Monday 30 April 2007

Sunday 29 April 2007

Walking Down Stairs

We live in a very old house. It appears in the 1895 census so it is at least over 110 years old. the stairs at steep and always makes me nervous when I go up and down. It makes me absolutely shiver with fear when my children go down. Sebastian is tall enough to hold on to the hand rail. Abigail on the other hand has not been tall enough. We have insisted, much to her disgust, that she go down backwards. She hates that. She wants t do what ever Shake (Seb) does.

Today my daughter walked down our stairs standing up tall holding on to the hand rail. All by herself. She was so proud of herself. I shed a few tears. My baby is growing up.

And this is how it goes. From the minute a child are born everything they do serves the purpose to make them independent, separate from you. If you are a good parent everything you do contributes to this. You want to raise adults, not big people who are dependent on you. But sometimes, just for a moment, I want the whole process to stop. I want to keep them little. I want them to need me. I want to carry them down stairs. I want to always tuck them into bed and read them a story. I want to pick out what they wear. I want to feel their little hands in mine and feel them breath when they cuddle with you.

A few days ago I went to pick up Sebastian. I suddenly realised he was too big for me to carry. Oh my god, when did that happen? I am now insisting on carrying Abigail everywhere, just so that doesn't happen without me noticing. I know that can't last forever and I know I don't want it to. But why must it all happen oh so fast?

Medieval Fayre

Our princess fairy became a rabbit and our Knight appeared to levitate. Good fun was had by all. thanks for the Year1 Mums who helped man the bouncy castle and the St George's PTA who did a fabulous job ensuring a magical environment for a sunny family day in the shadows of the castle. Big thanks to Louise for making the princess hats. Joy looks great! Our favourite part was the falconry show, particularly the wild peregrine which appeared out of nowhere and surprised even the falconers.

Saturday 28 April 2007

Week in Review

Last week was the children's first day back at school after the long Easter Holidays. They had 4 weeks off school. As you can see from the blogging activity, we were very busy. The children are exhausted as we go into the weekend and their parent's equally so. It's hard to get back into the swing of things. Mummy had a stressful week at work and Daddy was equally busy with work. Yesterday was one of those days that just didn't go according to plan. I missed the school pickup due to a traffic jam and rang one of the other mum's to help. Tara helpfully took Sebastian and Lewis to the park for me for a few minutes until I could get there. Jacki kept Abigail at home with her until I could get over to her house to pick her up. Thank goodness I have people to support me when things don't go according to plan.

Today is the Medieval Fayre at St George's School and the mums for Year 1 are running the Bouncy Castle. Seb will dress up like a knight and Abigail will go as a princess/fairy. It's the only costume she will wear! Photos to follow. Seb got 10 out of 10 on his spelling test, again! He worked very hard this week. They were spelling the days of the week and I even misspell Wednesday without the help of the spell checker. I am very proud of him.

The weather is beautiful so it should be a lovely day for a Fayre. Marc is mowing the lawn after getting a tire on his car fixed. They pulled out a 5 inch nail. Bailey ate one of my beautiful embroidered place mats that my mother gave me and we can't find Murphy. He will turn up when he gets hungry. The mountain of laundry is huge but won't get done today. Just another day in the life of our family.

Friday 27 April 2007

The Love of a Child

There are few things in this world that are sweeter than the love of a child. Actually, I'm not sure there is anything sweeter than that love. Tonight I tucked my children into bed. My daughter's hands are small and pudgy. Her knuckles are dimpled inwards. But her hands and arms are strong. She is pure and sweet and innocent.

I wiped her hair from her eyes. She wrapped her arms around my neck. I rested my head on her chest. She hung on for dear life. She announced she loves me. I told her I loved her as tears welled up in my eyes. She patted my back. She released me. I kissed the tip of her nose. She laughed when I told her not to let the bed bugs bite. She told me good night. I told her sleep tight. And she closed her eyes safe in the knowledge that no harm will come to her on my watch.

Physical Deterioration

My body is falling apart. At least it feels like it is. My complaints range from "mildly irritating" to "cause for concern and should see doctor about but haven't actually been able to schedule that in so I must be avoiding it".

Let's start with the mildly irritating and proceed to what might be slightly more serious (or the complaints of a hypochrondriac).
  1. I get itching attacks on my skin. Usually late in the evening my feet/hands will inexplicably start itching. There's no rash, no bites, no redness or swelling. No visible cause. Scratching doesn't make a damn bit of difference. Calamine lotion doesn't help. Then it just goes away. Until the next night.
  2. I've got athlete's foot that won't go away. I got this from a shower when Marc and I used to sail every weekend. The showers in those sailing clubs weren't the greatest. But I was young and foolish and immortal. Ever since then I get an attack every couple months. Used to be that a little cream between the toes and powder in my shoes would take care of it for a couple more months. Now, I've had this particular attack for 2 weeks. Cream in the morning and evening. Powder in my shoes and slippers. Washed all my slippers. Still got it.
  3. My feet hurt when I put any weight on them, like walking, a fairly mandatory daily activity. They hurt most in the morning when I get out of bed and late evening. Could be the ibuprofen I'm taking is masking the pain the rest of the day. The left foot hurts worse than the right. I feel like I'm walking around hobbling like a 70 year old woman. I remember how Nanny used to walk and I feel like I look just like her. Part of this is my weight (which is the topic of a whole other post). Steph thinks I've got spurs or something like that on my feet. I'm supposed to stretch my toes up towards my shins and this is supposed to help. So far, not working. Right now, ibuprofen is doing the trick.
  4. I'm getting regular throbbing to stabbing pains in my abdomen. Now you might think I am having appendicitis except that this pain is on my left side not my right. Oh, and I had my appendix out about 23 years ago. My sister is convinced that these are fibroid tumours. Whatever that is. She is insisting I see a doctor. She clearly hasn't tried to get an appointment with the NHS.

Before Nanny died she hated going to the doctors. She was afraid that one day she would go into the hospital and just never come home. And that is exactly how it happened. We reckon that she probably had cancer coursing throughout her body but at 84 she just decided she'd live long enough. I'm having seriously fatalistic thoughts at this point.

Thursday 26 April 2007

Lost Lessons

My mother is an amazing seamstress. As a young girl I have fond memories of watching her make me dresses. I have even fonder memories of watching her dress my 3 younger brothers in matching shirts which she made herself. I am sure they don't share my fondness for their moment of humiliation. But, in fact, they were amazing pieces of clothing. And her love for us shined through.

I never learned to sew. Well, a bit. My grandmother, Tressie - my mother's mother - was a professional seamstress. She sewed leather. She made me a full length purple leather pinafore with orange butterflies n it. this was the 1970s. It was the bomb. I loved it and I loved wearing it. She taught me lots of things like embroidering and a bit of sewing. So if I have to sew on a button, I can. I can hem a pair of trousers although don't look too closely. But I never learned the skill to her level of expertise.

I taught myself to cross stitch. I took a class to learn to quilt. I am teaching myself to knit. I can't crochet.

I can cook. My mother and Nanny taught me this. My mother gave me a sock darning lesson on this blog.

But are we teaching our daughters (and sons) these skills? When I first met Marc he couldn't sew on a button if his life depended on it. In the name of progress (and to some extent feminism), I feel we are going to lose these skills within the next generation. When I tell people I quilt, they look at me like I belong in an retirement home. I once saw a comment on a knitting blog that said women shouldn't be knitting. That it was cheaper and faster and better quality to just buy the sweater/socks/scarf in a shop. And isn't that what feminism was all about, freeing women from the slavery of knitting jumpers?

Uh, no! Feminism was about getting the right to vote, equal access to education and opportunity in employment as men. And getting paid the same money for the same work. Feminism is about owning the choices we make about what we can and cannot do with our bodies and living with the consequences. Feminism is about allowing men to be house husband without stigma and embarrassment. There's a lot of things that feminism is about. Not knitting isn't one of them.

