Tuesday 30 March 2010

Outside my front door: The Gallery

It is raining cats and dogs outside my front door (which is the new prompt for The Gallery) at the moment. Meanwhile, on the inside, it is fair old chaos, as we try to pack for a 10 day roadtrip taking in Florida, Georgia and all the other states between New York and the South - no mean feat when the weather could range from snowstorms to tropical heat. The Doctor has already announced, with a meaningful look at me, that he does not want to be carrying 'hundreds of little bags' in and out of motels every day, but at the same time that he does not want me to overload the Big Suitcase with heavy stuff. Sigh....

Anyway, here is a picture of our driveway*, taken last November at the height of the autumn foliage. As you can see, we live in an area with a lot of very tall trees. So leaves are very much a feature of our life here, framing the changing seasons.

In the autumn, there are so many leaves that the council has special leaf-collecting lorries that trawl the streets once a week to remove the debris. Residents spend most weekends leaf-blowing and raking, while others employ large gangs of 'landscapers' for the task. But as you can see, it is beautiful.

In the summer, our street is cool and green, shaded by the huge trees. The boys collect pine cones by the dozen, and the leaves are so thick you can hardly see the neighbouring houses.

Winter is much more public, with unexpected vistas of neighbouring homes, but I rather like the extra sunlight it affords our house. The trees are battered by frequent storms, and it's not unusual to see a large branch down, or half a tree lying in the street. We live in fear of one falling on the car (it's happened to a number of people I know).

Now it is spring, and the driveway is covered in pinky-red blossoms that fall all over the car windscreen and stick to the soles of my boots.
*Note also, in the centre, our all-American mailbox. I still haven't got used to the fact that letters don't come through our front door, and I have to remember to go and empty it. But the Littleboys love being asked to go and look inside.

Friday 26 March 2010

Things I will know for next year's school show

1. When you get a slip of paper telling you that your elder son's class will be putting on a little show next week at preschool, think about it a bit harder. OK, it may not be the nativity play, you may not have to make a costume, but come on, everyone loves to watch their children perform.....

2. Don't go to book club the evening before and drink a strong cocktail and a large glass of wine, while nibbling on a few appetisers. You will not sleep well, feel bleary-eyed and not a bit like leaping up in the morning and fitting in that supermarket shop before the show, as you had planned. You will also be crabby with your children, who have chosen this very morning to throw the contents of their toy chest down the stairs......

3. Don't talk about the show in front of your younger son just as you arrive at the preschool. He will throw the most enormous tantrum because he wants to watch his brother. Once you have established with his teacher that this is OK, accept that he will not want to wait another whole hour for the show to begin and will have to be parked downstairs in his brother's classroom until it happens.

4. Don't show up 5 minutes before the show starts, thinking that this is quite early enough. For a start, there will be nowhere to park as a fleet of gleaming SUVs appears to have taken over the entire area. Once you reach the classroom, the other parents will be sitting in the front row seats expectantly, while you and Littleboy 2 will be relegated to perching on a rickety table at the back.

5. Bring your camera. Everyone else has. Some have huge profressional-looking models with tripods set up, some have video cameras. Somehow the crappy camera on your phone doesn't quite cut it....

5. Consider asking your husband to come along. There are, after all, loads of Dads there, all of whom are smartly dressed and appear to have taken the morning off work to make a special trip to the 10 minute performance.....

6. Bring cupcakes or muffins for the snack table afterwards. You were not actually asked to do this, but everyone else just seemed to know.

7. Bring a packet of tissues. Because your eyes will well up with pride at the sight of your darling child standing with his classmates singing a song about helping out in the neighbourhood - in a distinctly American accent.........

Wednesday 24 March 2010

The Gallery. Me. Well, kind of....

