Thursday, December 29, 2011

Roughing it

As you can see we're having quite a good time at home here in the Bahamas. Here's the short list of things I love about the Bahamas:
The sun
The sound of rain on the roof at my parents house
The food
Having no cell/mobile
Actually relaxing.

We're leaving soon. Heavy sigh. But I'll be glad to get the kids back on their schedules and back to reality. But for now: sun, sand, conch fritters and family. Good stuff!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Gearing up for Junkanoo

Since we've been here, Fen and I have been going to bed early and sleeping for nine hours a night. It's heavenly. I didn't realize how exhausted I was until I started to sleep. It's been a bit manic here what with his accident, the running around, meeting my new nephew (more on that soon!!!) and just seeing friends while trying to entertain two little ones - it's tiring! And I'm working (of course I'm working!) but I've promised to stop until next week now.

Being home is always wonderful and nostaligic while being a bit odd and frustrating at the same time. I love my family and I love being with them, but the Bahamas is a trial. It's SO different from the country I grew up in - it's so much more developed, overrun with foreigners taking over the hotels and major businesses, it's like the Bahamians are being squeezed out of their own country. Many of the old buildings are being torn down to make way for new ones. I find that depressing. So many parts are run down now too, don't like that. But it's still my homeland, and I still love it.

One thing that I will always love is Junkanoo. When I was in my teens and twenties we would go to Junkanoo, which started at 4am back then (starts at 6am now) we'd hang on rooftops, have a blast until the sun came up. It's a tradition here in the Bahamas that stems back to the slave days. On Boxing Day (December 26th) and New Years Day they have the parade down Bay Street in Nassau (and all over the Bahamas). You can read about it here.  We had the Valley Boys play at our wedding, was the high point (after the nuptials, natch!)

Fen and I are debating whether we want to go or not. The kids are far too young right now. And there's no more climbing onto rooftops -you have to buy tickets or know someone (I know people). But it may be too much this year. Perhaps we should save it for when the kids are older. We won't be back for Christmas for at least two more years so they will be old enough then.

Whatever the case, I'll want to run down around 6:30 to have a glance. I'm here, can't miss it. And I hope my Valley Boys are playing when I get there! Here's a taste of them  in the post below.

New Year's Junkanoo Valley boys 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Rocky Start

Our trip here was trying. The flight from London to Miami did not have individual screens behind the seats and the movies they showed were dreadful tween movies. Thank heavens we have enough electronics to entertain both kids for 10 hours!

Then, I nearly lost my mind in Miami Airport - which is still the worst airport on Earth - as we had 1 hour to go through immigration, grab our suitcases and car seats, make it through customs, recheck the bags, get through security and run miles and I mean miles with Cate on Fen's shoulders and me pushing X and dragging two carryons, to gate 60 to catch the bus which took us to the death-trap propeller plane. We made it three minutes before the flight closed.

It's a bit disheartening when the airline reps greet you at the airport with hotel vouchers in hand! They didn't expect us to make it in time. Encouraging. Well, we did. And I plan to write a scathing letter to customer service on they way they handled us. I do it every time I go through Miami. Everytime they give me an upgrade or a voucher for the VIP lounge and I always forget to bring them. Not this time (she said to convince herself).

 My brother picked us up and we made it to my parents just before midnight. The kids went down immediately and we weren't too far behind them.

We decided to go over to the island for the day and set off on the regular tourist boat with the masses. It was a glorious day. We had a great time just playing in the water, they all swam (too cold for me), we had lunch with my brother and decided to leave around 2:30.

At 2 a pick up game of volleyball started near our little camp and I encouraged Fen to go and play. He'd spent the bulk of the time chasing X all over the place while I managed to read about 100 pages of my book (the most I've read in one sitting in months) so I thought he deserved a little fun. Cate had made friends with some tourists and was making sandcastles.

I went to the changing rooms which were about 50 feet away, leaving Fen happily playing volleyball and Cate dashing around on the sand in the bright sunshine. I quickly changed X and came out no more than five minutes later. The game was over, the sun was behind a cloud and neither Cate nor Fen were in sight. I was baffled. I made our way back to our seats when one of the volleyball players called over to me.

"Aren't you the wife?" he asked.

"Oh, probably. Where'd he go?"

"There was an accident and he's with the medic. He hit his head."

I didnt' panic because this is life with Fen. He is an athelete, he plays rugby, he's a tad accident prone and he's seriously tough. I looked toward the lifeguard station and sure enough a crowd was gathered. I could see my brother - laughing so I knew it wasn't dire.

"Of course he did," I said casually and thanked the man as I headed over to see Fen.

A lot of staff was gathered around laughing nervously, probably relieved it was just us and not guests. Cate was standing around and was very happy to see me. Fen was sitting in a chair with a medic holding gauze over his head. I deposited X with a staff member and went over to look. He was fine, looking sheepish but he had a two inch  gash on his head which was gushing blood. Not pretty.

