Wednesday, 31 October 2007


I find that sometimes I blog a lot about something, then move on without leaving any explanations. I'll try to amend that today.

First, there's Jake. He'll be 12 weeks on Friday. He's fully immunised and has had a couple of play dates with friends' dogs. I think he'll be a beta dog. He tends to be submissive when he meets up with other dogs. I walk him down to the beach, where I take him off his lead. He's very good off the lead. He'll run ahead, then stop and look for me. If I've gone a different direction, he'll run after me. He obeys the sit command fairly often. We need to work on Stay and Come. He gets tired and starts whimpering so I don't take him too far. When he's on the lead, he's a different story. He strains, trying to go faster and faster all the time. I try to control him and keep him on my left at all times. When he gets a bit out of hand, I stop. This forces him to stop. I then tell him to sit. I won't move until he does sit and I'm trying to teach him that he doesn't go again unless I go again. I also make him stop each time we come to a street we have to cross. He gets scared by the traffic and big trucks (lorries) and I'm trying to get him used to the sound of the traffic.

At home, he can be a little stinker. Literally. The other night he got into some onions and decided to have a snack. He's chewed on some furniture a bit, but nothing drastic. He still jumps up and still nips a bit. I tried the spray bottle suggestion from Laurie. Turns out he loves to be sprayed, and would open his mouth the second he saw the bottle. So now we try ostracism. Either he goes in another room or outside or we leave him alone. But then he gets into onions.

I've promised pictures, but my daughter doesn't know how to upload them from her phone (or can't be bothered) and the only photo we got before my husband's camera packed in is an out-of-focus one with the kids.

Now, my mother. As you might recall, there was a bit of a crisis with her in the summer before I went to visit her. She had hurt her knee pulling my stepfather out of a chair. She was depressed and fed up and ready to move in with my sister. Then my nephew and his daughter and my niece and her three daughters came to visit, and everything got worse. By the time I got there, my mother was exhausted. I got a woman from Social Services to come out and talk to my mother and stepfather about what services are available for them. They each got a personal alarm ("I've fallen down and I can't get up.") and a cleaner comes twice a month now. My mother's knee has healed, she sounds so much better on the phone, and she is NOT moving in with my sister, who doesn't have the room anyway as her three sons, one son's girlfriend, one granddaughter and one grandson-to-be are all living with her now.

About my son: I had a lot of angst over the past year about my son. Where we live, children can take an exam called the 11-Plus to determine what secondary school they go to. If they pass, they get a place at a grammar school, which tends to be single-sex and more academically oriented than comprehensives, which are co-ed, all-ability schools. In primary school my son hadn't exactly shone. He was always a borderline pass, at best. But he did pass the 11-plus. He has proved himself to be organised and confident. He ran in an inter-form race in September. The first week he finished 33rd out of 150 boys, with no training whatsoever. The next week he finished 7th. The night we got Jake, we also got a phone call from the man who heads the cross-country team at his school inviting him to join. He did, and has made decent finishes ever since. I don't think I have enough words to express how proud and relieved I am.

About my daughter: We survived the birthday party. She continues to be self-engrossed, which is probably par for the course for a 13-year-old.

If I've left anything out, please let me know.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Tuesday Twins Again

I've been thinking about how some celebrities just aren't aging well at all. Here we have Keith Richards (on the right) whose resemblance to a Halloween ghoul is uncanny.

And then there's poor, sad Melanie Griffiths, who has managed to mangle her face in an effort to look younger.

Another one who I think is aging badly is Alec Baldwin (who should also win Bad Dad of the Year award). He used to be HOT. What happened?

And what about Tom Cruise? I loved him in Risky Business, even Top Gun. But have you seen his latest haircut? Not a good look. His fellow Scientologist, John Travolta, has blown up like dirigible.

I suppose it's not pleasant to have to grow older in front of the world. Still, they have a pretty good life, don't they, if their only worries are looking good in front of a camera.

And here's me, almost 48, mistaken for 32 by a drunken flirt at the weekend and feeling really good about it. Eat your heart out, celebrities.

Monday, 29 October 2007

I Love to Party

And this past weekend was full of them. First, there was my annual Halloween party on Friday. It's become a tradition among a group of friends that I, as the American, host the party.

When my kids were little, I felt really bad that they wouldn't be able to participate in trick-or-treating, since the British aren't too keen on it. At first I took them to a Halloween party put on by an American ex-pat group. But it felt artificial to me. Then Frenemy and I decided to do our own. We rented a hall, a friend brought his disco equipment, we did all the food, and I organised games for the kids. The next year I organised it on my own. Big Mistake. It was a huge responsibility, and I didn't enjoy myself. The year after that I decided to host it at my house, scaled it down a bit, tried to turn the top floor of my house into a haunted attic, was exhausted. But I'd set the standard so had to keep doing it. The year after that, Frenemy came into the kitchen during the party bearing 2 shriveled, brown balls. I asked if they were her husband's. They weren't. Frenemy and another friend had hidden baked potatoes the year before in my dining room and never bothered to tell me. The potatoes had been lurking for a year in hidden shelves in my dining table I never knew existed. Now they knew exactly what kind of housekeeper I am. I laughed at the time because what else could I do?

I didn't host the Halloween party last year because we were in London househunting the week before, so it fell to another friend in the group. And it wasn't the same. This year by popular request it was back at my house. As it will be next year. I'm going to introduce a theme, Saints and Sinners, and a new game, Find the Potatoes. I better go hide them now.

Saturday night was a different party altogether. The disco equipment friend is very good at marking occasions, particularly his own birthday. For his 40th, he rented a huge hall, hired a band and caterers, invited loads of people, some of whom chipped in to buy him a new set of golf clubs. And his brother thought it would be a good idea to hire a lap dancer. The friend's parents and his wife were there, as were many other women. The lap dancer stripped down to a G-string, stripped our friend down to his underwear, rubbed oil all over his chest while rubbing her breasts on him, put a collar and lead around his neck, forced him down on all fours and paraded him around the room. That was two years ago and we still talk about it.

By contrast this birthday celebration was much more tame. It was a masquerade theme and the men were encouraged to wear masks with very long noses (I think you get the gist). This was the party I was supposed to lose 8 pounds for. Instead, I put on three. One guest, the Party Flirt, told my husband he thought I was 32. Must be the extra weight filling out the wrinkles. Still, I felt good, drank loads of champagne and shots of a Baileys/Tia Maria/Vodka/Brandy concoction and suffered greatly yesterday. But no lap dancers, Thank God!

I was going to do a Monday Moaning, but at this particular point in time there's nothing to moan about other than the additional three pounds I put on. And that's not really worth moaning about. VI has recruited me to join her dieting program. I'll let you know how I get on.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Very Old and Very Ugly

I wonder if any of you have met Xenophobia? She is very, very old, probably as old as humankind itself. And she is very, very ugly. She has many faces and many followers. Whole political parties and religions have been created in homage to her.

Sometimes she is blatantly obvious, such as in concentration camps created by the ever-organised Germans to annihilate whole sectors of the population. Sometimes less so, as in the Japanese detainment camps created by Americans during WWII to contain people whose race they feared.

And fear is what feeds Xenophobia. Hatred too, but that's really just a by-product of fear. When people want to deport all foreigners because they believe they are the root cause of all that's wrong with society, Xenophobia is there, laughing her hideous laugh. Xenophobia travels the world spreading her gospel, and many embrace it. Even some so-called liberal thinkers who would never think to infringe on the rights of others. They might be the most insidious of Xenophobia's followers because they lie and deny their true feelings, but those feelings come out in the least expected places.

What has compelled me to write about Xenophobia is a response (actually several) written on Snuffleupagus's blog by a fellow who calls himself british national party member. He is a great follower of Xenophobia, but at least he is honest about it. Unlike, say, Turkey, which denies to this day the genocidal killing of Armenians and threatens to withdraw its military support when urged to admit it by Americans.