I've also heard people say that homemade presents are just an excuse for not spending money. Well, maybe for some. But not many. As a matter of fact anyone who has done one will tell you that the supplies for making things yourself are often more expensive than just buying the finished product. And that's if you don't count the time spent. I can tell you time is money and my time is worth a lot. If I charged you for the scarf I'm making at my hourly wage, you'd have to remortgage the house.

No, these projects are about making something with your own hands and heart. Picking out the fabric/yarn/thread with your own sense of colours and style. And then spending time putting it together for someone you love. And, in the case of my quilting projects, bleeding on the fabric. And in the case of my knitting, cursing when I have to start over. And over. And over. And then giving it away.

When Sebastian and Abigail were born we received a couple of quilts which were hand made. And loads of other store bought blankets. The blankets are gone. They've served their purpose. The handmade quilts are still on their beds. Still being used. They get rotated around as laundry demands. And I am certain that they will one day be stowed away in a memory chest. But come a later date, they will be pulled out and looked upon lovingly in remembrance of the person who made it for them.

One of my most cherished Christmas decorations is a ceramic Santa Claus face. My mother-in-law painted it and gave it to our family for Sebastian's first Christmas. Every holiday season it hangs in prized position over our fireplace. Whenever I look at it I think of her. And how much she must love us to have spent so much time and care painting it and firing it.

We must teach our children these simple lessons. There are so many things to learn. So many things to be taught. Get busy. The next time you are tempted to get in the car and drive somewhere to buy something, consider the impact to the environment. And make something instead. And teach a child to make it with you. I will teach my children. Soon!

Wednesday 25 April 2007

Poetry Found

During my cyber rambling out and about in the www I run across some writings by authors clearly think they are more talented than I think they are.

And then there is that moment when something someone else has written absolutely hits you in the gut and connects with you on so many levels. And makes me laugh.

Brett did this to me. After you read this, look at some of his other stuff. Did any of it mean anything to you?

Work/Life Balance - A Family Issue

The Work/Life Balance is not a woman's issue. It is a people issue.

I am employed full-time at a large UK energy and utility company. I get flex-time in my working hours and location. The idea is I have a job to do with clear measurable objectives. I do what it takes to get the job done.

Marc run his own business from our home. He has an office in the garage. But running your own business doesn't have the flexibility you might think. He works hard and long hours trying to make his customers happy.

When we take annual leave (vacation), I get paid. He doesn't. When one of the children is sick, I can usually work from home or take the day off. He has to let a client down or re-arrange his schedule. The idea is he can start his day when he decides to start his day.

We have an ongoing conversation about whose career is more important. If I submit myself totally and completely to my career I could climb the ladder and make more money. If Marc succumbed to the demands of all his clients, he could build his small business into a massive enterprise. But both of us can't do this. We have children to raise. And our children are only small once. They need us and we've made a commitment to them. This commitment is our time and once spent you can't get it back.

So I start work at a silly hour in the morning. Marc gets the children up, feeds them their breakfast and dresses them for the day. He does the school and child minder drop offs. I then leave work at 3 pm and do the pick ups. I take Abigail to her ballet class and wait for Seb to finish his judo class. I then get dinner on the table. We've arranged ride shares on the days the schedules collide. I have times when I can't leave the office at 3 and Marc schedules his appointments around these. We have a child minder who supports us when it all goes horribly wrong.

I still have had to leave in the middle of meetings that have run over schedule. Or declined meeting invites and asked for earlier times. I make calls to my North American colleagues in the evening. I've sat in on conference calls whilst making dinner and overseeing my son's homework efforts. I've sifted through a stack of email well into the night.

But the fact is we both make trade offs. We both would like to devote ourselves to our children. But financial demands mean we can't. We would both like to devote ourselves to our careers. But we have a beautiful family and simply don't wish to turn this over to child care professionals. I didn't have children so someone else could raise them.

Every day is a juggling act for both of us. Sometimes we drop balls. Sometimes it feels like we are in a circus. And other times it is sheer magic.

Morning Routine

I had a conversation with my boss one day. He informed me that he gets out of bed at 7 am, leaves the house by 7:10 am and arrives at the office by 7:30 am. I looked at him like he was an alien. His morning routine takes him 10 minutes. S**t, Shower & Shave. That's it.

I then reflected on my morning routine and realised this was so unfair from every possible angle. My morning routine is akin to a small scale military operation:

  • Remove eye makeup if I failed to do so night before due to being too exhausted and just falling into bed
  • Shower: wash hair, wash face, scrub face, wash body, pumice feet, pumice hands, pumice elbows
  • Moisturise: Body, feet, hands, extra care given to dry patches, talc powder
  • Makeup: Tone face, moisturise face & eyes, base makeup; concealer, blush, eye shadow, eye brows, eye liner, mascara, lipstick, remove mistakes and start again
  • Hair: Detangler, comb, volumising mousse, blow dry, curl, up in the right places and down in the wrong places, hairspray, allow time for tears/tantrums/starting over if bad hair day
  • Dress: don't get me started on the whole panty hose/tights rant, find shoes, change clothes at least once
  • Finishing touches: Perfume, earrings, necklace, bracelet, scarf, shoes, socks

This really got me thinking about the cost of all this versus the cost for a man. I bet I spend over £100/month on all this and Oprah still accuses me of letting myself go on the days I don't have to go to work.

Tuesday 24 April 2007

Thought Provoking

And a really fascinating and frightening article about why the least expensive food in the supermarket tends to be the foods which are making the most significant contribution to the obesity problem. At last, I just need to spend more money on my food! I can feel the weight dropping off me as my bank account empties. Are they serious?

Daily Gun Deaths

This New York Times article examines daily deaths by gunfire in the USA. Very interesting!

New Club Record

The Boston Red Sox set a new club record when they hit 4 home runs on 4 consecutive pitches against the NY Yankees on Sunday. Oh happy days! Does it get any better than this?

Oh, yes it does! Boston swept the whole series against the d**n Yankees! Hurrah Hurrah Hurrah. Go back to NY and lick you wounds. We are dancing in the streets tonight!

PS I am only celebrating this now because I finally had a chance to watch what I recorded.

Flags of our Fathers

The other night I had a date. With my husband. And another friend, Peter. OK, not so much a date. We just got to go out without our children in two.

We went to see a film. We are fortunate to have the Windsor Arts Centre in Windsor. The centre has a small cinema which shows films not on wide release here in the UK but are really good. These tend to include a number of the foreign films and Oscar winners that weren't big screen hits (lots of them).

We saw Flags of our Fathers, the story of the taking of the island of Iwo Jima during the second World War from the American perspective. There is a second film, Tales of Iwo Jima, telling the same story from the Japanese perspective. It is showing on 24 May and we are hoping to have a babysitter for that one too. both films are directed by Clint Eastwood. He got the idea to make the second film during the research and filming of the first film when he realised there were two sides of the story that needed to be told.

Flags of our Fathers is about the events surrounding the iconic photograph of the marines and soldiers raising the flag on the island. I've seen the photograph thousands of times. It is an American symbol of all that is supposed to be strong and powerful and right about the American war effort in the second World War. This film told the true stories behind the men that were there, some who were thought to be there but weren't, and how the parent's of the families and the soldiers were treated. There were lots of things that I already knew but there was more in the film that I didn't know.
  1. The picture was taken during the second raising of a flag. The first flag was taken down because some general wanted it to hang on his wall.
  2. Different boys raised the second flag than the first flag.
  3. The flag was raised on day 5 but the battle raged on for another 35 days.
  4. America was nearly bankrupt and 6 previous war bond drives had failed to raise enough money to fund any war effort.
  5. Without the actions of the boys who travelled around using the photograph as propaganda in the bond drive, it is likely that sufficient money to fund the war effort would not have been raised.

