Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pumpkined Out

Phew, I’m pooped and I mean really done in. All this Halloween schmarky is totally wiping me out. Apart from the usual school run and play dates, my weeks are now jammed with pumpkin and Halloween events galore too. My feet have and will barely touch the ground in October.

I swear, autumn in England wasn’t this exhausting. But here? It’s one social event for the kiddos after another. Here’s a snapshot of how my calendar looks:

Saturday 11 Oct Pumpkin carving and pumpkin bowling at local farm. Plus a nature trail and pony rides if you weren’t already stressed and knackered from arguing with the kids over your pumpkin designs, and chasing after them and their escaping pumpkins.

Sunday 12 Oct Cider Mill visit. More soaking up of fresh air by walking through the wooded glades with the promising reward of some hot doughnuts (donuts – tsk!) and apple cider afterwards. (Why oh why is the cider non-alcoholic over here? Call it apple juice please.)

Saturday 18 Oct We go here, Blakes Farm, another Cider Mill, to pick pumpkins for the children to carve at home. (See the size of those things?) Plus we spend a lovely half day racing round the Barnyard fun – a 3-level haunted barn, a hayride through the apple orchards, and a train ride through the same apple orchards, more pony rides, and a pumpkin shaped bouncy house. Then we climb the biggest haystack I’ve ever seen, get lost in a corn maze giving any parent a heart attack as their little ones run off out of sight, feed the chickens and the goats and eat more doughnuts.

Sunday 19 Oct Neighbour’s Halloween party. Ten little ones 5 yrs and under all running around in their Halloween costumes and screaming at the fake eyeballs lurking in the bowls of spaghetti and sauce.

Wednesday 22 Oct Me and the boys pile in the car and head to a local mall to watch Boogah and Hoogah’s Halloween Houseparty! A cute Halloween themed mini musical show with Bippety Boolarina, (a twirling pixie ballerina) that impressed Monkey so much, he was straight down the front into the toddler mosh-pit twirling his little jean-clad legs like he was in the Bolshoi Ballet. Had to come home and have a nap after all that excitement.

Saturday 25 Oct Straight from Cheeky’s swimming lesson he’s off to a Spooktacular party at RARA (a community centre that runs toddler classes.) He will don his Halloween costume (he’s a Storm Trooper) for the 4th time this month, and spend a couple of hours sans parents making a pumpkin craft, eating pumpkin shaped cookies and playing pumpkin themed games. (Just as well he likes pumpkins.)

Meanwhile, his parents will be running his brother across town to a 2nd birthday party. This one, thank goodness, has nothing to do with pumpkins and is themed ‘Space Camp’. A rocket ship would be very handy at this point, as five minutes into that party I have to go get Cheeky from the Spooktacular party, de-robe him from planet Halloween and dock him back at Space Camp.

And the day of fun doesn’t end there. Oh no.

At 6.20pm we have to charge to yet another location and go to a local Nature preserve for a Halloween Hoot. This involves taking a 45-minute candlelit walk, to meet fairytale characters and watch short skits. The evening includes cider and doughnuts (Of course. Everything you do in America includes food) and a campfire with entertainment.

Sunday 26 Oct No lie-in for us! Today we’re off to Hess-Hathaway Park, a farm park for a hayride with friends. We won’t be partaking in the cross-country skiing (the snow’s not here just yet) but am sure we’ll be feeding the animals, walking the hiking trails, checking out the playground and bumping around on bails of hay as the tractor pulls us along through the woods. Oh and no doubt, cider and bloody doughnuts will be served!

Tuesday 28 Oct Halloween costume party at Monkey’s toddler class. Bet we have to carve another pumpkin! (He’s dressing up as a monkey too by the way) but if I’m offered another cup of cider and a doughnut comes anywhere near me, am jumping on that plane and heading back home!

Thursday 30 Oct Cheeky’s school Halloween party. Will have lost count of the number of times he’s worn his costume by this point. Then it’s a quick dash to the airport to collect one of my best friends from the UK who is flying in for some trick or treating. I will need the job lot of PG Tips tea she is bringing; to stay awake for the next 24 hrs of catching up we are looking forward to doing.

Friday 31 Oct Halloween is here!!!! And we’re starting our family celebrations with a drive along Tilson Street Halloween Haunt . Apparently the decorations are astonishing and it’s like driving through a Halloween movie set.

Then, back to our house to light the pumpkins on our front steps for the neighbourhood trick or treating. The boys will be in heaven and are sure to be on candy-overload for the rest of the weekend. Great!