Ah, yes, America -- home of the brave, land of the free. Xenophobia doesn't exist there, or does she? Was she not there when Irish and Italian immigrants were badly treated? Or in those Japanese detainment camps? Or when Native Americans were forced off their ancestral lands? Or at just about every point in its past and present?

The British look down their noses at the Americans for they can see clearly that Xenophobia is alive and well in America. But they don't see that she's in their own country too. There are too many Eastern Europeans coming over and partaking of our benefits system and robbing our people of jobs, they say. Send them back. Close the borders. Keep out all the pestilence and disease and crime brought to our pristine shores by these foreigners. As if that would really be a solution. Politicians use Xenophobia's wiles to gain votes from her followers, but their victory is society's loss.

Xenophobia robs us all of tolerance, understanding, growth. Yet somehow humankind continues in all its variations. Xenophobia has not won yet, and hopefully never will.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

A Fairy Tale Begun in New York

I've been thinking about what to blog about. Should I blog about my political leanings? What's been written on another blog that I found incredibly offensive? My friend's phone call from the Labour Party that was incredibly intrusive?


I'll copy Kaycie and write about how I met my husband. Snuffleupagus has been itching to know so here's the story:

Once upon a time there was a 30-year-old woman working as a Sunday magazine editor for a suburban New York newspaper. This woman had worked very hard to get where she was, but life was empty for her. She was married to another journalist who worked at the same newspaper. She competed with him. He competed with her. They were very sad people who didn't have a real life outside work. He had threatened to leave her the year before because of a look she gave him on a really stressful day, but he refused to go to marriage counselling.

Then one day the man went to a seminar in Virginia, and a photographer at the newspaper started to flirt with the woman. She thought he was cute and was very flattered that men still found her attractive. She started to daydream about the photographer. He started to hang around her office a lot. And phone her at home. After two weeks she realized that she wanted out of her marriage. She managed to get the courage to tell the man, but faltered and suggested he come along for counselling. At their first and only session, the man said the woman had lots of problems she needed to sort out and he thought they should split up and he'd made a list dividing their property.

The woman was speechless. This was not what she wanted to hear. She wanted to hear that he loved her and wanted to work things out. She cried all the way home. The next day they divided their possessions, which weren't many, and found separate homes.

The woman lost lots of weight. She lost her job as a magazine editor and had to work nights on the copy desk. And she lost the photographer, who turned out not to be cute at all, but actually a real bastard. She went through many lonely, scary months without any sex at all and would spend weekends not speaking to a soul save her two cats who shared her bed. Eventually, she was put on the city desk, but the man had started seeing a woman from Fresno, California, who sat only 8 feet away from her. They would drop notes to each other to meet in the smoking lounge. The woman saw this several times a day because when she looked up from her computer, there they would be. She was promoted to bureau editor and moved to another office. But life outside work was still very lonely. The woman had worked so hard for so long she didn't know how to have a social life that didn't include late nights in bars with other journalists.

The woman went to see an astrologer because she had just about given up hope. The astrologer told her to calm down and be hopeful because good things were just around the corner. The woman would meet someone, probably from another country. Foreign travel would always be good for the woman. And she would have children, but not before 1994. The woman went home and felt better, though the next month she found out the photographer or the man had given her chlamydia. No more sex for me, the woman decided. At least not until I meet The One.

A few months passed and a good friend came to visit the woman. The woman decided to take a day off work and see the sights of New York with her friend. They went to the Statue of Liberty, back in the days when you could. They walked around Wall Street. They visited South Street Seaport and found an Irish bar where the bartender gave them free beers. Let's stay here a while, they decided. The woman talked for a while to a pompous trader who bored her. Then she turned around. A tall man with dark hair and glasses was staring right at her! She quickly turned back around. Then she couldn't resist another peep. He was still looking at her! He walked up to the bar next to her friend and started talking to her. The woman heard his voice. A British accent! How very sexy! The woman started talking to him too. He walked around to be closer to the woman. The woman's friend talked to the man's friends. Everyone talked and talked for hours, then the woman said she and her friend had to go get something to eat. I'll go with you, said the man with the British accent. And a good thing he did because the woman didn't have a clue how to get to the Stage Deli, which is where they ended up.

At the Stage Deli, the man paid for the meals. Then the three of them walked back to his hotel. He hailed a cab for the woman and her friend to take them to the train station and gave them money for the cab. Then he gave the woman his business card and a quick peck on the cheek. All the way back on the train the woman couldn't stop talking about the man with the British accent. Her friend told her not to expect him to call again.

One week later, about 8 p.m. on a Saturday, the woman took a break from doing her laundry. The phone rang. It was the man with the British accent. They talked and talked and talked. They agreed to start writing letters to each other. Then the man suggested the woman should come visit him. It was arranged for August, two months after they met. The woman was very nervous about the trip but her mother said if something nice happened then it would be serendipity. The man with the British accent drove her all over the country. The sun seemed to shine every day for 10 days. The woman fell head over heels in love with the man and he with her. In Windsor they passed a shop called Serendipity. It was meant to be, they decided.

They next saw each other in November when the man with the British accent flew the woman out to see him in Chicago and Nashville. Then they saw each other at New Year, when they got engaged. Then they saw each other in March when the man with the British accent met the woman's family. Then they saw each other in April, when he came over to pack up the woman's belongings to move her and the cats to England.

They got married in August, then went on their honeymoon to India the following April, where the woman got food poisoning very badly and lost loads of weight (again for she had gained back some pounds). The woman desperately wanted to get pregnant and after six months finally did so -- in January 1994. So the astrologer had been right about many things.

And they have lived ever after, sometimes even happily.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Tuesday Twins Again

I knew X Factor contestant Rhydian Roberts reminded me of someone. That's right -- it's Gunther from Friends.

On a more serious note -- or not -- laurie has memed (spelling?) me to write about how and why I created a blog. According to laurie, this is an ancient meme she has called the "What color is my sky?" meme. I tell you a little bit about myself, which I do anyway, how I came to blog, and why I blog.

My sky is sometimes blue, sometimes gray (and you'll notice the spelling changes from Anglo to American a lot), depending on my mood.

I didn't exactly know what a blog was for a long time. I'd sort of read about them, but having only started this one in March of this year, I'd say I'm pretty late on the band wagon. I started this one after reading about wifeinthenorth. I was messing around on the computer one day and found blogspot. I started to read blogs randomly. Have you ever done that? It really opens your eyes to the world. I found blogs in Arabic, Polish, Spanish, Japanese. I found porn -- lots of it -- which I hasten to add I'm not interested in. I found a journal of a homocidal lesbian (I think that one is fiction). I found photos taken by a woman who went to my university. Cat videos. You name it, I found it.

I'd missed writing since I'd given up my journalism career 15 years ago. I also felt a need to write because I'd been going through a tough time in my marriage and life. I wasn't looking for an audience, just an outlet. That's why I have such an unwieldy ID. I didn't really think it through. I didn't imagine myself commenting on other blogs or others visiting mine. Along the way I've written about my depression, my boring life, my trip to Barcelona with the family in April and then to London with my husband. I wrote a tribute to David Halberstam after he died. I wrote about Madeleine McCann (before a lot of others, I might add). I also wrote some about hubby, daughter, son, the rest of my wacky family (though not all), my 30th high school reunion, last summer's crisis with my mother, getting a puppy. I didn't tell my husband about this blog, and still haven't. But I'm getting there. I wanted to feel free to write whatever I want to write. Being anonymous helped, I think.

Along the way, something unexpected happened. I made friends, or blums as enidd calls them, to the point where I miss you guys if I don't check in every day (which seems a bit compulsive and probably is). I've revealed a lot of myself here that I don't normally do in real life. And yet most of you don't know my real name or where exactly I live. Because I write about my family, I feel it's unfair to reveal myself or them to all and sundry. I have emailed some of you so you know I'm a real person with a real name. Laurie and I have even worked with the same guy, though not at the same time.

