Monday, September 30, 2013

Having it all

Today is my first day back at work. The needle of reality - work, and the need to earn a full salary once again - has burst my lovely stay-at-home mum bubble.

But I don't think it needs to deflate it too far. As far as returning to work goes, I have a fairly soft landing. Not for me the horrors of leaving the house at dawn and returning at dinner time, with Lady P marooned in a nursery for five days a week.

Thanks to TLOML's unusual working hours we are able to get away with part-time childcare. Most of the time Lady P will be with the lovely childminder who she already knows well. Another lovely childminder across the street will take her for an afternoon a week, leaving TLOML to be Daddy Daycare for three mornings each week - a time traditionally spent having coffee with me and Lady P anyway. He's also in charge of the best time of all - Wednesday afternoons, which is the time my mum and my sister take her twins to the pool. So TLOML can teach Lady P to swim (okay, to splash) in the pool in which I learned to swim, and with her rufty tufty cousins for company. So far she has loved being in the water, which I ascribe to her water birth, and TLOML to his swimming prowess. If the smile on her face and the gleeful kicks are anything to go by that Princeton swim scholarship could be a realistic goal. (Hothousing, us?).

Yes, it's wrong to be so prescriptive about Lady P's future. But isn't it a lovely campus?

Best of all, because we have the luxury of working from home, we are keeping Lady P with us for naps and mealtimes. Officially, I'll cover breakfast (before 9am) and dinner (after 5pm), but in practice I think I'll be timing my lunch break to coincide with hers. I may even change the odd nappy, or sneak in the odd cuddle, if I get five minutes between powerpointing and conference calling.

The only cloud on the horizon is that unfortunately sometimes our clients like to actually see us. As in, in the flesh, not on an IM or a teleconference. So we'll both have to do a bit of travel which will strain the patchwork of childcare somewhat. But since it won't be for long, I'm hoping we can just muddle through.

As I post this, TLOML and Lady P are happily watching the Redskins game. Well, she's pretty happy because she's being fed her afternoon bottle. TLOML not so much, for the Redskins are not playing well. Still, it looks like this whole Daddy Daycare arrangement is going to work out pretty well.

Is this what 'having it all' means? One day in, and it feels that way to me. Long may it last. And if Lady P keeps up her swim training, and goes to Princeton, and gets a good job, maybe she too will have it all. Though to look at her now, burping happily as she watches NFL Sunday, I am beginning to doubt whether she will share our lofty ambitions.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Life in limbo

We're in limbo again. Waiting for a visa, would you believe. We had thought Big Corp would give us a fast, easy route back to the US. My old boss there was eager to re-hire me, it was just a matter of formalising the role and then the Big Corp machine would start rolling to secure me an L1 work visa, which should take five or six weeks. Two months after we agreed that course of action, the Big Corp machine hasn't even started rolling. There's a lot of talk of HR people not returning calls, role profiles not being approved, and generally things that need to happen not happening. Rest assured, my US boss says, it will happen. But no-one seems to be in any hurry.

Meanwhile we've decided to apply for a Green Card. This is the long-term solution anyway as it means my time in the US won't be tied to my fortunes at Big Corp. We had hoped to put it off till we'd been married two years, as that way you get a permanent Green Card rather than one with a 2 year renewal requirement built in. And presumably they don't ask you how your spouse likes their coffee, once you've been married a couple of years. But we don't want to wait. So we've filed our I-130 and are just hoping that the US immigration bureaucracy is not as Kafka-esque as the UK Border Agency. Also, scarred by last year's experience, this time we're paying an immigration lawyer to fill in and file the forms.

Finger crossed either an L1 visa or a Green Card are produced soon, and we can get out to the West Coast and begin the next chapter.

What's the rush? Well, primarily because TLOML's business needed him to be out there about a year ago. Every month we're here is another month working weird hours and not seeing his clients as frequently as he should.

Also, life in limbo is trying. Although I'd like to live in the lovely bubble that is Saltburn for ever, now we've decided we're moving back to the US I just want to get on with it. The sooner we get out there, the sooner I can start my grieving process and we can get settled into a new cosy rut and routines.

