Monday, 29 March 2010

Scent-sational Monday

For the past week or so I've had a cold which, in addition to being annoying, has limited my sense of smell. Olfaction is the sense of smell. Of the five senses, it is often said that smell is the most evocative of memories. When my cold departs, if it should take my sense of smell with it forever, would my memories be altered? Would they be less vivid memories? With that in mind, I pondered some of my favorite olfactory-induced memories.

The Sea
The smell of brine and salty air conjures up memories of so many summers spent at the seashore. I remember my first oyster, a rite of passage. It smelled of the sea, its flesh plump and juicy, milky yet flinty, slippery as it slid down my throat. It was the summer of my first kiss, behind the sand dunes, with that sweet boy with tousled hair the color of wheat. I read Hemingway's 'A Moveable Feast' on the verandah of our rented beach house. Frank Sinatra crooned 'Summer Wind' into the inky darkness, illuminated by the porch lights, the citronella candles, and the fireflies. And the sea air teased and tingled my senses.

Orange Blossom
My wedding day, a bouquet of orange blossoms, and I wore a long white dress and he wore a tuxedo. I floated down the aisle to the bittersweet strains of 'Moon River.' I gripped the orange blossom bouquet as we lay side by side on the verdant carpet of green grass gazing up at a cloudless blue sky. Later that evening, under the prism of twinkling crystal chandeliers, we swayed together on the dance floor to our 'first song', Etta James' 'At Last.' Our joy was reflected in the gilt-framed mirrors, the bubbles leapt out of our champagne glasses, and the scent of orange blossoms floated through the open French doors, lingering in the August heat.

Coffee Beans
The scent of freshly brewed coffee is the quintessence of a lazy Sunday morning. We're still in pyjamas, a mummy and a daddy, two girls and a dog, and we're reading The Times on our overstuffed sofa. Years ago, in my halcyon days, coffee refills fuelled the late night diner discussions about existentialism, atheism, eroticism and capitalism. As a student, it reminds me of espressos, gulped down while standing at a formica counter in Rome, under the shadow of the Colosseum.

Pine, Clementines & Clove
We hiked up to the hills behind our house to reach the wooded area. Our dad had a saw slung over the shoulder of his red and black checkered Woolrich coat. My sister and I scampered to keep up with his long strides. We deliberated and debated before choosing the very best tree and, after it fell, we clung to the spikey needles and helped to drag it through the snow. Later, at home, we sat by the blazing fire and we drank cocoa from steaming mugs, strung popcorn garland, and pushed cloves into the skin and through to the flesh of the clementines. The scents of Christmas day.

For so many mornings of my youth, I pulled the chocolate brown leather saddle down off its peg in the tack room and inhaled its richness, its promise of joy. I saddled up the beautiful chestnut gelding, tightened the girth, adjusted the stirrups and swung one booted leg up and over the horse. We cantered across the field, moving in rhythm as one. The scent of leather rose up and intermingled with the scent of horse and hay and long grass.

There are so many wonderful scents in my memory. There is the milky sweetness of my baby's breath, the scent of beeswax on freshly polished wood, freshly washed clothes hung on the line to dry, the coconut scent of suntan lotion which used to signal the start of summer sunbathing, garlic and olive oil sauteeing, warm apple streudel in a chalet on a ski break.

Which scents conjure up happy memories for you? I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

10 Things That Make Me Happy Right Now

The lovely Modern Dilemma tagged me to do a Happiness meme (I'm a meme virgin). I need to list 10 Things That Make Me Happy Right Now. This is probably a good thing. Recently, my 14-year-old read my blog and advised me that I needed to be more entertaining, funnier and far less dreary or nobody will want to read my blog. In other words, my blog should be like Glee, more of the feel-good factor and less of the real-life stuff. I'm not sure if all the words on my page will cooperate enough to break into song and sashay across the page. But I'll take a crack at glee-ful and save the singing for another day. Today I'm acting as the scribe and will type it all down as it rolls. And I'm not going to list all the truly wonderful things in my life, the given ones that I'm truly grateful for, like my kids and husband and (touch wood) my health. Because that's not the assignment and I don't want to go off-piste on my first tag.

10 Things That Make Me Happy Right Now:

1. Living in London. My mom is visiting from the States and we're going to the theatre this evening and to the Van Gogh exhibit tomorrow. So...geographically desireable and we can just jump on the bus, Gus. Culture without the fuss.

2. Truly loves to bake. So I get homemade scones for breakfast. With lots of butter. And coffee. Gotta have the coffee.

3. My Ugg slippers. Because they keep my feet warm on the tiled kitchen floor and the hardwood floors upstairs. And they're cosy. And it doesn't worry me that I have to shuffle in them--I'm preparing for life as a geriatric which, these days, doesn't feel too far off.

4. My office. Technically, it's not just mine. It's for the whole family. But I pretend it's just for me. It has a lovely window with white shutters and gets great light. I love the colour (Farrow & Ball Pale Powder). One whole wall is lined with bookshelves and some of my best friends live in there. It has an overstuffed chair, a desk and a touch-screen computer. Bliss.

5. Lancome juicy tubes. Addicted. Slick it on constantly. Can be found at the bottom of all my handbags and coat pockets. Try to avoid the fuzzy things and kleenex bits that cling to the applicator. Moist, kissable lips on the go. Hah. Love the cerise.

6. My orange blossom Jo Malone candle. A birthday gift from HRH. It's on the desk. Gorgeous aroma, reminds me of my wedding day.

