Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Santa for Hire?

Santa gave me his business card today. Seriously. He slipped it into my palm as my youngest, Monkey, sat upon his knee, telling the big white beard all of his Christmas wishes.

As Monkey gazed adoringly into Mr C's eyes, I looked at the business card he managed to hand me in exchange for my son to climb upon his knee.

'Clowns, magicians, pony rides, Carnival games, train rides....' Gosh, Santa has had to branch out. And however cheeky this little maneuver was, I suppose he did have a captive audience in which to network. Guess the tough economic climate has made even the inhabitants of the North Pole feel the pinch this year eh?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Who forgot their party manners?

We drew the short straw when we fell preggers with Cheeky - his birthday is right next door to Christmas. (Yes, that wasn't smart planning. But nothing about becoming a parent goes according to plan does it)?

So, this time of year is the usual craziness with Christmas shopping, but then we throw a birthday into the mix and up shoots the credit card bill.

As no-one is usually around on his actual birthday - his friends all being off visiting family for the holidays, we have his party in early December. And as snow is often on the ground, we tend to hire a venue and do a 'party package' rather than risk letting 20+ little boys loose in house.

Bowling party? Check! Indoor play centre party? Check! So this year we went for a 'Pump It Up' party. Along with nearly all the other five year old boys in his class as it turns out..

Anyway, Pump It Up is one of those inflatable party palaces. All huge slides, bounce houses, padded climbing walls and enough basketball hoops and air hockey tables to wear out a couple dozen over-excitable four and five year olds.

And due to its party venue popularity, it has also felt like my second home lately as for the last five weeks, we have attended a Pump It Up party every weekend. Despite this, Cheeky insisted that this was his venue of choice and bored of it, he was not!

So, off we trotted a couple of days ago, to do the whole fun and cake overload experience. Again.

Obviously, once the 'bounce' part has concluded, the kids' main focus is on the food, cake and the party/goody bags they will take home with them.

The whole gift bag etiquette perplexes me, coming from a childhood where we'd be genuinely excited to leave a party with anything, especially a slice of cake and a balloon. I certainly don't remember ever expecting to be given a goody bag as I waved goodbye. Or was that just me?

These days, I've heard kids exclaim, "Hope we get a good toy," upon entering the birthday party. I was gobsmacked.

When I first lived over here, I made a huge social faux pas by saying to a group of Moms, that I didn't really see the point of the goody bag. That a piece of cake to take home was OK. That surely the children should be pleased to be invited to have some fun sharing the birthday boy/girls day? That only going to get a goody bag, was, actually, rather rude....?

Cue silence.

I quickly learnt that providing a goody bag was essential when hosting a children's birthday party. And some of the ones my boys have been lucky to get, have been spectacularly packed with toys, treats, stickers, cookies etc. And what do my Cheeky and Monkey do?

They tear through the bags, tossing aside any kind of writing instrument or stickers and make for the chocolate or candy that may lurk at the bottom of the bag. And the toy? Well, it depends what it is. One recent goody bag contained Lightning McQueen from the Cars movie, thus that goody bag received the gold star seal of approval. But I've seen others barely touched and I always feel so sorry that a Mom/Mum somewhere put a lot of effort into buying those treats and filling those bags, only for some of it or all of it, to end up in the trash.

So, whenever we've had a party for Cheeky or Monkey, I've tried to chose goody bag treats that I hope will at least be used or played with a little before they end up dumped in a corner. In the summer, at Monkey's birthday party, we gave all the children a skipping/jump rope and a giant bubble stick. So, I decided to do Christmasy stuff for this party. I filled the bags with Christmas cartoon colouring books, chocolate coins, candy canes, Christmas stickers, and a chocolate Santa. No toys. Not to be rude, but the party and cake was already costing over $250 before anything was put into a flipping goody bag...

At the end of the party, I had to stop several guests stampeding the goody bag table, in their eagerness to see what loot they were receiving. Blimey! I would have just let them all at it, except I'd made some of the bags more girl-friendly and some more boy appropriate, so I wanted to ensure the little men in our group didn't go home with My Little Pony or Tinkerbell books. But jeez, if this is what it feels like to be stage-dived at, then thank goodness I'm not a rock star.

As I handed out the bags, two girls started arguing over the contents. Then, of course, they started crying. (Note to self: Give all the girls exactly the same books, unless you want to see World War III break out over who has Minnie Mouse and who has Snow White to colour in.) One boy took his bag from me, looked inside it, pulled a face and promptly gave it back saying, "I don't want this thank you." I was dumbfounded. But at least he was polite about it.

Two children came up to me and asked, "Where's the toy?" I felt like ramming the goody bag down their little necks and only half of them said 'thank you' when they got the bags or left the party.

One little boy actually got up from his seat during the food and asked me when the pizza was coming. I explained that we weren't having pizza.

"But at my party we gave everyone pizza," he said. "And are we having ice cream with the cake?" He wasn't giving up.

"No, it's cake and fruit and there's crisps too if you want them." I replied, trying to get away from this four foot menace.

And when it came to the goody bags, he had something to say about them as well. He tapped me on the arm and told me," At my party, we gave everyone lots of toys in the bags."

"How lovely," I replied. Through gritted teeth.

What I failed to tell him, but perhaps I should have, was that those toys were still rolling around in the back of my car, broken before they made it home and now are unwanted by my children. What a waste of cash that was, I wanted to say. But he was still so busy grumbling about the lack of ice cream, any explanations from me would have fallen on deaf ears. Anyway, what was I thinking, even contemplating explaining myself to a five year old?!

A little later, guests all departed, when I was alone except for the cake crumbs in the party room, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. It was all over for another year. Not quite the post-party feeling I had planned or hoped for...

But the reality of hosting kids parties is starting to chip away at my usually party-happy demeanour. I would be mortified if either of my boys left a do without thanking the hostess for the party and the goody bag, whatever they really thought of the whole event.

On reflection, am sure if I told the mothers of those children who spoke out to me, what their little darlings had said, they'd be mortified. At least I hope they would, but, you never seem to know these days do you?

On the plus side, at least Cheeky and Monkey had a good time and already can't wait for next years birthday party. Me? It'll take me 12 months to get over this one....

pic credit: Fotosearch

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thank You Gobble Gobble

It's Thanksgiving, one of the big American holidays our family has adopted since we moved Stateside. Families all over the country, hop on a plane or do the traditional road-trip to go eat turkey and Pumpkin Pie with their rellies.

We have no rellies here, so we gather with our adoptive families - other local Brits - and split a big bird. The kids have spent the week doing all sorts of Thanksgiving activities and projects at school. The annual Cheeky or Monkey hand print decorated as a turkey comes home and is proudly displayed. Always endorsed with what they are thankful for.

This year, Cheeky's read:

"I am thankful for pizza, my friends, my toys, ice cream. And my family."

We had to laugh. Talk about priorities!

But, it made me think, what am I thankful for? Here's my Top Ten:

1. Him Downstairs. Despite me being a whinging old grot-bags so much of the time, he's still there to give me a hug and the end of the night. Sometimes, I don't deserve him. Sometimes, he doesn't deserve me. His armour doesn't shine, but he's still my Knight.

2. Cheeky and Monkey. They are the love of my life and the challenge of my day.

3. Wine. More specifically, Merlot. (Any brand'll do. I'm classy that way.) My Mare-LOOW. Without it, numbers one and two would be a darn sight harder to cope with and I'd be a fully-paid up member of the Pi**ed Off Parents Club.

4. Chocolate. Chocolate cake. Chocolate bars. (Green & Blacks, Dairy Milk. DefinitelyNot Hershey's. The horror!) Hot chocolate. Chocolate ice cream. Chocolate sauce. Chocolate butter cream icing. Even my favourite throw, to get cosy under is, chocolate coloured. I am an addict and no, I have no intention of getting any therapy.

5. BBC America. Without it, my Televisual recreations would be an overload of over-produced, high gloss, so-called dramas with excess car-chases, guns, and stick-thin women. This doesn't stop me watching them of course. My DVR is full of shows such as Glee, Desperate Housewives, Bones, Brothers & Sisters, The Hills and The City . But not missing out on a touch of fabulous British TV like Mary Queen of Shops, Top Gear, Mistresses, Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, Don't Tell The Bride, How Clean Is Your House and Graham Norton, gives us a slice of home and reminds us just how bl**dy good the Brits are at making TV. (Recently we watched ITV's Doc Martin series 1-3 on DVD back to back. Left me and Him Downstairs yearning for the UK and the chance to take the boys crab fishing at the seaside...)

5. My friends. I don't want to go all Gorgonzola here, but my friends maketh me. The initial strong hold on many UK chums that I had when we first moved here has waned. In some cases this makes me sad, but it is nevertheless, inevitable and understandable. I am thankful that Facebook enables us to keep in contact, but sad that my phone rarely rings with a voice from England on the other end. I try. I phone. But I slack sometimes too. The time difference and the general business of raising one's family does make it hard to have a long chat, so thank gawd I have made some incredible girlfriends in the US. Without these strong, inspiring women in my day-to-day life, I'd be an even grumpier cow!

6. Lululemon athletica yoga pants. After getting majorly fed-up of wearing jeans all the time, my friend introduced me to Lululemon and well, my life hasn't been the same since. Never before has my chocolate inflated derriere looked so toned. And to think, I didn't even have to step inside the gym!

7. Tea. I used to be a PGTips only kinda girl, but moving away from home and not be willing to try alternatives abroad, would have left me gasping for a cuppa. Yes, the day I discovered my nectar of choice in the British section of the supermarket, I practically wept with joy. (Cue the usual strange looks from the locals, because I dared to express my true feelings in public) But tea and the right blend of English Breakfast, is the thing that gets the blood pumping round my veins. I buy it in bulk whenever I go back to England, and when I run out, well, there are other more available brands that I also really enjoy popping in my teapot.

8. Bed socks. I live in Michigan, North America. We get an average of 30-150 inches of snow between November and March. Failing to have thick cosy socks in your drawer is really not an option. I do take them off for sex. Sometimes. In England they'd have been a passion killer. Over here, Him Downstairs is trying to get inside them too.

