Friday, 31 August 2007

France - Episode 7


Mont St Michel has always been a source of wonder for me. I've seen numerous photos of it and it is 1 of the items listed in the book 1,000 places to see before you die. We set off fairly early for our bunch and headed south. It was a bit of a drive and you knew we were getting close as the traffic iincreased.

But the scene is breathtaking when you catch a glimpse the very first time and makes the wait worthwhile.
We parked with the million other tourists and walked towards the Mont.

We had all agreed at breakfast that La Mer Poulard would be our choice for lunch. It is restaurant that is recommended by 3 tourist guides and has won numerous awards. It has been in existence since 1888 and is considered one of the best restaurants in all of France. And it is not expensive!

I thought I had made myself perfectly clear that this is what we were doing. This was the one and only thing that was not a topic of discussion during our entire holiday. Oh, but not everyone understood this!

As we walked into the walls of the Mont the restaurant stood on our right and I pointed out to Sean that this was where we were eating. He said no, he preferred to go further into the town. I stood there gobsmacked. Not wanting to rock the boat and create tension I just went along with it. We ended up passing all the restaurants on the ascent up the hill and had to come partly down to go to the last one we passed.

Don't get me wrong. We had a brilliant meal of lobster at Les Terassess Poulard. They had goodie bags for the children (which oddly they delivered at the end of the meal). I had oysters, prawns and the cockles thingies (that I won't ever order again if I can avoid it).

It was a good thing we ate so much. We began the brutal assault climbing the steps up to the top. Even little Lottie did it although it was touch and go at the beginning. The children had a blast running around this ancient building and going through all the various rooms. The architecture is spectacular.

I was a bit put off by my vertigo which I discovered when I lived in Germany. Going up and down spiral staircases (especially really old ones) sends frightens the heck out of me. I now had responsibility for getting Abigail down a spiral staircase and I was frozen in space and time. Abigail looked up at me and asked if I needed her help. I could have died!

The climb down was easy as most of the tourist had made a run for it. You have to vacate your vehicle from the car park before high tide or the cars go under! This mass exodus made for a frustrating departure hindered by the inefficiencies of the French gendarme (police). It took quite a while to get home but we managed.

That evening I taught Sean & Helen (again) how to play Farco. This is a dice game that is played addictively in my family. At their request I've written up the instructions and point scoring and will publish the post shortly. Oddly, Helen took forever to get on the board. Everyone else was well on their way to finishing before she managed it. and then she won. How did she do that? Was she cheating at Farco as well? Can you cheat at Farco? At this point, I was wondering if we should play any more games with Helen!

By the way I took way too many photos to include here. I have now managed to load all of our pics on to Flickr. Clicking this link will take you directly to the photo set. Feel free to leave comments!

France - Episode 6

It was a late start to the morning and we had a big breakfast. Then off to Bayeux to see the world famous tapestry.

It didn't start off very well. The skies were dark and the air was damp (again). Just finding the place was difficult. The sign for the parking led us on a wild goose chase and a parking lot miles from the museum which meant we had to walk through all the tourist traps.

There were no signs to the museum and when we asked for directions we were given a route which was very circuitous when we later realised we just needed to cross the road and walk straight on.

The museum itself was not child friendly. All the exhibits were high so the children couldn't see anything. Then we were herded into a cinema to watch a documentary film. Thank goodness it was only 15 minutes long or we really would have had a little people meltdown.

But then the real trouble set in. Given the age of our traveling companions we had to stop at the toilets which meant we were the last ones to join the queue to see the actual tapestry. We waited in the queue for 90 minutes. On numerous occasions Helen and I threatened to just walk out. There was nothing for the children to do and they were bored stiff.

When we got to the front of the queue we were given little handsets with an audio tour. the children were given a separate audio targeted specifically for them. At first glance this appears to be a great idea. In reality we realised that the children's tour went at a different pace than the adult tour so whilst the adults were at partition 17, the children were on partition 14. Not so good!

The younger children lost attention halfway through although the girls, Lottie & Abby just pretended they were telephones and had a great time. Seb listened to every word.

And if you could get past all the bad things the work is really remarkable. Stitched in the 11th century it was meant to be used like a propaganda tool to communicate to a largely illiterate population and inform them about the Story of William the Conqueror and the activities of 1066, specifically the Battle of Hastings. It was an effort to win the hearts and minds of the general population. The detail is remarkable and the condition of the fabric is astounding although you can see the minor repairs here and there. Not bad for an embroidered cloth almost 1000 years old! My embroidery was never this good.....

Lunch was chaos and was an example of the French rudeness. I know lots of people complain that the French are rude but I have to say those occasions for me have been few and far between. I've had more German rude to me than French. but when the French are rude, they are spectacularly rude. We were rushing for the 2 pm cutoff (again) and found a cafe. The only seating for 8 was outdoors which wasn't ideal because it was grey and chilly but we sat down.

Then it started to rain. We tried to get under cover of the canopy. We tried to move indoors. and then the waitress took away our menus and refused to speak to us. She went out to the back of the restaurant and ignored us. She wouldn't return. Well, Helen and I had had enough. We left which is obviously what the waitress had been hoping for!

We ended up at a corner cafe. Got Croque Monsieurs for everyone, sat the children on high stools and the adults stood under the canopies eating the lunch in the pouring rain. We were wet and cold. Oddly, only the adults were complaining. The children took it in stride!

In hindsight, this makes me laugh But at the time, we were so frustrated I wanted to just fly home!

On the way home we decided to do some Calvados, Cidre (apple alcoholic) & Pommeau tasting. Well, Helen & I did - the men were driving! We headed back towards the beaches of Normandy where we had seen loads of places.

At the first stop, we tried some Calvados. it nearly killed all ofus and we decided that would be the first and last time we ever tried that!

The next place we went to was a real find. In a farm courtyard there was a local produce market. They sold all the local delicacies including tripe, snails, foie gras, oysters, fresh strawberries, vegetables, cheese and of course, pommeau & cidre. We passed on a couple things but after tasting the pommeau & cidre bought some of that as well as some cheese and strawberries. We would have bought some oysters but we didn't have an oyster knife back at the gite so we passed.

The funniest part was watching Marc try to buy cheese in French. He always gets a wee bit embarrassed but after a bit of encouragement he spoke up and managed to buy 3 delicious cheeses!

That evening we all went out for dinner in La Haye du Puits at La Rose des Verts. This was a bit of a mess in that the children were served and finished with their meals long before the adult had even received their main course. We were saved by the ice cream!

The evening passed with more wine, cheese and crudely named card games. Helen won again! Darn it!

Unfulfilled Dream

I believe this completes the final answer to the list of questions I posed in a previous post. The question was now that you are beyond 40 what is a dream you feel will never be fulfilled?

It was September 2000, Marc and I were making plans to chuck in our jobs and travel the world for a year or so. We were saving money like mad. We were planning on leaving in June 2001.

On October 9, 2000 we found out we were having a baby instead. We used the money we saved to buy a house.

Even though I've traveled a lot, I've only experienced a fraction of the world. And Marc even less. I want to see more. So much more. I'm desperate to see Africa, South America and China. The list goes on and on. Marc has seen even less of the world than I. And he loves to travel as much as I do.

We've got other priorities for our money right now. Not sure I'll ever visit China. Bummer!

Oh, and I wanted to wear a bikini after having children. Never gonna happen!

France - Episode 5

I have always wanted to see the beaches of Normandy, France and pay my respect and give my thanks to all those mothers, daughters, wives and sister who gave their sons, fathers, husbands and brothers to the cause. I learned by reading and television and films that these beaches were hard fought and I could only imagine what it must have been like.