All this blogging has made me realise that we are living in the Age of Communication. Technology has enabled us to communicate instantly at any time of day. Judging from the number of mobile (cell) phones and blogs out there, I'd say there is a great need to communicate. Yet I don't think we humans are any better at communicating. The frequency has increased but not the quality ("I'm on the train.") Look at all the 24-hour news programs on TV -- not all quality journalism there.

Blogging, for me, has become another way of connecting with others in this world, of breaking out of my solitary cocoon that I created, of finding and giving support. I don't write about everything that goes on in my life. Not enough time or interest. And I don't have the following that many blogs do, but that's OK. I'm not out to write the most popular blog. I just want to reach out to fellow human beings and make a connection.

And I think I've done that.

Now who should I pass this meme onto? How about Debio, Kelly, and Pixie?

Monday, 22 October 2007

Holding Back the Years

This is more of a rant than a moan. The other day I was in my local Tesco Universe store perusing the Potions to Make You Look Younger aisle. I wanted an exfoliating scrub for my face (did the word exfoliate exist before 2001). Olay make two different kinds, one that promises to "illuminate" your skin and one that fights the seven signs of aging (without specifying what those are).

I wondered what the difference between the two scrubs was, other than £2, so I checked out the ingredients on the back. And found there was absolutely NO difference. So I bought the cheaper one, of course, seven signs be damned.

Then I wanted some shaving gel. Now, King of Shaves makes a very nice gel for men that I get for my husband so I thought I'd check out the women's gel. But first I checked out the ingredients. Apart from the extra £2 (what is it with £2?), guess what? THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE.

Some people somewhere are getting paid a lot of money to con us women. Dare I say they might even be women? Take the former saint, Anita Roddick, whose untimely death revealed what a charlatan she and her company, Body Shop, were.

But why are we women so willing to be duped? I think it's because aging has become a sin. If you look your age, dress your age, act your age, something is wrong with you because we should all be seeking the proverbial fountain of youth. We should be spending loads of money on trying to keep our youthful looks. The more adventurous will spend loads of money on cosmetic surgery (hello, Joan Rivers and Sharon Osbourne). We should feel bad because 30 years ago we enjoyed our time in the sun a little too much and now have the wrinkles and brown spots to remind us. Or we smoked or drank or stayed out late. The cosmetics industry is trying to make us feel ashamed for having had a life.

I feel I have to try to maintain some sort of youthful appearance because I'm married to Dorian Grey. Apart from a few more grey hairs, my husband has not changed in the 16 years I've known him. He weighs the same, perhaps even a little less. If he overindulges one night, he doesn't wake up the next morning looking like a bloated fish. He doesn't have mysterious lumps and bumps that crop up overnight on his skin. I found one stretchmark on his back. He is 21 months shy of 50 and could easily pass (and does) for a 35-year-old (that seems so young now). And he doesn't use moisturizer or exfoliator or sun screen. Bastard!

Well, I've had my Monday Moan. Now you'll have to excuse me while I dash off. I've run out of moisturizer, and there could be a crisis.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Ramones-Do You Wanna Dance-R'n'R High School movie

It's a Beautiful Morning

This morning I opened the curtains, looked out my bathroom window, and saw a sky full of pink streaks punctuated by low grey clouds. It was so beautiful I stood for a few minutes just taking it all in. The pink streaks, of course, were the sun reflecting on the many contrails in the sky. Who says global warming can't be beautiful? Much lovelier to look at than Al Gore's ever-expanding face.

That got me in a good mood. Then I started to think about my dreams, or a dream, to be specific. Some people have recurrent dreams. I have one too. I've had it five or six times since I was in my 20s. What it involves is a house I live in that has rooms I never knew existed till I open a door that leads to what must be an annex. In these dreams the house changes, the rooms change, but the wonder of discovery never does. I have discovered rooms decorated in retro-1950s style, in modernist style, bedrooms, ballrooms, attics, swimming pools, roof terraces with skylights and terra cotta pots everywhere. I don't know what the dream means -- self discovery maybe? I haven't had it in a few months or maybe even a year. It doesn't come that often, but when it does I welcome it. It is comforting in the way that your favourite blanket was when you were growing up. Do any of you have recurrent dreams like that?

My lovely day has continued. The weather helps. It is one of those crisp, sunny autumn days that we don't get that often here. When I lived in suburban New York, I remember all of October and November being like this. I would pass a maple tree on my way to work that glistened in the late afternoon sunlight (I worked nights at that time). It would cheer me, at least temporarily, before I went in to the drudgery of nights on the sports copy desk working with guys I did't like and who didn't like me.

Jake is enjoying the weather too. He's charging around like a mad thing, digging up ancient balls that must have belonged to some dog that lived here in the past. I went to the gym and worked out at least as hard as some of the women half my age (though my poor bladder didn't hold up too well; ah well, wait till they've had a couple of kids and an early menopause).

I'm not often this at peace with myself and my surroundings. And anything could happen in the next 10 minutes to change it. But for now I feel serene, a word that doesn't pop out of my vocabulary very often.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Sit! Stay! Heel!

OK, all you doggie owners: I have some questions.

Jake is now nearly 10 weeks old. He's nearly doubled in size and tripled in activity. He's a lovely little guy and a wonderful addition to our family. Laurie and some others suggested I get a puppy crate to help with the house training. I did, and it's worked miraculously. However, we still get about one to two accidents a day. I take him out first thing in the morning, while it's still dark and I haven't had coffee yet. He seems to squat, then I feed him his breakfast. Then he goes out again. This morning I left my daughter in charge while I got a shower. My son came in later to inform me Jake had pooed in the kitchen, but he'd cleaned it up (what a great son I have). Then I took him out again and he came in and peed. So the first question is, should I still expect to clean up a couple of accidents a day and at what point will the penny drop and he'll be able to control himself till he can go outside? I know -- that's two questions.

I'm trying Jake out on the lead (leash) for about five minutes a day in the back garden (yard). He thinks it's a game and chews on the lead as we walk around. When he gets really bad, I stop and say "Sit," which he does, and I then give him a treat. I've also taught him to chase a ball in the house and bring it back. He won't do it outside though. Is he still too young for this sort of training? I will take him to obedience classes once he's fully immunis(z)ed.

He has manic bursts of activity and gets overexcited by the children and bites their ankles, toes, and anything else. Saying no doesn't work. Giving him an alternative toy to chew on doesn't work. Putting him in the puppy crate does work, but I don't like doing that. Any other ideas?

The cats are still wary of him. Actually, they are scared shitless of him because every time he sees them he chases them. I can just imagine their conversations. Pearl: "I HATE him. He thinks he's SOOO cute." Minnie: "And he poos on the grass and doesn't even cover it up. He's disgusting!" Pearl: "What's wrong with us? Why couldn't they be happy with us?" Minnie: "I don't know. I'm going to go hide under the bed and maybe bring up a furball." How can I train Jake to leave the cats alone?

He's absolutely zonked out right now after a frantic morning of weeing, pooing, chasing, chewing, nipping, and yapping. He's lying on his back in what I call his "I surrender" position. Oh so sweet. For now.

On the Awards and Hono(u)rs front, Lady Macleod, who is now off enjoying herself in Canada, bestowed on me the I Love Your Blog award. Thanks very much, Lady M. Now I'm going to do something I don't usually do. I'm going to pass it on to all of you because I do love all of your blogs. I know -- cop-out -- but while thinking about it I decided that everyone deserves this award and I couldn't possibly name just a few that I love more than any other. So, consider yourselves -- and your blogs -- loved.