7. Sunsine. Well, it was sunny this morning but this is London. I crave the sunshine and love a healthy dose of Vitamin D.

8. Comfort food. As mentioned, my mom is visiting and she's been doing the cooking. Roast chicken, mashed potatoes and all the fixings on a Monday night? That's nice. And the added bonus--leftovers for lunch.

9. My dog, a border terrier. I walk him every day, rain or shine, because it's necessary and because it's the best part of his day. Some days I'd rather not. But I put his lead on anyway and zip around the park for 45 minutes and I always feel better afterwards.

10. Blogging. I just started my blog on March 1st so it's still brand new. I'm still trying to work out how to do everything and feeling like a total dummy in the technology department. But I'm meeting so many other lovely bloggers in the community, albeit virtually, and it's been a very positive experience.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Body Double: My mother, my self?

Last week Truly hosted a sleepover. Half a dozen 14-year-old girls sequestered themselves in my daughter’s room in the loft. The laughter, squealing and shrieking combated with the thumping music and reached the decibel levels of an Ibiza nightclub. After listening to the sounds of hormones bouncing off the walls, Scrumptious headed upstairs. She was armed with Dora the Explorer plasters to administer to possible injuries. Five minutes later Scrumptious returned to the kitchen and delivered the prognosis,
‘Liberty is fat.’
‘Honey, don’t say things like that. She is not fat,’ I said.
‘I didn’t say it. Liberty said it.’

Not one of the five girls in our house had an ounce of extra fat on their bodies. But when dinner was served they said no to the rice (oh no, I don’t do carbs) and took microscopic portions of the chicken and vegetable stir-fry. They did, however, inhale the brownies despite the ‘oh-my-god-gazillion’ calories in each wedge. And they shovelled the buttery, salted popcorn into their mouths as if the kernels came from the last cobs in the field. Through it all, they kept up a running patter, ‘Oh my god, I am sooo fat. Look at these thighs. My stomach hangs over my size 0 skinny jeans. Have you tried Atkins or the Miami Beach diet? Do they work? Oh, right, not eating. That’s the best diet. Sometimes I skip lunch. And breakfast. I’m not going to eat tomorrow. Just a carrot stick and a celery stalk.’

I’m not a nutritionist and I’m not a psychologist. But I am the mother of two girls and I have had a lifelong relationship with food which, for the most part, has not been co-dependent. As far as I’m concerned, no further qualifications are required to offer up my unsolicited advice.

‘Oh no,’ their eyes said. ‘Here goes Truly’s crazy mum again. Please spare us the lecture in the guise of a friendly chat.’ I persevered through the eye rolling and hair flicking and the study of, and subsequent nibbling of, ragged cuticles. I trotted out my timeworn adages, ‘You should never ever go on a diet, girls. It wreaks havoc with your metabolism. Eat healthy foods first. Start out with small portions and go back for seconds. Don’t deprive yourselves of chocolate, it will only lead to bingeing. Never ever skip a meal. Everything is okay in moderation. Eat slowly. With chopsticks if it helps. Stop eating when the food ceases to taste as delicious as it did in the first few bites.’

Were they listening? I don’t know. I have no doubt that girls are affected by the media when it comes to body image. But I also believe that girls are heavily influenced by what their mothers say and do. It has been my experience that teenage girls have selective attention disorder (SAD). They don’t do a lot of what we tell them to do. But they tend to do a lot of what we do. And they listen, albeit subconsciously, to the tapes we play over and over again. Sometimes I think my well-worn tapes are silent, spinning round and round inside my own head. But all too often, I realize that the words are coming out loud and clear. ‘I feel so fat today. My boobs are sagging. I need to get to the gym. What a lazy slob. I have nothing to wear. This dress makes me look like I’m pregnant. Would you look at all those wrinkles around my eyes. And did you see those furrows on my forehead. Looks like a farmer tilled the soil to prepare for planting season.’ I know I say so many things on a daily basis, pretending to be in jest, without even realizing I’m sending a negative message to my daughters.

I want to work on silencing the negative tape playing inside my own head and stop the noise pollution. I want my girls to believe that they are beautiful, inside and out. I want to shift the lens and focus more on their kindness, their sense of fair play, their intelligence, both emotionally and academically, and their quirky and delightful sense of humor, instead of zooming in on their physical attributes or waif-like physique. Rather than fostering a dysfunctional relationship with food, I want my actions and words to reflect my healthy attitude towards my own body and the joy I derive from eating delicious and nutritious food with a proportionate amount of decadence thrown in. Instead of saying that my girls need to limit consumption, I say eat everything in moderation and then go for a jog around the park, do a funky dance, do the limbo, or hop on a pogo stick.

I want them to strive to be women who are more than the sum of their caloric intake. I want them to know that women are capable of discussing topics other than diets, beauty, botox and designer labels. I want to encourage them to try public speaking, learn to use a wok, delve into Buddhism, plant a vegetable garden, calculate the square root of pi, or whatever ignites their passion. I want them to do this so that the media won’t have as much power over my daughters, so that they will learn to eat and think for themselves, so that they will maintain a healthy body image and high self-esteem.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

So full of hopes. . .so full of dreams

I’ve been feeling rather glum for the past few days. It’s funny because sometimes you’ll be skipping along, humming merrily to yourself, and building castles in the sky. Then, without invitation, the blues will invite themselves around for a visit. They will move in and sleep in your bed and sneak scorpions and rats and serpents into your dreams. They will dismantle your carefully crafted feelings of joy and gratitude and eat all the chocolate you’ve stashed in the secret cupboard. The blues are tricky that way, insidious and sly, skulking in corners. And then Wham, they are pummelling you over the head.

