Monday, 31 March 2008

Cone head is back

Jake was better over the weekend, thank you all for your kind wishes and comments. I took the cone off on Saturday, and he was one happy puppy chasing his ball and licking his wound. However, I put the cone back on him Sunday morning because it looked like pus was coming out of his scar. I sterilized some tongs, put some cotton balls in rubbing alcohol, picked them up with the tongs and very gingerly dabbed them on the scar for about one second before he reared his head in pain. It seemed to do the trick though. I kept the cone on him all today but then thought he might be OK to have it off again. After 20 minutes, I inspected the scar. Part of it was red-raw-looking so back on with the cone. I'm too chicken to try the rubbing alcohol again so I am taking him to the vet tomorrow and ordering a BiteNot collar as well. No more fooling around. He may not realize what an infection could do to him but I do.

Yesterday hubby and I spent quite a bit of time working in the garden, weeding, digging, cleaning up. Hubby said to me, "Don't do any heavy lifting or digging. I'll do it for you. Remember your back." Famous last words. As I struggled with digging up a kniphophia that had grown out of control, I felt my back go. I quickly went inside and did a bunch of exercises designed to stretch the lower back, but too late.

Of course, that made it even more difficult for me when I tried to coax Jake to climb up his ramp to get in the car today. I thought I'd take him for a walk somewhere different, but he didn't want to go. Eventually, I got him up, and I do believe he was quite pleased to have a change of scenery. Still, I struggled to get him back in the car again. Somehow, my phone managed to call hubby at work (he's still there; they just keep prolonging his agony by not releasing him) while this struggle was going on. He had quite a laugh listening to me try various methods to get Jake up the ramp. From "C'mon sweetheart" to "Jake! Get up the ramp now!" Imagine if this had happened in a different scenario! Wouldn't be so funny then.

I am trying to look on the bright side as much as possible. In the mornings I find myself waking up with damp eyes. These are tears escaping when I'm at my most vulnerable. I am going next week to my mother's for two weeks. She phoned Saturday night while I was out with my daughter at a dance competition (her team didn't win anything) and seemed a bit distraught. I called her back. Seems no one from Florida, not my brother, my sister, or her four children, can spare the time to go see my mother. So I am going. This will not be easy. I will fly from Manchester to Salt Lake City via Newark, spend the night, then drive five hours. It is a journey I have made every summer for many years now, but this will be the first time I do it on my own. This will not be cheap either. While hubby has a few job possibilities, nothing is definite. My mother sent my sister $1,000 recently to keep in case she or one of her children needed to fly out to my mother in an emergency. I don't know what's happened to the money. Maybe my sister doesn't think this is an emergency.

I'm actually disgusted with my sister. While my mother was hospitalized with atrial fibrillation, her heart rate went as high as 200 at one point. She said she thought she was going to die. My sister told her people don't die of atrial fibrillation. Well, I checked, and yes, they most certainly can die of that. They can also get embolisms from it. Since my mother's been home from the hospital, she's asked every one of my sister's children if they could come out and see her. Nope, not one of them can spare the time. My sister told my mother there are people in this world who are much worse off than her. I can't believe she was so heartless and unsympathetic. Since January my mother has had a biopsy on a lump on her breast, pneumonia, blood found in her stool, and atrial fibrillation. Her doctor took her off the medication she takes for her tremor (age-related, not Parkinson's) so she's shaking a lot. She feels very weak and obviously needs family around her to lift her spirits.

This means I will miss Jake's follow-up appointment with the surgeon. Hubby has not been to the referral center. I will have to show him how to get there before I go. I will have to give him a list of things to do and ask. I will have to get Jake used to the ramp again (I don't want hubby manhandling Jake). The house and people in it will cope while I am gone, but I bet the ironing will be left till I get home (and I hope it is because hubby hasn't a clue how to use a steam iron. Seems his mother still used the Victorian kind you heated on the fire).

I haven't felt this stressed in many years. Sunday morning after I discovered the pus on Jake's scar, I could feel the stress building inside me. The tight chest, the pins and needles feeling in my fingers, the tense muscles. My back went because I was doing heavy lifting, but it also went because that's what it does when I feel stressed. Which makes me even more stressed. I will get through all this. I hope my mother gets better and Jakey gets better and hubby gets another job and no more horrible things happen. But if they do I will have to cope because there's no other choice.

Friday, 28 March 2008

More on Jake

Jake is unusually quiet today. It could be something to do with the two visits to the vet yesterday. The first was necessitated by Jake deciding to dismantle his cone and remove his stitches himself. Since they were due out today anyway, it was no harm done.

He loves the vet, who spoils him rotten with lots of treats. He loves the vet so much he didn't want to go home. No, he wouldn't walk up the ridulously expensive ramp I bought when I learned he had hip dysplasia. No, he wouldn't go near the car, but edged back towards the surgery door and lay down. A man and his daughter came out to help me. The man offered to lift Jake in, but I am a bit wary of Jake with men at the moment. On Monday he bit hubby's hand. He saw a boy playing football during a walk and wanted to join in. Hubby wanted to take him home. I wasn't there, but I believe there was a bit of a standoff, then a bit of a biteoff. When he got home, Jake tried to go for me as I was adjusting his collar. I let him know in no uncertain terms that that was unacceptable behaviour and he could forget about growling at me. He was very contrite after that, as if to say, "I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me."

Anyway, back to yesterday, I managed to lift him into the car (no small feat because I now have rotator cuff impingement syndrome). When we got home, he wouldn't go inside so I took him for a walk (which is what he wanted all along anyway). As usual, he set off at a brisk pace, tail wagging, head bobbing, cone dragging. His friend Meg, another border collie, wasn't hanging over the wall of her garden as she does at times. So we walked over the railway tracks and along the path at the back. Everything was fine and dandy till another dog off the lead came running at Jake. His tail wasn't wagging and I wasn't sure he'd be friendly. Jake is still tender where the surgery was. I tried to steer Jake away but the other dog kept following and sniffing at his wound. I called to the owner to please come get her dog. I wasn't sure if Jake would take offense and go for the other dog or not. And my experience of dogs off leads coming up to dogs on leads isn't good. Anyway, the owner eventually showed up and called her dog away.

We continued till Jake was ready to turn around. He stopped several times to rest. I am used to this now and just wait till he's ready to go again. When we got to the railway tracks, he decided to sit down again. I don't like to stop on railway tracks so I pulled him till he got up to walk again. Back past Meg's, who still wasn't out, then on home. When he got inside, I noticed blood on the floor. A quick check (because he growled) revealed the blood was coming from one of Jake's front paws. I phoned the vet, who suggested coming down again in an hour. So I lifted him back into the car, drove to the vet's, then Jake ate several biscuits while the vet examined his paw. He's scraped one of the pads.

Back home. Jake refused to go inside so we went for another walk. No limping of any sort. Just the usual rest stops on the way home.

