Sunday, 30 September 2007

An Amazing Story of Survival

This is an amazing story of one woman's strength and a rather sad tale about the failure of police to search for her because they thought her husband had harmed her.

Why is it so much easier to believe bad stuff? And why does the criminal justice system assume the worst first?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I had never heard of Paulo Coelho until I picked up one of his books in a book sale. When my friend, Gill, heard that I loved the one book I had read she arrived at my door the very next day with the entire collection of his books. Apparently, she had a set I could borrow!

I added her collection to my stack of books to be read. It might have been at this point that my husband started complaining that our bedroom was starting to look like an used book shop. I was flattered. I like that look; bookshop chic, I call it.

I finally picked up the recommended starting point in the stack: The Alchemist which is his most famous and most widely read. I won't tell you all about it here because quite frankly clicking on that will give you the Wikipedia entry and it tells it a whole bunch much better than I could.

I will tell you what I thought about what it said, which by the way is what book reviews should do, I think.

This book is a fable for reminding people to follow their dreams. It would be a great book for high school or college graduates who are trying to find their bliss. I enjoyed the book but felt it was a bit obvious and simplistic. I wasn't mesmerized by the language the way I was with his previous book.

I also found the tale about sacrificing everything and everyone around you to make yourself happy to be too self-centered to be relevant to me. Maybe I'm just at the wrong place and time in my life for this lesson.

It's a sweet tale but not for me.

Shopping

Windsor has had a dramatic makeover the last 18 months. When I first moved here, it was difficult to get a decent meal in the town. And the shopping was atrocious. There were some great pubs (outside the town centre) and some good pubs near the town centre. There was an appalling commercial block built right in centre which housed a small supermarket. It was a real eyesore.

But it had its appeal. The town centre wasn't crowded with shoppers just tourists. And Windsor gets a lot of tourists especially in the summer! But tourists don't really go to the supermarket or Woolworths or Daniels. So if you stepped into a shop, you almost had a little oasis.

We would quite often head off to London, Reading, Guildford or Uxbridge to do our shopping. And we never went into the town centre to do our grocery shopping. Parking was a nightmare and there was simply no reasonable selection if you were doing birthday/Christmas shopping. And there was nothing HIP about this town.

About 2 years ago planning permission was granted to tear part of it down and rebuild. Since that time, Windsor has pretty much looked like a building site.

We are nearing the end of this phase and Windsor is looking hot. The new centre opens mid-October although a couple shops are open now. They've doubled the cost of parking in the multi-story car park.

I suddenly realised now Windsor is going to be full of both shoppers and tourists. Oh No! What have we done?

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Lurkers

My blog community mostly consists of lurkers. These are visitors to the blog who never ever leave a trace that they've visited except for me to see they've been counted on my sitemeter.

Janell faithfully leaves comments to nearly every post I make. Clare makes occasional but deep and meaningful comments. My mother used to comment. My sister used to comment. My sister's blog has fallen into disrepair due to lack of attention. A few work colleagues rarely comment (you know who you are).

But now I'm having a crisis of confidence. My lurker audience is shrinking and I'm not sure what I'm dong wrong. I'm still getting those faithful commenter but my site visits have sharply dropped off in the last month.

Visits fell during August. I chalked that one up to my lack of posting for nearly 2 weeks due to annual leave/holidays/fun in the rain (or not).

But this month the visits dropped even more. Unless I get over 300 visits in the next 2 days (unlikely given it is a weekend which sees my lowest daily visits) I will fail to exceed my visit high set in July this year. Should I care?

Ideas? Tell everyone you know to visit my blog, please!

Friday, 28 September 2007

Winning the Lottery

I am not a fan of the lottery. My husband will occasionally sneak the purchase of a ticket past my watchful eye but generally I avoid the whole game. This week I am making up for my previous avoidance.

The Euro Lottery is at £88m. A guess at the current exchange rate puts the jackpot at approximately $160m. OK, so I'm willing to make an exception this week. Normally the odds of winning the Euro lottery hover somewhere around 1:75 million. Since the £88m cannot be rolled over and must be awarded this week if no one matches all the numbers the winnings will be distributed amongst the next set of matching numbers. This means the odds of winning have substantially shifted in our favour.

I approved a purchase of a £1 lottery ticket which in my husband's world translates to £30. This is what is known in financial circles as the Marc Conversion rate.

He got home. I examined the tickets. And immediately starting making a list of everything we would do with the money. So far we've only spent about £2.2 million. We could split the winnings with a lot of people and still get £2.2m.

Draw is at 10:25 pm (GMT). Stay tuned.

Surprise

I don't normally like surprises. My husband loves surprises and loves surprising me but I hate them. Normally.

Yesterday evening just before we went up to bed my husband suddenly announces that a box had arrived for me during the day. Just like him to forget something so amazing!!!!!! And surprising!

He went and got the box which he had put down in the garage. I got VERY excited when I realised it was a box from Janell (a member of my extended family). She blogs over on One Square Mile.

I knew this box held my Family Cookbook. But the box was huge. My sister had told me the cookbook was huge but surely it hadn't grown to be this BIG.

I opened the box to find not only my treasured cookbook but also some amazing goodies sent with love from the shores across the Atlantic. I looooove Cap'n Crunch. My husband loooooves Apple Jacks. My children loooooove Mac n Cheese. We all love Stove Top stuffing! And the green chiles are going to make an excellent green chile this weekend!

Thanks and Big Hugs to Janell for being soooooo thoughtful.

Oh and well done on the cookbook! Just like my nanny, Joyce, I love reading cookbooks. I read them like others read novels. This one kept me up well into the late hours of last night. I can't believe how much it has grown! I was mildly embarrassed (and flattered) that Janell had published some of my blog posts under the Family History chapter. And I can hardly wait to try some of the recipes.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

What do you Dream?

I wrote a post about unfulfilled dreams and felt that it was a bit unfair because I didn't get a chance to talk about all the dreams I still have. Indulge me!

My biggest dream is that my children grow up and believe I am the greatest mom. Ever. I hope we maintain a close, healthy relationship as adults. I don't kid myself into thinking we will make it through the teenage years unscathed. Two Words: Boarding School!

I dream of retiring financially secure with a solid plan for the future. This includes paying off our mortgage on both homes we own and being completely debt free. Every financial decision we make is geared towards that goal. We invest in our children's education so they will support us when we are old (just kidding!).

I dream of being married to my husband for many years to come.

I dream of spending countless hours sitting on the porch of a beach house reading, knitting or quilting watching my grandchild(ren) run around on the beach whilst my grown children wait on me hand and foot.

I dream of long sailing holidays in warm sunny tropical locations.

I dream of a world where children are not afraid, ill or illiterate.

I dream the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series.

I dream of being skinny again.

What do you dream?

Basesball as a Metaphor

I love baseball. Baseball is life.

One of my favourite memories of my childhood is going to the minor league Denver Bears games at the Old Mile High Stadium which also doubled as the football stadium for the Denver Broncos before the new stadium was built.

September is my favourite time of year largely because it is the time of year that marks the race for the pennant. The last trades have been made weeks ago and the teams are what they are. Players play through the pain of their injuries. They play through the fatigue of a season that starts back in March/April with spring training and runs for nearly every day during the summer with the exception of travel days (2/week) and the All Star break week. Every game counts. Every at bat counts. Every pitch counts.

Baseball is a metaphor for life. Large periods of inactivity with intermittent short bursts of pure toe curling, thrilling, excitement. A whole bunch of people doing their individual best benefiting the overall team. The lazy days of summer make way for the dash to the World Series and only the best will make the cut.

Bring on the World Series!