At least, that’s the way my blues act but I’m sure yours are much more polite. On a typical day last week, I was tidying up when I caught sight of Truly’s pencil case. It has jaunty musical notes on it and it says . . .So full of full of dreams. In the second that it took me to read the words I felt unbearably sad. I tried to remember how it felt to be 14, your whole life in front of you, and so full of full of dreams. But I couldn’t remember. The pugilist swung and took a cheap blow to the vital organs.

After a few days of downward spiralling, I surfaced again and I started to wonder how my grown-up reality measures up to my teenage dreams. I grew up in a small town, not to be confused with a suburb, which would imply that there was a big city nearby. There wasn’t. When I was 14, I was tall and gangly, skinny and flat-chested. I had no eye-hand coordination and was hopeless at group sports. I never had a date in high school and I wasn’t a cheerleader or a Prom Queen. Before you worry that I was Norman No-Mates, I did have friends. We were the kids who wrote for the school paper, who campaigned for an unpopular cause, who were in the drama and debate clubs. The boys treated me like a buddy, someone they could study with and then cheat off of in exams. Small town, big dreams.

1. I wanted to be a writer. I would write the great American novel and be lauded for my intellect and witticisms and unique observations.

2. I wanted to have a boyfriend. I wanted to know the agony and ecstasy of love.

3. I wanted to travel and see the world. Growing up, I was an armchair traveller. Nothing much ever happened in my town. Almost everything I knew about the world came from the books I read. I have always been a voracious reader and read an inordinate number of books written by dead white men.

4. I wanted to live in a big city. In my town, there were two types of people, the ones who didn’t leave and never got out or the ones who got out and never came back. I resolved to be in the latter group. I was obsessed with the old black and white movies and pictured my life to be something out of the ‘Thin Man’ movies, Nick and Nora sharing witty banter over the clinking sound of martinis being mixed.

5. I wanted to live in Africa someday, saving children and striving to eradicate poverty and poor living conditions. I wanted to fight for a cause and volunteer my services for the betterment of mankind. I wanted to be a Libertine, even if I wasn’t quite sure what it was.

Well, the years passed as they so often do and I did not make my living as a writer. Instead, I was a waitress, a glorified secretary, and an analyst in an investment bank. It’s perfect fodder for the writer who saves unfinished books on her laptop but, thankfully, has given up on the cheesy poetry. So I started a blog. Baby steps. Someday I will write that book.

I got a boyfriend and then a few more. I tasted the ecstasy of first love, the heady pleasure of love that sustains you more than food or drink or even the air you breathe. And I suffered the agony of lost love and then the profound sweetness of finding love again.

I spent my Junior Year abroad and backpacked my way around Europe, hitchhiking and riding the rails, staying in every flea bag hostel across Europe. Since then, I have travelled to 4 different continents and 25 countries, maybe more. I rode an elephant in Indonesia, swam with dolphins in Mexico, reached up to the Hand of God at the Sistine Chapel, ate sushi in Tsukiji market, and skied in the Alps.

I lived in New York City for more than a decade, Tokyo for two years and London for eight. I drank martinis at The Plaza and swilled longneck bottles of Rolling Rock in the dive bars of the Village. Instead of the sprawling duplex overlooking Central Park, I lived in a sixth-floor walk-up in Chelsea but it was rent stabilized. I danced the night away in seedy nightclubs, on the deck of a houseboat on the Hudson River and under the moonlight in Central Park. I idled away countless afternoons, people-watching in sidewalk cafes on Madison Avenue and ‘thrived on a riff’ in smoky jazz clubs. I was a gangster’s girl, a bar fly and a late night diner frequenter.

I have never lived in Africa and I have done very little to ‘save the world.’ But in January I joined a volunteer organization which helps underprivileged children get a better start in life. A staggering 2 out of 5 children living in London are living below the poverty line. The program has many aspects but I’m working with the literacy program which will get kids into books. And, hopefully, the program will provide them with some of the tools needed to not only dream big but to be in a position to make their dreams come true.

Have my hopes and dreams been fulfilled? Yes and no. In so many ways my life has exceeded my wildest dreams. In my life, I have had the fortune to witness miracles. I have held hopes and dreams in my arms, my two healthy newborn daughters. I have seen the magic in the ordinary, through their eyes. Twelve years ago I survived a head-on collision, at an angle and speed that statistically had a 2% chance of survival. When you are travelling on a six-lane interstate, going 75 mph in the dark and you stare into the oncoming headlights of a drunk driver, you pretty much hit your knees and thank your maker for the life you had. The world went very dark and very still. And then came the fleeting moment of basking in a warm light and feeling no pain, only to have a voice whisper that your time had not come. My job in this world, whatever it is, was not yet finished.
So full of hopes. . .so full of dreams.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Are you there, God? It's me, Scrumptious . . .

Last night at the Parent/Teacher’s meeting, the lovely Reception teacher told me that Scrumptious is enthusiastic about learning and loves questioning the world around her. Every statement is countered with a Why? Don’t I know it.

When it comes to parenting, some questions are easier to answer than others. I know why my kids need to eat nutritious, well-balanced meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables. I know why exercise, fresh air, and the right amount of sleep are so important. I know what to say if my teenager asks me if she can get facial piercings or tattoos. But do I know how to answer questions about religion? I’m being put to the test by Scrumptious who is fascinated with Jesus and God and the Church.

