Tuesday, September 2, 2014

10 Most Influential Books

I was challenged on Facebook for the 10 book challenge: I had to list the top 10 books (or book series) that have affected me in some way after reading them. Then I had to list 10 friends who are supposed to do the same. This is not a list of the best books I've ever read, just a few that have stuck with me for years. Here they are. 

1. Bobbsey Twins series: my mother read these to my brother and sisters before bedtime for years. It is one of my fondest childhood memories.

2. Enid Blyton's The Famous Five and Secret Seven series. I devoured these as a kid. Couldn't get enough of them! I loved her other series, but these two were the biggest influences.

3. Lost in the Everglades by Lucy Salamanca. My mom took a break from the Bobbsey twins to read this to us. It was so intriguing - about a young boy lost in the Everglades having to use survival tactics to make it out alive. It was terrifying and fascinating at the same time. I've always been interested in survival type books/shows since.

4. Forever, by Judy Blume. I think this was a right of passage for all teenage girls in the 80's. However, I still giggle whenever I meet anyone named Ralph.

5. Skye O'Malley by Bertrice Small. My first foray into adult romance. It was utter trash - long, epic, overdone but full of sex. I read it at 16 and thought it was the greatest book ever. Read it years later and couldn't get through it! Met Ms. Small at the Long Island Romance Writer's tea years ago and told her how much the book meant to me as a teen. She said she hears that a lot!

6. Trinity by Leon Uris. My mother let me read this when I was 15. It was the first adult book I ever read. There was no going back to kid books afterward. I loved it. Ironically, years later I ended up being Leon Uris' editor on his book A God In Ruins. I had great conversations with Leon during our many hours of editing, his rewriting and chatting. It's one of the great perks of my job!

7. Anthem by Ayn Rand. Also read as a teenager. I thought it was fascinating. Couldn't get into her other books.

8. Suffer the Children by John Saul. I read a few of his books the summer when I was 15, quickly followed by a few Stephen Kings and finally The Amityville Horror. I haven't read any horror since. That was enough! Didn't sleep all summer!

9. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. I was lucky enough to read this as a manuscript for another editor when I was at S&S. it was un-put-downable. Another perk of being in this industry. Met him at a book signing with his brother, Malachy. That was a thrill.

10. This is a little different. I read The Bridges of Madison County when I moved to NYC. It was THE book of the year and everyone was talking about it. I hated it. HATED it. (loved the movie though, go figure). In an interview at a publishing house I was asked if I would have bought the book if I was an editor. I struggled to answer honestly but did. The interviewer laughed and said he passed on it too. I didn't get the job and worried I would make an awful editor.

I'm nominating anyone who wants to do this. Just save the link to your top 10 in my comment pages. I'd love to hear what books influenced you!


Friday, August 15, 2014

The Rubbish Wars

That's my new neighbor. Ain't he lovely? Okay, Gerard Butler is NOT my new neighbor, but the guy next door has waged a war against me and a few of the other people in my building. Over rubbish bins!

They kept putting their rubbish bin between our doors. I didn't like it initially but didn't want to start anything so I put up with having their garbage at my front door for a while. Some new people moved in upstairs and started moving the bins over to their side. They kept moving them back. I watched with mild amusement until this week.

The whole where-to-put-the-bin debacle got out of control.  When I left to take the kids to swim club this morning the bin was pushed near our front door. So I straightened it out and went on my way. When we got back three hours later, the bin was directly in front of our door. I had to move it to get it. I put it back between the doors where it's been for weeks.

About 20 minutes later I went outside to put recycling out and the bin was back directly in front of our door. I realized someone was moving it on purpose. I was so annoyed! I put it back between the doors and went inside.

An hour later my seven year old daughter said, "Mommy, some man put the bin across our door." I opened the front door of the building and saw this:

Really? I mean, seriously? He laid it across the front door. I was completely annoyed. I picked it up, put it back and then called Camden Council and had a long 40 minute chat with them. No, I didn't want to press charges, but, yes, I did want my neighbors to stop fighting over the stupid rubbish bins and I certainly wanted them to leave me OUT of their little rubbish war.

