Thursday 28 October 2010

Everybody needs good neighbours

I may have posted about our neighbours and 'The Hedge' issue in the past. Here's the abriged version (even though it still seems long, believe me it's the short version):

We have a hedge. It is cut back regularly. It cannot be cut back too far or else it will die (it's a stupid Leylandii hedge). It does not overgrow the public bridleway which gives access to 3 other houses. The old farts elderly people who live in these houses feel that the hedge makes it impossible for them to drive up and down the path. They have asked us to fix the situation. We have had tree officers and god knows what out to look at 'the hedge'. And bottom line is: It's fine. They CAN'T drive. Both my husband and I have driven our cars up and down, forwards and backwards along this path. IT IS FINE!

Over the summer holidays, after a particularly long, arduous 5 hour drive in the rain back from a 3 day rain-filled camping trip with two hideously annoying children, the Witch neighbour chose that exact moment to launch into another complaint about 'the hedge'. She went on and on as I stood in the rain with icy water running down my neck holding heavy bags. And eventually I said: "Look, could we have this discussion another time please, now isn't a good time." At which point she stomped off saying: "There's never a good time. You don't live in South Africa anymore you know!"

Racist or xenophobic? Either way, definitely a Daily Mail reader.

Now had I not been holding two heavy bags, I think I might have run after her, rugby tackled her, planted her face into the mud and shown her exactly what South Africans are famous for (rather than overgrown hedges).

I didn't. I used every fibre of my self control to turn away and breathe deeply. I decided however, that I dislike her more than almost any other person on the planet.

Today, I was sitting at my desk and I see a car pull up outside our house. The Witch  neighbour gets out and puts something on my car windscreen.

I go get it. It's another cheerful note saying how she's nearly had a second accident (with several of these !!!!!! for effect) as a result of our trees (this is new, normally it's the hedge) and my car being parked on the road. It isn't normally parked there, it just is today as I'm about to go out again and husband's car is blocking the driveway. But that's besides the point. Countless other people park in the same spot every day.

After searching my navel for the deep meaning in this, I've come to a profound conclusion.

a) She can't drive
b) She is a cow

I'm thinking about starting a counter-offensive. Possibly slipping funeral home flyers into her letterbox....

Sunday 24 October 2010

Would you put your mummy tummy on the internet?

There's a game my children play. It's called 'Grab mummy's belly'. It involves grabbing handfuls (yes plural) of tummy and squishing it. They particularly like to fold the flab into origami-style designs so that my belly button is entirely hidden from view. "Look mummy!" they yell. "Your belly button is absolutely, completely gone" in a Charlie & Lola-esque performance.

I suppose I could take offence to this and on particularly grouchy days, I do get a bit snippy. But mainly, I've accepted that my belly is now more jelly than six pack and it provides less messy fun for the kids than playdough.

When I first had my children, especially after my second pregancy which saw stretchmarks creep their way from my belly button downwards thanks to being two weeks overdue, I couldn't bear the sight of my stomach. It was in my mind vile. And while I knew that I was probably too old to be wearing crop tops anyway, I became obsessed with tunics or long tops that had no chance of riding up should I happen to be reaching up for something. My bikini days were gone forever and I found it difficult to feel even remotely sexy naked.

However, like all things parenting, you gradually get used to it. And amazingly, one day you accept it and possibly love it.

I remember doing a sea survival training course (as you do) and having to get undressed in a change room with a bunch of women, none of whom had had children. I couldn't help but steal furtive glances at their figures. Some were slimmer and better toned than others, but none of them had that distinctive tell-tale sign that they had carried children for nine months.

And all of a sudden, instead of feeling self conscious of my less than perfect belly, I felt proud. I realised that these women with their virgin tummies, all smooth and stretchmark free with belly buttons that don't look like a puckered prune and a without the tell-tale bulge of lost elasticity, didn't know what I knew. They didn't know what it means to be a mother. They hadn't yet experienced the depth of emotion, felt the highs and the lows, the love and the fear, the complete transformation your life undergoes.

And I smiled to myself. Because it made me see that my mummy tummy with all of it's imperfections will always be there proudly telling the world that it has performed its job. It has stretched beyond the bounds of comprehension, cocooning my babies, and has returned to do it's day job. So it doesn't look as good as it once did, so what? It is beautiful for what it has achieved.

