Wednesday 28 July 2010

The Gallery. The power of Nature...

Driving back from our weekend away, it started to rain. The traffic north of New York City and across the Bronx was appalling - but then, it often is, so we didn't think anything of it and took an alternative route.

As we crossed onto Long Island and got nearer and nearer to home, we noticed quite a few tree branches on the roadside. There had obviously been a strong wind - but again, there often is with thunderstorms at this time of year.

Then, as we drove up the road that leads to our town, we started to come upon a scene of complete devastation. Trees were uprooted; lampposts knocked over; roads were closed off; power lines were down. There were police cars everywhere, and people wandering around looking astounded. Whatever had happened, we had only just missed it.

This picture shows one of the huge trees at the back of our house, a massive branch completely snapped off. One of our neighbours had a huge tree break in half; all over our road, there were branches and logs.

Neighbours reported that the sky had turned completely black and had been followed by an intense storm that lasted a matter of minutes.

Yesterday, I read that the storm had crossed the Bronx, where it was officially classed as a tornado, before tearing across Long Island. The traffic jams in the Bronx were due to its chaotic aftermath - and, if we'd been a bit quicker leaving lunch, we would quite likely have been caught driving in the eye of the storm. A sobering thought. Never underestimate the power of Nature.
This post is for The Gallery; topic, Nature. (Sponsored by Green & Black's; yum.)

Monday 26 July 2010

My children are cheap dates

We decided to get away for the weekend and see something of upstate New York.

Up in the Catskills, the air was (slightly) cooler, there were cold lakes to swim in and a ski resort where we took a chairlift up the hill and looked at this magical view. We walked around Woodstock (full of art galleries and new-age stores), ate lunch in a 'pub' (which isn't quite the same experience as in the English countryside - full of men driving up in battered pick ups and hitting the spirits at lunchtime), saw gorgeous little log cabin retreats and dusty looking motels from the 50s.

And the highlight for the Littleboys? Our room at the Holiday Inn Express - a sort of motel version of Holiday Inn - and the swimming pool there.

After our last two roadtrips, we always make a beeline for Holiday Inn Express chain (and this is not a sponsored post, by the way). It may not be glamorous but at least you know what you are getting. The hotels are for the most part brand new, with big, clean rooms that suit a family of four perfectly, widescreen TVs and often a pool. Breakfast (not the highlight) comes on disposable plates and cups and is laden with sugar and calories; however, it's free.

It is not exactly the Ritz, nor even the Marriott.....but, our children love it.

So, when we ask Littleboy 1 what he enjoyed most about the was 'the hotel'.

No reason ever to go five star, then.......

Monday 19 July 2010

Suburbia, US-style

We were driving to New Jersey the other night for a barbecue (a truly horrendous drive from Long Island, but that's another tale) and The Doctor asked me to put some music on. Scrolling through the MP3 player, I noticed the Pet Shop Boys' greatest hits and was inspired to put on Suburbia.

"Well," I told The Doctor, "It seems appropriate, as that's where we are going."

Now, don't get me wrong, the part of New Jersey we were going to is very nice - leafy, wooded, with decent-sized houses and pristine hydrangea bushes in neat front yards. But it does epitomise suburbia - and in fact the recent story about Russian spies living in American suburbia involved a couple who were esconced in that very area.

I read an interesting New York Times article about the spies, making the point that it wasn't actually very odd that they were living in suburban settings, because that is where the majority of Americans live. If they were trying to live low profile lives and merge into the community anonymously, they chose the right place to do it.

And one thing that has really been driven home to me during my year in the US is that Americans are Really Good at suburbia. I never imagined myself living in the suburbs, but so far, living in a suburban American street has been far more enjoyable for the Littleboys than our London street. No-one has fences, so the boys play day and night with the neighbours' kids. Teenagers practise baseball in the street after school, or go sledging in the winter. All the kids on the street take the same schoolbus in the morning, so they all know each other well and are constantly popping in and out of other people's houses. There's a sense of community that I never experienced in London.

Driving around London suburbs, I usually felt depressed by the endless sprawl and tightly packed houses, and didn't envy the commuters their dismal journey on crowded trains. Whereas here, I tend to admire the clapboard houses and well-kept gardens, imagining their occupants having huge weekend barbecues and heading off to to the beach with a carload of stuff.