We jumped on my brother's boat and sped across to the main island to my sister's house. We met my mom who took the kids and off to the hospital we went. Four hours, one CAT scan, five stitches and about four hundred laughs later, he was patched up. They wound gauze all around his head and I was howling that he looked like John McEnroe circa 1979. He thinks he looks like Rambo!

One of the reasons I love Fen is his timing. On December 16th, 2002 he proposed to me for the first time. He proposes to me every year at some point every December 16th. I figured he'd forget after knocking his head on a picnic table while playing volleyball. No. He waited until he was sitting on a gurney, dressed in a blue hospital gown, head wrapped in blue gauze waiting to go for a CAT Scan. I walked in to see him and we laughed about how it's usually me on the gurney and him waiting around. I leaned in to kiss him and he said, "Oh, and would you do me the honour of becoming my wife?" I burst out laughing. My reply: "Not today, you're broken." But I think I'll keep him.

Here's the story of how we met, if you haven't read it. It's one of my favourite posts ever.

He's fine now, the big lug. And here's what HE thinks he looks like:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Two days...

We get on a plane and head home in two days. I cannot wait. I'm under the weather, exhausted and ready to just sit on a beach (well, probably by the pool overlooking the beach as I'm not fond of sand) and relax.

The photo above is of Blue Lagoon Island just off Nassau, Bahamas. This is where I'll head by boat almost every day to just sit, swim, explore and snooze. I cannot wait. The kids are still a little young for the dolphins and sea lions but we'll take them over to see them. This is in case you're interested. It's my favourite place on earth (other than the porch at our lake house).

Two days, two days. Hopefully this cold I can't seem to shake will be gone and I'll be ready to enjoy the heat. If not, I'll manage to suffer through...somehow.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Happy Birthday Boo

Tracy and her Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Poster In Central Park

Today would have been my sister Tracy's 40th birthday. She passed away this summer after a four year long battle with breast cancer. My heart is aching something awful right now. I just simply don't get it. Four months later and I still cannot accept it. She should be here and she should be turning forty at a huge, ridiculously over done party. It's just not acceptable to think it's just not going to happen.

My original plan for today was to head to Paris by myself. Tracy and I headed to Paris a few times. We travelled the world together for years. Even after I met Fen, Tracy still came along for many of our trips. She lived with us for three years when she first moved to Brooklyn and then eventually moved into a flat right next door. God bless Fen for his patience with the two of us! Peas in a pod were we. Even the Atlantic wasn't big enough to keep us apart. So now I feel a huge void in my life. One I will always feel. I miss her. I didn't go to Paris because the thought of being there alone on her birthday was too ... well, sad. I didn't want to be alone. Work is also very demanding right now. Finally, Fen really thought I should stay here. I'm glad I did. Instead of hitting all our favourite spots in Paris all alone, I decided to fill my day with things that are busy.

I'm going to my women's club white elephant board meeting which should be fun. I want fun. I have to work in the afternoon, but Fen has promised something nice for lunch (that I don't have to cook). Distracting myself is the best thing I can do right now. I don't want to think about reality at all.

But I will leave you with the obituary I wrote for her memorial this summer. This way you can get a glimpse into the wonder that she was.
Took this photo of her in our bedroom window overlooking the back yard in Brooklyn.

Tracy XX was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania on December 6th, 1971 to Al and Carol XX. She joined older siblings Scott, Kelly and Erin and became the light of their lives.

Tracy attended St. Andrews in Nassau, Bahamas, The Berkshire School in Berkshire, MA and graduated from Belmont Abbey College outside Charlotte, North Carolina. She moved back to her beloved Bahamas to work in public relations for several years before turning her attention to publishing. She then came to work for the family business before deciding to truly follow her passion - gardens. She always had a knack for growing plants and flowers. Tracy loved being outside surrounded by nature and her animals.

Tracy moved to Brooklyn, NY to study landscape architecture and design at the New York Botanical Gardens. It was during her studies there that she learned she had cancer and her four-year long battle began.

With the same eloquence and tenacity that she approached life, Tracy took on cancer. Because of her resilience and spunk, she helped change the laws in the state of NY so that all women, regardless of where they were diagnosed with breast cancer, could receive financial assistance for care. By joining forces with Susan G. Komen for the Cure in New York, she became the ‘face’ of breast cancer.  For several years, this year included, Tracy’s beautiful photo hung in Central Park in New York City during the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

In addition to helping change the law, Tracy donated blood and tissue samples for research at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center to help develop new treatments and to help study her aggressive form of cancer.

Through it all Tracy remained upbeat, undefeated, filled with her trademark wicked sense of humour and hilarious one-liners. She never complained and surprised all of her doctors and family with her determination to beat her disease.