Which is why when Justina Perry, a client of mine, contacted me last week to say that she was fed up of the body image anxiety mothers have (a 31% increase in mummy tummy tucks) and she was on a mission to change it, I jumped on board.

We have created a gallery of mummy tummies. We have taken pictures of our bellies and put them on the internet for the world to see. And we want more mums to do the same. We want to get as many mums as possible to say: 'Sod it, look at what my amazing body has achieved. It may not look perfect, but it has done a miraculous job. And it's time it got recognised for that.'

So are brave enough to join in? Head on over to here and take a look at the bellies already there. See if you can guess which one is mine. And then join in. Send in your pic and help spread the word.

It's time to show the mummy tummy some love.

P.S. My bikini days aren't over after all. I wore one over summer with pride.

Thursday 21 October 2010

House porn American style

I have a dirty secret. I look at house porn. A lot. Apparently Rightmove has a bazillion page views a month. I think I make up at least 80% of those on my own. And that was before we were actually contemplating moving.

I'm now so au fait with the properties available in most of southern England, that I've had to cast my net wider. There was a time when the option of moving to any number of places in the US was considered. So I searched Boston, Long Island, San Francisco and Seattle properties. They ranged from OMG! to WTF?

More recently I've narrowed it down to Bellevue and surrounding suburbs in Seattle. I now feel as though I actually know the different areas, the pros, the cons, the schools. I know which places have the best views. Which have the most convenient access to shops. Which give you more property for your money. And all this without leaving my somewhat sweaty chair in my home office in Berkshire, England. Isn't technology marvellous?

And in my house porn travels, this is what I have learned about American property/Americans in general:

1. They like wood. Lots and lots of wood. The more wood in a house it seems, the better.

2. They like fireplaces. Big ones. In most rooms of the house.

3. They like TVs. Even bigger than the fireplaces. In most rooms of the house.

4. They like to keep their homes looking like show homes with almost no personal items at all. They could in fact all be show rooms for Crate & Barrel, Restoration Harware or Pottery Barn.

5. Everything is bigger than in British homes. Windows. Doors. Rooms. Fridges. Fires and TVs (as above). Views. Lots (that's the size piece of land the house is on). Square footage (that's not something advertised often in UK homes).

6. Kitchens are less important than bathrooms. I find this strange given how much food Americans eat. I have seen many houses with lovely big kitchens, but I've seen some with hardly any kitchen at all. Meanwhile, EVERY SINGLE HOUSE will have a HUGE bathroom. Bigger than the average British master bedroom. Which is why Americans are better groomed that Brits.

7. Hot tubs. What the hell is the fixation with hot tubs? Seriously.

8. Having a media or work out room. Now I like the idea of a work out room. Currently we have a cross trainer and a TV in our guest bedroom. It's not ideal. It means we have to wash the bedding a lot due to sweat flying off our hard working bodies. But a media room? Like a cinema in your own home with two rows of lazy boy chairs and a screen big enough to play tennis on? No.

9. Lack of floor plans. Why is this? I have discovered the Rightmove equivalent in the US and it is jaw droppingly good. I mean, for a house porn afficienado, this has me fondling my mouse as I click my way around the site. It tells you everything you could possibly want to know about a property, including what the owner's had for breakfast, but it doesn't give your floorplans. No-one does. Why is that??

10. The estate agents actually seem to want to help. You are forced to register on their sites in order to see properties (clever them, data capture and all that). But just when you think your email address is being sold to a Chinese dildo manufacturing plant who will send you countless emails from here on in about 'getting satisfied your way', you receive a perky email from Dan or Jana. They'll be ever so personable. Not pushy. Just like a buddy. 'Hey, you need some help there friend finding that house? You tell me if you find 'the one' and I'll just head on out and take a few extra shots for you. Or if you need any other info, you just let me know and I'll be right on it. Take care now, Dan'.  Contrast that with the British 'Computer says no' approach and it's hard not to be seduced.

The bottomline is this, once you start looking at American house porn, you can never go back to British. I might as well just buy our tickets now.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Putting down roots

The last month or so has taken me to some weird places mentally and emotionally. As previously mentioned here and here, we put our house on the market having no idea where we would move to, but knowing that where we currently live isn't right for us. We have spent weekends visiting Devon, the Isle of Wight, Hamble and Lymington. We've gone to see 12 houses. I have spent a ridiculous number of hours looking at houses on the internet, researching schools, lifestyle, sailing clubs and commuting distances for just about everywhere in the south of England.

