.

What do you think - matching dresses cute while it lasts, or too twee?

Friday, September 07, 2012

2nd Grade

2nd Grade has meant a lot of changes for Anna. Not least the fact that she switched schools completely unexpectedly one day before school started. It's a long story, but we were basically one of the last rats to desert a possibly sinking ship. It's been two years of clinging to a school that seemed hell bent on self-destruction, and we did not have any other options. She was on waiting list after waiting list, and my friends had learned not to bring up the subject of schools so that I wouldn't still be on the same subject three hours and two margaritas later.

Then suddenly, during our flight back from Boston we got a call that a space had opened up at the local Charter School. We took a chance, and poor Anna had to start a brand new school 24 hours later. Not a lot of time to prep her, but the 50% of her that is American shone through and she approached it as an adventure, and an opportunity to make new friends, while I, her English mother, agonized over my poor little snowflake's psyche.

She was fine. Is fine, and is loving it. Her first day was described to me as "awesome" and to my dumbstruck father-in-law as having gone "charmingly".

Then of course, there's the introduction of homework. Something she never had at her old school. One of the saving graces about this new school is that Anna knows another friend who goes there, and her Mum who is Lucy's surrogate mother (not really, but yes, really) can pick Anna up two afternoons a week. No small thing considering the school is a year's carbon footprint a week away. The Arctic ice shelf has started to disappear at an alarming rate since we switched schools.

After her first day my friend took her back to her house, and asked if she had any homework to do.

"Sure" said Anna.
"Well, do you want to do it while Sophie does hers?" my friend tried
"No. It's HOMEwork. You do it at HOME" was Anna's too quick retort.

I think she's going to be just fine.

Monday, September 03, 2012


Vacationland is Maine's motto, and we certainly weren't disappointed:

We picked blueberries, swam in lakes, took ferries to tiny Atlantic islands, went fishing on a lobster boat, and ate ice cream every day....It was as if LL Bean had created a picture-perfect Maine vacation. Plus the weather was superb. Thanks so much to LK's sister and Mum for hosting us so and showing us the sights.

Of course, perception is reality, and according to the girls, slightly different things resonated. When Lucy's preschool teacher's asked how her trip to Maine had been Lucy said "we went in Aunty Karen's car and had grape juice boxes" - so, yes, money well spent there.

The best was Anna though. She was shocked to hear LK's Mum speaking in her native tongue - Danish. With every guttural sentence heard, Anna's eyebrows shot further towards her hairline. It must have been very strange for her to hear her Nani suddenly speaking an extremely foreign language. Nothing we thought much of though, until we were talking to LK's sister later on and saying how idyllic a life in Maine seemed (when seen in bucolic August perfection instead of the driving Nor'Easter's of February...). Anna chimed in "Yes! We should move here! Then I wouldn't have to go to school!" We told her that school was mandatory wherever you lived, to which she replied "yes, but not if it's all in Danish!" Our perfect, quintessential Maine vacation, and our three year old liked the juice boxes but was afraid of lobsters, and our seven year old thought we were in Denmark.

Good times.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Tao of Lucy

Some Lucy-isms that I have to write down or I'll forget:

"Really lions are kitties, but they're lions."

"Mom, do you know that when you love someone your heart beeps faster"

at a friends house..."Mom, I fink this bathroom is awesome but my poop just changed it's mind."

and the real scene stealer, "I need to go poop!".......yes she talks in her sleep, and yes I was lying next to her at the time. And no, no she didn't thank you very much!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Who Do The Olympics Think You Are?

In much the same vein as my last post, I bring you, just who do the Olympics think you are?

BBC America has been running this for about a week now - you enter your details and it spits out what Olympic athlete shares your body type.

Here's the link

LK did it first, and it came up with 'Hans Lindberg' a Danish handball player, which is pretty spooky as LK is a tennis player of Danish ancestry.

I was definitely ready to give it a go. To my surprise, I've actually managed to carry on running three times a week since my half marathon. I'm not exactly Olympics material, but I'm in pretty good shape for me.

I plugged in my details, and lo and behold:

I have the same build as a man, and not just one man, no, the BBC would like to show just how accurate their analysis is by selecting TWO men that are my exact physical match - Antoni Bernado of Andorra (Athletics) and Craig Bellamy of Team GB (football).

Maybe I've been over-exercising. Maybe I'm hot stuff in Andorra?

So - who do the Olympics think you are?

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.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Here's How Thankful I Am

Do your kids write thank you letters? I know it's the bugbear of every child and every party, yet it is nice to acknowledge that that thoughtfully wrapped gift didn't just disappear in to the void. If my Aunty can get a gift to Anna from Switzerland, then we can get a thank you to her as well. At some point...

When Anna was little I used to transcribe emails from her, asking carefully staged questions like "Dear Aunty X, thank you for the Y, the thing I liked most about it was....."

It was always funny to see how she saw fit to fill in the blanks. Sometimes I edited. When you see what happened below, you'll know why...

Anna is now at the age where she can put pen to paper herself, and as long as we just do one thank you letter a day she doesn't get overwhelmed. She sits at the table, and I sit across on the couch and shout out requested spellings. The other day she had taken a break from writing her magnum opus "The Spooky Old Pickle" and she was writing a thank you note to her friend H.  There she is above, deep in concentration. H's Mum was kind enough to get Anna a gorgeous swimming costume and the first two books in a horse series - something obviously very dear to Anna's heart.

This is what she wrote:

Dear H. 

Thank you for the swim suit and horse books. I wear the swim suit to camp every day. I love the horse books and have read them both. Tell your Mom to go get me the other ones.

Love, Anna

You can lead a horse to water.......

Fortunately Robin is a good friend and has a good sense of humour, because hell yes I sent it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Now We Are Seven

A tiger Mum makes every waking moment a learning opportunity. If you want to have a birthday, then you have to make your own invitations.
Yes, that is how we spell Saturday in California.
After hosting a birthday party for one of my girls, it's always me that feels like I've aged a year not them.

Birthday parties are hard work.

This year Anna did me a huge favour by requesting a bowling party birthday. She'd gone to one earlier in the year and it's all she's thought about since. This was one of those parties where you pay a set amount per child, you get a party room and an attendant, and you actually get to sit back and enjoy the fun. I may have only thrown a few birthday parties since becoming a Mum, but I do know that the ones that are the most enjoyable are where there's

a: no house cleaning,
b: an attendant,
c: the mind-numbing effects of alcohol
or d: all of the above.

Bowling may not seem like a no-brainer for a seven girls aged between 3 and 10, but it was a blast.

How does a 3 year old bowl?

With the help of an alligator of course.....

Pity me at your peril, fools. This gator and I are going to dominate....
If it wasn't for her penchant for 1960s pink satin birthday dresses, this girl would be packing up and moving to Milwaukee to drink PBR and bowl every night.
Clearly having quite a lot of fun.
Then it was time for cake, presents and a sack of tokens each for the arcade. I may have nicked a few tokens from the more gullible children to have a go at the wheel of fortune, but as has been proved many times, I am not the fortunate one. I won four (4) tickets. My oldest daughter.....798 tickets.

Hitting the jackpot on her 7th birthday. You can't write this stuff......

She traded all those tickets in for 700lbs of candy, and she has not stopped bouncing since.

How much did all this cost? Well, according to the bill it was eleventy hundred dollars priceless.

And that was just LK's bar tab.