I was raised a Catholic, in a very traditional Catholic family, and went to Catholic school all my life. I was taught by nuns, except for Sex Ed which was taught by a priest, so the high number of teenage pregnancies in my school should have come as no surprise. If there ever was a better reason to embrace agnosticism as an adult, I can’t think of one. HRH is an atheist. He wasn’t raised with any religion whatsoever and is a man of science. If you can’t see it and you can’t explain it logically, it does not exist. Truly studies Religions of the World in school and is happy to discuss reincarnation, the quest for spirituality, or the good versus evil that religion has played throughout history. She does not, however, have any interest in attending a church, synagogue or temple on a regular basis. Sure, HRH and I try to instill values. Help a neighbor. Stand up for a cause. Be kind. Make ethical choices. But organized religion has not played an active role in the raising of our children.

We spent two years in Japan and, during that time, we visited temple after temple. We saw all types of magnificent Buddhas---glitzy and gold, fat and jolly, serene and smiling. But Scrumptious never took up the fascination with Buddha the way she did with Jesus. She has been fascinated with Jesus since she saw her very first crucifix at my mother’s church. It’s gotten to the point where Jesus creeps into the conversation on a daily basis.

‘Who was Jesus?’
‘According to the Bible, he was a man. But he was also a teacher and a healer.’
‘And was God his Daddy?’
‘Well, they say that God is his Daddy in Heaven but he had another Daddy on Earth.’

Somehow she’s found her own way around this conundrum. Jesus must be the product of divorce so he had a biological Dad and a step-Dad. And then there is Jesus the miracle worker. He turned water into wine (that one is brilliant), he walked on water so he could meet up with his mates in the boat, he healed the blind and calmed the storm. This is very heady stuff for a 5-year-old.

Then there are the stories from the Bible. Adam comes out looking like Prince Charming and Eve is the beautiful fairy princess. For some reason, they are naked and they’re hanging out in the Garden of Eden which is like paradise on earth. There’s a bad guy, that tricky serpent, and there’s some forbidden fruit, oh that tempting juicy apple. Meanwhile, God created this paradise, complete with sunny skies, lush gardens full of flowers and little singing birds. It’s possible that I jazzed up these stories too much because they’re sounding a lot like Disney.

‘So God created the whole world, you and me and the Royal Hound and all those flowers and trees?’ asked Scrumptious.
‘Some people believe that he did,’ I said.
‘But, Mummy, you believe it don’t you?’
‘Well, I’m not sure. Maybe. Sometimes. People who have faith, like your Nana, believe it.’
‘What is faith?’
‘It’s when you believe in something very strongly, even though you can’t see it or touch it.’
‘Oh, faith is a good thing then. I have faith too.’
‘You do?’
‘Yep, I have faith in Father Christmas. I can’t see him and I posted his letter to a place I’ve never been. But I know he will bring me all the toys on my list. He always does,’ she said confidently.
‘Hmm, I’m not sure it’s the same.’
‘You know what, Mummy? I think God is magic. And Jesus is magic too.’
‘Well, they’re not magicians, Scrumptious.’
‘Yes, but Jesus escaped from behind that rock even after he was dead. That’s magic.’

I’m struggling with this one. Scrumptious asked me to take her to church and I did. I thought she might get bored with it but she still wants to go. As a parent, do I have a moral obligation to expose my daughter to some form of organized religion? If I don’t give her a religious foundation and she’s expressing an interest, if I don’t take her to church and Sunday school, and never teach her how to pray, am I balking on an important parental responsibility? Am I cheating her out of her right to Freedom of Religion just because I personally derive no joy from it, because it’s not the answer for me? That sounds pretty selfish. Today I can make my own choices because I know that Catholicism doesn’t work for me personally. Perhaps I am better able to make my choices today because I was raised in a religious home.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Airing My Dirty Laundry

When my younger sister (let's call her Laura Ingalls, her favorite character of books and TV) and I were growing up, our mother had a full-time job. We were latch-key kids and, instead of coming home to freshly baked sugar cookies, we came home to a list of chores. I know, take out the violin. But chores were a part of our life and we accepted that. More accurately, my sister embraced the domestic duties and I accepted the fact that she was better at them. So I bribed her to do my share because, from my first paper route at 11, I always had an after-school job. Laura Ingalls was, and still is, a card-carrying member of the Neatnik Generation. An organizational guru. When we were young, she color coordinated the clothes in her closet and kept the contents on index cards so she wouldn't repeat her outfits. If you were reading a book and put it on the coffee table to nip off to the kitchen for a snack, the book would be filed away in the bookshelf (alphabetically by author) by the time you got back. She proposed cooking weekends so we could make the week's dinners and then freeze them. I'm pretty sure she even knew how to use a crockpot and had her own sewing kit for reinforcing those pesky loose buttons. But that's just a little freaky and I think she knows that now.

As it turns out, Laura Ingalls is currently a successful entrepreneur running her own, very well-organized business. And I am the housewife. So you never really know, do you? The point is that we knew that Comet was not only something in the solar system that is bigger than a meteoroid, but it was also an abrasive agent we used to scrub the sink and bathtub. The washing machine was not a mysterious white elephant that lurked in the basement. And we could cook up a mean tuna noodle casserole. So, not only were we domestic teenage divas turning out barely edible casseroles, we were frugal too!