Plus being here temporarily means we make lots of short-term arrangements that won't work long-term. Like the fact my office is in London and I now have to commute to work. That's fine for a month or two but I can't stand it for much longer. We only have part-time childcare, thinking we can fill the gaps between us as we both work from home. Again, not really tenable in the long-term. Not knowing how long we'll be here makes it hard to commit to things like block-booked yoga classes, and large quantities of spices for the larder. And if I'd know we'd be here so long maybe I would have unpacked my beloved books which have loomed in a tower of boxes in the corner of our dining room since April.
Library in limbo

Okay, it's not disastrously difficult but just nigglingly annoying. Still, the upside is that I get to enjoy life in Saltburn for longer. And,a bit like all our 'last ever date night' date nights before Lady P came along, not knowing when we'll leave makes us savour it all that little bit more.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Supper Club

After months of decrying the lack of dining choices in Saltburn, I recently got a seat at the hottest table in town: the Saltburn Supper Club. Like all good Supper Clubs, it's a little bit secret and feels somewhat exclusive. Tickets sell out quickly and the address isn't unveiled until you book, giving the whole affair a rather clandestine appeal. Not quite as much so as the swingers club that apparently takes place on the Longbeck Trading Estate, but enough of a frisson to suit me.

I've actually eaten at a couple of Supper Clubs before. The first was the well-known Ms Marmite Lover's Underground Restaurant. She nailed the whole cloak and dagger vibe, I must say. We had to say a password - brilliantly, it was 'Hasta la victoire siempre' that night - in order to gain access. We bought raffle tickets for a wine bottle raffle: every ticket was a winner. A nice dodge of licensing laws and provided that 'just the wrong side of the law' thrill. The food was fantastic, home cooking elevated almost to restaurant standards. And the enforced socialising - sharing a table with strangers - made for a fun night.

In Los Angeles we ate at the lovely Pace Webb's Supper Club. Pace is a fantastic chef, using local ingredients from the incredible larder that is SoCal, and she uses her Supper Club to test out new recipes. We were very happy guinea pigs, I must say - I ate some of the best food I enjoyed in LA at Pace's Supper Club, and in some lovely LA homes too. 

So I went into the Saltburn Supper Club with a knowing look and some high standards.

Readers, I was not disappointed. In fact, the Saltburn Supper Club exceeded my expectations. It is now officially my favourite Supper Club in the world. The food was great. Maybe not Chef Pace Webb standard but pretty darn close. The hosts are a transatlantic couple, so I warmed to them immediately, and they used to run a food truck, so know their onions, literally. The atmosphere was suitably low-lit and hush hush. Best of all we (my sister and schoolfriend and I) were seated with two of the most unlikely characters - probation officers/crime writers with an obsession with Tibetan terriers and a strong aversion to flying - you could imagine. We had a very good evening, and the randomness quotient was off the scale.

I think the reason it was my favourite Supper Club is because it's in Saltburn. Because that feature of Supper Clubs, which is the enforced chit chat with strangers, is just so much more fun in a small town. Never mind small talk - you can get straight into a detailed debate about the best bacon sandwich in town and the scandal that is the closure of Hazel Grove after every storm.

So, I have a new favourite restaurant, and its super local. The sad news is it's only open twice a month. But we're getting used to those kind of opening hours. I can't wait to return with TLOML. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

School Uniforms vs School Buses

I felt a pang the other day when I saw a little girl in a sweet, dark grey pinafore with a pleated skirt, over a crisp white shirt. I love school uniforms. Preferably the old fashioned, pinafore kind. But even the sweatshirts and any-old-trousers kind are better than none. No school uniform just increases the amount of garments a child – and her parents – have to worry about getting right, in the name of social acceptance. And yet, that is the American way: individuality of dress from the outset. It’s a few years off I know but I’m already sad that Lady P won’t get to wear a sweet little pinafore every day.

I hope she has sufficient strength of character not to suffer the paralysis of indecision I know I would, if I had to choose a different outfit for school every day.

If she doesn’t cope well I may impose a school uniform of my own. And yes, it would involve a pinafore. Perhaps a straw boater too.
Buy John Lewis School Box Pleat Tunic, Grey Online at
The plus side of the American school system is, of course, those jolly yellow buses. Every so often I forget, and say to TLOML as we pore over some new house listing on line ‘I wonder what the school run would be like from there’, only to be reminded that for most parents, there is no school run. Just a walk to the nearest bus pick up point.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tired of London, tired of life?

I’ve spent a little bit of time in London lately, both with and without Lady P. Londoners will be pleased to hear that my love for it has been revived. Seeing theatre posters, the purchase of kim chee, the flower stalls outside Tube stations, crossing the Thames, reading on the Tube, ah, London! Lovely London!

And that’s before I even think about the people. So many people hustling and bustling around in outlandish outfits. The average Joe just looks more edgy and sophisticated in London, I think. And older people look younger - like those nicely batty looking 70 year old women with felt beads and feathers in their hair, or cool 60-somethings in jeans and Converse. You don't see as many pensioners in denim outside of London, it seems to me. And then the people who really matter, our old, dear friends, some of whom have admittedly moved out but are still in arm’s reach.

