Saturday, February 28, 2009

This 'ere blog...

I've been a little obsessed with this whole blogging thing recently, not necessarily my own, but the huge number of voices out there - the mommy bloggers. And not just mommies, but mummies and mums, and moms and mamas and papas and daddies and maybe even grannies and grandpas. (what about it Mot?) I'm irresistibly drawn to the beautiful blogs that talk about homemade jam and home-crafted soft toys, the ones that are illustrated with photos of sleeping babies in a slant of sunshine. They draw you in with their kaleidoscope of colours, so warm and comforting, you don't realise you are being sucked in to this illusory vortex until you open the fridge and find not beautiful cupcakes or home baked cheese straws but a bag of spinach that smells like seaweed and a tub of moldy ricotta. Put simply they inspire me, but then make me feel like a failure. (The same can be said of Martha Stewart's Living Magazine - do yourself a favour, don't buy it).
So it's refreshing to find the blogs that wittily ef and blind their way through parenting with anecdotes that make you laugh out loud. I suppose, or rather hope, that this blog falls somewhere in the middle. If there happens to be a picture of a baby in the sunshine it's not because I'm smug that a) the baby's sleeping or b) the sun is shining. Rather, I know how enticing these pictures are...and they preserve a moment that all mothers have shared - the awe at their beautiful child. But in this house serenity is a fleeting visitor. I don't delude myself. I have boys giggling about farts most days, a toddler in a fury over vegetables and joooce and my singing, a gaggle of strollers by the front door (what IS the correct collective noun for those things?), and a husband who loves 'a good fug' ie, a hearty clutter of toys, newspaper and size 11 shoes. I know I'm richer for it, but sometimes it takes some remembering.
One thing I realised in my blog searching this week, was that it was quite annoying if the blogs you like aren't updated regularly - the writers were probably busy doing something worthwhile like, I don't know, parenting - how very inconsiderate. Anyway, my resolution is to try and post more often. I realise that is something you just do, you don't write about it, but I'm just declaring my intentions. And while we are at it, I got a little fixated on finding blogs on expat parenting - just to see if anyone else was missing 'home' or struggling with where 'home' was any more, or if anyone was as infuriated as me at being told to use half a cup of chopped onion in a recipe. I mean, what is that about? Surely it's a small onion or half an onion but not half a cup of onion? (More ranting on this another time...) I didn't actually find much so I'll have to provide my own dialogue - with myself. Thanks for joining me!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I took this photo at the weekend and it sums up the weather we're having at the moment. Wet. The rain has challenged all my creative parenting. We've been throwing ping pong balls into yogurt pots. I wrote forfeits on the bottom of the pots, things like Jump On One Foot and Pretend to Ride A Horse (not at the same time). I also wrote Give Mummy A Hug (on several pots). Well, there's got to be something in it for me. Forfeits were strictly enforced. This game lasted about five minutes. We attempted a version of Twister (without the alcohol, sadly, and in fact, without even the game, we just drew coloured circles on a large piece of newspaper and I helped Max tie himself in knots). We've tried cooking (banana bread) and we ended up with eggs on the floor, we've tried eating what we cooked (and done that admirably), we've done colouring and trains and play doh and stickers. We've made enough Christmas wrapping paper to keep us going til 2012. Max did whining and snacking and upsetting his brother. We got the camera out and Max did 'I can be gentle with Oli' poses. Oli smiled and did 'I'm 6 months old and don't even have to try to be adorable' poses. And of course, we've done DVDs; Mary Poppins, The Wonderpets, oh, and Mary Poppins again. I tried briefly to kick Mary Poppins to touch by producing Dom and my wedding video (it's only 12 minutes long, I wouldn't be that unkind). Max was transfixed the entire time - Is that Daddy? Is that Grandpa? It's Granny! That I went completely unrecognised, I put down to the fact I was wearing a veil, but frankly it's years (if ever) that I've looked as elegant as I felt that day. I was getting all teary at the end...Dom and I dancing close, slo-mo, fade to white when Max looked over at me and cut to the chase; 'Is it finished Mummy? Can I watch Mary Poppins.' How could I refuse? It was raining after all and I was forced to rewind the bit where the merry-go-round horses dunk a fox hunting horseman underwater - not at Max's insistence but because I just wanted to hear his infectious giggling one more time...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

It's in the bag...