And can anyone tell me how and why I gained a pound overnight. This after a day yesterday spent spinning for an hour at the gym, grocery shopping (which I consider exercise), and salsa dancing last night. And I was good about what I ate. Something very strange is going on here. I'm trying to lose 8 pounds (or even 3) before a party on the 27th and my body is not cooperating!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

I'm a Barbie Girl

On the left is Jordan, aka Katie Price. For those of you not familiar with her, she is famous for, well, being famous. She started off as a Page Three girl in the Sun, meaning she took her clothes off and posed naked for the camera. She has ENORMOUS boobs thanks to the miracle of plastic surgery. She's not stupid, though she certainly looks it. She's built a mini Jordan/Katie Price empire. She went on one of those celebrity reality shows and met her husband, Peter Andre, a failed pop singer, there. They've since made a couple of reality programs in which they've shown themselves to be quite natural around the cameras and also just normal people. They have three children; her first child, by a footballer, is blind and autistic. She is very honest about what life with him is like. Peter Andre has become the boy's surrogate father. I want to dislike Jordan/Katie Price but I can't. For underneath the Barbie clothes and the pink carriage she rode in for her wedding, she's someone I think I could get along with.

We all know the girl on the right. I went through a Barbie phase when I was growing up. I still covet some of her clothes (the ones from the 60s) and those little shoes. And I envy her figure, though not her lack of sex organs. My Barbie dated Ken, but she really liked GI Joe because he had moveable hands. That meant he could cuddle her, unlike Ken, whose arms stuck straight out and were as immoveable as his inane smile.

My daughter went through a Barbie phase too. I got her all the stuff I never had (second-hand of course). Her Barbies (for she had many -- oh, the wonders of trade with China) had skis, furniture, a van, a big house or two, tiny knives and forks, a dishwasher for those knives and forks and plates and goblets. She had a candelabra, for heaven's sake. And she had Ken, with moveable arms AND legs. One night when my husband was tucking my daughter in, he noticed what looked like a party set up on the floor. Ken was on top of Barbie, cuddling her, with his surfboard nearby sticking straight up. Guess the poor guy had to get a stiffy any way he could. I'm sure it was all innocent fun on my daughter's behalf, but hubby and I sure had a good laugh.

My Barbie phase ended when I was about 9; my daughter's ended even earlier. I know Barbies aren't very feminist dolls, though goodness knows Mattel has tried to make her hip with the times. And I've seen some really very funny jokes with Barbie the butt of them (redneck Barbie, terrorist Barbie, etc). Truthfully, I miss Barbie.

But I can always watch Katie Price, the living, talking, filty-mouthed Barbie. And she is more fun.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Remember that party for my daughter? "How bad could it be?" I thought to myself. "They're only 12 and 13. There won't be any sex and alcohol."

And there wasn't. I'll tell you what there was: grapes ground into the carpet, carrots chewed and spat out onto the walls, cakes lobbed out the window onto the cars below. Our cars. Why did I think they needed healthy food? Or any food at all?

I'd had a nice, relaxing evening with my husband and the cats after slaving in the kitchen getting the food ready and then running up three flights of stairs with it. For I thought it would be best if they stayed in the playroom. We watched the rugby (England v. France, England won, for you non-rugby fans). I stroked Pearl for ages. She's taken against me since we got Jake, and I needed quality time with her.

Then the parents arrived. When I went upstairs to summon the children, I noticed a few carrots on the floor. When the room was clear, I saw the extent of the damage. The window was stuck open, and I panicked, knowing how costly it is to get these sash windows repaired. By the time that was fixed, I'd seen the carrots on the wall, the smushed grapes, the leaking drink containers.

And I hit the roof! I felt very let down by my daughter. "I didn't do it," she protested, as if that let her off the hook. Hubby took to muttering under his breath. "I didn't want her to have this party in the first place. I never get consulted about anything around here." Jake got so frightened he went in his puppy crate by himself. It took me awhile to calm down, but I did. I went in to see my daughter before I went to bed because I didn't want her birthday to end on a bad note. I had contemplated sleeping in the spare room because I was quite annoyed with hubby for not backing me up. But I didn't. I read for a while then reached over and set the alarm clock for 6:30 a.m. and turned off the light.

Half an hour later I was awake with severe stomach cramps. I went to the bathroom, went back to bed, got up 15 minutes later. After three trips to the toilet, my stomach was quite sore and empty thanks to sickness and diarrhea. In between all that my car alarm went off and I had to rush downstairs to find my keys. I decided I really should sleep in the spare room to be nearer the bathroom and to prevent giving any bug to hubby. I did leave my alarm clock, still set to go off at 6:30, in our room though. Hee Hee.

I spent Sunday in a bit of fog, though I managed to cook Sunday dinner and do the ironing. Jake seemed to sense I wasn't up to much so he was quite calm for a change.

And today is another day. Let's hope it's a better one.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Happy 13th Birthday

Today is my gorgeous daughter's 13th birthday. Thirteen on the 13th. My husband and I were reminiscing yesterday about where we were 13 years ago. I was in a hospital bed getting ready to have an epidural. I'd progressed over two days from a TENS machine to diamorphine (which made me sick) to epidural. I'd been placed on an oxytocin drip to speed up the contractions. Finally, on this day at 9:30 a.m. a team from the United Nations was in place. There was me, the American. My husband, the Briton. The midwife from Ireland married to a man from Burma. The OB/GYN was Australian, and the pediatrician hailed from Nigeria.

My daughter was positioned at an angle that was not conducive to a straightforward delivery. They put me in a larger delivery room because they anticipated a C-section. First, they wanted to try forceps. "I'm not having forceps" I told them. "I know someone who had a forceps delivery and her son was born with cerebral palsy."

"OK," they said, "we'll try the Ventouse, but if that doesn't work, it'll have to be a caesarean."

"I'm not having a caesarean," I said. "You may not have a choice," they replied.

The Ventouse worked, thankfully, and my beautiful daughter was born with her eyes wide open. She looked all around her as if to say "Hello, world, I'm here."

She's still like that. She has my mother's green eyes, nose and mouth. She is darker than me; her chestnut hair has auburn streaks that the sun picks out. She is nearly my height now. Years of dance have ensured that her body is muscular, though with a small layer of puppy fat still. A typical Libra, she gets upset by conflict, though she doesn't shy away from it. She is stronger emotionally than me, more confident than I was at that age. Not surprising. She shares her birthday with Margaret Thatcher.

We seem to have achieved a trusting relationship. Yesterday, as we drove home from the hairdresser's, she told me about girls in her class (12-year-olds) who have had sex. She told of another now in Year 10 who had an abortion over the summer when she was 14. I don't know whether to believe these stories. You know what girls and rumours are like. I asked her to promise me she wouldn't have sex before she's 18. She said she couldn't make that promise. I then said, "At least make sure he uses condoms because pregnancy isn't the only thing you have to worry about. And please be in a mutually loving relationship."

She asked if I was 18 when I first had sex. I lied and said yes. I'm not ready to tell her yet that I was only 15, that I regret to this day my early sexual activity. I will in time when she and I are ready. I never had conversations about sex with my mother. I felt very uncomfortable if she ever brought the subject up. My daughter is more innocent than I was at that age. I intend for her to stay that way for as long as possible.

Tonight she is having a party with a few school friends and some boys. She says the boys are mates. She is taller than all of them. Thank God. Twelve- and 13-year-old boys don't like taller girls, as I recall. But then I moved on to older boys. I've warned my daughter against that. "Older boys will expect you to do things older girls do. Don't ever do anything you're not comfortable doing."

That she did promise me.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

The Family Tree Part II

Oh the joys of puppyhood. Minnie, one of our cats, got locked in the computer room last night. I thought I saw her on the patio when I was locking up, but it must have been Pearl. Anyway, she left a steaming present for me this morning (and Jake didn't, for once). But Jake thought he'd have a snack before breakfast. He is NOT licking me today.

But I digress. I was going to write about my dad's side of the family.

I don't know much about my great-grandparents on my dad's side other than these stories. My great-grandfather was a German immigrant farmer who moved to Colorado. When his first wife died, he remarried a woman who already had a daughter of her own. She was unkind to her stepchildren. My grandfather lost his left leg when a wagon ran over it when he was 12. Rather than buy a new pair of shoes when the right shoe wore out, his stepmother insisted he wear the left shoe on his right foot. She would give treats to her daughter, who would eat them in front of my grandfather and his siblings.

