Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Mild Winter

Daffodils are out on Long Island, crocuses and snowdrops are blooming, and the ponds are resolutely un-frozen. In the discount aisle today at the local supermarket: snow shovels, ice melt, kids' hats and gloves. (I should probably be snapping up these items ahead of next winter, but I guess retailers know this isn't the way consumer minds work).

Whereas this time last year we were still surrounded by several feet of snow, this year we've escaped thus far with just a few days of really cold weather (and that's cold by NY standards, so minus 9 celsius or so), one snowstorm, and a few sleety days. The New York Times weather page, desperate for some interesting news to report, has taken to new descriptions such as 'nuisance snow' for any sign of precipitation.

Local people say it's the mildest winter they can recall. There are various predictions; it'll mean a boring, unspectacular spring; a cool summer; the mosquitoes will be worse than ever this summer; oh no, they'll be better because they won't have had the chance to breed under all that melted snow. (Mention global warming and people look uncomfortable; most Americans in this area aren't climate change deniers, but they probably know they're not doing very much about it all.)

In many ways we haven't minded at all. The Doctor embarked on a full-on exercise regime in January, running or cycling every morning before breakfast, and I've carried on running since November, slowly upping my distances and stamina (I'm now up to an eight mile run around the peninsula). The lack of snow and ice has meant we can do this unimpeded, and the cool, sunny temperatures are perfect for outdoor exercise.

But the lack of snow has been a little sad for the boys. Their sleds sit in the garage, unused except for one snowy Saturday; we haven't been able to sled on the big hills at the golf course, like last year. They've had a few more ice skating lessons at the local indoor rink, but when we went skating last weekend at an outdoor rink in a park, the ice was slushy, wet and pretty unpleasant to skate on. Still, they've been able to carry on riding their bikes, and playing football in the garden; last year, that was out of the question until mid-March. (I'm just glad I didn't buy them new snowboots this year, letting them squeeze into last year's despite being half a size too small).

Unless something drastic happens in the next month, real Long Island winter will never really have happened. We'll be in the UK for most of April; when we come back, summertime will be just around the corner. So come on winter, what are you hiding? Are we going to be get a last minute blast that will kill off all the budding blossom? Or is this it; The Mild Winter?

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

American history lesson

Littleboy 2 decided to fill me in on Abraham Lincoln this morning as I was putting on his shoes. (It was Presidents' Day yesterday, an annual holiday marking the birthdays of Lincoln and George Washington, and the start of 'Presidents' Week', half term by any other name).

"Abraham Lincoln grew up in a log cabin without ANY electricity," he informed me. "But then he moved to the White House, and he had everything he wanted."

I thought about pointing out that he still wouldn't have had electricity in the White House. But I didn't want to spoil his story, which I guess is a sort of kids' nutshell version of the American dream - very apt.

"And," he continued, "He got shot."

"Yes," I said, solemnly, as Littleboy 1 piped up: "Just like Martin Luther King!" (Oh Lord. I can see a conversation coming on about why quite so many great American leaders were assassinated).

"He got shot because he wanted everyone to be check," he said. "My teacher told me."

"Check? What does that mean?"

His determined little blue eyes cloud with confusion. "I don't know".

"Oh," I say, (making mental note to ask the teacher). "Well, I don't know either. I thought it was because he was against slavery."

I am always having these moments. Better go and read up about Abraham Lincoln. Any ideas about 'check'? ......

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Medics and Music

Littleboy 1 made his second trip to an American ER this week, almost a year to date since the first one.

This time he managed to gash the top of his head, running under a slide in the school playground. ("We were playing Angry Birds, and I was the piggy," was his explanation).

Unlike before, I took him this time, and made the following observations about an American ER.

1. There is no-one that looks like George Clooney, or even Noah Wyle - instead, the doctors seemed about 18 years old and looked more like spotty college students.