Anyway, I digress. Enough with the trip down memory lane. On Friday morning, approximately 30 seconds before it was time to exit the front door and run hell-for-leather for the school bus, Truly asked, 'Mum, where is my PE uniform?'

I counted to ten and breathed in and out and refrained from yelling like a fishwife, 'Why do you always wait until the VERY LAST MINUTE?' Instead I asked very calmly (New Year's Resolutions still fresh in my mind), 'Did you check the pile of clean laundry I put on your bed?' (Four days ago).

'It's not there,' she said.

So we looked in all the obvious places--the hamper, the laundry room, the toy box in Scrumptious' room, behind the sofa cushions. No PE uniform.

Eventually, we found the PE uniform. Rolled up in a ball in a canvas bag UNDER TRULY'S UNMADE BED. I'll spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say, when the bag was opened a troop of happy hormones marched out and performed an exuberant Irish clogging number all over the bedroom.

(Feel free to insert melody because an aroma this pungent deserves a lilting tune of its own):
Lift the wings,
That carry me away from here and,
Fill the sail,
That breaks the line to home.

Truly snatched the uniform and skulked off to greet the day. All I could do was stand back and thank the gods of crappy mothers everywhere that I wasn't one of her netball teammates.

So I wonder: Do stay at home mothers do too much for our children? Perhaps it's not only stay at home mothers, but 21st century mothers. Do we pamper them too much? Mommy-coddle them? Do they take us for granted? I'm not sure. But I'm going to teach Truly how to use the big white elephant in the basement. And maybe I'll enroll her in some Irish clogging lessons.

Friday, 5 March 2010

I pledge allegiance to the flag. . .sometimes, kinda. . .

The other night HRH came home from work with a colleague in tow. Truly and I were halfway through a taped segment of 'Extreme Home Makeover,' an American tv show in which Ty Pennington and his crew, with the help of the entire community and a volunteer team of builders, build a new home for a deserving family. When it comes to this tv show, the cynic in me takes a backseat. It's corny, it's sappy, but I love this stupid show, by gum. Because I want to believe that these people are for real. I need to believe that somewhere in America these everyday heroes exist and they make the world a better place to live in and they make me proud to be an American. It's like, 'Hey, look at them, they're amazing people doing beautiful things in this world, and they're fellow Americans!'

Anyway, HRH and his colleague grab some beers and settle in to watch the show with us. As usual, by the time the final credits are rolling, I've used up half a box of Kleenex. So I'm sniffling away and trying to mop up my wet, mascara-streaked face when the (British) colleague says, 'It's not a bad show. But you know what the problem is with Americans?'

'Uh-oh,' HRH muttered. 'Watch yourself, mate.'

'Okay, I'll bite. What's the problem with Americans?' Because everyone has an answer to this question and I need to hear yet another answer to this question.

'They're too loud and too emotional. Is all the Hee Haw-ing and Woo Hoo-ing really necessary? Why can't Americans just get on with it?'

'Well, we Americans are an expressive bunch. And you know what? Sometimes it's refreshing to see people displaying emotion,' I said. 'Sometimes a little enthusiasm is not a bad thing. Sometimes it feels nicer and warmer to get a great big bear hug instead of an air kiss.'

'Well, Americans go overboard. And what's with all the flag waving. Blimey, he had his own flagpole in the front of the house.'

'He was a veteran,' I said. 'He fought bravely for his country's freedom and he's proud of it.' Man, I am a dweeb.

'That's all well and good but a gigantic flag in your garden? That's ridiculous. We don't do that over here.'

'I'm well aware of that.' Actually, I think the Union Jack is the coolest flag ever and if I were a true Brit I might be tempted to fly that baby all over the place. But it's already been pointed out that I come from a flag-waving country.

Anyway, the conversation went on for a bit longer, and I can't remember exactly which distinctions we carried on making, but eventually it fizzled out and we moved on. To be honest, I wasn't really up for it because I wanted to continue to bask in the afterglow of 'Extreme Home Makeover'. I know. I'm a dork.

But I did get to thinking about loyalty and nationalism. And I wondered why I can be so contrary sometimes. For instance, if a fellow American hits me with that whole 'America is the best country in the world and the only place to live' thing, I get really annoyed. And I argue with them. And I tell them some of the things that really irk me about America: Republicans, the gun laws, suburbs with no sidewalks for walking, the religious zealots, the Dixie Chicks being denied freedom of speech, and those weird candied yams with marshmallows that some people serve at Thanksgiving dinner. Conversely, if a non-American negatively stereotypes my nation, I'm all over it like a cheap suit. I defend my country. I tell them some of the things I love about America: New York City, diners, bagels, the quote on the Statue of Liberty, the can-do attitude, and the optimism of the people.

I'm a passport-toting citizen of the UK. It's my adoptive home country and I love it here. My children are being raised here, we own a home, I've created a life here. I'm not sure if I'll ever return to America to live or not. And yet I'll always be an American. I'm not sure if my kids will really have that link with America though. Do you pledge allegiance to the country where you're raised or the country of your birth nationality? If you're half and half, can you be loyal to two countries?

As an aside, do other countries fly their own flag in their front yard? Do they hoist their nation's colors up on a flagpole for all the world (or their neighbors) to see? Outside of America, I don't think I've ever been to a country where I've seen it.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

A Life of Her Own

When Truly came home from school yesterday we sat at the kitchen table and she told me about a Geography project she's working on. She said that women and girls in rural Africa and Asia spend an hour each day, but sometimes up to four, gathering fuel and carrying water to prepare meals. In developing countries, women tend to work far longer hours than men, up to 13 hours more per week. Women in Eritrea work up to 15 hours per day during the cropping season, up to an additional 30 hours per week more than men. The typical day in the life of an Indonesian woman farmer begins at 2:00am when she wakes and doesn't end until 8:00pm when she goes to bed.