I'm not good with blood and guts and there is significant gore in the film. I would look away during those bits and Marc would let me know when it was safe to look again. But other than that it was an excellent film and highly recommend it.

It did confirm in my mind that no leader should be elected to office with the power to send young (or old) men and women into battle without having done it themselves. I am beginning to think that unless you've fought in a war you should not be given the authority to make others fight. If the leaders of the countries of the world had fought or even had sons or daughters that have fought and died in war, we might have more peace and less bloodshed.

What an idealist/optimist I am this morning.....

Monday 23 April 2007

A Bit of Fun

Click Here

PS Read it closely. It is not an error!

Meal Times

Here in the UK, people are always referring to tea time. What is tea time? Or more accurately apparently is when is tea time? The mealtimes in the UK has always confused me. When I asked for clarification I realised this isn't as easy as saying, 4:00 pm. It appears to be a matter of class and social standing.

Breakfast is rare and unremarkable (maybe the reason for the frequency). Other than a bowl of cereal or porridge, the Brits seldom do breakfast. They have an occassional fry up. This is usually to alleviate an wicked hangover. A fryup consists of a couple sausages, a couple strips of bacon, some baked beans, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, the greasiest fried egg and fried bread (a slice of bread fried in the fat of everything that came before it), all served with a couple slices of unbuttered barely toasted bread. Due to the relationship with breakfast being used as a cure for hangover, this fryup is served only on sundays and rarely before 10 am. Unless you are checked into a B&B, at which point breakfast starts at 8 and is over by 8:30. You gotta be precise about the timings.

My cousin, Janell, says that where she's from (rural Nebraska - just imagine corn field for as far as the eye can see for 360 degrees) breakfast around 7 in the morning, coffee time around 10 AM; dinner at noon; lunch around 4 and supper after dark. There’s no such thing as brunch. Brunch is for people who are too lazy to get up in time for breakfast.

So having written this post weeks ago and not finished it, it was sitting in my queue just waiting for some attention. And then I find this on digg.

It hasn't helped to clear up any of my considerable confusion stemming from Tea. You see, here in the UK they refer to coming round for tea. Now for me, this is a not drink served with milk in the UK. For the Brits it is a small meal. Not sure exactly what time it is supposed to be because this often depends on your position in the class structure.

The way I am coping with this all is simple: I ask you round to my house and specify what time I would like you to come and I tell you what we will be eating. Phew! Never thought having people over to share bread would be so darn difficult!

Sunday 22 April 2007

Way Forward

OK, so I figured out a way to get us through the last 7 years of bad governmental decision and policy making.

Impeach. Indict. Incarcerate.
Repeat as necessary for each neocon, as necessary.

PS I didn't actually invent this. I found it on Twitter. But I don't know how to attribute it to the author. If she/he reads it, leave me a comment and I will be happy to assign credit. If no one claims it, I will keep it as my own! Am actually considering changing my signature to this.

Happy Earth Day

A Life of 90 Years

What's in a life that has lasted over 90 years? A lot!

Yesterday we celebrated Dorothy Harrison's 90th Birthday. Dorothy is Marc's Auntie Mary's mother. We celebrated with a lovely luncheon party at a beautiful barn. There were lots of family and lots of children and loads of great laughs.

Simon Bastow, Marc's cousin and Dorothy's grandson, gave a beautiful tribute reminding all of us of what an incredible individual Dorothy is (as if we could forget) and more poignantly, what an incredible life she has lived. She left home for her first day of teaching the day after the UK entered the second World War.

She is a prolific letter writer and a keen observer of sport, especially golf and tennis. Her mind is as sharp as a tack. She is never shy to express an opinion about the latest shenanigans of our politicians and their policies. The camera she is holding in her hand in the photo (left) is at least 50 years old and she wields it like a pro. She loves my children like they are her own great- grandchildren.

We were honoured to join her and her family in the celebrations and really enjoyed meeting family members previously unknown to us. We have made some new friends and hope to keep in touch with them. The lunch was delicious and the weather was beautiful. The children had a fabulous time and enjoyed playing with all the other children (with the small exception of Abigail's scrapped knee, which she has scrapped again this morning whilst helping mummy and daddy in the garden).

And to Dorothy, thank you for setting an example on how to live a life wholly, content and happy.

A Memorium

There is a movement to silence the blogosphere in tribute to the victims at Virgina Tech. At first I was horrified. If you take away my voice, I wil not be able to speak about how disgusted I am with the lack of gun control in the USA. but then I read this.

OK, so now that I am convinced and willing, I am dragging everyone with me! One Day Blog Silence. Simple instructions. Powerful statement.

If you blog, Stop. Just for a day.

Saturday 21 April 2007

Sebastian Quotes - Edition 2

Sebastian has had a "girlfriend" named Trixie since the early days of Reception. I don't know what it means to have a girlfriend at 4 years old although I do remember having a crush on a boy named Shawn Casement at that age 5. (But that is another post) Sebastian had introduced me to Trixie quite early on and we've met her parents. She is a lovely girl. Her parent's are lovely. He is the shortest in the class and she is very nearly the tallest. She stands a head above him. It doesn't seem to bother them.

At the start of Year 1, Sebastian came home one day to announce that he had a new girlfriend named Amy. I asked "What happened to Trixie?" He informed me that Trixie was still is girlfriend as well. The whole idea of monogamy has completely escaped his grasp and at 5 I'm just not sure it matters. So I didn't ask much.

One day Sebastian and I went to pick up his summer uniform for school, we ran into Amy and Roma. Roma is Amy's twin and she is in the other class from Sebastian and Amy. We had a nice little chat and Sebastian gave both girls cuddles.

We went to grab a cup of hot chocolate afterwards and I was curious so I asked Sebastian, if Amy and Roma were twins and they looked nearly identical, why were his feelings different for one than the other. Sebastian calmly replied that actually he loved both of them. I asked, "What happened to Trixie?" Well, apparently he loved her too.

This was a step too far. I asked Sebastian if maybe he didn't think three girlfriends at one time was a step too far? He replied in a low gravelly voice, "No, I've got enough luuuurve to go around!"

I could hear the Barry White soundtrack in the background.

Work in Progress Blog

OK, so I've got a link to this blog on my blog. It is one of only 3 links to blogs for people outside my friends and family circle. Lisa Takeuchi Cullen writes Work in Progress, a blog for Time magazine which explores issues in the workplace. She gives me a shout-out in a Recent Post and asks for my opinion on the role of the corporation in the green debate and whether it does inform our employment decisions.

Give it a read and leave her your opinion. Maybe we can change her mind and help save the world.

Friday 20 April 2007

Sebastian Quotes - Edition 1

The other day after completing our Embassy aerobics, we took Sebastian out to lunch at an Italian restaurant for wood oven pizzas. Sebastian behaved like a proper little man: let the waiter put his napkin on his lap, remembered all his please and thank yous, and ordered both his food and drink all on his own. When he had finally finished he only 2 very small remnants left on his plate. There was a beautiful young woman working in there who made quite a fuss over how much food he had eaten. She was Italian and spoke English with the beautiful accent. Sebastian seemed to sit a bit taller when she was paying attention to him.

He asked for a take away box at the end of the meal because he didn't want to leave any pizza behind. As we were walking towards the door, the woman asked him what his name was. He told her. She told him her name was Cynthia just as we were walking out the door. "Bye Cynthia" he casually called over his shoulder.

As we were walking down the sidewalk towards our car, Sebastian announces to me and his father, "She was hot!"

We nearly fell over.

Canned Meat and a Lie

I refer you back to the post I made about a certain Cookbook and a Beef Noodle recipe contained therein. I will start at the beginning of the story.

My Nanny made canned meat. It was actually jarred meat but that doesn't matter. We always called it canned. It looked absolutely grotesque in the jar. All the fat congealed at the top and the meat had turned a really unnatural pink colour. The idea is that you pressure cook the meat and then seal it tight in a jar and it keeps like tinned goods. This was important back in the days before refrigerators and freezers existed and electricity was reliable. Not so important nowadays but old habits are hard to break. And it tastes really good.

