Monday, December 31, 2007

Highlights of 2007

It's New Year's Eve at MarathonMum HQ and we are celebrating in style. We have already played a rousing game of Harry Potter Scene It (Thanks Santa!), Thing One and Thing Two are currently amusing themselves by watching Wallace and Gromit while I compile this short list of the year's highlights. I would have liked to have blogged about many of the things included on the list, but life got in the way, so now I'm trying to recover by including it in my Year in Review. I should say that when I was a newspaper reporter, this sort of story would have been written about a month ago so it could run today while I was somewhere else. But alas, as I had no editor breathing down my neck asking where the year end story was, that didn't happen here. But without further adieu, here's my personal highlights:

Compliment of the Year: Thing One, Thing Two and I were riding an Amtrak train from Washington to Philadelphia one rainy Friday. We were sitting in a quartet of seats, with the fourth seat being taken up by an older man who took the seat grudingly and only because it was the last available one on the train. After a bad storm, the train slowed to only 6 m.p.h. and consequently was delayed by more than two hours after lightening had hit the power station. But we endured, reading books, doing sticker books, eating the care package that Aunt Christine had made us and enjoying our portable gaming devices. As we got up to leave in Philadelphia, the older gentleman turned to me and said, "You have very well behaved children."

Story of the Year: Without a doubt, The Canoe Man. Amazing. Man presumed dead after kayaking. Walks into a police station years later, saying he can't remember anything. But ACTUALLY, he was living next door to his wife, using a secret passage between houses, they pay off their debts and move to Panama. Now here's a lesson for people planning to do the same thing: DON'T AGREE TO HAVE YOUR PICTURE POSTED ON THE INTERNET, EVEN IF YOU ARE IN PANAMA. The Interweb, and especially Google, is an amazing thing. You should also know that Canoe Man is a misnomer, but that's the nickname the British press came up with, and it stuck.

Sports Highlight of the Year: Being in a first-place tie (for one day, but still) in my Villanova friend's NCAA tournament. Very impressive, I think, particularly when you consider that I was one of two international entrants (the other one was in China, stealing the Furthest Away Crown from me. Drat.)

Trip Highlight of the Year: Has to be, hands down, getting to see the inside of the infirmary at Disneyland Paris on Thing One's 8th Birthday. This could also be called the "Maternal Lowpoint of the Year" since I kept saying to Thing One, "Come on! You'll be fine! We're in Disneyland, for goodness sake!"

Worst Play of the Year: "We the People" at the Globe Theatre. It was written by Eric Schlosser, best known as the author of "Fast Food Nation." Should we have been dubious that a play about the forming of the American constitution should have been a good one? Yes, indeedy. But I did pass some of the time looking at each audience member, trying to see if Schlosser's father-in-law Robert Redford was there. He was not. We left.

Best Book of the Year: "The Road." Incredibly haunting, and not a particularly enjoyable read, but amazing just the same.

Saddest Story of the Year: The Cutty Sark Fire. For the residents of Greenwich, it was like a death in the family. She will rise again, though, for that we can be sure.

Best Musical of the Year: I have to say that I don't usually go in for musicals, but this year I got to enjoy two: Mary Poppins with Thing Two in September and The Sound of Music with Thing One in December. I'm hoping they took away some wonderful memories from our "dates" but even if they didn't, we had a great time. Even funnier, it was the second time that Thing One had been at the London Palladium, having seen "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" there was he was nearly three. Sadly, he didn't remember it at all, not even the flying car.

Best Meal of the Year: Thanksgiving. Once again, we hosted a Thanksgiving party for 22 of our closest friends and their children, and the majority of attendees did not hold U.S. passports. But who cares. It was a great day of sublime food, and all the better if more people can learn to appreciate the best holiday of the year.

Here's wishing you and yours a wonderful 2008 full of good highlights. See you next year!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas in London

A faithful MarathonMum reader wrote in, wanting to hear all about Christmas in London. So for my friends near and far, here's a taste of what our past month has been like:

A visit to Santa:
Thing One and Thing Two had a day off from school on 3 December, so we took the opportunity to go see Santa at Selfridges, one of the nicest department stores in London. Lucky for us, Santa at Selfridges has joined the 21st century and we could book our time slot online. It was a fantastic experience. A snowy grotto with animatronic animals greeted us, before we boarded a TRAIN (a miniature one, but still) to go see Santa himself. Time Out London agreed with me and said it was the best Santa experience in all of London. Afterwards, I stole a tradition from a friend of mine and took the boys to the Christmas department where they each go to pick out an ornament: Thing One chose a bird in Santa's boot, and Thing Two chose a St. Nicholas. It was magical.