9. Yola. OMG I have a new BF! She's come into my life very recently and has shaken the dust off and turned my home into a sparkling palace. Yes, after cleaning my own house ever since I left home nearly 18 years ago, I have finally readjusted the family budget to allow Yola into our lives. We couldn't possibly afford to have her every week, but once a month is enough for me. Her idea of clean house is waaay more thorough than mine. This week, I came home to find her washing down the dining room blinds. Something I've been meaning to do for three years. I think I am in love!

10. The 99 cents shirt. I hope you don't think I am a lazy housewife, but I've never been a fan of the iron. Think this has something to do with the fact that one of my part-time jobs during University was to iron for a local family. Daddy was something 'important' in the city and had very specific requests where starch was concerned. Mummy was an astrophysicist and had a fondness for pleated skirts and tea-party collared blouses. Children, one, two and three went to a very posh private school where the uniform trousers had to have a crease down the front and the skirts were kilt style. I hated ironing those flipping skirts.

The one plus of this job was that at least they had a fancy ironing board with a seat, so I could sit and watch TV while tried to avoid burning their clothes. I worked for them twice a week for two years. I came to have a love-hate relationship with the job; I loved the family, but I hated the ironing. So, when Him Downstairs and I began co-habitating I made it clear that he shouldn't expect me to iron anything. Especially shirts. And bless him, seven years on, he knows I wasn't joking. Until about a month ago, he was regularly heard swearing when, just as he was climbing into bed, he realised he hadn't got any ironed work clothes. Then, up he'd get up and crash and bang about downstairs with the ironing board.

I was starting to feel a teeny-weensy bit sorry for him, when I discovered that I could get his shirts laundered and ironed for less than $1 at a local cleaners. Result! It's not even worth switching on the iron for that price. So now, my Prince has a closet full of beautifully ironed and starched shirts and I feel less of a rubbish wife.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

To Shout or Not to Shout...?

I had to laugh. The two scenarios couldn't have been more different...

SCENE ONE took place yesterday afternoon.

I'm in the local 'healthy' grocery store with Monkey (son no.2) topping up our meat supplies. I physically recoiled in horror at the price of four measly organic chicken breasts (I've been on budget brand meat lately to economise, but today am all free-range after reading organic propaganda in Good Housekeeping).

I know, WTF am I doing reading Good Housekeeping?

Anyway, this particular store (Trader Joe's for those Stateside) has mini shopping carts (trolleys for those who normally use Tescos) and for that reason, plus they give the kids balloons, have free coffee and nibbles, is why it's the one supermarket you'll often find many Moms/Mums in with their kids. At the same time. Shopping together. Crazy huh?

My little Monkey is a delight to shop there with. He grabs his mini-me trolley and off he goes. All smiles and, "Yes Mummy! Sure Mummy! Let me help Mummy!"

No tantrums. No running off out of sight. No pulling things off displays. And no Mummy whispering punishment threats every two seconds along every aisle.

This is the only store they are allowed to come into with me. Seriously, all other forms of shopping with them leave me frazzled with a munting moustache sweat on my upper lip. Not a good look.

So, with all the free food to placate the little ones, it's rare to see a kid acting up in Trader Joe's. But today, little Cameron was his name and little devil was his game.

My guess is he was about four or five years old. He pushed his little trolley into his Mom's and I saw him try and throw the bananas onto the floor and kick over a display of bread rolls (wholewheat). Hardly lock-him-up-officer behaviour, but obviously his Mom wasn't happy about it.

Instead of the hushed-but-threatening reprimanding I do to my kids, before I break out into fish-wife shouting mode when the behaviour really tips me over the edge, this Mom, (for she truly was a MOM, not a MUM) was all smiles and gentle placation to her tiny terror.

In exactly the voice my pediatrician told me I should use with my children, ie all sweetness, light, positivity and an octave higher than most sane mothers talk, she told her son to, "Honeeey, quit doing that."

He didn't.

She asked him a few more times, smiling and cooing at him all through her saccharin-coated admonishment. She mentioned a 'Time Out'(when he got home). Her son didn't seem to have his listening ears on and still she remained calm. Super Nanny would be proud. The American one. The British one (Jo Frost) definitely would have removed the boy from the store, gone down to his eye level and talked to him in a lot firmer voice.

She's British. We don't do sugar. Except in our tea...

But this Mom was practising the American parenting philosophy of talk-to-them-as-you-would-liked-to-be-spoken-to-yourself. And boy, she was good.

It didn't work though. And I bet she though the vocal sugar bowl out of the window when she was home, behind closed doors.

And therein lies the difference.

Over here, all the tongue-lashing is done in private. I don't believe for a second, these Moms never raise their voices to their kids.

In good old Blighty, you can't move through the shopping centres for Mums shouting at their kids.

I'm not saying I always agree with bawling out your children in public, but boy, it's kind of refreshing to see that you're not alone in the fact that you have shouted at 'darling Timmy'. More than once.

Which makes SCENE TWO all the more gob smacking for me, for the opposite reasons...

A few weeks ago, while I was visiting my family in Spain (yes, it was the best holiday I've had since becoming a Mum. Lots of sun. Lots of sunbathing. Lots of swimming. And, most importantly, lots of babysitting done by the Grandparents).

Anyway, with the kids in tow, Dad and I stopped off at his local supermarket. As Cheeky and Monkey were all sleepy after a hard day building sandcastles, I volunteered to stay in the car with them, while Dad ran into the store.

Sitting in the car park (parking lot) I noticed the Spanish family next to us, loading their groceries into their car.

The Mama, was throwing carrier bags into the boot (trunk) with one hand, while in her other arm was her newborn, whom she was nursing all the while she was unpacking her trolley. She wasn't hiding under a nursing blanket, like the Moms do in America, no. Her breast was out and abut for all to see.

Not so surprising, seeings as everyone in Spain walks around practically naked on the beach, whatever the size of their bikini! I've obviously been living in the States too long, as I found myself offended by some of the sights I saw on the sand.

Then the Papa appears with two other little bambinos, who I'd guess were under six. He's got a fag on. I did have to laugh. The scene hadn't even got going yet, and I was thinking of how many Mom/Mums I know who would have had a corony at the exposed breast and cigarette within 100 miles of the children.

By now, I'm completed hooked on this family and don't care if they can see me gawping at them. The parents get into a row (oh good, it's not just me and Him Downstairs that argue on the food run then). Although I don't speak Spanish, am sure their language is far from biblical. Their kids don't seem to care, they're too busy pushing and shoving each other inside the car.

Mama spots what the kids are doing, comes round to their door and starts yelling at them, presumably to, 'Stop It!' She's whipped the baby off her breast now, and as our cars are parked closer than the US super-size parking spaces I'm used to, I recoil somewhat, as I can practically touch her nipple.

She's oblivious. Good for her. Her concern is her fighting kids, her now screaming baby and her smoking husband, who appears to be engrossed in a magazine he's leaning on the other side of the car reading. (Probably porn eh? So European).

This is getting good.

She plugs the baby onto the other breast. (Oh my, is that a flash of BOTH boobs)?
Then she uses her spare hand to clip both her kids round their heads, whilst she yells at the husband. And the children.

He gets into the car, still smoking. Neither child in the backseat appears to be in a 5point harness car seat. He joins in the yelling. At his wife. And at his kids who are still pulling each others hair in the backseat. And at anyone who'll listen!

Mama, slams all the doors shut, gets into the front passenger seat. Still nursing the baby, still yelling at her family. And they all drive off. Baby on her breat. I may be wrong here, but I didn't notice any seatblets being fastened.

She doesn't care 'what-the-neighbours-might-say' and good for her! Her main concern was what was going on with her family. And she chose to deal with them, her way, regardless of what onlookers might witness, regardless of what 'we' might think.

This may be completely normal parenting in Spain, but you'd never see a scene like that where I live.

And you know what I did? I laughed and I smiled and I thought, 'Good for you Mama!' I may not agree with her approach to safety in the car, but it was so refreshing to see real parenting emotions played out before me, rather than the fake doctor-scripted admonishments that have become all too normal in my world.

I mean really, yelling at your kids in public is hardly parenting crime of the century now is it? And in a world full of strangers, why are we so concerned with what they might think of us?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why my husband is not on my Christmas card list this year...

'Him Downstairs and I have reached a big milestone..,' I blogged in my last post. Me writing away as I was. All on a high after our roamntic interlude.
Didn't bloody last.
Was an unexpected milestone as it turns out.
A milestone surely we're not due to reach for another ten years.
A milestone that has left me peed off.
And upset.
Plus a bit hurt.
And downright surprised actually.
I didn't think he was the sort.

He forgot our anniversary.

We woke up on 'the day' and it was all a little unusually hectic.
I was packing for my trip Spain with Cheeky and Monkey to visit my parents.
Leaving that night. On our anniversary.
Yes, I know.
But, we were having the day together and we'd had the night away the previous weekend, my early anniversary gift to him. So I'd done my bit to make it up.
Anyway, over a cup of tea in the morning sun, together we opened the anniversary cards that'd come in the mail.
Truthfully, I opened them. Oohed and ahhed at the comments, while he gave them his usual mere cursory glance.
Typical bloke.
I didn't give him my card yet.
He didn't give me his card. Yet.

The day wore on and somewhere in it, he said, "Happy anniversary. Got time for a quickie?"
I glanced around me at the bombsite of almost packed suitcases and bottles of suncream and suggested he take his kids to the park instead.
When they got back, I waited for the bunch of flowers and card that would surely appear.
He's bought me flowers every anniversary after all.
No blooms arrived.
I went upstairs, removed his card from its hiding place and wrote a slushy note inside before sealing it and leaving it on his nightstand.
Leaving our room, I noticed a stray receipt on the carpet.
It was for the two Star Wars sticker books he'd got the boys for our journey and a Hallmark card.
'Ah' I thought. 'He did get me a card. Wonder where he's hidden it?'

We bundled the cases and the kids in the car and stopped en route to the airport to have a nice family dinner.
I waited for him to order us a glass of champagne to toast our four long years of marriage.
He ordered coke.
I grumbled about him being as romantic as a fist in your face and ordered two glasses of Prosecco.
For myself.