But try telling that to my husband. I would lovingly transport these jars of meat home to the UK with me each time I visited the USA. Marc had seen the jars of the meat in my cupboards and was thoroughly (although unjustifiably) disgusted. He would never let me serve the meat to him. Although I could have tried, I didn't want to waste the meat on the ungrateful and unappreciative.

When Sebastian was a wee little baby (3 months old) we went to visit my father and my stepmother, Elaine, at their home in Ford City, Missouri. Basically, this place has the population of 6 and that's when everyone is home. But Marc loves it. there is loads of wide open space and blue sky. There are also mosquitoes the size of humming birds and ticks (but again that is another story). Marc doesn't care. If I would agree he would have us moved and building a home right next to my father's property. In typical man fashion, Marc and my dad were out and about one afternoon doing whatever it is men do when lolly gagging around. Looking for this, fixing this, breaking that and just generally wasting a bit of time. Or maybe they were working hard on a fence or something. I can't remember. I was sweating a bucket in the heat and humidity of July in Missouri weather. I went inside to help my stepmother with the dinner preparations.

Coming through the door I could smell the dinner preparations. Oh boy, can my stepmother cook?!?! It smelled heavenly and my mouth was a watering. I walked over to the stove and checked out the source of my hunger pains. And then I gasped. My mother was cooking up the Beef Noodle recipe which uses some canned meat. Now I was ecstatic. I got to eat the meat without using any of my precious stash. Then I was horrified. How was I going to get Marc to eat this without insulting my stepmother. Then my dad came in to wash his hands. So I explained to him and Elaine my dilemma. We all agreed that we simply wouldn't tell Marc the source of the meat.

Marc came through the door shortly thereafter. He commented that dinner smelled great. We all sat down to dinner. Marc tucked into the mound of food on his plate, announced that it was fantastic, and asked why I never made this at home. I told him that I could and would. And we just kept right on eating. Marc was none the wiser.

A few months later, I was honoured when Marc asked me to marry him and be his wife. I agreed and then we called my dad so he could ask my father for my hand. My dad told Marc that "If you'll take her off my hands, you can have her." OK, so not exactly what every girl dreams of her father saying but at least it wasn't what he told my sister's husband five years earlier when her husband asked for her hand. But that is her story!

Marc then handed the phone over to me. The first thing my father said to me was "You've got tell him about the meat. You can't start a marriage out with a lie." Now I suspect that my father was feeling a bit more guilty about this lie than I was. To be honest, it hadn't crossed my mind since that night. But then his guilt became my guilt. I must have lost all the colour in my face because Marc then wanted to know what was wrong. Was my father telling me not to marry him?

Once I had hung the phone, I sat my future husband down and confessed to lying. I then told him the topic and purpose of my lie. He stared at me incredulously. Then asked if we had any canned meat and could I make the dinner that Elaine had made. He admitted to being wrong about passing judgement against the meat without having tasted it first. This is a lesson he teaches our son every single day at mealtimes!

We've run out of canned meat. My nanny has passed away and I don't have the recipe for the canned meat. It never quite made it into the family cookbook although if anyone would like to submit it for the most recent edition, please do!

And I don't lie to my husband.......ever!

Thursday 19 April 2007

A Simple Cookbook

My family has the coolest tradition. I think every family should do it!

We collect recipes and make a cookbook which gets distributed (for a very small fee) at our annual family reunion in Fremont, Nebraska USA. The recipes include the best fried chicken in the world, and an even better rhubarb strawberry pie, a sour cream raisin pie that my father and Marc almost had an argument over, and a Beef Noodle recipe using canned meat that is out of this world. People have travelled 5000 miles to eat this! And it is the only lie I've ever told my husband. More about that some other time.

Janell Carson, my great uncle's daughter-in-law, collects the recipes from all the various family members. She then types them all up and sorts them by the typical cookbook categories, eg Appetisers, Main Dishes, Side Dishes, Desserts. But this cookbook is sooooo much more than just a handy reference book for the kitchen.

It is a profound collection of our lives. The book contains essays about our ancestors and photographs to help us remember. It contains memories of meals gone by and an opportunity to pass the love of gathering together for a meal on to the next generation. By the way, this has little to do with eating and a lot to do with laughing, catching up, staying involved and showing how important the family unit it.

These people who came before us taught us how to cook. And who to cook for....which includes just about anyone who crossed your path and needed a hot, nutritious meal. It didn't matter how well you knew them or what was in your fridge/pantry. Despite a great depression or a missed trip to the supermarket, there is always enough to stretch and when someday someone you love may be far from home and the ones they love, you just hope someone might give them the benefit of a hot meal and a nice smile and, if you are lucky a lot of laughter.

They taught us our table manners. And whilst some of my manners might be frowned upon in the classiest restaurant or the poshest homes, I try to remember to wipe my feet, wash my hands, say please and thank you, be grateful for the meal put in front of me and the people around me, clean my plate, use my napkin and never, never, never criticize the cook.

And they gave us our moral compasses against which we measure our success as human beings. Raising a happy, healthy well adjusted family is more important that financial success or political power. Laughter will help heal a broken heart. And if it doesn't, a hug will. When you give your word, keep it. Never make a promise you can't keep and never break a promise once given, especially to a child. I don't always succeed at these (and neither did they)but at least I know how I'm doing and which way I should be headed.

The next edition of the cookbook is due out this summer. Janell Carson will be collecting recipes on our behalf. If you are a member of my family and would like to contribute a recipe, please contact me for Janell's email and you can email it to her. If you are not a member of my family, start your own cookbook for your family! Or apply for adoption. We do adopt for a small fee.

Wednesday 18 April 2007

How the World has Changed

A year or so after I moved to the UK, the Home Office lost my passport. I had sent it to them so that they could insert an extension of my work visa. 3 months later I was still waiting and I needed the passport for a trip to the USA. I had to make an appearance at the US Embassy swearing I was who I said I was and begging for a temporary passport.

This was my first trip to the embassy. It is located just around the corner from where I used to work in a green leafy part of London called Mayfair. The Embassy is considered actual land belonging to the United States of America. So technically, when you are there, you are in America. I thought this was kinda cool. Still do.

I walked in at 9 am and took a number and sat and waited. The waiting room was crowded with all nationalities waiting for numerous services, eg visas to enter the USA, passports for American babies born abroad, lost passport applications. The entire process took just about the entire day. There were no vending machines and I was sooooo thirsty when I left.

The next time I went was after the Home Office returned my original passport and I needed to have it invalidated and my temporary passport made my permanent passport. This visit went much like the previous visit. Although now they had vending machines.

The next visit was with my newborn son, Sebastian. This was a major undertaking for 2 new first time parents, packing up for a whole day. There were no nappy changing facilities and I breast fed off in a corner where I turned the chair against the wall and hung a blanket over my shoulder. One change I noticed that day was that there was a metal detector like they have at airports and we had to carry the pushchair up the stairs. Boy, was I annoyed? It was another all day wait but we managed.

And then 9/11 happened. And the world changed. And the American Embassy changed.

Our next visit was when Abigail was born. We had to make an appointment and queue up for 2 hours outside in January with a new born baby and a 2 1/2 year old. The Embassy was surrounded with 5 feet wide concrete barriers and 12 feet high metal fences topped with barbed wire. More than 25 machine gun armed guards patrolled the perimeter of the building. We had to go through a outside security facility and we had to walk all the way around the building from the security facility to the entrance. Regardless of our appointment we had to take a number and wait with everyone else. This appointment seemed to take longer than any previous visit. Maybe I was just in a bad mood. I had wanted to visit the memorial to the 9/11 victims in the green leafy park next to the Embassy but was so exhausted from the days activities I just wanted to get me and my family home. The good news is they had nappy changing facilities and a private breast feeding area available. Still this was the worst visit EVER!