I've never posted a recognisable picture of myself on the blog - I've always preferred to remain relatively anonymous, probably more out of paranoia about the internet than anything else. (I'll probably cave in one day and out myself with a full biog and tonnes of photos, as the lovely Liberty London Girl did recently. But somehow I doubt that Grazia is going to be publishing a feature on me any time soon).
But the theme of this week's The Gallery is 'Me'. So what to do?
I thought I would ask the Littleboys to help out with their own artistic impressions. They are not the most diligent of artists, usually abandoning any effort after about 10 seconds and moving on to throw pens around the room or scribble on the tablecloth. (I had to laugh recently when a mother posted on a local parenting forum complaining that she could not find a kiddie art class that was creative enough for her daughter.)
Nevertheless they do like drawing, and were very excited about the prospect of their creations being photographed and ending up on the 'pooter.
The first picture is Littleboy 1's effort. Rather an interesting portrait, I think, with more than a hint of Cubism about it. I asked him what the very long 'S' in front of my body was. "A really long arm," he answered. And the two yellow circles at the foot of the page? "Some more feet." I don't know what the various other weird appendages are supposed to be, and I think I'd rather not ask.....
OK. So Mummy is basically a hunchback with a super-long robotic-looking arm and an extra pair of feet. Sounds about right. At least my legs are pleasingly slim.
Littleboy 2's effort is a bit more minimalist. I rather like it. A nice smiley face. With what looks like an electric current coming out of my head.
I'm relieved, anyway, that I am smiling in both of the pictures, and not shouting, grumpy or telling them off.
So that, my bloggy friends, is me.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Scents and sensibility

I'm guest blogging today over at SignatureScent, whose simply delightful blog is about all things fragrant. Somehow she finds the time to review a different perfume every day. (She's a resident of Nappy Valley, too.)

You can read my post here: it charts my relationship with fragrances over the years, from teenage Loulou to 90s White Linen - and what I'm wearing today. (Apart, that is, from the faint waft of Sudocrem, garlic from the chilli con carne that I've just cooked for the boys and a hint of washing up liquid....)

I'd love to know what some other people's favourites are.......

Sunday 21 March 2010

10 reasons you know it's Spring on Long Island

1. You go for a walk and notice that one of your children is wearing last year's crocs and the other snowboots. You realise it might be time to visit the shoe shop....

2. The weather is varying wildly; from 4 degrees and raining one weekend, to 21 degrees and brilliant sunshine the next. A few weeks ago you were sledgng; now your children are playing outside with hoses.

3. Suddenly the garden bursts into life and you begin worrying about things like poison ivy again....meanwhile the ubiquitous gangs of gardeners (or 'landscapers' as they are known here) reappear after vanishing over the winter. (Did they fly south?)

4. I can actually sit out on my porch and read the paper. It's warm enough, and the mosquitoes haven't reappeared. Yet. Although a friend swears she's seen one...

5. Your husband is saying you need a new barbecue as a matter of urgency; so you spend half of the warmest Saturday of the year perusing the local branches of Wal-Mart and Target for a mysterious hybrid model that is said to combine both gas and charcoal.

6. You visit a local playground and it is busier than you have EVER seen it, even in the height of summer. Mothers you haven't seen since September suddenly emerge, and confess that they have been 'hibernating'.

7. The queue for the ice cream van at said playground is half a mile long and everyone is enthusiastically ordering lollies for their kids. A bit different from summer, when most mothers are cursing the van and the frequency of its visits to the park.

8. Rather random Easter decorations appear on houses and in shop windows. The local pharmacy appears to have Easter eggs dangling from tinsel Christmas trees. Well, there's nothing like reuse and recyle!

9. Winter being seemingly over, you start to wash and put away the ski clothes. Your husband transfers the snow shovels from outside the front door to the shed....

10. ....You look at the weather forecast for next weekend - and notice that it is probably going to snow again.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Blue Ridge (The Gallery #3)

Has a week really passed that quickly? It's time for The Gallery again (how I used to wish my drawings were good enough to send in to Tony Hart....) and this week the theme of the photography is Colours.

This photo was taken last summer, near Charlottesville in Virginia where we were staying with my husband's Virginian relatives. The area borders the Blue Ridge mountains, which stretch from Georgia to Pennysylvania; you can see from this why it is so named. In the searing heat of the Virginian summer, the pale blue haze of the hills almost seems to merge with the sky, in contrast with the lush green of the vegetation in the valley.

It is the most beautiful area; entering the Shenandoah National Park, you can drive along a scenic road called Skyline Drive and wonder at the view from countless overlooks; you can stop and picnic (although you have to beware of bears...) or you can hike parts of the Appalachian Trail. Driving back down, you pass wooden houses where old men sit out on the porches in their checked shirts in the heat of the afternoon; the roar of the cicadas as dusk approaches is deafening. We sit on the terrace in the darkening evening, looking at this view.

We first came here in 1995, when we were still students - coming back 14 years later with kids, nothing much had changed. But we won't see this exact view again - the Doctor's relatives moved out of the house that following week, after many years. So, it's one to be savoured.

Monday 15 March 2010

Thank goodness for Aunties....