Rule Number 1: Do not attempt a sewing project at nine thirty at night after 2 glasses of champagne.
I know, we're in recession, but there are still things to celebrate...and the other night, having not shown my sewing machine the daylight for months, it was suddenly of the utmost importance to start and finish a sewing project within the hour. Dom had very sensibly taken himself off to bed. I, on the other hand, was switching feet, jamming spools, adjusting tension and snipping through the thread I'd used in endless attempts to sew up one of his trouser legs. I mean, surely there are only 2 or 3 ways in which you can sew the wrong sides of the fabric together - I seemed to create infinite possibilities of error. Back to the sewing up of the trouser leg...this was not my version of an April Fool (although it's given me a very good idea - I haven't done a really well-crafted April Fool in years...) No, I found this project online - it's where you make a bag for your yoga mat out of an old pair of trousers. Well, for some reason, I've been keeping some old cords of Dom's that are threadbare at the crotch and now I know why; they are crying out to begin a lifetime's commute to yoga with me. But even though there was a step by step guide, with photo illustrations and v e r y s i m p l e instructions, my yoga bag had considerable trouble emerging from the crysalis that was, until this evening, just a trouser leg. But tonight I finally managed to finish the project - how hip did I feel watching the Oscars with a needle and thread in hand? Ladies, gentlemen and members of the Academy, I give you the finished article...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Road Trip Catharsis

I'm still being haunted by the RV trip at the weekend and felt the need for one more bout of cathartic exorcism via this blog. I am, in fact, having to go back to the RV depot tomorrow, like a moth to the flame you might say. The reason being, we left something inside which I'd like to retrieve. Max, unfortunately, will be in preschool when Oliver and I make the trip over the Bay Bridge to Oakland. Max actually shed tears when we told him the RV had to go back to the shop on Monday. For him, to eat, sleep and play, in a vehicle, just inches from the engine and within metres of the ignition switch and all those controls around the steering wheel - that was pure heaven. I on the other hand, can't think why we thought a trip in a motor-home would hold any appeal in the first place.
Here's my hasty conclusion; Firstly I think it was a cultural thing - I'd never even heard the term RV (Recreational Vehicle, if you're still wondering) until we came to the US. And somehow an RV holiday seems so quintessentially American. Here, they embrace the roads like no other nation, cities are designed for vehicles - this is a country where a high speed rail link between San Francisco and LA is still, amazingly, only a proposal not a certainty. Also, and I may be corrected here, but there seems no stigma attached to an RV holiday like there is to say, a caravan trip in the UK - which carries with it all the nuance of class. So, and here I was caught up in Dom's energetic enthusiasm for it all, it seemed to be a way of embracing America's dream as well as a realistic way of seeing the remarkable geography that makes up this country. I'd add too, that the thought of reducing my life to the contents of a 25ft motor-home held it's appeal. No, really, I'd begun selling books on Amazon to relieve the groaning bookshelves (John Grisham anyone?) And de-cluttering can be very therapeutic. The illusion here is that I thought less space might simplify things, after all, less space is less cleaning, less clutter. But while fewer 'things' might be therapeutic, less space is NOT. That's all I can offer at the moment, but you never know, the sight of the Cruise America depot tomorrow just might get me started again....