Today we had to return to the Embassy for the renewal of Sebastian's passport. The outside of the building is still scary and nothing is cool about it. There were more police than I had every seen. I tried to explain to Sebastian that these big scary men carrying guns were there to protect us not shot us. Not sure how convincing I was since I wasn't all that convinced. The Embassy is longer a beautiful building because you can't actually see it anymore. It is surrounded by high metal fences. You cannot bring any electronic devices so no phones. Even Marc electronic key fob for unlocking the car door was confiscated. He had to remove his belt and keep it in a plastic bag until we left. Just like in airports that had to check the bottom of my shoes.

Some improvements have been made. But these also reflect our changing world. There was a separate line for Americans. We went straight through. Americans enter through a different door now. One just opposite the security facility. Our appointment was for 9:30 am and by 11:20 am we were done. They had a little play area for children. The area was clean. But notably, the Americans were kept separate from the other people of the world seeking to enter our country. Not a foreigner to be seen (unless of course, like my husband, they were accompanied by an American).

I feel threatened and saddened by these changes to the Embassy (although I am happy about the reduction in processing time) and to the world. When I was trying to explain to Sebastian the role of the guns, I felt myself choke up at the thought that we live in such a scary world. That I have brought children into this world. That I subject my children to the fears associated with living as a foreigner in a foreign land, although with his posh English accent no one would ever mistake him for an American. No, no, that's his mother's fault. I don't want him to be afraid of the world but at the same time I want him to be vigilant about those around him that want to cause him harm. I want him to learn about the entire world and not just one nation's version of the world. I want him to love the USA and all its promise and potential. I want him to understand the USA is one nation in a world of many, each offering differing perspectives and dangers. This is a tough line to walk. Not sure I did it very well.

But the memorial to the 9/11 victims was very touching from afar. Can't quite bring myself to look at it up close. That would be looking the face of change in the face. Just not there yet.

Tuesday 17 April 2007

Counting Blessings

This house is just a few doors down from my mother's house.

Exploding House

PS My mother is Linda Wolbrink.

Gun Control

Amendment 2 of the US Constitution states:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Many Americans have interpreted this to mean that everyone who so desires can own a gun. And use it. And tragedy ensues.

Virginia Tech Shooting

My hope is this will spur the citizens of the USA to see the error of their ways, to see how illogical this is, to see it is killing them.

My frustration is that it won't change a thing. The Columbine shooting didn't change a thing. Numerous workplace shootings haven't changed a thing. What will it take for people to see that their right to bear arms has nothing to do with having unfettered access to firearms and using them to shoot each other.

My sympathy goes out to the families of those who were shot down whilst they sought education, typical a path away from violence. My strength goes out to those who were present and must now find the courage to carry on. My courage goes out to those who have the power and will to change the laws so that this is less likely to occur in the future. Do Something!

Monday 16 April 2007

Japanese Invasion

No, this is not a post about Pearl Harbour. It is, however, another post about baseball. So if you are fed up with my obsession, stop reading now and come back tomorrow to see if I've moved on to a new topic. No promises though!

Have you noticed the recent talent arriving from Japan to join the Major League Basseball franchises? I have to say I am glad! I often get comments (usually from the uninitiated and ill informed) about how it shouldn't be called a World Series when only the USA play I do point out to them that Canada also plays (hello, Blue Jays fans)! So, this is one of my weaker arguments.

But I must also quickly point out that all MLB (Major League Baseball) teams are multicultural and have been for quite a while. 10-15 years ago the Central American countries of the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica invaded. Today the Major League boasts 71 players from Dominican Republic. these include the greats of Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, & Al Reyes. not sure what they are drinking in DR but it is producing amazing baseball professionals. Venezuela has also contributed to the ethnicity of MLB with 34 of their own.

But now the time of the Far East Tiger has arrived. Japan has contributed 15 players and S Korea has added 6 to the talent pool. Taiwan is struggling with a measly 3 but I can say that is certainly more than the Brits contribute to the MLB rooster (There are NO Brits player baseball in the major league, just for clarification purposes - although I can't imagine who would think there would be).

It is true that the majority of players still come from the USA. But there are just over 20 countries dipping their toe in the baseball DNA pool. So when someone questions whether the ultimate test of baseball superiority should be called The World Series, I just respond that 20 countries are represented. The player participation is based on talent alone. No one cannot play if they are good enough, dedicated enough, and passionate enough. This is enough of a world representation to make is a World Series for me.

Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the game of baseball becoming colour blind. Jackie Robinson joined the LA Dodgers on the field and officially crossed the race barrier. This was a huge step for both American sports and American culture. The game of baseball is the American game. And this milestone helped to make the glorious game what it is today.

Sunday 15 April 2007

The Millichamps Have Landed

Sean, Helen, Sam & Lottie Millichamp came to visit us this weekend. I've known Helen for almost as long as I've been in the UK. We used to work together at Keane, back when it was called Icom Solutions. In the time we have known each other we have both gotten married and had 2 children each. And we have remained best friends. We have a lot in common. Our husbands run their own successful businesses. We have a twisted sense of humour. Our children are separated by just a year each. Sam is 4 and Lottie is 2.

We always have a great time when we get together. I can't imagine who I would rather spend New Year's Eve with! We trade off going to each others homes every couple months although the last couple times they've come to ours due to the dog. Bailey is now old enough though we can leave care f him to our neighbours so we will be able to visit them in Northampton soon!

One of the best family holidays we've ever had is when we rented a villa in Dordogne, France and spent the week exploring and eating fabulous food. Helen was pregnant with Lottie then. Now that the children have grown up a bit they pretty much keep themselves entertained and it is great to see them play together.

Yesterday they came for lunch. The weather is like July here so we ate outside on the patio and then went to the park. When the children were suitably satisfied that they were played out we went for a walk along the river and waved at everyone on the boats passing by. Then home for the children's dinner and Sara, our babysitter, came over so the adults could go out for a meal of delicious Sushi and far too many glasses of sake. This morning we had a big blueberry pancake breakfast (and my nanny's hash brown casserole!).
We are planning our summer holidays together. And a sailing weekend. Loads more great fun to be had......

Angel Next Door

We have an angel living next door to us. Her name is Helena. She is nearly 7 months old. Isn't she beautiful?

Saturday 14 April 2007


I made an album once. Seriously.

When I was in high school, I was part of 2 school singing groups. Once was an all girl group called the Grace Notes. We wore dresses and sang and danced to popular tunes like Michelle by the Beatles and Moon River. The other was a choir made up of 50 boys and girls. We were called Acapella, mostly because many of our songs had no musical instrument accompaniment. We sang a lot of songs in Latin and 8 part choir songs. We sang at shows usually one for each school term.

One year we performed at the Easter Sunrise Service at Red Rocks Amphitheater which if you've never been you are missing out. I always take visitors to Colorado to this natural theatre and the acoustics are amazing. So much so that it is difficult to tell how loud you are singing because all sound is projected outwards. We performed the Hallelujah chorus and it was an incredible performance.

We made an album one year. I think it was my junior year. One side featured songs by Acapella and the other side had songs from both the Grace Notes and Serenaders which was the mixed boys and girls song and dance group. I wasn't good enough to be a part of them. the album was called Tuvey's Tunes after our teacher, Mr Tuveson and Looney Tunes (clearly we thought we were so clever).

I can still sing many of the songs on that album and sometimes I can't remember the melody, only the harmony because I was a second soprano and we typically sang the harmony.

I don't have the album anymore. Must haven't gotten misplaced in one of my many moves. I regret that. I have a friend, Susan Burrows, who proclaims to have the album now transferred on to CD but I've never gotten it out of her. Wish I could!