And yet, I admit to feeling some of the things I used to consider ridiculous when out-of-towners said them. The daft statements that used to irritate me on the lips on visitors come to my mind. Like, how long it takes to get anywhere. And how crowded the pavements are. How noisy it is everywhere. And feeling that familiar clamminess on a warm Tube after walking at a fast clip along a rainy street.

Seeing people with buggies on public transport I think ‘what a hassle’. Funny that, considering I always thought London was the best place to raise a family (thanks to all those wonderful parks and the cultural events on the South Bank…) and manoeuvring a buggy on public transport would have been a normal part of the London life we were planning until recently.

I suppose it’s post-rationalisation. Perhaps best I don't to examine it too deeply.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mists, mellow fruitfulness, etc

It is certain to exasperate, bewilder and infuriate TLOML but I am properly excited for autumn. I love, love, love autumn. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call it my favourite season - after all, it goes on too long and is just a bit damp at times. But the start of it, the change in the air, the arrival of chillier mornings, crisper days, earlier evenings, and oooooh, soup! - is just lovely.

I haven't had an autumn since 2009, just before I moved to the US. There's no real autumn in Los Angeles, since those palm trees never shed their leaves. I might start wearing a coat in the evenings, but that's about it. No leaf-kicking, bobble-hat-wearing walks there.

Manhattan, I had thought, would offer us a proper Fall. Instead we just lurched from a hot, humid summer into a brutally cold winter - with a couple of bipolar weeks in between. I remember a snow storm at the end of October, when earlier that same week I'd been out with bare arms. At least we did get to see a few pumpkins, and the seasonal display at Rabbit Hutch Towers was quite autumnal, but that was it.

Last year in London autumn started straight after spring, sometime in mid July. It was hard to really get excited about it since there was no sense of seasons changing: it was just a year of endless chilly rain. We did have a nice apple harvest, but that alone does not an autumn make.

This year, after a summer of long, sunny days and bright blue skies, eating outside and actually needing sunscreen, autumn makes sense. This year's harvest (from my parents' garden) knocks last year's into a cocked hat. A couple of stormy nights have brought branches down in the Valley Gardens, giving my runs a nice cross country vibe. We had spaghetti bolognese for dinner last night, the first time I've craved something warming and hearty since May. And as I type this I feel, for the first time in months, the need to put socks on. The thrill of it!
Harvest time - Autumn 2013

I suppose I can indulge my love of this time of year even more than usual. After all, we'll be in sunny LA before the dark afternoons and grey mornings get monotonous.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Essential equipment for parenthood

People go a bit mad when they have a baby. It must be the sleep deprivation. Or all those hormones. Or perhaps just the sheer enormity of the task of parenting. It's understandable that one might go a little nutso.

So people become hygiene freaks. Or neurotics with video monitors and mattress sensors. They start thinking tiny socks are 'adorable' (as opposed to just a useful garment for a baby). I won't throw the first stone. I too have wept in BabyGap. And I check Lady P's still breathing at least once a night.

Still. I haven't gone so completely doolally that I think the 'Daddle' - aka Daddy Saddle - is a good idea. But someone must have done, because it is a real product that actually exists.

Nor do I think it's worth spending £30 on a bucket in which to bathe Lady P.
I think I'll skip the dummy which plays music and takes her temperature, too.

And the baby food organiser. Got shelves already, thanks.

It's like the stuff in Skymall. Only more ridiculous. And because its aimed at parents, probably way more successful. Ah, pity the parents, for our minds are so addled we may not make good consumer choices anymore.

(For more bonkers products check out

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A guest suite - and windows are a must

TLOML was in LA at the weekend and did a little neighbourhood surfing, on our behalf. We're pretty sure we want to live in Manhattan Beach, but if we also really want decent space for guests, we may need to look at Hermosa Beach, the next suburb south.

The thing is, I really really really want decent space for guests. If you live on the other side of the world (okay, not quite, but feels that way sometimes) you need to make it easy for friends and family to stay for as long as they possibly can. Which means a good, spacious, reasonably private guest room.

This was the argument I made when I first moved in with TLOML. His Beverly Hills apartment had a mezzanine floor he used as home office and guest space. But, being a mezzanine, it was open to the living space. Which meant no privacy, not really. So when we started flat hunting for something by the beach, I insisted on a separate guest room with its own door. Oh, and a window too.

A window is worth stipulating because there are a surprising number of apartments for rent in Santa Monica which have a windowless second room. The lack of windows means it can't be properly marketed as a bedroom, and the apartments are therefore much cheaper than other actual two bedroom places. Goodness what people use these second rooms for - perhaps a home gym, or an office with no view to distract. But surely no-one can sleep in a room without a window?