I listened and nodded and I saw the cushiness of my own life and the little things we take for granted, running water and washing machines and gas hobs, and I saw how it contrasted so starkly with the lives of these women. And that's before we even get started on the gender gap in their working days.

'That's terrible,' I said. 'It makes you realize how very fortunate we are.'

'I'm happy to hear you say that,' Truly said, sliding a stack of papers towards me.

'What's this?'

'My Geography homework.'

'Well, you better get on with it then.'

'No, you have to do it. You have to make a list of everything you do in a day.'

The heart palpitations started. 'Why don't you ask HRH?' I said. 'He brings home the bacon. I just fry it up in the pan. Surely, the procurement of bacon is far more interesting than a sizzle and a flip.'

'I don't really get that bacon thing. But sorry, it's all about you, Mummy dearest. We're going to compare your day to the women in the third world.'

I stared at the papers. My mouth went dry and my stomach performed a triple toe loop and I pictured my day tallied up against a woman doing a 15-hour stint in the fields. And, sadly, I also pictured myself stacked up against some of the women, the other mothers, so many of whom are very accomplished and have fabulous careers.

'When is it due?'


'Leave it with me.'

'Fine. But don't leave it until the last minute, Mum,' Truly said, with a withering glance, perfected by 14 years of practice.

Here's the crux of the matter: I don't have a job outside the house and I don't earn a salary. This didn't used to bother me so much, not until September when Scrumptious started school. Before that, we were expats in Asia and Scrumptious was only in nursery school, so I was busy. Now I'm struggling with existential angst. How did I get lost in the shuffle and what am I going to do about it? After listening to the statistics of these women in Third World countries, it seems self-indulgent to feel that way. It’s no great mystery why existentialism became fashionable in the post-World War years. If I needed to keep all my wits about me just to survive, wouldn’t have the time or energy to think about all this existential freedom I’ve got on my hands. If sirens were wailing and bombs were dropping, I wouldn’t stop on the way to the air raid shelter, scratch my head and think, ‘Gee, am I living authentically?’

But I am not living in rural Southeast Asia and I'm not living through the Blitz. I can only live my own reality and deal with my own issues. After six years at home raising children, do Truly and Scrumptious see me as a positive role model or would they be prouder if I went to an office everyday? It’s not as though my career was so illustrious. I never did anything truly worthy like rescuing small children from the mouth of a volcano or performing brain surgery on orangutans. But still. I had a job. I earned a pay check. I had colleagues in other cubicles that I could pester for a chat. It was something.

I have always believed that being there for my daughters is the most important thing I can do in my life. But what happens when they both go to school? I need to do something meaningful in my life, something outside the confines of the children and the house. So I guess I'm back to the question of what should I be when I grow up? And that's something I'm going to work on this year. I need a life of my own and I'm wondering if there are other women, who may be staying home with their children, who feel the same way?

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Colorful Plates and Open Debates

In the not so distant past, Scrumptious thought I was the prettiest and bestest Mummy in the world. She hung on every word and was convinced I knew everything. There was a mini hero worship thing going on and it was nice, let me tell you. During that same hero worship phase, Scrumptious was one of those kids who genuinely loved eating her little green trees (broccoli) and to see her face light up when she tucked into a bowl of little cabbages (brussel sprouts), well, you'd think it was Christmas morning. But sadly, the rapid march of time changes everything. Scrumptious has removed those rose-tinted spectacles and I am now the Mummy-who-makes-her-do-things-she-doesn't-want-to-do. 'Because I said so' no longer cuts the mustard. She openly debates the merit of my requests and demands a more compelling argument. The price we pay for a good education these days is truly shocking.

So it should not come as a surprise that my first commandment, 'Thou must eat all thy vegetables, because I said so', was under scrutiny last night at dinner. Scrumptious loaded up on the chicken and the rice but avoided the red peppers, carrots and little trees.

'Scrumptious, you need to eat your vegetables,' I said.
'Because they're healthy.'
'Yes, but chicken and rice are healthy too.'
'True. But you need vegetables too because they have important vitamins and nutrients that you won't get from chicken and rice.'
'Like what?'
'Like Vitamin C.'
'I'll have an orange then.'
'No, you won't.'
'Look, this is not a democracy or a debate (I can't believe I just said that). You need to eat your vegetables. They'll make you strong and they'll give you big muscles.'
'But I don't want big muscles, Mummy. I want to look like you, not like Daddy, silly.'

Great, I'm not only losing a debate with a 5-year-old but I'm no Madonna and I'm silly. So I rummaged around in my handy Mummy bag of tricks and came out with an old favorite.

'Well,' I said. 'A colorful plate is a healthy plate. And that makes it a happy plate.' I sounded all chirpy and June Cleaver-ish, as you do when negotiating a trap set by a 5-year-old.

The colorful plate thing always worked a charm when I was growing up. But, then again, I wasn't very clever. Scrumptious sat there thinking about what I said, her brow furrowed, and then she got that special gleam in her eye--the cheeky, evil one. She jumped up from the table and headed to the cupboard where we keep the 'stash', care packages from Uncle Sam in America. She rummaged around and came back to the table with a packet of M&Ms. She poured them onto her plate and tossed the brown ones aside.