When my grandfather grew up he got a wooden leg and, ironically, became a shoemaker. His first wife died soon after giving birth. My grandfather, with the help of his in-laws, tried to raise the mother-less boy. When he met my grandmother and proposed, she said she would marry him only if he gave the boy to his in-laws to raise. This he did, and never saw his first son again.

My great-grandmother (my grandmother's mother) was a tough farmwoman, also of Germanic stock. She had five children with her first husband, my grandmother being the oldest. When her husband died, she moved her children from Nebraska to Colorado, but left my grandmother behind with relatives. Why? My mother said one of the sisters told her it was because no one could get along with my grandmother. Eventually, my great-grandmother remarried and had another son who was the apple of her eye. My grandmother rejoined her family only to be sent to a preacher's family to be educated. The preacher's family apparently viewed her as a servant and treated her terribly. Meeting my grandfather must have been her salvation. She was very young when they wed, only 19. Taking on another woman's son must have been too onerous for her.

My father's parents must have looked odd. My grandmother was very tall, about 6 feet, with red hair. My grandfather was only about 5'6. By the age of 21 my grandmother had two sons (born 16 months apart) and had lost all her hair. It started to fall out after my father's birth and never grew back. She wore a wig and pencilled in eyebrows every day till the day she died at the age of 94. She must have blamed my father's birth for the hair loss for he always speaks of it with guilt. She had another son three years after my father's birth, her golden boy.

My grandfather lost his shoe shop during the Depression. He and his family had very lean years till the New Deal came in. My dad was a bit of a hellion, but in a mischievous way. He quit school at the age of 15 and joined the Navy when he was 16 to serve as a bombadier in the Pacific. He came home when he was 21, got his GED, and enrolled at Denver University using his GI Bill. My mother also was a student at DU. They met through my dad's best friend, who married my aunt. Those two are still married, which my aunt lords over my mother every chance she gets.

After my parents married, they moved in with my dad's parents. My mother describes that time with mixed emotions. On the one hand she says she was treated like the daughter they never had. On the other, my grandmother didn't always treat her right. My mother quit college and got a job at the telephone company to support my dad. My dad was never an academic, but through sheer hard work and some help from my mother, he got a PhD in clinical psychology. My mother had my sister after three years of trying to get pregnant. She was doted on by her grandparents and uncles. Then my parents moved to South Dakota, where my dad had a fellowship. I think that is when things started to go pear-shaped in their marriage. My mother thought my dad had an affair. She was jealous of the time he spent away from her. She left him and went home to her parents, taking my sister. Her mother told her, "You're not woman enough to keep a man." Those words would echo strongly many years later when my dad finally did leave her.

Somehow they patched it up and moved to Florida a year later. My dad started in a new firm and worked hard to build up his career. He was told by his boss, though, that my mother would always hold him back. Was it where she came from (Tampa was an incredibly snobbish smallish place back then) or was it her sometimes odd behaviour? My mother had my brother a couple of years later. The birth was problematic. He was given too much oxygen. He was a difficult baby -- a fussy eater, crying a lot. He was even worse as a toddler. My mother, who has never handled frustration well, would spank him and slap him in an attempt to subdue him. And the boy was not turning into the kind of son my dad wanted. He was clumsy (he turned out to have terrible eyesight) and uncoordinated.

Three years later my mother wasn't feeling too well. "Oooh, I think I'm pregnant," she would tell my sister every night as she struggled to curl my sister's fine, limp hair. My dad accused my mother of sneakily getting pregnant. In my mother's defense, I don't think she thought she could get pregnant, having suffered from endometriosis for many years. I was born in January 1960. My dad was disappointed because he'd hoped I'd be born before the first of the year so he could get a tax break. My sister was disappointed because she didn't want a baby sister, and certainly not in her birth month, and it meant she couldn't have riding lessons. My mother and brother, however, were quite happy, or at least OK about it.

My dad's career was starting to go well, and he would spend more and more time away from home. When I was 7, my mother decided to go back to college to finish her degree. At first she took one or two classes a week, and only in the day while we were at school. As I got older, she took on more classes, some at night. My dad was away at night too doing group therapy. My brother and I (my sister had gone to Florida State University by then) were left to our own devices a lot. I started drinking at the age of 9 when my brother's friend came over and we would play drinking games. Then my sister, who had always been the favoured child, left FSU and moved in with her boyfriend without telling my parents. My dad found out when he decided to drop in on her while driving through Tallahassee. Her roommate told him where to find her. She lived in a crummy part of town in a crummy house. My dad cried all the way home.

My sister married this guy in spite of my parents' protestations. He was a con artist, they were convinced. He had delusions of grandeur. The more they complained about him, the more she stuck up for him. She had a son the year after they married. Money was tight. The husband would go for runs to get rid of his stress. He did run, straight to his mistress's house. My sister stuck with him through three more children. He finally left her.

Meanwhile, back at home, my mother finally had a hysterectomy after years of suffering from endometriosis. Then her mother died. Then my dad met my stepmother and decided to leave my mother. It was messy and ugly. I've posted about this before so won't repeat it. My parents' divorce came through in November 1975. My dad and stepmother married that Christmas while skiing in Colorado. But no one is supposed to know that. They had another ceremony in Florida the following April. My mother sold her house and moved to California that summer. My brother and I stayed with her for the summer, and I moved in with my dad and stepmother and stepsister when I came back.

At first we all worked hard to get along. My stepmother gave me a watch pendant as a token of affection, but soon she showed her true colours. All my stepsister had to do was whine, and I would be blamed for the least little thing. The three of them went to Washington, D.C., and left me alone on my 17th birthday. So I had a party. My brother helped me clean the house before they got back. I missed a handprint on the wall, which my eagle-eyed stepmother spotted the second she came through the door. Things deteriorated after that. Remember that watch pendant? One weekend when I came home for a visit from college, my stepmother and stepsister sandwiched me on the couch, and my stepmother asked for it back because her daughter wanted it. I never saw my stepsister wear it and I doubt if she has it now.

My dad made it clear from the start that he would always take his wife's side and so he has for the past 32 years. He is living out a pattern started generations before him. I struggle to maintain a relationship with him and my stepmother. They have mellowed but I have so much hurt inside me that I've never been able to express or acknowledge. I took a motto of theirs from the 80s and made it my own: Living well is the best revenge. I have a loving husband, two wonderful children, two cats, a puppy, and a nice home. My stepsister is a drug addict and alcoholic whose two children are being raised by her brother. She has been in and out of rehab many times. I am trying hard to see the familial patterns and not pass them onto my children.

And what of my sister and brother? That will have to be in another post because this one has exhausted me.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The Family Tree

I've been thinking about genealogy lately. My mother and her twin sister have spent quite a bit of time researching their side of the family. And my mother-in-law has researched her and her husband's family trees (and found a branch of the family in Australia thanks to me).

They have names and dates, but I'm interested in the emotional genealogy. I can only go back one or two generations of my parents' emotional family trees, but I think they reveal a lot.

What started me on this subject was the realisation last summer that my niece is following her mother's parenting footsteps. I wondered what made my sister become what she became, i.e. a single parent with four children who stayed in a disastrous marriage far too long and blamed my parents' divorce for that. Where did this all begin?

On my mother's side, I know a lot about her maternal grandmother because my aunt wrote a story about it (which I rewrote and she never acknowledged). My great-grandmother was one of several children of a Baptist minister. She married a farmer/Baptist minister and they went to live on his parents' farm in Missouri. They had four children, the youngest of whom died at the age of 2 (cause unknown but most childhood illnesses could have been the cause). Then my great-grandfather suffered a sunstroke after helping to dig a grave for a friend on an unseasonably hot March day. He was bedridden till that August, when he forced himself out of bed to bring in the harvest. He suffered a relapse and my great-grandmother, with three young children at home, could no longer cope with nursing him. She sent him to a state hospital, asking them to contact her if he got worse. He pined for his family apparently and died after banging his head on the wall repeatedly.

These are the facts as I know them. But I wonder if there's more. Did he suffer from manic depression? Was that the real cause of his illness? And whose grave was he helping to dig? Could it have been Riley's, the little boy they lost to illness?