2. No-one ran about demanding CBC and Chem7, or even asking for a 'psych consult'.

3. The staff were chatting about their lunch or the Super Bowl, rather than rowing about the patients or their love lives.

4. There really is no difference between the pediatric ER in the UK and US, other than the fact you have more forms to fill out and a nice $100 'co-pay' to be coughed up there and then.

Anyway, Littleboy 1 was once again stoical about it all, only slightly losing it when the doctor explained that he would have a staple put in his head. On first hearing this, I had confidently told him, "it's not like a stapler you use for paper, darling," (the boys are obsessed with stapling and are always nicking mine) only for the doctor to approach carrying what looked like, er, a stapler. Littleboy 1's chain started to wobble (and frankly I don't blame him), but it was soon all over and he now sports a shiny metal staple looking remarkably similar to a paper staple, under his hair. This appendage has clearly gained him something approaching infamy at school - apparently, several of his friends actually wrote about his staple in their journals yesterday.

Anyway, perhaps the most bizarre thing about the whole episode occurred when we came home from the ER. I asked him if he wanted to watch TV as a treat until his brother got home from school. He opted instead for playing the piano - manically, for about half an hour, and with intense brio.

Regular readers may remember that the boys started piano lessons in September, and Littleboy 1's first one in particular was disastrous, as he banged on the piano, misbehaved and refused to do anything the teacher asked. Well, those of you mulling the idea of starting your child on an instrument, do not let this put you off. About six weeks into his course of lessons, something miraculous occurred. Littleboy 1 decided he LOVED the piano. He began practising all the time, unprompted, improved very quickly and was soon racing through his first piano book. He performed brilliantly at the music school recital in December, and his teacher now says he is one of her most promising pupils. It was completely unpredicted, as we had thought Littleboy 2 would be the more musical one (he's doing fine, but as you would expect) - just goes to show you never can tell.

Even knowing that, I was still fairly astonished that after a session in the ER, all he wanted to do was practice the piano. Then I remembered the time that his grandfather - himself a very talented pianist - had accidentally swallowed a wasp in a glass of cider (yes, really.) Refusing all offers of being driven to hospital, his reaction was to drink more cider, then sit down and manically play the piano.....

Maybe it runs in the family.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Why I won't be watching the Super Bowl

Why - unlike almost everyone else in New York - I won't be watching the Super Bowl on Sunday.....

1. I simply don't understand American football. And, frankly, I have no desire to learn about it. Yes, I know the New York Giants are in it, and all that, but frankly, I couldn't name a single player.

2. My husband and children also have no interest. The boys are still confused about why we call 'soccer' football and Americans call the thing they play in helmets 'football'. They haven't mentioned the Super Bowl to me (they're actually more obsessed with Groundhog Day a the moment, bless them). As for The Doctor, asked by the boys to give an example of a 'football team', he mentioned The Mets. (Er, baseball).

3. Despite the fact that I write about advertising for a living, I don't need to watch the actual Super Bowl commercial breaks, because most of the ads have already been released on YouTube this year. (Among the best are the Ferris Bueller Honda ad with Matthew Broderick all grown up, and the new VW ad, The Dog Strikes Back, (although it has to be said, the teaser for this, The Bark Side, was actually better).

4. We can't watch it! We'll be driving back from the Catskills, where we are spending the weekend (hopefully) ski-ing with friends. I say hopefully because it has been about 15 degrees celsius in New York this week - not exactly snow-friendly weather. The boys were playing outside yesterday without coats. But the resort is supposed to have excellent snowmaking facilities, and, according to the New York Times, ski resorts are virtually empty on Super Bowl weekends, so at least there will be no lift queues. (Apparently, it's also a good day to get a bargain plane ticket). And when we do get back, I'll be tuning into Downton Abbey on PBS, rather than ripping open the Doritos and sitting back to watch the game.

5. When everyone is chattering about the Big Game on Monday, I will be able to, once again, come across as the crazy English person who has no interest whatsoever. Or, I can just nod sagely, and say 'what a game!'.