Our first stop was at the German War Memorial. These were enemies but also sons, fathers, husbands and brothers who similarly fought and fell. Just for the wrong side. They were still loved. And still missed. Our visit was made all the more necessary when Sebastian asked where we were going and I told him. He replied "But they were Germans." Already his sharp little mind had formed a prejudice. I explained to him that during a war there are always at least 2 sides. One side will be the victor and one side will be defeated but they all are human beings who had someone who loved them at home and they deserve to be recognised as fallen. What they did was wrong. But I felt it was important to see that war is bad all round. The graves of the unknown soldiers are marked "Ein Deutscher Soldat" - One German Soldier.

We then headed for Omaha Beach. We had a slight misstep with the sat nav when it took us beyond where the street signs were instructing us to depart the motorway only to discover that the road layout had been changed dramatically since the sat nav map was updated and we had to come back on ourselves quite a bit.

This meant that we were running up against that French lunch hour thingy. You gotta eat between 12 and 2 pm or you just don't eat. So we stopped off at Arromanche which I must say wasn't in the list of top 10 things to see but food trumps sight seeing every time.

It proved to be quite an educational stop. Arromanche was 1 of 2 ports erected immediately following the D-Day landings to bring supplies to the troops. It was made of 146 cement caissons towed across the channel from England. through this port passed 2.5 million men, 4 million tons of equipment and 500,000 vehicles. It helped cement (no pun intended) just how big the invasion was.

After suitably admiring what is left of the port we stopped off for our lunch at what can only be described as the French version of Denny's. I had mussels with creme/white wine sauce & chips. The children and Marc had croque monsieurs and ham and chips. Abby stayed true to form and ate just her chips. Seb loved the ham!

We then carried on with our original plan and headed off to the American Military Museum at Omaha Beach. The drive was fascinating as one imagined these roads being marched by the troops and the villages being freed by the Allies.

The museum was brilliant. Poignant and sad but also demonstrated the bravery and courage using films and artifacts of real people some who lived to tell the tales and others who died on the battlefields. The artifacts included ration kits, shovels, helmets, field phones. This made it all very real, especially for Sebastian who had just studied WW2 at school last year.

My favourite part was the beautiful infinity pool that looked out over the beaches and met the sea. Omaha Beach is a gorgeous sandy expanse upon which you cannot simply imagine the death and destruction. That is, until you enter the cemetery.

There you are confronted with the graves of 9,386 American soldiers. 14,000 soldiers have been repatriated to the USA since the museum was built. Sebastian stopped in his tracks as he gazed out over the white crosses and stars of David. he asked me if these were the soldiers that died in the War. I explained it was only some of them and that many many more had died. He sat down and cried.

We sat and talked a bit about war and why it is bad and how it should always be avoided but that these men who had fallen were doing the right thing, their duty and that sometimes war is a necessary evil. He then explained to me that there must surely have been another way. I hope he carries that view throughout his life.

After spending a bit of time wondering around the cemetery and the various monuments we headed off to play and fly kites on Omaha Beach which would be strange if it wasn't such a glorious beach. The weather was lovely and sunny. Abigail immediately headed off to the waves as Marc and Seb got out the kites. It was a great couple of hours.

We headed back to the gite (after a fun stop at the fresh fruit & vegetable stand) where we met up with Sean & Helen who had left the museum early (but went and played on Omaha Beach as well). We had a BBQ and the children went for a swim.

The adults stayed up well into the night playing a rudely named card game taught to us by Helen. She won every game and it appeared the rules kept changing. But we did have quite a bit of wine to drink so who knows. Another night of laughs!

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Lung Capacity

I've been fighting a cough for about 1 month now. I just thought it was originally related to the stress of work and needing a holiday. Whilst on holiday rather than get better, I've gotten worse and also infected my husband. Two days ago Marc got fed up with coughing his lungs up all day long for the last 2 weeks and went to the walk in centre at Upton Hospital. They became concerned when is oxygen capacity was nearly less than half what is should be and promptly prescribed steroid pills, antibiotics, and an inhaler.

He then described to them my symptoms and they said I needed to be cared for immediately. They called the other hospital (Heatherwood) and made an out of hours appt for 7:15 that evening. I went straight from work (yes, I know it sounds odd that I was working late but I did have 283 unread emails upon my return to work - blah blah blah).

We were seen immediately. No waiting - never had that happen with the NHS before (except when I broke my leg & had a miscarriage). The doctor diagnosed me exactly the same as Marc and prescribed exactly the same medication. The steroids give me the shakes and keep me awake at night. The antibiotics are giving me indigestion. I'm not convinced I'm using the inhaler properly but I think I'm getting better at it.

We are now on the mend but for some reason I feel worse today that I have for weeks. I suppose the combination of work and illness is more draining than work and holiday. I've slept the afternoon away and feel marginally better than I did at midday.

Bear with me whilst I look after my health and veg out for a while!

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

France - Episode 4

The Millichamp family takes quite a different approach to holidays than the Clare-Panton family. They love to go somewhere and relax. I tend to take a more go go go approach. These 2 different approaches actually compliment each other rather well. We found this out a few years ago when we all went on holiday together to the Dordogne in France. One day of relaxing, sitting by the pool and doing a whole lot of nothing was balanced by the next day of tourist activity to the nearest sight (like going to St Emillion for wine tassting) or seeing the ancient cave paintings at Grotte de Font-de-Gaume (which, by the way, if you haven't seen, you must).

This was easy to do when we had 2 weeks to fit everything in. However, we had booked just a 7 days of holiday and 2 of those were to be spent travelling so we knew we would have to take a different approach. Plus Lottie has been born since then (Helen was pregnant with her during our last holiday) and the children are older. How does that happen?

Also, last time we stayed in one huge villa whereas this time (due to our late booking) we were staying in 2 villas across from each other. Not a million miles but still not the same as in the same house. Sean found the 2 differnt kitchens really uncomfortable and irritating. Of course, Helen and I just coped. I hadn't really scoped out what we were going to do which day but I knew there were a couple of must see things.

Also, the weather wasn't brilliant. Every single minute of every single day we were in France, the skies threatened to open up and dump on us. It was nippy in the air. I had packed for HOT summer August in France weather. I had one cardigan. Abigail had one cardigan. Seb had a sweatshirt. Marc had none, nada, sip, zilch! I had one pair of trousers. Abigail had one pair of cropped trousers. We were cold the entire trip.

After a leisurely breakfast of fresh croissants and pain au chocolat picked up at the local bakery and eaten at the table outside our gite that very morning, Helen and I spent the first morning in the supermarket planning our meals for the week. There are few things I enjoy more than a leaisurely stroll through a French supermarket. Oh, I just swoon over the cheeses and the fish and the wine and the breads and the vegetables and everything else! Whilst in the Dordogne I had taught everyone had to make and eat artichokes. You can get the best artichokes in France and this trip didn't let us down either!

Once we returned home and unpacked our shopping we decided that since this was the first day and we were all tired from all the travelling we would keep the day's activities simple. We packed ourselves all up ready for the Beach and headed off to the plage (beach) at St Germain-sur-Ay which we had been assured by our host was the closest and best local beach.

Just as we arrived after a short 10 minute journey, the rains began to fall. Heavily. So we headed back home and decided to regroup.

Helen spotted a Chateau on the map that was near our gite so off we went. We pulled up in Pirou to where the sat nav had led us and looked at each other a bit bemused and perplexed. What we could see looked more like an old church rather than a Chateau.

We followed the path around the side of the church and the Chateau ruins appeared before us. Chateau de Gratot in Pirou was built in 1250 and had been modified over the following 500 years. It belonged to the D'Argonge family. In the 19th century it fell into disrepair and the French histroical society is working hard to restore it. the hcildren particulary enjoyed the Fairy Tower and all that implies. It was an enchanting experience.

We then headed off to Coutances to visit the magnificent Cathedral. I am now going to link to the Wikipedia article about the Coutances cathedral because I actaully wrote this Wikipedia article and it would be pointless to write it all again here and I want to show off just a little bit my burgeoining Wikipedia skills. (Please Note: this is my first Wikipedia contribution).

