Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Uk trip, part I

I wrote this post last week, from my parents cosy living room, but could not get my laptop to play nice with my Dad's broadband. So I'm posting it belatedly, since we have now returned to the USA:

We almost did it. We almost got from San Francisco to Buckinghamshire, anxious mum and rather highly strung child, without a single tear or tantrum.

We overcame the first potential pitfall, a serious packing oversight. As we checked in at a mercifully very quiet SFO I realized that I had forgotten “taggies” the beloved blanky. Geekygirl took this in her stride, she was surprisingly sanguine about the absence of this most precious comforter. I was much more concerned, knowing that there would be many challenging situations ahead of us that would be made much easier for a little wide eyed girl if she had the soothing sensation of taggies' well thumbed ribbons between her fingers. We didn’t even have any soft toys with us, so to assuage my guilt at being such a useless mummy (because really, forgetting the blanky, that is automatic failure of mum 101), we swiftly acquired a San Francisco Hello Kitty, a Webkins furry goat and a panda bear neck cushion as potential substitutes. Then, as we were sitting in the cafĂ©, having checked in the recommended three hours early, my phone rang, and Geekydaddy was on the line. He had got home, grabbed taggies and returned to the airport. The security folk, always very pleasant at SFO, but now raised even higher in my esteem, walked taggies through to us. I got to give Geekydaddy and a now rather confused but still cheery Geekybaby another final wave, and we were truly set to go.

We had another tricky moment. Juggling the portable DVD player, and its headphone, my headphones and my own and Geekygirl’s dinner trays, I managed to knock a cup of water all over Geekygirl. Thankfully the DVD player (Borrowed), escaped the deluge, but Geekygirl was soaked. I had packed a change of clothing, but apparently had chosen an unacceptable shirt. Too small, too stripey and most critically, too scratchy. We were in trouble. I could feel her panic, hemmed into a plane seat with limited choices; no shirt, wet shirt, scratchy shirt. She was tired and worn thin with the effort of remaining calm and cheery for so long in the face of goodbyes, crowds, and too hot hot dogs. Then, we had the brilliant idea of wearing the shirt inside out, and with the bribery of a bit more DVD watching despite it being 10pm, the moment was saved and we were spared the wrath of the rest of the passengers who were hoping to sleep the rest of the way to the UK.

We were both able to get a bit of sleep, waking up with the rest of the plane an hour or so before landing. DVD player stowed for landing, we amused ourselves with the card game “war”, and got a lovely view of London as we flew down the Thames. The landing path took us right over my old College, and I caught a glimpse of the blue copper top of “Queen’s tower” in the main quad. I have such fond memories of my student days in London, and the sight of this, alongside the Royal Albert Hall, with my old biology department nestled in its shadow, energized me to get through the “de-planing” (I still say that is not a real word).

After a smooth landing (Though I’m always horrified by how close the plane comes to the residents of Hounslow), I packed up our scattered belongings (some still damp from the earlier dowsing), hustled Geekgirl into a clean pull up and found her shoes. She obligingly got them both on, we were about to exit our seat when she stood up and howled “My shoes are too small”, and tore them from her feet, crying hysterically. Belatedly, I tried to explain that our feet get a bit bigger while flying and that after walking about they would feel just fine, but no deal. She wasn’t going to put those shoes back on. What to do? I had a hefty back pack, my own purse, a duty free bag and a small “Finding Nemo” back pack to carry, but I could probably just about manage to carry a hysterical almost four year old too. But no, “I want my other shoes” she cried. My extensive preparation had not included packing an alternate pair of shoes in the carry on bags, and I was starting to feel pressured. “Is everyone off the plane?” The chief steward announced on the tannoy. “Two more to unload” our flight attended said back. She came over to us, I gave her a tight smile and let her know we would soon be on our way. She spoke to Geekygirl “What lovely socks” she said. Geekygirl was thrown off guard, and let the nice lady chat to her for a few seconds. I’ve noticed that these days Geekygirl is much better at gathering herself together in the face of adversity, and the intervention of the kind flight attendant redirected her, and gave her the chance to start the process over. She applied herself to her shoes again. “Ready?” I said and she exited the plane, the cleaning crew stepping aside for us.