I stuck to my guns and we ended up with our lovely, scruffy, surfy apartment over the water - with two bedrooms, both of which had a window. We only had one bathroom, which meant the potential for shower queues whenever we had guests. Still, at least they could sit on their bed and look out of their window while they waited.

We took a step back in Manhattan where a second bedroom is just an insane luxury, but once we moved into Fox Corner I felt we'd really nailed our guest accomodation. Two bedrooms, and two bathrooms. Then Lady P came along and suddenly that second bedroom got all filled up with baby clobber. In our little house in Saltburn we have at least part of the dream - three bedrooms.

But only one bathroom. Thanks to Lady P I have to snatch my shower in a precise ten minute window, which may emerge at any time between 7 and 10am. I don't have time to queue. I also hate having to wait to get a hair bobble, or contact lenses, while a guest uses the bathroom. Say if I've got 20 minutes to go for a quick run. I have to choose between running with glasses on and loose hair, or trimming my run back. Annoying. And probably annoying for the guest too, to hear me pacing on the landing while they go about their ablutions. The bathroom squeeze is further exacerbated if the guests have kids - suddenly there's a bathtime queue in the evening, as well as the grown up shower queue in the morning. The prospect of this makes me so tense (Lady P's bathtime is the highlight of her day, but must be timed just to avoid a splashy meltdown) that friends with kids who've visited us here have been asked to stay, um, elsewhere.

I'd like to be more hospitable when we settle back into LA. So I'm insisting on a house with that crucial third bedroom. With its own door and window. And at least two bathrooms. Ideally, I'd like the guest room to have its own little sitting room or nook attached, so friends with kids can put them to sleep nearby. And wouldn't it be nice if it had its own entrance, so they could come and go as they please?

Basically in addition to our family home, I'd like a guest house.

This is Leonardo Di Caprio's house in Malibu. It has two detached guest houses. What?! A girl can dream, can't she? Plus, I figure if I set my sights this high - we'll at least land on a guest room with windows.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Don't call me Mummy

Unless you are Lady P. Or TLOML or a close family member, voicing Lady P's needs. For example, if I say, 'Would you like some milk?' to Lady P while you are holding her, it's perfectly okay to say 'Yes please, Mummy'. TLOML might say 'Let's go find Mummy' to her, and I'm fine with that. But that's about the limit.

Likewise, I won't refer to myself as 'Mummy' to anyone except Lady P. As in, 'let Mummy help you' - as she steers another piece of sweet potato to her face, forgets what she was doing and smushes it in her hair.

Surely the death of romance is the moment you and your husband start calling each other 'Mummy' and 'Daddy', even when there's no child in the conversation - or even in the room. And I would never introduce myself as 'Lady P's Mummy' to anyone except a small child.

Because 'Mummy' is a word that infants (and, okay, some grown up poshos) use for their mothers. It is not my name. I'm her mother. I have a grown up name of my own. Let's be adults about this.

I may be in the minority of mothers in feeling this way. At least, judging by my Twitter feed and the blogs I follow. Why so many people with Twit-handles like '@CutesyMummy', '@FullTimeMummy', '@MummyAndBabyBoo', '@MummyAndMe', and so on? And blogs called 'MummyMadness' or 'CraftyMummy'. No, really.

I've tweaked the names so as not to offend too directly, but you get the gist. They really do exist, and more nauseating names like that, dozens upon dozens of them. I'm focussing on the Mummies, but there are just as many 'mamas' and 'mommas' also making me feel slightly queasy.

But maybe I'm not the target audience. Maybe their child is old enough to read, and they are blogging or tweeting for them. Which is actually even weirder.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Rich pickings

Regular readers may remember last year's bumper harvest at Fox Corner. We, of course, couldn't hope for the same from our humble little yard this year.

Happily, my parents live five minutes away and have an abundance, nay, an excess of fruit.
This represents about 5% of the current apple crop

So many plums my dad has had to prop the tree up.

To think I always cite 'the wonderful stone fruit' as one of the many great things about California. And here I am with perfect plums literally dropping off the trees. I must add this too the list of great things about Yorksire, and Britain (not that that list needs any further lengthening. It will be hard enough to leave as it is).

What on earth are two people going to do with all this fruit? They're busy too - they barely have time to pick it, never mind eat it. Or so I suspect. So I'm helping them out.

'Only take as much as you'll eat in the next two days', my mum said. They don't keep well, these apples. Well, Lady P enjoys an apple as much as me. Which is a lot. Plus half the apple ends up on the floor. Hers, that is, not mine. So I took this many.
These should keep me going for a day or two.

Think I'll go back later this week and get enough for apple pie. Just to help my parents out, you understand.