All the children race around the cathedral and departed quickly to head for some promised drinks at the cafe in the square. Except for Sebastian. Who painstakingly hauled Marc and I down every Nave into every Chapel, looking at every stained glass window. We even stopped and lit a candle in remembrance of Nanny. He solemnly stood and said his own private prayer. he noticed so many details I would have missed.

Before heading home we stopped at the local cafe in the square for a cup of cafe au lait (for the adults) and jus de pomme (apple juice) for the children.
Dinner was a BBQ in the courtyard of our gite! Perfect!

It's About the People

I have mentioned previously that I am a subscriber to O Magazine. I pay a small fortune to have that magazine sent to me here in the UK. And I read it cover to cover every month. I read an article in there last month that I just have to tell you about.

Elizabeth Edwards is the wife of US Democratic President candidate John Edwards. She is currently fighting the return of cancer that first hit her immediately following the end of the 2004 US Presidential race when her husband was the Vice President candidate on the ballot with John Kerry.

She fought hard then and she is fighting hard now. She and her husband have made the decision to carry on running in the election. She considers it her life's work.

But this isn't the first or even second tragedy to strike the Edward family. Their 16 year old son, Wade, was killed in a car accident. Elizabeth admits that her world fell apart. It would, wouldn't it? Her faith was in tatters and she was rudderless for some time.

But through it all, Elizabeth has learned so much and one of the words of advice that she left me with and that I am practicing every day since I read the article, it that it's all about the people.

She finds it reprehensible that one of the mottos of America is "He who dies with the most toys wins." She insists that it's not what we have but the connections with people and our impact on the community in which we live that will be our legacy when we are gone.

She encourages people to know people. Find out the name of the person who serves you lunch. Who delivers your post. The security guard in your office. Connect with them. Say hello. Be polite. Ask about their lives. This could change a life.

Yesterday, I found out that the man who always serves me lunch is named Robert. He's served me lunch several times a week for the last year or so. You should have seen his face when I asked his name. Shocked, disarmed, and then pleased. I asked him if he had had a nice weekend. He said he did.

And then he served another person their lunch. With a smile on his face a bit bigger than it normally was. I wonder if he had a good day yesterday. I shall find out today.

Must find out what that security guard's name is. He is always so kind. I must tell him.

It's all about the people.

Death of a Colleague

Yesterday, Anne Mordey was laid to rest. She died the morning of 14 August after being diagnosed with cancer just a short time ago.

Anne had been a colleague of mine for nearly 3 years. She was one of VERY few women in the upper echelons of IS management. In the few meetings I have when there is another woman present it tended to be Anne, particularly when I was working in the Service Delivery division of my company. The boys over there tend to be tin and wire nerds that get twitter patted by talk of storage capacity and backup scheduling. I fall asleep during these discussions. Anne would wake me up.

She inspired me to achieve. She was a sharp as a tack and cantankerous to boot. She was unassuming but didn't suffer fools gladly. And she never made you feel like a fool if you didn't know. Only if you didn't try.

She was young, a mere 54, looking at enjoying sailing with her husband in the second half of her life she had worked so hard to enjoy.

I spoke to her quickly passing between our buildings a few months ago. I was in a rush and her mobile was ringing. She said something funny. I laughed and said I'd chat to her later and ran off. The next week she went off sick.

She will be missed. But her memory will continue to inspire.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

No Noise

My husband and I spent the day relaxing and tidying after 2 solid weeks of holiday mach 10 hair on fire activity! The house was sooooo quiet. Things stayed put where you put them and rooms that you had previously tidied, stayed tidied. They didn't suddenly morph into disaster zones whilst you went upstairs to change the bed linens. Amazing.

We then went out to dinner last night. (Wagamama's in Windsor - one of our favs!) We talked. To each other. For 3 whole hours without a single interruption. Except the waiter. Which doesn't count because he brings you things! I love talking with my husband.

We came home. We went to bed without putting little ones on the loo. And I forgot to set my alarm which I don't normally need because I have 2 small children who wake at the crack of dawn. Oooops - gotta get to work!

Monday, 27 August 2007

Being A Woman

What's the best part of being a woman?

This didn't even take me 2 seconds to think about. The best thing by miles about being a woman is having a body that is capable of growing another perfect little human being. I remember being pregnant and just amazed at myself for how incredibly cool it was to feel this little being growing inside of me.

They ate what I ate, drank what I drank, felt my moods and my increased heart rate. And then they came out of me perfectly formed little human beings. With their own thoughts. Their own minds. And it was the strangest feeling. Ever! I had procreated. Done my bit for mankind. Done what I was sent here to do.

The worst thing about being a woman is panty hose (tights) and bras. I hate them both and avoid wearing the former at every opportunity. I have to wear the latter when I leave the house but only when I leave the house!

The Process

Just so y'all know what is going on here with the blogging:

I've kept copious notes during our travels and am trying to get them transcribed into posts (complete with photos) that make sense as well as entertain and inform. Bear with me as I go through 14 days worth of travel notes and share our family's fun with you.

France - Episode 3


Our villas were very nice. There were 3 buildings: the main house, the Owl cottage (which had wheelchair access, and the Chestnut cottage which we stayed in. The other half of our cottage was another cottage which slept 8 and had another English family staying in it. The place is owned by Dia & Sue, a Scottish couple.

The main house was covered in ivy and was absolutely beautiful. Both of our cottages had 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom.

Upon arrival the first thing we did was take a swim. the pool was above ground quite a ways so we couldn't leave the children alone because they kept wanting to get up on the edge and it was a rather long fall off the side. The water was cold when you first got in but you warmed up pretty quickly.

We dried off, warmed up, unpacked, and went into Periers (a small town 6 kilometers away) for dinner at a place called Les Snekkja, a local restaurant. Didn't look like much from the outside but we had a fabulous meal. The children ate galettes (whole meal crepes) filled with cheese and ham, although we ordered just cheese filling. Seb ate for England but Abigail started a habit of the trip and just ate the frites (french fries).

Helen, Sean, Marc and I had a salade has a starter which was divine. I had tagliatelle with smoked salmon, mushrooms and cream which was delicious. Marc & Helen split a goat cheese tart and a pork steak with pepper sauce between them. Sean had a beef steak which he said was a bit tough. The rest of us were in culinary heaven. Dessert were crepes all round with cream, chocolate & ice cream.

This was simple French food. It was fresh and delicious.

I have to say at this point that Helen was having a serious life changing moment during this holiday. As long as I have known Helen (over 8 years now), she has not been able to smell. At all. Which is very strange to me. I'm a very smelly person. No, i don't smell badly. I just smell everything. I love lotions & potions that smell great. I love perfumes and the smell of food cooking. I've often asked her if this didn't also affect her sense of taste. She has always denied that it hasn't.

A few days before we went away Helen at last saw a ear, nose & throat specialist after living with this plugged up sinuses condition fro 35 years. He prescribed some steroids and nose drops and her life has changed. The first few days of our holiday she walked around telling us everything she smelled. And then it dawned on her she did have a diminished sense of taste. And what a wonderful place to be when you get it all back.

Helen was overwhelmed at the smells of the French supermarket. I mean, the smell of the cheeses can really knock a person over even when you are accustomed to it. But to smell it for the very first time. I thought she was going to have a seizure.

We stayed up late both Saturday and Sunday nights sitting out in the nippy weather to catch the Perseid meteor shower. When we saw our first shooting star Sean exclaimed that this was probably the very first time that he had ever seen a shooting star. And was a great shower it was. Some of the meteors were very bright and left long trails streaking across the dark night sky. There were no clouds and no moon so it was excellent viewing conditions.

We finished off 5 bottles of wine, had cricks in our necks from looking upwards and were frozen to the bone but both nights were fabulous times spent with fabulous friends filled with laughter!

