Monday, 28 November 2011

Turkey Trotting

I completed the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, and have now been bitten by the running bug. I enjoyed the five mile run so much that I was inspired to do another identical one three days later, and I'd like to work my way up to 10k sometime.

For someone who was never a runner, the news that you can break through that pain barrier and feel fantastic after a five mile run is a real revelation. (Although I can't imagine ever doing a marathon. I just don't fancy that kind of pain). As a child, I routinely came last in sports day races (prompting annoying comments from people that they just couldn't understand it, as I had long skinny legs that looked perfect for running. Yes, clearly I was JUST SLOW).

Not only was the race great fun, it was also fabulous for people watching. Having failed to meet up with the people I was planning to run with among the 2000 odd runners, I found myself on my own - something I didn't mind at all once the race got going. I didn't have to speak (probably a good thing) and I didn't have to keep pace with anyone. I just went at my own pace, took in the crowds of runners, and listened to snippets of conversation from around me.

There was the competitive Dad, who told his seven or eight year old son: "Just remember to keep a steady pace at the beginning. Save yourself. Then when we get to Sandy Lane (a gentle stretch of downhill road), we're going to BURN it."

There was the teenage girl who told her friends half way through: "I'm going to take a break now. I'm having iPhone issues." (Clearly much more important than completing the race).

There was the teenage boy standing one the sidelines who held up a placard and shouted 'Occupy Turkey Trot!" as we came through. (It made me laugh, anyway).

I loved how families, old and young, turned out to watch the race, calling out 'Happy Thanksgiving' as well we came through. (I think Christmas day runs should become a tradition in the UK - it's such a great idea). There was a real community spirit and American tradition on display - a nice antidote to the relentless slew of ads about Black Friday and 'Doorbuster Deals' on US TV that gives the impression that Thankgiving is all about spend, spend, spend.

But the best thing about the run? Seeing The Doctor and The Littleboys cheering me on, and finding them coming to meet me as I wended my way back from the finish line towards home. Oh, and the fact that I could eat an enormous Thanksgiving dinner, washed down with plenty of sparkling wine, afterwards - and not feel guilty.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Giving thanks...

Thanksgiving is almost up on us, and life has been fairly hectic. Even the Doctor (who only reads my blog every few weeks) commented the other day that I haven't been posting as much as I used to.

There are several reasons for this. The main one is that I am just too busy. I work every day, writing for a magazine website, between nine and three at home, and then the boys come home from school at 3.15. I fit in shopping, laundry and everything else when I have a quiet moment at work, and then have fifteen minutes in which to mentally switch between work mode and 'Mummy' mode. Then between three and six, it's homework, reading, piano practice, and activities; swimming lessons, music lessons, playdates. Time to cook dinner, then we're into the whole bed and bath routine. By the evening I am too shattered, plus less keen on spending hours at a laptop I've already slaved over all day.

I've also been gearing up for a five mile run which takes place in our town every Thanksgiving morning, so my energies have been going somewhat more into exercise than usual. (The 'Turkey Trot' , as it's known, is a Thanksgiving tradition in many American towns, although it sounds like something you might come down with on holiday in Bodrum). And I had a lovely weekend catching up with my dear friend Four Down Mum To Go, who was in town for her birthday present and busy emptying the Manhattan stores of their wares.

But another reason is that things are relatively quiet and calm. I loved this recent post by Iota, in which she explains her less frequent postings on her blog by the fact that she is both busy and happy. It's similar here.

I'm into the start of my third year here as a Brit in America, so I'm no longer so bewildered by American customs, language or idiosyncrasies (although some still fox me occasionally) that they seem worth commenting on. I don't have to do anything like take a driving test, apply for a credit card or find out about the American school system. After all the excitement of the tree drama and house move, I feel as if things are on an even keel - and that suits me just fine, thanks very much. I'm not asking for drama.

There will undoubtedly be more blog fodder coming up soon. The "Holidays" are fast approaching, we've got trips to California and Vermont lined up, and the Littleboys are hilariously taking part in a piano recital. (Update: Littleboy 1 has now, amazingly, discovered that he LOVES the piano and is practising non-stop without even being asked to. Littleboy 2 is determinedly refusing to practice his recital pieces.)

But, in the spirit of Thanksgiving (when all American schoolchildren are asked to draw multiple pictures of things they are thankful for, as well as the ubiquitous handprint turkey art), this week I am thankful that all is relatively peaceful.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Gallery: 11.11.11

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Sunset, Long Island, on 11-11-11. To see more beautiful posts, see The Gallery at Sticky Fingers.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

If it's Fall, it must be cleanup time

It must be November because huge lorries, with industrial size hoses, are currently plying the streets, advertising 'Fall Cleanup' services. Everywhere you look on suburban front lawns, large crews of Hispanic guys in hoodies are blowing leaves and putting them into black plastic sacks.