At the airport, he pulled up to the no-waiting departures drop-off and dumped me, two toddlers, a stroller and three suitcases on the pavement.
"I'm off to park the car. I'll see you in there," he said.
Not a luggage trolley in sight.
He'd completely refused to drop his parents and sister there when they'd left us last month. He chaperoned them all the way to security. And got them a bloody luggage trolley.
By now, he really wasn't up for Husband Of The Year.
But, not wanting to leave my one and only on bad terms, we kissed and hugged goodbye (after I struggled my way through check-in. Solo.)
He gave the boys $20 each for ice creams and I resisted the urge to go off on one about how the dollar wouldn't be much good in Spain and couldn't Daddy have at least got them the right currency as their holiday pocket money...blah, blah, blah.

Fourteen hours, two plane rides, several elevators, a couple of escalators and a car journey later, I plonked my suitcase down in my new bedroom in Spain.
I was excited to unpack it.
'It' was surely nestling somewhere inside.
Under my T-shirts?
Wrapped in my beach towel?
Tucked into the pages of my new Jodi Picoult?
Hang on.
WTF is my anniversary card?
The entire contents of my big suitcase and the kids two mini cases was by now strewn across my Mum's spare room.
No envelope to be found.
I tried to push the prickles at the back of my jet lagged eyes away.
It didn't work.
I sat on the edge of the bed and cried. And cried.
It hit me. The light bulb moment.
This year has become the first anniversary where Him Downstairs got me a big, fat, ugly, Nada. Nowt. NOTHING.

"Thanks for the lovely card," he said, somewhat sheepishly when I phoned to say we'd arrived En Espana safely.
"Glad you liked it. I couldn't find mine..." I said trying not to cry.
"Ah yeah. Sorry about that. I, err, forgot."
" Oh. I saw a receipt though, for a card you bought the day before I flew. The day before our anniversary."
"Oh right, yeah," he says. "I noticed on facebook that it was my cousin Dave's birthday, so I got him a card when I was buying the boys their books."

I almost hung up.


"That's the cousin who never sends you birthday or Christmas cards? I asked, wanting to throw the phone off the hillside in a SATC post dumped-at-the-alter-Carrie Bradshaw moment. " Guess they didn't have anniversary cards in that shop for your wife? Who. NEVER. Forgets. To. Give. You. A. Card. Ever?"

Words failed him at this point.
Me too.
I hung-up.

I'm not 100% on this, but I'm pretty sure I can feel his embarrassment all away across the Atlantic as it laps at my dipped-in-the-Med toes.

What an arse.

Tell me, why are some men so blindingly useless?

pic credit:

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Parental Playcation

August. August is wedding anniversary month.

Him Downstairs and I have reached a big milestone. Kind of. It's been four years. (We've moved countries and had two kids in that time. It feels muuucccch longer!) What's the traditional gift for year four? Oh yes. Four years is Fruit or flowers. He'll be pleased. He always buys me flowers anyway on our anniversary, so for the first year ever, he'll have hit the traditional gift nail right on the head. He'll get double points if he throws in a bag of Granny Smith too eh?

We survived our First (Paper) without much of a hitch. He gave me a card, so technically he also hit the jackpot with that one. He got me flowers too. I got him a photo of our boys blown up into a nice frame. I was following the paper trail.

The Second (Cotton) didn't come with sexy cotton undies for either of us. I got flowers again, but that year he took heed and didn't dare get me a crappy bunch from the 7-Eleven. Can't remember now what I got him. Whoops. Dinner out probably.

Third: Leather. I'd totally forgotten about traditional pressies by this point and believe it was a last minute dash to Borders to get him a book token. Terrible I know. And what did he go and get me? He bloody well pulled all the stops out and made me a wedding album on that is the most beautiful picture album I own. He even scanned all the messages from our guest book into it in a very arty fashion. I felt dreadful when I opened it. My gift to him looked supersizededly crap.

But our main tradition with wedding anniversaries is my leaking eyes. You see, as the 19 August dawns, I usually wake up so melancholy that Him Downstairs (HD) is visibly offended. The supposed happiest day of our lives together has me bawling by breakfast and finishing off a box of Kleenex for tea.

I can't help it. I've tried to be chipper, but so far, smiles have been infrequent on that day.

Before you all think I'm madder than a box of frogs, let me explain.

When we got married it was a month before we left the UK. Therefore our wedding was the last big get-together of all our family and friends we would have for, like, ever. It was a great wedding (except for the British summer weather we had: the rain and the more rain that came). But every year when I reflect on that day, I just get all weepy, not because I married HD (though I understand his growing paranoia) but because it makes me think of all my girlfriends back home and our families and how much fun we used to all have together. And how much I miss them all.

I don't help myself. I usually rig up our old portable British TV and whack on the wedding video, so I can feel utterly depressed before bedtime. While I'm sobbing in front of the TV, HD goes and hides the laptop, so I can't then book myself a one way ticket back to England. Our bedroom is hardly a passion palace on anniversary night. More, soggy sheets for all the wrong reasons.

However, for this anniversary, the big t-adaa f o u r t h (!) I am/have turned over a new leaf. Kind of. I have to be honest here. I am actually flying away from him on our wedding anniversary. And taking his children. To Spain. To see their grandparents for three weeks. Ouch. Happy anniversary darling!

Yes, that was his reaction too when I told him what dates I was going away.

But it was so much more expensive to fly the next day, truly. So really, I'm doing him a favour and saving him money by leaving him that particular day. And he loves to save his pennies...

Anyway, to redeem myself and to make up for the past three teary anniversaries, I went all out this weekend to surprise him with a fabulous early anniversary gift.

I took him away.

Without the kids.

To a very fancy hotel.

He waved the boys off at lunchtime on Saturday and spent a while pottering round the house, before I called him. I was outside the beauty salon, where I'd just had my first bikini wax in about five years.

"So, you're still alive then?" he quips down the phone.
"Just. But am not sure it should be as red as it is. It bloody hurt."
"Come home and show me..."

This is exactly the response I was expecting. He's all about wax this, wax that. On me. Wave a bit of wax at his back hair and he runs a mile. He's still babbling on down the phone about did I go for the 'Brazilian' or the 'Playboy,' when I inform him I did neither. Just the 'bare minimum' needed for three weeks in a swimsuit, and, if I could get a word in edge ways I'd like to tell him to pack his bags as I will be home in 20 mins (after the obligatory quick solo jaunt round Gap, J Crew and Banana Republic) to take him off for the night at the swanky Royal Park hotel in town.

What was his response to my surprise announcement?

"Oh right. Cool."

'C o o l'???!!!

I was more speechless than during my bikini wax.

If he'd phoned to tell me he was taking me away to a beautiful hotel for the night, I'd have been jumping up and down, shrieking with excitement. (I don't get out much and HD has never surprised me with an impromptu treat, but if he did, the first thing I'd actually really do is, faint.) But, my point is, for a second there, I wished I hadn't bothered.

The wax had even been booked that particular morning so he had a little extra anniversary present. I would've normally left it until the day before I fly.

Anyway, "Don't sound too excited," I said to him.
"No no," he replies. "I am. I just wasn't expecting it."

Fair point. He was, after all, expecting the anniversary tears. And probably a row. They often go hand in hand when we're meant to be having a highly romantic time together without our children.

So I limped home with red eyebrows (also freshly waxed) to match my red bits and bless him, he'd already packed his tidy whites (FCUK boxers) and had a smile on his face.

Our first stop on the way to the hotel, was a romantic trip to Home Depot (B&Q) to chose paint colours. See, he does know how to show me a good time, doesn't he? He announced he will paint our bedroom while I'm away. I'm a very lucky lady.

Surprisingly, this passed an enjoyable half hour. We held hands and shocker, didn't have a cross word or a moody silence.(Normally part of the course of any shopping trip together.) We also didn't have to chase two small people round the store constantly. Bonus.

There was a minor leak in our love bubble when we then decided to stop off for a sunbathe and swim at the pool. The kids and I are members, HD is not and due to overcrowding, they were not letting any guests in this weekend. Bang went our romantic child-free dip in the pool together.

I was in a grump about this. He was madly suggesting alternative ideas to try and cheer me up (trip to Target aka posh TK Max, anyone?) and avoid any potential arguments lurking around the corner.

But after a tiny moan about the swimming pool, I got over myself and we decided to go check into the hotel early instead.

Wow. Big love bubble of loveliness restored.

What a room.

What bedlinen. I don't think I've ever (knowingly) slept on Egyptian cotton before, but now I am forever converted. "Oh God, I suppose you'll want to go and buy some of these now won't you?" he said. Such a bloke response to the female cooing over sheets.

The heat and humidity had exhausted us, so we made use of the bathroom's amazing shower and fluffy bathrobes, before we settled down to read our books and have an afternoon snooze.

Come on. This is our fourth anniversary, not our honeymoon.

After a couple of hours, where, OK, I did give in to his advances, despite the unattractive post-waxing blotches surrounding my thighs, we felt majorly decadent and ordered chocolate cake on room service.

Trying to look exactly like we'd never ever touched each other when the waiter arrived, I positioned myself with my book and attempted a scholarly rather than slutty expression.

Don't think my ruse worked. The smalltalk the waiter made was cringe worthy, though am sure he has walked into worse than a stray sock leering at him on the floor.

We dressed up for dinner. No splodges of ketchup on our collars. No. We even ironed our outfits.

HD ordered a mangotini and I an Irish coffee on the terrace bar and we savoured every last moment of it being sipped in peace. It was almost like LBC (Life Before Children).

Then I remembered I hadn't told my friend to make sure she got Cheeky up for a midnight wee, so I phoned.

My heart ached for a moment when I heard them giggling and saying, 'Night night' to me in the background, but then the waitress appeared and my need to be me for the evening and not Mummy, overtook me.

We wandered into town, again hand in hand, (it was all getting a bit Mills & Boon) and sat at a pavement cafe, watching the world go by and enjoying our meal. No crayons at the table. No booster seats needed.

We drank Mojitos. The drink we always drank together during Life In London. The drink that got us together. The drink we shared at our wedding breakfast.

It was all going well, and I think my Hubs finally relaxed in the knowledge that this could be the first anniversary with his wife, where she wasn't blowing her nose constantly.

Well oiled by now, we wobbled onto another bar for a couple more retro drinks (Malibu and Orange. Me. Lager. Him) before those Egyptian cotton sheets were a-calling and we made our way back to the hotel. I was up for doing shots back at the bar by now. My drinking glasses well and truly on.