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Child Free Shopping

When my children were enjoying their time with their Granny this summer, Marc & I went shopping. OK, this might sound like an odd way to spend quality time with your husband but trust me, it was divine.

We didn't have to stop every 15 feet to go to the toilet.

We wondered through a book store and actually browsed the book shelves rather than grabbing random things that caught our eye as we kept everything else from tumbling down in the wake of our children running full throttle through the aisles.

We bought stuff for ourselves and nothing for the children.

We ate lunch out. Just the two of us. We each ordered for ourselves and no one else. I drank my drink without having to give any a taste. I had to cut only my food. I actually finished every thought and sentence I had.

My husband and I finished discussions that have been going on in our house for the last 4 years.

We didn't rush to get home to save paying for an extra hour for the babysitter.

No one threw a tantrum when it was time to go (ok, I did throw a little one but only because the day had to end!)

Marc even enjoyed the shopping! A little bit.

It was a dream!

Love Shield

Everyday my daughter insists on giving me kisses and a cuddle as I walk out the door of our home to start my day. She blows me kisses and tells me to have fun. By the time I get to the bottom of the path she gives me a big thumbs up.

I take all of this into my car and let it cover me. I consider it my Love Shield as I head into the lion's den of my corporate office. Nobody can touch me with my love shield on!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

First Jobs

When I graduated from university and started my career as a cobol programmer I had to pause and consider where my working life had started.

My parents had divorced. We didn't have much money. And I wanted some groovy clothes. And I wasn't gettin' those from my parents. So I needed to get a job. But I was 15. And it was illegal for a 15 year old to get a job.

But I had this friend, Robin Longo. And her mum had this boyfriend who owned a tropical fish store just 4 blocks from my house down on Colfax Avenue in Lakewood, Colorado. And Robin already had a job there. And she was only 15.

I asked Robin if she needed any help. She said yes. Of course she did. She was 15.

So we asked the owner and he said I could help too. And this is how it worked. I worked Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Friday evenings. During the week we only worked after school from about 3:30 to 8 pm when we closed. It was usually slow enough at some point in the evening for us to get our homework finished. During the weekends we worked all day. Usually the owner would come in to help us as these were our busiest days.

I knew nothing about fish when I started working there. And I got no training. I taught myself. I read all the books in the store. And I learned how to set up salt water tanks and how to change water and how to feed fish. I watched sea horses give birth. I learned how to diagnose sick fish and how to test water for alkaline. I could advise people on what size and shape of tank was best for different types of fish. I could explain to people how to set up salt water environments. And it worked. They would come in very excited and buy more fish.

We had total responsibility for the store. When we got there the owner left for the afternoon and we locked up. We had keys to the store. We had to open up and feed all the fish. We had to clean tanks, stock shelves and hoover the floor during the day. We had to turn off all the lights and lock up when we left. No one watched over us. We just did it.

We counted the day's sales and reconciled that with the cash in the drawer. We prepared deposits for the bank which the owner would make the next day during the week.

As far as pay went, well, we got minimum wage. And we calculated what he owed us ourselves and at the end of the week we took our earnings from the cash register. If we needed some cash during the week, we took it out of the till and wrote him an IOU. I was honest to a fault. Sometimes if we made really big sales he gave us a wee bit of a commission.

The saddest day was a Sunday morning when my grandparent's came over and told me that there was some kind of commotion down by the fish store. Robin had worked the Saturday before and I was due in on Sunday morning but not for a few more hours. We didn't open until 10 am.

I hopped on my bicycle and went down there. The fire trucks were there and asked me if I knew anything about the store. I explained that I worked there. They asked me to contact the owner. I did. He said he'd be right there.

In the meantime I explained to the firemen that some of the fish were very expensive and some were very dangerous. They asked me if I wanted to see if there was anything worth saving. And keep them from getting poisoned. They gave me a hat and I went in with them. It was the first and only time I've ever seen and smelt the devastation of a fire.

There was very little worth saving. I cried when I saw my little sea horses.

Apparently the fire was caused by an electrical short in a pump in one of our isolation tanks in the back. Robin had done all the right things when she shut down the store the night before. There was nothing anyone could have done to prevent the fire. Luckily no one was hurt.

But the store was a total loss. The owner didn't want to start over. And I was unemployed.

Still to this day, I've never had a job that gave me so much responsibility. I've never had a job that gave me so little training and left so much up to me and my judgment. I've never had a job that trusted me to do the right thing so completely. I've never had a job that paid so little. I've never had a job I loved so much.

A few weeks later I got a job at the Wendy's next door. They just assumed I was over 16 since I had run the fish store next door. I told them the truth the day I celebrated by 16th birthday a few months later. They couldn't believe it.

Simpsonized

My husband Simpsonized me (whatever that means). I think he's got too much time on his hands.

Monday, 24 September 2007

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This was last month's selection for my book group. I couldn't go to the book group meeting because it was on the same night as the Nursery Parent's Evening at Abigail's school.

This was a serious shame.

This was one of the most disturbing and fascinating books I have ever read. I can't even begin to tell you what it all meant. I was desperate to discuss it with someone else. Anyone else.

A father and son are trying to get from somewhere in the middle of the USA to a coastline, I presume the west coast after the world (or at least the USA) as been annihilated. We don't how or who or what has caused the destruction. Only that there might be hope.

It is a world of ash and bitter cold where cannibalistic marauders roam the countryside. In this dire place, a man and his son travel towards the sea armed only with a revolver and two bullets. Amid this desolation, a tin of canned pears is a treasure, and a broken wheel on their shopping cart can mean the difference between life and death. Their love for each other is fierce, but the son fears that his father has, in his desperation, become as savage and brutal as the world around him. Cormac McCarthy writes with a searing white heat, his images and language strike deep in the reader, and his vision of humanity is inexorable and haunting.

The book reads more like poetry than prose. The dialogue is painfully honest and lyrical.

Read this book. Don't forget it. Think about it. Perhaps read it again. And again.

When you figure it out, let me know.

NOTE: Since I wasn't there I'm not sure what the book group selection for next month is. Will keep y'all posted.
LATE EDIT:
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney is the choice for October.

Great Fire of London

Sunday was cycling day in London. And if you know me at all, you know, this isn't something that would miss my radar. But it wasn't in the papers. And it wasn't on the radio. It wasn't on the Internet. Even now if you google "cycle London" you get nothing about Sunday's activities.

And we probably wouldn't have even noticed, to be honest. But this day was also the day that we choose to go into London and see the monument which had been erected in memory of the Great Fire of London.

It took us ages to get to the far side of London where the fire started in Pudding Lane which is in the City of London near the Tower of London inside what used to be the medieval city of London. All major roads were closed due to this cycling event which was supposed to rid central London of cars. Shame they didn't tell the tourists.

Sebastian is learning about the Great Fire of London in school. And given that I was educated in the USA, I don't know much about it. I mean, one can only learn so much about the history of other countries in the 12 years of primary education and 4 years of further education and sadly this didn't make the list.

After educating myself on the salient points on wikipedia, we set off.

After 2 hours of fighting the traffic we finally arrived at our destination only to find that the monument was covered from top to bottom in scaffolding. It is being cleaned and refurbished. We couldn't even get close to it. Luckily for me, I have an understanding son, who along with his mummy and daddy, just laughed about the whole situation.

Tell the World

My husband took out the rubbish tonight without me asking! I didn't even look at him with that evil eye.......

Is the world still spinning? Will the sun rise tomorrow morning? Has hell frozen over?