But this morning he is unusually subdued. Normally, he'd be walking up to his lead, letting me know it was time for a walk. But he is ensconced on his bed, resting. Perhaps the paw is hurting quite a bit now. I'll let him rest. When he's ready, he'll let me know.

The good news is the cone comes off tomorrow. The vet asked why I didn't get one of the Bitenot collars (as recommended by Laurie). I had looked them up on the internet and didn't think they'd be available over here as all the distributors appear to be in the U.S. But our vet has them, and I will order one for the next hip operation.

I feel like a new, inexperienced mother who calls the doctor every time her baby is off her food. Our vet is a lovely man who doesn't charge me half the time I go in (yesterday's two visits only cost £8). I just hope my baby feels better soon.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

It's Been A Long Time

I've been feeling nostalgic of late. It could be because of my mother's ill health. It could also be because I've been watching a TV series called Mad Men, about men who worked in advertising on Madison Avenue in the 60s.

This series -- set in 1960, the year I was born -- amazes and amuses me with its attention to detail. The hair, the clothes, the cars, the kitchens, even the pillowcases on the kids' beds all take me back to my childhood. It highlights the racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism that was rife in those days, and you just know there's going to be a bra burning once the secretaries and housewives take off their girdles.

Barack Obama's beautifully eloquent speech about racism also has made me think about the 60s, or my experience of the 60s.

The Florida I was born into in 1960 was a different place to the Florida of today, or even the Florida of 1970. In 1960 air conditioning was still a luxury. Schools were still segregated. There were still separate drinking fountains for white and black people, separate restrooms, separate entrances to the big department store downtown, separate beaches, separate motels. The only black people I came into close contact with were the maids who worked in my and other people's homes and our mailman.

This is how cocooned I was: I didn't even know about the 1967 race riots in Tampa till I was an adult. Tampa was no stranger to racial and cultural diversity. There was a strong Cuban/Hispanic community that had been there a long time, brought to Florida by the cigar trade. More Cubans moved there in 1959/60 after the Batista regime was overthrown by Fidel Castro.

In my previous post I mentioned neighbors who were Cuban. This was not usual. Though there was a sizeable Cuban/Hispanic population, they tended to live in another part of town. Tampa was a sleepy port town that saw ships come from all over the world to fill up with phosphate and to bring bananas and other goods. Still, it was Southern at its core, with all the good and bad connotations that has. Country clubs excluded blacks as members (though quite happily employed them) and only one allowed Jews. Business and society were run by an old-boy network of Southern "gentlemen," who every year would dress up as pirates for the Gasparilla Day celebrations and parade drunkenly through town. Their daughters would be elected to the various society "courts," their wives would belong to the Garden Club or Women's Club or Junior League. Their sons would join something called Merrymakers.

They were polite and friendly yet somehow aloof to the outsiders who had moved to their town as it grew explosively in the 50s and 60s. They knew their place in the world, and they knew everyone else's as well.

How did all these different cultures rub together then? Well, not too well in some cases. Take our Cuban/Spanish neighbors as an example. From them I learned the hierarchy of the Hispanic world. Those born in Spain were at the top, those born in Cuba further down, how far down depending on the color of their skin. Dark-skinned Cubans were much further down the totem pole than light-skinned Cubans. Jews were below Cubans, and blacks were at the bottom.

Still, racism wasn't just in the South. When we visited my grandparents in Wyoming in the summer, I learned about a different kind of racism -- against Native Americans, or Indians as they were called then. My grandpa, whom I loved dearly, nevertheless had some less than complimentary things to say about members of the local tribe.

The Civil Rights Act, desegregation, Martin Luther King, Lyndon Johnson all changed the Tampa of the 1960s. I remember distinctly the first time I ever saw a mixed-race couple -- in 1970 in downtown Tampa across the street from the movie theater I was about to go into. Yes, I turned and stared. The woman was blonde and wore a poncho, the man had a medium-size Afro. That I remember that much detail all these years later says a lot.

I enjoy Mad Men, though it also makes me cringe. I know what comes later. I know most of those couples will divorce, the men may die of heart attacks brought on by too many cigarettes and too much booze. Blacks and Jews will not only move into their offices, but will be their bosses. The women will discover careers. Their daughters will be the first Super Women to have it all, and their granddaughters will be the first to realize they can't have it all.

The 60s were a great decade for change. The Tampa I visit today is barely recognizable as the one I grew up in. Those society barons have died out and their children displaced by a new influx of powerful residents.

It all looks so easy from here, but it must have been such a great struggle to make people change back then. I don't think that struggle should ever be taken for granted.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

This Old House

I've moved a lot in my lifetime. Actually, I moved 16 times between the ages of 15 and 32. Before 15 I lived in the same house. After 32 I've moved twice.

Some of these moves were during college years, to various apartments and dorms with various roommates.

Only a few of these homes or places to lay my head at night stand out in my mind now.

One of course was my childhood home, a ranch-style Florida house built in the 50s on land reclaimed from McKay Bay. It wasn't particularly remarkable architecturally or design wise. But when I was young I loved it. On one side till I was about 7 was a vacant lot where all the neighborhood kids would play baseball. On the other side were our long-time neighbors, a Cuban/Spanish couple and their three children.

In 1965 my parents renovated our three-bedroom home to create a fourth bedroom out of what was the carport. The carport was moved to the back, to keep my dad's boat company. What back yard there had been was obliterated by this decision. Why a couple with three kids would get rid of their back yard is beyond me. But that's my parents for you. Before that, my dad had built a fort for my brother in the back yard. The neighborhood kids liked to come over and jump off the roof. One, a particularly obnoxious piece of work, broke his ankle and my dad had to drive him the half block home.

If I had been born 5 or 10 years earlier, I would have had my pick of playmates in the neighborhood. There were loads of kids my brother's and sister's ages, but only one boy down the street was my age. He'd moved over from Cuba with his three sisters and parents. He was the youngest and the only boy in his family and I hated his guts. I don't think he liked me too much either, particularly after I got him in trouble when I sprayed with the hose a couple driving past in their convertible MG. I ran inside and he got the blame.

My parents' best friends lived across the street from us for a while. They had an adopted son who was the most popular boy in the neighborhood. He died tragically when he fell from a horse. His parents moved to an apartment after that and used to have me stay for weekends. I hoped they'd adopt me but instead they adopted another little girl. A couple with a handicapped child moved in after that. He was a captain in the Air Force and away in Viet Nam a lot. He scared me to bits because he threatened to kill my cat.

At the end of our road was Mrs. B's house. She had a Lassie dog named Duke that she used to take for a walk past our house each evening after supper. She usually was accompanied by Nana, our babysitter, and her poodle. Nana lived across from Mrs. B with her daughter, a divorcee, and her two grandsons. Once one of the grandsons babysat me. I remember running my fingers through his Brylcreemed hair.