I have a confession to make: I can't stand Mother's Day.

Ever since my mother died 12 years ago (and then my mother-in-law 2 years later) Mother's Day has had a bittersweet taste for me. I don't like thinking about mothers, because I don't have one, and all the things that you traditionally do on Mother's Day are all the things I can't do with her. (I know I'm not alone in this; my sister also confessed that she feels the same, and I've seen posts by other people whose mums have died which have suggested similar conflicting feelings). Therefore I tend to dismiss it as tacky and commercial, just another holiday dreamed up by card manufacturers and marketers to encourage us to spend money.

I know that I AM a mother now, and that I should be feeling all warm and fuzzy when my children give me cards and flowers, but they aren't really old enough yet (and anyway, Mother's Day is on a different day in the US). And besides, it just reminds me that they don't have any grandmothers, which is a constant source of sadness.

But this year has been different. We have had my husband's Aunt staying for a few days. And, despite the fact that her visit coincided with the worst weather we've had for months (driving rain and howling gales; half of Long Island has suffered from power cuts), it has been wonderful. I've been reminded of what it must be like to have a mum.

She has been a total trouper; baking cookies with the boys, treating us to delicious meals out, offering to babysit so that we could go to the cinema (to see An Education: the best film I've seen in ages and definitely worth the trip). She was there to grab the scooters and provide a dry jumper when Littleboy 2 fell into a freezing duckpond within two hours of her arrival; she has sat through Ice Age AND Ice Age 2 with the Littleboys (and looked as if she were enjoying them); tomorrow she's taking me to a spa for some much-needed beauty treatments.

It has been so valuable for the boys to spend time with her; the closest person they have to a granny. When we come in from preschool, and they are screaming at me simultaneously to take their shoes off, get them a drink and look at something in their schoolbag all before I've got my key in the door, it is such a relief to have someone else there to calm them, help with all the clobber and ask them what they did at school. I think sometimes as a parent I am so caught up in the day to day stresses of Just Managing that I forget to treat my children as what they are: very, very small and vulnerable human beings.

For me, just having someone to speak to who has brought up three children herself and seen it all before is unbelievably helpful. I know not everyone sees eye to eye with their mothers on child-rearing, but at least it's good to have some advice; rather than just winging it as I feel I am doing most of the time.

So I can see why Mother's Day means so much to people - but I think it should be extended, perhaps, to Aunties, Grannies, best friends and all other women who are there for us. Because no matter how much we think we can do it all ourself, there's nothing like a bit of help to make us realise how much we miss it.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

The Gallery. Two.......

This post is my first entry for The Gallery, a virtual art gallery dreamed up by the lovely and most enterprising Tara at Sticky Fingers. Every week she is giving the blogosphere a prompt, and it is our task to take, or choose, a photograph that represents it. This week the prompt was 'numbers'.

I took the picture a few weeks ago because it sums up life on Long Island for me with the Littleboys; two scooters, on the beach, in winter. And here is what it makes me think.

Two little boys. Two little scooters.
Brothers, best friends, rivals, partners in crime.
Double trouble, double pleasure. Two boys forever, doing everything together.
Sometimes we wonder if two should become three? But who knows the answer. Certainly not me.....

Monday 8 March 2010

Thawing out - and watching the Oscars (just)

Spring is most definitely in the air on Long Island. This time last week there was still thick snow on the ground; I was still wearing a hat and gloves every time I left the house; the Littleboys were trying to turn parts of the garden into a luge track.

Now, the snow is all but gone; the birds are singing; I went for a run this morning and actually felt hot, rather than just not-as-numb-with-cold-as-when-I-started.

On Saturday we took the Littleboys to a local beach. In our stoic British way we have continued to frequent this beach all winter, but we've been, on most occasions, the only people there, save the odd grim-faced dog walker. But this weekend, all change - there were cars in the carpark, rowing teams putting their boats into the water, even a few other children playing in the sand. As we walked along, an elderly couple beamed at the boys and said, as if emerging from a lengthy hibernation: "Isn't it nice to be OUT?"

Yesterday we went for a walk on the beach at the beautiful Sunken Meadow State Park (pictured, with Littleboy1 in the far distance) on the North Shore of Long Island. The boardwalk was swarming with people; children were eating ice creams and adults sipping coffees.

Back home, I was looking forward to sitting down and watching the Oscars - something I would never normally do in the UK, but the thought of watching them live was rather appealing (and despite hardly having seen any of the nominated films, I've read so much coverage of them in the media here that I feel as I have....).