Other People's Memories

Dropped Sebastian & Abigail off at their Granny's house (Marc's mum) down on the Isle of Wight yesterday. The house is like a ghost town with no interruptions or noise. Which is good and bad in equal measure.

Have been going through the stacks of laundry, post and email trying to sort out everything that builds up whilst you are away for several weeks.

Found an email sent to me by Pam who is a cousin of mine on my father's side of the family. She has been working very hard to get our family tree on www.geni.com to be the best and the biggest. It has been great to reconnect with her over the last couple months.

Pam's email was a memory of me when I was young that she had. Specifically it was a memory of my bedroom furniture:

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you about a flashback memory I had about you the other day...I remember visiting you at your house in Colo. and going up to your bedroom. I think my jaw dropped and my eyes popped out of my head when I laid eyes on your beautiful canopy bed ! I had never known anyone with one before and I was so sure that you must be a princess ! I was soooooooooooooo envious ! (Does that make me sound like a hick from Nebraska or what ?! ) And if I remember correctly, your bedroom and/or bedspread was purple/lavender. Is that right?

I found this so fascinating on a number of levels. I hadn't really thought that my bed would ever cause that reaction in anyone else. I loved that bed. My grandmother, Tressie (my mom's mom) had bought it for me along with matching bureaus and desks. The bedspread wasn't lavender but white and the carpeting was a pale blue. The wallpaper had blue and green daisy flowers in vertical stripes. I had the corner room with 2 windows one overlooking the back garden and the other the neighbours house. I could look directly into the neighbour boy's room.

But for Pam to remember this. And to remember her reaction? After all these years? It made me laugh. And it made me remember to be thankful for the childhood I had. I'd never thought of myself as a princess! But I must have been.

PS Pam is a redneck from Nebraska! But so am I!

Sex Offender Locator

For those readers in the USA, check out this site which allows you to type in your address and it tells you where all the registered sex offenders are in your area. It's easy and free.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Home Sweet Home

We have arrived home safe and sound from our camping adventures. We were thrilled to experience beautiful British seaside weather aside from the first evening which was VERY windy. The remainder of our time was bathed in glorious sunshine. The beaches were great. The children had a brilliant time and loved camping! Stay tuned for details of our adventures.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Camping

And we are off on the second leg of our holiday. We are headed off to Cornwall (the western sticky outy bit at the bottom of the island, bottom left if you're looking at a map - for the non-British readers) for the wee. CAMPING! Marc is still out in the garage cursing trying to fit everything into the car and has now decided that we need a fleet of trucks to carry our camping gear!

We got Bailey back yesterday and we are very happy to have him home.

It is still raining. Please send some sunshine our way. Camping in the rain with 2 children and 1 dog doesn't exactly sound so appealing now.

Not sure if I will be able to blog but again seriously doubt it. Enjoy your time off from me!

Sunday, 19 August 2007

France - Episode 2

Found our way out of Calais without any problems (thanks again to the sat nav). And off we set at a lightening pace to drove west across the breadth of France.

Ah, but not so fast! We are traveling with 4 children. Abigail got her hair caught in the Velcro on Sebastian baseball cap and we couldn't undo whilst moving. Marc pulled the car over and just yanked. Ouch!

The French do build bridges. Much like the Swiss build tunnels. We went over several on our journey, the most notable one being the Pont du Normandie. It is huge and rises quite a bit. I had a mild anxiety attack as we started our ascent thinking about the bridge that just collapsed in Minneapolis. Oh, please, tell me they invested appropriate funds to build this bridge!

Our first stop for fuel was a bit odd. It was nothing more than a pump on its own. The children needed a toilet and we needed diesel so we got back on the motorway. The next stop for fuel demonstrated why I was not so keen on a France holiday in August.

Every French person goes on holiday in August. The queue at the petrol station had 10 queues of 8 cars each. There was a French woman at the front conducting the traffic in and out of the station.

Once gassed up, we went on for a bit and at our midway point we stopped for a quick picnic. The children played and ran off some energy. Then came toilet time. The French have never been known for their ability to conquer something as fundamental as toilet sanitation and this trip just proved that they still have a long way to go.

I took Abigail off to the little building marked toilet. I opened the door and there was a hole in the ground with two places to put your feet on either side. And no toilet paper (loo roll) at all! Not even on offer. Seems it plugs up the plumbing!

Abigail freaked out. She started shaking her head and wagging her finger saying "No, no, no, no!" At which point I decided I needed to set a good example here or this was going to be a long trip. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in France, pee over holes and don't wipe. Once I showed her what to do, she was up for it. I removed her little panties, she held her dress up and I dangled her over the hole. I am soooo grateful I dressed her in a dress. Poor little Lottie refused completely and decided holding it for all eternity was a better option.

Back on the road, there were queues at every toll booth (payage) which was VERY frustrating. just as we would get a rhythm going, we'd be stopped dead in our tracks. You would think the French would figure out a better way to do this! It seems they used the toilet engineer rather than the bridge engineer to design the motorway system.

We had trouble finding the last little bit of our way to the villa as the sat nav couldn't figure it out. Eventually, we found it! We reached our final destination around 5:30 pm local time (1 hour more than Greenwich Mean Time-London) which amounted to just under 10 hours door to door.

France - Episode 1

August 11 was our very own D-Day, Departure Day. The day before we had seen Bailey off to the dog sitter. We have arranged a service that takes the dog to other people's home. The home typically has another dog and the one we picked also has children. We hope he had lots of fun whilst we were gone. We get him delivered back to us today. The thought didn't stop me from shedding a few tears when he went on his very own holiday without us.

We set off at 7:07 am which was about 37 minutes later than the plan. I was very worried we weren't going to make the ferry on time. According to the sat nav we had a 2 hours journey ahead of us and the ferry was due to leave at 9:20. We were scheduled to meet the Millichamp family (our travelling companion family) on 8:45 and they had our tickets.

The expert driving of my husband and the early Saturday morning hour allowed us to make up some significant time on the motorway. We exchanged text messages on the very last best with Helen identifying where they were in relation to where we were to find they were just behind us. I love technology!

We arrived at the ferry port at 8:32 am in plenty of time. I have never taken a ferry from Dover so it was the first time I had ever seen the white cliffs of Dover! Stunning.

The ferry was fully booked. Finding a table for 8 on a crowded ferry is no small feat. The men were sent to rustle up breakfast and Helen & I secured a table with 4 VERY excited children bouncing off the walls.

Upon their return, we are not entirely sure who the men thought they were buying breakfast for. There appeared to be a shortage of food and my guess is the men forgot to buy breakfast for their wives. Didn't matter.....I had my coffee and the children were suitably nourished.

After breakfast we sat up on deck as we approached the shores of France. It was a good beginning!

Intermission

We arrived back into the UK yesterday evening and home about 9pm. I've got loads of pictures and stories for everyone.

One casualty of the trip was our beloved goldfish, Toby. Our neighbours forgot to feed him and he went to goldfish heaven. Hoping the children won't notice before we can replace him.

After going through our stack of post, we enjoyed a good night's rest in our own beds with our cat, Murphy, sleeping at our feet. He really missed us! Bailey comes home today.

I've got to unpack, do laundry and repack for our camping trip. We are scheduled to leave tomorrow morning. It is raining now and the forecast is for rain until tomorrow midday. The thought of camping with 2 children and 1 dog in the rain is not appealing.

Will try to get as many pics and stories loaded today in between everything else.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

France

We are off to France this morning (hence the early morning - silly hour post). I am going to try to post whilst on the road but I don't have much faith that it is going to work. So you will all just have to read some other blogs.....this post has some really good ideas!

Blogs to Read

Or you could just wait patiently for my return.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Married Surprises

The surprises about married life are many! It's not what I expected it to be. It's better. What's the best and worst surprises about marriage?

Best
He's my best mate. My biggest fan. And he makes me laugh nearly every day. At me, at him, with him, at the world, at our crazy life. He would save my life in a blizzard (and has done). Never thought I could love another person the way I love him. Even when he makes me crazy!