'There, I'll eat all the colorful ones. And that makes it a Happy Meal.' It might have been cuter if she hadn't looked so smug.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


I'm only in the early infancy stages. And yet I feel all the symptoms of addiction: a headiness when doing it; an all-consuming need to have it; a wonderment at how I lived without it; and a fear of what would happen if I couldn't have it ever again. I'm talking about blogging. I'm brand new at it (only 2 days old---a baby, really) so, with time, the feelings may ebb. But right now it's showing all the signs of turning into a real addiction.

Is it a bad addiction? In my mind, no, but I suppose it could be if it meant that I would stop doing the laundry (and let Truly and Scrumptious wear the same uniform all week) or stopped cooking dinner (take-outs and processed foods and microwave dinners) or didn't clean (and let the mice find all the breakfast crumbs and spilled dog food). But it hasn't come to that yet, thankfully. Not yet. I suppose, on the addiction spectrum, blogging may look fairly harmless. As compared to a heroin or meth habit, say.

But it could turn into something worse if I don't keep my eye on it. Because it's possible, and I'm not saying it's gospel truth, just that it's possible (probable) that I have an addictive personality. For instance, I still haven't managed to kick my coke habit. The way some people think, eh? I'm talking about coca cola. I'm down to a glass a day but can't seem to give it up.

Is anybody out there? Silence. Just as I expected. If a blogger blogs and nobody reads it, are they still a blogger? In my mind, the answer is yes. But my mind is what got me into this whole business. Because if it doesn't get out of my mind and onto a page somewhere, even in the outposts of cyberspace, then it stays in my mind. And that makes for some very miserable people in my life. Because they (my precious family) will have to listen to the rants, raves and just plain nonsense of the Nappy Valley Housewife. So, in the end, I've decided that blogging is good for me and, therefore, it's good for my whole family.

So if anybody out there in that beautiful blogosphere has anything that needs to be justified, rationalized or explained in a way that benefits them, I'm your gal. Your go-to gal for useless trivia and misguided advice. I can take that thing that needs justification, rationalization or explanation and I can twist it around, look at it from all angles, polish it up, and give it back to you wrapped in a shiny new package. A package that benefits you and everyone around you. I'll be here. Blogging. Just by my lonesome. Waiting for that response to my post. Cause that's just how I roll. ..

New and Abridged List of New Year's Resolutions, the Spring Version

You know what the great thing is about starting your New Year’s resolutions in March? I should think the answer would be obvious. You’ve had two months to whittle and hone a rather long (frankly, way too long) list of (un)achievable goals. Here are two of the things I managed to cull from my list with very little effort and, so far, not a lot of harm has come of it:

#1 Limit red wine consumption. Only drink red wine on weekends, not during the week.

So don’t drink during the week. Unless you’re going out to dinner. Because you can hardly expect to go to a restaurant and not have a teeny little glass of red wine. That would be unsociable.

You know what? I don’t get out much so maybe, just as a special treat, I’ll drink wine with my dinner during the week. But only one glass. I wonder how big the glass should be?

You know what? Too many restrictions here. What if I have a friend over? Surely, I can’t skimp on a guest in my home. So it’s okay to drink if you are promoting a spirit of friendship and conviviality. Or if HRH had an especially good/bad day. After all, you can’t expect him to drink alone. That’s too mean.

You know what? Red wine is actually good for you. Studies have proven that it’s good for the heart or the blood or something. Whatever. It’s good for you. In fact, I’ll write it at the bottom of my list of super foods that I have tacked on the refrigerator door. Just so I don’t forget that I’m drinking for my health.

You know what? This limitation on my wine consumption is too complicated and I’ve made a compelling argument, backed up by research, as to why this doesn’t even deserve a place on my list of New Year’s Resolutions. So that’s one less thing to worry about.

#2 Work Out, Get Fit
I could join a gym but membership is pretty expensive so maybe I’ll just start by running around the park. Every single day. Except the weekends. Because that’s family time and I don’t want to take away from that precious time with HRH and the children.

You know what? I have to walk the Royal Hound everyday so maybe I could incorporate it into my running regime. A win/win. Two for the price of one run.

You know what? The Royal Hound runs off in the wrong direction when I start running so it’s pretty dangerous for him if I selfishly go running instead of walking the Royal Hound. So I’ll stick with walking.

After all, walking is good exercise. Better than sitting on a bench, for instance. And it gives the Royal Hound such pleasure.

So, really, I don’t need to keep this one on my list of New Year’s Resolutions. Because I already do it naturally. By walking the Royal Hound. Walking is so much better for my knees in the long run and it’s healthy. Studies have proven . . .

Now, you see how that works? I’m left with a much more doable list and I plan to start immediately. Today. Here it is: Go Green; Get a Job/Life/Find a Calling; Be Kind to Everyone Every Single Day; Read all the Classics; Start the Happiness Project; Save a Child; Never Raise my Voice to my Children; Never Raise my Voice to HRH; Raise my Voice and Speak out Against Poverty/Domestic Violence/War; Learn a new Skill.

Easy Peasey. Now that I’ve shortened the list, it should be a doddle.

Dirty Minds

I have a little quiz for you. Let’s start with the following three questions.
1. What goes in hard and pink then comes out soft and sticky?
2. You stick your poles inside me. You tie me down to get me up. I get wet before you do.
3. I come in many sizes. Sometimes, I drip. When you blow me, you feel good.

