Sunday, June 26, 2011

The sun has got his hat on

There are a number of songs that I had never heard before I came to the UK, such as "The Grand Old Duke of York", "Miss Polly Had a Dolly", possibly even "Jerusalem". Another one which was on my mind today was this classic: "The Sun Has Got His Hat On."

I've just discovered that whether I had knew this song or not should really have nothing to do with living in the UK, in that it came from Me and My Girl. I guess it just goes to show that even as someone who claims to love musicals, my knowledge is limited!

At any rate, I do have a soft spot for this song, because back in the days when I had a life outside my work and family, I took an amateur singing class in the evenings and one term we did songs from Me and My Girl. We sang "The Lambeth Walk" as an emsemble, along with "The Sun Has Got His Hat On" (the phrase "has got" instead of just the American "has" indicating possession still never sits quite right with me...I always pause in bewilderment when I hear that roll off Blake's tongue like he's some little English boy...oh wait...). In the singing class I somehow got signed up to be one fourth of a quartet, a part which seemed to require me to be tone deaf to ignore the low and the high parts going on around me. I was the alto in the harmony, but I kept getting sucked into singing the higher part, and perhaps the whole thing would have been better if I had actually been tone deaf.

Today, down in Horsham, we were all saying hip hip hip hooray, because the sun was OUT! Like, for the first time in about a month. We were at Terri and Duncan's for Miss DB's half birthday party (her birthday being Boxing Day, December 26th), and it was so nice to be outside in the sun. On days like this, it's hard being the mother of two of the world's palest children. I usually spend about 20 minutes slathering them in SPF 50, fretting for an hour following that I missed a patch or two and visualizing the cherry red sunburn that I can see starting to form under the surface (among delusions of seeing eggs frying on the tops of their feet and things like that) and wondering if I should just go apply some more, and then finally spending another 20 minutes or so convincing them of the need for Mommy to do one more reapplication of the sun cream. Then they look even more ghost white, fall and get sand and dirt stuck in the cream, and are ready to go inside a few moments after I've applied the last squirt of cream and am ready to sit down with a cold drink.

We had a lovely day, though, and it was really uplifting to have the sun shining. June has been pretty bleak and very un-summerlike, and it's amazing what an effect that can have on one's mood. The boys had a crazy fun time running around in T and D's massive garden and we got out the little paddling pool, though Noah didn't really want anything to do with it and Blake didn't even pay it any attention; that's how grown up he acts when around babies! The day concluded with a fantastic baked bean eating competition, won by the eldest Lyons (child) - congrats, Blake, you can eat beans really fast! You made us proud. Next time competition may be stiffer as Chris was overheard saying he had wanted to be included.

It will be interesting to see what weather July has in store. Anyone here in the UK who followed my amateur singing shenanigans will no doubt forever associate the (actually rather racy) "June is busting out all over!" with me and the term we did hits by Rodgers and Hammerstein. It will soon be goodbye to June, but let's hope the sun keeps his hat on. Or at least puts on some sunscreen.

Here are some pics from the weekend, including an al fresco dining experience in the garden last night. Spaghetti bolognese alla Mama Lyons (with help from a secret ingredient courtesy of a family recipe). Noah really enjoyed his as you'll see from his face!

June weekend

Rambles on shambles

Like many folks in the UK, I spent the month of June keeping a close eye on my credit card statement, my Visa credit card statement, to be exact. What's the big deal about Visa, you wonder? Normally, nothing, in that I'm credit card agnostic, but Visa is the only card that was accepted in the, what is now becoming known as a complete farce of a ticketing process, ballot to secure 2012 Olympics tickets.
Back in April, both Matt and I went through the possible options of events available and basically laid our cards on the table (that's right, our Visa cards) in terms of saying what tickets we wanted - or were at least willing to pay for. With rumors that the demand for tickets was going to greatly outweigh supply, everyone was encouraged to try for events which were less popular than others in the hopes of getting something when this all went to a random ballot for selection. There were stories of people applying for £30,000 worth of tickets, in the hopes of getting something. There was no guarante that they would get anything, but they certainly stood a hell of a better chance than we did; I think between us Matt and I applied for about £500 worth of tickets. The catch was that you had to be able to pay for them, now, and even before you were told what they were for. To see £200 come out of your bank account and not know what you had purchased until a month later does seem crazy, now that I think about it. Anyway, this was the system that was used.
A few weeks ago I saw a charge appear on my card statement for £52.00. Running through my list of what I had applied for, I worked out I'd received tickets to either BMX cycling or beach volleyball, both of which I was actually excited about. It wasn't diving or athletics, but 1 million people applied for 100m final tickets (I didn't), but it was clear that diving and athletics were where there would be massive oversubscription. The £52 represented 2 £20 tickets for me and Matt, and 2 "pay-your-age" tickets for Blake and Noah at £4 and £2, and a £6 booking fee. Out of his application, Matt got nothing. All in all, I was pleased, given that I then went on to hear that about half of the 1.8 million people who applied didn't get anything.