Worst
The worst surprise of married life is that even now after 8 years of being together and 5 years of marriage, he still won't do things my way. Grrrrrr! LOL!

And raising children is harder than it looks.

And no one is having as much sex as they say they are!

Financial Mistake

Oh but there are so many. I don't even know where to start. I suppose it is all a matter of scale.

I have sooooo many books that I've purchased but never read.

I have so many food items, I've never eaten and either sit in my cupboards taking up space or in my fridge until they are reduced to a puddle or the smell drives me to act.

I've got several outfits which I've bought without trying on and now hang in my closet with the price tags still on them. I keep meaning to alter them or donate them or lose weight but never do any of them.

I bought a pair of roller skates at the age of 20 that I thought I just could not live without. They were expensive considering I had NO money back then. I used them 4 times!

I got suckered into buying this homeopathic kit of pills which were supposed to make child birth more bearable. Do I have stupid tattooed on my forehead?

My greatest financial mistake was probably not cashing in or moving my 401(K) from my American employer when I moved permanently to the UK. I don't actively manage it and I know it has lost value over the last few years. Mental note to self: stop making this mistake and do something about it for heavens sake, regardless of the exchange rate and penalties!

Best Money

This is going to sound like a complete cliche but it has got to be the investment I made in my education.

Getting my degree taught me more than just the stuff in the books or how to make friends on a campus of strangers or to party until dawn and dance like a maniac.

Taking all those different classes taught me what I liked and didn't liked. I learned who I wasn't and what I wanted to be and have and see and learn.

It cost me a fortune and took me ages to pay it all off but it was so worth every sacrifice I made!

OK, so if you put my education to the side, I would have to say a certain grey Calvin Klein winter coat that I bought about 8 years ago when I worked in London on Bond Street. My office was above the flagship store and I used to walk past and look longingly in the windows every day when I went to grab a bite to eat.

Autumn had arrived and I needed a coat for the imminent chill of a damp drizzly London winter. I saw the coat I wanted in the window. I coveted that coat. I dreamed of that coat. At last, I went in, tried it on, and it looked fab. I had to have the coat.

On payday I bought that coat. At the time, this coat cost me 1/4 of my monthly earnings. I felt indulgent. But I looked great!

I've still got it and still wear that dang coat!

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Advice

What is the one piece of advice I wish I'd been given as a young woman? Not that I would have listened much I don't think....depends on who was giving. I certainly wasn't listening to my mom at this stage of the game! She could have told me I was on fire and I would have ignored her. Do all mothers and daughters have a phase like this?

The on piece of advice I wish I had been given loud and clear was that very few decisions in life are permanent. As a matter of fact, in my 43 years I've only made 1 decision that was irreversible: having children. Once you become a mother, you are a mother for life. You can guess I don't have any tattoos but nowadays even those are a bit erasable....sort of, kind of, ok not really. So, tattoos and children.

Everything else can pretty much be done over. But no one told me that. I stressed and procrastinated making decisions because I was so afraid of making the wrong decision. And I wouldn't be able to undo or do over.

Now I know this just isn't true.

If you get the wrong degree in university, go back and get a post graduate degree in something else. Or do night courses. Or train on the job as a volunteer. I know loads of doctors who studied to be lawyers first go round.

If you take the wrong job, quit.

If you book the wrong holiday, grab a quick flight to somewhere else. Or change hotels. Or do more research or get recommendations from a trusted source next time.

If you order the wrong food ask someone to swap. Or ask the waiter to bring you something else. You might have to pay twice but at least you're eating what you want to eat.

If you by the wrong thing, take it back. Or donate it to a charity shop.

If your dating the wrong man, STOP! If you marry the wrong man, divorce him. Hopefully, you don't undertake this decision lightly and give it much careful consideration but ultimately this can be undone.

Now hopefully, you don't make many bad decisions. If you do maybe you need to slow down your decision process.

But I wish someone had told me, very few decisions in life are for keeps. It would have meant I wouldn't have been so afraid of complete and utter failure for so long and been paralyzed at every turn that I might take the wrong road. It took me well into my 30s before I learned this!

Now I believe, when I come to a fork in the road take a road. Any road. Read the signage and know a little bit about where each is going to take you but pick one and just get a move on. You can always turn back or take a short cross through the woods if you find you don't like where you're headed.

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Irene Nemirovsky was born in Kiev in 1903. Her background and how she became an author is as fascinating as the novel she wrote during the German occupation of France during the second World War.

Her mother hated her and how her growing up reflected on her mother's aging. her father was financially a wild success but he was distant and remote. She lived a life of privilege in Russia until the October Revolution in 1917. During a break in the fighting, her family fled to Sweden and ultimately to France.

She loved Paris and met and married her husband Michael Epstein. They had 2 daughters and while Irene was being a mother she was also writing. Her first novel, David Golder, was made into a film shortly after her second daughter was born and she had published 9 novels. She enjoyed major success as a novelist and was widely respected in French literary circles.

In 1939, the previous decade of violent anti-Semitism led Irene to convert herself and her 2 daughters to Catholicism. Fatefully, she never sought French citizenship for herself.

Suite Francaise was written whilst Irene and her family awaited their fate. The novel is astonishing at every turn. Comprised of the first of 2 of what was intended to be 5 stories about the course of the war between France and Germany, the stories are compelling as much as what they say as what they don't say.

There is no explicit condemnation of the German Nazi persecution of the Jews. One gets the sense that she didn't want to taunt her occupiers and oppressors.

The first installment, Storm in June, tells the story of the French fighting and losing their country. There is a sense that the French didn't have the heart, money, and courage to fight another war so soon after the first World War. The story is told from the perspective of numerous individuals as they flee the invasion of Paris. Every class is represented. All behave equally despicable.

The second installment, Dolce, tells the story of the ongoing German occupation of a small village in central France and the delicate balance between the French villagers and the German invaders. The handsome and lonely German soldiers yearn for the pretty and lonely French girls and vice versa. Your heart breaks when a French woman finds love for the first time with the German officer staying in her home. Regrettably, her husband would not look too kindly upon learning his wife never loved him when he returns from his German prison.

One element that is consistent between the two stories is the impact of class on the reaction to war time and the hard ships it brought. Nemirovsky certainly gives the impression that the more you had to lose the more reprehensible you acted. that is, the higher your class status, the more greedy and selfish you were. the more you had to lose, the more you fought to hold on to it. The sweeping acts of generosity came from those who had little to share and nothing to lose.

Both stories are remarkable when you consider they were written as the Nazis rounded up the Jews. On 13 July 1942 Irene was arrested and deported to Auschwitz. She died 17 August 1942. Heartbreakingly, her husband, Michael did not understand what was happening and wrote a letter volunteering to take his wife's place due to her delicate health (she was asthmatic). In October 1942 he was also arrested and on 6 November 1942 he was exterminated in a gas chamber at Auschwitz.

The daughters were protected and hidden by their governesses and teachers and nuns from the police who searched high and low for them. You would think the police would have higher priorities than 2 small orphan girls.

Remarkably, Denise, the oldest daughter and just 13 at the time, had the presence of mind to pack her mother's manuscripts as they fled to hide in one precarious place after another. Not until she and her sister, Elisabeth, were much much older did than have the courage to transcribe what they later discovered were literary masterpieces.

The greatest tragedy is that the world was deprived of the rest of the story. I can only imagine the 3 novellas Nemirovsky had yet to write. They would have been more of the same: honest, insightful, powerful and moving. Told by a woman who witnessed it with an unflinching eye for detail and honesty. Irene Nemirovsky did not look at the world through rose tinted glasses and the stories of the brave French resistance now sit in my mind next to an altogether different perspective of the frailer and vulnerable parts of the human condition.

I recommend this book, clearly. But don't read it just once. Read it again and again and again. And never forget it.