Reading to My Children

We started reading to Sebastian when he was about 6 weeks old. Seriously. I would sit in his bedroom, next to his crib, as he was falling off to sleep, with a low lit lamp on, in my rocking chair, reading a book. For about 15 seconds. Or until the shrill of his cries drowned out my voice.

But seriously, folks. Once he grew up a bit....about 1 year old, we did start reading to him. And he was a very good listener.

Last year we worked our way through the Narnia trilogy which was a gift to Sebastian for Christmas. At first we thought he wasn't quite following the story. But when we quizzed him on it one night, he proved us woefully mistaken. he could remember what happened from night to night much better than I could. We so underestimate the power of active listening and until a child can read everything for themselves active listening is all they have!

I was not impressed with the Narnia trilogy. I know I am going to get some flack for this. But let's face it, I am NOT a fantasy or science fiction fan. I didn't find the writing magical or the characters fascinating. It all seemed a bit flat.

During the summer we had taken a break from our out loud readings and let Seb read what he wanted to at bedtime. I was contemplating considering letting this continue during the school year when I read an article (O Magazine again, girls!).

This woman (American expat living in Italy married to an Italian) felt the relationship with her son was slipping through her fingers. He was growing up (12 yrs old or so, I think) and she felt like she had lost a vital connection to him. And whilst she knows this has to happen at some point, she felt it was just a bit too soon and wanted to connect with him.

So, she started reading to him whilst they waited for the school bus every morning. She read to him on of her childhood favourites, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

When I first read the magazine article I thought oh, yeah, like that's going to work. And then I thought back to that book and how much I loved reading it when I was growing up. And then I thought hey, that might work. Hey, this is something we can start now. Why wait for us to lose any more connection?

You see, my son loves Pokemon. No I don't mean loves Pokemon. I mean LOVES Pokemon.

And you see, I don't. Full stop. Am bored stiff. Can't get my head around it. Have tried. Have failed. Not going to go there. So I needed to find some common ground.

I FOUND it! We've started reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. I've always wanted to read the book. And now I've got the perfect excuse. This particular book was a Christmas gift from Uncle John & Auntie Mary to Sebastian a few year back. It is a beautiful hardback that has some of the most amazing illustrations I've ever seen not just in a children's book but anywhere.

We are managing about 5 pages/night so this is going to take me a bit longer than I normally take to read a good book. We have made it to about Chapter 5 and I am loving the book. It is truly a literary masterpiece. The language and style in which it is written is captivating. I am also loving watching Sebastian love the book. And I am watching Abigail peek around the corner of the door asking if she can listen in too. Not sure that she gets it but she is trying awfully darn hard.

This just might be one of the few things I get right as a parent. Not counting my chickens yet but one can dream.

Blog Hiatus

My mother rang earlier this evening and asked if I was ok. I was knee deep in homework and laundry and dinner preparations and animal feeding time and was puzzled by what she meant by "ok". I mean I was as ok as I ever am at 5:30 on a Monday evening (or any weekday evening at that time).

I should actually make it a rule not to answer the phone at that time but sometimes returning phone calls takes more effort than just answering the dang phone.

I told her I was fine and asked why she asks. Seems my mother got worried that something had gone horrifically wrong in my household because there had been no blog post for the last 2 days and there was no explanation for the lack of blog posts and my mother thought that was just a bit too out of character. As any mother does, she jumped to the worst case scenario and thought we had possibly been murdered in our homes.

Man, that would be something to blog about! But no, I've simply been racing around like a maniac and having some 'puter problems and man oh man, Facebook is sucking some time from the blog. There, I've said it.

Similar to my sister's Guitar Hero addiction, I just can't stay away from Facebook. And this isn't good. Mostly because I don't enjoy it as much as I do the blog. And some things on Facebook I just don't get. Like can anyone tell me why we are throwing food at each other?

Anyway, I will try to not skip 2 days in a row without posting unless there is a good reason. but if it does happen, please look for me on Facebook and don't assume we've been hit by a tornado (although a tornado did hit the UK today in a couple places - but that's another post!)

The People You Meet

On Saturday I had a rare partial day off of my usual role of wife and mother (and all that implies) and was just a woman hanging out with her girlfriends.

We went to the cinema and saw a real chick flick (Atonement, highly recommended, if you are interested). Then we went out for lunch at the Runnymede Hotel & Spa not too far from our home. One of my girlfriends brought a friend of hers, Pam, who turned out to be a real honest to goodness movie star. Well, sort of.

Can you be a movie star if you are behind the scenes rather than in the scenes? My answer: Of course you can!

Half way through lunch I noticed that Pam was wearing two charms around her neck which appeared to resemble Oscars. You know, those awards that you win for outstanding achievement in the film industry.

I reached for them and asked her if they were hers, not really expecting a yes. I thought she would just tell me she was an avid film buff.

Instead she replied, "No, they belong to my husband. He won 2 Oscars before his death in March last year."

Well, blow me over!

I reached for my "blog notebook" which I now carry with me everywhere I go to capture blog ideas that hit me at the most unexpected moments.

I then learned I was eating lunch with Pamela (Mann) Francis the wife of the late Freddie Francis. Pam was a "Continuity Girl" before they were called Script Supervisors. Freddie was a cinematographer (which won him both his Oscars) and a director. In fact he directed one of my favourite girlie films, The Man in the Moon, starring a just discovered Reese Witherspoon who had answered an open casting call in Tennessee. One of his Oscars was for Glory, one of my favourite all time war movies about the Civil War,

I did ask her what in the world a Continuity Girl does. I've always wondered about all those credits at the end of a film. Pam explained that, for example, in the film we had just seen, a servant boy carrying suitcases is wearing his cap in the house. Pam told us that the job of the script supervisor is to ensure that things like that don't happen. I told her I still didn't understand. In the period of the film, a male servant would NEVER have worn his cap in the house, she explained. Ah! She also pointed out that the swimming caps were far too loose for that time period. I was starting to understand. It was the job of the Continuity Girl to make sure everything fits with the time and place and is remains the same throughout.

She would drop comments into the conversation like "Katie was always fun to work with" when she was referring to Katherine Hepburn. Or "George walked over and asked me what I was doing at the Oscar ceremony" when she described her Oscar experience and bumping into George Lucas whom she worked with extensively on the Star Wars series of films. She also expressed disappointment over not being able to afford to go to the first Oscar ceremony (1967) for Sons & Lovers and disgust when she explained that Mr Francis forgot to mention that it was his wife's birthday during his acceptance speech for his second Oscar.

I also found out that a Gaffer is a the chief electrician and the Best Boy is his assistant.

Oh, the people you meet and the things you learn!

Editor's Note: I created the Wikipedia entry on Pamela Francis and made minor edits to the entry on Freddie Francis based on my interview with Mrs Francis on 22 September 2007.

Friday, 21 September 2007

1969 Online Shopping



The only thing they got wrong was who was paying the bills......

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

This book has been in the top 5 bestsellers (paperback) all summer. I had never heard of the author and I was very confused by the premise of the book: set in the late 50s, in Italy, in an ancient garden, 2 murders ( 1 old/1 new) and a young English art student writing his dissertation.

But once you start, you are captivated by this enchanting and original story. The mysterious plot is full of twists and turns. It took me a while to figure out what it was all about. But once it falls into place, you are swept along and the detailed descriptions of the Italian landscape are beautifully written evoking smell and temperature as well as the vistas. The characters are original and funny without being caricatures. The ending was a real shocker.

This is not a long book. Nor is it an intellectually challenging read. But if you enjoy a nice little murder mystery to relax with on a rainy day (or 2), this book is for you. Especially if you love Italy as much as I do!

Joy

Think back to that post about Sebastian learning to play the piano. Did you feel my fear and apprehension?