Perhaps it's because Americans tend to celebrate suburbia - think of nearly every American family film and TV series, from The Wonder Years to Back to the Future, and it's set in an idyllic suburb with white picket fences and neat front lawns. Whereas the Brits satirise it- think The Good Life or Abigail's Party. (OK there was American Beauty - but wasn't that directed by a Brit?)

Whatever, the Pet Shop Boys' 'suburban hell' in which teenagers stand 'by a bus stop with a felt pen', does seem to be a peculiarly British portrait. Here, they'd be more likely to be being ferried to hockey practice by Mom, or playing basketball outside in the ubiquitous hoop. Or perhaps finding out that their neighbour's Dad is a Russian spy......

Wednesday 14 July 2010

What happened to bedtime?

We seem to have lost the ability to put the Littleboys to bed in this house.

Once upon a time - back in London - I had two little boys who went to bed like clockwork. They didn't need us to lie with them, soothe them to sleep or even to have a light on. It was simply a matter of plonking them into their cots, kissing them goodnight and they were fine. I could put them to bed at 7.25pm and get downstairs in time for the drumbeat of Eastenders. When we had friends round, they used to marvel that the children went down so easily.

Those were the days. Since we moved to the US, the boys sleep in the same room, in bunk beds. If there is any chance that they are not tired, there will be climbing up and down the bunks into each other's beds for hours after their official bedtime. (Often, they end up asleep in the same bunk, curled up together - it's happened twice this week). Since the summer arrived, bedtime has been even harder to enforce- it's light, it's warm and our neighbours' kids are often up till 10pm playing outside. As no gardens here are fenced, we live very much cheek by jowl with our neighbours, and there's no way those boys are going to sleep when they can hear their friends outside the window. On occasion, I've had to chase Littleboy 1 back inside as he's attempted to go and jump on the trampoline after dark in his pyjamas.....

We've tried everything. We put their suppertime back until later so that they could eat with us, and then go straight to bed, rather than messing around and disturbing our meal when they should be in bed. But putting them to bed at 9pm just means they aren't asleep until 10pm.

I've tried tiring them out with swimming and hours of outside play. It just seems to make them more manic. I never let them nap during the day - this is fatal, and means they won't be asleep until 11pm. And I've tried threatening them with all sorts of things if they don't go to sleep - but usually, they just laugh in my face.

You might ask why does it matter? Well, there are two reasons. The first is that I really would like an hour - just an hour - of boy-free time in the evening, in which to relax with my glass of wine and read the paper or watch TV. But often, by the time they've gone to bed, I'm exhausted from chasing them around, and ready for bed myself.

Secondly, they are like grumpy teenagers when I have to get them up and ready for summer camp in the morning. Littleboy 2 in particular is silent and morose at the breakfast table, and highly unco-operative about getting changed.

The only comfort is that they aren't getting up early at weekends. Except, of course, for last Saturday, when The Doctor, on an energy-saving mission, decided to switch their air-conditioner off at 4am. They were up - clammily warm and raring to go- on the dot of 7am........

Thursday 8 July 2010

The Gallery; holidays

The theme of this week's Gallery was Holidays and left me wondering what to choose. I have travelled a lot and have literally hundreds of holiday pictures, of all kinds of wonderful places, people and things. How could I possibly pick just one?
So I have posted a picture of the place where we will be going on holiday this August. Anglesey. It may not be the most glamorous holiday destination. It may seem perverse that we are leaving a warm, sunny, seaside town in the US to go to another beach on a colder, frequently rainy seashore in North Wales. But this is the place where we most frequently go on holiday.
The Doctor has relatives who own a house there, and have done for over 50 years. Every summer there is a house party with cousins and friends; there is swimming, sailing, huge meals, fireside chats late at night, high jinks running around the house. The Doctor's mother played on these sands as a child; he himself has been there almost every summer of his life. I started going with him aged 20, and was immediately struck by the magic of the place (despite the fact that the sea was the coldest I had ever swum in). I'll always remember the time we drove up late on a Friday night from London after work and swam at midnight in sea during a heatwave. It was here that, in August 2004, I had the first inkling that I might be pregnant.
We took Littleboy1 there as a six week old baby; he screwed up his eyes against the light on the beach and wailed. A year later, and we were back again, me pregnant again and he loving the beach. Then we went twice with both boys; the picture above was taken in 2008, with their cousin.
So it is to here that we will return for the August bank holiday on our trip to the UK. There will be cousins. There will be sandcastles. There will be beach house lunches. And whether it rains or shines, it will add to our collection of Anglesey memories.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

While everyone else was at Cybermummy....

