Thursday, 26 August 2010

Home thoughts, not quite from abroad

Oh to be in England, now that August's here. Well, naturally that would be in driving rain and temperatures just about in double figures (celsius), which is what we have been sitting in for the past two days.

But aside from the typically British weather, it has been a very successful trip so far. The past week has been spent catching up with family, old friends (and their children, who seem to have multiplied in the last 15 months) and new friends too (we met up with PantswithNames, HomeOfficeMum and their boys for a pub lunch, and great fun was had by all). We braved drizzle for lunch outside with my old friend FourDownMumtoGo and her brood, although the sun luckily shone when we had a party for 20 people at the weekend.

So before we head off to Bristol and then Wales for the second leg of our UK tour, just a few observations on the UK after a year in the States....

1. Everything seems tiny. The cars and car parking spaces, the narrow country lanes, even the supermarket aisles. Littleboy1 has named our rental car, a perfectly normal four door car, 'the teeny car'. And we don't even drive a particularly large car in the US.....

2. I have missed the UK media. OK, I can pretend I am fine with the New York Times and NPR radio, but there is nothing quite like sitting down with the Saturday Times or a copy of Grazia, or waking up to John Humphreys savaging some politician. And I love how the whole nation can get behind a totally silly story (eg. the woman who put the cat in the wheelie bin, a saga which is currently gripping the UK).

3. There is nothing quite as grim as a British canteen style restaurant in the rain, full of gloomy looking pensioners gritting their teeth as they pour tea and get served by spotty teenagers. Where's the nearest Ruby Tuesday when you need one?

4. A cup of tea by the fire in damp socks is something that can only be savoured in Britain. In August......

5. Customer service? What's that? Never heard of it, judging by the people who work at Avis in Heathrow. After a night on the plane with no sleep, none of us was in the mood for filling out the same paperwork twice only to be told the car we had ordered wasn't available. I thought The Doctor was going to explode when he was asked for his ID yet a third time in order to leave the carpark (naturally, it was in a bag in the boot. Which we didn't know how to open yet...)

6. People, places and things don't change very much in 15 months. But being back in a place where I was when the boys were a year younger is a little weird, like being in some kind of strange child timewarp where toys and videos somehow seem a bit young for them. Still, the presenters on CBeebies still look the same (which makes me feel a little sad for them - surely they should have done a Jeremy Irons and moved on to the RSC by now?) and the boys were delighted to see In the Night Garden again.

That's all for now. Places to go, people to see. A quick visit to John Lewis is in order. Catch up again when I'm back in New York.....

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Gallery; a memory

I'm posting this week's Gallery at Sticky Fingers entry today as tomorrow we fly to the UK for a couple of weeks. The Littleboys are very excited; and I will be too, once the plane journey is out of the way (I'm just hoping that the boys don't spend quite as much time in the loo on this journey as they did last time; for someone who is slightly phobic about plane loos, this is really not my idea of fun....).

Speaking of plane loos, yesterday we had a visit from a very good friend of mine from London, who revealed that one of the bargains she struck with her husband before having kids was that HE would take the children to the loo on planes. Amazingly, they have stuck to it (and that includes a trip to Australia and back). She chose wisely.

My friend was actually one of my original NCT group in Nappy Valley, and this week's picture is A Memory from that time. After we had all given birth, a handful of us met on Clapham Common by the bandstand with our prams and tiny babies. We had a coffee at the cafe and shared breastfeeding horror stories. I remember someone's husband remarking how much the babies looked alike; tiny sleeping faces wrapped up in white blankets and wearing tiny white hats.

Over the years our babies grew bigger and it became apparent that actually, they didn't look at all alike. All of us went on to have second (and some third) children; some people moved away or drifted apart from the rest. But a core group of us stuck together and my friend and I continued to meet up at Clapham Common, Wandsworth Common and other Nappy Valley hotspots on a regular basis until we left for the States last year.

A year later, she too has moved out of London and, partly thanks to yours truly, become friends with Susanna from A Modern Mother (see, my matchmaking skills are second to none). A nice link between blogging life and real life.

Yesterday, all four of our children played together on the beach. It's hard to believe it has been five years since that photograph was taken, but then again, so much has happened. And it reminds me that no matter what new friends I might make here, it's still so important not to lose touch with my old friends - even if those Nappy Valley days are long gone. Because shared history is important, and we mustn't let it slip away.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Fantasy Island

Last weekend we took a trip to Fire Island.

A long strip of sand, separated from Long Island by a bay, which runs for miles along the southern shore of the Island, most of it is only accessible by ferry. Some communities live there year round, but otherwise it is a summer playground for New Yorkers, many of whom club together to rent a house share for the summer.

There are no cars, and people either ride bikes (although these are also banned on busy summer weekends) or drag their belongings around on little wagons. (Americans always have lots of Belongings. Packing light is not really an option for them, judging by the huge coolboxes and bags going over on the ferry).

The white sandy beaches are pristine, with no food or drink allowed, and very 'au naturel' for America - not even a restroom, which is unheard of. For this reason they attract a younger, probably more adventurous crowd than the kind of beaches we usually go to - and this made a welcome change.

Aside from the beach, there are a few restaurants and shops, and the rest of the narrow island is made up of shady little paths lined with beach cottages. Although some look luxurious, some are more basic wooden cottages - just a porch, a few seashells round the door, and a few rooms at the back. Although only a couple of hours' journey from where we live, it seemd like another world; a laid-back, holiday island where time seemed to move slowly.

We had such a perfect day - bodysurfing in the crystal clear water, eating lobster rolls for lunch at a restaurant overlooking the bay - and I was so taken by the place that I had fantasies of renting a cottage here for a week next year. It turned out they were just that - fantasies. A week in a cottage here costs more than a whole month's rent for our house. And some of the more luxurious cottages...well let's just say we're looking at a cool $16K for house for the month of August. Oh well. Back to the Holiday Inn Express, I suppose...

