Wednesday, April 20, 2011

the hairdog

 A post for The Gallery

When I first started this blog it was called "the hairdog chronicles", because we live our life in a fine miasma of dog hair. Geekygirl as a baby called it "hairdog" whenever she found it wound around her pacifier or hiding in her rice cereal. I changed the name to "Geekymummy" which had always been the pseudonym I used in the blog, and had become an identity of sorts, but kept the hairdog reference in the subtitle.

The blog is about us, the geekyfamily, an ordinary mum and dad with two kids, two cats and one hairy dog, living in an extraordinary city, San Francisco. Geekygirl will proudly tell you that we live in the most beautiful city in the world.

Before children, the dog herself used to be a bigger feature in our lives. Weekends were devoted to doggy activities, taking her to socialize and play with canine friends, long walks, even dog agility training classes. In retrospect it is a good job I had kids as I was well on the way to becoming a crazy dog lady, thought it is a role I think I would have played with aplomb.

We are lucky enough (at least at the moment, the rules are in being questioned) to have a beach in San Francisco where dogs and children are both welcome. It is a busy place on our rare hot days. Children and parents paddle and play. Achingly fashionable young people lie around and snog. Elderly folk watch the scene. The dogs gambol in the surf, explode the odd sandcastle, run off with children's shovels, and occasionally drench an unaware sunbather with a vigorous shake. I love it there.

People who don't have dogs can find it hard understand how much a dog is part of a family. Being able to take Geekydog along and to see how much she enjoys herself, being with her people and having the sand and water to play in makes for such a lovely time. There is nothing quite like a happy dog to put you in a good mood. This picture is from the last time we took the whole family to the beach, the hairdog in her element.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Blog Pimping

MAD Blog Awards 2011

Apologies for the blatant self promotion but its time for the annual MADS UK blogging awards.

If you like reading mine, I would be most grateful for a nomination in the Best MAD Blog for Family Life category. Or in any of the other categories if you think I'm eligible.

Click on over here to nominate me. The different categories are at the bottom of the page.

Browsing through the blogs that have been nominated is a great way to find new blogs to read, too.

Awards aside, thank you just for reading, I'm always a bit surprised at how many people come and read my little blog, and I'm very grateful.

Silent Sunday

For more

Silent Sunday

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The girl with the golden gate bridge tattoo

We contemplated leaving San Francisco for a career move a few years ago. Faced with the prospect of leaving my beloved city, I decided that should I leave I would get a tattoo representing it somewhere on my body. Though we ultimately ended up staying here, the idea of making my city a permanent part of me remained. Years passed, San Francisco remained my beautiful home, but I never found the time to actually get the tattoo.

Every now and again I would catch a glimpse of skyline in my rear view mirror, a picture postcard on a taqueria wall or a cityscape screen print on a T shirt, and a tattoo started to take shape in my mind. I began to look at my body in the mirror and think about where best to put it. I like the way my body looks. Like most women, I haven't always felt this way about my face or figure but after having two children and approaching forty I developed a new appreciation for my compact, slightly sturdy yet pleasantly curvy frame. A tattoo felt to me like a stamp of approval. An outward expression of the way I feel on the inside. A gift from me to my body that says "you and I have been through a lot, and I like you". After all, at forty years old the worst that can happen is that I may really regret it when I'm eighty. Maybe I'll get some funny looks in the nursing home.  Maybe I'll struggle to find one that admits tattooed octagenarians. Of course my parents might be a bit baffled by my decision, but given that I have a PhD, a fine husband and two lovely kids, I think they will forgive me.

I've always been the good girl type, but I secretly wanted to be a wild child. I did very well in school and in university. I wasn't the kind of teen who got into any kind of trouble. I even went to church every Sunday when I lived with my parents. I have smoked about four cigarettes in my entire life. (I have had quite a lot more alcoholic drinks though!) Still, ordinary as I was, I always loved to create original outfits from second hand clothes, and tried to look interesting without being brave enough to deliberately cross over the fine line into freakish.  For a while in my mid twenties I had a striking platinum streak in my long, straight hair, and had my navel pierced with a sparkly stone. Hardly exotic in San Francisco, or even in England in the 1990's, but it was the "look" I liked the best of any that I have had, and is still the way I see myself in my minds eye.

If I actually look at myself objectively now I am a tidy, respectable looking woman who favours conservative pant suits or plain jeans and T's. Work doesn't give me much opportunity to show my personality in my outfits. I gave my short leather skirts to Goodwill sometime ago. Feeling the need to get back a bit of the girl I used to be, I decided last year that I would commemorate my midlife crisis 40th birthday by finally getting that tattoo, and thereby putting some of that inner freak back on the outside.

I've talked before about the wonderful parent community we have here in our neighborhood, and how useful its email group is. So, much as if I needed a plumber, accountant or jewelry repair recommendation, last fall I posted an "off topic" request to the group asking for tattoo artist recommendations and I got several glowing referrals. Our parent community is truly an amazing resource.