An hour later, the bin was being wheeled down the street by Camden (at least I think it was Camden). It's gone. War over.

Mind you this was a fight between 40+ year old men and women. The neighbors wanted to keep their rubbish on our property, we didn't want them to. So they became childish and kinda loopy loco about it.

With everything going on in my life, this was the last thing I wanted to deal with today. But it's done. And, unlike my English, passive agressive neighbors on both sides of the war, if anyone asks what happened, I will be very happy to tell them I had the stupid thing removed.

I've realized people do not grow up. Pettiness, competitiveness, jealousy, ugly - it follows people into adulthood. Ugh. Thank goodness I'm getting too old to care about any of it.

Secretly, I'm glad it over and I won't have to step over rubbish bins anymore!!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Stopping to Smell the Roses

This is my little monkey, X. He's four and a half now. He's the sweetest little fellow but oh, my, what a wanderer. I'm thrilled he has a sense of curiousity and loves to explore, climb trees, check out every walkway, etc. I don't want to squash his need to explore which I find really difficult. He climbs trees! He wants to walk down alleys to 'check it out', he's not afraid to inspect spider webs in search of big spiders. It drives me crazy.

Our walk to school was starting to take forever. It's a 10 minute walk on my own but with X it was turning into 30+ minutes as he liked to dawdle, skip, check out bugs, etc. It was quickly becoming a chore for me and I hated it.

So instead of continuing to tell him to get a move on, we'd be late, etc. I thought it might be better if we made a game of it. We race from one spot to another and I time us. Or we have a dinosaur hunt along Finchley road. White trucks are T-rexes. There are safey zones, we have invisiblity shields that only charge when we run fast, and there are 'safety buses' (if  double decker bus drives by it blocks the dinosaurs sight). He LOVES it. This is his favorite game.

But then there are days he doesn't feel like playing. Those are the days we take a longer route to stop and smell the roses. There is one particular street that has rows and rows of beautiful roses the entire length. It's a mansion block and has dozens of rosebushes in all colours of the rainbow. They smell glorious.

My little man and I stop to smell the roses. He picks which one he wants - he takes a sniff (after checking for bugs - this is ME we're talking about here) and then he lets me know what it smells like. His favourite scents: apple juice, vanilla, oranges and lemons. He always picks a winner for me to take a sniff of. It takes a little longer, but it's so worth the nice time I have with him. He loves it, I love it, and he's gaining an appreciation of flowers. He knows that we do not pick the roses, we leave them for everyone to enjoy.

It reminds me of when I was pregant with Cate, back in Brooklyn, 7 years ago. I ran most mornings for years and in the spring and summer when the roses bloomed, I'd stop at one particular building in Carroll Gardens that had the most gorgeous roses. I always stopped to take whiff. They never disappointed. When I was heavily pregant with Cate and freshly on maternity leave to wait for her arrival, I would walk every morning with Fen just to get out and about. We'd go by that house and I'd smell the roses. One morning, when I was alone, I walked up and there was an elderly gentleman out cutting roses off one of the farther bushes inside the garden. Disappointed I couldn't take my daily sniff, I walked by. But he called me back and handed over a huge bouquet.

He said to me, "No one enjoys my roses more than you do. I've watched you come by here for years. You've never once picked a rose, just smelled them. I thought you'd like to take a few of them home with you for a change. I have a feeling you won't be able to make it back for a while."

I was so surprised, slightly embarrassed and delighted at the same time. He told me people often pick the roses, but rarely do people just admire them. It was one of the nicest things a stranger has ever done for me. I never saw him again, but I had a feeling he saw me enjoying his roses again for another two years before we moved.

Roses are my favorite flowers for scent. I really like peonies, freesia, and a bunch of other flowers, but nothing beats a rose. I'm glad that X agrees. We only have two and a half weeks of walk to nursery school together. I plan to relish my walks with my little man. This time means so much to me. In September he goes to big-boy school with his sister. I'll miss it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On the Move Again!

