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....