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Off the Road: For Good

OK, technically the RV doesn't have a clutch. It's an automatic. But believe me, we had vehicle problems, mainly us getting into the vehicle. For some reason, we found it quite hard to actually pack up the RV and set off on Friday evening. By the time Dom had gone to the Cruise America depot in Oakland to pick up the 25 foot beast and actually parked it up outside the house, it was raining hard and it was supper time for Max and Oli - not ideal conditions for setting off. So we delayed, and delayed...and delayed, and frankly a take-out and the Frost/Nixon DVD were beckoning on Friday evening...what more can I say? We all slept beautifully.
By Saturday morning, Max was asking us continually, 'Are we ray-a-go?' Which perhaps indicates how many times Dom and I had asked each other the same question and still found an excuse to delay departure for another five minutes. Suitcases in, cot in, bedding in, saucepans in, food in, oh the joy of putting child car-seats in. Finally we were 'ray-a-go' and actually it was all quite good fun. Dom was wearing a stetson and cracking me up by imitating an airport shuttle-bus driver: 'United Airlines - Domestic' he announced, as he mimicked the 'kcccrrrrk' of the intercom system into his hand. I got my camera out and took some departing shots of the Golden Gate Bridge through the dirty streaked back window of our new home.
About an hour into our journey Max announced he wanted to do a pee. Pulling up quickly off Highway 101 isn't easy but our first opportunity was an access road to a landfill site. Forgetting we had a loo on board I bundled Max out of the RV to pee on the grass. Turkey vultures soared overhead, their wings whistling like fireworks. Max was delighted by the trucks that passed us to and from the landfill. Dom and I found the whole thing rather depressing and both began wondering what on earth we were up to.
Setting off again at an average 50 mph we finally arrived in Bodega Bay, the coast resort which Hitchcock chose as the location for 'The Birds', his film where murderous ravens attack the local villagers. Nice. We weren't exactly sure where we were heading but as we approached the fishing harbour we spotted what was clearly the RV park down by the water. We turned towards the sea. The rain was coming down steadily. Another turn to the left and instead of finding a welcoming RV park we found a sprawling trailer park. We stopped in a layby. Two boy racers with bass booming out of their saloon cars swerved in next to us, revved loudly and sped off. Dom and I exchanged looks.
We did eventually find the Bodega Bay RV Park. The friendly owners Jill and Joe took our money and directed us to lot 12, our parking spot for the night. Joe helped us hook up our electricity. Our motorhome was dwarfed by the others there - huge great buses with extensions and porches and patios. Our next door neighbour was sitting in the doorway of his RV in cozy slippers drinking a beer. A woman walked past with her labradoodle called Turbo. I kept announcing that this was our first ever night in an RV. 'Are you looking for sympathy?' Dom asked. I was really looking for some advice. I wanted someone to say, 'Ah, I remember our first night in an RV, we didn't know what we were doing, but we've had the best fun ever - when you get into it, it's just brilliant.' All I was getting was a friendly nod, no great insight into the appeal of this gig. Max however, was loving every minute. He kept looping the vehicle, climbing into the driver's seat, pressing buttons, clambering out of the driver's seat, running round to the door on the vehicle's side, trying to get his hands on the hook up. I was in a panic every time I lost sight of him.
We decided to go for a walk and Joe directed us through the eucalyptus trees to the sea. It was meant to be a half hour hike but within ten minutes Max was hoiking his trousers up to his armpits and looking distinctly like he needed the loo. Time to head back to the RV. And frankly, lacking the energy or the inclination to manouver the RV out of it's parking spot and drive to the water, we realised that that was it for the day. We'd driven all the way to Bodega Bay to see an RV park in the rain. Dusk was approaching. The wind was getting up. The forecast was a storm coming in off the Pacific. It was time for an early supper and time to put Max and Oli to bed. That's when the real fun started.
7pm, Max and Oli are in their pyjamas. We've skipped the washing stage because it's too stressful to achieve anything in the 2ft square shower/loo. We suddenly hear a loud beep from an alarm above Max's bed. It reads Carbon Monoxide Detector. I press the reset button. The light starts flashing green and red. Just in case we haven't taken enough attention of it, the alarm starts chirping. I press reset again. More chirping. It's now pouring outside but we decide to open a window. Max announces he's scared of the alarm. Dom gets on the phone to Cruise America Traveler's Assistance. Nicole, at the other end of the line, tells us the 'coach' battery is dying, it's not a carbon monoxide leak. Relief. To confirm her diagnosis we notice that the lights inside the RV are gradually dimming and the heating's stopped. She advises we run the engine for 20 minutes. Problem solved, but there's still just a hint of anxiety over the carbon monoxide detector. We briefly consider driving home then and there but decide we should try and stick it out.
Fast forward to 9.30pm, the storm is raging outside, Max is asleep in his bed at the back of the 'coach'. Oli's sleeping in his cot, taking up all the rest of the available space. Dom and I are reading in our 'over-the-cab-bed' (above the driver's seat). That's when the Carbon Monoxide Detector starts up again. Miraculously the kids don't wake up and Nicole tells us we've probably got a dodgy 'hook-up'. But there's no-one to talk to at the RV park. Nicole and I dispatch Dom, in his boxers, into the darkness and rain and gales to disconnect the electricity so we can start the generator. I search for the torch but find there's no battery in it. Again we consider driving straight back to San Francisco, but we figure we are actually safer here than on the roads in the dark in this weather. It takes 3 attempts, including 20 mins running the car again, to get the generator going. Nicole starts talking about getting a new coach battery dispatched to us in Bodega Bay in the morning and I tell her, as politely as I can, that as long as the RV will start in the morning, we are driving it straight back to the depot. There's a nervous cough at the other end of the 'phone before she informs me that all Cruise America rental offices are closed on Sundays. We have this ball and chain til Monday whether we like it or not.
At some point in the evening Dom and I had started writing a list of pros and cons of RV travel. The cons list is growing by the minute. I'm reminded that it is in fact Valentine's much for romance!
With the generator running, any chance of sleep seems to be rapidly disappearing - it sounds like those boy racers revving up right next to us. And I'm still anxious about carbon monoxide. Every half hour I can't stop myself from jumping down from our bed to check the children are still breathing. After two hours trying to get to sleep we decide to switch the generator off. Amazingly the heating stays on but I'm so nervous about it going off again and my children freezing to death that I can't sleep with the anxiety of it and I keep up my half hourly vigil checking them. On one of these excursions I move a seat cushion that's leaning up against the fridge (we had to dismantle the seat in order to fit Max's car seat in). That's when I see ANOTHER flashing light. It's right on the floor and I crouch down to see it says LCP Gas Detector - not another one. It's flashing green and it's not beeping so I persuade myself we are safe. But sleep? You must be joking. By 2am the rain on the roof sounds like hail stones and I can see the dark outline of the trees swaying aggressively against the night sky. Finally at 5am our faithful carbon monoxide detector, like the budgie in the coal mine, starts singing to us yet again. This time Max does wake up - and wakes up with all the excitement of Christmas morning. Which of course wakes Oli. We run the engine again, and can't pack our bags fast enough. By 6.40am we are on the road and rattling our brute of an RV back to the city. But that's not end of it...oh no, just as we make a final turn towards home Dom swipes another vehicle's wing mirror. There's the sound of splintering glass. Our wing mirror is shattered. We park up in the rain and when we finally get home, dispatch ourselves to bed feeling much the same as you might after a long-haul flight, jet lagged and exhausted. Dom and I agree that we will never go near an RV again. Ever.