Next door to Nana lived Mr. R. and his second wife, their daughter, and their poodle named Pierre, who would never come inside when called. Their daughter also babysat me from time to time. She always had candy in her purse, which she would share with my brother and me. Her hair was naturally frizzy but I remember she used to iron it to straighten it. Mr. R. and his three children (two from the first marriage) all had first names beginning with R.

Behind us lived another divorced mother with four wayward teen-agers. The house and the kids always looked unkempt, and I think that house saw a lot of hard times. Maybe our neighborhood was ahead of the times, but it seemed there were a lot of single moms living there. Another woman down the block also was divorced. All the local dads were tcared to death of her. Although at the time I didn't quite understand why, I knew her purple bedroom had something to do with it.

A retired couple built a house on the vacant lot next door when I was 7. I thought it was the most beautiful house with the most beautiful garden. When they were out, I used to sneak through the hedge just to look at the flowers. I remember pansies of all colors and a brick path but not much else.

My world was a happy and content one till I was 7. The weekly highlights were fried chicken on Sundays and the ice cream man at 6 p.m. during the summer. I'm trying to remember a room or corner that was my favorite in that house, but I don't think I had one. But so much was just familiar. I knew every inch of the lawn and where I could walk barefoot and not get sandspurs stuck in my feet. We had a gravel driveway and I could tell what kind of mood my dad was in by the way he drove in. Slow and steady meant he was feeling mellow. Fast and sharp meant get out of his way. My mother never ever figured this out.

This house saw a family fall apart, drip by drip at first, then a steady trickle, and then a final flood that washed away what remained. I moved out when I was 15 after my mother attempted suicide one time too many. Although I visited at weekends and my sister and her husband and child moved in, my mother couldn't stand the memories. Her sister persuaded her to move to California so she sold the house at a loss and had a garage sale to get rid of more memories. Our neighbors, the Cuban/Spanish couple and their three children, swooped like vultures on the remnants of our family life, buying my dad's pink martini glasses, my parents' linen tablecloths and candle holders that had been wedding presents, and some of my old books and toys. I refused to emerge from the house during this rape of my childhood.

For many, many years, I couldn't bear to go back, but last summer I did. With my husband and two children in the car, I showed them my childhood. The house has changed greatly. Some owners along the way added another story, rendering it unrecognizable.

I was glad.

Monday, 24 March 2008

So many posts to write, so little time.

Meanwhile, here is the ongoing saga with my mother. She was hospitalized a week ago with pneumonia. While she was there, they found blood in her stool. So she'll have to have a colonostomy soon. She went home Saturday, but yesterday morning was taken back in to the emergency room with chest pains. She was admitted to the ICU, where she apparently had a bad night with an up-and-down heart rate. They want to run tests to see if she's had a heart attack or something else.

And I sit here 6,000 miles away, feeling helpless and guilty that my stepfather's daughter is having to look after my mother. While my mother was in the hospital, my stepfather had three falls, including one in the shower. He said he felt an explosion in his head.

This is not something I ever thought about when I moved to this country.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

My Baby's Back

The Wound:

The Cone:

Jakey's feeling very sorry for himself because he does NOT like the cone and he doesn't understand why he has to wear it. I've taken him for two walks so far. The vet said only 10 minutes, but he's only lasting 5 before he starts sitting down. I guess it's gently does it. I can already see the difference on his right side.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Every Mother's Nightmare

This is what my lovely daughter looks like today. OK, I have my days too. BUT... OK, she's probably got PMS. BUT...

She nearly had me in tears tonight with a tirade about how I favour her brother over her. I am feeling a bit fragile, gentle readers. My mother is in the hospital, I discovered when I got home from taking Jake to his hospital. She has pneumonia apparently. So I am quite worried about her, as you might expect. Hubby called to say he's lost his debit card and could I check Sainsbury's to see if it's there. So I walked to Sainsbury's (I'd been in the car for hours already). Nope, and if it were it would have been shredded. I'm worried about Jake too. Apparently, he got through the operation OK. I'm waiting for a phone call from the surgeon. And Hubby had a job interview today.

So I need my gorgeous daughter to cut me some slack. She has not. I'd offered to take her shopping on Thursday but she declined. So I decided I'll go to the gym instead for some much-needed stress relief. Well, her plans changed so she expects me to change mine. I'm not changing my plans.

I laughed at her tirade but inside I was thinking "Shut the fuck up before I slap you."


Now, I must ask all you clever people how you manage to link back to previous posts with one colourful word in your text. Can you tell me how to do it? I'm not all that computer-literate, or blog-literate.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Frenemy update

In the middle of life crises, sometimes a gift drops down from the sky to make you smile. Tonight is the eve of Jake's surgery and my husband was given notice at his job today, but I am laughing.

Why? Have I finally well and truly gone insane? No, but I have learned a few things about Frenemy that have made tears of laughter drip from my chin. Now, Frenemy, you may recall, is my sometime friend, sometime enemy. She seems to have lots of money, and we've never quite figured out where it came from. I know now. She owns buildings that are used as massage parlors and swingers clubs.

The thought of her seeming millions being made on the back of vice is just too hilarious because she presents herself as an upstanding citizen.

Oh, I'll be sniggering behind her back.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Moving to England: Ignorance is Bliss?

I'm going to come right out and say it: I HATE George Dubya Bush. Always have. Always will.

When he took office (and I blame myself for the first time because I didn't vote), I thought, "OK, four years of the idiot, and America will wake up." I blame Ohio for the second four years. His policies, particularly foreign, are, to say the least, disturbing. Clinton wasn't that great at foreign policy either, but at least he wasn't an idiot. But the indifference and ineptitude of the Clinton years seemed to blossom into self-serving arrogance under Bush.

First, there was the Kyoto Protocol. Bush's people used no finesse whatsoever in refusing to sign it. "China's not signing it so we're not," they said. End of discussion. And Americans said fine.

Cheney, with his oil interests, set about destroying the environment. Big business flourished. And Americans said fine.

Then, possibly the biggest break Dubya ever got in his presidency occurred. On Sept. 11, 2001, four airplanes were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. The whole world watched in horror and felt overwhelming sadness and pity for the behemoth USA. Dubya hid for a few hours, then emerged as some sort of super hero out to conquer the world of terrorism. And Americans said great.

The subsequent invasion of Afghanistan was inevitable, even necessary. The US couldn't roll over and play dead after that. But Dubya is too stupid to be a leader during times of war. He doesn't have the confidence, the charisma, the intelligence, or the experience. He allowed the incompetent Rumsfeld to run riot for far too long. He formed an unholy alliance with Tony Blair in trying to convince the world that Iraq and its demented dictator (put in place by Rumsfeld years before) were the source of weapons of mass destruction.

On the day that troops set sail for Iraq, I watched from my hospital bed, recovering from a sinus operation. The surgeon came to check on me and assumed that I supported this action. He was wrong. From Day One I said it was a mistake. I said it would be another Viet Nam. And it is. It is a huge mess that never seems to get better.