Saturday 1 November SLEEP, SLEEP and hopefully more SLEEP!

They say it’s tough to keep up with the ‘Jones’, I say it’s tougher to keep up with the Americans at this time of year. Tell me, how are you celebrating Halloween?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Queen speaks!

As it's Monday and am sure we could all do with a smile to start the week, I really couldn't resist sharing this with you all. Bear in mind, you need to have a good sense of humour (not HUMOR) when reading....

To: the citizens of the United States of America
From: Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

In light of your failure in recent years to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. (You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas , which she does not fancy). Your new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, will appoint a Governor forAmerica without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

1. The letter "U" will be reinstated in words such as "colour," "favour," "labour" and "neighbour." Likewise, you will learn to spell "doughnut" without skipping half the letters, and the suffix "-ize" will be replaced by the suffix "-ise." Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (Look up "vocabulary").

2.Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as '"like" and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as U. S. English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take into account the reinstated letter "u"' and the elimination of "-ize."

3. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.

4. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not quite ready to be independent. Guns should only be used for shooting grouse. If you can't sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist, then you're not ready to shoot grouse.

5. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler, although a permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.

6. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left side with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.

7. The former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.

8. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.

9. The cold, tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. Australian beer is also acceptable, as they are pound for pound the greatest sporting nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of the British Commonwealth - see what it did for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.

10. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors t o play English characters. Watching Andie MacDowell attempt English dialogue in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one's ears removed with a cheese grater.

11. You will cease playing American football. There is only one kind of proper football; you call it soccer. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full Kevlar body amour like a bunch of nannies).

12. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America Since only 2.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the Australians first to take the sting out of their deliveries.

13. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad.

14. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).

15. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 p.m. with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.

God Save the Queen!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Time Flies...

When you’re having fun doesn’t it? It also seems to fly when you’re juggling your children, the laundry, the housework, the grocery shop, the swim class, the soccer tournament, the doctor’s appointment, the school run, paying the bills, shopping for birthday gifts, the mom & tot class, the meetings with the builders and the weekend away.

For, I see that since I’ve been blogging, this is the longest I’ve gone between posts. A whole nine days. It’s been so busy in Mom/Mum land that I’ve not had five minutes to check in with my blog, let alone read all my favourite blogs. Sorry!

I did carve out time to write a little something for Tara over at From Dawn Till Rusk after she kindly asked me to do a guest post on her fantastic blog. (Thank you Tara.) So if you want to read more of my ramblings, you’ll find me having a cuppa over at her place.

Most of the reason why I’ve been absent from t’internet has just been that we changed gears to a frenzy of activity in the normal hum-drum routine. But for three of those days, I’ve had a very good excuse for leaving you.

I left home. Without my children and without my husband. But I did have a little suitcase of clothes, a stash of gossipy magazines and a few bottles of wine.

Last weekend I had my annual spa weekend away with seven friends from my mom/mum’s group. You could barely see us for dust, as we all zoomed away from our families for a couple of days in a luxurious Mountain log cabin up in North Michigan.

Lots of bloggers have been writing about sunny autumn (fall) days and my four hour drive up to Boyne Mountain was no exception. The colour of the trees was breathtaking. The car was even nicer (my friend’s cream puff car – a VW convertible Beetle) and we went topless - it was a freakishly hot weekend.

Getting away from it all is a luxury I rarely afford. Something I truly miss from those LBC days (Life before Children) so the annual October trip up North has been something of a highlight in my calendar.

It’s not necessarily always exactly the same women that go each year, but there are a few of us who have become the regulars. And the newbies mix it up a bit - we need the new sex/dating stories.

For the main event of the weekend (apart from the half a day in the spa) seems to be the Saturday Night Sex Stories.

It makes me laugh how under normal ‘at home’ conditions we are almost prudish with each other’s personal lives. We don’t get too intimate with our tales and I’ve been known to struggle for something to say to some of these women. I mean it’s not like I’m going on a mini break with seven close girlfriends. There’s usually one very close friend of mine that goes too, but that leaves six others that I sit with at playgroups and book club, but I’d never normally confess to them where I lost my virginity.

Yet, once we’re back from our day spent being massaged and scrubbed and we put on our PJs and open up the wine, then all inhibitions vanish. The stories that come out could make even Jenna Jameson blush.