Friday, February 13, 2009

On the Road: Phase 1

I can't believe this was MY idea - a weekend away in an RV as preparation for the Big One in the summer. What was I thinking? And now it's upon us, and rain is forecast. We've been trying to decide where we will spend the night tonight. We first thought we'd try a carpark by the beach but then decided it might be a bit spooky. The RV park that we considered doesn't take reservations. We might just park up outside the house - that was Dom's suggestion, and we can pretend the RV broke down. So if you hear us complain about the dodgy clutch.....

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Post Post-Partum Blues

Bickram ****ing Yoga. That's all I could say throughout the entire one and a half hour session last night. Bickram ****ing Yoga. That, and a monologue to myself that I actually just wanted to shout to the entire class: 'I've had two children you know...I'm a mother of TWO. Did I mention I couldn't see my toes 5 months ago? These hierogliphics on my tummy are stretch marks I got from giving BIRTH. So you..over there, with the tight tummy, you can stop looking so smug. This figure of mine's not all chocolate brownies you know'. Hmmm - ok not so sure about the last one. In truth I know it probably is the brownies - not just the ones I ate while pregnant, because I couldn't tell then, whether it was chocolate or baby that was making my tummy bigger. So technically it's not the actual pregnancy that has given me this pot belly I can't seem to shift and the crinkled skin it's covered in. If I'm honest, it's the almond butter biscuits I bought last week and the killer hot chocolate they sell at the cafe on Fillmore Street and the cup cakes that our next door neighbour's kid dropped in the other day with a Valentine's card. You really should have tasted them, but of course you couldn't, because I'd eaten them. They were DEElicious, from a shop called Kara's Cupcakes, light vanilla sponge with bittersweet chocolate frosting - honestly the frosting, (or icing really but the word frosting sounds so much more indulgent) it was about an inch thick. Sure, technically, they were Max's valentine from 3 year old Aidan, but Max wouldn't have been able to eat all FOUR. So in the name of his health, I had to help out. I know, I know you are probably thinking, you greedy cake stealing witch...but I got my retribution at 105 degrees in a smelly yoga studio last night. I lost it fairly early on as the instructor issued crippling instructions in rapid machine gun fire and by the time we got to the rabbit pose I was upside down and weeping into my knees - or as close as my head would get to my knees. And so here's my resolution - no more biscuits or cupcakes, none, not even one of Kara's cupcakes, ever, or until the pot belly disappears, and then we'll reassess. Rant over.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Blossom time