We could hear live music when we got back, so thinking there might be a disco, and what the heck, wasn't it about time we forgot we were mid-thirties and strutted our circa 1991 moves, we followed the music into the bar.

It was more lounge singer than DJ, but still, it'd have been rude to walk straight back out, so we sat down and ordered a drink. The most expensive Baileys we've ever had. (Couldn't afford shots. I had been planning more along the lines of the price of a shot of Mad Dog in Wolverhampton, not a Marc Jacobs keyring.)

Anyway, the end of our evening out was made all the more enjoyable by a newly engaged couple looking like a comedy Anna Nicole Smith and Steve Carrell who slow-danced their way around the bar. HD and I were hoping for a bit of Oasis and Blur, what we got was an earful of the singer's Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston set-list.

I don't think we did a very good job of hiding our laughter at the mismatched couple. Hopefully they thought we were just very happy for them. Ahem.

"She's obviously marrying him for his money," I was blithering on, when HD said, possibly a bit loudly, "And he's marrying her for her tits!"

Taxi for two anyone?

We were pathetically drunk, by now doing our best Mariah sing-alongs at our table. And truly, I didn't care who saw us. I think there was also a very teenage snog somewhere between the bar and the elevator. But, thank God, at least we didn't get up and dance.

We had fun. Loads of fun.

And when we snuggled up in our posh sheets at the end of the night, I knew how lucky I was to have found Him Downstairs, and for once, I wasn't crying about it.

The next morning Mr and Mrs Hangover joined us, but it was worth every Advil. We ordered breakfast in bed (Eggs Benedict and a pot of tea) because we didn't dare face the restaurant in case Big Boobs and her Small Fry were there. We laid-in until 11am and wore our sunglasses as we checked out.

But the biggest surprise of our anniversary weekend ended up being on me, when we got back home. I opened our case to find we'd acquired a few extra 'gifts'. HD had packed us:

2 pairs of towelling hotel slippers
1 toilet roll
1 box of Kleenex
3 hotel monogrammed envelopes
6 sheets of hotel writing paper
1 hotel monogrammed pen
1 mini bottle of L'Occitane shampoo
1 mini bottle of L'Occitane conditioner

He hadn't got me the posh sheets though had he? No. He'd gone for the loo roll. Loo roll! When I scolded him for being so pikey, he said,

"Between you jetting off to Spain and that hotel bill, we can't bloody afford bog roll now can we? Happy anniversary!"

Ahh. Back to reality. Happy anniversary my love. Happy anniversary.
Remind me again, where on those traditional anniversary gift lists, does it say, 'Toilet Paper'?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Invisible Fence


They can be picket, stockade, basket weave, ranch, lattice or tongue and groove. They can be made from brick, wood, concrete or stone. They can be living. If you chose green Arborvitae as your screening, it becomes your hedge. But whatever you plump for, one thing's a dead cert: fences have style, form and function.

They keep your bl**dy neighbours out!

To fence or not to fence, seems to be the most personal of homeowning choices in my locale. If you live downtown (i.e in one of the super-charming but super-expensive Desperate Housewives style homes near the 'high street') you will have a fenced in yard. (Garden). If you live in one of our sub-divison neighbourhoods (i.e. a posh estate) you tend to only have a fenced in yard if you have a swimming pool. You don't want your neighbours stumbling onto your property and drowning after all. No-one can afford that lawsuit.

Or, like us, you live in a sub-division where some people fence parts of their back yards, with the more subtle Arborvitaes (Leylandii) hedging (!) their bets as to whether their privacy is restored and it'll stop next doors bl**dy kids from running through their yard, on their way to catching the schoolbus.

Believe me, it doesn't.

I think we even have a sub-division law about fences. But I've lost that paperwork. Oh dear.

What a load of tosh.

And now I'm getting really steamed up, because I am in the midst of a fence-craving. I am going to say it out loud, shout it from my rooftop. (Okay, from my laptop then.) "I miss my English fences!"


Because, one of the joys of my street has also become a curse.

I live with kids similar age to my boys, either side of my house and across the street. This is, most, of the time a real joy. The neighbourhood is safe and they all run from one house to another playing in the back yards and generally having a great time. I like the fact Cheeky and Monkey have friends on our street. I like my neighbours. It's just some of their kids that annoy me. And their lack of fences.

Because we're all open plan, the little boy on one side of us, can just wander into our yard, whenever he hears my boys' voices. Even if he doesn't hear them actually, as soon as I unlock my back door, most mornings, I can hear him calling their names in a desperate bid for playtime.

We never come downstairs all washed and dressed, so I have to usher my kids away from the kitchen, so they don't hear him calling, and I don't get caught in my skanky undies. When all I really want to do is have my morning cuppa outside and let the kids run in the fresh air.

This charade is really starting to pee me off.

Take last weekend. No major plans. Nice family time at home enjoying the sunshine. I'm pouring the milk on my Weetabix, standing in my bra and pants, when the little boy next door, waltzes into my kitchen and says he's going to play in the basement with my kids. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Er, morning.

The weekend continued with me constantly either watching him or dragging my kids back from his house, when all I wanted, was for the four of us to spend some quality alone time on our own property. Turns out, we had to leave the house to have alone time.

This wouldn't have happened if we had a fence.

Then there's the little girl on the other side of us. Let me just call her The Terror. Ok, TT for short. Sounds nicer. She is only 6 after all.

She and my eldest really like each other. (Personally, I wish he could've picked more of a looker to be infatuated with, but there, I am that shallow.) Needless to say, they play really nicely together. She's even more bossy and ballsy than him.

But again, I can be happily pushing the boys on our swingset, enjoying quality Mom/Mum-Sons time, and suddenly, there she is, swishing down our slide and tempting the boys away with promises of a ride in her Barbie Jeep.

Or, we'll be enjoying our tea al fresco on the patio and I can see her hovering, right on our boarder, waiting for the boys last mouthful to go in, so she can leer them away for a game of tag or a princess tea-party.

It's got me so riled, that the other week, I took action. I went straight to the garden centre at Home Depot (B&Q) and spent too much on 25 Arborvitae and promplty got Him Downstairs to plant us a hedge to keep TT out.

It worked. Except now she just hovers behind the trees, waiting to pounce. In three years, when the trees will have grown, we won't be able to see her. I am watering them like mad.

Wish we could do the same on the other side of the house, but it's not so condusive to do a hedge there.

Not that most people take notice of our new hedge anyhow. TT's grandfather, who own the house next door, just pushes his way through the leaves to get round and into his bit of our front yard, and the other day, a guy turned up at his house to do some yard work. As he walked across my yard, I asked him if I could help him. He said he was here to see my neighbour. Because I hadn't had enough caffeine yet, I said, " But you're in my yard! You need to go round to his house."

He looked at me as if I was mental. (Maybe I am.) Hopped over one of my baby trees, and announced, " Well, now I'm not in your yard!"

I was dumbfounded.

This whole lack of fences round here, sent one of my expat Brit friends so crazy, she upped and moved. To one of the posh downtown fenced-in houses. I sometimes wish I had her budget to escape.

Maybe I'm just being a cranky ole thing, and I should embrace this quirky, free-land for all suburban US-style of living but, for fences sake, whatever happened to knocking on a front door and asking if you can play?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer Lovin'?

Summer's over according to the stores. All the beach brollies are on sale, the swimsuits have 50% off and the shelves are full of long-sleeve Tees and back-to-college room accessories. Purple beanbag and orange desklamp anyone?

Personally, our summer's just getting going.

And by getting going, I mean, summer in the context of that time of year when you're meant to have the time to lounge about in your back garden, catching up on gossip mags or watching the Katie Price/Piers Morgan interview on YouTube (because secretly you're gutted you don't live in England and could have seen it on British TV.) Your kids can run around in their underpants splashing each other in the paddling pool, before popping in for an popsicle and you don't have to live by a schedule. Summer. God love it. Well, who knows if he/she does? Maybe not so much by the amount of rain the almighty has drizzled on us of late.

Suffice to say, I am enjoying not having to chase the boys round the house, waving toothbrushes and pants at them, screaming, "We're late for school. Get dressed!" Or trudging round the supermarket every Thursday morning as I do in term time, as it's the only time in the week I only have one little Monkey with me to deal with, rather than two pulling copious amounts of candy off the shelves.

Not that school's just out for us. No blooming way. Cheeky finished pre-school in May. Yes, M A Y. So we've already done 10 weeks of vacation. And there's 6 1/2 more to go. Not that I'm counting.

But we've packed so much into the first half of the holidays, that I've barely had time to unfold my sunlounger and kick off my Havainas.

We've done, swimming classes twice a week. Cheeky can now:

  • Hold breath underwater

  • Float unassisted on his front

  • Float unassisted on his back

  • Kick 15ft with face in water

  • Paddle 25ft on back

  • Log roll unassisted. (? Exactly, but this has nothing to do with floating turds or branches apparently.)

  • Swim 25ft on front with face in water

I'm very proud and am swiftly trying to get him into the next class up so he can master Breaststroke and Whip kicks. What is a 'whip' kick by the way? Totally selfishly, the better he can swim, the more I can sit by the pool watching and cheering him, rather than get in myself and be dive-bombed by him, his brother and the other 30 kids all enjoying the often freezing water.

Other summer activities so far have also included Pre-school camp. He came home clutching:

  • A cardboard pizza (" We did cooking today Mummy!")

  • A touch and feel textures book ("Look, this is as squishy as you Mummy.") Cheers!

  • A 3D self portrait. (" I wasn't sure if I had a black hat Mummy, so I made it brown.") He has neither. Bless.

  • A necklace. (" It matches my T-Shirt!") Ahh, a stylish man-accessory. I've taught him well.

We did 'Safety Town' mainly because it was only $45 for eight days and a mere bonus that he'd get to learn all about safety in the park, home, on the bus, road, in the car and stranger danger. He came out of each class waving certificates congratulating him that he can now:

  • Call 911 in an emergency. When he wanted to practise this at home, I said we can only call that number if we were in danger or Mummy had collapsed from too much Merlot (joke). He asked, " Is not being able to find Boba Fett's Slave 1 spaceship an emergency?"