Today we walked next door to the neighbour's to practice Sebastian's piano. He's had 2 lessons to be honest I wasn't expecting much.

He sat down. he opened his music book. he placed the music on the piano. And he read the music and played the songs. He showed me where middle C was on the piano. And he showed me what it looked like on the music. Then he showed me D. He played his assigned homework and then wanted to carry on. So we did. He showed me B. And he didn't want to stop. So I let him continue as long as he wanted.

When we got home after practising at the neighbours, Sebastian said to me "I'm playing notes in my head. All I can think about are notes notes notes!"

And all I can feel is joy joy joy!

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Colorado

There is a common interest group over on Facebook that I just joined for "anyone and everyone who lived, grew up or is living in Colorado. Here are the 13 criteria for joining:

1. You know and take pride in knowing where the spaceship/mushroom/oval house is off I-70 that was in the Woody Allen movie "Sleeper" and "Charlie's Angles".

2. When someone says T-Rex, you think of the massive backup on the interstate and not the dinosaur.

3. The fast lane is for cruising and the slow lane is for passing.

4. You have permanent grooves in your knees from The Chipmunk at Lakeside.

5. "I'm going to Red Rocks" is heard at your house every summer.

6. You never pack away your coat and sweaters.

7. You laugh at people who think you live in such a cold state...Colorado gets over 305 days of sun a year (more than Florida)!

8. You have surge protectors on every outlet.

9. You think that 6 inches is an acceptable following distance on I-25.

10. You can outlast winter in any other state but humidity in the summer is out of the question.

11. Thunder has set off your car alarm.

12. You lose all sense of direction when you lose sight of the mountains.

13. You've snowboarded in a t-shirt and shoveled snow in shorts.

14. You have gone from heat to A/C in your car in a day.

15. Wear Sunglasses when your windshield wipers are going.

16. You know where Shane Co. is, just off Arapahoe Road and Peoria Street.

17. You have had people from other states ask if Southpark is real.

18. Everyone thinks your crazy for being on top a 14er and riding your bike 20+ miles.

19. You know all the "real" seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, summer and construction.

20. You can never figure out why your out of town guests faint from altitude sickness on a picnic to the mountains.

21. The bike on your car is worth more than your car.

22. You're able to drive 65 miles per hour through 3 feet of snow during a raging blizzard without even flinching.

23. You carry jumper cables in the car and your girlfriend knows how to use them.

24. You design your kid's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit.

25. You can drive over a 12,000-foot pass in 4 feet of snow, but can't get to work if there are 4 inches of snow.

26. Your golf bag has a 9-iron, a 3-wood and a lightning rod.

27. A bear on your front porch doesn't bother you nearly as much as a someone in Congress does.

28. You know you're from from Colorado when you know the meaning "Too cold to snow."

29. You know you're from Eastern Colorado when someone has gotten out of their car looking really confused and asked you, "So where are all the mountains?

30. You know that you lived in Colorado just because your just awesome.

Yep, I'm a member!

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Piano Lessons

One of my greatest regrets is that I never learned to play an instrument. I blame my parents. I don't think they pushed me hard enough. And the organ doesn't really count.

So with that in mind: Sebastian started piano lessons on Friday. As you most of you will know (since many of you will play a musical instrument), practice is the key to success (assuming you are mildly talented). And we don't own a piano.

Now, I am not going to rush out and buy a piano. Ah, but the neighbours have one. And we have a key! Mwuh-ah-ah-ah!

No, I better ask.....Emma & Si are happy for Seb to do his 10 minute practice time 3 times/week. But we've only just begun. Now I'm questioning my sanity.

We bought his first music book. I opened it up. Since I don't understand it how am I supposed to help him? Can he take kazoo lessons?

Monday, 17 September 2007

Minor Setback

We lost our broadband service for about the last 24 hours. It all started on Saturday when our land line telephone had no dial tone and we could not make outgoing phone calls but we could receive incoming calls. We reported the fault to BT using our mobile phone. What did people do before mobile phones?

Mysteriously, without any contact from BT our land line was fixed.

Yesterday, just after posting to my blog, the broadband went down. Marc rang BT (again) and they said they knew there was a problem due to some works going on in Windsor. They also informed us that it may not be fixed until Thursday this week.

At this point both of us had a meltdown. Marc runs a business from our home and we depend on the broadband for email for the business. Not to mention my blogging/Facebook addiction!

One again, mysteriously, BT arrived at our home this afternoon at 1 pm. Luckily, Marc was here and they were able to isolate the fault to our line which runs from our garage (office) to our home. Even more mysteriously, another BT engineer appeared at 2 pm to fix our home land line (which was no longer broken). Marc sent him away.

When Marc and I bought our first home in Duke Street, we had some REAL problems with BT. They were unable to move our telephone number from my flat and had to install a new line. To make matters worse the telephone pole on our street was a health and safety issue and no engineer would climb it until the pole was replaced. It took over 8 weeks for us to get a working telephone line.

I was pregnant with my first baby. I was scared. Very scared. I couldn't ring my mother or sister. They couldn't ring me. Unless, of course, we used our mobiles which were outrageously expensive (still is for international calls). Daily I rang BT from my mobile and berated them. I would then hang up and cry my eyes out.

At times like these I need to remember to step back from the technology and just imagine life as it was before I had these conveniences. I do believe that life is different now than it was then and some of the support and processes that were in place for people to rely on then are no longer available to us.

For example, I am sure I wouldn't have been living so far away from my family during the birth of my first child if I hadn't had available to me these modern conveniences which make me feel still connected to them despite the miles. Or the fabric of my society would be woven much tighter and I would be able to rely on my neighbours for more support without them thinking I'm a weirdo. OK, they'd probably do that anyway. In fact, they do.

But life without broadband did mean I got all my gardening done outside yesterday! Always a good thing! The back garden looks a bit like the Texas chainsaw massacre took place but everything is cut back and nice and tidy and ready for the onslaught of autumn. Bring it on!

Ultimately, and the best thing is, we are back online. Hope you didn't miss me as much as I missed you!

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Foot and Mouth Outbreak

As if the flooding this summer wasn't bad enough we are now in the protection/exclusion zone for the foot and mouth disease. This Google search shows the extent of the infection.

Egham is the village next to ours. All events in the Windsor Great Park have been canceled including the carriage driving championships and the upcoming Running 4 Women 8K and half marathon. They have already culled several herds of cattle and pigs. The impact to the local economy is severe especially since the floods already destroyed many crops in the UK.

Our movements are rigorously restricted so there are no horseback riding lessons for Seb this weekend and we have to be careful where we go walking with Bailey.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

25 Skills for Women

I almost stole this and posted it as my own but....I decide to link to it instead!

Unlikely Friends

Murphy and Bailey have become the best of friends, sort of. Bailey thinks they are best friends and Murphy exploit s this to his advantage.

Kylie, our previous cat, was a lovely little kitten when we got him which was just before Sebastian was born. A few months later we took a holiday back to the states to introduce Sebastian to our family. Kylie was sent to a battery. He never recovered. He turned into a mean and horrible cat. One day Sebastian was crawling across the floor and Kylie grapped his little face with his claws. Seb bled. And cried. Kylie would swipe at your legs when you walked up the stairs with his claws out just for fun. I would cry each time he got me.

When we moved to our new home we hoped Kylie would burn off some excess energy out in the fields surrounding our house. He was less mean but never very nice.

Then Kylie disappeared. The week between Christmas 2004 and New Years 2005 Kylie went missing. We hung up posters and walked for hours around the area near our home. He never returned.