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Summer update

The summer has raced by this year - it's hard to believe we're nearly midway through August and about to head back to the UK for an end-of-summer holiday. Compared to last year, when the weeks seemed to drag, only punctuated by the once-a-week music class for the boys which I looked forward to more than they did, this summer has been a whirlwind of activity, what with summer camp, playdates, swimming lessons and weekend day-trips.

The Littleboys' swimming has improved enormously thanks to the scorching heat that has sent us scuttling to the pool most afternoons. Littleboy 1 is now swimming, if not like a fish, then like a pretty confident tadpole. He swims underwater with goggles, can jump off the pool diving board and swim to the edge, and spent yesterday bodysurfing the waves off Fire Island. Littleboy 2, a little more cautious by nature, loves swimming in my arms but is too scared as yet to let go. He spends beach days meticulously collecting sand and shells and making 'pancakes' - his name for mud pies and sandcastles.

Meanwhile my own swimming has also improved thanks to those evenings ploughing up and down the pool lanes - a man swimming with his young son even complimented me on my crawl the other day. (I wondered if he was actually flirting, because my swimming is not that great, although after watching him swim realised that he was just a really bad swimmer and probably did admire my very mediocre strokes....) The Doctor has similarly improved his own pool stamina and also perfected his barbecuing skills - he makes a mean grilled corn and ribs, to rival that of any American cook.

I've really come around to the idea of summer camp this year - last year, you may remember I was mystified by the whole thing, still believing it involved log cabins and weeks away from home. (This, I have subsequently learned, is called Sleepaway Camp, and usually takes place somewhere upstate or in New England). The boys head off in their swimwear every day and are treated to a morning of creative craft-making combined with outdoor activity and water play that tires them out until, ooh, at least 3pm, at which point I must do something else with them. The holidays are so long here, and the weather is good enough to be outdoors, that summer camp turns out to be a simply brilliant idea, and one that I would love to replicate in the UK.

What else have I learnt about August on Long Island?

That when people say they are 'headed out East' for vacation, they mean the Hamptons, not a trip to Asia.

And if they say they are headed for the Shore, this means the Jersey Shore (you never refer to it as New Jersey). These appear to be the two most favoured holiday destinations - and there is no question that anyone will ever go abroad (well, why would they need to?).

If you go on a playdate to someone else's house, take mosquito repellent. Everyone's gardens are a hotbed of insect life (including our own) and I only need to be outside for two seconds to be eaten alive. Weirdly, this doesn't seem to affect the people actually hosting the playdates.

Like last August, there is absolutely nothing on the TV - except for something called the Real Housewives of DC, which started last week and is true car-crash reality TV*. So it's a good thing we have a subscription to the New York Times and a box set of The Sopranos handy.

Sand gets everywhere. I keep finding it around the house; in beds, on the floor, in the Littleboys' hair. The car is a mess of sand and suncream-y finger marks on the windows. This is one downside of living by the sea.

In a real New York summer, you really don't need anything but shorts, t-shirts and swimwear. So it's going to be quite a change, heading to England and Wales next week, and having to pack jeans and jumpers along with our summer clothes.....I wonder what the Littleboys will make of it?

*Mothership has quite rightly reminded me that Mad Men has started. Definitely the best thing on TV in the US; I only wish it ran all year.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Gallery; Playtime

Here are the Littleboys on their trampoline, shortly after it arrived in our lives in May. (Note to the health and safety police; we do now have a safety net for it. )
It's been a huge hit, and I could spend many paragraphs describing why, but I think the picture says it all, really......
This post is for The Gallery; this week's topic, playtime.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Weekend wildlife

We were out for a walk on Sunday morning (the first day in about a month that the temperature has been mild enough to actually go for a walk, rather than heading straight for cold water or cold airconditioning somewhere) when Littleboy 2 started screaming and clutching his mouth. It was a little hard to hear what had happened, because he was sobbing so much, but once we had worked out that no, his brother hadn't hit him and no, he hadn't fallen over, we realised that he had been stung on the lip by something. Eventually I coaxed the following out of him; it was 'brown' and 'it buzzed'.

The Doctor went to have a look at where they had been playing and identified the culprits - a pair of reddy-brown hornet type things. By this time Littleboy 2's lip had begun to swell up dramatically, giving a whole new meaning to the expression 'bee-stung lips'. He has rather full lips anyway, so one side being double the size of the other really did make him look as if a Botox experiment had gone badly wrong.....

This is where having a medical husband comes in handy. If I had been on my own, I might well have rushed him off to the doctor's surgery, but my own Doctor prescribed ice lollies. And reader, they worked. Both boys got Dora the Explorer popsicles, after which they had been clamouring for days since the neighbours started giving them out (I, being a Mean Mummy, had refused to buy them, partly because they turn the boys' tongues such garish shades of green and purple that you wonder what the hell is in them). The lip started to subside. Everyone was happy.

Until that is, Littleboy 1 got bitten by a vampire ant outside our front door. I say vampire, because this ant (large, black, horrible) attached itself to his neck and dug its teeth in. It wouldn't be brushed off and had to be almost surgically removed by a piece of kitchen towel. He actually had a puncture wound in his neck. He was sobbing. I was screaming. The Doctor was killing the ant in the sink. All very dramatic. More popsicles were required, just to cheer him up.

How on earth they have managed to avoid being bitten by anything other than a mosquito in 14 months here, and then in one morning have two incidents, is beyond me. But we now have a fridge full of Dora popsicles, and the boys will want one every night until the box is empty. C'est la vie.......