  • Know his own phone number and address. Hmm. Not sure he totally deserves that certificate as clearly the teacher filled in his phone number for him and he can only write the numbers 4 and 5. Obviously we dont have a two digit phone number. But he can rattle off his address. Though he sings it like the bad rap his Mummy has taught him, to help him remember it. Hey, I live near Detroit - it's all about the music here.

  • Spot poisons. He had a little stick with what looked like a hedgehog on it, that he ran around the house waving at the bleach, dish-soap, fly spray, mozzie repellant and.... Mummy's perfume. Charming.

  • Stop, look and listen before he crosses the road. At last, he finally pays attention to traffic.

  • Knows red means 'stop' and green means 'go'. This is all very well, except in Michigan you can turn right on some red lights. So now, when I do such a turn I have Mr Traffic Safety in the back, yelling, "But it was red Mummy, you can't go. No!" Plus they teach the kids safe ways to drive (come on, they're only 4 and 5). So now it's like driving with my Mum in the car; "Two hands on the wheel please!" Oh make an exception Officer.

They had a graduation ceremony at the end of camp. Yes, we are in America after all. It was actually very cute and all the kids from the two classes did songs with safety themes and demonstrations, like how to drop and roll if you're caught in a fire. He's very proud of his prowess at that maneouver. My video camera whirred and many snaps were taken and duly sent back to the grandparents in Europe.

No sooner was Safety Town over and we were madly cleaning house for the imminent arrival of Grandparents and Aunty from the UK.

The boys were mostly excited at the prospect of plane-spotting at the airport and raiding Nanna and Grandad's luggage for the much-hoped for arrival of a Millennium Falcon and an At-At. Yes, we're in full Star Wars obsessed mode. But the joy on their little faces when their rellies arrived was priceless.

With the family safely back home with us, I went into full Housewife/Short-order Cook/Entertainment Director mode and their two weeks with us passed in a happy blur of beach trips, ice cream and picnics in the park. We also managed a family en masse vacation to Northern Michigan, where despite them bringing over their pesky rainy English weather, we managed to enjoy lots of nature trails, boat trips, bug-hunting and the spectacular that is the 4th of July celebrations. No, we didn't wave our Union Jack. Thought that might be a tad inappropriate.

Having family to stay is always bittersweet. Sweet because obviously we miss them, but also they always bring a stash load of UK yummies for us to enjoy. This visit we got extra lucky because apart from the usual PG Tips teabags and Colgate Smiles toothpaste (I'm no fan of US fruity kids toothpaste) we got:

  • Custard Creams (Bit like the white Oreos for you US readers)

  • Birds Dream Topping (A de-lish kind of British Miracle Whip)

  • Hula Hoops (Hoop shaped chips)

  • Mint Club biscuits (Mint and chocolate cookie bars)

  • Walkers French Fries, salt and vinegar flavour (Fry shaped chips) Him Downstairs has seriously hidden these under our bed, so the kids don't snaffle them!

  • Minstrels (Chocolate candy - bit like a huge M&M)

  • Revels (Little milk chocolates with different flavours inside like, orange, toffee, raisin, coffee. The orange ones are all mine. You hear?!)

  • Mint Viscounts (Err, I love a bit of mint and dark chocolate in a cookie bar format.)

  • Paracetamol (Like Advil. Does the best job for Menstrual cramps in my book.)

  • Covonia cough medicine. (Looks like blacktop tar, but 'tis the best cough elixir I've ever found.)

  • M&S Percy Pigs (Seriously the nicest chewy fruity candy in the world. Ever. Fact.)

  • Cadbury's Buttons (Little disc shaped milk chocolates. A kid winner.)

So now our treat box is over-flowing and we shall be rationing them out until the next lot arrive.

The visit went well. Better than expected if I'm honest. I'm not the easiest of daughter-in-laws and one wrong step and I'm about to strike you off my Christmas card list. When I went back to England earlier this year, theirs was the house I was least looking forward to visiting. And whoops, I probably made that abundently clear. However, life is too short to hold grudges, especially when you only get to see your family for a fortnight once or twice (if you're lucky) a year. So, I shock off my niggles and welcomed them with a good daughter-in-law smile.

You could probably feel their relief all the way back in the UK!

Anyway, the boys thought three new playmates in the house was the best summer present ever and they duly set about completely exhausting their relatives. Nanna was heard to say she needed another holiday after spending two weeks running round being Luke Skywalker or Obi-Wan on demand.

But with them now safely back in England, despite their horrific 7 hour delay at Detroit airport(It's no Heathrow. Once you've done one gift shop and bar, you've kind of done them all. But hey, they didn't lose their luggage) we can finally relax and enjoy the rest of a schedule-free summer.

Of course, next week, the boys will have driven me mad and they'll be back in summer classes and day camps, but for now, I'll just try and live the Stay-at-home and play with my children 24/7 dream. Cue TV on for them and bottle of wine opening and eyes down for a dose of Hello magazine for me!

No, summer's not over. It's only just begun....

Monday, June 8, 2009

Does size matter?

'If only I'd put on a mere 3lbs in ONE year!' I grumbled to myself today in the pediatrician's office. Three pounds!

I was there with Cheeky and Monkey for Monkey's 3 yr check up. Him having just had a birthday 'n' all. And bless his very little cotton socks, it seems Mum/Mom's double cream added to the macaroni cheese, hasn't done much for his weight gain, but jeez-Louise, it's not done me any favours either.

I blame the kitchen.

No, I blame Him Downstairs.

For giving me the kitchen.

Ha! If he'd not surrendered to my incessant whinging about my crap-to-cook-in-former-kitchen, (perfect for opening up a bag of salad greens and tossing a baby carrot on top) then I wouldn't be in the Nigella mess I'm in with my waistline right now, would I?

Anyway, that's another beat-myself-up-about-my-crazy-lack-of-willpower where desserts are concerned dialogue, that, frankly, am closing my ears to right now. For the record, since the 3rd birthday party, and the last crumb of fattening ice cream cake I will taste for a while, (sigh) I've put the Nigella cookbook to the back of the cupboard and it's been fruit and salad overload for me. Yawn. I mean, yum! Raw food all the way. Does uncooked brownie mix count as diet food too?

But, back to the doctors. My pint size second born has gone from 23lbs to 26lbs in 12 months. He's also grown a 'whopping' 1 1/12 inches. I fear a future for him as a jockey and not a quarterback. And him, an American boy. Tiny Tim in a world of the supersized.

However, from the way he battles with his big brother, I think he'll be able to hold his own in the playground somehow.

"How does he eat?" asks the doctor.

"With his mouth and a fork!" Am tempted to quip back, but instead I plump for the more acceptive, " Well. For a toddler. He loves his meat, fruit and veggies." Was I reading a script?

I fail to mention his penchant for all things chocolate and candy related, as am not in the mood for a lecture of the cavity inducing nature. I've already been in the exam room for an hour and the boys are starting to climb the walls. Literally.

So, we proceed to let the doctor poke and prod him and Monkey is given a clean bill of health despite his total refusal to pee in a cup for the doctor. We have enough challenges trying to get him interested in peeing in the potty, let alone a tiny plastic recepticle, thank you very much.

"And you stopped the bottle a long time ago didn't you?" The doctor asks.

I avoid looking at him as I nod enthusiastically, whilst keeping my fingers crossed behind my back.

Oh! Another Suri Cruise I hear you cry. Always dragging that bottle around. But, no, we're not that bad. Quite. I did try and take the bottle away. Honestly. We did the whole 'Now you are three, the bottle fairy's come to take your bottles away to babies that really need them' routine. And he looked me in the eye and burst into tears. Well, being a total softie Mum/Mom, I couldn't take it and promptly told him the fairy said he could have his morning milk in it for a few more days, until they pop by for it at the weekend!

I know! How many good Mummy points did that cost me then?

You see, he's my baby and I guess and there's some little things I'm finding hard to let go of as he grows bigger. When he does perform on the potty, on the outside I'm cheering him. On the inside I am crying, 'Don't grow up yet!'

The fact he is so small and looks like a 2 year old doesn't help.

Again, I blame Him Downstairs. He's the one with the skinny genes/jeans afer all.

This is my last summer with Monkey by my side full-time. Pre-school and a whole world of other outside influences beckons. Plus, hopefully a few more pounds. So, what the heck if he's tiny and I baby him a leetle too much? I want to enjoy every last second I have with him cuddling me and cosing up together, before he goes all Darth Vadar on me. It's not going to last forever. He eats. He sleeps. He grows (a bit). He's fine.

After all, they say the best things come in small packages don't they?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Long time, no blog....

OK, so I haven't turned to jelly and been gobbled up. I'm alive. Just! I realise it has been a very long time since I last posted anything, and today, after more than one friend nudged me in the blog direction, I'm finally hitting the keyboard again.

First, I have to say a big thank you to the many bloggers who commented on my last post. It was comforting to know i wasn't alone in my struggles with Cheeky, and I'm pleased to report we have seen an improvement in his behaviour and love is once more, all around. Yeah, we'll see how long that lasts.

So much has happened since I last posted, and that's why I haven't posted. Ironic really, that when life changes up a gear and you have more to write about, I wrote so little. However, that's my excuse.

Yes, we did make it back to the UK. I survived the 8 hour flight on my own with the two kids and journeyed my way round England, with only a few emotional upsets.

It was great to reconnect with old friends, great to see my kids connect with their kids and only to be expected that there were a few clashes - the boys did after all have to get used to a whole new house, new kids, new routines, new beds, new food, every four or five days. I applaud them for how versatile they were over those three weeks. I don't however applaud them for how jiffily there were every night I was sharing a bed with them!

So it was an utterly exhausted Mummy that flew home and embraced the comforts of home and and a bed with just me and Him Downstairs in it!

The other big change we all had to get used to was the new kitchen I came back to. I highly recommend getting the hell out when doing a home remodel. The pictures show the devastation I avoided whilst I lounged in England, scoffing M&S clotted cream rice pudding and drinking tons of Ribena. Whilst Stateside, my poor husband, struggled to find the microwave to heat his instant mash potatoes amongst the debris.