Tracy was a loving and generous woman. She was elegant, intelligent, delightfully funny, thoughtful, and unassuming.  She will be forever cherished and missed by all of her wonderful friends and her devoted family.
The four of us back in the day....

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Victorian Attitude?

I've joined the PTA - not running it, mind you - and it's been going well. The old regime ran it for three years but all bowed out so a crew of newbies are at the helm trying to bushwhack our way through things without much guidance (but with a lot of comments!). It's all fine, not a problem, but it's difficult trying to do something when you have so many jaded folks watching your every move. There are a few good eggs who are helping out, thank heavens!

We're having our Christmas fair soon and we've been busily planning it - doling out booths to classes, writing up notices, sending flyers, designing the posters, trying to drum up donations for the tombola and raffle, etc. It's busy work, but I've done all this before so it's not that big a deal.

We held a meeting last night so some of the parents who work could attend a meeting. Everyone is fantastic (although two of the old regime did exchange a smirk at my expense when I volunteered to make a cake or some goodies for the fair - not sure what that means). All the ladies present (and gents) were in good humour and generally nice. It was a bit chaotic and loud as we were in a pub but we got all our business done in good time even though there was a lot of chatting - which is to be expected!

After a few glasses of wine one of the women thought it would be a good idea to have one of the celeb mums at our school open the fair, cut the ribbon, etc. and then have me invite the press. I had never heard of the woman before - I've seen her at school - she's tall, beautiful and looks like someone, she's got that X factor about her. But I didn't know she was famous. The same lady called her to see if she would do it. She agreed.

But then I came home to slap together a press release and googled her to get a bio since I have no idea who she is. She's been around for a while but all the recent stuff is nude photos from a spread in a big men's magazine with headlines declaring 'she strips off,' etc. It's not X-rated, nothing is really showing but she's in the buff in provocative poses. She does look fantastic, so good for her.

But here's my dilemma, this is a Church of England school, we'll have the pastor from our church, our head teacher is a Reverend, we have a whole bunch of clergy who will be around and this is PRIMARY school. I didn't think it was appropriate for her to open the fair. Not the right message for the school and certainly not someone I want my daughter to emulate. I felt like a prude - a grouchy suffragist from the Old West wielding my Bible at the harlots in town. While I'm not an uptight goodie-goodie, I really felt like one.

I asked Fen, who is certainly no prude (he plays rugby after all!) and he agreed with me. Still, I felt like perhaps I shouldn't say anything to upset the apple cart. But today I saw two reception mothers, one who is on the PTA committee. They were both in the same camp as me. One even said she wouldn't go if this celeb opened the fair because it wasn't right.

I called the head of the PTA and told her our thoughts. She agreed too. Our decision: leave it to the head teacher - if he says it's all right - then we'll leave it be. But if he says no - then that's it.

My worry - I'm going to be labelled like Hester Prinn - the old regime will sew a scarlet P for me to wear in shame for being such a stick-in-the-mud. But you know what? That will be fine with me. Because I'm not going anywhere, I'm a tough cookie and when it comes to my child and her education I'm going to do what I think is right, whether it's popular or not. Cate is ALL that matters to me. and I want her to have good role models. I wouldn't want her to end up a Page 3 girl because, in the end, I guess I am a prude.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Good Awfternoon!

As you may know, I'm a huge fan of Downton Abbey - the great historical drama here in the UK. One of my favourite characters is Mr. Carson - the fabulous head butler of Downton Abbey - the ancestral home of the Crawleys. It's so deliciously British - with the drama from the aristocrats upstairs and the working folks downstairs.

Mr Carson is played by a wonderful character actor - Jim Carter. Who happens to live in my neighborhood. I've spied him a few times lately, to my absolute delight. I'm not much for celebrities - I really couldn't care less about them, yet quite a few live around here. However, there are a few folks I just dig. He's one of them.

So, when I see him I can't resist myself and blurt out, "Good afternoon, Mr. Carson." To which he replies with a nod, "Good awfternoon, Madam" in full character. I giggle myself silly everytime.

Fen thinks I'm nutty. I don't care. If I can pretend the great Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey is addressing me on West End Lane for a few seconds, good for me! What does it matter if it's really just Jim Carter dashing into Tesco Express for milk and being recognized by a stranger? I think we both get a kick out of it (If a restraining order shows up at my door I'll be sure to let you know).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The X-man Turns Two

Today my little man turns two years old. I have been a weepy wreck. I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm delighted for him, he's the cutest little fellow with a great personality, very sweet, loving, mischievious and curious. Yesterday I kept picking him up, hugging him, kissing him and saying, "You're two tomorrow." Then I'd get teary eyed. He was sick of me by noon.