The British, by and large, have been unsupportive of the war in Iraq, and I don't blame them. But because I'm the only American a lot of my British friends know, I have borne the brunt of their anger and frustration about this war. I have listened to their rants about Blair being Bush's poodle, about America deserving what it got on Sept. 11, about the U.S.' draconian immigration rules. While I will always vociferously argue against the insane notion that America deserved what it got on Sept. 11, I have to say I do agree about some of the other rants.

But Americans I talk to when I go back for visits seem to have a totally different perspective. I remember talking to a WW2 vet in Vermont soon after France had pulled its troops out of Iraq. This gentleman didn't want to hear a good word said about France or the French and was visibly upset when I said one should never assume that a country's leader accurately reflects what the rest of the country is like. "I mean, look at George Bush," I said, and hit a nerve.

I remember my brother and I discussing the Iraq war while enjoying a free beer in Busch Gardens. We both don't support the war but do support the soldiers. The looks from those around us told me that we'd better shut up. We obviously were in a minority.

The British papers have been far more critical in their coverage of this war, and maybe that is why there is a different perspective. But it could come down to the difference in the people. To be British is, in a way, to be cynical, to question authority or at least those in higher office. To be American is to be optimistic and confident that the world sees things the same way America does or that it should.

The average American doesn't know or care about what's going on in other countries. And why should he or she? The US is an enormous country with great geographical and sociological differences within its borders. The average Joe just wants to work his 40 hours a week, come home at the weekend, kick back, open a beer and watch the game. If he wants the news, he'll switch to the Fox "News" network and watch one of the blowdried Kens or Barbies update him on the weather, the cost of gas, and what incredibly obese American has grown into her couch this week. And that's why Dubya got elected and re-elected. Because you just know that deep down he's the same.

The UK, being much smaller and an island-nation, is different. With its great empire days long behind it, it still retains an interest in far-flung nations. Here is an example. About 20 years ago, a man named Bob Geldof (who is IRISH by the way), sat in his living room watching a particularly moving segment on the evening news about starvation in Africa. It outraged him that in this day and age children are still starving and spurred him on to organise a worldwide event to raise money for starving people in Africa. With Midge Ure, he wrote one of the alltime great Christmas hits, "Feed the World," featuring the (mostly British) pop stars of the day.

Would this happen in America? No, because first of all the news is only allowed to be about 21 minutes long, including sports and weather. You want a long feature on starvation in Africa? Listen to NPR. I'm not saying Americans are less generous than British. They're just not as informed about the rest of the world unless they try hard to be.

I can hear the rumblings now. "I'm not like that." Of course you're not, or you wouldn't be reading this blog. But, sadly, a lot of people are.

It saddens and angers me every time I fly back to the States for a visit. Each time, the rigamarole of security and immigration -- even for me, an American citizen -- multiplies. Not being one to keep my grumbles to myself, I have often voiced outrage as we shuffle along in our bare feet through the endless security lines. My fellow Americans meekly submit to this humiliating experience. It's necessary, they mumble.

Well, pardon me, but no, it bloody well is not necessary to subject a 10-year-old boy to a full body scan because he forgot to take his belt off and to treat his mother like a common criminal when she tried to go back and help him (this happened to us in Atlanta). It bloody well is not necessary to subject an elderly woman in a wheelchair to a full body scan (in Tampa). It bloody well is not necessary to put a family of four through a full security check because they don't happen to be travelling back to the airport from which they came (in Salt Lake City).

What happened on Sept. 11 goes beyond horrific. I don't know enough words to properly describe it. But since then many Americans, many in the unfortunately named Homeland Security office, seem to think only the U.S. has suffered from terrorism and that the only terrorists are Muslim.

Frankly, that's an insult to the British experience of the IRA. Since I've lived here, the bombing of Warrington occurred. It was the day before Mother's Day 1993. Fifty-six people were injured. Two boys, one 3, the other 12, died. No one has been arrested yet. I lived here when the Omagh bombing occurred in August 1998. Twenty-nine died and 220 were injured in that one. I lived here when Manchester was bombed on Father's Day 1996. Two hundred and six people were injured. I lived here when a massive bomb went off in the City of London in 1993, killing one and injuring more than 40.

And of course I lived here on July 7, 2005, when four bombs went off in the Underground and on a bus, killing 52 people and injuring many, many more. Not the IRA this time.

The British have a long and unfortunate experience with terrorism, and yet they retain a common sense approach to it.

Not so the Americans, who have seen their civil rights infringed greatly by Dubya and his buddies. But Dubya and his mates don't want to stop with US citizens. No, they want to spread the misery round the world. They want to start checking the details of every person flying over US airspace, whether they land or not. How ludicrous is that?

I cringe every time I fly into the States and go through the charade known as immigration. It's fairly easy for me, though I still find the officials intimidating (even the ones who don't speak English). But what other passengers from other countries must endure is beyond belief. For many, this will be their first taste of the country. And what a sour one it must be. Rude, officious, arrogant. These are necessary attributes if you want to work for the U.S. immigration service. No concern that these people are here on vacation and have just endured an eight-hour flight with no film and inedible beef or chicken.

From afar I've watched my country deteriorate. Will the Superpower be deposed? Probably at some stage. Maybe in my lifetime. Most likely not by China. American citizens think that what happens in their country affects only them. It doesn't. That is the cost of being a Superpower. As Spiderman's uncle said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Americans cannot afford to be ignorant about the rest of the world. That should have been the lesson of 9/11. Sadly, that lesson has yet to be learned.

More than anyone else, George Dubya Bush has changed my outlook on my adopted and native countries. I love the US. I'm proud to be an American. But since Dubya's been in charge, I'm very glad I don't live there. When my children and I came back from skiing last month with one passport still missing, we could have been turned away or taken to a room for an hour of grilling. We weren't. I had to fill in a form and was helped by every immigration officer there. As one said to me, we wouldn't get that in America. "No, we wouldn't," I regretfully agreed.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Time to Go Get Some Popcorn

How strange or even serendipitous that in the middle of my writing about moving to England and all the changes that has entailed I should meet someone who not only lived in Florida for many years but went to my university at approximately the same time as me. He hates the weather here and sounds as though he hasn't quite settled as much as I have.

He is the orthopedic surgeon who will be operating on Jake. As you may or may not recall, Jake was diagnosed as having severe hip dysplasia. Our vet referred him to the orthopedic surgeon. The first surgery will be next week. He is going to cut off the head of the femur bone, allowing scar tissue to fuse the bone to the hip. Four to six weeks later he will perform the same surgery on the other side. He said it could wait but as Jake is in quite a bit of pain, he'd rather do it sooner than later.

I haven't really written about Jake in a while because my time has been so consumed by him. I take him to hydrotherapy twice a week, where he's become a real star jumping in and swimming after a ball and bringing it back. To begin with, he had to wear a life jacket. I should have taken a picture. Maybe I still will. He's strong enough now that he doesn't need the life jacket. I've had to cut back on the long walks so he gets a couple of short walks daily instead, at least one on the lead. He's managed to pull so hard on the lead that he's ripped my shoulder again. So back to the physio for me. Jake is on painkillers and glucosamine supplements. I am on wine and HRT.