He was nervous as hell when I cam back, in case I didn't like the new kitchen. Is he mad - look at it! What's not to like? It was the best homecoming gift, ever and I blame the kitchen totally for my lack of blogging recently. For I have been cooking up a storm. It's been Nigella this and Nigella that, as I work my way through her Nigella Express cookbook. I never realised that cooking could be so enjoyable. Followers of this blog will understand what a big deal this is for me - I mean, I used to go into a cold panic at the mere thought baking something edible for Bookclub.

Now, well, maybe it's time to turn my baking into a business a la Trudie in the TV show, Mistresses. (Another lure keeping me from blogland, now it's on BBC America). Am no doubt getting carried away with myself, and thinking up another crazy Mom-Millionaire scheme, but it doesn't hurt to have dreams does it? Especially when your husband works for the doomed auto industry and every month we pray that he gets his paycheck.

Anyway, all in all, I write to say, am back. I will endeavour not to leave it so long until the next post, but I also have to confess, I've rather enjoyed my time away from the computer. I mean, crikey, I've actually talked to my husband of an evening (shock!) We've even manged to get-it-on a lot more regularly (he's currently on medication for the shock of that one!) And most unlike me, I've played a lot with my children, even though this has meant immersing myself of late into the world of Star Wars. Yawn. I mean, yeah!

But, yes, you know me, and this model wife and mother behaviour cannot possible last. I have 16 weeks of summer holidays starting soon. Being Chewbacca for that long, will no doubt have me sprinting back to bogland, as will all the BBQ marinades Him Indoors thinks I will be able to make, now I've turned into Nigella.

I have been known to act in my past, but these roles are far too much for this Mom/Mum to handle 24/7.....see you on the dark side again soon.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Pain of Motherhood

"The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness."
French novelist and playwright, Honore de Balzac.

In my last post I wrote about the overwhelming stress I feel because of all the things I have to do before I fly to England next week. I'd like to update you that am feeling much better now, but my 40 inch, 40lb firstborn, Cheeky, has done little to cheer me up.

We are told about the joys of motherhood all the time, but what about the pain? I thought motherhood was tough when he was 15 months old and he was crying as I held his screaming newborn brother in my arms. But, boy I think I was mistaken.

Cheeky and I have hit a wall in our relationship.

The 'terrible twos' have been and gone and his tantrum voice has gained strength with every year passed. Now he is four, and lately, more often than not, I am going to tread on controversial motherhood ground here and admit, that we are not the best of friends.

Honore de Balzac better be right and somewhere in my heart I will find forgiveness, but today my heart has been heavy. Cheeky's put it through the ringer.

Every little thing I've asked him to do has been met with a "NO!" From getting dressed, to brushing teeth, to eating breakfast to getting in the car, to getting out of the car. Walking across the parking lot to school was a full blown hurricane of a tantrum, culminating with me being told to "Go away!" as I tried to kiss him goodbye at the classroom door.

I hurried back to the car to have a good cry.

Even his favourite milk drink and snack I had ready for him when school ended, was met with a sullen response and shouting when I refused to play a DVD for him to watch in the car.

The tears once again pricked at my eyes.

Then there was this afternoon's playdate at his favourite indoor playcentre.

I sat there feel ashamed he was my son as he shouted at his friends, bossed them about and threw tantrum after tantrum when the games didn't go his way.

I've lost count of the times I've apologised to my friends for his behaviour and listened as they've told me, "Don't worry - all kids are like that sometimes."

But that's the point. Sometimes I feel that my eldest is becoming like that all the time. And it's breaking my heart and breaking me down.

I love him. Of course I do. But lately he is pushing me away more than he is coming to me for cuddles. Time after tantrum, day after day, I try to hold him. Try to calm him down. Kill the bad mood with kindness but again and again he throws it all back in my face.

By dinnertime tonight, I wilted and couldn't take anymore. He rejected the food I cooked. (Okay, so I'm not the best cook, but the rest of my family ate it.)He spent most of the meal on and off the naughty step and even my mild mannered husband had had enough. Cheeky was reprimanded big time for speaking badly to both of us and the evening ended with him screaming and fighting his way through bathtime and getting all his Geotrax toys taken away.

Right now, that big pile of clean laundry I've yet to put away, is looking like a great place to hide from him.

I'm sat here, blogging relieved he's finally asleep. That's not right is it? Or is this how we all feel at times?

Before the boys grew into toddlers, and I held them in my arms cooing and covering them in kisses, I couldn't ever imagine not liking them, even for a second. Today, I wonder what emotional hell tomorrow will bring and how I will get through it.

I want our relationship to work. I want that so badly, but I am worried I am messing it all up. What did I do wrong? What happened to my sweet natured little shadow? The little blondie who told me he loves me,"More than Thomas the train." (That's BIG love!)Is this what I'm in for, for the rest of our lives together?

Now, with a trip back to England on the horizon, I am so worried that he will demonstrate this terrible behaviour in front of my friends. Friends who haven't seen him in over two years. Friends who I want to like my child, not recoil in horror.

And there, sitting on the sidelines, soaking up all this drama, is his little brother, Monkey. My sweet quiet but determined 2 1/2 year old, who hangs on his brother's every word. I am praying hard he doesn't copy everything he sees.

Tell me, is it normal not to like your child all of the time?

Monday, February 2, 2009


This is exactly how I feel today and it all started with Ikea.

We had to go there yesterday to return some of the kitchen units we purchased back in November. Normally, I love a day out at Ikea - saddo that I am. The kids get to play in the child care centre for an hour while me and Him Downstairs can browse in peace and we all get to enjoy their meatballs and fries for lunch. But yesterday, I found myself plodding round, annoyed at the crowds that got in my way, annoyed that Cheeky kept stepping in front of the stroller, annoyed that Monkey wriggled whenever I strapped him into the stroller, annoyed that I'd forgotten to put make-up on, (I actually didn't look that different to 'The Scream'. Yes. Not a good look.) But mostly, I was annoyed at how reasonable Him Downstairs was being. Am more used to the comfort zone of arguing with him all the way around Ikea.

I am officially crazy I know. But when we discussed buying new storage bins for the boys playroom, he was so bloody reasonable about it, I told him to "Drop it!" and I refused to buy them. I haven't even got the excuse that it was 'that time of the month.'

When we got home and I realised I'd forgotten to buy diapers, milk and bread I wanted to weep. I did weep.

All quite unreasonable behaviour really. But in my defense, I need to explain my current state of mind.

Next week two major things are happening:

1. I fly on my own with my two little boys back to England for three weeks.
My kitchen, laundry room, lounge and part of my garage are being ripped apart and re-modelled.

To get to where I need to be for these two events to go smoothly, I have so much to do that am feeling completely overwhelmed. I haven't even brushed my hair today so far, such is my angst. The idea of having your new kitchen put in while you're away is, on the one hand good planning, as God help my mood if I was to be here trying to entertain the boys while the builders rip out the heart of the house. But, on the other hand, it adds way more work for me in the run-up to my trip.

On top of the usual holiday washing, packing, shopping, etc I have to pack up three rooms in my house, shop for paint, tiles, light fixtures, appliances, doors, windows and counter tops. All in oh, the next five days.

On a regular week I struggle to get all my chores achieved by the weekend, so I'm starting on the back foot with this lot already. I feel like I did just before a big essay was due at college or a deadline loomed at work - bit my bit my brain shuts down and my body goes into slow motion. I can't seem to achieve any of the things I'm meant to do and days pass where I get nothing done. Then, the last few hours before said deadline, I pull all the stops out. Burn the midnight oil and get it done by the skin of my teeth.

I think I thrive on the adrenalin rush of being a last-minute-Lucy, but it does nothing for my complexion or my nerves.

Today, I have a huge list of 'Must-dos:'
1. Buy milk.
2. Buy diapers.
3. Buy bread.
4. Call bank.
5. Put clean clothes away (I have two overflowing baskets full on my bedroom floor)
6. Put a white wash on.
7. Change boys bedding.
8. Find out about Cheeky's passport renewal before new visa goes in it. (Might have to drag him to passport office in Victoria, London. Not a happy prospect.)
9. Confirm OBGYN appointment - time for PAP Smear. Yuk. Mustn't forget to do this.
10. Buy birthday cards. Mail birthday cards. Oh crap. Buy more stamps too.
11. Do list of dates Cheeky will be out of school for teacher.
12. Clean my bathroom. If I can find it under the dust and grime.
13. Clean kids bathroom. (Him Downstairs left all their hair and dirt clinging to the tub again after the last night's bath. V annoying.)
14. Take new jumper back to H&M because Him Downstairs said, "It's exactly like all your other jumpers."
15. Lose 7lbs so I look nice and skinny for my UK debut. (Not going well on this. I just ate banana cream pie for breakfast. Yes. No milk left.)
16. Get leg wax and pedicure because one of my friends back home says we're taking the children swimming during my stay. (The worry over exposing my hairy winter bod is keeping me awake at night.)
17. Get dressed.
18. Get the boys dressed. (Guess these last two should be top of this list.)

Oh and I can add another one to this lot too. Cheeky just said to me:

"Mummy, you have a hole in your pyjamas!"
"Yes. I do."
"Mummy I really think it's time you went and got some new ones."

If only I could find the time eh?

I want to be a motivated Mum, but sometimes it's all too much and I just don't know where to start. I've also just looked in the fridge and there's bugger all in for lunch. I am officially rubbish. I want to cry. I couldn't give my children cereal for breakfast today as I used the last of the milk for their morning drinks and my tea, and now all I can offer them for lunch is one yogurt to share, some cheese crackers and a square of Milka chocolate.

Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish Mummy and Housewife.

Hiding under the duvet and leaving all my tasks to rot into the recesses of my memory sounds like the favourable option right now.

Trouble is, I don't think the boys will let Mummy throw the towel in. I've landed myself the only job I can't quit. Someone let me go stand in a field and scream....

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Photo Tag

I got tagged today by the lovely 39 And Counting, so not wanting to be a spoil sport, I decided to join in and play by the rules. (For once, I haven't bent them either to suit myself.)

The rules are:
Go to the 4th folder in your computer where you store your pictures
Pick the 4th picture in that folder
Explain the picture
Tag 4 people to do the same

It's a good game as behind every picture is a story to tell...

Here I am in June 2008 riding a bike for the first time in about four years. (As you can see, I obviously have no idea what the pedals are for.) Hmmm, never been one for two wheels! This picture was taken by Him Downstairs, who was huffing and puffing behind me pulling the two boys on a bike trailer. I got the 'easy job' apparently.

