Thursday, 28 July 2011

High, high summer

The end of July, and the languor of high summer has really set in here.

Hot days, warm nights, the roar of the airconditioning in our bedroom and the smell of chlorine and suncream on the boys (which never seems quite to disappear, despite numerous baths). On the plus side, never having to put on more than shorts and a t-shirt. On the minus side, being bitten by mosquitoes every time I step out of the house - that is, without being encased in extra-lethal bug spray.

When I go out to give the garden some much-needed watering at night, there is still the odd beautiful firefly but these have mainly been replaced by the surprisingly loud hum of the cicadas and chirping of crickets. (My un-scientific observation, after three summers, is that cicadas must either eat or kill fireflies. Anyone know?)

We had the tail end of the Midwestern heatwave last week, but really it wasn't too bad. People from England kept emailing us to ask if it was unbearable. Well, no. Two years ago, we might have suffered, trying to keep the airconditioning to a minimum and going out Britishly for walks. But now, we have learned that if you keep the a/c running at home, head for the pool above all other activities, and don't exert yourself too much, it's actually fine. Much worse was the heatwave of 2003 in London, when I recall regularly having to stand in the fridge door and avoiding the Tube at all costs. (Although on the rare occasion when we did march around outside here , it did feel a little like being baked at 350 degrees in an oven).

While England has its silly season, America always seems beset by political wranglings in the summer. At the moment it is the talks over raising the debt ceiling. Will America default on its loans? Can Obama win over the frankly quite lunatic tea-party-ers on the right? As I write, The Doctor is watching CNN with the strapline 'Countdown to Crisis' across the screen. I ought to care more. I know it is important, but I have this slightly bored feeling with the the whole thing, suspecting that of course they are going to resolve it somehow. At the moment, whether or not it's gong to thunder tomorrow and if so, how much I need to water my hanging baskets seems much more pressing.

I think summer's heat must be getting to me....

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Camp visit, with Murdochs thrown in

It's been a bit of a crazy week here, with broken down cars, stressful grant applications and various work crises on both sides conspiring to disrupt the usual, ahem, serene flow of life in the Nappy Valley household. And it was particularly chaotic on Tuesday, when both The Doctor and I were duty bound to attend a parents' visiting day at Littleboy 1's summer camp, on top of everything else that was going on.

Not only that, but I was desperate to watch the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks being grilled by the Select Committee, taking place that very same morning (New York time). This has been one of those sagas that I would have loved to be at home for, dissecting the ins and outs and implications for journalism in a bar with my friends; most people I know out here have probably never even heard of the News of the World. Thank goodness for the internet and Twitter (which, finally, I am starting to see the point of).

The camp visit, of only an hour, had to be fitted in around everything else that was going on that day. Rupert Murdoch had just started speaking as we left, so we pitched up in the car listening to The Murdochs on the radio (perhaps they could turn it into a serial like The Archers?), reluctantly switching it off as we parked in a baseball field. "It's like going on a Cross Channel ferry," remarked The Doctor, as we were directed to park in a line of other cars, bumper to bumper, in marked out lanes.

It was an occasion run with military precision. Hundreds of parents were being marshalled towards camp, wielding video cameras and iPhones to capture the sporting acheivements of their little darlings on film. We had been given strict instructions to 'wear flat shoes, as you are visiting camp' - not a problem for me, as I live in flip flops during the summer months, but there were a few parents who clearly didn't get the memo and looked as if they were dressed for a Regency garden party.

During the next hour, while watching Littleboy 1 play basketball and hockey and swim (parents shouting out comments like 'Top Shelf, Buddy!" at their offspring) I managed the odd furtive look at Twitter to find out what was happening, Murdoch-wise. Sadly I missed custard-pie gate, but I have to say it was worth it to see Littleboy 1 shooting hoops, a big smile on his face whenever he turned around to see us, and swimming underwater like a fish.

And, although I felt a bit guilty at taking a moment to prise my eyes away from my firstborn and indeed my husband wielding foam hockey sticks, I wasn't quite as bad as one Dad, who was actually talking on his mobile as he played hockey during the Dads and Kids hockey game. I wonder if he works for News Corp.?......

Monday, 18 July 2011

Explaining the mysteries of life to a 4 year old.

I'm really bad at trying to explain religion to my kids.

It probably doesn't help that I'm not religious myself, but at the same time I sort of feel they have to know about it. Littleboy 2 in particular is always asking questions like "Who made us?' and wants to know where everything came from. I always have to come up with wishy washy answers such as "Well, some people think God made us and some people don't believe that," and feel it would be a lot easier if I either believed the Bible verbatim or was brave enough to start quoting Richard Dawkins at him.

So I found myself having the following conversation with him today on the rather hot, sticky walk home from summer camp.

LB2: If God made us, then who made God?
NVG: Well, nobody knows. It's a mystery.
LB2: Did he make himself?
NVG: Well, I suppose he might have done.
LB2: But how can a person make themself?
NVG: Well, God isn't a person.
LB2: What is he?
NVG: Well, he's just like.....a being. Some kind of power. If you believe in God, that is. Kind of like a....a superhero, I guess (struggling to find some comparison that he would understand).
LB2: God is a superhero? Does he wear a costume?

So. Great. Now my son thinks God is on a par with Batman. And I'm still lamely trying to add the 'Some people think...." coda to everything I say.

Where did it all go wrong?

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Gallery: Travel

If there is one gift I would like to look back and say that I have given my children, it is the opportunity to travel.

I was extremely lucky as a child. My parents, living in Hong Kong, decided to make the most of it and take us on many exotic holidays, stopping off around the world on annual leave back to the UK. So by the time I was 10, I had been on safari in Africa, on the bullet train in Japan, on the beaches of Hawaii, to temples in Thailand and in street markets in Sri Lanka.