And here's the thing. What we want doesn't exist in the UK. And so now the US is seriously being considered.

But it has made me think deeply about what makes a place home, when your own roots have been pulled up with an industrial size digger. My husband comes from a town in the UK that he has no desire to return to (and I share this sentiment entirely). I'm from South Africa and we will never move back there. It means we are rootless. The world is our oyster. We can put down roots anywhere. How liberating. Yet how bewildering. Scary. Lonely. Directionless.

Marrying a Brit and moving here meant I had to go through the strange experience of losing my national identity. I realised very early on that to fit in I'd have to become British. I picked up a Britsh accent (although I still have an SA twang). I took the British-ness test and swapped my green passport for a pink one, no dual-nationality for me. I retook my driver's license and learnt a new Highway Code, including learning how to navigate roundabouts (or traffic circles as I used to call them).  I've learnt all about the British schooling system, health system, tax system, government, media, everything. There are still times I know that I'm not British - like when someone famous dies and the whole country goes into mourning and I've never heard of them.

But it's happened. I've become British. I now support the English rugby teams over South Africa. Traitor I hear the South Africans hiss. But it's true. In my heart, when England plays SA, I'm rooting for the white shirts with the red rose on it.

And now, having embraced this new culture, with tiny shoots starting to dig into soil, we're suggesting that we rip up the seedling and plant it in foreign soil. I'm pretty hardy, so reckon I'll manage to adapt and grow. But what will I be then? American? British? What? How many times can you change nationality before you lose all sense of yourself? What about my children? I think of them as little English boys. And I love that. But if we went there, they'd become American. Not British like their dad. Or South African like their mum. But American. Something neither of us is. Are we happy with that?

Ultimately I want to find a place to put down roots and let them grow and grow so that our children and their children will have the pull of a place they call home. But choosing the right place is so incredibly hard when you have absolutely no history there. It's quite simply pot luck.  And it's not just my life or my husband's life that is affected by this. We are choosing our children's future. That's pretty huge. And I thought choosing their names was difficult.

Friday 8 October 2010

The Gallery: Discovery

I'll confess. I am a Gallery virgin. Oh I've been lurking for a while now, but have just not managed to get my act together to actually post a pic. But today I thought I'd have a go. If you don't know what the Gallery is all about, see it here at Tara Cain's Sticky Fingers blog.

The theme for this week is: Your favourite photo

Hard one. I have many. I considered pictures of my children, husband, family, holidays and lost loved ones but finally settled on this series of pictures which I'm calling: Discovery

I very recently posted one of these pictures and a story that went along with it, so I am going to cheat a bit and suggest you read this post for the full story.

But to add: these pictures represent a discovery. A discovery of what an amazing place the ocean is. A discovery of how beautiful the world is. A discovery of what I am personally able to achieve. And a re-discovery of me.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Winter coats in carseats - safety alert!

When I had my first son, I remember that the midwives wouldn't let me take him home until they could see that he was strapped into his carseat. As it was winter, it was freezing so we bundled him up in his ultra-cute all-in-one puffy snowsuit and away we went.
I remember sitting next to him on the backseat watching him breathe, terrified that something might happen to him (I think it took me about 6 months to return to the front seat of the car).

Little did I know though that while I thought my baby was strapped in safe and snuggly warm, I was actually potentially putting him in danger. Here's why:

When you put your baby into a carseat wearing a thick coat or snow suit, you tend to tighten the straps as tight as you can to the coat, not the child. But in an accident, coats can compress (just sit on a puffy coat and see how much it squishes down to get the idea). If the coat compresses, the straps will be too loose which means your baby could get flung from their seat (which has happened in the US - hence the reason Americans seem to know about this but us Brits don't).

The reason I know about this is because a client of mine - - has spent the last year researching it. We spoke to experts who specialise in car seat safety testing and they said that the fault didn't lie with the coats, but with the parents who don't tighten the straps enough. Apparently, 60 - 80% of all car seats are used incorrectly, with harness tension being the single biggest failing.

But how tight is tight enough? As parents we all know what it's like when you try and strap a child into a car seat in a thick coat and pull it super tight. The whinging starts immediately about being uncomfortable and hot. So you may be tempted to loosen the straps....