We are cycling around Mackinac Island during our first ever family summer vacation in the USA. (It was only about 3 or 4 miles round the whole island. As I say, I'm a fair weather cyclist!) This island is in the beautiful Northern region of Michigan. The scenery reminded us of northern France and no cars are allowed on it, so everyone gets round by horse drawn carriage or bicycles. I should have worn shorts as long flowy skirt wasn't the most practical attire, as my husband pointed out far too many blooming times. Bless him.

But I didn't end up with the sunburnt nose, now did I?

Anyway, I have to say I love this picture. It reminds me of the fun we had on that vacation and how much I'm looking forward to going there again, which we hope to do this summer, for the 4th July celebrations. (Thank goodness the fourth one in the fourth folder wasn't a picture I wouldn't share with my nearest and dearest, let alone blogland.)

To watch the boys build sancastles, splash in the water, eat ice creams and laugh at Mummy and Daddy cycling, (yes, thank you boys) was really, really lovely. That was the summer where my babies became little boys and we bonded more and watched TV less!

Must be time to buy myself a bike eh?

And now to my four tagees: Come on Confused Take That Fan, Nappy Valley Girl, Audrey at Multitude and Dave at Teach My Children Well. Dave, you can join in as long as you promise not to use the pic of you in underpants, even if it is the fourth one. OK?!

I can't wait to see all your pictures and read the stories behind them.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Someone give Veet an award!

A friend of mine emailed me this newspaper cutting from one of the UK papers. I just had to share it.

Now, that's what you call great media placement isn't it?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

UK Jitters

I've got the fear. I feel a bit silly admitting it, but I think I am scared of visiting England.

The last few days at our place have included almost hourly discussions about our homeland. And each time, I feel panicky. The UK conversations between Him Downstairs and I have me dancing with excitement one minute and crashing to tears and anxiety the next.

You see, I haven't been back for over two years and right now, I have UK withdrawal BIG TIME. I need to smell Persil laundry detergent again, wash my hair with Timotei and eat fish and chips out of vinegar soaked paper. But, as we talk and try to plan a trip for 09, the memories of the goodbyes from the last visit awaken from their sleepy coffin and the fear grips me. I think, 'Can I go through that again?'

I'm going to have to. We have to go. Our visas have to be renewed and we're having sod all luck getting an appointment at a Canadian Embassy. Anyway, I'd rather take a holiday to London England, than Toronto or Halifax Canada, right now.

So, I've been spending hours on Northwest Airlines website, searching for flights, whilst Him Downstairs spends hours on hold with the US Embassy in London, trying to secure us appointments.

I cannot wait to see my girlfriends. I want to hug their kids and see my boys play with them. These little people who are now strangers to each other, but were once so close in utero. I know my heart will beat a little faster when I clock the lack of recognition on their faces as they fail to remember meeting me before. It will make me sad. It's one of the things I'm scared of; being a stranger to them, yet their mummies are still as important to me and my life in the US as they were to me and my life in the UK.

If my reaction to watching Last Chance Harvey - a movie set in London with scene after scene shot in some of my favourite places, is anything to go by, I definitely need a UK fix. I swooned and swooned as the film unfolded, evoking memories of my former Life in the Big City. Strolls along the Embankment, dates at Somerset House, a party at The Grosvenor - my past all mixed up in the celluloid I was lost in.

When the film finished, my movie buddy turned to me and said, "You're going to go home and book a flight now aren't you?" I would have driven straight to the airport if I'd had my passport on me!

Yes, I cannot wait to go get me a piece of England again, but I know what it will do to me. And it's not nice.

For starters, I'll cry all the way back on the plane as I clutch my Jelly Tots, Minstrels, and M&S Percy Pigs. Then for about two or three weeks after I arrive back home, I'll spend hour upon hour trawling property finder websites to see where and how much it will cost us to come live in the UK again, whilst sobbing into my Hula Hoops.

I'll mourn and mourn again The Life I Once Knew in the UK, and beat myself up about giving it all up to come to America. I hate those post-UK-visit weeks. I hate that just as I've reconnected with my friends and their children, I have to say goodbye. Most of all, I hate that there's not one darn thing I can do about it.

Well, except land myself an amazingly well-paid job in England, that will afford us all to move back and for Him Downstairs to be stay-at-home dad. And that's about as likely as me becoming the next American Idol.

Yes. You've heard me sing then?

The only good thing about post-UK blues, is that I have some close Brit girl friends over here, and we've seen each other go through this many times, so each of us knows how it feels. I will cling to their shoulders of support, until the fear and tears fade. Then, as if the trip had never happened, suddenly and without warning, life will just go back to its US normality.

Yesterday, I said to eldest prince, Cheeky, "Would you like to move back to England one day?"

" Why Mummy?" he replied. "This is my home. This is where our house is."

He has no idea of the extra fear he just put in his mummy's heart.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Wednesday Golden Globes

So I may not be getting any awards for my weight-loss over at BlogToFit, but, this morning, I got two pieces of news, that to me are as good as a Golden Globe. Firstly, I did as I should have been doing for the past several Wednesdays and got on the scales for the Wednesday Weigh In and was staggered to make a very pleasant discovery.

Join the Wednesday Weigh-In at BlogToFit

Starting weight: 125lbs (8 stone 9lbs)
Goal weight: 112lbs (8 stone - pre-babies weight)
Weight last week: Well, actually it’s been a month since I last weighed myself, so I’ve been a slacker, but last time on the scales was my first time on them in a very long time. And as reported, I was 8 stone 9lbs.
Weight this week: 8 stone 7lbs.
Weight lost: 2lbs! Two whole pounds! This is great news and I award myself a pat on the back. Cookies eaten in a week: One. This I am very pleased about and the only one I had was after a particularly strenuous bit of sledging with the family. I couldn’t have the hot chocolate without the shortbread. That would be like curry without naan bread. Wrong.
Exercise: Didn’t do too well with this. I went to the gym, a few times, but sat in the cafe reading my book for bookclub, while the kids went in the creche. However, me and Him Downstairs have played on the Wii A LOT since Christmas, and I really believe this is the reason behind the lack of 2lbs round my thighs and the absence of the usual January flabby blues I feel. Instead of sitting on my derrier every night, leaping about the lounge attempting to bowl or play baseball has made a difference. The proof seems to be in the scales.

I am amazed I got through the Xmas excess and came off 2lbs lighter. This has spurred me on to lose another pound for next week and I don't even need to do a breathy Kate Winslet-esque thank you speech!

Secondly, and this piece of news, is a bona fide award. NotSupermum and Confused Take That Fan have both awarded me another bit of bling bless them. I'm very, very touched by such a kind gesture, especially as I don't think I've ever been called 'charming' before. They are both estimable writers who's blogs always brighten my day. If you've not checked them out yet, I urge you to go forth and visit.

As bloggy rules require, I have to include the following text with my award:

"Blogs who receive this award are "exceedingly charming," says it's authors. This award is a fine one because it focuses not on the glory and fanfare of blogging, but in the PROXIMITY to one another through this online-world. "This blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY--nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement! Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this clever-written text into into the body of their award."

Friendships are indeed propagated through blogging, something I think is the heart of the blogosphere. And having an award going round for "aiming and finding friends" through blogging is delightful.

I'm going to be a bit of a rebel though, and pass the baton on to just two other writers who, through our comments on each others posts, I've become bloggy friends with. Nappy Valley Girl and 39 and counting. Both their blogs are exceedingly charming, and I only wish I could write as well as they do.

To celebrate my two golden globes, am off to twirl the boys round the living room to Keane's Perfect Symmetry. With any luck, I'll burn off another half pound at the same time, if I don't trip over a Hot Wheels toys first, that is.

Ready. Set. Go!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mom/Mum's Alphabet

It's been so long since I've properly updated, that here's a summary of recent life chez Mom/Mum, A-Z style...

A is for...Another expensive Holiday. Me and Him Downstairs gave ourselves a rough credit-crunch budget this year, vowing not to go overboard on the boys Christmas presents. Twenty-four hours later, I totally blew that budget by spending $400 in the grocery store getting (some!) of the food and goodies in, and then coming home to spend even more on the toy offers had this year. And that was all before December 13th. Whoops. We are living off bread and water for January, due to my shopping addiction.

B is for...Birthday and bowling. Cheeky turned four this Christmas. He wanted a party with his friends at the local bowling lanes. 18 little ones let loose with heavy bowling balls, pizza and ice cream, made for a fun and fraught start to my holiday season. But, he went home happy and full of sugar frosting, with even more toys and Santa hadn't even been yet. I need a bigger house now just to cope with the amount of Hot Wheels race track, Thomas rail track and GeoTrax train track that has now taken over my life. Oh and then we did the whole gift and family celebration thing again, on his actual birthday which falls on Dec 28th. Our paper mountain this time of year is out of control. As is he. And what did he want to do on his birthday, apart from eat more cake? A train ride. On a real steam train. Wish granted. Happy four year-old. Very tired and poor parents. Note to self, never get pregnant in March again.

C is for...Camping. No, we weren't foolish enough to actually put the tent outside in the snow. It went in the basement playroom so the boys could have a Christmas camp-out. (Plus it gave Grandma and Pops the opportunity to dust-off their pitching skills.) They were happy campers. Lots of fun was had, lots of sleep was not.

D is for...Drains. Blocked drains. Obviously you can't have a Christmas without one major household appliance breakdown. Our special gift from Santa this year was my father walking into my laundry room after Boxing Day lunch (26th Dec for you Americans) to discover a very wet floor and smelly dirty water bubbling up from my floor drain. Nice. This meant the dishwasher and washing machine had to be turned off instantly. Cue swearing and moaning from yours truly and the announcement from my Dad and my husband that no-one should flush the toilet, run a tap or have a bath or shower. With six of us in the house, this news wasn't greeted with any Christmas goodwill or cheer.

The blessing was, as Americans don't recognise Boxing Day as a holiday, a plumber was available and because we'd just paid our home warranty insurance (phew) this whole dirty smelly mess only cost us $75 instead of the $600 the plumber would have charged for putting his big machine down my drain pipe.