After her husband's death, my great-grandmother had to sell the farm as she couldn't manage it herself. She moved her family to town, where she took on a variety of jobs to support them. As her three children grew to adulthood, they moved to Wyoming one by one. She followed them there, living with one child, then another. She sold beauty products door to door (don't know if she made much money in Wyoming). Eventually the three children married and had families of their own. She lived next door to my grandmother in a tiny house for many years. My mother and her twin sister slept in that house every night because there was no room for them in their own, but did so gladly. Despite all her many misfortunes, my great-grandmother was by all accounts a loving and lovely woman. Even my father said that. She died of stomach cancer before I was born.

Her daughter, my grandmother, was a much more complicated character. The loss of her beloved father, whom she physically resembled, was a big shock apparently. As the oldest, she was expected to take on many duties in raising her siblings. Though she and her sister were less than two years apart, they apparently were great rivals. My great-aunt was an ethereal sort who loved to pray and play the piano. She looked like her attractive mother and behaved like her as well. Her grandchildren remember her fondly. Oddly enough, she married a man who resembled her father. My grandmother was the late bloomer.She married my grandfather when in her 30s after years spent as a teacher. She had a son quite quickly, whom she doted on. Three years later she was due to give birth again. Little did she know she would soon be giving birth to twins. When she got pregnant, she had been taking Lydia Pinkham, a popular tonic at the time for women's "ailments" which consisted of mostly alcohol. My tee-total grandmother must have been legless. My grandfather always told the story that after the twins were born, she got up from bed, found the Lydia Pinkham bottle and threw it as hard as she could out the back door.

My great-grandmother moved in to help with the twins, who had colic their first year. I don't think my grandmother ever wanted girls or twins and she got both. She had a tempestuous relationship with her daughters her whole life. But her son could do no wrong. My grandfather had two jobs to support his family so wasn't home very often and was sleeping when he was. He had run away from home in Missouri at the age of 15 after a severe beating from his older brother. He was the youngest and was much favoured by his many sisters. But I wonder now if he didn't have a bit of a temper because of a newspaper clipping my mother recently sent me. It was an article about Wyoming pioneers. It mentioned him leaving a job after a fight with his boss. Just made me wonder. But his daughters adored him till the day he died, even after many strokes left him incontinent and prone to attacks of paranoia. He was a great man in many ways. Even my father said that.

My mother and her sister were and are each other's best friend and worst enemy. I think my grandmother encouraged this as a divide and conquer strategy. The twins both have a terrible temper, suffer from depression (especially my mother) and insecurity. I could tell you stories that would make your hair curl (or straighten if it's already curly). My father tells the story of my mother taking out her frustration on a sewing machine, repeatedly beating it with something. He told her to stop, but her grandmother, who had given her the sewing machine, told my dad that it was my mother's machine and if she wanted to beat it that was her business. So this temper was coddled and tolerated (if not encouraged).

My mother tried to recreate her relationship with her sister with my dad, who in his way encouraged it. There was the rivalry. I think my mother was extremely jealous of my dad's career. There was the paranoia. There was the name-calling and hitting (mostly on my mother's end). There was the belittling and petty arguments. Sunday was fight day in our house. My mother threatened divorce many times, threatened suicide almost as many. Yet it was my dad who finally left. And I was saddened by the end of our family life, as dysfunctional as it was, because at least I had a place in it. I was the youngest of three children. We had messed-up parents, but they were our parents.

Tomorrow I will tell of my father's side. There are some tragedies there as well.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Tuesday Twins II, Awards, and Frenemies

Well, they look alike to me.

I've been given two awards in the last few days, the Breakout Blogger award from Kaycie and the Rockin' Blogger award from Crystal Jigsaw. Thanks very much, guys, and here are my nominees:

For the Breakout Blogger award I nominate Pixie, the Rotten Correspondent (who already has every award out there but so what), VI, and Queenie (or Chantay as I know her).

For the Rockin Blogger award, I nominate annie, debio, Queen Vixen, and mind the gap.

All of you are great, and I enjoy your blogs very much.

Now onto the frenemy issue (and none of you are like that). Yes, it takes a special person to become a frenemy. Someone who is so confused and confusing in their behaviour that Freud would have a field day.

Here are some definitions from the Urban Dictionary:

"frenemy" 1. The type of "friend" whose words or actions bring you down.(whether you realize it as intentional or not) The type of friend you ought to cut off but don't cuz...they're nice... good've had good times with them. U know...they're good people that you can count on to bring you down again sometime in the near future.The friend you may or may not have cornered about their quicksand like ways and keep around because "its in the past"...and so was one minute ago. The person that will continue to bring you down until you demand better for yourself. When you ask yourself is that person my friend or enemy...they are your frenemy. Straighten em out or leave them. Don't put up with it.
2. Someone who is both friend and enemy, a relationship that is both mutually beneficial or dependent while being competitive, fraught with risk and mistrust.

And that pretty much defines my relationship with the frenemy I mentioned yesterday. She is one of a group of friends who came together when our kids were at nursery together. Actually she and I met when I was pregnant with my first child and went on weekends away together and meals out before she ever met the rest of the group. But she hid this from them for a long time. I don't know exactly why but I have my suspicions. Her daughter is six months older than my daughter. Her son is three weeks older than my son. There is a LOT of competition about the kids. Her kids are pretty bright, go to private school, are given everything they ask for and more, go on exotic holidays every single holiday. Yes, they are spoiled. My kids can't stand them anymore. My son always disliked the boy, who is a bit of a thug and know-it-all. He used to beat up my son and the two sons of another friend in the group. He has broken things in everyone's house. We dread having him round. The daughter is morbidly obese and goes to Slimming World now (though officially we don't know that). She is also sneaky, hides food, and winds her brother up so he gets in trouble all the time.

We (my kids and I; hubby won't go) went skiing with Frenemy and her family in February. They have a house in Tremblant, Canada, which niggled me because I was the one who "discovered" Tremblant several years ago. But she graciously invited everyone in the group, and I was the only one to take up her offer. She was good fun, and she and I got totally legless on the plane (I threw up). Her kids, though, became a problem. We split the cost of a rental of a mini-van. I had the option to drive, but her husband did it all since he knew his way around better. We were all supposed to take turns sitting in the very back, but she never did and her kids only did it once. It became a big issue for my daughter, in particular, who thought it was unfair (and so it was). Frenemy and her husband bought her son new skis while there. The son wanted to use them there and then. They said no, he had to wait till Christmas. My kids saw him jumping on his old skis in an effort to break them so he could use his new ones. Didn't work. He lost his Spider ski gloves in a store (despite me finding them once and giving them back). Frenemy's kids made no effort to mix with my kids, playing on their PS2s when not skiing. I tried very hard to be on my best behaviour because Frenemy is the sort to remember things and bring them up at the most embarrassing moments. So I more than paid my share for food, drink, gas, meals out. I helped clean the house (because she is manic about having a clean house). I made coffee and breakfast every morning while she lolled in bed reading her book and eating breakfast (her husband brought it up to her every morning). She did not come down once without all her makeup on.

However, I did lose my rag once. At the kids, mine included. We'd agreed I'd take them swimming while Frenemy and her husband went to look at Jacuzzis (don't ask). We told Frenemy's daughter to meet us at the bottom of the slope, and I assumed the others either heard or she would tell them. Along the way, her brother tripped her and she fell. The rest of them skied on. I think she purposely didn't tell them because she was in a huff. Anyway, we're waiting, and the daughter eventually appears. We ask where the others are. She said they skied off without her. I walked up to the pool eventually, carrying my kids' snowboots (I'd hurt my back before we left and I wasn't feeling too good). I found the kids' skis, but no kids. I walked down. I took the gondola up. I took it down. Finally, they appear. I shouted at my daughter, who said the son had told them to look in the shops for his mother. I really wanted to shout at her kids, of course, but couldn't. I said I wasn't taking them swimming. Her son had a fit, and said lots of things about me to my kids when I wasn't there. To the point of making my daughter cry. I tried to put this unpleasant episode behind us, but Frenemy obviously thought I was out of line. She allowed her kids to make fun of me to my face. I didn't want to lose my rag again so I laughed it off and counted down the days till we got back. Still, I would have gone again but she and her husband made it clear they weren't going skiing in February. So I made plans with another friend in the group to go to Italy. Frenemy found out about it at a barbecue at the end of August and promptly invited that friend and her family to the Canada house at Christmas and New Year. In front of me. With no shame whatsoever.