We moved again. I know. AGAIN! It's the sixth place we've called home in the last 4 1/2 years. It's a lot of moving.

Our last place was fraught with issues and I was never really happy with it but we stayed for three long years. The thought of moving was just so awful after our many moves. So we stuck it out. But there were big problems: the fridge door went wonky and hung down, not shutting right. We taped it shut for three weeks and complained mightily. After three weeks and having to throw more spoilt milk and food out than I care to admit, I sent a letter telling them they had until the end of the day to fix it or I'd buy a new one and take it out of the rent.

They sent a guy over, he fixed the hinge in five seconds flat and the fridge was fine again. THREE weeks it took.

But that wasn't even the big problem, that honour goes to the washer. We went without a washer for nine weeks. The stone that keeps it balanced broke not once, not twice, not even thrice! It broke FOUR times. They kept sending the same repair man to fix it. But then they sent the actual appliance repairman from the manufacturer who declared it faulty and unfixable. Then, three weeks later, after we had already moved out and were just cleaning and painting the empty flat, they brought a brand new machine.

Funny thing is, the machine had never even been used, straight out of the box new, it was. But in the outgoing inventory, it was listed as used and cleaned domestically! Ridiculous.

We had a mighty battle with the company on our exit. They wanted to charge us for so many things and we fought them tooth and nail. Just an injustice! After we moved, the owner wanted to know what the problem with the washer had been and we told her it was poor management of the flat. I'm really curious to know if she fired them.

Regardless, when we first thought of moving I really wanted to move, but I didn't want to move everything we own and unpack it again somewhere new. So when they sent the letter asking if we wanted to renew we said we would, without a pay rise or they had to fix a mulitude of issues.

They said no, get out. I was stunned at first. But then I was relieved. I had no choice. We HAD to move and I had to get a move on. I looked at 17 places within two weeks. The second place we looked at I put a bid on but we lost it because we couldn't move fast enough. I was so disapointed. Then we found another place. It was darling, had a great garden (communal), it was a bit expensive, had only one bathroom but was oozing charm. The people were all packed up and ready to move when I saw it the first time. We had to wait the weekend before I could take Fen back to see it. I was prepared to put in an offer and snap it up. But when we got there - it smelled musty and there was mould on a few of the walls - that was that. We said no and moved on.

Finally, I met with an agent who asked, "What is the dream?" I cannot afford my dreams, so I said my dream in reality is: "Two or three large bedrooms, large lounge, private outdoor space, two bathrooms, eat in kitchen in the neighbourhood we are in, high ceilings, charm and quiet at the same rate we're paying now."

Her response: "That's not going to happen."

Ah, but it did. I kept going back to the same listing on a website. The photos were awful. They showed a flat with lots and lots of boxes, stuff everywhere, only half the kitchen, the garden looked small and empty one of the bedrooms looked windowless and there was no mention of a second bathroom. But I was drawn to it. The kitchen and the lounge looked huge and appealing - if only all the junk was taken out. I called the agent and set up a time to look at it. I dragged Fen with me too.

The minute we walked in and saw the lounge - which was huge but had far too much furniture my heart began to sing. The master was huge, the second bedroom - really big with a massive window, the kitchen was downstairs and really big and modern with separate washer and dyer! 2 fridges and a freezer! tons of storage and miles of counterspace. I could have a coffee station! I started to imagine me lounging with a new Nespresso machine latte.

There is a second bathroom, and the outdoors is just big enough - room for the kids, bbq, table and chairs, a paddling pool and loads of room to garden. We have tomatoes, pumpkins, corn, herbs and more growing out there now.

I was so excited we put a bid in immediately - for the same rent as the last place. This place was much bigger, much nicer, in considerably better condition and have private outdoor space. The bid was accepted! We took the kids over that afternoon so they could see it (and I could go down my list of things I wanted fixed or measured).

It was very exciting. We moved six weeks ago and we're unpacked, I have a Nespresso and I have not one, but TWO work stations. I'm so very, very happy. So happy I won't complain about the tiny little vampire who lives upstairs who apparantly owns a pogo stick and never sleep. Why ruin it?