Book Group Update: We were a small group of 5 this month and only 3 of the 5 had read the book. The 3 of us had a lively and thought provoking discussion particularly around the emergence of the individual over the group during and after the second World War. There was general consesus that this was a good choice especially for a book group as there was loads to discuss. Next month is The Road by Cormac McCarthy at Kate's home. Date to be announced.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Ode to Tucker

My sister, Stephanie, had to put her dog, Tucker, down a couple days ago.

Tucker and I had a rocky relationship. It all started when he ate one of my favourite pairs of shoes whilst I was staying at my sister's house in Dallas, TX USA.

The next time I visited was with my new husband. We had gone out to dinner and left the top layer of our wedding cake on the dining room table. When we got home we discovered that Tucker had eaten the whole thing. My husband and I didn't eat cake on our first anniversary. But the dog sure looked like he enjoyed it

But my sister and her family loved this dog. I know how sad it is to lose a dog. Especially for the children.

When my parent's separated my mother had taken all of us kids to stay at one of her friend's house. When we came home our dog, Dolly, was gone. My father had taken Dolly to the vets and sent her to doggie heaven. We children were devastated. I don't remember a time when Dolly wasn't there.

Dolly was old. Her hearing was gone. My brothers and I had fed her crayons to see if she pooped in technicolour. The crayons came out in chunks. A successful scientific experiment, I reckon. We used to ride her around the back yard. She never once snipped at any of us. Even when we pulled her tail. I watched her puppies being born. I cried the day I took the last one to school for show and tell before she was given to a new family. That's me surrounded by her one and only litter of pups in the pic.

Tucker had lost control of his bladder and was in a great deal of pain. Stephanie did what she could to ensure Tucker was well cared for. He was a great family dog. He will be missed.

When I Was 18

What was I thinking?

At 18 I was in love with a boy named Troy. I thought I would marry him and have a couple children. I thought I would love him forever and he me.

And then he broke my heart. And then I wasn't in love. And I was never going to get married and I sure as heck wasn't going to have children. Ever.

I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up and most tragically, I wasn't even sure what my options were or what path I would take get anything I wanted. I knew that if I wanted something I was going to have to do this myself.

I wanted to make my father proud and I wanted to prove to my mother that I was capable of supporting myself regardless of the tidiness of my bedroom.

I spent the next few years trying desperately to figure all of it out. I tried on different personalities. I learned about far away people and places. And then I wanted to see the world. And I figured out what I was good at. And then I focused.

I was about 22 years old before it all came together career wise largely because I had control over that. I knew where I wanted to go and had knowledge of the framework I needed to get me there along with a reasonable time frame.

But I had no idea and no control over the relationship and family aspects of my life. I knew I didn't want to spend a fortune on my education and then be unable to reap the benefits if I got sidetracked on to the mummy track. At 18, I didn't even consider the insertion of children into the equation. And I couldn't find a man I wanted to marry and wanted to marry me.

Marc and my children were a happy accident. Completely unplanned and whilst I have altered my career plan slightly, I'd do it all over exactly the same way. And in a round about way my reality turned out very similar to my vision. But the road I took to get here was completely different than planned.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Geni

Geni is a collaborative family tree builder complete with space for photos and comments. There are over 445 people in my tree and 13 generations are represented. If you are a member of my family and do not have access to this tree please send me an email and I will get you added! If you do have access you ought to check out some of the most recent photos that have been added. The tree is really growing!

A New Record

Barry Bonds finally did it.

Yesterday (7 August), the home run record previously held by Hank Aaron and set in 1976 (over 30 years ago!) has finally been broken. Barry Bonds hit his 576th home run.

Let's hope that Barry's claim of a steroid free record is never proven false!

Middle Aged?

In Oprah's magazine (which I read faithfully every month and pay an arm and a leg to have it delivered to me here in the UK) there was an article about 40 something women taking stock of their life. The article posed some fascinating questions and I thought I might ask you to answer them. Even if you aren't 40.

I'll do my best to answer them myself although definitely not in one post. This is going to require lots of thought!


  1. When you were 18, what did you imagine your future would look like? How close is your reality to your vision?


  2. What is one piece of advice you wish you'd been given as a young person?


  3. What is the best money you ever spent?


  4. What was your biggest financial mistake-the complete waste of money that haunts you to this day?


  5. What has been the best surprise of married life? And the worst?


  6. What is the best thing about being a woman? And the worst?


  7. At this point of your life, is there a dream which you will never fulfill? What is it and what makes you so sure it's out of reach?

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Summer Hols Play Date

I took the day off yesterday so my children could invite some of their playmates around and enjoy the brilliant summer weather we are finally experiencing.

Ben and Grace came over for lunch with their mummy, Jane. The children then disappeared off to go play. Jane and I sat in the garden and had a relaxing adult chat for a couple of uninterrupted hours. Not completely uninterrupted but very nearly. How wonderful!

It's fabulous to actually get to the point where your children can take themselves off to the toilet or resolve their disagreements on their own without parental escalation. I was able to finish my sentences and even entire thoughts. It felt liberating and relaxing.

I was so relaxed I almost forgot I had to go to work this morning. Only 3 more days to go!

And now the packing anxiety is starting to kick in. I've got a 2 page list full of things not to forget to pack. You know I'll forget something!

Ancient History

Bill Bryson is an American from Iowa who came to live in Britain in 1973. He has written numerous books about this experience (amongst other things). I have to say I enjoyed the first 100 pages of Notes from a Small Island but it quickly became repetitive which is the same experience I had reading a few of his subsequent novels. I also found that he had adopted the English habit of whingeing and whining about just about everything. And I can only read so much of that.

I read a blurb about him the other day which made me think maybe I should revisit some of his more recent stuff. He marveled at the fact that near his home in Norfolk (on the east coast of England) there is a hedge planted in the 11th century by a niece of William the Conqueror and a church tower built about the same time.

If a church like this were in Iowa, "people would travel hundreds of miles to see it." But in Britain there are more listed churches than petrol (gas) stations. If you decided to visit one every day, it would take you 54 years to see them all.

Down the side of the garden of my house is a Saxon ditch which must be more than 1000 years old. We are not allowed to dig more than 2 inches down without archaeologists on site in the front of my house because the first Windsor Castle (pre 1077) was built nearby and they reckon we are sitting on a large part of the settlement that would have supported the King in that ancient time.

Across the front garden I can see the steeple of the village parish church. I can hear the bells on Sunday mornings and Saturday evenings and random other times. The church was built 500 years ago or so. It is tiny and in need of repair but it is beautiful to consider the history.

The school my son and daughter attend was founded in 1348 by King Edward III. Astonishing.

I walk past all of this history much like the English do - oblivious. It takes a foreigner visiting me to gaze out my window and see Windsor Castle with their jaw dropping on the floor to remind me that I am living in a country with a long and fascinating history.

Well, that and I have to study a very large thick book with thousands of years of history in order to pass the test for my British citizenship. Why couldn't I be studying a couple hundred years instead of a couple thousand?

Monday, 6 August 2007

40th Birthday Party


Our friend Sean, husband to Helen and father to Sam & Lottie, turned 40 last week. Marc and I went to Birmingham to join him and 20 other mates to celebrate.

We left the home counties (the counties around London) about 4 pm and headed north for about 100 miles. Sat nav took us directly to the hotel door (I LOVE Sat Nav!). We checked it and proceeded to destroy the room. I find it amazing how quickly one can make a perfectly meticulous hotel room look like a hurricane has hit in under 5 minutes. That's my hubby. I used to stay in hotel rooms a lot. You could hardly tell I had arrived. Not Marc. He arrives and it looks like 3 suitcases just burst open and the contents are strewn all over the place. Alas, I digress.

We met up with everyone at Blanc Brasserie. We missed our original seating as there were a couple people who didn't bother to show up on time. So we proceeded to have just a few too many Gin & Tonics before we ate. I have a garlic soup which was a brilliant choice on a night out, followed by a fishcake. It was a bit too salty and there were no vegetables served with it. Glad I had a meringue with ice cream for pudding or I could have starved.