Our stroller awaited us, friendly passport control officers welcomed us “home”, our bag and carseat eventually exited the carousel and with one hand pushing the stroller, the other dragging the baggage cart we exited into the arrivals lounge. Grandma and Granddad, instantly recognizable to Geekygirl through our weekly Skype-ing, though rather less pixilated, were waiting, and after only one wrong turn on our way to the M1 we made it to the Buckinghamshire village were I grew up. Journeys end was met with a lovely cup of tea for me and chocolate buttons for Geekygirl. We made it, and we are so happy to be here!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Get Packing

Geekygirl and I are going on our very first mother-daughter trip. The two of us are jet-setting over to England for the weekend. Well, we leave on Wednesday and return on Monday, a ridiculously short trip, but with only 15 days of vacation  a year, you do what you can. The occasion is our very first audience with the latest member of the extended Geekyfamily, my brother's brand new baby son.

So, I'm packing. I've packed the important documents;
Passport (UK) and green card (actually a beigey pink color) for me.
Passport (US) for Geekygirl (some day I will get around to getting British ones for the kids too).
Notarized letter from Geekydaddy giving me permission to take our daughter out of the country (to prove I am not kidnapping her from the US to a life of deprivation in the UK).
Copy of Geekygirl's birth certificate, proving that I am indeed her mother despite the fact that we have different last names (oh, the inconveniences of feminism).

I'm working on the hand luggage:
Optimistically, books for me (Kate Atkinson's "when will there be good news", and "Raising Girls" by Gisela Preuschoff). Who wants to bet that they will return home untouched?!
Books for Geekygirl - yet to be selected but will try to avoid hardbacks and board books, since I'm not bringing my pack mule (aka Geekydaddy).
Electronics; Leapster hand held game, mini DVD player, iphone with new "Diego" episodes freshly downloaded, and my toy, the Macbook.
Snacks, sippy cups, wipes, pull ups, colouring supplies, changes of clothing (at least 2, past experience tells me).
Small tacky toys with too many pieces, purchased to be doled out at intervals, scrabbled for underneath airplane seats every ten minutes, eventually lost for good - inducing hysteria and whose purchase will likely be regretted.

That sounds heavy, just writing it down, so may have to be rethought! My tendency to over pack the carry on bags for every eventuality (a pound of dried apricots, anyone?) once caused Geekydaddy to physically crumble, like Black Beauty under the whip, on the gangway while disembarking from a flight to Seattle. Ideas for other (light) things to amuse children on 10 hour flights are always appreciated!

The actual luggage is proving difficult. You see Geekygirl loves her clothes. When at home, she changes constantly. She can have 5 outfits on in the space of an hour. When listening to music she will pause it between songs for a costume change. She likes to mix and match her pajama bottoms with her swimsuit and a pair of wellies, or her ballet leotard with her snow boots, mittens and an old baby bonnet. She has quite a selection of dress up costumes too, but seems to take the most pleasure in "dressing up" in her regular clothes. The result of this is that the contents of her closet are permanently all over the floor, and it drives me nuts. I never know what is clean or dirty, so I vacillate between washing her entire wardrobe every week, or sweeping things from the floor back into the closet only to send her off to preschool in an oatmeal (or worse) encrusted T shirt. While I have been writing this post she has changed four six times already.

If she had her way I would pack everything she owns. I made the mistake once, when packing her bag for a Tahoe weekend, of only putting in the actual number of outfits a normal person would wear in two days. Oh, the horror of a weekend with a three year old girl with "nothing to wear"! Over Christmas, when were were again up in Tahoe in frigid snowy weather I had packed  a large selection, including her summer dresses and ballet gear, but was admonished for forgetting her swimsuit! I think my little fashionista and I have a bit of negotiating to do regarding what we pack.

Me, I only have a couple of outfits appropriate for January in Buckinghamshire, so don't need to put much thought into my packing.

I am very excited about this trip, it has been almost a year since I last saw my parents, siblings and friends. My mum and dad still live in the house we grew up in and there is something so satisfying and circular about seeing my kids asleep in my old room, now a gallery of my teenage pony art, and watching them play with our old toys, especially the fisher price A frame house and its little bobble headed occupants, which enchant our kids just as they did us. As well as the new nephew to meet, my sister and her brood of three gorgeous girls will come over. It sounds corny, but nothing makes us happier than to have the whole family back together in our childhood home. I predict that we may drink a little too much, break out the LP records and find ourselves dancing to Wham, Barry Manilow and Shaking Stevens into the small hours.  My dearest friend from childhood grew up on our street, and her family also still lives there, so we will get to spend some precious time together with her family too.