I get quite choked up talking about him. He is such a sweet, good-natured dog who endures great pain with an amazing amount of stoicism. The puppy in him is desperate to chase the ball and jump and do all those puppy things, but the pain in his hips has held him back.

My time is also going to my daughter. I take her to physio twice a week for the damage to her back caused by the car accident she and my husband were in. She also is quite stoic about the pain.

Hubby's pain is psychological. He feels guilty about the accident though he didn't cause it and did everything he could to prevent it from being worse. He genuinely feels bad about Jake, even though his first reaction to the news of possible hip replacements was that he'd put him down before he'd pay for that. His employers are playing hard ball with him, trying to ambush and sabotage him at every step. I bow my head to his office politics skills and his resolve.

The Moving to England series will continue. This is just a commercial break.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Moving to England: Weather Report

When you miss something, you want to surround yourself with all that reminds you of what you're missing.

At least I did in my early days of living in the UK. And what I missed was the U.S., or my version of the U.S. I missed the TV shows. I missed the shopping (and still do). I missed my friends and family. But did they miss me? Life moves on for everybody, and I had to fill the gap in my life. I thought that what I needed was to be around other Americans who might understand what I was going through. What I was going through, I realise now, was a grieving process. Why I should have been grieving and what I was grieving for are two important questions. The answers to these would be key to whether I could finally settle in my new country.

I read in a magazine about an organisation called American Ex-Pats. These were Americans living in the UK who got together socially and celebrated American things, like Fourth of July, Easter Egg Hunts (which were non-existent in those days), Thanksgiving. I got in touch with the local chapter and went along to a few events. My fellow ex-pats and I would, over our coffee and cake, bitch and moan about our lives here. About what the UK didn't have that the US did. About the weather, the driving, the shopping, the doctors, the whatever. I realised later that all long-term ex-pats probably go through the different phases of grieving: Shock, Denial, Bargaining, Guilt, Anger, Depression, Acceptance. When I got together with these women, we would focus on the Denial and Anger aspects. The other women, though, had an end in sight to their ex-pat status. With a couple of exceptions, they were married to American men who had been sent by their American companies to work in the UK for a few years.

They didn't have to get depressed because they knew they'd be going back. There were a couple who embraced the British way of life and didn't want to go home but I think they were the exception. I met another American woman through the NCT in the same boat as me. We became fast friends, perhaps too fast. As time went on, I realised the only thing we had in common was our nationality. I also realised that I really didn't have a lot in common with the other American ex-pats I had met. And seeing them only reinforced my homesickness. I started to ask myself if I would be friends with them if I still lived in the U.S. And the answer was usually no.

I knew if I was going to settle -- and I felt I needed to do that for my children's sake -- I would have to stop focusing on the negative and accept that my life is different here. And so I sought out British friends through the CAB, the NCT, the PTA. Some of these friendships have endured; others have not.

I also had to sort out what it was exactly that I was missing and see if I couldn't find a way to fill the gap. So, family first. I have a pretty dysfunctional one, but probably just your garden variety. My family are not a supportive lot, not of me anyway. What I missed was something I'd always missed and will always miss. It doesn't matter what country I live in. OK, now friends. Because I was always working before I moved here, the only friends I made were at work. Work friends rarely cross the non-work barrier, I discovered painfully. Next, shopping. Well, that's pretty shallow, isn't it? Shopping isn't such a big deal in my life anymore, which my wallet appreciates greatly. The weather. Ah, yes, the weather. I had a very hard time getting my head round the fact that August can be colder than February. I mean, everywhere in the U.S. has a hot August. And the unpredictability of the weather threw me for a long time. You can't plan a barbecue for the weekend and know with any certainty that the weather will be fine. My poor hubby has cooked outside with an umbrella over his head many a time.

But what can be done about the weather? Not a thing. I started to appreciate, though, that weather offers a plethora of ice-breaking (haha, pun intended) opportunities. Inevitably, I get asked why I moved here. "For the weather," I cheerfully answer. Without the weather, English literature probably would have suffered. There would be no "Wuthering Heights." No pastoral poetry by the likes of Coleridge. No "Tess of the Durbervilles." Indeed, as I've lived here, my understanding of English literature has grown.

After my daughter was born, I felt an urgent need to settle in to British life. I'd grown up with a depressed mother who would lie in a chair all day and moan about her life. I didn't want my children to have the same experience. I started to allow Britishisms to creep into my language. I adopted British spellings. Some of this was done for practical reasons. People had trouble understanding me as I did them. And, again, I wanted to set a good example for my children. I wanted them to be good spellers, and how could they be if I persisted in spelling words the American way? How could they be proud of their Englishness if their American mother constantly put it down?

Some Americanisms are so deeply ingrained I will never change them. I will always say to-may-toe rather than to-mah-toe. Here's an interesting fact: to-may-toe used to be the British pronounciation during Elizabethan times. The pilgrims took it with them and preserved it. The British, perhaps to be different from the Colonies, changed it to to-mah-toe. I change the way I say some words depending on what country I'm in or to whom I'm speaking. Like basil. In America it's bay-zil. In the UK it's bah-sil. Or Birmingham. The Alabama one is Birming-ham. The one in the Midlands is Birming-um.

When I meet people in the UK, they usually ask how long I'm visiting. When I tell them I've lived here 16 years, they ALWAYS say I haven't lost my accent. When I go back to the States, people ask me what country I'm from and say I don't sound American. I think my accent must hover over the Atlantic somewhere.

So having children spurred me on to accept my adopted country. But world events changed how I view my mother country. That will be the subject of my next installment.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Moving to England: "Are You Satisfied With the Marriage?"

After our wedding, we had to visit the Home Office in Croydon, known as Lunar House. Housed in a 1960s nondescript office building, the Home Office is the mecca for all non-UK citizens who want permission to remain in the country. We arrived bright and early one September morning to find a queue already snaking all the way to the car park. We joined the queue and waited to be filtered into the general direction we needed to go.

I was there to get the Leave to Remain status necessary for my passport and job future. Under the terms of a fiance visa, I was not allowed to work in the UK until we were married. I still harboured hopes of starting up a career in my new country, though what exactly I wasn't sure. It seemed to take hours to make my way to the front. Along the way, I watched and listened to the others shuffling along with me. One Australian girl was taken out of the queue and deported immediately. She'd overstayed her visa, and there was nothing her English boyfriend could do for her.

At last my name was called, but it wasn't me they wanted to speak to -- it was my hubby. I could just about make out the civil servant's question: "Are you satisfied with the marriage?" he asked my husband. I nearly laughed out loud. What an absurd question to ask, I thought. But, bear in mind that these questions are formulated with arranged marriages in mind probably. Fortunately, hubby answered without hesitation in the affirmative. I then got the coveted Leave to Remain stamp in my passport and letter, which is somewhere in the house.