I thought about going to see Santa at Harrod's. But only because a few years ago I took my brother there in December and he thought it was the best Christmas display he had ever seen in a department store. Every year since, he's asked me if we went to Harrod's this year. I don't have the heart to tell him that only tourists go to Harrod's. So I did originally try to book us in to see Santa there that day. But they were booked up even when I checked more than a month before we wanted to go. Apparently, Harrods started taking reservations in August, but that just seems wrong to me. So we didn't get to see the Harrods Santa. We did have a walk around Harrods (post-Selfridges) and the boys LOVED the toy department. But I still maintain that no self-respecting Londoner would actually shop there on a regular basis.

Parties, parties and more parties
We spent a good part of the month attending parties, and we probably went to about 15 in all (which explains the paucity of posts this month). Class parties, family parties, company parties, Cub Scout parties, swimming parties, pilates parties: you name it, we probably went to a party for it. Unfortunately, going to so many parties sort of sucks the party spirit out of you. When told that Thing One had a Cub party the following day, my knee-jerk (emphasis on jerk) response was, "Not another sodding party!"

London, all dressed up
One of the nice things about having Christmas in London is all of the beautiful Christmas decorations. Here in Greenwich, they started a new Christmas tradition of Advent Windows: every day in December, a different house decorated a window (or in some fine cases, many windows) and they were assigned a day to "open" their window, like a live Advent calendar. It was wonderful. If I get a chance (ha ha ha) I will try to post pictures of some of my favourites.

Thing One and I were also lucky enough to sort-of see the lighting of the tree at Trafalgar Square. It was the night we were lucky enough to score tickets to see the "Sound of Music", and we were in the bus, passing the unlit tree, but there were scores of people surrounding it, as though something was about to happen. Sure enough, when we were on the bus on the way back a few hours later, the tree was all lit up, looking very Christmasy. (Though I have to say that the Jersey Girl in me still thinks the tree in Rockafeller Plaza is still WAY BETTER. Sorry.)

Our Leading Man
Every Christmas Eve for the past five years, our church does a children's nativity, and Thing One and Two have played a part in it since the beginning. We've had heavy experience in the role of "Shepard", but this year, the organizer called to ask (a bit hestitantly, it should be sasid) if perhaps Thing One would be interested in playing Joseph. Would he ever! He went on to tell me that the parents of the first girl he asked to be Mary had turned him down because it wasn't a speaking role. I almost told him I would be Mary, since I was passed over when I was 8. They made me head angel. Bah. It's an oversight that still stings to this day. But they found a Mary in the end, and Joseph (and one of his faitful shepards, Thing Two) did a wonderful job.

Christmas Recovery
Finally, the best Christmas tradition to be had in London has got to be Boxing Day. It's also known as "The Servant's Christmas" because that was the day the servants got their boxes with presents inside, and they also got the day off. I like to think of Boxing Day as "Mom's Recovery Day". On that day, we share our traditional Boxing Day meal of Pizza and the Standage-McKees. This year, I started a new tradition: The Two-Hour Nap. Long may it continue.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas season.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Message from Thing One

Thing One (age 8) and I were walking around town, doing our last minute Christmas errands, when I screwed up the courage to ask him the following:
"Is there anyone in your class who doesn't believe in Santa?"

After all, this is what they call in "The Polar Express" a critical year. He's old enough to apply some logic to the situation, and obviously there will be many discussions with his classmates in the playground. But it should also be said that he hasn't expressed ANY doubts this Christmas season and his belief appears to be steadfast.

Thing One replied, "Well, there's a few people that say there's no Santa, and that it's your parents who do it.

"But I told them 'That's crap! There's definitely a Santa!!' "

A Merry Christmas to all.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My 39th Birthday


Today is the day I turned 39 years old. (Or, it might be the first time I turn 39, only to repeat it every year. Watch this space.)

But I really wanted to celebrate, and I had just the bottle with which to do it. When I ran the London Marathon in 2005, my friend Liz, who was also running, and I organized a raffle to raise money for our charities-- Cancer Research UK for her, CAMFED for me. At the time, she was working at the Houses of Parliament, so she was able to get a bottle of House of Commons champagne for our raffle.

As it happens, my great friend Mollie won the champagne. On the day of the marathon, when I passed her at Mile 4, I kept yelling, "You won the champagne! You won the champagne!" It's a good thing she wasn't at Mile 24, because the information would not have been so enthusiastically broadcast. A few days later when I went to present the prize to her, she handed it straight back to me. "I'm so proud of you," she said. "You earned this."

Then, as often happens with prized bottles, it sat in our wine rack, waiting for a special occasion to drink it. The wait became even more complicated in January, when my doctor prescribed me a drug for my arthritis that means, for the sake of my liver, I can't drink any more except for Very Special Occasions.