You see, practically no-one around here 'does' their own garden. It just doesn't seem to be the done thing. Instead, the majority employ one of these so-called 'landscaping' crews to cut their grass, trim their hedges and, in autumn, clean up the hundreds of leaves that fall. These gangs will arrive in a truck before around eight of them descend on your garden, then leave ten minutes later.

In our previous house, our landlady took care of the gardening, so it wasn't really an issue - although she was never satisfied with the efforts of the firms she employed, and I would constantly be having to report to her that they'd only stayed five minutes. But in our new house, we are responsible for the gardening (along with the burglar alarm, wildly over-the-top sprinkler system and other devices that, ideally, we would be happy to live without). The current gardening team will soon finish for the 'season', and we must then decide whether to keep them on, choose someone else - or go it alone.

Now, I am sure that, were we to own an equivalent sized garden in the UK, we would mow the lawn and clean up the leaves ourselves. It's not a massive garden, and the leaves would be quite manageable with a decent rake. Besides, the Brits love to do their own gardens; gardening is such as integral part of British middle class life. Gardeners are mainly for people with acres of land (or maybe eye candy for modern day Lady Chatterley types). Certainly no-one I know in England employs a 'landscaping' firm to mow a small plot of grass and clear up leaves.

But on the other hand, there are obstacles to doing it ourselves. No-one around here seems to burn leaves on bonfires (I'm not sure if it's illegal, or just unpopular) so that will mean lots of bagging of leaves, of which there are a fair few. We'd also have to get hold of a lawnmower somehow. No point buying one for under two years, and it wouldn't work in the UK because of the voltage. We might be able to borrow one from a neighbour, but if that's not an option, I am really not sure how we would manage the grass.

So do we just throw more money at the problem? The gardeners charge $40 a week, which I am told is reasonable but seems fairly pricey to me (considering the barely 10 minutes they spend here). It costs much more for the 'Fall Cleanup'. Also, they don't appear to do any 'gardening' per se other than grass cutting and leaf blowing - one day I asked them cut back some long grasses which were blocking our back gate, and they looked at me as if I had asked them to fly to the moon and back.

Once again we have a choice to make. Accept that attitudes towards gardening are different here and just spend (waste?) the money. Or make a concerted effort to do the garden ourselves by beg, borrowing and stealing lawnmowers and leaf blowers, baffling all others in the street and earning ourselves even more of a reputation as eccentric English? It's a dilemma....

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Silent Sunday

Long Island Sound, November. (And if you look closely, you might just spot my sons fighting each other with sticks).

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Angry Birds, Octopuses and the Snowstorm that wasn't

Well, Halloween is over for another year (although not the decorations. Most people's decorations are still up, and will be until Thanksgiving, when they'll be replaced by Christmas ones. One friend commented to me the other day, noting that her neighbours had taken theirs down straight after Halloween, 'that pumpkin's going to sit there 'till it rots, or a squirrel eats it').

Amazingly, we escaped the freak October snowstorm that ravaged much of the Northeast last weekend - a good thing too, as The Doctor was away in Texas, and I would have been badly prepared. Our part of Long Island saw only a day of torrential, sleety rain, while areas only 20 miles away saw several inches of snow and high winds that knocked out power lines. Thank God for that, because I am not sure I can cope with any more extreme weather events so soon after Irene. So Trick or Treating went ahead as planned (in some areas, it was actually cancelled because of the danger of downed power lines and pitch darkness. That would have gone down very badly; for some Americans, it is practically bigger than Christmas).

Littleboy 1 went as an Angry Bird this year - a homemade effort, as I was loath to spend $50 on the 'official' costume, but it's amazing what black feathers, black eye makeup and some wings cut out of foam can achieve. Meanwhile Littleboy 2 insisted on wearing his Octopus costume from preschool graduation; this was both easy and also ensured that I received frequent, undeserved praise for what was actually the preschool teachers' handiwork. Yes, the Nappy Valley household takes Halloween a lot more seriously now. This time I even managed to inveigle The Doctor into coming to the school parade (readers from last year will be pleased to hear that everyone respected the integrity of the cordon.)

Now we are into November, and I was slightly horrified to see that the boys have no less than six days off during the month. Only two of them are consecutive - Thanksgiving and the following day - the rest are for Election Day, two parent-teacher conference days (why can't they just schedule the meetings in the evenings?) and Veterans Day on the 11th (which is one of those public holidays when most people still work). I can't keep taking days off work, so I have been hurriedly booking them into sports camps for the day, and arranging impromptu playdates.

What with turkey day looming, then Littleboy 2's birthday (this year to be spent in California) and then Christmas, life seems pretty full-on at the moment.....