Here's a wee spot of joy for you: two little chickens in the pool:

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Entrepreneur

My darling little Cate has been bitten by the enterprising bug. She's set her sights on a toy and she wants it. Now. While I admire her drive and the will to work hard to get what she wants, I'm not quite sure she's going about it the right way.

The other day I opened her school bag and there was change in the bottom. I asked her where she got the money from.

"Oh, I sold a bracelet to Jane and a ring to Kathy," so sayeth she.

"What? " I exclaimed.

She's been selling her homemade rubber band bracelets and rings at school to friends and other students!

Not sure if you've been in on the latest trend with school kids - mini rubber band jewellery they make themselves with a loom. Claire is a self-taught expert at it. She's made dozens. I assumed she was handing them out to friends at school, but alas, she's been selling them. For a pound a bracelet and fifty pence a ring. Oy!

We shut her down and I'm in the process of returning the money to the other children. Don't get me wrong, I'm kinda proud of her for taking the initiative, but it's against school rules to sell merchandise on the sly. Like drugs, or bracelets!

She caught the money fever after her first tooth fell out.

"Two pounds," she exclaimed when she looked under her pillow. You could see the light fire up in her eyes. It was an 'uh-oh' moment for me. Never mind that I had lovingly sprinkled fairy dust over the window sill, making a trail to her bed and sprinkled it around her. We placed the two pound coin with a chocolate coin and a note from her fairy congratulating her on losing a tooth in a gauzy drawstring pouch and slipped it under her pillow. That was 'fine' but the money was the real hit.

She decided she wasn't losing teeth fast enough (only three thus far with a front tooth currently working it's way out). I was slightly concerned she'd start knocking her teeth out on purpose, but she doesn't like pain.

After we shut her down she got to thinking. She approached me about doing chores for money and negotiated a weekly allowance of two pounds. That seemed to sate her for a while. But then she was back.

"Mommy, can I play my violin on the street and make money?" she asked.

"Uh, no, you may not."

"Awww. Why not?"

"Cause Mommy doesn't want to go to jail."

At least she's got drive and determination!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Back in the Saddle

It's been four months! Four months. There's been a lot happening and frankly, after all the drama of the stalker and the mean spirited folks bashing my blog, I decided a break was needed.

But I'm back, and glad to be at it again. I missed my blog! I write it for me. Delighted as I am that folks care enough to even follow or read anything I'm jotting down, it was and is (again) my outlet for stuff.

There will be no surprise here when I say we moved. Again. That's right, we're currently in our fifth home in England (in just over 4 years of living here). If you don't know my tale of woe, take a look at our first move here . We were at our last place for three years and it was just one pain in the butt after another. So we moved. And we're now in our new place: bigger, better, two bathrooms (this is a big deal because of this), larger rooms, private garden, two floors, same neighborhood, same money.

Anyone who has read this blog will know it's rare for me to say this but Hooray! I finally got a break. too bad the landlord is difficult. Ah, well. Not the end of the world. We're in, we're good, we're happy and I have a place to sit in the sun to sip coffee in the mornings in quiet bliss.

While life seems to rush over me while I'm busy doing something (like dishes or laundry) I can actually say we are content for now. There are a multitude of things going wrong around us but at least we're good. And happy!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Best Valentine's Day Ever

We've  had a rough couple of months with several things and decided to lay low for Valentine's Day. Which was fine with me, we're not really the 'must-celebrate' type. In the morning we all exchanged cards, which was lovely - all kinds of hand made goodies from the kids are worth more than any store bought card ever.

Fen gave me a bouquet of yellow roses - my absolute favourite. I carried them for our wedding. They are just so cheery and lovely. They also mean friendship, which I think is so important in a marriage. Fen and I have our moments but we are always friends first.

While Fen was at work and the kids at school I made a chocolate pecan pie for dessert. We had hamburgers and hotdogs for dinner, always a big hit. Then we snuggled up on our sofa with pillows, blankets, drinks and snacks to watch Tangled.