Don’t get me wrong, I love girly bonding moments like this. (Me and my bed-pal for the weekend stayed up past 2am chatting both nights like a pair of teenagers on a sleepover.) But I think there’s something remarkable about how some of these women barely speak to me the rest of the year, yet tell me the most intimate of stories when we’re stuck in the woods by a roaring fire.

We go by the unsaid rule of ‘What goes on up North, stays up North.’ We’d never bring up some of the things that are confessed whilst we’re chatting at the kids Halloween party, but I always wonder how much of what you reveal about yourself really changes a person’s perception of you?

This is some of what I learnt about my ‘roommates’ this weekend:

  1. One lady, a slim and attractive brunette I always thought was an exercise addict hence why she was so slim. Turns out it’s because she doesn’t eat. Except fruit and a little porridge.

  2. One used to date my sons pediatrician when he was in medical school. Although she confessed they never slept together, apparently he is “very big down there.” I will obviously never be able to go look this doctor in the eye again. Literally.

  3. One (who I always thought was nice but a bit holier than thou) was a right go-er during her high school and college days. I lost count of the number of drunken sex stories she told.

  4. One seduced her boss and now he’s her husband.

  5. One has a brother who’s sterile and has asked her husband to father his and his wife’s much longed for baby.

  6. One has time for sex three times a week with her husband (but no kissing on the mouth! Odd, yes?) and she has three kids and a home business to run. Lucky her. Lucky husband!

And there was more, but am still reeling at how much I’d misjudged some of these women. I thought I was a pretty perceptive judge of character. I think this is what happens when becoming friends with woman post childbirth. We are all a little guilty of forgetting that they too had a fun and carefree past before they swapped gears into family life. I am no prude and I’ll confess all after a few glasses of Merlot, but I was most shocked at how shocked I was.

Did I really think that because most of these women present an indefectible life where I can feel such an inadequate Mummy at times (not at all deliberately I must add) that they really were so flawless?

Hmmm. Not sure. Because even though I’ve been a Mummy longer in the land of Mommies than Mummies, I’m used to the UK parenting ways, i.e. seeing kids being screamed at for misbehaving in the street. It’s normal for my British friends and me to talk very openly about our low points along the path of parenthood. I feel no shame in confessing that sometimes shouting like a fishwife at the boys is what need to do to release that moment of tension and anger. But I have found with some American Moms that it’s all about the appearances. The pressure over here to maintain a calm and controlled façade at all time with your kids is suffocating. I mean it’s taken me nearly three years to confess to a US friend that I’ve raised my voice to my children.

Not that I’m tarnishing all Moms with the same brush. Please don’t think that. I’m just talking about the very small group I know.

So, to hear some of them to divulge such secrets of recklessness and capricious behaviour threw me off balance somewhat. But you know what, I’m glad they told those stories. It makes them more human, more vulnerable and means we’re all from the same playing field. It’s just how we play the game that differs.

Bet they scream at their kids too. But behind their closed doors eh?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Can't Cook, Won't Cook?

So, it’s that time of the month again – Book Club and thus today I’ve found myself in a position mostly alien to me; knee deep in cookie dough.

I rarely don the apron (Cath Kidston btw) and I’m more Carlos Solis in the baking department than Bree Van De Kamp. But for Book Club, I have to make the effort and face my kitchen fears.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’d get thrown out if I turned up with boxed cookies, and that’s really not far from the truth. And this I learnt from bitter experience.

Three years ago, after living here for a couple of months, I joined my local chapter of the national moms organisation, Mothers & More. It’s a great group to be part of and gave me the gateway to meeting most of the women I now call friends. But there are unspoken rules to our gatherings. Rules that don’t appear on the mission statement.

Food etiquette.

One of the first evening events I went to was their Book Club. (I hadn’t read the book, but was assured that didn’t matter, as gossip and eating were the main order of the night.) All I had to do was bring a dessert or appetizer to share and show up. Not knowing what kind of treat to bring, I went to a local gourmet market and picked out a sugar laden box of Christmas cookies. (Twas the season n all.)

When I arrived at the host’s house and went into the kitchen, I saw the counter was bursting with edible delights. There was spinach dip and crackers (home-made) brownies (home-made) Molten chocolate cakes (home-made) peanut butter cream pie (home-made) mini meatloaves (home-made) cheese n ham spirals (home-made) oatmeal raisin cookies (home-made) and chocolate chip muffins (home-made).

My heart sank as I sheepishly added my boxed cookies to the mix.