E is for... Eggnog. Now, according to Wikipedia, "Eggnog is a popular drink throughout the US, and is usually associated with winter celebrations such as Christmas and New Year. Commercially, non-alcoholic eggnog is available around Christmas time and during the winter." I also read that historically it is thought to have originated from East Anglia, England. My birthplace. Therefore, when in Rome and all, I bought some. Laite du poule it is apparently.(Literally, 'milk of hen'.) I love milk of cow. But this? No thanks. Never again. Someone add the brandy or whisky to make it more interesting.

F is for... Fire. A real one in your living room hearth. Essential it turns out when you have a power cut after a huge storm and therefore no heating or hot water on your son's birthday. We were only without power for about eight hours. 44,000 homes in our area were without it for three days. Eek. And where did Cheeky choose to de-camp to get warm before his birthday train ride? Chuck E bloody Cheese! Americans reading this, will know the horror that chilled me to my bones more than the lack of heat in my house, when he uttered those words. For you UK-ers, Chuck E Cheese is the naffest of naff 'family playgrounds'. Indoor arcade and toddler games and rubber pizza. Plus probably every germ you can imagine, just waiting to pounce on you. It has to be a special occasion for me to go there. A very special occasion!

G is for... Gavin and Stacey. A dear friend gave us the best Christmas present ever this year - a copy of the Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special. Missing out on some of the new Brit TV comedy shows (save the ones that make it onto BBC America) is one of my big gripes for not being chez UK. Me and Him Downstairs have thoroughly enjoyed our Tuesday nights cosied up together with Gavin, Stacey, Nessa and Smithy once it finally aired it over here, but we were gutted not to have seen the Xmas special. So, "At the end of the day....when all's said and done" it was "tidy" to unwrap this hilarious DVD.

H is for... Huckleberry Railroad This railroad, north of where we live, has the most magical Christmas event and is the place Cheeky chose to visit for his fourth birthday. So, with mittens scarves and plenty of layers, off we trundled. We rode a steam train which kept the birthday boy transfixed and the quietest we saw him over the whole holiday period! Result. We ate hot dogs and drank hot cocoa, rode a 1912 carousel and smiled at the charm of the Victorian houses all lit up with their twinkling lights. We also saw the naffest kids magic show, ever. He fooled all those under 4ft, but not us. But, the nicest thing was that it gave Grandma and Pops the chance to experience an old fashioned American railroad 'village,' and share their Grandson's special day with him. Only the second time this has been possible.

I is for...Insatiable appetite. Not mine. (See, I may be rubbish at posting on BlogToFit, but it is having a positive effect on my once outrageous eating habits.)No, my father is the one who turned out the be the two-legged eating machine this holiday. I thought I kept the fridge and larder constantly stocked with plenty of nibbles, breakfast, lunch and dinner options for the three, yes, THREE, weeks my parents were visiting us. But, this man, was out and about at every grocery and deli store he could find bringing home more dips and delights than my poor fridge could handle. How he didn't go to bed every night in a fog of nausea, I really don't know. How I managed to resist the temptation of some of the goodies he wafted under my nose, is worthy of a BlogToFit medal.

J is for...Jingle Bells. To hear Cheeky singing this every time Santa got mentioned was lovely. But, to hear Monkey sing along too, was enchanting. A whole verse, with all the words sung from his little heart. This from my littlest prince who, two months ago, could barely string his first sentences together. Hearing him talking so much now has taken our relationship to an even more special place. We can argue now.

K is for...Knitting. OK, so I already 'fessed up in a previous post that I have taken up a new hobby. And I've already been laughed at for it. Yes, I'm talking to you, Tara at Sticky Fingers!But, please let me explain, before you all have me down for being an OAP. You see, I come from a long line of Mom/Mum women who have knitted, crotched, sewed and quilted their little hearts out. Then along came I and the gene pool forgot to give me my quota of interest or ability in such crafts. My Nanny tried to kick start some knit-life into me and let me loose in her sewing room once. This just resulted in a painful trip to the emergency room to remove some curtain rings I got stuck on six of my fingers. And ever since I became pregnant, my mum tried to encourage me to make something for my babies, whilst she produced beautiful knitwear, quilts, tapestry nursery pictures and clothes, quicker than I had contractions.

Then the knitting revolution happened, and now, such is the metamorphosis of an ancient craft once dismissed as the preserve of doting grannies and bored housewives, knitting has been hailed as ‘the new yoga.’ When I read that celebs like Madonna, Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Cameron Diaz, Hilary Swank and Uma Thurman are all doing amazing things with two sticks and a ball of yarn, I thought, 'Maybe I will have a go.' Also, nearly all my friends here knit and I hated missing their gossipy nights out knitting at a local coffee shop. So, I'm now a knitter with L-plates, much to my mother's pleasure and my husband's amusement.

L is for...Lots of snow! Hoorah, it was a wonderful white Christmas, and the snow has continued to bathe our garden in a lovely deep white blanket. So, we got Grandma and Pops (who live in Spain, and definitely are more used to sun, sea and sand than snow) down the sledging hill as often as we could. By March I'll be tearing my hair out over the white stuff, but for now, I'll enjoy every flake.

M is for... Minivan Mom. Ever since I moved to North America, I've fought the inevitable and not got a minivan (people carrier). virtually every Mom round my way, drives on and I can see their many advantages - loads of space for kids, bikes, dogs, groceries, Dad's DIY stuff and the opportunity to carpool on the school run. However, there is nothing cool about them whatsoever. And there's no escaping looking like a middle-aged bus driver when you're behind the wheel.

But this Christmas, the opportunity arose for us to get a more family sized vehicle than the little car we've been squeezing ourselves into. So, as I held my new keys, I squeezed my eyes shut, and screamed, "Noooooooo!" as I leaped of the ledge of cool and fell into the waters of 'Minivan Mom'.

Have to admit, though, having in-built DVD players in the car is a Godsend when you have two grouchy boys as passengers. And for saddo me, that is pretty cool!

N is for... New York City. Now, I don't want to go on too much about this (as this post is turning out to be mammoth enough) but it's definitely worth mentioning that me and Him Downstairs spent four days and three whole nights away from our kids just before Christmas in this glorious city. Yeah, a big deal. And yeah, something we've been waiting for ever since we got married, when we got to move countries and have a second baby rather than go on a honeymoon.

Dinners out at cosy bistros and bustling trendy eateries, with not a kids menu in sight - yeeeehaaaa! Carriage rides round Central Park, art galleries, the Empire State at night, ferry ride round the island, all an absolute pleasure. Every last second of our trip was magical. NYC at Christmas is a twinkling, snowy wonder-city. It was impossible not to have a good time, even when I got drunk and over-emotional and picked a fight with him, for no reason whatsoever. Guess the crazy-woman in me figured, things can't be this nice, so better ruin them for a few hours! When will I learn?

But, he's lovely, so he forgave me. The romance button was once again switched on and the rest of our trip passed without a cross word. He even let me prance up and down the steps of the New York Public Library to re-enact the heartache Carrie felt when Big left her standing alone in a wedding dress, with a bird on her head.

I can't recommend NYC for a romantic get-away-from-the-kids enough. And the homecoming welcome we got from the boys was the icing on the cake.

O is for...Ola! The Spanish words the boys learnt from their grandparents over the holidays means I am now greeted with 'Ola' every morning, and thanked with 'gracias' regularly. Never before did I have my boys down for linguists.

P is for...Parents. Yes, they came and they stayed and then they went away again. Thank goodness! Not to be disrespectful, but the advantage of not living in the same country as your folks is that they obviously don't infiltrate in your everyday life very often. The disadvantage is, when they do visit, they stay for maaaanny weeks. I love having them here, I love seeing them re-bond with their grandchildren and I really love the on-site babysitting they offer. But, boy, do I love getting the house back to ourselves when they are gone.

Q is for...Lightning McQueen. Why oh why did I buy Monkey a build-it-yourself Lightning McQueen? That bloody toy has become the bain of my Christmas and New Year. Grrr.

R is for... Resolutions. New Years Resolutions. Mine are ashamedly exactly the same this year as they were last year:
1)Be more patient with the kids.
2)Play more with the kids.
3)Eat healthier.
4)Exercise more.
5)Visit England.
6)Stick to my resolutions!

S is for...Santa. Ah the white-bearded one had an amazing affect on Cheeky and Monkey this year. Usually, with one glimpse of a bespectacled man in a big red suit, the boys fly into a frenzy of fear and run in the opposite direction. But what difference a year makes. This time when we visited Santa, they went running towards him and couldn't get their Christmas wishes out quick enough. Thankfully, he complied with most of them and now they think he is almost as great as GeoTrax.

T is for...Turkey and trifle. After my Thanksgiving practise as doing a turkey dinner, I was all confident that Christmas lunch would repeat my November success. It did, kind of, except for the fact I forgot to check the bird's rear end and therefore missed the plastic bag of giblets hiding up there. Whoops. My debut trifle-making, however passed without incident and found six very comfy spots in the bottom of our stomachs.

U is for... Unwelcome visit. Ours was from the stomach flu that got 3/4 of my family over New Years. Normal healthy service was resumed on Wednesday. Does that kind of weight-loss activity count at BlogToFit I wonder?

V is for... Video game. Santa was very kind to us this year and bought our family a Wii. This was a real hit and even had my dad putting down his plate of heart-attack-inducing munchies to get up and play bowling. Grandma joined in. I got more strikes than I ever do on the real lanes and we all got beaten mercilessly by one of Cheeky's five year old friends! To say we're addicted to our Wii is an understatement...

W is for...Wall-E. The little Pixar Pictures robot who totally took over my Christmas TV viewing. Yes, the animation and effects are great and yes, the love story between him and Eve is rather sweet and the environmental warnings being sent through the story are indeed food-for-thought. But boy, it's a boring movie isn't it? Especially when you've had to watch it practically every day since December 25th. And I was the fool who purchased it in the first place...

X is for... X-cessive Xmas. X-cessive presents. X-cessive food. X-cessive costs. X-cessive snow. X-cessive excitement (from the boys.) Then x-cessive patience (needed by Mummy and Daddy when all this Xmas excitement over-whelmed them.) All in all, Xmas 08, was the a Christmas with the X factor.

Z is for... ZZZZZZZsss. Lots of them. After everything that's been going on chez Mom/Mum, I need a month load of sleep don't I?