In March we went to a rescue centre for abused and abandoned pets with the intention of finding a new cat. We looked at the first room of cats and whilst they were all cute and needed a home, none of them connected with me. Which is odd really because I'm not much of a cat person.

Then we entered the second room. I walked straight up to the first cage on my left. And there he was. I thought I was being a bit foolish so I walked around all the other cages in that room. But I returned to the first one. I asked if we could open the cage and they said yes.

Murphy walked right up to me and nuzzled into my arms. He had a scab on his nose. He had been abandoned in an apartment with 2 other cats and the scab was from either pushing up against a door trying to get out or from licking condensation off a window. Murphy never let my hand leave his body.

We took him home. And he has turned into the best pet. He is very cuddly and greets us every night with a sweet meow. When Abigail is ill he keeps vigil by sleeping in front of her door.

Then in late November 2006 we decided we wanted to add a dog to the family unit. Yes, yes, yes: what were we thinking? Labradors were typically identified as the best family dog so we found ourselves a yellow lab.

When we went to the breeders she only had 2 left. One was a boy and one was a girl; brother and sister. The sister was bigger than the brother and she was a bit of a bully. The brother never seemed to get his far share of toy playtime or food. The brother went home with us. I am such a sucker for the underdog.

The first night of Bailey's arrival in our home, Murphy sat on the sideboard in the kitchen with his nose up in the air, thoroughly amused at what had arrived. He watched this little ball of fluff clumsily slide around the kitchen floor. I am sure he thought he wouldn't last long.

The next night, Murphy returned to the spot and with much disdain discovered that the fluff was still among us and gave Marc & I a very dirty look as if to say "You've got to be kidding."

Then he ran away. Actually he moved in with the next door neighbour and her cat, Tizzy, for 2 days. Then he came home and thought well I better figure out how to make this work.

Ever since then, Bailey and Murphy have forged a friendship, natural enemies learning to live and love together. When Murphy comes in from outside, Bailey comes running up to him. Murphy allows Bailey to lick the top of his head and the sides of his face. Sometimes Murphy lets Bailey smell his bottom. That's what good friends do apparently. Bailey waits for Murphy to fill himself when eating his breakfast and dinner, then Bailey moves in to finish it off.

When Murphy gets tired of him, he simply moves to higher ground and looks down on Murphy as he slides around the kitchen floor. Old habits are hard to break!

The Broker by John Grisham

I remember when I first read The Firm 15 years ago. Has it really been that long ago? It was published in 1992 and I devoured the book. It was a compulsive read. I immediately bought A Time to Kill which was actually published before The Firm but didn't have bestseller success until after the publication of The Firm and I still maintain it is better than any other Grisham novel I've read. I anxiously awaited every novel written by Grisham for years afterwards. I read The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Rainmaker, The Runaway Jury. I also watched the corresponding films.

And then I got bored.

It just seemed that the stories were much the muchness. Same old story, different names and places. Corruption and Idealism at odds. Little man/woman/child triumphant over corrupt politicians/power brokers.

So I haven't bothered to read the last 10 (or so) of Grisham's novels. The Broker was laying about in the gite we rented in France and I picked it up. My recent reading list has been rather heavy though and I decided my brain needed some candy.

As expected there is the usual conspiracies running amok, politicians going greedy, and a man in the middle paying for it whilst running all over the place trying to clear his name.

Also, as expected, I couldn't put it down once I started and read the whole thing in just a few nights.

Recommended only if you don't want to have to think about what you are reading but frankly I'd advise you to pick up something a bit more worthwhile.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Food as Science Theatre







The meal at The Fat Duck was sensational. I got the most joy watching Clare & Michael (& Marc) enjoy the 16 course Tasting Menu. It wasn't just about the taste but also about the theatre of presenting the food. My photos could only capture a very small fraction of the adventure involved.
There were a couple new things since the last time I was there including Whiskey Wine Gums which were attached to a map. It was a great way to taste whiskey!
We had a wonderful afternoon!

Yesterday Clare & Michael did some shopping and relaxing whilst I had to get some work done. We had a home cooked meal of lasagna courtesy of Mr. Marc. I tell you, I'd prefer to have his lasagna over The Fat Duck every day!

This morning we will deliver Clare & Michael to their hotel in central London for their return cruise back to the USA! I had so eagerly anticipated their arrival and their visit has seemed so short. My children instantly fell in love with them much like I did 20 years ago. Abigail was calling her Aunt Clare by the first evening.
Bon Voyage!

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Hampton Court Palace



Hampton Court Palace was built by Thomas Wosley, a trusted advisor and spin doctor for King Henry VIII. It is quite simply one of my favourite tourist attractions in England and if you have been one of my visitors, you have more than likely been taken there. I have been so many times I would hazard that I could give the tour myself.

But they do keep it quite fresh and since the last time I was there they have added several exhibitions which taught me loads that I didn't know. I love it when that happens!

Yesterday after meeting Clare & Michael at a half way point from their last visit (to Southampton) we set off for Hampton Court Palace. the most amazing thing was the grape vine. HCP has the oldest grape vine in the world. Look it up - it's in the Guinness Book of World Records. And since it is September, they were harvesting grapes. So we bought some and ate some. Hmmmm, they weren't seedless!

It was a glorious day so we got to walk about the astounding gardens. It seems every time I have gone to HCP previously it has been raining. This was the very first time that the sun was shining. Gloriously! Man, I want their gardener!

Last night we had a quick bite to eat at Wagamama's in Windsor. We left the children with Clare & Michael to do bath & bed whilst Marc & I went to Parent's evening for Year 2 at St George's school.

I don't remember learning this much when I was 6. I was exhausted just listening to the teacher talk about electricity and forces of movement and creative writing and spelling and multiplication and division. I'm sure I learned that stuff at 10 or so.

Today we are off to The Fat Duck in Bray. This will be my third time to The Fat Duck but with Clare & Michael being quite the food & wine connoisseurs I am really looking forward to this! I think I might have even talked Marc into trying the tasting menu.

Big thanks to Jackie for handling the school pickups and tea!

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Old Friends

Back in 1991 I moved to Germany and my life changed forever. Who I was and how I viewed the world shifted dramatically. I had to learn a new language and I had to make friends.

It was not easy to make friends in a foreign country, particularly Germany where friendships are formed during your early school years and who your parent's friends are. The Germans rarely move far from the place they grew up and hence they don't have a requirement to make new friends very often. The workplace is very formal and not a place for making friends either.

However, in the midst of my desperate loneliness I met Clare & Michael Workman. They both worked for PacTel Cellular who was one of the partners in the D2 consortium which was run by Mannesmann Mobilfunk.

Clare & Michael welcomed me into their home for numerous meals and Sunday afternoon film extravaganzas. We've gone on holiday together with our trip to Florence being one of the highlights on my travel diary with Rome a close second. Clare & Michael loved me and took care of me particularly after my relationship with a Canadian I had met over there broke down.

Clare & Michael left Germany a few years back and moved home to California. The last time they visited us was just (like a couple weeks) after Sebastian was born. We lived in a small 2 bedroom house that was barely big enough for us. My mother was also staying with us at the time. Didn't phase them one bit. they helped us take foot and hand prints of Sebastian for his baby book and whenever I look at those I always think of them. They are the most witty, clever, and generous people you will ever meet.

Well, they are back to visit us again and meet Abigail.

We've got a couple things planned but mostly we'll just be catching up with old friends! I am soooooooo excited!

Monday, 10 September 2007

Weekly Allowance

I wrote a post a while back about teaching children the value of money and how I thought this responsibility rested on the shoulders of parents. I had a lengthy discussion with my sister about this since she left me a comment which seemed to disagree with me. And I hate it when she does that!