It has been Frenemy's great ambition to become a magistrate (an officer of the court who hears minor cases and must demonstrate good character, social awareness and sound judgment). She put down my husband's name and another friend's as references, though she didn't bother to ask them first. This annoyed my husband greatly. Also, we know too much about her. We know she frequently drink-drives (with her kids in the car). We know she is unashamedly prejudiced about every minority group and is elitist as well. We know she has made comments suggesting our son is homosexual. I happen to know a few magistrates and gave hubby the phone numbers to ask them for advice. He didn't write a glowing reference, quite the opposite. She kept bringing up the subject when we saw her, how she'd heard nothing and she didn't know why. We would secretly smile. Then Friday she announced she was starting her magistrate training and she looked right at me, as if she knew something. Then she gave me two fingers (she knows which two fingers to use). I asked her what that was for, and she said it was for all of us.

Frenemy talks about all of us behind our backs to the others. And we talk about her. It's become a favourite topic of conversation. How do she and her husband get the money for the holidays, the houses? They buy and sell property. Allegedly. And now they're moving, despite her saying for years she'd never move. I am wondering whether my "friendship" with her will continue because I think she would like to push me out of the group. But she can't because I get on really well with the others, to the point that their kids and mine are almost like brothers and sisters. I think that really bugs Frenemy, though she'd never admit it. And why do I maintain this "frenemyship?" She and I fell out many years ago and didn't speak for months. It was very awkward for everyone, and my kids missed out on lots of stuff. A couple of the other friends in the group brokered a peace deal which we agreed to, and we've had our ups and downs since then. But this move might put things in a different perspective. I haven't wanted to upset the group so I swallow the shit Frenemy has tossed my way. And I'm not always the one she treats badly. So we'll see. Frenemy may fade in the distance at some point, though I would love to see how her kids grow up. And how her magistrate training goes.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Monday Moaning II

Well this Monday isn't getting off to a great start. I woke up at 4:30-ish thinking it was 6:30, took Jake outside for a wee, came in and thought about making breakfast and waking up the kids, then looked at the clock, then looked at another clock because I didn't believe the first one. Then I decided to go back to bed. But of course I didn't get back to sleep.

That's Moan No. 1. Here's Moan No.2: I have conjunctivitis. Again. So it's off to the chemist in a few minutes for the drops.

And here's a third moan. My No.1 frenemy (friend who's sometimes an enemy) told us Friday night that she's moving to the wilds of Cheshire. It's a half hour away, and while she thinks it won't change things, it will. For one thing, I'm not sure I want to travel half an hour to spend time with someone who treats me the way she does sometimes. This has obviously been in the works awhile and she only told us because another friend's husband spotted the for sale sign out in front of her house. So we're all a little pissed off at her for being so sneaky. But that's how she is and that's one reason she's a frenemy. Because she's never upfront about anything, you never know exactly where you stand with her.

Onto to Moan No. 4: I spent 12 hours yesterday in Wrexham cooped up in an overheated auditorium watching girls and boys compete in a dance competition. My daughter's group didn't win in any category, and I am so relieved because that would have meant going to Coventry. And I don't fancy going to Coventry to be cooped up in an overheated auditorium. Little did I suspect when I first sent my daughter to dance lessons when she was 2 that ten years later I would be spending my precious weekend time taxiing her to and from these competions, getting up early to do her makeup and hair, arguing with her about her costumes and everything else. I did manage to get away for about an hour when another mother and I sneaked out to find a pub. Over a glass of wine, we had a good laugh about what Plas Coch might mean in Welsh.

Now for Moan No. 5 (I must have been saving these up): I took Jake to the vet on Friday for his first immunisation. The vet said I must be mad to have taken on a non-pedigree border collie puppy from a Welsh farm. Why? He said because they are bred to be working dogs and need a lot of exercise and stimulation. Otherwise they get bored and tear up the house. He said by Christmas I'll be coming in complaining that he's eaten the Christmas tree and decorations. That got my dander up because first of all I know border collies need a lot of exercise and stimulation. We discussed that as a family (well, the kids and I did) and decided that we would between the three of us take him out three times a day. I think Jake will be like a child: the more time I put into him, the more rewarding he will be. And he won't be allowed in the room with the Christmas tree. I once had a Golden Retriever who got hungry in the night and ate all the Christmas decorations. So I know about puppies and Christmas. And if anyone wants to give me some advice on training him, please feel free to do so. Oh, and I can't post photos of Jake because my husband's camera has packed in, and my daughter needs to figure out how to upload photos from her phone.

(Big SIGH) I feel a lot better, and I'm off to Pilates to feel even better.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Lessons on Life

I forgot to post the answers to these fascinating questions. Here they are.

1.What is the financial help called that is available to young people from low income families who leave school early?
A. After School Allowance
B. Education Maintenance Allowance
C. Housing Benefit
D. School Leaver's Payment

Now, you might think it would be After School Allowance or School Leaver's Payment because they've left school. Sounds right, doesn't it? Wrong, it's B., Education Maintenance Allowance.

2. What proportion of young adults in the UK have used illegal drugs at one time or another?
A. One quarter
B One third
C. One half
D. Two thirds

This is purely subjective. How many young adults will admit to using illegal drugs is how it should be phrased. The answer is C., one-half. But only after smoking a spliff and snorting some cocaine.

3. Which of the following is not an agreement produced by the UN?
A. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
B. The Convention on the Protection of the Ozone Layer
C. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
D. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Wait a minute. Isn't this supposed to be a questionnaire on life in the UK? WTF does the UN have to do with it? Anyway, the answer is B., the Convention on the Protection of the Ozone Layer.

4. What percentage of Christians in the UK are Roman Catholic?
A. 10%
B. 20%
C. 30%
D. 40%

Judging from the enrollment at the local Catholic schools, I assumed a big number. It's not. The answer is A., 10 percent (except when trying to get their children into a Catholic school).

5. What percentage of the UK population say they attend religious services?
A. Around 10%
B. Around 20%
C. Around 30%
D. Around 40%
The answer is A., Around 10 percent, which is why the Mormon Church has targeted the UK as a country to send missionaries to. Seriously.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Morning Coffee, Afternoon Tea

When I first moved to the UK 15 years ago, I experienced a culture shock I hadn't planned on. I had to phone my husband at work and ask how to get the vacuum cleaner to work. There were a million other little everyday details that flummoxed me at first. How do I get the shower to work? What's the emergency services number? Is that the doorbell or the telephone? I also had to cope with not working and not knowing a soul other than my husband (though we weren't married yet), my new neighbours, and my (rather hateful at the time) future in-laws.

I read a lot of books. I listened to Radio Four. I wrote a lot of letters to my pals back in the US (who would never write back). I would gaze out the window at all the people going past and fantasize about knowing them and inviting them in for coffee and a chat. We didn't have a computer. The internet was in its infancy then. My two cats had to go into quarantine for six months. I would visit them three times a week, and that is how I learned to drive in this country.

I met an American woman who lived locally, and while she made it clear she wasn't interested in friendship with me, she did recommend I try to volunteer at my local Citizens Advice Bureau. That was a wonderful recommendation. I went for an interview with the then-manager. I did the training, and my time at the CAB helped me adjust to life in the UK greatly. And I like to think I helped a person or two while I was there. Most of the other volunteers were retirees who took me under their wing. One or two in particular were extremely helpful. I left the CAB a few years ago when I got volunteer fatigue and became dissatisfied with the direction it was going. But the friends I made then are still my friends now.