Second-chance tickets went on sale on Friday, but Matt didn't bother trying for anything, and I wasn't eligible because I had actually received tickets the first time around. The process has certainly turned a large percentage of the British public off the Games entirely, which I understand. We live here, we pay taxes which will no doubt help fund the entire event, and yet many people - genuine lovers of sport, and children who will no doubt be deeply disappointed - will miss out completely on seeing events live. I had read a lot about the process before making my application, and there were lots of people who were making comments about the fact that they'll have the best seats in the house when they're watching at home on tv. I think it will be neat to see something in person, but there should be other ways of feeling involved, like going and touring the Olympic Stadium at another time, and simply being in London. It's difficult to know how I'd feel if I hadn't received anything...probaby disappointed, but hopefully not bitter. On one BBC blog, a lady made a comment that she hopes it rains the whole time. That made me laugh. Namely because it probably will anyway...I just hope it isn't raining when we're supposed to be at the beach volleyball.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The joy that a £1 coin can bring

On Sunday we went out to look for a sofa bed, to replace the futon currently living in our dining room and serving no useful purpose apart from to collect homeless items and dust.
At the mall we went to, the boys wanted to go on a little mechanical ride, a boat whose passenger was none other than Iggle Piggle from In the Night Garden. We got three rides for a pound, and for the 3 or 4 minutes or so that the normally soft and peaceful music was being ground out of the riding toy, all was good with the world.

The art of storytelling

I learned tonight - the hard way, of course - that I am a very good storyteller. How do you know that? I hear you asking! Blake's story of choice tonight was different to the normal selection of a royal pachiderm going on lavish adventures with his entire, enormous family (I'm talking about Babar Comes to America - somewhat antiquated 1950's story where the female elephants aren't allowed on cable cars in San Francisco; Babar Comes to the USA - updated version where the elephants email and the children imitate adults talking on their cell phones; and Babar's World Tour - where the children learn to say hello in many languages, in the course of a trip that most working adults could only dream of doing a mere part of. Of course eventually the kids get bored of all the Parisian fashion shows, hiking the Inca Trail, and snorkeling in Thailand and want to go home to play ping pong in Celesteville).

Anyway, tonight Blake decided that he wanted to read a Charlie and Lola story. I'm sure this choice had nothing to do with the fact that Matt had tonight presented Blake with a box set of Charlie and Lola dvd's - 80 episodes so that we may never have to watch the same one twice (although Blake will decide he only likes one in particular and will insist on watching that one again and again and again). The book he chose was entitled Boo! Made You Jump, and although I'd read this one before to him, I must have been super-effective tonight. We got to a point where Charlie and his friend Marv were leading Lola and Lotta up a creaky staircase. Marv shouts out, "A ghost!" which I read in a very dramatic voice, and unfortunately Blake was really really not expecting this - his bottom moved literally a few inches off his bed and his cup of milk went flying, resulting in milk all over his pillow and sheets. He then burst into tears and took a long time to console, bless him! I couldn't help laughing amidst trying to shush him - the look on his face was just classic.

Fortunately, he knew just what would calm him down, so after swapping the duvet around and getting Matt's pillow for the night, it was back to Babar and his world tour. Nothing scary there, apart from imagining what it would cost to take a family of 6 to every continent on the globe for an adventure holiday unlike no other.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Is it Monday yet?!

It's very rare, but occasionally I have one of those weekends where I honestly will be glad when it's over and I can go back to work! This was one of them. I'm not sure what it was, exactly, but it just was not much fun. A key factor may be the weather, which is giving no sign of resembling anything like summer, despite the fact that we'll hit the longest day of the year on Tuesday. For much of the past week it's been rain, rain, and more rain. Great for the garden, but not for the spirits!

Friday night I stayed up baking a cake for an NCT Nearly New Sale that I was volunteering at on Saturday morning, but I didn't procrastinate in making it so was in bed at a decent hour, I think. Saturday I headed over to the sale to help out, while Matt entertained the boys. Noah wasn't really feeling well and had a horrible night last night, so I was up and down multiple times in the night - think it's just a summer cold thing but pretty unpleasant.

This morning I had Blake all excited to help me make Matt a special Father's Day breakfast, soft-boiled eggs and toast strips, and I got perhaps a little over-ambitious and decided to make banana-walnut pancakes too. I don't know why I keep trying with pancakes; basically mine are always flat, undercooked or burnt, and never live up to anything like how I want them to taste. These were no different. Worse yet, even though I was under specific orders on how long to cook the eggs for, they came out nearly hard-boiled. Not a very good start!