I decided that my 39th birthday would be a Very Special Occasion. Personally, it has been an interesting (a euphimism for challenging) year for me, and I was glad it was behind me. It was time to open our House of Commons Champagne with some of our great friends. Wine lovers will know that since it is called champagne, it is from France, which I find very ironic. You'd think they'd be able to source some British sparkling wine, but I digress.

When we opened it, I argued that it was too bad we didn't have a House of Lords bottle to compare tastes, as one could presume it would be of a higher quality. I thought the House of Commons Champagne was just OK, but others at the table said it was fine.

In the end, the taste of the champagne didn't matter. What was more important to me was what it signified: an accomplishment for which I am quite proud, but also, optimism for the days ahead.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I'm Smarter than Nicole Kidman!

My Brain Age (according to More Brain Training by Dr. Kawashima): 23
Nicole Kidman's Brain Age (according to the commericals advertising same): 24

Take that, Nicole! You may be beautiful, blond and all the boys want to date you, but I'm smarter. Ha ha! Actually, it seems like high school all over again.

My addiction to More Brain Training happened like any addiction: slowly, without me really noticing. Now while I'm not quite at the point where I need to do brain training to get out of bed, it's not far from it.

The problem is that it offers daily validation as to my intelligence, and gives me a chance to improve it-- at least by the standards of the game. I doubt I'm smarter than when I first started my training and my "Brain Age" was 80. I mean, 80?? Had I completely lost my edge while I stayed home with Thing One and Thing Two?

So I relentlessly started training. Obviously, because I'm not THAT sad, I didn't apply myself to the task to the same degree as my marathon training in 2005. But I had to point to prove: Just because I'm not working, or "retired" as Thing One recently described it, does not mean that I have the brain of a geriatic.

This morning, after about a month of "training" I finally beat Nicole Kidman's score. However, the cynic in me also suspects that the clip was edited for commerical purposes. She is moving far too slow in those commercials to have a brain age of 24.

Thinking about what I knew when I was 24 (not much, frankly) versus what I know now (a book's worth), I can't understand how a younger brain age shows that you're smarter. How could a 24-year-old punk be considered smarter than a world-weary 38-year-old?

It doesn't compute. But I don't care: I'm smarter than Nicole! Validation for today has been attained.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Halloween Recap

Halloween 2007 received rave reviews from Thing One and Thing Two.

"This was the best Halloween EVER," said Thing One.
"I had so much fun at our Halloween party Mom. Didn't you?" asked Thing Two.

Halloween in the United Kingdom has been an evolving holiday since we first arrived here almost nine years ago. The very first Halloween, in 1999, coincided with the baptism of Thing One. I had asked neighbours if it was a big deal, and they all replied in the negative, so I didn't buy any candy. As it happens, I was also dealing with a brand-new baby, so Halloween was low on the list of priorities. That year, we had few random trick-or-treaters, but there was nothing in the shops to indicate that this was a holiday that was celebrated here.

Things have moved on since then, or indeed, since 2002, when the only Halloween accessories I was able to find in the shops here was one pack of Halloween napkins, found at Waitrose.

This year, you couldn't move for all the choice of Halloween things available in the shops. I even heard less grumbling about the "Americanization" of the U.K. as more children embraced the idea of dressing up and getting candy in return. As I make no apologies about being an American in London, I figured it was up to us to celebrate the holiday fully, so we had a party for 15 children and their parents.

One of the perks of being a foreigner abroad is you get to make your own traditions and rules, but also incorporate the best aspects of things from home. To illustrate: I made the children play "Bobbing for Apples." I could not explain the reason for the game nor why it's played on Halloween, but we did it anyway. The kids got SOAKED, but they had a great time.

By the time the games had been played, the pizza had been eaten and the children were about to burst from excitement, we set out for Trick-or-Treating. Thing One was dressed as Sam, the first monkey to survive space travel. Thing Two was dressed as Harry Potter (and he even has the British accent to say it properly).

We hit the mean streets of London for only about an hour, and we only visited the houses of friends, but that was enough. The kids got a bag full of candy and (hopefully) a head full of fun memories.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Through the Years

2002
2003



2004


2005


2006


2007
A big thanks to My Most Excellent Friend Kirstin, who was the photographer for most of these pictures, and who also provided the front door setting and created this Halloween tradition.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Our Half-Term Break

Thing One and Thing Two (not to mention their mother) jammed a lot of fun into last week's half-term break.