I'm sad, though, that I'm leaving Geekyboy and his dad at home, I'm going to miss them. Geekyboy is at an age where he will miss me, but not really understand that I'm coming back. He is also completely adorable, affectionate, and grappling with language in such a hilarious way (latest gem "Boobillies" for blueberries), and I want to show him off to everyone. I toyed with the idea of taking them both, but it would have been brutal for all concerned to drag an almost two year old from San Francisco to London and back again to meet a cousin he won't remember the next time he sees anyway.

I'm also apprehensive about traveling as the lone responsible adult in our party, and rather worried about the enhanced security procedures. Still, one advantage of traveling with an almost four year old who potty trained rather late and wears a pull up at night is that she has no qualms about peeing in a diaper, so the "no getting up for the last hour or two of the flight" shouldn't bother her (I, with my post two baby bladder, am another story. Better pack extra pull ups!) I'm worried that the rigid security requirements will cause my sensitive child to get scared and upset, that they will take her blanky away for the last part of the flight, or even worse, the iphone. Better brush up on my "I spy" skills.

I'm sure it will be fine, it really is quite an easy trip and I have done it many times, but I'll be glad when we get there. England, here we come!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The shakes

Seeing the swathes of destruction and broken lives in Haiti is sobering when viewed from anywhere in the world. From here in San Francisco I feel an extra jolt of sympathy, and a jitteriness that comes from living in another earthquake prone city.

Almost anything else that could cause such destruction; catastrophic climate change, a rogue nuclear bomb, are things that we can half convince ourselves that we have some hope of preventing. We can at least campaign, protest, write and have opinions about how such things can be avoided, futile as that may be in reality. But earthquakes and natural disasters are not something you can petition your senator about. All we know is that they will happen, and all we can do is try to be prepared. Poor, poorly governed nations like Haiti are not prepared.

Blogger English mum has set up a page for donations at bloggers for Haiti, through 'just giving'. They send a "shelter box", with everything a family needs to survive, including most importantly a tent home. Please consider donating to this group, or to Oxfam, Doctors without borders, or the American Red Cross. Also, please consider making a monthly subscription donation to these organization, so they can ensure that they have steady revenue for the long rebuilding that will continue in the months after the catastrophe has faded from our minds, as it inevitably will.

I'm thinking that unlike most of you, when I looked at the "shelter box" I thought, "wow, we could do with one of those stored in our basement". You see, we don't have an "earthquake kit", though every San Franciscan should. In fact the only time I ever had emergency supplies stashed away was when I lived with a particularly well organized roommate (Chihuahua, do you still do this?!). Our city itself is more prepared. Unlike Port au Prince, it has strict building codes, and the political systems in place to enforce them, so most of the structures should survive a sizable quake without crushing their occupants, but still water, electricity and access to the city, especially seeing as the two main routes in and out are over bridges are likely to be severely disrupted. And though our buildings are designed not to crush their occupants, that doesn't mean they will be habitable post quake either. Many of us live in old homes, some that withstood the events of 1906. Households are advised to keep three days of supplies, a hand crank radio, batteries and flashlights and clothing in a safe place in their home.

"The big one", the earthquake of 1906, happened before the Richter scale for measuring the force of earthquakes was in use, but it is estimated to have been a 7.8. The quake, and the subsequent fire destroyed 80% of the city. I lifted the photo below from the Wikipedia page devoted to the disaster. Though 103 years old, this is recognizable to me as San Francisco today, and as I look at this, so similar to shots from Haiti, I superimpose them in my mind on modern day San Francisco. Something I don't really think about often is now at the forefront of my mind. "What would we do if it happened here?"

The last good sized quake here was in 1989, before I lived here, but I have many friends who were here then. The building I worked in at the time,  made from adjoining modern 12 story towers, performed perfectly. Built on rollers it swayed with the forces of the earth, the metal panels joining each floor of the towers dropped free as they were designed to, giving each building the freedom to oscillate. Apparently, legend from our lab goes, a tall stack of petri dishes on the bench didn't even fall. It wasn't until they saw the news, that many people who worked there realized how bad the earthquake really was, a 6.9 on the Richter scale.

Bad as it was, the death toll of only 63 is a testament to decent building standards. But still, repairs and upgrades recommended back in 1989 to the Bay Bridge, and to the General Hospital are only now under construction. Memories fade fast and the political will to invest in infrastructure to protect against a distant eventuality is weak, even here in California.

From our families personal perspective I realize that if a big quake struck during work hours we would be scattered widely across the bay area, the kids in South City, Geekydaddy and I a bridge away across the water in the East bay, and the animals at home in San Francisco. Would we be able to get in contact with each other? Would we be able to reach each other?