I am one of those people who love to sing. Loud and proud, regardless of tune. I might not even know all the words. I make them up. My children have both inherited this from me. Marc can sit in the car with one of his favourite songs blaring from the radio and his lips will not part. He won't even hum. Not me or our children. A song comes on the radio and all three of us are singing. Sebastian will sing to the radio to the most alarming of lyrics. One of his favourite bands right now is Scissor Sisters and one of his favourite songs is something about convicts. He understands that lyrics and sings them. I can understand a word either the radio or he is singing.

Abigail will pretend just about anything lying around the house is a microphone despite having a microphone. She starts dancing and singing whenever she hears music. She is a born performer.

If you have children in the car and you listen to CDs you MUST buy this CD: Colours are Brighter. They got Franz Ferdinand and Snow Patrol (seriously cool bands) and a whole load of other cool music people to make cool songs for children. Seb loves Go Go Ninja Dinosaur and I Am An Astronaut. Abigail loves Tidy Up Tidy Up. And actually they don't drive Mum crazy because the songs are very cool.

Sing Sing Sing.....the hills are alive with the mmmmmmmm!

Friday 13 April 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

I'm a healthy cynic. About 5 years ago when the whole global warming things starting humming in my ear I went and did my only little research project. Among other things I read The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg which had me convinced that a large part of the global warming warnings were scare tactics and that many of the statistics I was reading about were skewed so as to misinform and scare the living daylights out of me. The book was published in 2001 and additional scientific data has proved that whilst a debate needed to be had, Bjorn was wrong and Global Warming is indeed melting the planet. OK, so now I am scared.

The humming has become shouting and my mild concern has turn to an active fear bordering on paranoia. I felt it was time I revisited the data and turned this fear into an action plan I could believe and participate in. This is particularly relevant because I work for the largest energy/utility company in the UK. I believe the energy & utility companies are in the unique position to do the most to stop the trends which could avoid the catastrophic events possibly in our life and most certainly in my children's life.

The first action on my plan was to watch An Inconvenient Truth which is the documentary film featuring the PowerPoint presentation by Al Gore the former US Presidential candidate. (He's the one that should have been president in 2000 since he won the popular vote but the US Supreme Court broke the law and intervened in an election result and the most powerful country in the world had a fixed election (just like they do in 3rd world countries like Uganda) but that is the topic of another post.

Please, everyone who is reading this, promise me you will give this a go and watch this. If at the end you are still unconvinced well so be it. But at least listen to this side of the story. Now, if you believe what he has to say then get busy and change the way you live and encourage our political leaders to change the way they regulate and encourage the businesses you do business with to change the way they use and abuse the scarce resources our planet has to offer. It is not too late. The evidence of this in the film is when Mr. Gore talks about how individuals, government and businesses working together changed the damage that was being done to the ozone layer and eliminated this threat to our planet. We can do the same with global warming. We have got to take action now!

Go to for inspiration.

Apple Jacks

My mother, Linda, sent the Clare-Panton Family an Easter Box. This box was dispatched on 22 March from just outside Denver, Colorado, one would think in plenty of time to met the Easter Weekend celebrations. You would be wrong.

The box arrived Wednesday. The children thought Easter had come again. The box contained my favourite Easter treats, Peeps. Lucky for me, the children tried them and didn't like them. More for me! In addition to more chocolate, Sebastian got some shirts and Abigail got a beautiful dress (with a matching dress for her dolly). Marc got a box of Apple Jacks. If you are unfamiliar with the breakfast cereal, just suffice to say, Marc loves it! And you can't get it here in the UK. When we visit the USA, we inevitably bring a box or 2 back with us. Until now, the children have been blissfully unaware of the tastiness of this cereal. Marc is finding he is now having to share. Seb in particular is loving the cereal. Marc is not happy.

Seb also got a Power Rangers figure, which in his words is "wicked". Abigail received a Dora the Explorer doll which she won't release from her grasp. She even wanted to take it into the bath tub with her. Difficult to explain why Dora didn't need a bath but she did.

Thanks Mom, for thinking about us!

Thursday 12 April 2007

The Vagaries of War

"Let us learn our lessons. Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth, and easy, or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realise that, once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events. Antiquated war officers, weak, incompetent or arrogant commanders, untrustworthy allies, hostile neutrals, malignant fortune, ugly surprises, awful miscalculations - all take their seat at the Council Board on the morrow of a declaration of war." - Winston Churchill, quoted in a letter to The Times, London

Sox Won 3-2

Just in case you are wondering.......which I'm sure you're not but I'm having a happy dance!

Next game recorded last night: Seattle Mariners vs Boston Red Sox (again)! Go Sox.....

Although I am wondering why the obsession with the Red Sox. I have noticed over the years that Channel Five tends to feature games from a couple of teams and not really spread the exposure around. Teams favoured include the Atlanta Braves (boo!), Chicago Cubs (yeah!), Texas Rangers (boo!), Boston Red Sox (yeah!), NY Yankees (boo!), and NY Mets (yeah!). I've only ever seen one Colorado Rockies game and that was when they were playing one of the above games. I've always thought it had to do with the time zone. But I'm going to email them and confirm/complain.

Wednesday 11 April 2007

The Boys of Summer

You might recall that I am a HUGE baseball fan. So this time of year is one of my favourites. The basesball season begins and the boys of summer arrive. Last year is just a memory. This is a new season and anything is possible. I mean, even the Boston Red Sox can win a World Series now.

One of the things I hate most about living in the UK is the complete and utter ignorance of the game of baseball. Everyone (and I mean everyone) thinks they are funny and insists that baseball is like rounders. This is only true for the complete uninitiated and the total ignoramus. That's like me insisting that Wales and Scotland aren't really separate countries from England. They might look like it on a map but they are not. There are loads of historical battles and royal succession subleties as to why not but trust me they are NOT the same country. And baseball is NOT like rounders.

To truly appreciate baseball you need to learn to keep score. I learned this art whilst watching the Denver Bears, the minor league team before Colorado welcomed the major league team, the Colorado Rockies. This was a time before baseball was all about the money and more about a family day at the ball park. This was before it cost an arm and a leg to get into the game and buy a hotdog and peanuts. We would sit in the sun and watch the game unfold. Keeping score taught me how to pay attention to every little detail. It taught me to understand the strategy of a batting lineup and to predict pitcher changes. It taught me to appreciate the statistics of the game. I know how to calculate ERA and RBI and what they mean to both an inidividual and the team's performance. I appreciate how a powerful left handed pitcher can be worth their weight in gold and why. I learned what lollygagging in the infield looked like. I now know why there should be a constitutional amendment outlawing astro turf and the designated hitter.

My first major league game was in California watching the Anaheim Angels, now the LA Angels. A couple co-workers of mine, John Potter and Bill Schasteen, took me when we were working in Orange County supporting the billing system for PacTel Cellular. It was the summer of 1987. It was a dream come true. I never thought Denver would get their own team.

I've seen lots of other teams play in other cities. My favourite was going to Wrigley field and watching my favourite team, the Chicago Cubs, play. I had to keep pinching myself to remind me this was real. For me it was a dream come true. The Cubbies won that day.

For several years I owned season tickets to the Colorado Rockies. This included their inagural year which is probably the greatest season they ever had. They have one of the all time greatest baseball stadium in the game. I loved going to the game with friends, family, alone. I remember taking my niece and nephew, Tanner and Jordanne, to the games with me and patiently explaining the rules of the game. Not sure they got it. I can sit for hours watching a double header, with rain delays. Few things are as thrilling as tied in the bottom of the ninth, 2 men out and your pinch hitter stepping up to the plate. I would fly from wherever I was working just to make the home games. I scheduled my whole work day around the home schedule during the season. When I travelled I would check out who was playing in the cities I was visiting.

The only baseball I get living in the UK is shown at 1 am on Sunday nights (Monday mornings really) on Channel 5. The game is live so I always record it and watch it over the next week or so. Baseball games are long (>3hours) but no more so than say cricket matches which near as I can figure out can last well over 3 days. The games use up almost all the available memory on my Sky Plus (TiVo) box so I have to watch it within a few days or delete. Tonight I am going to watch the game I recorded on Sunday night, Boston Red Sox vs Texas Rangers.