Everyone says it goes too quickly and it does. But he's my baby - the last child I'll ever have and while I feel thrilled for him to have a birthday, I'm sad for me because he's growing up. If I was younger I would be tempted to have a third, but it's really not a good idea for me to ever be pregnant again so it's not an option.

So while I'm  having this big heaping moment of self-pity and longing, I'm still delighted that my boy is two. He was so happy to have a scooter and his three storey garage this morning. His eyes lit up and he didn't know which one to play with first. It's so nice to make him happy and just watch him jump up and down in sheer delight. Best feeling in the world.

Cate is not excited about it being X's birthday. She'd rather it be hers. But that's what you get with a four year old! I think she likes the cake, however! And she keeps demanding he share. Hmmm...perhaps she should take a little of her own advice.

After all is said and done, sad for myself or not, I get the greatest pleasure of my life watching my children play, grow and discover. And it's only just started. So indulge me the photos. I can't help myself (and yes, I made the cake myself, never mind the finger tracks of wee ones).

Monday, November 21, 2011

If At First You Don't Succeed...

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the best housekeeper - not by a long shot. But I do try. We  haven't had a cleaner in the new flat and I thought I'd save myself the cash and do it myself. Hey, I'm willing to try anything.

The flat's not that big, but it's still quite a lot of work. So when I saw this article in Woman's Day Magazine about quick tips and how to clean your house in an hour, I thought, 'This is for me!' The article makes perfect sense and looks simple. I also figured that most of the people reading the magazine in the US have houses at least twice the size of this flat. If they could clean in an hour, then I could do it too. It did have a section on how to make your own eco-friendly house cleansers but I really don't have the time for that.

It separates the house into zones and has time limits:

1. Bedrooms: 10 minutes per bedroom
2. Bathrooms: approx 9 minutes
3. Kitchen: 12 minutes
4: Living room/lounge: 15 minutes

If you do the math for this place that means: 46 minutes to clean the house - then tack on 5 to hoover the hall, 5 to tidy the dressing room/walk in closet). According to this article I should have a clean(ish) house in 56 minutes.

I timed myself in each room and it went like this:

1. Bedrooms: 9 mins for master, 15 for kids
2. Bathroom: 15 minutes
3. Kitchen: 22 minutes
4: Lounge: 24 minutes
5. Hall hoover: 7 minutes
6. Closet hoover/tidy: 6 minutes

 Total: 96 minutes. Either my housekeeping skills need honing, or I need to hire the woman who wrote the article. We all know the answer to that. The problem, I think, is that I notice little things along the way, get distracted and zero-focused on getting that job done (like toothbrushing the bathroom sink fixtures within inches of their lives - they are gleaming now, though) rather than the whole picture.

Whatever the case, I have to say it worked. I'm going to give it another whirl tomorrow to see if I can get the time down. I will keep at it until I get it down to a science. Or I will call our old cleaner and beg her to come back to us. But for now, the house gleams with pristine cleanliness. So nice! And if I get it down to an hour, I'll try my hand at the homemade eco-friendly cleansers (ah, to dream!).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Something's Got To Go....

I've been burning the candle at both ends lately. It seems that while Fen was gone I was so worried about filling my calendar with things for the kids and for me so we wouldn't be sitting at home by ourselves all day and night, that I overextended myself and fell way behind on a lot of things. Now, I'm frantically paying catch up before we head off to The Bahamas for the holidays.

I have got to slow down. It's mandatory. I haven't had much time to myself in weeks - I scratch out fifteen minutes here and there to write my blog, read blogs or (God forbid) watch television. I take 5 minute showers now (I'm a 40 minute luxury bather at heart). I do nothing for myself. I had a trip planned to go solo to Paris for one night in a few weeks and it looks like it's not going to happen for a multitude of reasons (too much work for one). I'm so disappointed in myself.

When our plane lands back in London on January 1st, I have to have a plan ready to set in motion so that I can spend time with my family, work, have a social life, write, take long baths and actually read something that is not for work. I am not doing myself any favors by putting myself dead last in my list of priorities. I haven't even had a haircut in four months.

You are my witnesses - I will slow down!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A day in the life...

Yesterday, I crawled over the finish line. It was a long, exhausting day. Here's what I did:

6:45am: Woke to the sound of X screaming, 'Mommy!' over and over until I got up.
7:00am: Fed kids (well, watched Fen feed kids as I attempted to check work email and gulp coffee)
7:30am: Showered and dressed
8:00am: Dressed kids, braided hair, found library book, emptied contraband (Barbies and lip gloss) from school bag, found pacifier and favourite blankie for X.
8:20am: Strapped X in buggy, dashed out door for trek up hill to school in rain. (cheated and took taxi)
9:00am: Dropped off Cate, headed for meeting. Met a friend and walked over pulling down several signs from our holiday marketplace which was held last week.
9:30am: Meeting of my women's club. Sat down for over an hour. Ahhh. And won a raffle prize!
12noon: Dashed home to make lunch for my men.
12:30pm: Put X down for a nap. Spoke briefly with husband.
12:45pm: Dashed out the door in the rain to find: 1. shoebox to use as a diorama, 2. stuff to put in said diorama
1:30pm: In shoe shop sweet talking saleslady into giving me two large shoeboxes when I didn't buy anything.
2:00pm: In pound shop cruising aisles looking for Christmas themed things for  &%$*! diorama
2:20pm: in and out of several stores looking for more ideas/stuff/inspiration/help. Stopped in Sainsburys for a quick shop for dinner and milk
3:00pm: Back home and tucked into my office to work.
3:10pm: Made coffee
3:15-5:15pm: Answered all emails, created pitch letter, made 17 calls to pitch projects, sent 17 emails to send project out, updated list, read a bunch of emails, responded to them. Called friend in NY to shoot the breeze for 5 minutes.
5:15pm: made dinner: a quick and easy broccoli, mushroom, walnut pasta dish, salad and chicken nuggets for the kids.
6:00pm dinner. Watched Fen and X pick walnuts out of dinner.
6:30pm: clean up
7:00pm: ran bath. Fen bathed kids
7:20pm: storytime, prayers, bed for Cate and X. Lots of kisses.
7:31pm: back to work. 10 more pitch calls, 10 more emails to send project (cheated and made 4 calls during bathtime). Called mom and dad to say hello.
8:30pm: In kitchen creating diorama base for Cate's class. Due on Wednesday. Fen and I argued but worked furiously for an hour to create... something. Decided to finish anon.
9:30pm: Back at work for conference call.
10:00pm: Came out to watch TV with Fen. Made dinner menu for next two weeks and shopping list. Created Christmas list, invite list to X's second birthday, decided on what to do for birthday and gift list.
10:30: Called it a night, brushed teeth, washed face.
10:45: Checked email one last time. Made quick call to colleague. Made to-do list for work the next day.
11:00pm. Lights out.

This is a typical day for me. The difference here is that there were no play dates involved. I usually have at least one for X but Monday's are Fen's days off so he gets to play with daddy. And I didn't get to exercise (well, I walked over 12 miles - according to my pedometer). Ah well, maybe I need to get up earlier.

See that cartoon above? That is not me. I'm not that thin or serene. I case you were wondering!

And as a little addendum: finished the diorama today with Cate's help (or hinderance, however you want to look at it) only to realize it's due next week. Bloody hell!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Heavy Load!

I am famous. Well, not really, but here's a fun tale. Last year George Michaels ran into the Snappy Snaps on the Hampstead High Street, smashing the wall. Some prankster wrote Wham! on the wall and I took a photo to post on my blog - see it here.

A few months ago, a member of the punk band Heavy Load contacted me. They wanted to use the image on the cover of their George Michael tribute album titled Wham!  Of course I said yes and there is the cover album above. I have photo credit on the back. Hilarious.

I'm not much of a punk fan, don't really know it, but I listened to the album and I actually really like it. The song titles were intriguing: 'Everything is Bollocks', 'Julie's Beard', 'That's Not My Name', 'Shut it' and 'Sexy Films' to name a few. Fen and I listened to it and I've downloaded a few onto my iPod. This may not seem like a big deal to you but anyone who knows me will know how limited my iPod selection is (I'm a picker bugger) so that's a HUGE compliment to Heavy Load.

Here's a little about the band. And you can buy the album here! Have a listen - you may like it!

Heavyload are Brighton's answer to The Ramones. A punk outfit subject to the combustible flux of ego, ambition, fantasy, expectation and desire that fuels any emerging band. But they’re also uniquely, made up of musicians with and without learning disabilities.

Over the last 14 years they have managed to survive through their combination of raucous energy, attitude and sheer volume but now they are about to hit the big time with a feature length documentary (Heavy Load) being made about their journey from social care to stardom, and back again, and their mission to demonstrate that disability rocks. There are few genres left in music that have yet to be defined. Heavyload have unwittingly created a brand new one.

Friday, November 4, 2011

That's Mrs. 'Cross The Pond to You, Kid.

Yesterday, I had brunch with a friend and we talked about how children do not address adults Mr. Mrs. or Miss like we had to as children. It seems our society is becoming less and less formal with each passing decade.

Granted, I feel far to young (read immature) to be addressed as Mrs. but it would be nice to have the option. Most of my friend's children call me Cate or X's mum, or Erin, my first name. I'm guessing it's okay for the little ones, but once they start turning 8 or older, I'd prefer they address me formally.