I maintain that the value of money and how to manage it is a value passed from a parent to a child. Learning how to calculate interest on a loan is math so that sits squarely with the school.

Marc & I bought some money boxes for our children to aid our parenting goal of teaching children about money. The money boxes include separate compartments to Spend, Save & Share their money. The idea is that their weekly allowance is then divided up (at their discretion) between the 3 boxes. The money in the Spend box can be spent immediately, ie as soon as they get it or that weekend, for example. The money in the Save box can be saved up to be spent on an item that they have identified (say in a catalogue or saw in a shop) but don't have enough in the Spend box to buy immediately. The Share box is donated to charity (picked by the child - with your help) at intervals designated by the child. The children get to decide how much goes where.

The idea is that they get a weekly allowance for doing things above and beyond their normal responsibilities like brushing their teeth, taking a bath, making their bed, going to bed. These are all the types of things that they do in order to be a productive, happy member of the family. For example, I don't want to pay them to set the table because as a member of the family they must help me set and clear the table for meals.

Now, readers, I need your help. What sort of duties could a 6 and 3.5 year old do that could help them earn their weekly allowance? I'm really struggling with this. Sebastian is too young to mow the lawn. Abigail just ain't big enough to clear out the garage. We don't get enough snow for them to shovel the sidewalks. I've got to get this sorted and I don't know how to do it.....

PS I was very proud when Sebastian announced that the Share box was very important "since not every one is as lucky as I am". Now let's see if he can put his money where his mouth is!

I imagine that the discussion about worthy charities will also be interesting. Any ideas on that one?

What Next?

Over on One Square Mile, Janell marveled a few days ago about the power of satellite TV, amongst other things. OK, give her a break, she lives in Nebraska!

I asked her to imagine what the future might look like and where all this technology might be leading.

And then I found this!



What does the future look like?

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Loving School

This morning my daughter came running to me in a panic pulling on her pajamas holding the various items of her school uniform saying we were going to be late. She was convinced that we needed to get dressed for school.

I explained to her that she doesn't go to school on Sundays. This stopped her in her tracks. She thought about it a couple moments, stuck out her bottom lip and cried, "Why not?"

Remember when you used to love going to school so much you wanted to go every day?

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Bowling Shoes

Today was one of my shining moments as a mother!

Sebastian had a birthday party to go to this morning. Since the husband unit is off sailing the ocean blue (well, the Solent, actually) with some of his mates, I had to take Abigail with me to the party.

Upon arrival this was not a problem. Both traded in their trainers for bowling shoes and proceeded to thoroughly enjoy themselves hurling the heavy balls down the lanes.

The bowling alley plays loud music and has flashing lights so for a parent observing this can be a sensory stresser! The children enjoyed it but by the end of the 2 hours I was in a bit of a hurry to get out and give my ears and eyes a break.

I loaded the children into the car, did up the seat belts and headed for Windsor to pick up a couple of birthday presents. I went into the multi story car park, found a place and unloaded the children. We went up in the elevator and started walking towards the shops when Abigail started complaining that her shoes didn't fit.

At that moment I realised both of my children were still wearing their bowling shoes. I stood there wondering what to do. should I abandon the shopping and go immediately? Or would it be ok if I just finished the shopping and took back the shoes at my convenience?

We finished shopping. I noticed some people staring at my children's shoes. Maybe I was imagining it. But I don't think so! I never realised how obvious bowling shoes are. Well, I had but I just hopped no one would notice my children wearing them out and about. It could have been just a fashion statement!

We then went back to the bowling alley and a presented them with 2 pairs of shoes and told the lady what happened. She just nodded and said "Happens all the time."

Oh, thank god for that!

Cornwall Camping - Episode 2

But before we could go to the beach we had to check out the facilities at our campground. And they were superb. The campground had ample facilities to wash dishes and shower. They also only had 46 campsites so it wasn't mobbed.

For the children there was an extensive collection of farmyard animals: geese, calves, ponies, owls, lambs, goats, chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs). The children could feed them at 9 am. They could walk a goat and hold a rabbit and ride a pony and give a calf a bottle. There was a miniature golf and train which could be played on-demand. There were trampolines and climbing frames. The were courses to drive little kiddy carts on. And there were loads of other children to make friends with.

Marc and I sat on the porch of the cafe and enjoyed our coffee and read whilst the children played.

After a couple hours we packed up and headed for a beach, any beach. First stop was Harlyn Bay. The beach was packed and we decided not to stop. We went further down the coast and stopped to see the Bedruthan Steps. This is supposed to be the most dramatic piece of coastline in Cornwall. We parked, used the toilet facilities and got some ice cream. As we stared over the precipice I was trying to muster the courage it was going to take to get myself down these steps.

A couple people came up and said it was really worth the walk. They didn't look frightened and seemed to have survived the trek. So I psyched myself up and we went down. Now I ask you to remember back to the spiral staircase in France at Mont St Michel. Remember? I get vertigo. What was I doing going down a rackety steep curved staircase hanging out over a cliff? This simply wouldn't do!

The steps were uneven and steep. I had Abigail's hand and Marc had the dog and Sebastian's hand. I was in front of the decent and trying desperately to hang on to the handrail which was wobbly. We got about half way down and I am looking out over the cliff edge and I freak. I mean - REALLY FREAK! I froze. I couldn't move a muscle. Not another step. There were people behind us trying to get down and the children, sensing my fear, decided they weren't going down either.

We got ourselves turned back around and had to head back up to the top. I was hyperventilating and shaking when we got to the top. I felt like a right prat!

So far, we weren't doing so well trying to get ourselves to a beach!

Off down the coast we headed. Again.

And then we found Mawgan Porth. This was a cute little beach with loads of facilities. We got the very last parking spot and unloaded our beach gear. We stopped for some Cornish pasties and chips and then carved out our spot in the sand. The children played in the fresh water river that ran down through the middle of the beach. We made sand castles and Bailey played with the other dogs.

Several hours passed and we decided it was time to make a move for the supermarket and get dinner started back at the camp.

Sebastian helped me do the shopping whilst Marc and Abigail waited in the car with Bailey I find taking the children shopping to be a bit of an adventure. They've got quite an interesting idea about what one should eat! We didn't let him make many decision except for hot chocolate and the marshmallows for toasting.

We also purchased a proper tent for Bailey to sleep in since he seemed to have gotten quite cold the night before. The shop didn't have the tent set up so i couldn't tell how big of one I was buying. When we got back to the campsite and set it up it was huge! We practically needed another site for pitching it!

The following day we set of for Newquay (after suitable parent relaxation time at the campground cafe) and the famous Fistral Beach. Fistral is famous with the surfers. We went there a few years back when Abigail was just a baby. On that visit, Abigail ate the sand. I was hoping she had out grown that.

We had lunch at a super groovy surfer hostel and then went to get the children wet suits. Sebastian loved his but it took quite a bit of convincing for Abigail to keep hers on. She threw a raging tantrum in the surf shop but finally one of the shop assistants convinced her that she looked even cooler than the surfer chick in the poster on the shop wall. Abigail apparently decided she was cooler and stopped screaming long enough to not scare off the other shoppers.

The beach at Fistral is huge and the waves are even bigger. I wasn't too comfortable with the children playing in those big waves but the RNLI provide the life guards and there were loads of them. Marc and Bailey kept a close eye whilst I starred at the other people on the beach (I love sunglasses!).

It was very late when we decided to head back to the campsite and make dinner. Sebastian had spent the last couple evenings walking around all the other campsites and introducing himself to all the other people and their associated children (if they had them). This night saw several children appear at out campsite for toasted marshmallows. Sebastian had invited everyone round to ours! This boy is going to be a politician!