So I didn't make it to Cybermummy, the Mummy Bloggers conference this weekend. (The reason is simple; we'd already planned a trip back to the UK in August, and I just couldn't justify shelling out for another return airfare from New York to London.) So I didn't get to spend the weekend gallivanting with a bunch of witty, fun and intelligent bloggers in Earls Court. Or listening to fascinating debates and lectures about how to get the most out of blogging. I hope to get to the next one (please say you're going to organise another one, Susanna).

So what was I doing when the rest of the blogosphere was quaffing white wine and chatting?

Trying to keep cool in 35 degree heat. (As I write, the temperature is pushing 100F, or 'the century mark', as someone on the radio described it this morning. The weather forecast symbol is not for a cheery yellow sun, but a red ball of fire looking like something out of a nuclear war).
Watching Germany v Argentina with two German families (and enjoying their success vicariously)
Swimming with my boys in the sea and the town pool. (Littleboy 1 can now officially swim - hurrah!)
Watching swarms of American families pitch up at the beach with barbecues, hammocks, coolboxes, entire collections of toys and the kitchen sink on their annual Indpendence Day pilgrimage. We arrived at 10 and left at 1pm - by which time there was a four mile tailback to the beach carpark.
Hosting and cleaning up after two evening parties (luckily The Doctor did most of the cooking)
Sitting outside in the darkness watching fireflies and listening to the hum of the cicadas, which have just started up this weekend.
Watching the Macy's Fourth of July New York fireworks show on TV (with two cynical British friends who though it was terribly seemed fine to me, which just goes to show I am just used to these things now)
Repeatedly hosing and sprinkling the garden
Repeatedly hosing and sprinkling the Littleboys
Changing the Littleboys in and out of wet, sandy or muddy clothes (from their new favourite game of making mud pies, or 'pancakes' in buckets)
Retrieving the Littleboys from one or other of our neighbours' houses
Putting the washing machine on
Preparing the boys' bags for the first day of camp - towel, change of clothes, lunch, photograph of them, Ziploc bag of sink.....


This morning I dropped them off at 9.30 at two different locations (luckily near each other) for camp, rushed back to write a feature, rushed off again at 12 to pick them up. Then I rinsed out their dirty towels and swimsuits, found dry ones, and took them off to swimming lessons. We are now back to discover that the outdoor picnic/concert we planned to attend this evening is cancelled due to the ferocious heat (news which I have to say is rather relieving).

So, as you can see, I have been pretty busy. Busy enough not to really mind about Cybermummy, (although I do feel a little left out). Please tell me it doesn't matter.......

Thursday 1 July 2010

My alternative Boden entry

I may be living the American dream but I haven't quite forgotten my Nappy Valley roots. Nothing sums up Nappy Valley more than Boden, and now, fellow south Londoner and blogging queen sans pareil, Dulwich Mum, has created a wonderful Alternative Boden Catalogue. Take a look at her creations here if you want a good giggle. In the meantime, here is my entry for the Alternative Boden calendar which she aims to create. Ladies and gentlemen....the Boden family.

Emma (Mummy) wears Yummy Mummy Top in 'Wallpaper' with white 'Liz Hurley' skirt and forced grin. Favourite thing: flirting with the builders and handing Harry over to the au pair.

Harry wears 'Little Prince' stripey top in blue and 'who is this woman?' grimace. Likes: Extra Mandarin lessons.

Oliver (Daddy Boden) wears Cuddly Cricket Jumper and handsome leer in 'Slimeball'. Favourite thing: feeling up the au pair.

Birgitta (au pair) wears 'I'm just a little girlie' Hoody in bubblegum pink and come-hither look. Favourite thing: Shagging.