Morrck suggests that you do The Two Finger Test to figure out if a coat is too thick - like this:

1. Put the coat on the child.

2. Strap the child into the car seat and tighten to ensure a snug fit.
3. Remove the child from the car seat – without loosening the straps.
4. Take the coat off the child.
5. Strap the child back into the seat – but don’t adjust the straps.
6. Do the Two finger test. If you can fit more than two fingers underneath the harness at the child’s shoulder bone, the harness tension needs to be tightened or avoid using the coat in the car seat.

And if you want proof as to how much of a difference coats make to the harness tension, watch this video
Obviously this begs the question: how do I keep my child warm on cold winter days? There are a bunch of ways, from placing a blanket over your child to letting them wear a thin fleece. 
Morrck also has an innovative product called the Baby Hoodie that lets you strap your baby in to the car seat in their indoor clothes and you then simply wrap the hoodie around them. It doesn't affect harness tension, is easy to open if the child gets hot, is easy to get to the emergency release button and has been tested in a crash test lab for safety (and passed with flying colours). In the interest of transparency, I repeat, Morrck is a client of mine so I would say their product is great, but if you want to see what other people say about it, click here
This is the hoodie in action below
You can find our more information on this issue by clicking here - there's also a second video that shows you how to use a hoodie. So please help spread the word about this relatively unknown safety issue - whether it's at toddler groups, NCT classes, the school gate, Twitter, Facebook or blog posts - particularly as it's getting colder and those coats are going to start coming out!

Friday 1 October 2010

Why search a country when there's a whole sodding world

Since my last post about moving house, I feel as though I've been on a funfair ride that keeps going faster and faster, and just as it slows down and I feel as though I'm getting my bearings, it speeds up again and I lose all sense of direction. In fact I'm starting to feel a little sick.

The problem is that I really don't know where I want to live (despite thinking I'd found my spiritual home). I know that it's probably not where we currently live. But finding a place that ticks all our boxes is proving a little difficult. And I'm not talking the perfect house. I'm talking the perfect village or town.

Where is there somewhere that offers me the feel of small, friendly place where you're not just a face in the crowd, but equally has enough va-va-va-voom? With people like us (or PLUs as we've come to call them). That has big enough house sizes and gardens with access to the sea and sailing but isn't so exhorbitant that you have to live on beans and toast in your deluxe kitchen? That has fantastic schools and is commutable to London and not too far from airports or friends or or or...

It's too hard. Nowhere feels right. And maybe that's because I don't know anywhere well enough. And when you're trying to start a new life without knowing a thing about the place you're starting it in, it's a bit like Russian roulette. You can take those kind of gambles in your twenties, but when you have two kids and two careers and have to realise that you can't keep uprooting if something isn't right, then it makes it all a little more tricky.

Just to add to the mix, husband has just been away for a week in the US. And it was hard. He's regularly away like this - which is what had led us to think that us living far from London is ok because he can weekly commute and he'll be at home about as much as he is now. Except he won't. Because now he at least has the option to come home if he's in London. If we live too far away, he won't. Do I really want to be a single parent for the foreseeable future?

Can't we find somewhere that ticks all of our life boxes? Am I really unreasonable to expect this? I know Phil and Kirsty are all about 'compromise' but which bit do you compromise on? How do you figure out what is most important until you do it and realise, "oh shit, we made the wrong choice."

And while husband was in the US, he chatted to his boss about our impending move and she said that if moving to the US was something we'd consider, to let her know. Nothing immediate, but there could be.

And this then throws open a whole pandora's box. Finding somewhere in the UK where we can visit (albeit briefly) to investigate on weekends is one thing. To move to a new country and embrace an entirely new lifestyle is quite another. We used to live there, and I LOVED IT. But that was pre-kids. Now I am more fearful. Everything seems harder. You can't just find a swanky one bed flat in the heart of the partying district. You have to find somewhere with good schools and community and blah blah blah.

If we moved to the US, what would happen to my work? What would happen to all I know about being a mother? Everything works differently there.

But, on the other hand, when you look at US properties for sale (and obviously I have looked - me being the house porn slut of the year 2010), everything just looks shinier. Bigger. Better. More well kept. Less dowdy. Did I mention bigger.

Should we be adding the entire US of A to our search criteria on Rightmove?

It's all far too exhausting. I shall now retreat to the drawing room with a small snifter of brandy to recover.  Do let me have your thoughts.