We decided to try to head out of the house to do something fun, which is when Matt discovered that after loading the boys into the car yesterday after going to the park, he had forgotten to put the buggy in the car. We drove over to have a look to see if some minor miracle meant that it had stayed by the side of a pretty busy road over 24 hours later, but we were not in luck. He went back later and put up a sign saying "Lost Buggy", but I fear we have said goodbye to our good friends Phil and Ted. I tried to remain positive about the loss - keeping in mind it was only an object, a replaceable item, something that the boys would have grown out of eventually - but it was kind of hard given that the cost of the P&T means that we will likely not be replacing it (I think after our house, car, bed, sofa and wedding rings, that buggy was my most valuable possession - not considering of course, our priceless children!). I'm going to tell myself again, it's just an object, although the whole thing kind of put a damper on the day. The thing that's perhaps the most ironic? That it got lost while I was volunteering at an event for parents to sell on their baby wares and clothes that they no longer need...argh!

Anyway, tomorrow is a new day, and I hope that Phil and Ted are enjoying the first day of their missionary trip to some other family. I hope Noah's better tomorrow, and as for Blake, he's been a pretty good boy this weekend. He is really obsessed with the movie Cars, which I have now finally watched in its entirety, if not all at once in one sitting. I really love it and can't help welling up at the James Taylor "Our Town" song and at the end when Doc Hudson comes on the radio to surprise Lightning at the Piston Cup. Yesterday Blake asked me why I was crying ("Because I'm so proud of Lightning" was what I came up with) and today he came over and said, "What's that?" while pointing at the streak of a tear down my cheek. We've had a good time reading Babar's World Tour at night; he laughs and says, "That's not French!" when I describe what Babar and his family are doing in Italy.

Night night for now. Hope you have a great start to the week!

Happy Father's Day! my Dad and to Matt, who are two of the best fathers I know.

Here is Grandpa John on the swing at his office back in April:

and here's Matt with our little joker Noah, who put Blake's pants on his head a few weeks ago...

Thanks, Dad, for being a great father to me for 35 years, and thanks, Matt, for giving me the honor of being a mother for 3+ years! I love you both!

Monday, June 13, 2011

She who offers ice cream but not a consistent bedtime shall be damned to evening battles

The boys were coloring with markers yesterday afternoon, and Blake did some pretty impressive drawings, including one which started off as Mickey Mouse and turned into Blake and Matt (Blake is very rotund, Matt very tall and thin...?). Noah went to nursery looking like the bride at an Indian wedding who'd had her hands painted in henna, such was the indelible mess he made on his palms and fingers with green magic marker.

Tonight Matt and I both vowed that tomorrow night was going to be a different story in terms of bedtime 'round these parts. Blake has literally not been falling asleep until about 10:00 pm, which is a minor challenge to the aim of giving either Matt or me a chance of a life beyond the activities which are, I believe, called "bathtime" in other people's homes (in our house it's the thing that makes Mommy and/or Daddy shout at small people for not listening and not understanding that, just like the night before, a small person needs to take a bath or at least a shower so as to get clean enough for the activity that follows after, again just like the night before, which is called "bedtime".) Things are a real struggle these days! Tonight was extra super fun because Noah threw up his bedtime bottle all over me and all over his rug, and then wouldn't go to sleep for about an hour afterwards. I never did manage to get a shower in, so I consequently still smell like puky formula - good good times!

I'm sure tomorrow will be better, and if Facebook is any indication, other parents out there are struggling with the years beyond the age of 2, which I think is understandable. The "two's" come with such big hype about how awful they're going to be (think "Terrible Two's") and then nobody mentions that 3 can be pretty hellish as well. Apparently 4 may be as bad or worse! My theory is that we all get too exhausted and fatigued to provide the hyperbole and dialogue about the terrors our children are being, and maybe by the time they're 5 the shock will have worn off, and by that time the kids will have developed a bit more of the prefrontal cortex and not make us want to constantly tear our - now grey, natch - hair out. Then we'll say with a kind of glazed look in our eyes, "Oh, was that a bad age, really?!"