Get your minds out of the gutter. The answers to the above questions are 1. Bubblegum; 2. Tent; and 3. Nose.

What’s the entertainment of choice when you have 20 strangers gathered in a communal living area of a chalet, drinking wine? Well, on our ski trip last week, the answer seemed fairly obvious to HRH. You play a game called Dirty Minds. But you don’t wait until the children go to bed. No sir. You don’t even include the adults. You play it with four children under the age of 7. Scrumptious entered into the communal fun, giggling and turning somersaults, with responses like lollipops for the first question (good effort) or a water fountain for the third (huh?). But as you can imagine, there were a fair share of party poopers in the room and the reaction to this dubious choice of games was mixed. A group of teenagers huddled in one corner snickering and blushing, the middle-aged parents tutted and tssked and muttered something about the innapropriate nature of this game, and a handful of single 30-somethings tried to play it cool and enter into the festivities, with mixed results. The only innocents were the children guessing the answers.

So here's the question. Was Dirty Minds a misguided parental attempt at fun? I guess the answer depends on your state of mind. For Scrumptious and her little friends, it was just a good old-fashioned guessing game. Maybe it’s a lesson for us adults. Kids don’t see things the way we do and we’re happier for it. Let’s celebrate their innocence and not rush them into adulthood.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Read the label: I am No Yummy Mummy

The other day I got to thinking about mummy labels, wondering which group I fit into. Because, you know, I've got nothing but time on my hands and a head full of clouds. So I asked His Royal Highness.
'Am I a yummy mummy?'
'Hmm,' he said, scratching his head and squirming under my expectant gaze. And then he brightened. 'Well, you live in the right neighborhood.'
So that is a diplomatic no.

I'm not cool enough to be slummy mummy and I'm clearly no alpha mummy. So what's left for a mummy like me?

The answer fell in my lap rather unexpectedly. On Saturday afternoon, Scrumptious and I were tucking into our inordinately crunchy baguettes filled with French ham and Emmental. I chomped away while she peppered me with increasingly more difficult questions, 'Where does the rain come from?' The giant is weeping. 'How about the thunder?' He's moving the furniture. She looked skeptical and I felt ridiculously inadequate. I wracked my brain for information which used to be in there but had somehow magically vanished with the second placenta, when she said, 'You're a crummy mummy. Ha ha. It rhymes! Crummy Mummy.'

I felt my smile turn upside down and quiver ever so slightly at the corners. Oh no, I thought, this is it. The jig's up. My own 5-year-old sees through my carefully erected facade and she's absolutely right. I'm a lousy mummy. I can't even answer basic science questions (well I could, but I didn't really have my thinking cap on), I bribe her with sweets and I sometimes serve meat that is (gasp) neither organic nor free range. What am I doing here? I'm a fraud and an imposter. I'm a total failure.

'I'm sorry, Scrumptious. I guess I am a bad mummy.' I hung my head in shame.

'I didn't say bad mummy,' she said impatiently. 'I said crummy mummy. You have crumbs all down the front of your jumper. From the baguette!' She bellowed the last part so I would fully understand her meaning which is just as well, really.

So another mystery solved. I'm a Crummy Mummy. Pleased to meet ya.

Definition of a Housewife

What is a housewife? Just for a lark, I googled the definition.

Housewife: 1) a woman, typically a married woman, who keeps house, usually without having paid employment. 2) The wife of a householder; the mistress of a family; the female head of a household. 3) A hussy.

Huh. Let’s forget about the labels for now, shall we.

After 6 years at home raising children, I still tell little white lies (undercover agent/brain surgeon/mystic healer) when I fill out the occupation section of the Customs & Immigration form. But I refuse to delude myself any longer. I AM A HOUSEWIFE. There, it’s out. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. Obviously, I don’t plan to stay a housewife forever so it’s okay. For now. Until I figure something else out. In the meantime. . .

I’m an American (no, I will not aplogize) married to a Brit, His Royal Highness (HRH). He’s a great husband and father who works very hard in a stressful job while I swan around. We have 2 truly scrumptious daughters, 14 (Truly) and 5 (Scrumptious) and I am the proud mistress of a falling-down Victorian terraced house (Shangri-la) in Nappy Valley. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Nappy Valley, it’s a neighborhood in Southwest London with the highest birth rate in Europe. Go figure. If you ask a local mother, there is no sex in Nappy Valley. But, anyhow, do you see where I got my clever moniker? I’m a wife who lives in a house in the Nappy Valley. Nappy Valley Housewife. Oh, and we all live happily in Shangri-la with our perfectly trained dog (the Royal Hound) who fits through the cat flap, which is handy for late night foraging in the garden and digging up the newly planted tulip bulbs. So perhaps calling him perfectly trained is a slight exaggeration, not that I’m prone to exaggerate (oh no, not me). And if I were, it’s definitely a thing of the past.

I’m addicted to Starbucks lattes—grande, skinny, extra hot--which is partly an oxymoron as well as a list of attributes that HRH likes about me. I love red wine and chocolate, I’m a total foodie which is not to be confused with a gourmet, and I’m hopelessly uncoordinated but a surprisingly graceful skier. According to HRH, I’m an undiagnosed dyspraxic so lots of things get broken and I have an embarrassing, and often painful, penchant for tripping over my own feet. I love my family more than anything in the world. I’m not always the best mother but I show up and I try. I decided to start a blog, not because I think people will read it (goodness, no), but because I need a place to call my own and because I’m searching for meaning in my life and trying to figure out what to be when I grow up. So might as well get started. . .