This was it. I truly had made the commitment to stay. Yet as the bleak winter months set in, I had my doubts. And continued to have them into spring. It didn't help that my in-laws weren't speaking to me at all. My social life consisted of going to the pub with hubby and his mates and playing darts. OK for some, but I like female company too. I started going to an aerobics class and met a woman who introduced me to a local American woman. I latched onto this woman like a fox to a chicken. She must have been put off by my desperation because she made it clear she really wasn't interested in friendship with me. However, she did do me a huge favour by suggesting I go along to my local Citizens Advice Bureau and see about volunteering.

All this was supposed to be temporary until some new career came along. Not that I was looking too hard. First, there was our honeymoon to plan. I wasn't allowed to leave the country until I had the Leave to Remain status. Once that was achieved we had to decide where to go. Hubby had always wanted to go to India. I wasn't so sure but wanted to go where Hubby went. So we went to India for three weeks. Two of them were spent travelling around the Golden Triangle -- Delhi, Jaipur, Agra with a small village called Mandawa thrown in. Then we spent a week in Goa, sort of like Florida in the 1950s. While in Goa I got food poisoning very badly and lost 10 pounds in two days. A doctor was called to our room; he gave me an injection, and 45 minutes later I was right as rain.

When we got back from India, I went for my interview at the CAB. The CAB, for those of you who don't know, is a charity that was started as a free and confidential source of advice and information on just about anything from bus schedules to debt counselling to employment tribunals. I thought I'd just be doing some typing, but the manager wanted me to do the full training. The CAB informed my life in so many ways. I liked the idea of people having somewhere to go even for just a chat if that's what is needed.

I don't know if I could have found a better way of getting acquainted with the British way of life. Certainly, I learned a lot about the UK welfare benefits system. Like Child Benefit, which doesn't exist in the U.S. Child Benefit, if you don't know, is a tax-free monthly payment to anyone (regardless of income) bringing up a child. And the difference between Income Support and Jobseekers Allowance. And how being on Income Support gives you the ticket to other free benefits: free prescriptions (which cost £6 something now but were only £4 when I arrived -- that's £4 for every and any drug prescribed, my fellow Americans. I nearly passed out), free school meals, etc.

But I learned about more than benefits. I learned about people. We had our regulars -- lonely elderly people, local alcoholics looking for somewhere warm to rest their feet (till one peed in the waiting room and was banned), mentally ill people on a day out. They could, if allowed, take up quite a bit of time. We weren't a particularly busy bureau when I started so it didn't matter so much, but a new manager changed all that. Our regulars got squeezed out as we started to be more proactive and offer more services. My colleagues were mostly recently retired men and women who wanted to keep their brains active. A few of them took me under their wing and showed me the ropes. For many years the highlight of my week was the two afternoons I spent there. I enjoyed seeing people, looking up information, writing up case sheets, laughing with my colleagues. When I had my daughter, one colleague volunteered his wife to look after the baby one afternoon a week so I could still go to the bureau. They are still very close friends.

But office politics exists even in the voluntary sector. Rumblings started about a loss of funding and merging rival bureaux to save money. One manager left; another took her place, then he left. Another manager came but there wasn't enough money in the pot to pay him so he left. Then a woman I'd started out volunteering with took over. It was one management change too far. With two children in school, I had different priorities and time pressures. I couldn't make all the meetings and training sessions. I didn't want to stay behind to write up my case sheets. I lost the zeal I had felt at the beginning, and if you're a volunteer that's what you're there for. So I left after eleven and a half years. I didn't even get a goodbye card after all that. Oh, I cried that night.

But those years weren't a waste of my time. The CAB was instrumental in helping me settle in to this country. I formed lasting friendships with some of my colleagues. I learned a lot. I gave a lot.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Moving to England: Who Loves Ya, Baby?

February 1994. I am in a hotel room in Paris. Tony Blair and his New Labour supporters are on TV bopping to "Things Can Only Get Better." I am hungry. Very hungry. Unusually hungry. Hubby and I have walked all over Paris. It is my first visit to the city, and I have fallen in love with it, especially the food. No sooner have I swallowed the croissants and cafe au lait than I'm wondering where and when our next meal will be. During the visit I have grown a bit slack about taking my temperature every day, something I've been doing for six months in an effort to get pregnant. In the back of my mind, because I won't allow myself to fixate on it, is a question: Could I be pregnant?

Back in dreary England, I buy a pregnancy test. It's supposed to turn pink, and when the slightest hint of pink appears I start yelling and crying.

And so began my worries. How could I have a baby in Britain? It's practically a third-world country, my hormone-laden mind reasoned. But I was, and I was going to get a crash course in pregnancy and birth, NHS-style. I knew some Americans who had opted to go privately to have their babies in the UK, but I wasn't going to be one of them. From what I read (and I read voraciously in those days) it didn't make much difference.

I started to see the midwife at my doctor's surgery. I didn't exactly take to her, but when I first heard my baby's heartbeat, I forgave her some of her shortcomings. Mid-pregnancy I saw a registrar (not quite a consultant or fully qualified doctor). This would be the only time I saw a doctor throughout my whole pregnancy. I remember him checking my breasts for lumps through my bra, which I found very strange. But I was finding a lot of pregnancy strange, particularly the changes to my body.

In the beginning the NHS didn't seem all that interested in my pregnancy. I had to wait over an hour for my two appointments at the hospital. I had only one scan during the whole pregnancy. The seeming indifference was at odds with my hormones.
The midwife was professional but not very personable. I later found out that she was living with the father-in-law of a friend of mine. As he was about to become a grandfather for the first time, he wasn't too keen about starting a new family with her. Her unhappiness showed through in her professional life.

I couldn't wait to wear the pregnancy leggings I had bought when I was two months pregnant, and as I was eating for two, it didn't take long before my jeans wouldn't zip up. I became obsessed with all things American. My baby would have to have a pushchair (stroller) and carseat bought in America. On a visit home when I was four months pregnant, we purchased the stroller. My husband bought the carseat on a subsequent business trip. My stepsister was also pregnant with her first child. She lent me "What to Expect When You're Expecting" because, of course, how could I have a baby without reading this book? It wasn't available in the UK yet. I discovered a magazine in the UK called Mother and Baby. This also was required reading. When I don't know about a subject, I read all I can find. And what did I know about birthing babies?

I craved American food -- burgers and fries, pancakes and maple syrup, Budweiser beer (I didn't drink it, just craved it), New York pizza, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Saltine crackers, Oreo cookies.

When I wasn't eating, I fretted that my child would grow up reading different books from what I read as a child. When friends with children would talk about feeding them fish fingers and sausages for "tea," I swore to myself that I would never feed my children such things and I would never call dinner "tea." I wasn't feeling anti-British, just pro-American. I suppose it was insecurity.