I still don't really know what we would do. So today I'm moving "earthquake preparedness planning" from the "someday maybe" to the "immediate action" section of my to do list. And packing up bags of clothing to send to the children of Haiti.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lemon tree, very pretty..

and the fruit of the poor lemon makes a wonderful toy.

We have a lovely old lemon tree in our backyard. It languished for many years, squeaking out an existence on the stray water that leaked from our garden plumbing, but when we landscaped our tiny city oasis last year it was honored with a good pruning, some fertilizer and its own sprinkler, and it is now gratefully delivering fruit.

The bay area is chillier than usual for this time of year, but still warm enough to go out to play, in my English opinion. This weekend I hustled the antsy kids out to play in the dilute afternoon sun.

Geekydaddy got me a lovely new camera for Christmas (a Canon SX20IS), so I was experimenting with it, trying to capture the crisp loveliness of my favorite plants (not too tricky), and those elusive moments when a fleeting facial expression on one of my tiny ones takes my breath away (harder!).

Geekygirl noticed the lemons, and asked to pick some. The lemons were first tested for flight potential, and for use in soccer. Then they became puppies. Then mermaids. Thus began almost two hours of "imaginary play with lemons" I'll let my pictures tell the rest of the story.

The lemons

Lemon as ballistic object

Lemon as evil pirate who must be ejected from the ship/play structure

Lemon as fearsome monster (Geekygirl has elicited genuine fear from Geekyboy, I think)

Ultimately the lemon was required  to take a time out.

Remind me again why I buy them toys?!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A favourite picture meme

 The Mad house tagged me to post a "favourite picture". I thought about asking my mum and dad to scan and email me a lovely shot of my siser and I, skipping along in the rain holding my dad's hand, in our Brownie uniforms and anoraks, circa 1977, but in the interests of time I went to my own extensive digital archives. I came across this photo, taken on a jaunt to the wine country nine days before geekygirl arrived and our lives changed for ever. (In case you are thinking, "man, she looks irritatingly trim for a nine month pregnant woman" i assure you that I made up for it during my pregnancy with geekyboy where I was completely enormous).

Almost everyone I usually tag has been tagged for this, but just in case I tag Sandy at BabyBaby, and as always followthatdog, please join in if you like!

Friday, January 8, 2010

The cat that barfed in the night

Having animals before children is good preparation for the endless bodily fluid clean up that dominates the early childrearing years. In fact, before we adopted our dear doggie back in 2004 I thought the very idea of picking up dog poo quite foul, so I have come a long way. I had been strongly conditioned against dog turds as a child, by my mothers tales (true, to my knowledge) of children going half blind from getting dog poop on their shoes and bringing doggy worms into the house. But dog ownership taught me that when it is your own dog, the poop pick up becomes no big deal. I still flinch at picking up an unknown poop, though will do so in the name of being a responsible dog owning citizen.

What I'm getting at is that these days I am usually unphased the by various sources and species of poop, vomit, and puddles of pee that come my way. So when I was awoken at 1.00am the other night by Geekygirl's little voice in my ear, saying "Mummy, there is something yucky in my bed", I expected a damp patch, or at worst, a bit of child vomit.

When I entered the dim lit room I saw two saucer sized dark brownish splodges on her pillow and duvet. I drew in my breath, thinking that it was dried blood, and ran my eyes over her for evidence of a nosebleed or worse. But she seemed completely clean. "Did you throw up sweetie?" I asked. She shook her head. "Someone put peanut butter in my bed" she said with conviction. I cautiously examined the splats. They did look a bit like peanut butter, the chunky kind. I took the bedclothes out into the light and sniffed them gingerly. The faint fishy odor, and the evidence of fine hairs in the mixture gave it away. Cat puke. All over my daughters bed. And, as I realized belatedly by the wet sensation under my foot, on the floor, and on many of the books and toys strewn across the floor too.

Gross as it sounds, it was nothing a bed stripping and a box of baby wipes couldn't solve, so we did that and slept on until morning.

Over breakfast the incident was a hot topic of discussion. Curiously, Geekygirl was still convinced that someone had snuck in during the night and smeared peanut butter on her bedclothes. That seemed an equally logical explanation to my version, that one of the cats (who often sleep with her) had thrown up on her bed. This got me thinking about how bizarre and inexplicable much of the workings of the world must be to an almost four year old. That there may be many things that happen in her life that are equally as arbitrary to her mind as a night time peanut butter smearing, but that to an adult seem completely logical.