Why? Respect, perhaps. But I think it's more for the position of authority. I notice that kids can be really sassy toward their parents - even downright rude. Discipline is much more relaxed nowadays - and I'm not talking about spanking - I'm talking about what kids can get away with now. I would never, in a million years,  have talked back rudely to my parents - my mother in particular. You cross my mother and you'll walk away with a limp, I promise you that. I don't allow Cate to talk rudely to me. She tries, God love her, but when she does she is punished appropriately - the punishment is tailored to the crime, as it should be.

Mind you I'm not the greatest disciplinarian, and I have much, much to learn. But I do try to keep a level of respect 'round the place. And when I have guests, I expect their children to adhere to my rules, even if their parents are not enforcing them. But sometimes I get backtalk which I don't like. I cut off one 'friend' for something similiar and I'll cut more if I have to (don't really want to).

But I digress, the issue here is whether to have my daughter start calling my friends by Mrs or Mr and whether I want to have my friends kids do the same for me. What do you think?

I know I'm an old fuddyduddy, but there are some things that I think should apply: you should give up your seat for the elderly, pregnant or handicapped, you dress for church, you send thank you notes, and you respect your elders. That's not too much to ask is it?

I still address my parents friends and my childhood friends' parents as Mr, Mrs or what have you - and I always will. Where I come from it's a sign of respect and I know they appreciate it. I have been invited to call several people by their first names and then I do, but otherwise they get the Mr and Mrs treatment.

Even to this day, when I meet someone who is older or in a position of authority I call them by their surname. I couldn't imagine meeting President Obama or Prime Minister David Cameron (even though he IS younger than me by a few months) by their first names! And I MUST call my doctors by Doctor - even when invited to do differently - because for me to have faith in them, they must be in a position of authority - not an equal. Madness, perhaps, but it's the way I was raised. And I like it.

How about you? What do you think?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A tribute

There are things you can't explain or understand and this is one of them. The lovely lady in the photo was a new friend of mine. We met a year ago when another friend introduced us. She wanted to start a writing group for her women's club, just as I had started one with mine. Both of our attempts failed so we joined forces and formed a writing group outside our clubs which flourished.

Our group consists of five women who write mostly non-fiction and get together every month to compare notes, and receive feedback. It's always friendly, helpful, fun and a nice gathering to look forward to every month during the day. Very relaxed.

My friend was an excellent writer. She was working on a series of travel journals that were entertaining, interesting and very well written. She's lead an interesting life and it showed in her writing.

After a while she invited me to join her book club, which I did. As it turns out we were both members of the same church and saw each other every Sunday (or whenever I actually made it - I've been a tad slack on God of late). It seemed we were destined to become friends - the world made sure of it. And I was glad for her friendship. She was warm, inviting, intelligent, funny, interesting, and just nice. She lit up a room when she entered, she was always well dressed and  had a love for funky scarves, hats and loved, loved purple. She was engaging, and sweet, a wonderful mother to two girls, a devoted wife who supported her husband, moving all over the world with small children without complaint (unlike me) and just seized every opportunity that came her way. She was a lemonade from lemons kinda gal. My kind of people.

So, when I received a call last week that she was in a coma I was stunned. An undetected cyst at the base of her brain finally grew too large and blocked the flow of spinal fluid. Not being one to complain, she carried on - she did cancel for writer's group last month due to not feeling well - but she had made an appointment to check things out. It just came too late. She went to bed last week and never woke up. Her husband called an ambulance, they operated, but the damage was too severe and she passed away peacefully and unknowingly later that day. She was only 41.

I don't get it. At her funeral this past Sunday, her wonderful husband said not to ask why in his tribute to her (read by a friend). He said that we should just cherish the time we had with her and be thankful for it. While I agree I am thankful that I met her, and feel honoured to have known her, I'm still pissed and I will ask why.

My sister Tracy was only 39. This friend was only 41.Both full of life, both full or promise, both religious and good, good people. So why them? It makes me really unhappy. Yet it makes me more determined to be good to the people I still have. I try to be a good wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend to the people I care about because that's all that matters, really.

At her funeral I saw her husband bend his head low in grief and her nine year old daughter (also named Cate) put her arm around him to comfort him. It broke my heart in a million pieces. I wish there was more I could do.

I shall always treasure my friendship with Brenda; I gain some solace in knowing she rests in peace, cherished by the God she had such faith in.

Sorry I'm such a downer today.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Some people have WAY too much time on their hands. But I think it's funny. Imagine living across the street from this!

Friday, October 28, 2011

54 looong, solitary nights

Fen playing rugby.
Fen is back....after being away for 54 days. He was in New Zealand covering the Rugby World Cup (New Zealand All Black's won!). I can't tell you how nice it is to have him back in town.

X wasn't so impressed with his return. Fen walked in and X just waved and turned away. Fen stepped back into the hall to collect his luggage and X waved and said, "Bye bye." We thought it was pretty funny. But being nearly two I wasn't expecting him to welcome daddy home after a two month absence. He did recognize him though. He's good now, thinks daddy is rather fun to have around.