When they're not making me crazy, the boys can usually be found in the back garden, being as sweet as the ice cream their mama is giving them in exchange for a few minutes of peace at the end of a long day. There are not many of Blake because he tends to be quite focused on his ice cream and prefers a look of sulking concentration to Noah's generally gleeful looks. Enjoy!
Ice cream

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Happiness Advantage

I’ve taken to calling the flight in April my “near-death experience”, and although most of the pilots on the forums I’ve read would probably argue that it was nothing of the sort, it still kind of jolted me into an increased self-awareness about the fragility of our time on earth. Our arrival back was interestingly timed with a webinar that was offered to us at work, a 2-hour session with a “happiness psychologist”, the American Shawn Achor. Whether it’s that I was just more open to receiving some tips or whether he’s just brilliant, I don’t know, but these two hours have really helped shaped my thinking in the 6 weeks since I watched it.

His philosophy hinges on something he calls the “happiness advantage”, which is that people who act happier and try to be happier are naturally more successful. He explained that many of us think we are working toward a goal or an objective with the aim to feel “happy” at the end of the project, but it’s the more successful people who recognize that if they take pride and feel achievement along the journey, they will be more happy; we will likely never reach absolutely all our goals or ambitions – or if we do, we’ll keep coming up with more things we want to do, so being happier on a day-to-day basis means we can achieve more as opposed to seeking an unattainable goal. He outlined some specific strategies for trying to adopt the mentality of being happier, and I have followed 2 of them pretty rigorously for a few weeks now and am loving how I feel. I’ll summarize them below:

- Daily gratitudes: it’s impossible to have a good day, every day, but he argues that there are always things to be thankful and happy for. This practice is about recording, every day for 21 days, 3 things in that day for which you are happy or grateful. They need to be specific, so writing down “I’m grateful for good health” is perhaps too all-encompassing. He told a story of a senior financial executive who introduced this with her family as part of their dinnertime routine: they would all go around and say 3 things for which they were grateful. On some day back in the midst of the 2008 economic crisis, the executive came home and with the burden of a financial disaster on her shoulders, she was too distracted to ask her family for their gratitudes. It was only when her daughter asked her why they hadn’t done them that the exec stopped and realized that although the days’ events were bad, there were some things that she could do to help resolve some problems and that she needed to be positive to make a plan to do that. [if you’re cynical of bankers, you may disagree, but don’t discount this practice because of that!]. Achor also reported that after 6 months of doing the daily gratitudes, something like 75% of people reported finding their partners more attractive.

- Exercise: he mentions that regular exercise is as effective as taking an anti-depressant, so I’ve been running 3 times a week in the build-up to a 5K run in July. I never really liked running, but it’s been very liberating to be able to just open the door in the evening and head out for half an hour of peace and quiet, and time to think . Of course it is the summer, when the days are long and the weather is good; God knows what I’ll think when November rolls around and it gets dark at 4:30 pm, but for now I’m enjoying my runs.

- Journaling about meaningful events: if you’re unsure about what gives you a feeling of purpose or meaning, Achor says to pick one event or activity from your day from which you felt a sense of meaning or purpose. Describe it in writing (with pen/paper or electronically), spending about 45 seconds to 2 minutes just writing about what it meant to you and why it was positive. If you do this for 3 weeks, you can then look back and try to find a theme or a thread of those things that give you a sense of purpose. He mentions that in re-living the event, people actually embellish the facts so that it mentally becomes even more positive after the fact!

- Tapping into your social network to spread happiness: Achor says positive people make other people around them more positive. He mentions a study where two people were paired up with one being given specific instructions not to smile at the other person no matter what they said. When faced with a smiling person, most people – even though they had been told not to – could not stop themselves from smiling. In this exercise, you reach out to people with happy thoughts, things like a “hello” or a message of thanks. The likelihood is that they will respond in kind, and the feelings of happiness can then radiate back and forth between you. Being kind and happy toward others will make them be more positive and happy to you, and so on, and so on.

Now I know that none of this sounds like rocket science, and some things – especially exercise being good for - seem very obvious. But there was something about the way he presented these theories and encouraged us to adopt them, that was so effective for me. I’ve been doing the daily gratitudes and the exercise and have generally had such a more positive outlook on life. I love it! Have a go and see if it works for you…

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Cute pics

I was looking through the blog the other day and thinking to myself that I just need to post more occasional photos as opposed to saving up all my tales, stories and anecdotes for my Sunday-night posting sprees. Here are a few of my recent faves.

Noah wants to be a big boy like Blake...and well, he's starting to seem like one too!

Blake is often in a good mood at dinner. He's often also in a bad mood at dinner, but today was a good mood day.

Who me, cute?
Focus not quite right here and very over-exposed but still like Blake and this ladybug taken in our back yard the other day...

It is so LOUD

Noah was having a great time this afternoon bashing his spoon into his bowl of Cheerios...I got a good sequence of shots where I had to fast forward ten years to an image of our buying him his first set of drums...sigh, boys...

Oooh, it's loud!
Are you ready...?!It's loud but funny...
Cover your ears, Blake, it's sooo loud...!