Thursday afternoon we walked round Padstow and did a spot of shopping. the town was very crowded and we could only find once place to eat our fish and chips that would let Bailey sit on the patio.

Friday was the best day! We took the advice of our campsite neighbours, Ian & Gina, and set off for Treyarron Beach. And this wins the award. We totally unintentionally saved the best for last. This is a beautiful cove with a beautiful beach and great facilities. Again RNLI lifeguards watch everyone. We watched the tide come in and start to go out again. The beach was shallow and loads of fun. There weren't mobs of people and Bailey loved the beach. Seb wasn't so keen on the sea weed but he got over it.

I sat and read a book. It was bliss!

Saturday morning we had the challenge of packing everything up and fitting it back in the car. You have no idea how difficult this was. We packed, unpacked and repacked about 3 times. I finally ended up with my foot well (and the children's) packed full of stuff. the drive home was uneventful (thank goodness!).

CAMPING VERDICT: YES YES YES! I will do it again and again and again. We had so much fun. I now know what to pack and how to pack it. Marc has bought a tow bar for the BMW and we are looking for a trailer so that we can avoid the fitting everything (and a dog) in the car issues! The children were fabulous and they loved the freedom and independence camping gave them.

We were very lucky in that we had gorgeous sunny weather although the evenings were a bit chilly and the mornings were very damp with dew. I am sure this (along with the wet grey France trip) contributed to my chest infection. But we loved it. We can hardly wait for our next camping adventure!

PS You might have noticed that there are no photographs to go with this story. This is not because I didn't take any. This is because the computer that has all my photographs stored on it has died. Not to worry though. I have loaded all the pictures up on Flickr. So I am using my Mac exclusively. As soon as we get the other computer working I will put some pics with the story!
LATE EDIT: We now have some photos although the computer is stil a bit dodgy. Flickr has the whole album of photos!

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Sicker than a Dog


Sorry readers......I am struggling to do anything! The cough that I have had for the last 6 weeks has morphed into a fairly serious chest infection. I've seen the doctors on 2 occasions and am on my second round of antibiotics. But I seem to be getting worse not better.

The air conditioning in the office induces uncontrolled coughing and I am currently suffering from persistent nausea. This may be as a result of the antibiotics but I can't really risk not taking it.

Today I felt feverish (which I haven't before) and am generally low on energy. I did go into the office but at the urging of my colleagues left after just an hour. Can't say I blame them. Who wants to work with someone who walks around hacking up a lung every couple minutes whilst infected every surface with their germs?

I'll be returning to the doctors in the morning and staying in bed.

Apologies for the less than inspiring posts. I promise to finish the camping saga as soon as I can muster the energy. In the meantime, enjoy the post of Abigail in her new school hat which I forgot to put on her for yesterday's photo session.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

First Day of School

Abigail looked so grown up in her school uniform. The book bag was almost as big as she is! She stood perfectly still whilst I plaited her hair.

She was ever so excited to be going to school with Sebastian. Last night she did announce she wasn't going to school but I think we talked her round.

And in the car this morning, her eyes were the size of saucers and I could tell that her brain was working overtime trying to figure out what it meant exactly to be going to school. She fidgeted with her book bag and kept saying out loud "I'm going to Sebbie's school." Not sure if she was trying to convince us or herself.

When we go to the school, Sebastian gave me the usual wave and hung up his own blazer and hat on his peg inside the door which is new for him this year. Within moments he had found an old friend, Rory, and he was off. I didn't even see him off to his classroom.

Abigail thought this was expected of her as well and at the top of the steps to the Pre-Prep Hall she puckered up her lips and offered me a kiss. I gave her a kiss and a cuddle and told her I would walk her down to her classroom. She didn't seem bothered either way.

When we got into the room she took out the presents we had collected during our summer holidays to give to the teachers and handed them out. She took one look at all the things on offer in the classroom and decided she was doing to do a spot of painting right then right now. Miss Brown, the classroom assistant, got an art smock on her and away she went. I don't think she even said goodbye.

It is such a relief to know that she is having fun and learning in a safe environment where I know they will encourage her to be all that she can be. But I can't wait to pick her up and hear all about it!


Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Cornwall Camping - Episode 1

A quick turn around of laundry and a rethink of the packing strategy was required.

For France, I was expecting hot, steamy, August weather. I packed up all shorts and strappy tops/dresses/short sleeve shirts. I missed that entirely and we all froze our tooshies off.

For camping in Cornwall I wasn't going to make the same mistake. I packed only trousers (no shorts), long sleeves, jumpers. Warmth was my objective.

Plus I hadn't ever camped in the UK before. And I've never camped with children before. I camped quite a bit years ago when I was a child with my family and in my 20s when I lived in Colorado. But camping in the UK is substantially different from camping in Colorado.

We had none of the equipment we needed so had been acquiring it over the last couple months: a camp stove, camping dishes, sleeping bags, air mattresses, etc. I felt we had just about everything we needed.

We spent much of Sunday trying to fit that everything into our car. Given that we were taking our dog, Bailey, with us this wasn't as easy as we had originally thought it was going to be. But Marc managed it and by 10 am on Monday morning we were off. We made fairly good time down the motorway until the last couple hours when we were diverted off the motorway due to a road traffic fatality. The little narrow roads of Cornwall are not designed to handle all that motorway traffic especially in August. It was a nightmare.

All in all though we only arrived 1 hour later than planned at our campsite. It was blowing boots though and setting up the tent in the howling winds presented Marc with more than a few challenges!

But we managed it. And we got dinner cooked. And then we went down to the beach. We thought we could walk it but the road was VERY narrow and in August and at dusk this probably wasn't a very sensible thing to do. So we drove the 800 yards, parked at the parking lot right across the road.

We followed the little path over the sand dune and voila! We were treated to a most spectacular sunset over a gorgeous little beach. there were 3 or 4 other people on the beach but it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Bailey and the children lost no time and got busy running about across the sand.

Then it was back to the campsite and into the sleeping bags. What is it with children and sleeping bags? Seb & Abby could hardly wait to get into theirs! The night was a bit rough because the wind continued to blow a hooley. The flapping of the tent woke Abby up but she went right back to bed. Marc & I were slightly concerned with whether the tent could withstand the battering it was taking. And poor little ole Bailey didn't have anything other than a wind block which we had set up on 3 sides that he could lay down in.

We woke in the morning to calmer winds and beautiful sunshine. Bailey was shivering so we knew we had to fix his sleeping arrangements. but all in all our first night was a success. No one peed in their sleeping bags. No one woke up in tears. OK, so I had some pretty low expectations.

After a quick breakfast, we were off. To another beach. Again.

To be continued.........

Willing

This morning on my commute I watched 3 sets of parents load their children into the family cars. The children were kitted out in their brand new uniforms with brand new book bags and their parents were hovering whilst recording the entire event with the trusty video camera.

I know that in less than 12 hours I will be doing the same as I pack Abigail off to her first day of school.

She is freaking out ever so slightly as the reality of what is about to happen is settling into her clever little brain. I don't think she is sure what it means to go to school and today she was desperately trying to convince me and the doctor that she was NOT going to school tomorrow.

I am sure that when she gets there she will just run off and play when she realises how much fun she is going to have. I will sulk off into a quiet corner and lick my wounds of motherhood.

It really is amazing how quickly they grow. I remember looking at my precious fragile little girl in the incubator as she struggled to take a deep breath with her under developed lungs and willing her to be strong. Surely that was just yesterday.