From the restaurant we bid farewell to a couple of party poopers and went clubbing. Yes, night clubbing. This would appear to be a highly unlikely activity for a 40+something mother of 2 and to be honest I haven't been clubbing since we had children ( almost 7 years ago). My dancing shoes were a bit rusty.

Ah, but I got those cute little black velvet kitten mules shined up in no time. Dancing is a bit like riding a bicyle. If you couldn't do it when you were a child you probably aren't any good at it now. No, just kidding!

We bopped to the pounding beat of the excruciatingly loud music until well after 1 am and our hearing had been at least temporarily impaired. At which point we poured ourselves into a taxi and headed back to the hotel. We had one of the best and most aggressive taxi drivers I've ever encountered in the UK.

Sean was looking decidedly worse for the wear but somehow Helen, Marc and I got a second wind. Sean went off to bed but we shared a bottle of champagne and roast beef sandwich with chips in the hotel bar and stayed up talking until 3:30 am. That's what he gets for turning 40. just for the record, this 40 year old out did that 40 year old (only just but don't tell him that!) I didn't drink 1/2 what he did.

This was a much needed break for Marc & I. The next morning we got to sleep in and share a beautiful breakfast with Sean & Helen. We found my favourite of Eggs Benedict down in the beautiful canal district of the city centre of Birmingham. And this was a bit of a surprise as well!

I used to work for a company based out of Birmingham. In fact, that is where I met Helen. And Birmingham was a concrete jungle that looked like time had forgotten it since it was built in the 60s and 70s. But it has been rejuvenated lately and it looks beautiful.

We had a great time! Happy Birthday, Sean! And welcome to the second half of your life!

Old Woman & A Chip

On Saturday afternoon, we had stopped to eat our lunch at the new Gourmet Burger Kitchen restaurant. As we sat inside waiting for our food to be delivered we watched all the people walking by.

A little old lady was hobbling past a table outside. She approached a man and woman sitting enjoying their bowl of chips (french fries). She spoke and the people look shocked but smiled politely. The lady then nicked one of their chips and said something else then walked away. We stared at the situation. And everyone started laughing.

I ran into the woman who had been sitting at the table in the ladies room. Apparently, the little old lady had stopped at the table as she was walking by and said "Oh, those look good. Mind if I have one?" as she reached in and took one not waiting for their response. She then went on to tell them "I've been very busy shopping and haven't stopped to get something to eat."

We laughed. I bet she could eat an entire meal by just walking the length of the outdoor cafes in Windsor and nicking one item off of every one's plate.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

And a Hero Comes Along

With the strength and incredible presence of mind to save the children on a school bus. How amazing is he?

Weekend Plans

This weekend Marc & I have a rare weekend away from the children. We are going up to Birmingham to celebrate the 40th birthday of our friend, Sean. Our former neighbour, Gill, is babysitting the children. We are going up around 4 pm today, staying over night and plan to return by 2 pm tomorrow afternoon. Dinner and dancing is on the cards! No doubt fuelled by a few drinks and some glorious summer weather!

Seb has got a riding lesson today at midday and that will be his last until the autumn and school starts. Abigail is still in bed. She fell asleep on the sofa quite early in the evening yesterday. At 10:30 last night she was still wide awake in her room. So at 10 this morning, she is still sound asleep. Her schedule is going to be completely messed up. Sorry Gill!

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

I picked this book up just after I finished Suite Francaise expecting a light on the brain easy on the eyes read. What was I thinking? The book I read after a cracking great one always flounders a bit.

It is 1964 and there is a blizzard. Norah Henry goes into labour. David, her husband and a doctor, delivers a beautiful baby boy, Paul. Quite inexplicably, Norah then proceeds to deliver a second baby, Phoebe. Upon delivery it is obvious to David (because he is a doctor, you know) that Phoebe has Down's Syndrome. David whisks her away without Norah ever meeting her and hands the baby to his nurse, Caroline. And that's just the first chapter.

Therein begins the life of a family with one big, giant, huge, horrible secret right in the middle of it. This doesn't bode well for the future. The rest of the book is spent chronicling the downward spiral of the relationships of David with Norah and Paul, his son. You can bet it didn't go well. The vast gap that a secret this big can create means Paul & Norah's marriage is doomed.

A couple of things don't sit quite right with me. You would think Norah would know she was carrying twins. Even in 1964 (the same year I was born), they could hear 2 heart beats. We did have some modern conveniences back in those olden days. And these twins were nearly full term. Norah would have been enormous. I'm talking bigger than a truck enormous! Secondly, I was surprised that Norah was the one who had the affairs. I would have thought that Paul's guilt would have driven him to someone else long before Norah. Lastly, Norah was young (in her 20s) when she gave birth and whilst Down's Syndrome is not unheard at this age, it is extremely rare. It is far more common in older mothers (over 40s).

Those things aside, Edwards does very well ensuring that the life of Caroline and Phoebe is not sugary and sentimental. Whilst things go a damn sight better for them than the Henry family, money is still tight and the relationship between Caroline and Al, her truck driver boyfriend, is not perfect. I could see how a high moral tone could have easily turned the book into an unlikely tale of good things happen to good people. Instead it was just a far tale of life happens to good people.

The ending was a bit anticlimactic. But then so is life. Norah and Paul ultimately meet Phoebe but due to her condition the impact on her is naught. They are just people she has met. Not a long lost mother and brother. The knife plunges deeper.

I like the book and the first 150 pages or so I couldn't put it down. The tale slows as we go through the excruciating pain of watching the family fall apart and in particular the relationship between Paul and David lacks some passion. Maybe that's the point.

This should have been a sad and anger inducing tale. But I never shed a tear and I struggled to have any emotions whatsoever for Norah largely due to the fact that I didn't like her as a character. I recommend the book but it is not in my top 50. A good beach read, I reckon!

Friday, 3 August 2007

Pop

George Dale Smith was my grandfather. He was married to my Nanny, Joyce, and he was my father's father. We used to call him Pop. I don't talk much about him. Some of the memories are painful. But some are funny.

Pop was an alcoholic. He died very young but looked 100 years old. He died in the hospital and left my grandmother a young widow. She never remarried. Never even went out on a date.

Pop didn't always drink. He had very bad stomach ulcers and any alcohol would leave him in great pain. Until the doctors found some miracle medicine that he started taking and he found this meant he could drink. That wasn't good.

He went into rehab loads of times. But it never stuck.

We would enter my grandparent's home and he had this green recliner chair that sat in the corner of the living room. I never saw him drinking. He always had a cup of coffee and a rollup cigarette. But you could tell from his glossy bloodshot eyes if he was drunk.

He couldn't keep a job. He did loads of different things. The one job I remember him having was as a bus driver. I always wondered how an alcoholic could also be a bus driver.

Pop always had crazy ideas on how to solve various problems like the time he decide that using dynamite in the outhouse would clear out the sewage blockage. Instead the lane leading up to the house was covered in poo and toilet paper that had blown up rather than down as was the desired outcome.

Pop always made me laugh. He died my senior year in high school. He was the first of my immediate family to die in my living memory. He is buried in the crypt next to my grandmother. I smile every time I remember him. And that green chair.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Melt Down

Yesterday I had a major meltdown.

I had a mental and emotionally exhausting day at the office. I got home and just simply didn't have the energy to give anything to anyone. I had a wave of panic as I realised that not only did I not know what I was going to make for dinner, I had not motivation to figure it out. Handing my children a packet of crisps (potato chips) to postpone the inevitable pangs of hunger was not one of my proudest mothering moments.

I felt like I had nothing left to give. To anyone. I cried. For about 4 hours.

The children got grilled cheese sandwiches. I took a long hot bath, read a book for several hours and went to bed.