An acquaintance told me about the NCT (National Childbirth Trust). This charity is dedicated to helping promote breast feeding and giving antenatal classes and breast feeding counselling. Many areas have weekly coffee mornings for new and not-so-new mothers. I started going to these when I was eight months pregnant as a way to meet people in the area. I also rang up when I was four months pregnant to reserve a spot in the antenatal class. I was told by the ditsy woman to call back in three months. When I did, she said all the classes were fully booked and why did I wait so long.

No matter. I'd become acquainted with another NCT antenatal counsellor and she gave me a private session. I also went to the NHS antenatal classes and discovered I wasn't the oldest mother in Wirral after all. I made some dear friends in that class. There were two young girls in our class, one who had been taught in primary school by one of the other women in the group. The NCT classes concentrated on making up a birth plan. The NHS classes talked about pain relief. Good thing I listened because I went through just about every available kind while I was enduring a very long labour. I tore my birth plan up.

Nobody mentioned what you were supposed to do once you had the baby or how to assemble a pushchair (stroller) while holding a screaming baby. Or how to put the carseat in the car. And nobody said that breast feeding can be as or more painful than labour. Hubby and I went to a Parentcraft evening at the local hospital where they showed us the birthing suites and the midwives proceeded to tell us they never breastfeed and opt for a epidural if offered.

My mother came over a week before I was due. I had laboriously typed up a list of how to work everything in the house, even the front door key. She blithely ignored it and looked at me every time the phone rang as if to say, "Aren't you going to get off your fat ass and answer that?"

The first labour pain came at 2 a.m. on Oct. 12. I got out the TENS machine I'd rented and Hubby hooked me up to it. It did absolutely nothing for the pain. Two hours later I was on all fours in the hallway huffing and puffing. My mother got up to use the toilet, but I was in the way. She gingerly stepped over me. We decided it was time to go to the hospital. Hubby rang ahead and I got into the back seat, still on all fours. The midwife examined me and proclaimed that I was "maybe" two centimeters dilated. She suggested I go home. I tried to get dressed but the pains came again. So I got into the bed (they'd put me in a side room). Hubby tried to comfort me but I didn't want anyone touching me. I stayed in that side room for the whole of the day. That evening they decided to move me to a birthing room. I got hooked up to an oxytocin drip and was given diamorphine for the pain. When I threw up everywhere, the midwife on duty said, "Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that can happen."

I saw lots of midwives during that labour, which lasted about three shifts. Eventually, I got an epidural. I hated the epidural. I lost all feeling below the waist, which didn't help with the pushing. When the big moment arrived, there was lots of activity in the room, and several doctors appeared. Apparently, my baby was in distress. They wanted to use forceps, but I said no. The doctor said she'd try the ventouse (suction) but if that didn't work, it would have to be a caesarean.

After about an eternity, my beautiful baby girl popped out at 10:23 a.m. on Oct. 13 with her eyes wide open. Others would comment on her pointy head, the temporary result of the ventouse, but she was my gorgeous girl, and still is.

A midwife came along and said she would bathe my baby and I was taken to a ward to await a private room. I needed to wee and was placed on a bedpan because I still couldn't feel my legs. And I was left on the bedpan for a very long time. I couldn't move myself off it. When I asked for the bedpan to be taken away, I was met with a very stroppy attitude. Eventually, the private room became available and we moved my things in there. I cleaned the sink first thing. The room might have been empty, but it was filthy. Now, where was my baby? They still hadn't bathed her. I requested that she be moved to my room. Hubby and I eventually bathed her at 9 p.m. that night. Staff shortage? I think so.

I became a bit more familiar with the workings of the hospital during my prolonged stay there. They wouldn't let me go home, or else they forgot I was there. I had trouble establishing breast feeding, and each member of staff had a different idea or method. In fact the breast feeding wasn't established till my daughter was five weeks old and I contacted the local NCT breast feeding counsellor. The community midwife wasn't much help, and would comment if she arrived in the morning and I wasn't dressed yet. I relaxed once I started seeing the health visitor instead of the midwife. The health visitor was a wise, calm woman.

Twenty months later I was back in the same hospital in labour again. But what a different experience. I'd had a scan when I was nine weeks pregnant, then another one when I was 22 weeks along. I didn't go to the antenatal classes (no time with a toddler at home). No doctor tried to feel my breasts through my bra. I had the same community midwife but she was a changed woman. She was in a happy relationship and soon would be pregnant herself.

I started losing amniotic fluid at about 38 weeks. I had bronchitis, and the cough was making me pee -- or so I thought. A friend suggested I go to the hospital just to be sure. I'd had the odd pain but took some paracetamol (Tylenol). I did NOT want to have my baby yet. My mother hadn't arrived (though she wasn't much help the first time), hubby had an ear infection, and I had no one to help me. But this baby had to come out, they said. They hooked me up to an oxytocin drip again. I was by myself because hubby was at home putting Gorgeous Girl to bed. I started to cry. A passing midwife tried to reassure me. Hubby appeared eventually, but nearly passed out because of the earache (excuse me? He did NOT know what pain was). I had gas and air, then pethidine at the end for pain relief. Still, it hurt. A lot.

Sonny Boy had the cord wrapped round his neck. The midwife fixed this quickly and efficiently. Then after I'd been torn in half delivering him, she syringed his mouth and nose. A quick check revealed a heart murmur. We had to stay the night to see if it resolved itself. I got a private room again. A couple hours after I'd settled in, I heard a commotion next door. A woman was losing her baby. The pregnancy was advanced, and she had to give birth. She cried; her husband cried; her whole family cried. I know this because it was hot in my room. The windows wouldn't open so I had to leave the door open. The midwives kindly offered to take my boy off my hands. I think they wanted to spare the woman next door from hearing any babies crying. But I wondered why she was on a maternity ward anyway.

Breakfast time came. I asked for a piece of toast. The midwife said I could get up and get it myself. I explained I'd been pushing hard for five hours and was a bit unsteady on my feet. She got me the piece of toast. A doctor from India came and checked Sonny Boy's heart. The murmur was gone. We could go home. Yippee!

Except at home I had a sick husband, toddler with conjunctivitis, collapsed drains (so no running water or toilet) and no one to help me. Somehow I survived. My mother arrived a few days later. She helped with Gorgeous Girl. My mother-in-law called to find out how the baby was, the toddler, my husband. She didn't ask about me, not once.

The friends I'd made from my first pregnancy came round. Some offered to take Gorgeous Girl off my hands. I welcomed the break because Gorgeous Girl had decided it would be fun to wake up in the night. I would stagger from one room to another. Hubby snored on.

Sonny Boy was the perfect, sleeping baby for two weeks. Then he met my mother-in-law and woke up. He didn't sleep through the night till he was 2 years old. Any guess as to why I have only two children?

I found support through my NCT coffee group, my other friends, my GP, and my health visitor. They helped me through the difficult days of early motherhood. My own mother or even my mother-in-law could have done more for me, but they didn't reach out or were out of reach. Still, we survived, and I gained a perspective on my new country previously unknown to me.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

That Was the Year That Was

Hello. This is my new-look blog that I'm trying out. I got bored and depressed with the old one. I hope to add a few other elements at some point. This month marks my one-year anniversary of blogging. What an up-and-down year it's been.