Getting a tattoo is traditionally thought of as a spontaneous, madcap decision. The result of too much tequila and a bad dare. I treated it more like choosing a wedding dress designer or buying a house. I did extensive internet research, met with artists, and eventually I made an appointment. The artist I selected was so sought after that the appointment was eight months in the future. Finally, last night, six months after my actual birthday "T day" rolled around.

My dear friend Stan, companion on so many San Francisco adventures, came along with me for this one. Way out by the beach in a quiet, bohemian neighborhood that smelled of coffee and of the Pacific Ocean I finally sealed my love affair with the city in ink.

When I returned to my car, sore and saran-wrapped I turned on the radio. The song "Save me San Francisco" by Train came on. I love this song, and in the warm endorphin haze created by the past two and a half hours of needling, I realized that San Francisco has saved me. I'm not sure what from, exactly, but when I think of all the other lives I could have lived and all the fates I didn't meet I'm pretty sure that by coming to San Francisco I sealed for myself the very best of them all.

And now, with my love for the city written across my body, If I ever wash up on a boat with complete amnesia, a la Jason Bourne, my rescuers will at least know where I should be returned to.

If you want to see the result, go here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

by jove I think she's got it.

IT has been quite a journey. It has taken a lot of false starts, much crying, growling and whining, a lot of crashing, falling down and getting up again, and a fair bit of chocolate consumption (and that was just me), but I think Geekygirl has actually mastered the basics of skiing!

Go Geekygirl!

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I can't seem to shake my bad mood off this weekend. Usually I bounce from work to home and back, checking items of my to do lists, feeling productive and energetic. I remember to put make up on both of my eyes most mornings, and take pleasure in choosing something nice to wear. I'm productive, I work hard, and am pleasant and friendly to my coworkers. I care about the people who report to me, and try to support them and create a happy work environment. The children eat almost healthy meals almost every night, their clothes are clean if not ironed, they are healthy and are even quite well behaved most of the time. In the evenings after work I read to them, and get on the floor and do puzzles when often I would rather be flatlined on the couch hooked up to a wine IV.

I think of our life, indeed describe it to others as exhilarating, everything I have ever wanted. If pushed I'll admit to it being challenging, even rather tiring. Sometimes though another word keeps forming itself in my mind when I describe my life to myself. Relentless. It just keeps on coming; work, home, work, home; proving myself in the new job; keeping on top of email and experiments. Always busy at home: the never ending mounds of laundry, the hurriedly eaten meals, the constant picking up of tiny bits of plastic, the daily battles to brush someone's mass of curly hair. The sense that nothing is ever as well organized as I want it to be.

Even our weekend trips up to Tahoe can start to feel like a drag. A frenzy of packing to get up there, too late to bed after the long drive then woken too early by the kids; the lovely loft style of the home proving uncondusive to mummy or daddy sleeping in. Getting everyone out of the house to a ski resort the next morning is such an effort. Lunch to be packed, coloring books and toys too, hats, goggles and gloves, skis and poles, big and small, cash and cameras and phones. I've resorted to a check list on my phone to make sure everything gets there, which of course only works if I actually remember my phone. Kids need to be wrestled into ski gear, pinned down for the application of the aptly moniker-ed "sun scream" lotion, bustled into the car and our again. Then there are tickets to buy, gear to be schlepped across the parking lot, a table to be found in the heaving lodge....and then we have to get all of our belongings back home again afterwards too.

Despite all this effort Geekygirl is a reluctant skier. I confess that this is a great frustration to us since I dream of us being a family who loves to ski together. This and Geekyboy's complete disinclination to potty train are my great parenting woes at the moment. I am so tired of poopy diapers. I was so grumpy this weekend that I ended up getting cross with Geekygirl. She was whining about skiing, falling down on purpose if I didn't physically hold her up, and I yelled and told her that I didn't want to teach her if she wasn't even going to try.

Geekydaddy sent me away to blow of some steam on the slopes, and after a few runs by myself, a few deep breaths of calming mountain air and a couple of contemplative lift rides I gave myself a good kick in the pants. If the only things getting me down are that my son won't poo on the loo and my daughter isn't much of skier then I should be extremely grateful. My children are healthy. My husband is wonderful. My family wasn't wiped out by a tsunami and my drinking water isn't radioactive.

Still, its OK to get grumpy every now and again, surely, even if my life looks pretty enviable on paper?

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

learning to read

There is probably some proud parental exaggeration in the tale, but apparently when I started school I had already read most of the reading books the school offered to the reception class (as kindergarten was called in the UK in the 1970's). My mum, an elementary school teacher, had already taught me to read before I started school. I was only four. It is true that I don't remember learning to read, I can't recall a time when I didn't know how to.