The travel bug stayed with me. Once I met The Doctor, we continued to travel. We took overnight trains from North to South Vietnam. We island-hopped in Greece and Inter-Railed around Europe. We drove across Europe in an ageing Golf with no airconditioning (interesting). We saw the sunset over the mountains of southern Sicily (below) on September 11, 2001, not realising that the world of aeroplane travel was about to change forever.

Then a few years ago we took sabbaticals, bought a round the world ticket and took off for far-flung places like Bolivia, Cambodia and Laos (Luang Prabang, below) that we knew would become less easy to visit once we started a family.

After you have kids, of course everything changes a bit. It's more tempting to stay closer to home, to self-cater, and of course you're not going to be staying in grotty hostels any more if you can help it. But, mindful of my parents who took two small children to some wild and wonderful locations, I'm still determined to travel with the family.

Yes, travelling with little ones can be a challenge. But I absolutely love taking my children to new places. Because I love seeing the world through their eyes. Because I can see them learning, experiencing, lapping up life. But most of all because I know that their childhood memories will be infused with these trips, that they will look back on their childhood and these experiences will stand out - paddling in a Norwegian lake (above), summer camp in America, sleeping on an overnight Amtrak train through the Deep South. That's, to be honest, a big part of the reason we moved to the US. That's why we'll nearly always opt for a roadtrip over a week in resort (however tempting that might be). And that's why I'll never say that it's too much work to take my children travelling.

This post is for Sticky Fingers: The Gallery.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Summer days, drifting away....

I know everyone in the UK is just breaking up from school, but here in the US we're well into summer already and are adjusting to a new routine here in the Nappy Valley household.

Post Fourth of July, all the summer camps have started - so the yellow school buses no longer ply the school routes, but pick up the kids at their doors and take them back and forth. (This has not been welcomed by The Doctor, who is used to their normal routes and has been complaining that they now stop in unexpected places as he drives to work.)

Littleboy 1 went excitedly off to a new Big Boy camp for the first time this week, clutching a baseball mitt he had no idea how to use and several swimsuits. He's away all day, from 8.30 till 4.30, and comes back happy, dirty and exhausted, sporting badges saying stuff like "I'm a winner". (When I asked him what this was for, he shrugged - I suspect they all got that one, but hey, that's the American way).

We went for a very typical All-American old-style summer camp this year, aware that he won't get this opportunity back in the UK. It's set in several acres of wooded wilderness, and the kids keep their stuff in cabins that look like they were built in the 30s, go swimming twice a day and play baseball, softball, basketball, tennis and soccer. He already refers to his friends as his 'camp buddies' (although this could be because he doesn't actually know their names - typical boy) and I am turning a blind eye to the tales of popsicles, Fruit Loops and ice cream handed out at snacks (well, at least he's exercising).

Littleboy 2, meanwhile, starts his morning day camp next week and has been champing at the bit as I've tried to fit in my work around him this week. Screaming that his tongue hurt as I was on the phone to a PR was a low point - luckily, I knew her well enough to explain. As soon as my work day is finished at 3pm, I whip him into his swimming trunks and we're off to the town pool - which has been redone to look like some kind of Caribbean resort, all undulating edges and an island with plants and a waterfall in the middle of the pool. Really, all it needs is a swim-up bar and it could be Club Med. (But, being New York, of course all alcohol is strictly forbidden. Because that would be too much like fun.)

Littleboy 2 can now swim, but he's still too little to leave on his own in the pool, so we spend our hour and a half of time playing 'swim to Mummy' and I watch him jump off the side several million times before it's back home to wait for Littleboy 1 to arrive on his bus.

Then there's just about time for a cup of tea before I'm starting to cook supper and prepare clothes and bags for the next day. If The Doctor gets home early, one or other of us might have time to go off for an evening swim by oursevles - the serenest hour of the day. But by the time the boys are in bed, I'm ready for bed myself. And thus I suspect it will continue, until we head off on our Canadian roadtrip in late August.

Whoever said the summer holidays were relaxing?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Karaoke, New York style

The wise and wonderful Knackered Mother of Wine Club fame (who has recently been voted one of the five blogs to watch by no less than The Guardian), has tagged me in a meme to write about karaoke, and which song I would pick if I were to partake in this particular activity.

Now this is a little tricky. I haven't sung karaoke for years (unless you count warbling along to the radio in the car, which normally provokes shouts of 'Be quiet, Mummy!' from the Littleboys). I was also wondering to myself how my time in America has also influenced my taste in music, because although you might think we listen to much the same music on both sides of the pond - and to some extent that's true - it is different in many subtle ways.

For a start, American radio does not play British pop stalwarts such as Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue or Girls Aloud. There are British artists who have definitely made it here and are played constantly on American radio (eg. Coldplay) - but others who haven't (eg. the brilliant Elbow). Our local radio station plays a lot of Billy Joel - he's from Long Island, so perhaps it's not surprising - but it's impossible here to hear the latest from Take That.

In America, even mainstream radio tends to include a little bit of country. (Do they play Lady Antebellum on British radio? I doubt it.) and I think this has come to influence my musical taste. I've always liked Sheryl Crow and Shania Twain, but since coming here I've discovered Taylor Swift. So I guess you might find me warbling along to Taylor's Love Story, or (to be even more All American) about being on the bleachers and wearing sneakers. But I fear I'd be outdone by the ultra-confident nine year old girls who I heard belting out these numbers up on the karaoke stage at our town's summer festival recently.......

So, I think I'd have to settle for a song that sums up my time in New York so far. I may not have seen my name in lights down on Broadway, but I definitely share Alicia Keys' sentiments in this one.