Conversation flowed and everyone started to fill their plates and the wine was poured. I starred in awe as the host laid out little Christmas themed napkins, plates and knives and forks. Even the spoons had Santa on them. Clearly, coming from the UK where a gathering means you are lucky to get a plain white paper plate and a plastic fork, this scene left me gob smacked. (I have since come to realise that this sort of spread complete with holiday themed cutlery (silverware) and matching napkins is completely normal in a US home.)

I thought I had come to her party-of-the-year, not an informal discussion on the Bronte sisters.

The women made me feel really welcome and we to-ed and fro-ed from the kitchen refilling throughout the evening. I quickly realised my mistake in having dinner beforehand.

However, every time I went into the kitchen, I noticed my lurid green Christmas tree cookies remained untouched. I didn’t fancy their chances against this gourmet feast. Three hours passed and the oatmeal raisin cookies were devoured. The spinach dip was all gone and the molten cakes left us with gooey fingers.

Still my cookies remained sealed.

At the end of the night, everyone takes home what’s left of the dishes they bring. I was the only one to bring home exactly what I’d entered the house with. I was crestfallen. I’d failed in the bring-a-dish-to-pass department.

So Him Downstairs had a Christmas cookie in his lunchbox every day after, until they eventually ran out around Chinese New Year! (He reported, that they were, “OK-ish.”)

My lesson was learnt. Though shall never bring store-bought goods to Book Club.

And so the monthly book meetings leave me all of a tizzy in two ways. First, I have to finish the blooming book on time (this is fine when I enjoy it and can race through it, but when we’re doing some sleep-inducing American historical ‘masterpiece’ I barely open the front cover.) And secondly, it means I have to get the Cath out.

The Cath (my apron) and I have become better friends since that first Book Club. And actually she always brings a smile to my face when I wear her, because one of my best friends in the UK sent it to me when I moved Stateside. She said I needed something to wear whilst I baked all the apple pie I was surely going to, now I was a desperate housewife! She was right. Sort of.

So here’s this month’s finished product, hot off the pan so to speak. My very own chocolate chip cookies, Mom/Mum style. (Not exactly all round and perfect, but they're home-made!) No so impressive to all you culinary queens out there, granted. But to me and my little family, they are a miracle worth photographing. Plus they’ll keep me in Book Club for the next month at least.

And Valley Girl I have a tip for you. If you do move to America, whatever you do, make sure you have a decent oven!

Now, who wants a cookie?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Are you the next Survivor?

My friend sent me this and it gave me such a laugh I thought I'd share it with you. After the the week I've had battling with my bedtime Monkey, a giggle couldn't come too soon.

(Little update from previous two posts: I've taken a harsher line on the going-to-bed front thanks to all your advice and last night, he was asleep, in his own bed, by 9.15pm. So, fingers crossed, the tables have turned..)


Six married men will be dropped on an island with one car and 3 kids each for six weeks.

Each kid will play:
Two sports
And either take music or dance classes.

There is no fast food.

Each man must:
Take care of his 3 kids.
Keep his assigned house clean.
Correct all homework.
And complete science projects, cook and do laundry.
And pay a list of 'pretend' bills.
With not enough money.

In addition, each man:
Will have to budget in money for groceries each week.
Must remember the birthdays of all their friends and relatives.
And send cards out on time - no emailing.

Each man must also:
Take each child to a doctor's appointment.
A dentist appointment.
And a haircut appointment.

He must make:
One unscheduled and inconvenient visit per child to the A & E.
Bake cookies or cakes for a social function.

Each man will be responsible for:
Decorating his own assigned house.
Planting flowers outside.
Keep it presentable.
At all times.

The men will only:
Have access to television when the kids are asleep and all chores are done.

The men must:
Shave their legs.
Wear makeup daily.
Adorn himself with jewellery.
Wear uncomfortable yet stylish shoes.
Keep fingernails polished.
And eyebrows groomed.

During one of the six weeks..
The men will have to endure severeabdominal cramps, back aches, and have extreme, unexplained mood swings but never once complain or slow down from other duties.

They must attend:
Weekly school meetings and church.
Find time at least once to spend the afternoon at the park or a similar setting.

They will need to:
Read a book to the kids each night and in the morning.
Feed them, dress them.
Brush their teeth.
Comb their hair by 8:00 am.