I've seen a number of Rangers games when I would visit my sister and mother when they lived in Dallas. I always hated them because they were owned at by George W Bush and it is hotter than he** in Texas during baseball season. I am a fan of the Sox and have always loved them mostly because of the commitment shown by their fans. The Red Sox have some of the most loyal fans in baseball. Still haven't gotten to the end of the game so don't tell me who won.

Last summer I took my family to a Colorado Rockies game. We went with the intention of purchasing the cheapest tickets all the way out over Center Field in the Rockpile. We had several small children with us and I couldn't see the sense in spending all that money ($45/seat) for the kids if there was a chance they would spend half the game not paying attention. The day was a rain out but not the game. It had been raining all day, all week in Colorado which is VERY unusual weather for that part of the country in July. When we got to the game I thought it would be rained out. Instead there were guys selling tickets on the first level right behind 1st base (great tickets). We needed 16 tickets, we got them all in around the same area. I thought we would have to separate. But the stadium was deserted. We all sat together in our rain gear and watched a fabulous game. It took Sebastian a while to figure out that there a live game on the field and we weren't all there watching the big screen television in the rain. My brother, George, brought loads of snacks for us to share. We had a great afternoon and the rain cleared by the 7th inning. We watched the last 2 innings in glorious sunshine (sort of) looking like a bunch of drowned rats. It was a great day!

Now that the season has started I will resort to watching my recorded games and following the progress of my favourite teams and players on the internet (thank goodness for technology)! I will watch one of my favourite films (Bull Durham) over and over again. And I will wish I could catch just a few games at the ball park.

Easter Pics

Tuesday 10 April 2007

Total Memory Failure

Mummy is a blonde. Mummy has lost her mind. Mummy forgot that the child minder has annual leave today and tomorrow. Ooooops! I get to work this morning and the phone rings. Tthe child minder, Jacqui, is on the line asking me if I've forgotten. Forgotten what? Forgotten that she doesn't have my children Tuesday & Wednesday this week.

So Marc took them back home. And I worked super duper fast and came home about 11:30 am. I will have to take the day off. I have tomorrow off any way as we are having our family portrait taken.

Class Mum of the Year moment!

Monday 9 April 2007

Gardening and More

The plan for today is gardening, more gardening, and finally more gardening. We've got to get our potatoes into their patch (yes, I know we are a couple days won't kill us - or our potatoes). We've got to repair the damage our lovely dog has done to the clematis. We've got a couple bare spots where we removed trees last autumn that have got to be filled in. We have one more raised bed to build in the front garden. We've got loads of maintenance to do on the flower beds and we've got to get our seedlings started.

The weather is perfect for gardening so we're off!

Sooooo Over It!

I have previously confessed to my American Idol obsession. I just want to let you know that I am sooooooo over it. (I am sure this has been keeping you up at nights and I don't want anyone to lose any more sleep.)

This week Gina was ousted and Sajaya stayed. Gina was never going to win but I sing better than Sanjaya. This man is a train wreck: his clothes, his hair, his dancing (?), but mostly his singing. And the only thing missing from Hayley's performance was a pole. This is not Stripper Idol.

I thought this was a singing competition. I might be this really about race....or sex? I have beaten my addiction but apparently 33 million people voted this week. Do you realise that is more than 1/2 of the entire population of the UK?

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I have determined that I am the only person in the world that has not read this book. Apparently, it is part of the UK school curriculum so when I recommended this to the book group all the British women had already read it. Then Janell gave this book high praise indeed when she cited it as one of her favourites. Even my sister had read it. I felt really ignorant and knew I missed some memorandum.

The book started slowly for me and at page 60 I was wondering what all the fuss was about. I thought about it and ascertained that I had been reading all of these page turners and that I needed to slow down. Many modern books are aimed at making you want to read the story fast and furiously. This was the equivalent of learning to appreciate a piece of music that isn't aimed at the MTV five minute attention span audience. You need to read this book slow and steady, taking in the subtle language and lessons. Once I got into the swing of things I really started to enjoy it.

And then I turned a corner and couldn't put the thing down. Harper Lee weaves the story of the black man's trial into the every day life of these children. The impact of their father's actions infiltrates who they are destined to become. The story burns slowly and then explodes with sadness and disappointment at how prejudice about race and colour and class was and still is. The message is as relevant today as it was when it was first written 60 years ago.

I loved this book and if by some horrible failure of the education system you have not had the pleasure of reading it, Do So NOW!

Sunday 8 April 2007

Happy Easter!

Spring has sprung. The Easter Bunny has come and gone. He left loads of chocolate and eggs in the garden. The children devoured chocolate for breakfast and hunted down each and every one of the eggs. Our neighbour, Gill, joined us for the hunt and for a breakfast of bacon, eggs and sunflower bread with champagne and OJ for drinks (adults only).

We are planning a Easter dinner at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Marlow at 1:30 this afternoon. The day is set to be a beautiful, sunny, warm day. Everything you could hope for on a Easter Sunday.

Happy Easter everyone!

Saturday 7 April 2007

Hot Cross Buns

The English serve up these tasty treats toasted with butter. They are full of raisins and have a hint of cinnamon. My children love them. To be honest, everyone loves them. We are still trying to figure out how they put the cross across the top of the buns. And why are they an Easter treat? You can never buy them in the store at any time other than Easter time. We have gone through about 4 dozen in my household since last week. And we have only a dozen left. Might have to make a trip to the store today!

Auntie Mary and Uncle John had us round yesterday afternoon along with Auntie Dorothy and Uncle Mike for tea and hot cross buns.

Abigail put on one of her Easter Bonnets and a beautiful dress (a gift from Grandma Wink) and Seb paid special attention to his hair (?) which never sits right ever since he cut the side of his head open. He looks really handsome in green!

Apparently some Easter bunnies had appeared to Uncle John the night before and left chocolate Easter bunnies in the garden which the children ran around looking for. Seb explained to Uncle John that he must have been mistaken as there is only 1 Easter Bunny and he only comes the night before Easter. He doesn't hide chocolate Easter bunnies. He hides eggs. Seb thinks Uncle John is just a bit loco.

Uncle John got out the Lego and Seb and he spent the afternoon building all sorts of things including a flying car. Abigail entertained us with her mini-dramas.

We decimated the hot cross buns and the gorgeous Easter cupcakes. Seb ate 4 cupcakes and Abigail just licked off the frosting. She had frosting all over her chin.

We sat in the garden and enjoyed the sunshine. It was a beautiful day.

We dyed our Easter eggs in the morning and are all set for the bunny to appear to hide them.

This morning dawned another glorious day. The sun was bright and the temperature was warm.

Sebastian had his riding lesson and then we went to some friends house for an Easter party. (Diana & Shaun: Thanks - It was a great morning!) There was an Easter egg hunt (chocolate eggs only) and little nibbles for the children and adults. A really fabulous morning watching the children run around like banshees.

Tonight we are having Kerry and Eddie George round for dinner. We are having the other half of the cow we bought at Christmas time (remember that huge prime rib we got?). I'm sure we'll bust out a bottle of bubbly and wait in eager anticipation for the arrival of the Easter Bunny.

Friday 6 April 2007

Easter Weekend

Here in the UK they don't have the idea of separation of church and state. The Queen is the Head of the Church of England (C of E) and also instructs the Parliament to form. Parliament's sole purpose is to run the country. As you can see the role of Queen intrinsically links the church and the state.

Today is Good Friday and Monday is Easter Monday. Both days are bank holidays which means we get the days off work by law. I always find it a little strange that we get religious holidays off. But it is a good time to spend with the family and get the garden sorted.