But there was just one problem. ABC, the network that shows the Oscars, had pulled their channel from our cable provider, Cablevision, in a dispute over fees at midnight on Saturday. That meant three million New Yorkers lost access to the Academy Awards; you can imagine the outrage.

The Doctor, despite not being particularly thrilled by the prospect of the Oscars (he has no interest in celebrities, as proved by his comment about Sarah-Jessica Parker the other night: "Never heard of her"), was wonderfully helpful, setting up my laptop with speakers and wifi so we could watch it online sitting on our sofa. But at 8.30PM, when the show started, we still couldn't actually find any coverage of the actual ceremony on the internet - it was all rubbishy red-carpet interviews.

Just at the point when I was starting to spit and curse about ABC, Cablevision and American TV in general, I happened to read on an obscure TV blog that at 8.50PM the two parties had finally reached an agreement. ABC was restored, and I was able to watch the rest of the Awards (which were suitably self-congratulatory and smug, but the dresses were amazing and it's always fun to see so many celebrities packed into one room). And, long after The Doctor had gone to bed, I saw history being made as Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win as best director.
Some things are definitely worth staying up for.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Dear so and so: postcards from Long Island

I've taken inspiration this week from the wonderfully witty Brit in Bosnia, (who in turn was inspired by 3 Bedroom Bungalow) to dash off a series of postcards....

Dear Fellow Parents who borrow Library DVDs,

I am not sure what you let your children do to the DVDs that you borrow from the library. Or perhaps it is your dog? Every week we find at least one that looks as if it has been chewed, stamped on, or gouged on the underside with a hypodermic syringe. You blatantly return these to the library without confessing the crime, only for some other unsuspecting parent to take them out and have to deal with their distraught offspring howling that their chosen film isn't working.

Yours, having to explain why there will be no Lion King today,

Dear Librarian,

The fact that I am always returning DVDs and telling you they are broken does not mean that MY children are the ones wrecking them. I know my boys are rather noisy and noticeable at the Library, and I'm sure that if I did leave them alone with the DVDs with a packet of felt tips and a pair of scissors, they would do untold damage, but I am careful not to let them handle the disks. So please stop giving me the evil eye when I hand them back - or I will just return them damaged like everyone else.

Yours, trying to be a good citizen,

Dear Long Island Drivers
Yes, it's great that the snow is finally melting. But you don't seem to have noticed that there are huge puddles everywhere and you plough through them at high speed in your huge, f-off 4x4s. I know my car is smaller than yours, and therefore I don't count, but I do not particularly relish getting showered in muddy water every time I pass you. Would slowing down be too much to ask?

Yours, cross and wet,

Dear American broadcasters,

I'm really gutted that the Winter Olympics has finished. It was great watching it, NBC, even though you delayed all the exciting live events until the evening's primetime viewing (have you not heard, it's the 21st century?). But what has happened to the TV shows I was watching before the Olympics? House, Gray's Anatomy , Flash Forward- all seem to have disappeared from the schedules mid-series and you are simply running repeats. And that was after a six week break from Thanksgiving until January. How on earth do you expect anyone to follow what is going on when you keep taking breaks?

Yours, thinking of trading in the TV permanently,

Dear Littleboy1,

You were very brave when you threw up the other night at 3am. It must have been horrible, and I felt terribly sorry for you. But we are going to have to wean you off the large amounts of ketchup that you insist on eating. Because pink sick is really not nice, and it's also very difficult to get out of white bedclothes....

Yours, scrubbing the mattress,

Dear Littleboy2.

It's great that you have finally mastered toilet training. You are doing all your wees in the potty now, and it was a lot easier than I expected. Now, if you could just manage to do the poos in there too, rather than waiting till bedtime and doing them in your nappy, that would be just perfect.

Yours, still spending a fortune on baby wipes,

Dear Preschool,

Thank you for asking me to do a presentation about some element of our native culture. It's great that you want to get the parents involved. But I must confess I am a little stuck. Tabloid reading and binge drinking were the first things that came to mind but somehow I don't think you would be impressed by those topics. Then I thought of doing a talk on Shrove Tuesday, but how on earth would I demonstrate pancake flipping in a classroom? I am also stumped when it comes to dressing the boys in traditional British dress one day next week. Would an England football strip do?

Yours, not feeling very creative,
The Littleboys' mother

(Seriously, if anyone has any ideas on the above, let me know!)