A test will be given at the end of the six weeks, and each father will be required to know all of the following information:
Each child's birthday.
Height, weight.
Shoe size, clothes size.
And doctor's name.
Also the child's weight at birth.
Length, time of birth.
And length of labour.
Each child's favourite colour.
Middle name.
Favourite snack.
Favourite song.
Favourite drink.
Favourite toy.
Biggest fear and what they want to be when they grow up.

The kids vote them off the island based on performance.

The last man wins only if:
He still has enough energy to be intimate with his spouse at a moment's notice.

If the last man does win:
He can play the game over and over.
And over again for the next 18-25 years.
Eventually earning the right to be called *Mum!

* Of course, we need to insert the word, 'Dad' for all those stay-at-home Daddies amongst us..

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Locks of Love

For the umpteenth night in row, my evening went something like this…

Me: "Come on boys, bath-time, bed-time!”

Monkey: “No night night.”

Me: "Yes night night. It’s late.”

HD: “I’ll run the bath for them.”

Monkey:” No! Mama!”

Me:” Come on darling, Mummy’s tired. Go have some fun with Daddy.”

Monkey:” No. Mama bath.”

Me: (with, oh zero enthusiasm in my voice) "Alright then."

HD is resigned to standing on the sidelines, crossing his fingers he’ll be brought on for the second half, while both boys splash more water over me than the tiles.

HD: "Time to get out. Who wants to get cosy in their towel with me?”

Cheeky and Monkey: (in unison) “No! Mama/Mummy.”

Mummy sneaks off, pretending she needs a wee, just to escape their jaws of love for five whole minutes. (Must add earplugs to the shopping list; I can hear their cries for me through the walls.)

Me: “Here I am. Jammies on. Pick a story for Daddy to read.”

Monkey: “No! Mama book.”

HD: ”I’ll read. Mummy will stay though.”

(Thanks darling. My eye is on the clock. It’s now nearer eight-thirty than eight and all the good TV starts at nine.)

Monkey: “No. Mama book! Mama book! MAMA BOOK!”

Me: “Oh pass me the blinking book then!”

HD sneaks off in search of a warmer reception from the football (soccer) news on the internet.

After we’ve done Noddy’s Super Busy Day, The Curious Little Dolphin, and Harry and the Dinosaurs Make a Splash, cosied up under Monkey’s covers, we begin the hell that has become getting him to stay in his bed.

Kisses and cuddles are dispensed to Cheeky and he trots off up his wooden hill to the top bunk. Monkey makes a dash for the ladder, grabbing as many trains and small diggers as his two-year-old hands can fit.

Me: ”Oh nooooo, this is your bed.”

Monkey: “No. Up! Up!”

Cheeky: ”No! Your bed is down there. This bed is for bigger boys. You can’t come up here!

Me: “Yes. Come back down here.”

I bang my bloody head on the bloody bed for the billionth time this week, as I scramble off lower bunk to retrieve escaping Monkey.

Monkey: “Noooo! Humph.” (He’s got that toddler folding of arms and pouting bottom lip thing off-pat.)

HD reappears as back-up. Ha ha.

HD: ”Come on. Night-night time. Let’s get tucked in.”

Monkey: “No! Mama.”

Here we go again…

HD: “Mummy will stay, but only if you get back in your bed.”

(Thanks again darling.)

Monkey: (now smiling) ”Mama!”

Me: “Come on then. Snuggles.” And we get under the covers together again.

I will skip the next 45 minutes of conversation. Suffice to say, it involved mass over-use of the words ‘Mama,’ ‘bus,’ ‘whooow’ and ‘raaah’ as Monkey rallied against going to sleep with a repetitive on and off the bed re-enactment of plastic school-bus crashing into plastic passengers and tumbling over plastic Stegosaurus.

At 10 O’clock (!) as I was contemplating tying him down and gaffer-taping his gob, Cheeky piped up: ”Be quiet. You are both too noisy!”

I’d barely said a word, but apparently, my under-the-covers shussshh-ing was enough to offend and have me down as co-disturber of bedtime peace.

As Monkey’s eyelids finally started to look a little heavy and his plastic passengers bruised, I tried to creep out. But with one shuffle of the duvet, he sat bolt upright and said,“No Mama!”

Oh the price we pay for popularity eh?

Twenty minute later (at practically 10-frigging-30 PM) he is finally asleep deep enough (and still in his bed) that I can escape his locks of love. But, yet again, bang went my evening. So, all tips for getting little ones to go to bed without Mama, will be gratefully received. I am desperate to reclaim nights as my own…