Silence. Max is sorting pasta shapes. Oli is under his play gym. I should be pureeing vegetables. But instead I'm telling you that the blossom's out across the city - so pretty and delicate against a clear blue sky. Earlier I managed to stop the car with Oli asleep in the back and Max just dropped off at preschool to take a picture.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dear Max and Oli,

Time, I think, for an update on what you two boys are doing. Oli, you have just turned 5 months - and are now pretty regularly sleeping through from 1o at night to 6 or 7 in the morning - obviously there's the odd exception, like last night, when you wailed on and off from 4am until I finally relented and put you in our bed. Immediately you flung out your arms and began purring like a contented cat. Ahh, Oli with your smiles. You rolled over a while ago but don't seem very interested in doing that again. I think you've worked out that you get a better view of things on your back - and hence have more warning of your brother's approach. Max is just filled with love for you; 'Hello Oli oli oli' he sings, trying to get in close - generally that means climbing in under the playgym, feet in your face or leaning on your head as you sit in your chair. It is rarely malicious but that doesn't mean there aren't tears. Oli reciprocates this smothering affection with utter adoration - he tracks your every move, Max. Watching you play and chatter and sqwark and sing and tumble and, yes, tantrum. The other night you woke up just after Oli's last feed and screamed for 'MILK' like you'd crossed the desert and been cheated of a churn of it in some deceptive mirage. Tears were not just rolling down your cheeks but springing from your eyes as you blinked in anger. I've learned not to say much to you in these moments, but just try to wipe your eyes and stroke your hair and repeat quietly that there is water by your bed and it is time to go back to sleep. Finally you calmed down and you wanted to hold my hand. It made my heart ache even as I so desperately wanted to go back to bed. But things can turn on a sixpence, or a dime depending on your choice of currency. 'I don't want Mummy to kiss me.' Those were your exact words just yesterday when I took your head in my hands and kissed your messy hair. So nothing is predictable these days - except perhaps one thing, you no longer take a nap at lunchtime - and you tell me categorically, 'I don't want to play quietly in my bedjoom', just in case I had any ideas. So we battle on til 7pm - bath, pyjamas, wonderpets, bed. That's how it goes. And then you might say, if I'm lucky, and just to delay bedtime a few more minutes, 'Can we be stuck?' And that's when I kiss your forehead and pretend I'm suctioned to you - it is very dramatic - then, phew, with a noisy schlooock I manage to extract myself. Oli, you cannot ask for kisses but you get them all the same.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Swingin' sitter

We have a new babysitter. She hangs out in the garden and is made of robust red parachute silk. Yes, it is spring-like enough in San Francisco to put up the hammock. And if you so much as mention that you might just go and sit in it, Max will be tripping over himself right at your heels and clambering into the thing before you. That's generally what I have in mind when I announce I'm going to lie in the hammock, so it's mission accomplished, and I can get back to the kitchen to empty the dishwasher (again!) without Max getting his sticky fingers on the cutlery before me. Usually it's only a five minute babysitting session and since Max insists on climbing in and out 'all by my self' it's not long before he is back in the kitchen - covering Oli in nose-rubbing love. 'Oli's just sleeping' I'll say steering the stroller somewhere a little quieter but I know it sounds like I'm pleading, and Max knows that too and tells me; 'No, he's just waking up.' Of course, by then Max is usually right. In fact Max thinks he knows exactly what Oli's preferences are: 'Oli doesn't like his bib on' I hear as I turn round to find Max yanking it off him, dribbled puree spilling on the floor. Or 'He wants to take his hat off' Max will say, plucking it off like he's pulling up a carrot. Oli obligingly smiles at everything Max does - so perhaps Max does know best - but I haven't yet seen him insist that Oli wants a turn in the hammock...and I'm sure he'd love it!