Cate, on the other hand, was delighted. We picked her up from her half-term play club and she ran to Fen joyfully and jumped up into his arms. I am a second class citizen to her now: a drink fetcher and snack producer. Fine with me. I can use the break.

My heart goes out to single parents. It's HARD. I didn't have a second to myself. The kids were extra clingy, especially X. I didn't sleep much and couldn't sleep in at all, ever. Everything I did I had to have kids with me if I didn't have a sitter. Going to bed alone every night was the real problem. I hated it. Granted Fen snores, tosses, turns, talks in his sleep but I got used to it. I slept like a baby last night - deep, unmoving, dreamless. Heaven.

So my little family is all together again, the All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup and life is good. Hooray!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My American Strikes Again

Yesterday I wrote a letter to all the parents/caregivers for the reception class at Cate's school. No I am not the class rep, merely the secretary. Surely sending a weekly email isn't over doing it...right?

Anyway, the critics came out today. I said, 'Much thanks' at the end of the letter. Here they say, 'Many thanks.' Blimey!  I don't fancy myself a grammarian by any stretch, but I do know how to speak the language. Now I have to watch my American-ese in my emails. Here's stress I don't need.

My daughter is becoming quite the Brit. She calls X 'cheeky' and 'a naughty bugger' (she got in trouble for the 'bugger' comment, btw). She says things like food hall instead of lunch/dining room, tea instead of dinner or supper, toilet instead of bathroom (I really don't like this one at all), mince instead of ground beef, pudding instead of dessert, jelly instead of Jell-O, autumn instead of Fall (I prefer this one), she's calling me mummy or mum which I really don't want but will live with, petrol instead of gas, film instead of movie, brilliant instead of great, and my favourite/favorite toe-maa-toe instead of ta-may-toe. She's a true Brit.

I noticed I say mobile instead of cell phone, rubbish or bin instead of garbage or can, loo instead of bathroom and many more things. It's all said with an American accent, but I've definitely got the British touch to my everday speech. I'm sure it will all change when we eventually make it back to the US some day.

So for now, my daughter is British, I'm getting there, and I better hurry up before I'm fired for being too American and grammatically questioned on a weekly basis. I call it speaking British with an American accent.

Cheerio, pip pip and all that. Tah.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lucky breaks...and kind people

This weekend was a rare weekend of lucky breaks and people being kind for no reason. It started on Saturday morning. I've been battling a cold and my asthma has flared up making it difficult to walk up hill (and in Hampstead everything is up hill - both ways!). As the kids and I headed up the hill to the Hampstead High Street for my club's annual Halloween parade, I had a coughing fit and pulled out my inhaler.

As I took a puff a taxi pulled up along side and asked if I was going to the high street. I told him yes, but explained I had no cash on me. He insisted I hop in - he'd drive me up there. 'You look like you need a break,' he explained. I did. I was so grateful! I was running late - it's hard to get two small children dressed in fancy dress and draw on their faces, etc. by yourself. Fen is still travelling so I'm on my own. I was having an asthma attack and knew the hill was going to zap all my energy so I was really relieved to have a ride up the hill, without asking, from a nice taxi driver who wanted to be kind.

We got to the parade where I met my nanny, who was there to help me take the kids around the parade so I wouldn't be pulled in two directions and frantic. As we walked the parade, X reached out at the fruit stand (see photo above) and helped himself to an apple. I took it from him and put it back, but he swiftly turned around, grabbed another and took a bite! I went to pay the merchant, but he insisted X just have it. I was mortified!

We had  lovely time at the parade and then again at the movie which followed - I crashed on another family, who were very gracious at me sitting in with them.

Later that day we were invited to another friend's house for dinner. X was in a rare mood, he ate his dinner, then half of Cate's and then half of the other little girl's. Immediately after that he broke a bowl, by flinging it on the ground and then attempted to climb under the bed to grab a cat or two. We left in a hurry!

I decided to take the bus home as I'd had enough. The bus pulled up but the machine wasn't working so the driver wasn't letting on passengers. But he saw me, saw the bus ahead of him was full of buggies and wouldn't take me, so he let me on. I couldn't pay, but he said it was all right.

That's two drivers in the same day who let me ride for free, which was really, really sweet of both of them. I must have looked a wreck yesterday, but I didn't feel it. Judge for yourself. Whatever the case, I feel very fortunate for the kindness of strangers - the two drivers and the apple merchant. They made my day. Heck, they made my week!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Our walk to school

Every week day we start the trek up the hill to Cate's school. It's a lovely walk, granted it's uphill all the way, but it's calming and really pretty. Our walk starts at the bottom of the hill with a wonderful church and ends at the top of the hill near another church!Here's a glimpse of our walk:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Me, the bitch!