It was heavenly. All of us wrapped up together, singing along and giggling. I can't think of a better Valentine's Day I've ever had. Happy and cuddling with the three loves of my life. Bliss.

Monday, January 13, 2014

No Trousers on the Tube....Why?

It was the thirteenth annual no trousers on the tube/no pants on the subway day. Why is this? The photo above is TAME compared to some of the truly cringe worthy ones that are up and circulating. Here's the thing - it's cold, the subway/tube is dirty and public so why is there a need for a show up in your knickers day at all?

Well, it was started by small improve group in NYC as a joke in 2002. The group, Improv Everywhere, decided they wanted to shake things up and shock NY. As if a couple of guys without pants could do that in NYC!

Their statement: The mission started as a small prank with seven guys and has grown into an international celebration of silliness, with dozens of cities around the world participating each year.

And it is global - there are many cities that participated including New York, London, Brussels, Berlin, Hong Kong and Sydney.

Ah to be young, full of fun with no shame. Here's how I know I'm old: I wouldn't participate in this for several reasons:

1. My arse in knickers should never be on public display. Ever.
2. It's freezing cold out - I wouldn't go sockless, nevermind without trousers!
3. The subway/tube is dirty and yicky. No way I'm putting my bare butt on one of those seats!
4. What's the point? So I can show up on facebook and in blogs with my rear on display?
5. I like trousers and being dressed

The grand conclusion to this post is that I am officially a fuddy duddy. However, I'm contemplating allowing the kids to eat popcorn in our bedroom this weekend as a rules-be-damned day. How's that for living on the edge?

And the day I'm on the tube when there are trouserless folks participating and I get indignant/growly is the day I officially retire and move to a cave near a beach. Let's hope it never comes to that!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Wee Spot of Praise for England

England's not too shabby. I know I've waxed on and on about how much I love New York City and Brooklyn - and I always will. But last time I was in NYC some of the bloom was off the rose. Granted it was hot, sticky crowded summer time and I was having to run all over Manhattan for meetings in the subway, in taxi's and on foot. However, I craved me a little London after a few days.

While there is a lot of about England that I just don't get (taxes for TV, council tax, customer service, just to name a few) there are quite a few things that I think are far superior to the US. Here's a sampling:

Credit/Debit cards:

They come with a chip in them: that's the gold square thing on the left. It makes life so easy - you just stick it in, punch in your code and you're on your way. Another thing they have here are portable credit card machines in restaurants :

They bring them to the table and run you card right there - you punch in your code and the receipt prints out, tips can be added easily, no need to sign anything, just plug it in and go. Your credit card never leaves your sight and it's all done in a matter of seconds (unless you're in a restaurant in Belsize Park that does not get great wireless service in your corner - then the waiter has to carry it closer to the front so it will work - but I digress...)

When I go back to the US I admit I grumble about having to fork over my credit card and watch it walk away with a waiter. Come on USA - get it together before I move back!

The great equalizer! Here is my Cate modeling on version of her uniform. When I was in school we had ONE uniform: plaid jumper (pinafore), white blouse with peter pan collar, green cross tie, white socks, black shoes. Not here - there is a summer uniform: blue and white checked dress (crazy cute), and winter: navy pinafores/skirts/trousers with blue or white shirts, no tie, blue or white socks/tights and black shoes. They have either pull over or cardigan school jerseys (sweaters) as well. It's fantastic - we don't argue about what to wear, I buy half the clothes I used to, there's no competition for outfits with other kids (although Leli Kelli shoes are the rage), and they just look so precious and darling all kitted out in their uniforms. I just love it.


High corn fructose does not exist. Massive amounts of sugar added: does not exist. Things are not as artificial here. When we first arrived we thought things were a little bland, but after a while our over stimulated taste buds acclimatized and we now can barely eat the things we loved back in the US. I loved Schweppes ginger-ale - but now it's far too sweet for me, just like Tostitos hint of lime chips, even cereals are cringe worthy.

The food is much healthier here and this I really like.

I could go on and on. But one of the best things of living in London is...well, it's LONDON! Come on! That's pretty fantastic!