I have always loved reading. I'm a fast reader and a prolific one. I used to get a little disoriented by my reading speed when I would digest a mighty tome spanning several generations in an afternoon. One of the things I miss the most in my working mother life is the luxury of time to read for pleasure, and I relish my business trips. Those nice quiet plane rides are perfect places to climb into much anticipated new novels, carefully selected weeks in advance. I get inordinately disappointed if a book turns out to be rubbish, my reading time is so very precious now.

I'm the one showing off now, but of that BBC list of books that is often linked on facebook with the tagline "the BBC thinks that the average person has read 6" I have read 79. I've put the list below just in case you haven't seen it before.

I have assumed that my children will "inherit" my love of reading and my ease in learning how to. I should know better since I'm a biologist and I know that genetics is far from simplistic.  Geekygirl is five and a bit, and will not start school until this fall, as the American school system starts a year later than the UK. I started to get anxious that she would be late in learning to read. One of my friends kids, the same age, is quite proficient at reading already, her mum and grandparents having taught her themselves. I felt a twang of envy when I heard her rattle through her simple books. Geekygirl, though she loves books and being read to was not at all interested in learning how to read herself.

This friend had used a system of reading books from a company called "starfall" which have a phonics based approach that also manages to create books with a semblance of stories, Though it made me feel rather like an overachieving pushy parent, I ordered them. (This is not a sponsored post, I just liked the books!)

Geekygirl loves them. With these books, and a set of plastic letters that link together, she is mastering reading. I am getting such pleasure from teaching her, seeing her pride in herself when she sounds out a brand new word. I can glimpse the many many years of reading pleasure ahead of her. Books that haven't even been written yet await an audience of today's five year olds. Just think how much they will be able to cram into those little brains, all from reading. I wish I had more time to work on it with her though. She always seems to ask me "Mummy, make some words for me to read" when I'm in the middle of something. I don't feel like the world's best mum when I say "Not now dear, why don't you go and watch TV?"

Still, her begging me to teach her to read is better than me forcing her, so perhaps I have inadvertently created a good learning situation, since she has never been the kind of child who just does as she is asked! Even Geekyboy is getting on on the act. He has memorized several of the books and "reads" them to me with the same stilted manner as Geekygirl has when she is sounding out the words.

So be it nature or nurture, I'm hopeful that we will have a household of readers. I may be less delighted about this of when I can't get anyone's nose out of a book to help me out around the house, and when the kids lock themselves in their rooms with books whenever guests come over, mind you.

The book list. Let me know your favorites!

BBC Book List
Apparently the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.

1) Look at the list and make those you have read bold.
2) Star (*) the ones you LOVE.
3) Italicize those you plan on reading

1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen *
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible (most of it; catholic school)
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte *
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman*
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I've read a few)
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier*
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks*
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger*
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell*
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald*
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy*
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams*
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh*
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy *
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis*
34 Emma – Jane Austen*
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis*
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini*
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere*
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden*
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez*
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving*
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins *
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy*
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood *
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan*
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley*
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon*
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck*
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding*
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie*
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt *
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell*
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker*
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro *
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White*
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad 
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks*
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute*
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl*
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo*

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring Bling

Spring came late to the bay area this year, but when it arrived it was like a sudden warm hand rubbing your back on an icy night. Drear and rain made way for heat and bright California sunlight. The sun coaxed sweet perfume from the jasmine in our backyard, the hummingbird arrived on his daily rounds and the children looked overdressed in their socks and sturdy winter shoes.

The first sign of spring in our house is the annual family trip downtown for new sandals.

Geekygirls brand loyalty to a certain sparkly line of children's shoes seems sealed. For the third year in a row (for proof read here and here) she selected the seasons sparkliest offering. She always tries on a couple of more mundane designs to indulge us, but her mind is set. After a quick pretense of testing a less ostentatious brand, she declares the sparkly ones the most comfortable, the best for running and jumping, and as an aside, well they are the prettiest ones too, aren't they daddy?

Geekyboy was again disappointed that boys sandals don't come in purple (why not?), but accepted a pair with flashing orange lights in silver skull logos, the blingiest boy shoes we could find.

My own footwear collection was also feeling decidedly wintery, so with the children still behaving in a vaguely acceptable manner for the shopping mall I risked a trip into the women's shoe department.

Geekygirl thought that I should get these for work.

Geekydaddy wondered out loud whether I had taken on another 'job' that I hadn't told him about. I haven't, for the record, and I can just imagine the look on my coworkers faces if I sashay into the lab in those on Monday morning.

I settled for a more staid and practical shoe. But secretly, I'm trying to think of an excuse to go back and get those glitter stripper heels. Why should preschoolers be the only ones to have spangly footwear? We all need a little spring bling, after all.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Silent Sunday

For more silent sunday pop over to mocha beanie mummy.
Silent Sunday