Slowly, I've been making friends with the mum's at Cate's new school. What a difference this school is from the last one. Cate is much happier, has a much bigger group of friends and I'm delighted to be meeting so many new people - and I like all of them.

Imagine my surprise when one of the mums, Nina, who I've become quite chummy with in the last month, said to me, 'It's so funny, I thought you were such a bitch when I first met you. But now I realize you're really nice.' I was stunned. Me. A. Bitch! My husband laughed for a good long time when I told him that one.

Nina and I met a year ago at ballet (not for us - for our daughters). We've seen each other once a week and always had pleasant conversations - at least that's what I thought. I sat on one side of the waiting room with a group of mum's and Nina sat on the other side with other mums. When we realized the kids were going to be in the same class, I was glad Cate would have a familiar face at school.

But apparently, Nina tried to engage me in conversation a few times and said I brushed her off. Really? I'm not rude by nature so I was surprised. If X is with me, I can't carry on a coversation with anyone. He is  full-on energy and I have to run after him constantly. I'm guessing he may have been with me at ballet those few times.

We've been meeting in the school yard now for five weeks and I've made an effort to talk to as many mums as possible, just to say hello, etc. But I wonder if others are perceiving me as a snob, or bitch, or whatever. I try to be friendly, but  then I know a lot of people just brush me off as being the loud American (I'm not that loud, I think).

So today I took note as to who made eye contact, who said hello first, etc.Everyone seemed fine. So I'm not going to be paranoid.

And you'll be amused to know that I attended the first PTA meeting today where they tried to recruite me to run it. I said no. And then X had a complete meltdown and I had to leave early before they even had a chance to pick class reps. So I have officially signed up for nothing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My school girl

Today is Cate's first full day at school. She's been going parttime for three weeks but today is the first full day. I miss her. I'm  sick with a rotten cold, surrounded by a house filled with laundry to be folded, beds to be made, toys to pick up, dishes to clean and work to be done. I don't feel like doing anything but curling up on the sofa and flipping through old photos of Cate as a baby.

She's 4 years and 4 months old and just a darling little girl. She's a hoot too - already the queen of the one liners. I really enjoy her company, when she's behaving, and I'm missing her a lot today. She's such a sweet girl, and thoughtful, always picking me flowers and telling me she loves me. Yesteray I made her silver dollar pancakes which she gobbled up. As I was doing the dishes I heard her say, 'You are so perfect.' I smiled and said, 'Thank you, honeybun.' To which she replied, 'Not you. I'm talking to my dolly.' Ah, well, there you have it. I think she felt a little guilty. Even though I howled laughing. Five minutes later she said, 'You know I love you, right?' And we hugged. Hey, I'll take what I can get.

She's enjoying school. She has homework, which is quite trying to get through. Her attention span is five minutes long. Just to do simple letters takes coaxing and encouragement. half the time I want to bang my  head on the desk because she's fidgeting and getting out of her seat. I try to make a game of it, but she still wiggles and tries to get out of it. Regardless, her reading is coming along nicely. She's able to read words like: mum, dad, and, cat, dog, bat, sat, etc. She's really coming along. Very curious about the world and asks what signs say. If the sign is simple I have her sound it out. She loves discovering what the words say. And she loves her books.

We went to a birthday party this past weekend where there was a book swap. We bought one of the Maisy books and she declared she wanted to keep it. I explained that we'd take it to the party and she could get another book instead. All the books were wrapped so she picked a bright pink one (of course). It was the book Kick. The boys were all fascinated with her book. When her buddy Zen noticed her book he asked to swap. At first she said no, clearly tuning into the fact that she had what everyone wanted. But once she realized Zen had her Maisy book she relented. So she got to take her book home afterall! She's a wheeler dealer!

Our Halloween parade is coming up this weekend and she wants to be a garden fairy. We have the wings, the wand, the dress, the flower wreath for her hair, glitter and sparkly shoes. We're all set. The most important thing - the glitter. Her brother is going as a devil - very, very fitting for he is the personfication of mischief.

My kids are my joy. I love them both so much. They are a handful but they are worth it. Just thought I'd share. Now I better go and clean this pigsty...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A walk through Hampstead

I haven't featured any of the lovely homes and favourite haunts of Hampstead for a while so I thought I'd post a few new ones. I just love the small details, the splashes of colour, the uniqueness. Notice how many of the homes have the plumbing running outside the building - that's how old they are. 

Walking through Hampstead is always a mood lifter. Even when I have to haul up one of the many steep hills. I don't think I could ever tire of seeing this place. I just love it that much. 

Hope you enjoy the mini tour. I realize I am not a world-class photographer, but most of the time I'm pushing a double stroller up a hill with one hand, juggling the camera with the other hand while trying to snap a photo of someone's house without raising suspicion. So it's a quick snap or two and off I go. this is the result of my 'drive-by' photography.