Last March I wrote about not much at all, and I don't think anyone read them. I was timidly trying out a new forum, but didn't really get into the full swing for a while. I was a lonely blogger.

In April we went to Barcelona and London, where I saw Menopause the Musical. I also wrote about the VTech murders and David Halberstam's death and the death of journalism as I knew it.

May saw the kidnapping of Madeleine McCann, my daughter and her friends viewing something unsavoury on the internet, Bill Moyers' address to the graduating class of SMU, and my uncle's unfortunate death from cancer. Problems with my mother were starting to brew.

In June I ran in the Race for Life, argued with my daughter, argued with Colin, who used to contribute to Snuffleupagus' blog, got my first tag (from Debio, who sadly has ended her blog. Where are you, Debio?), went to my 30th high school reunion, celebrated my son's 11th birthday, met Pixie's blog, bemoaned the state of my house and the other gym bunnies' habits getting in the way of mine. I wrote about our local cross-dresser (there are several videos of him on YouTube, some a bit cruel), my daughter going to a disco, and the book "Falling Down" by Don DeLillo. I went to my son's primary school play, the last primary school event I hope to ever attend.

July came and Pixie tagged me to tell seven fascinating facts about myself. I uncelebrated the Fourth of July. The problems with my mother were in full swing and I wrote about what to do about her. The problems I was having communicating with my daughter were also coming to a head. I became a Rockin' Girl Blogger and wrote about rain, rain, rain, then one day of sun.

In August we went to Wyoming and Florida. While in Wyoming we took a side trip to Montana to visit the Little Bighorn Battle site. On the way back through Yellowstone we saw some black bears by the side of the road. Rhys Jones died in Liverpool in August, and still his killer has not been found. Hubby and I celebrated our 15th anniversary and I bought him a bottle of Cristal champagne (and proceeded to drink most of it myself). I started to read a book called "Freakonomics," which tickled me.

I did a poll in September as to whether we should get a dog. I also got up late on my daughter's first day back at school. I shared an article on the Holy Land theme park in Florida. I also got to meet Pixie for the first time in person. I remembered what happened on Sept. 11, 2001 and put some perspective on it. I wrote about Crazy Jill, a woman who made my life miserable for a while but now is not part of it. I won DJ Kirby's Wordless Wednesday caption. I pondered my blogging family tree, and I convinced hubby that we should get a dog. I expressed my concerns about Hillary Clinton (which I still have).

On Oct. 1, I wrote about Jake, our new puppy. He was only seven weeks old and only cost £30 (but a heck of a lot more in vet bills to come). I considered finally getting my British citizenship, but was put off by the ridiculous test questions you're expected to answer. I started to write about my experiences as an American ex-pat, but not in any organised fashion. I moaned, particularly about Frenemy. I explored a side of my family tree that I had known about but hadn't given much thought to (my dad, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather all remarrying women who didn't like the children from their first marriages much). My daughter turned 13 and the turbulence of the past year started to settle. I wrote about how hubby and I met. A frequent contributor to Snuffleupagus' blog made me contemplate Xenophobia.

November started with a bang as I argued with my daughter's head teacher over why she should be allowed into her school disco, despite losing her ticket. I got tagged by -ann to list eight things in different categories. It was a tough post to write, as I recall. I told the tale of our trip to Amsterdam in 2005. November was when hubby first heard he might be out of a job soon. Back then they gave him till the end of the year.

December and I was moaning about my sister. I was tagged by DJ to write a letter to my 13-year-old self, a rather difficult assignment. I also wrote of boyfriends past in between moaning, something I seemed to do a lot of last year.

Jake dictated his New Year's resolutions in January. Rob Clack tagged me to write seven unusual facts about myself. Kaycie and I celebrated a birthday on the same day (January 8). I participated in my first Fun Monday and wrote about the website that has changed my life ( In my second Fun Monday I took a very dark photo of the view from my front door. On my third Fun Monday, I revealed my inner (and outer) slob with photos of what's on my bedside table. I remembered reading "Cross Creek Cookery" in my mother's bedroom. I also revealed my support for Barack Obama and bemoaned the urban legend emails that won't die (this one allegedly from Johns Hopkins University).

February came, and well, what a month! I wrote my Kick the Bucket List for Fun Monday and started my erstwhile Moving to England series. My husband and daughter were in a car accident. I lost our passports in Italy. I got knocked down while skiing. My mother had a biopsy on a lump on her breast. Oh, and my husband was told his job is definitely going.

What a year! A lot of it was pretty boring. I moaned way, way, way too much. Along the way I made some blog pals. Some are still around; some have moved on. Such is life in the blogging world. But I'm still standing.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Time to Breathe

I want to get back to my Moving to England series, but have hit a bit of a block. I wrote a whole post about childbirth and then realised it was total crap. Back to the drawing board.

Things aren't as dire for Hubby as they could be, but there's still time for that. His job won't end till the end of March and maybe in April. That gives him a bit of breathing room for finding another job. We got through February, and nobody died. I keep telling myself that.

In the meantime I'm learning who my friends are and aren't. Remember the whole Edna, Mildred, Gladys soap opera? I was worried because I was going skiing with Mildred, a longstanding friend, and her friend, Gladys, who is mortal enemies with Edna, a friend of mine. Well, I got on fine with Mildred and Gladys on the holiday. When I returned I met up with Edna, who wanted to know how I got on with Gladys. I said fine, no problems. Well, Edna was very upset by this and burst into tears and said Gladys always does this and takes all her friends away. I said Gladys hadn't taken me away, and Edna said, "She did. You like her now." And, yes, it was as childish as it sounds. I tried to comfort her and reassure her, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, "I've just told you my husband is about to be out of a job, and this is what you do to me?"

I don't feel I was in any way disloyal to Edna. I did not discuss her with the other two. I was relieved to get on with the other two because it's an awfully expensive holiday to go on and have a bad time. I didn't hang out with them all the time. But Edna is trying to make me feel guilty. She emailed me later to "apologise" for her behaviour, but it didn't exactly sound like an apology.

I feel bad for Edna. I told her no one should have that much control over her emotions. And I can see myself a bit in her behaviour. Yes, I have felt upset enough with people to want to prevent others from being their friends. And I can see now that that is wrong. My mother did the same thing to a longstanding friend of hers. One time my grandmother was visiting my dad and my stepmother. My stepmother asked her if there was anyone she wanted to see, and she said yes, this friend of my mother's. My stepmother took her over there, and this friend, being a very generous person, entertained them both. My mother found out about it and cut the friend right out of her life. It's self-destructive behaviour, the kind my mother specializes in.

I wish I could help Edna come to terms with her anger and hurt. Sadly, I think she is the only one who can do that. Also, sadly, I think she will lose more friends -- perhaps even me -- before she will do that.