This morning I awoke and realised the sun had risen in the east. Dang.

I feel better today. I'm still grumpy. Let's see what the sun does tomorrow morning.

Why Do I Blog?

When people find out that I blog and have read it a bit, I get 1 of 3 questions:

1. When do you find the time?
Honestly, it doesn't take that much time. I do type quickly but I reckon I spend less than 15 minutes/day

2. How do you think of things to blog about?
Anything and everything. If it's in my head, it will probably end up on my blog. If you run out of things to talk about, blogging is probably not for you. Quite frankly, I could hold a conversation with a cardboard box (and have!). Now some of you may say, yeah, well this is just as interesting as holding a conversation with a cardboard box (Daddy H). I've got one thing to say: Next Blog. No one forces anyone to come to the blog. You might land here accidentally but no one makes you stay.

3. Why do you do it?
Someone once told me that they couldn't blog because their life wasn't as exciting as mine. Are you kidding me? My life of laundry and school runs and working til I drop is not exactly a cliff hanger. And some people don't find it interesting. They can read something else.

No, I blog to fulfill a deep seated desire to capture my life for the generations that come after me. I don't really know my parents as people. I wish I did. I remember when I moved in with my grandmother when I was in university. During our Saturday nights together, I got to know her as a woman with dreams lost and dreams realised, with heartbreaks and belly laughs. I stopped looking up at her on the pillar on which I had I placed her and started looking her in the eye and into her heart so I could see what lay behind the woman who I loved so much.

When I my children are grown, I want them to know their life as it was happening. My husband has a poor memory. He can't remember that I asked him to clear the garage 5 times in the last month. (Or he chooses not to?) I mean, this man has so few memories of his childhood we can count them on our hands. And there's no detail in the memories he does have. Tragedy.

Blogging is also cathartic. I work things out as I write them down much the same way people work things out as they talk them through. Writing gives me the option of editing my thoughts.

Strange things do happen when you blog. I read an introduction to my book review over on Time.com written by a woman I have never met. We've exchanged emails on a couple of occasions but nothing at length to speak of. I read her blog. She reads mine. she didn't "interview" me for the intro. And yet she described me better than many people I've known for years could. That was a bit unsettling. Not that Lisa knows me. But that there are people out there who don't know me who know me so well. And I may not know them.

But I believe they mean me no harm and near as I can figure, the advantages out weight the disadvantage. I'm going with that! And it gives me something to do at 5 am as the rest of the world sleeps.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Strange Sighting

Last week I went out a couple nights on the trot with my work mates for various celebrations and commiserations.

Late on Thursday night I was sharing a cab home with a couple colleagues. We had finished off more than a couple bottles of wine and shots of tequila. We'd gone from (non-Brits: Look Away! This will make no sense to you at all!) Richmond to Hampton to Staines with 2 more stops to go.

As we pulled into the road of my colleague Sara, we (including the taxi driver) were alarmed to find her road blocked off my a police car. She lives in a narrow urban road with cars parked on both sides of the street and only room for one car to travel down the middle.

We pulled up and the cab driver got out to have a look around. Being nosey, we joined him.

There were no police around and there was a car upside down in the middle of the road. Two parked cars on both sides of the over turned car were completely smashed. There was another police car blocking the road at the other end of the street. Once police car had all the paper work strung out on the bonnet (hood) of the car. There were no neighbours out and about.

It was eery. I felt like we had landed on another planet and all the people on the planet had been taken away. Except for us.

Sensibly James walked Sara to her house. Whilst the cab driver and I were waiting for James to return more police cars arrived screeching to a stop and yelling at some yobs. The cab driver and I decided it might be better if we waited in the car. I decided it might be better if I waited crouched down in the back seat so as not to catch any stray bullets. Ever the optimist. (Remember I had just seen the film Babel last week which has been freaking me out a bit!)

James returned before anyone returned to the police cars and the cab driver made a hasty exit.

Weird!

What I Know For Sure

Some of you may know Barabas. I’ve never met him but he faithfully visits my blog and leaves his highly opinionated, sometimes judgemental, but always insightful, entertaining and thought provoking comments to my posts.

Barabas made some statement about who I am based on what I say in my blog (and in comments I leave on other blogs we both visit). I’d like to clear up any impression I may have given to him and any other readers.

  1. I so believe in individualism. I just believe that some cultures do a better job at encouraging individualism than others. America is a place where homogeneity and following the pack is recommended. Although breaking away is occasionally rewarded.

  2. I wouldn’t say I’m odd or very unique. I would say that my life’s experiences have left me in a very small pool of people with similar demographics and experiences. I wish I had the courage to swim against the current more often. I do know many people who share my opinions. I know a lot of people don’t. This makes the world an interesting place to live. We have a lot to learn from each other.

  3. The world would be a better place if some of the politics of the US were a bit more thoughtful of the other inhabitants of the planet. This kind of goes back to point 1 above. Not everyone wants to live the same way the US or the UK or Australia or Japan or Korea do. Not everyone thinks one or another way is best. This isn’t an insult. Just let other people live the way they want to live in their own country. And don’t be a bully about it. There are of course limits. Genocide is a limit. The world citizens should act and encourage their governments to act.

  4. Materialism is bad. No good can come from coveting thy neighbour's goods. Living beyond your means and buying 4 pairs of £300 jeans on your credit card is bad. Envying Paris Hilton and all she stands for is bad.

  5. It does appear to me that we are contributing to Global Warming and if we can reduce our tendency to burn up the earth’s natural resources needlessly then we should do everything we can to stop. Maybe we aren’t responsible for global warming. Maybe all the science is wrong. But it can’t hurt to reduce our C02 emissions and dependency on oil from countries with oppressive governments and violent religious tendencies.

  6. Some people will always be evil but how can you argue with the fact that yes, if people were nicer to each other the world would be a better place? Just because others are evil doesn't mean you have to be.

  7. I do believe that there can be a balance between the drive towards excellence of the individual and a social conscience way of living. It is a difficult balance. Governments and the individuals they represent struggle with it every day.

  8. Every child in the world should have access to basic health care including immunizations and mosquito nets.

  9. Every child in the world should have access to education.

  10. Rich does not equal bad. Bill & Melinda Gates are using their wealth to change the world. If all wealthy people did this the world would be a different place.

  11. Peace on earth does not require a very strong military super power to act as the world’s police force. It does require a coalition of the world’s nations to have a dialogue and take corrective action when a nation’s leaders or citizens behave badly and don’t act for the greater good of all.

  12. 9/11 was a tragedy. It was not an inside job. It was not the fault of the people of the US. Not sure how anyone could ever doubt my position on this.

  13. One man’s freedom fight is another man’s terrorist. Avoid violence. Encourage dialogue.
There is more to me than these 13 points. My husband has known me for almost 8 years and he still doesn’t know all of me. I’m still discovering me myself. As I live each day I am on a journey of discovery. I learn something new every day. I educate myself and sometimes as a result of the dialogue I change my mind. There are very few things I know for sure.

Dog Health

Bailey is nearly recovered from his surgeries. The swelling of his manly jewels has come done and he can now walk without looking like he's been in a saddle for 4 months. The incision on his stomach had the stitches removed yesterday afternoon. There are still some stitches on the inside but I d believe he is well on his way to recovery. He didn't get any infections and the hair on his chest will grown back.

What you ask does all this mean and why should I care?

This dog is a spaz. He is a 10 month old golden Labrador and is taken for at least 2 walks/day for at least 2 miles/each. He also swims daily in the river. He then is tolerable in the evenings.

During his infirm, he could not be exercised to the desired degree of exhaustion and we nearly all had a nervous breakdown. He actually knocked Abigail over on 3 different occasions.

Yesterday afternoon and last night was a different story. Marc took him to work with him (to different client's offices-the ones who don't care) and then ran him ragged. He laid down about 6:30 pm in his bed and didn't move a muscle.

To be fair, that's what we all did!