And tomorrow I will let go of her hand as she walks into that classroom. Willing her to be strong. Willing me to be strong.

Oh for heaven's sake, the tear faucet has sprung a leak and I don't think I'll sleep a wink!

The Last Hurrah of Summer







Yesterday after work, I took the children to meet up with some playmates in the Home Park in Windsor. We included all the children that will be entering Year 2 with Sebastian as well as some of the children that will be joining Abigail in Nursery tomorrow.

After suitably wearing them out running around the climbing frames and swings we all sat down and enjoyed our last ice cream of the season.

I can't believe the summer is over. How many days until Christmas?

Monday, 3 September 2007

France - Episode 8

This morning was going to be our last chance to hit the beach as a group since the Millichamp family were leaving on Friday midday. We loaded all the beach gear up after enjoying yet another breakfast of fresh croissants and pan au chocolate and headed for what was touted as the best beach nearby at St Germain sur Ay. the weather was partly sunny/partly cloudy (depending on your mood) and windy. And the beach was infected with loads of seaweed and these baby hopping crustaceans. But it didn't matter, Darn it, we were at the beach!

As we were setting up the wind block and the beach blankets I looked up to the vision of Abigail stark naked streaking down the beach towards the waves. I had to chase her down and explain to her that's not how it's done. Man, was she disappointed.

We built some sand castles and flew some kites and read some magazines and just generally relaxed.

After a few hours of this we set off to get lunch in Periers, a small village not far from our gite. We found a real gem at the hotel de Normandie. A very local place with a very small menu served us the best lunch EVER. Simple and inexpensive and delicious. The children had homemade (from scratch) turkey cordon blue.

We returned to the direction of the beach and went for play at a playground that we found near the beach. The most amusing bit was watching the French children trying to speak to the English children and not being entirely sure why they couldn't understand each other.

That evening Sean treated us to dinner and made Coq au Vin (chicken baked in red wine with mushrooms, onions, and red peppers). We complimented his gourmet efforts with green beans, roasted potatoes and carrots. We stayed up playing Rummikub which at last Helen did NOT win. Sean did!

The next day saw the Millichamp family off back to England by midday as Sean & Helen were going to the V Music Festival on Saturday afternoon. The Clare-Panton family set off north this time towards Cherbourg.

Cherbourg is a very large and busy port. And it is dirty and rundown. We had the worst and most expensive meal ever. And it was a restaurant recommended the Normandy Lonely Planet Guide. Man, was I cross?

We continued our exploring by driving along the Rout de Saire (which is the coastal road of the Cherbourg peninsula). Once you got away from Cherbourg it was beautiful. We drove across the peninsula to Barfleur and enjoyed a cafe au lait and ice lollies at a lovely cafe. The children ordered for themselves all in French. I was so proud!

We then continued our drive round the peninsula and headed for Utah Beach. Omaha Beach has been cleared of all the artifacts of war, like the German Bunkers. Utah Beach has left these in place and you can go and walk through many of them. You can see the scars left by the Allied bombings has they fought to wrest control away from the Germans. Utah Beach is somehow not as beautiful as Omaha but no less poignant. The cliffs of Utah Beach are not as steep as the cliffs of Omaha but the fortifications left behind give the visitor a sense of what the troops faced once they came up over the cliffs.

All this war memorabilia made me want to go back and watch Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers all over again.

The family returned to Periers and the Hotel de Normandie (the same place we went to for lunch the day before) for dinner. We got there at 20 minutes to 7 and waited for them to open at 7. By the time we got in, the place was jammed full of French people. We only just got a table and enjoyed yet another delicious meal. The dessert of creme caramel is to die for and I wouldn't even share that with my children! I made them get their own!

I had some oysters (which I LOVED!!!!!). I offered some to Sebastian and Abigail who didn't seem to keen. After a few minutes Sebastian replied back to me, "When I am 11, I will be old enough to eat oysters, so we must came back then and I will have one of your oysters." Sounds like a plan!

We returned to our gite and began the packing for our long journey home the next day. It was a long never ending drive. We set off around 10 am and swung by Hambye to visit our friend, Peter, who has a beautiful old house that is set against the walls of the fortified city and castle that used to be there. It is amazing at the amount of history just hanging out in his garden.

There were queues at every toll booth (again) and at one point we were fearful we weren't going to make it to the ferry on time. As we pulled in we were one of the last cars to join the queue. There was an emergency situation on the ferry docked next to ours and an ambulance as well as numerous police cars did board that ferry. However they must have disembarked after we were loaded as that ferry left port just immediately before us. Not sure what happened there.

We enjoyed the relaxing ride back (despite a packed ferry) and marveled at the White Cliffs of Dover. Home was a quick journey round the M25. Murphy, our cat, greeted us at the bottom of the driveway. He had obviously missed us loads! We unloaded the suitcases, started some laundry and hit the comfort of our own beds.

Stay tuned for camping adventures!

PS One fatality of our France trip was our goldfish, Toby. It seems that our neighbour, Richard, fed the fish on Sunday (after we left) but forgot to tell Lucy, his wife, about feeding the fish. So whilst Richard was working up in Edinburgh all week Lucy happily fed Murphy but knew nothing about the existence or requirements of our beloved goldfish. Hence, Toby was belly up on Sunday night when we returned home.

We kept this all a secret from the children and whilst we were camping, Toby 2 miraculously arrived in the tank. He looks remarkably similar to the original Toby and the children haven't noticed a thing!

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

In England, Middlesex is a county just outside London which contains Heathrow airport, the busiest airport in the world, which just happens to be less than 15 miles from my home. When Oprah named this book for her book of the month club, I thought cool, it's a book about the airport. And then I thought better. Why would Oprah be recommending what could only be a very dull historical fact regurgitation about the rise of one of the oldest, most rundown, worst airports in the world?

I bought the book. Oprah is rarely wrong.

And she wasn't this time. Middlesex isn't about Heathrow airport. Thank God! But it is about an hermaphrodite. Oh dear!

The book starts out going back 3 generations to introduce the ancestors of the main character, Calliope Stephanides. This attempts to provide a factual scientific and understandable answer to the question of how do these things happen. There is quite a long bit in the middle about Calli's grandfather and father that I don't believe ultimately contributes to the primary of the purpose but certainly makes the book more fun to read.

I envy the development of these characters. Each one is almost but not quite a caricature, taken a step further and the book would have been unbelievable as it drifted into being a cartoon. Not not as far, the book would have been dull and superficial. The depth and the integrity of these characters made my heart ache for them. All of them. They all fought demons. An author who can show that much attention to each and every person in their book is a great author indeed.

But most fascinating was Calliope. Prior to reading this book, I had little more than a sketchy idea of what it meant to be a hermaphrodite. I didn't understand the physical or biological parts of it. I didn't understand how it happened and what the effects were. I even suspected it was not entirely a true story but more one of those urban myths that you get chain emails about.

But this book made it real without being sensational or condescending. It never handled the subject as exploitative. The book is a fascinating and sensitive introduction to the world of sexual gender. And what it means when you are a bit of both making you absolutely neither.

The narration point of view jumps around a bit. Sometimes you are Calli and sometimes you are outside looking in. All points of view of beautifully written and more than once I read and reread a passage because it just took my breath away and I wanted to be astonished again.

The ending leaves you with a lot of think about in regards to nature vs nurture, not unlike We Need To Talk About Kevin (another one of my favourite novels). but the ending is brilliant. it doesn't answer the questions but give us a way forward. Just like life.

Highly recommended! Jeffrey Eugenides last novel, The Virgin Suicides, was written about 10-15 years ago I reckon. Let's hope it doesn't take him that long to write his next one.