I eventually convinced her that the cat theory was the most likely, after which she responded "Mummy, can you buy something for the cats to throw up in, because cats should not throw up in people's beds!"

On that we can all agree.

Monday, January 4, 2010

High fives from 2009

It hasn't been a good year for the world. But it hasn't been a bad year for the Geekyfamily. We're had some good times. I joined the British Mummy (and parent) Blogger network this year, thankful that I can find some way to be called "Mummy" and not "Mommy", which seems to be a losing battle.
Tash at WHAM_BAM, and mothership at Motherhood-the final frontier tagged me for a list of good things about my 2009, thanks ladies, so here they are.

1. Our trip to South Africa. Last year we saw in the New Year on the other side of the world. Though it was grueling journey, it was worth it to experience a beautiful new country and to spend time with Geekydaddy's family. Sometimes the conflict in the world exhausts me, but a country like South Africa while it still has its challenges, reminds us of the successes of politics and gives us hope that the power of human beings can pull victory out of a seemingly impossible situation.

2. Remodeling our mountain cabin. Sine we were away for the Christmas period last year, we embarked on a remodel of our Tahoe place. The lack of garage and central heat just didn't work for a family with two kids. We started this just as the economy crashed down around us, so were able to have our pick of contractors (we found a lovely guy, just starting out on his own, and our project helped carry him through a very rough time in the home building trade). It was completed, actually under budget, in time for another high point..

3. Geekydaddys 40th birthday. Slowly but surely our circle of friends are hitting and passing the big "four oh". Geekydaddy and I love to be surrounded by our friends. Before kids we would socialize every other night, and we miss those evenings of easy laughter, inane banter and deep political analysis (honestly, we have several times solved all the worlds problems, but then been unable, in the cold and far too bright light of day been able to recall exactly how). We piled into our newly remodeled place, rented an extra cabin, stocked up on food and beverages, and enjoyed a weekend together complete with our children and animals, and commemorative T shirts.

4. Another 40, this time my mum and dad's ruby wedding celebration. After our South Africa trip a jaunt over to the UK seemed like a breeze; what, just one 10 hr flight with a 3.5 year old and a 1.5 year old? No problem! The previous year my siblings (I have a younger sister and brother who live in the UK) and I had asked my parents what they wanted to do for this momentous occasion. They floated the idea of a party. I told them that if they had one, we would come, so the event was planned, and what a lovely day it was, marred only by poor Geekyboy throwing up all over my carefully chosen outfit minutes before the party. We have had lots of family gatherings over the past years, all three of us having had good sized weddings, but these have been family occasions, and what with mum being one of eight, and dad one of four, with the associated offspring (you do the math, I have 20 first cousins), the guest lists were limited. This time mum and dad invited their immediate family only, and left room to invite friends, people they have met and stayed in contact with throughout their married life. I was struck by what strong friendships my parents have formed, and how they have continued to form new friendships throughout their life together. It was an occasion to celebrate the power of both family and friendship, and of course the great partnership my mum and dad have evolved over the past forty years.

5. Which brings me nicely to the last but most definitely not least high point of 2009, the birth of my gorgeous nephew in November. My little brother had the good fortune to find himself a fantastic wife,  and now they have added to my parents brood of grand kids with number six, the second little boy. My sister in law is a warm and lovely person (and no, I'm not just saying that because I know you're reading!), children adore her, and she and my brother were very ready for their family life to begin. Having a first baby is like being slammed into a wall, emotionally and often physically. It is hard to even remember, let alone try to convey to someone else what it can be like. When a woman I care about is about to become a mum, I hope fervently that she will have an easy time during labour and delivery, a strong healthy baby, and an easy time with breastfeeding. That the transition to motherhood isn't made harder by medical scares, disappointment, and pain. All of this came to pass for my sister in law and my brother, they transitioned quite easily into parenthood, and though I have seen plenty of pictures of his ever growing cuteness, I am so excited to go over the the UK at the end of this month to meet the little guy. I predict that this will be one of my high fives for 2010.

I'm a bit late on this, but I would like to tag a few folk. If any of you reading have high fives for 09 to share I'd love to hear them. If you want to link back to me, that would be lovely too!

I tag my dear friend followthatdog who started me blogging; troutie, a very amusing mum writer based in London, Tiff, in Australia at three ring circus who takes amazing photos, the mad house, who makes very cool crafts with her kids, and probably got this already from someone else, and rox of rox and roll, who writes about life with kids in Silicon Valley