As a child, my mother dressed me up in the requisite Easter Bonnet complete with matching handbag. My Easter eggs were never very good and I never found very many during the hunt due to having 3 brothers who were nothing short of maniacs. But I did love the candy left in our Easter baskets. The difference between how they do Easter eggs is completely different from the UK and the USA. They don't dye proper eggs here. We are all in a bit of a panic because Asda didn't have the kit this year like they normally do. We are going to paint ours. literally. They give chocolate eggs, big and small, over here to the children. That's it. In the USA the candy is far more imaginable and varied. The marshmallow chicks and bunnys are my favourites! And I dare you to try and find plastic eggs for money. Nothing short of impossible.

I was raised a Catholic, attended to Catholic school, went to mass every Sunday, the first Monday of the month, and every holy day imaginable. As an adult, I loved going to Mass with Nanny and on several occasions I have gone to service at C of E here in the UK which is very similar to the Catholic Church. The only difference between the Catholic and C of E being that Henry VIII wanted a divorce and the pope wouldn't give it to him so he formed his own church. But that was a long time ago.

I occasionally go to church. I love the pageantry and celebration of a church service. I love the signing of hymns. I love the architecture (especially in Europe) and the stunning stained glass windws. I believe that many of the messages taught in the church are relevant and useful today. Faith brings many people comfort and purpose. There is nothing wrong with this. And sometimes I go just to see if they've got anything new to add......

Easter weekend is my favourite time to go to church. On Good Friday, the service is sombre, grey, sad, as you would expect it to be when recognising that on this day an innocent man who taught others to love and forgive, who was not guilty of any crime, who was unjustly accused and convicted, was killed. In the most outrageous and humiliating way. That is a time for reflection.

The ladies and men of the church keep watch in the church after Good Friday service until Easter Sunday morning. The churches here are old and dimly lit. They tend to be cold and made of grey stone. The parishioners stay at the church and hold a prayer vigil, just as you would imagine a grieving mother/father/friend to stay behind at a grave for their loved one. During this time I reflect on those who have left us physically but not spiritually. I reflect on those who have died too young to meet their grandchildren or those children who have died too young to grow into adults and realise all the potential inside themselves. This is a sad time.

But then all the promise of life is reaffirmed on Easter Sunday. Love, Hope, Possibility and Forgiveness. All good messages regardless of your religion, your beliefs, your faith.

Happy Easter! Happy Spring!

Thursday 5 April 2007

The Look Out

Phew, it's the end of my day and I'm shattered. It was a beautiful spring day and we had so much fun. The children played and the play ground didn't get too crowded until after noon.

It was Joy Cook's birthday. She brought a cake which the children and adults alike enjoyed tremendously. We ate sandwiches and grapes and apples and hearty picnic snacks. The ladies enjoyed our tea and the children got lost in the trees. It was a real adventure!

Abigail fell asleep in the car on the way home and I took a bit of a nap myself although I did wait until I was no longer driving.

We went out to dinner at a new Italian restaurant in our village, Punto. This is significant because we live in a small village and other than a fish and chip shop and a few Indian takeaways (best avoided) there isn't much else to choose from. We normally drive to Staines or Windsor. But this Italian place opened up a few months back and we finally decided to give it a go. It was not a decision we regretted. The service was child friendly. The food was great. It was very good value for money (1/2 the price we normally pay for dinner out). A great day off all in all!

Day Off

Last night Abigail and I went to bed at 7:30 pm. We went up to Marc's and my bedroom and put on our jammies and crawled in between the covers, Abigail with her book about fairy's (a gift from Uncle John and Auntie Mary) and I with my latest literary adventure (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - more about that later). Within 10 minutes Abigail had fallen asleep next to me with her arms entwined in mine making it a hard job to turn the pages of my book but I managed. There are few things sweeter in this world than the deep breathing of a young child fast asleep pushed up against you. Their breath is sweet and their whole body expands with every intake of air. Their skin is soft and with their eyes closed I imagine they look just like angels would.

Marc came up and took Abigail off to her own bed about 8:30 and I continued my reading.....but only for another 10 minutes or so. At 11 pm I woke up to realise I too had fallen fast asleep. Trouble was then I couldn't get back to sleep until about 2 am this morning. the good news is I got lots of reading done. The bad news is I'm knackered this morning and struggled to get myself out of bed. I would have been happy to sleep for another couple hours.

Thank goodness I have the day off work today. I am taking the children to the Lookout Discovery Centre in Bracknell (not far from here) and we are going to have a picnic. We are meeting up with some of Sebastian's school mates. Abigail and Sebastian are very excited. I will follow up this post with a report of our adventure. I have to get my act together, get a shower, get the picnic packed and get us all there by 10:30. See y'all later!

Wednesday 4 April 2007

Blog Visits

When I started this blog, everyone asked me (I even asked myself) who would want to visit this and why? Would they come back? Would they keep coming back? What would I write about?

The answer is a resounding yes and I just want to say thanks for your continued support!

When I first started back in December 2006 I had a respectable 200 or so visits during the month which I was quite impressed with, if I might say so myself. Last month (March 2007) my visits had grown to over 650 in a single month. I don't know who you are because just a few of you (5 or so) regularly leave me comments but I'm not sure I care.

I hope I make you laugh a lot. I hope you are feeling involved in our day to day life. Sometimes living so far away from my family can leave me feeling isolated and lonely despite all the activity and people in my life. My friend, Clare, once left a comment that she feels like we are having a daily conversation. OK, so it is a bit more like a monologue at times but I don't mind if you don't mind.

I've never run out of things to write about. Some of it is mind numbingly dull (if you didn't read the cooking misadventures all the way through you might have found the posts about my future culinary success a bit odd and a lot boring). Some posts elicit loads of comments and other go largely ignored (does anyone really care about my book reviews?). I had a moment of panic a few days back when I sat down and couldn't think of a thing to say. I quieted my mind and the ideas just came flooding in. I wonder if professional writers have similar experiences.

I've created a precious diary of my children's lives and perhaps a snippet of who I am not just as a mother but as a woman and a wife. Maybe someday in the future when they have grown they will have access to this record and enjoy reading about our lives. After I've left this world maybe they can share it with their grandchildren and show them what a crazy mother they had.

One unexpected and joyful benefit of all this blogging has meant I have connected with and inspired others to start blogging themselves. I have made a friend with Janell Carson who before this adventure I didn't know at all. Reading her blog is a source of daily inspiration. Better still, her sisters have started blogging and have connected with each other in the blogosphere. Even though I speak to my sister every day and hear about her family adventures you can't quite share photos over the phone. Besides, she is wittier when she writes. (Don't tell her that!) Most notably, my own hubby (the king of cynics) has started his very own blog which looks like it is set to be more of a success than mine in a commercial sense, but don't tell him that I admit that!

I have started email dialogues with professional bloggers none of whom I would have come into contact with had I not been blogging. All have been great contacts and have been the source of valuable advice which has informed my blogging habits here and decisions about work (whether they know it or not).

I am a bit of a voyeur on stranger's blogs and I suspect I have a few of those lurking around my blog. I don't care. One of my best posts (6 Things About Me) came as inspiration from another blog I peeked in on. My revived fascination with knitting came from another blog and one of the best books I've read recently (The Knitting Circle) was a recommendation from one of her posts.

So I haven't made a million $$$/£££ doing this blogging thing and I'm not sure about people who claim they have. I don't trust them. I've seen their blogs and they are catastrophic examples of ad sense gone mad. It's a bit like reading those magazines that have more than 50 pages of ads at the beginning before you even find the first article! Besides, isn't their professional impartiality invalidated by having ads on their blogs? It's a bit like editorial pages have advertisements.....chips away at the old credibility block, wouldn't you say?

I've only been spammed once and the deluge of unsolicted email never arrived, thank goodness!

Cheers to the blogosphere for teaching this old dog a whole bunch of new tricks and whole lot about the world in which I live.