I got involved with an American ex-pats group in the early days, but gradually stopped going. The people who belonged to it were mostly wives of men sent here by their companies for three to five years. They were only here for a short time and then going back to their friends and family. I was here for the long run and had to make a life here. They would sit around and drink coffee and complain about life in the UK. I joined in but found over time that it was holding me back from accepting my life here and getting on with it. I think all ex-pats go through stages -- the first stage is Everything Is So Wonderful And Different, followed by Everything Is So Crap. If they stay long enough, they then enter the Everything Is Different But So What phase. I'm there now.

When I got pregnant, my social horizons expanded. I became involved (I do a lot of involvement) with my local National Childbirth Trust (a charity that promotes breastfeeding). Again, some of the friends I made then are still my friends now. It was having children that made me finally accept that England is my home. During my pregnancy, I fretted about having children over here, as if it were some third world country. I worried that my children would grow up liking different food and reading different books (haha, little did I know that I would produce children who don't like to read). But the NHS, despite its bad press, turned out to be a positive experience. The midwives were lovely, the doctors caring, the health visitor helpful. I needed their support as a new mother in a foreign country with hostile in-laws.

The weather is what got me down the most. I couldn't accept that sometimes July is worse than February, that August is usually rainy and dreary, except when it's not. I would come down with winter colds during summer. My sinuses still don't like it here (but they're not too keen on Florida either). Each morning I would pull back the curtains and exclaim "It's another crappy day." My husband took it personally. He would try to reassure me: "(Fill in the month)can be a lovely time of year in this country." I say it myself now. Bill Bryson's book "Notes From a Small Island" helped enormously too. In fact Bill Bryson is another reason I came to accept my life here. He loves this country, quirks and all. He's my hero, by the way.

The language was another hurdle. Simple words like shag have a totally different meaning here. I'd hear my husband use some words and assume I knew the meaning, then use them myself, to hilarious effect. Example: We had a houseguest, a rather distinguished older gentleman my husband had worked with. I thought I'd impress him with my knowledge of UK English and proceeded to talk at length about a certain person I described as a wanker. My guest's face registered shock. I didn't understand why. Didn't wanker mean something innocuous like jerk? No, my husband explained later, it's a bit stronger than that. I wasn't averse to using strong language during my newspaper career. However, I decided after the wanker incident that, for propriety's sake, I should clean up my mouth. Thus fanny has been banned from my vocabulary as have numerous other words (except in times of extreme stress and never in front of the children). Although I do say bloody from time to time. And I stopped giving people the finger when I drive because people do two fingers over here and I get all confused and forget which two fingers and the moment is past by the time I remember.

My husband and I had had a whirlwind relationship. We met May 31, 1991. By April 1992 I had moved over here lock, stock, and broken glassware. We'd only seen each other a total of five times in those months, and most of that was spent travelling to various places. We hadn't really known each other in our native habitats, so to speak. So I had a new relationship, new country, new lifestyle (I haven't had a paying job since moving to the UK). It took me years to adjust, but I did. Thank goodness I found help along the way because I couldn't have done it on my own.

Crystal Jigsaw has bestowed the Rockin Blogger on me. I'm having a really good week here. Thank you, Crystal, and I shall spread the wealth.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Tuesday Twins

There's something about Wynona Ryder and Keira Knightley that remind me of each other. The super-skinny body? The voice which, accents aside, has that pre-adolescent boy quality? Does anyone else see it, or is it just me?

I promised Jake photos, and even though my daughter said she uploaded them, I still can't find them. Maybe tomorrow.

I'll entertain you instead with a smattering of questions from Life in the UK Test Practice Questions. I decided after 15 years to apply for British citizenship since I don't seem to be moving back to the US anytime soon, and it sure would be handy to have an EU passport sometimes. Now, you'd think after 15 years in this country, more than 11 of them spent volunteering at the Citizens Advice Bureau where I learned a lot about the UK benefits system, that I would be able to ace these questions. You'd be thinking wrong.

Try figuring out these answers for yourself (those in the US feel free to join in):

1.What is the financial help called that is available to young people from low income families who leave school early?
A. After School Allowance
B. Education Maintenance Allowance
C. Housing Benefit
D. School Leaver's Payment

2. What proportion of young adults in the UK have used illegal drugs at one time or another?
A. One quarter
B One third
C. One half
D. Two thirds

3. Which of the following is not an agreement produced by the UN?
A. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
B. The Convention on the Protection of the Ozone Layer
C. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
D. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

4. What percentage of Christians in the UK are Roman Catholic?
A. 10%
B. 20%
C. 30%
D. 40%

5. What percentage of the UK population say they attend religious services?
A. Around 10%
B. Around 20%
C. Around 30%
D. Around 40%

How did you do? I'll post the answers tomorrow.

I'm going to pass on the You Made Me Smile blog award kindly given to me by RC to: Kelly, Jenny, Crystal Jigsaw, Vi, and Exmoor Jane. Be sure to make others smile too.

I've been thinking about the etiquette of the blog awarding. Naturally, I think, it's just good manners to thank the person who gave it to you and to pass it on to others. These awards are meaningless in the greater scheme of life, but they bring pleasure and happiness to others, don't they? Sometimes people don't like to single out others and cop out by saying everyone on their blog roll deserves it (and I think I've done that myself). Sometimes the same people seem to get them over and over again (and I think I've done that myself). Sometimes people forget to thank those who bestowed it on them (and I hope I've never done that and apologise if I have, though it's been done to me). These awards, I think, are a way of showing appreciation to those who read and comment on our blogs and whose blogs we read and comment on. Unlike some blogs that are started by creative and clever people as a commercial enterprise (anyone read Dooce?), my humble blog is my attempt to communicate with the world at large. It's not always clever or funny or topical. I don't live in an exotic country and don't have an exotic past. I'm an ordinary human being just getting on with life the best I can, and sharing that experience. As are most of you who read my blog (and thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing so). So have a great Tuesday, everyone, and remember to smile. I'm going to go play with Jake, then get a shower cuz I SMELL after the gym.

Monday, 1 October 2007

His Name is Jake

And he's seven weeks old. He's a bundle of energy one minute and a sleeping baby the next. We got him from a farm in North Wales. It took forever to drive there Friday afternoon. I'd said we were just going for a look, but the longer the trip the more I knew we were bringing a puppy home that night. In fact we almost brought two puppies home. We stopped at an ASDA on the way back and I bought some food, toys, blanket, puppy shampoo, and laundry basket for his bed. He's decided he prefers one of the cats' beds. She never goes in it anyway.

Needless to say, the cats are not impressed. It's upset their whole routine, but they haven't run away -- yet. I'm trying to reassure them and let them know they're still top dog. Jake finds them very amusing and is desperate to play with them. They just hiss at him and run away. He has chewy toys and a ball, but his mouth is still too small for them so he's been trying to chew on my slippers. I don't want him to form any bad habits so I'm not encouraging the chewing. He's already partially house-trained (as long as we take him out every hour and a half or so). He's not so good in the night yet, but he's still young. He knows when he goes to one part of the grass that he's expected to do something and he usually performs, to profuse praise. It's been a long time since I had a dog, but I think he's doing very well. He even sometimes responds to commands like Sit and Stay.

I said last week I was going to start Monday Moaning posts, and I will next week when I tire of poopy patrol. But this week, I'm absolutely besotted. And so is hubby. He said he thought he was doing very well for a non-animal lover. I told him that I always knew that deep, deep down he was an animal lover, but that it had been repressed for a long time. He laughed at that.

And the lovely RC has given me another award. I love awards. This is one for blogs that make people smile. I do hope everyone who reads this one is smiling today. I sure am. I will post some pix of Jake once we download them or upload them or whatever. He's black and white with a tough of tan on his cheeks. His nose is white and pink with a big black freckle. He is just so good-natured too. Maybe I've had cats too long. Don't get me wrong. I still love them dearly, but this guy is special too.