We:
* Attended the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards
* Went rock climbing
* Saw Ratatouille
* Braved the Dinosaur Museum
* Slurped some noodles at Wagamama
* Made Roman tiles at the Museum of London
* Admired the crack at the Tate Modern
* Attended the U.K. premiere of the Bee Movie

So when Thing Two arrived back at school this morning and was asked what he did over half-term, he cast his mind back over this wide variety of interesting and educational activities and replied,

"We went to Burger King!"

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards: Searching for Us on TV

Live Blogging the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards: The Edited Product

It's 11 a.m. GMT and we're gathered around the hearth, I mean the TV, to see if we made the final cut of the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards.

McFly opened the proceedings. I don't know any of McFly's songs, but apparently they do a lot of covers, and I lucked out with the opening song, as it was a cover of "Pinball Wizard" by "The Who." So I could sing along and pretend as though I was a McFly fan.

You also will not be surprised to hear that there is a great deal of camera trickery involved, making the venue seem about three times bigger than it actually was.

Also, there's lots of kids in the front of the stage. The only reason that happened was because they announced at least a half dozen times, "Moms and Dads, please move to the back. The area around the stage is for KIDS ONLY."

Thing One and Thing Two are enjoying predicting the winners. Since we were there, that's not a hard thing to do.

The presenters and winners keep saying "This evening." I don't know why: we filmed in the afternoon, and they're broadcasting it in the morning. Maybe they want all the kids watching to be jealous of the kids who are there, thinking that they were allowed to stay up past their bedtime.

Emma Watson just won favourite actress. This was one of the few people who I (a) knew and (b) was genuinely excited about seeing. You can tell she's important, because the burly security guy is following pretty closely behind as she walks through the crowd. She looked amazing, too. Even the Fug Girls agreed.

McFly just won favourite band. I can't help but wonder if they only agreed to host the show if they won something. But given the recent phone-in voting scandal in Britain, and the fact that the Nickeldeon viewers voted on the winners, I doubt very much the good people at Nickelodeon would have tried some monkey business. Then again, you never know.

Shayne Ward went to pick up an award. I didn't know who he was, either. In my head, I was mixing him up with cricketer Shane Warne. Shayne Ward is a singer who's won X-Factor. Apparently. They also refer to him as the "Prince of Pop." Wasn't that Michael Jackson? (A quick Google check actually reveals that the Prince of Pop was Andy Warhol.)

Next Up: The Burping Contest. We might be on TV! Not for the burping, but because we were sitting next to the judge's table. (The fix was in, by the way. The producer told the H2O girls just before the bit, "Brian is the last one, OK?") Sadness. We weren't on TV! This was the one time I thought we might make it past the final edit.

Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) now is there to present an award. Goodness, he is lovely in person! I guess all of that Harry Potter evil makes him look uglier than he actually is. Would I go to jail for lusting after Draco? Or will they make me join the Slytherin House?

McFly is back, and now everyone is magically waving Glo-Sticks over their heads. "Why didn't they show handing out the Glo-Sticks?" Thing One wants to know, because it is he who braved the scrum on the floor to secure one. "They did it during the break, but they edited it out," I explained. At this point in the filming, I sould point out, Thing Two was snuggling on my lap, hot, tired and completely disinterested in the proceedings.

The Slime Squad just made their appearance. I'm trying to see if you can see us running for the exits. You can't, but we were.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Surviving the Nickoledeon Kids Choice Awards. Or how I managed not to get slimed on Saturday afternoon.

Thing One and I were playing a highly competitive game of Monopoly Express on Saturday morning when a friend called. Were we doing anything that afternoon? Would we be interested in attending the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards?

Now although Nickelodeon and its younger sibling Nick Jr. are played semi-regularly in our house, I didn't know anything about the Kids Choice Awards. A dim light bulb went off in the back of my head, as did the words "green slime", but that was about all I knew about it. As it happens, we were free and so were the tickets, so I gladly accepted.

Once off the phone, I told Thing One and Thing Two where we were going, and much celebration ensued, because while I knew nothing about it, they knew all about it. "McFly!" they said. "McWho?" I asked.

Later that afternoon, as we made our way to the Excel Centre, I wistfully recalled the days when I was a journalist and living in Freebie Heaven: free books, free CDs, free videos, free dinners, free theater tickets, free you-name-it. The dosh was fantastic, and gratefully welcomed, given the paltry salary I was making at the time. Those days are long behind me now, though, so it was great to hitch another ride on the Freebie Express.

Once we got to the Excel, I fondly remembered the last time I went there: to pick up my London Marathon number in 2005. You could tell right away something exciting was happening-- large orange people on stilts wandered around the crowds, Nickoledeon staffers waited at the door waving foam fingers, and hundreds of excited children were making their way to the sound stage/awards ceremony.

We walked past the security checks, got our Kids Choice Awards Special Guest passes (though on that day we ALL were special) and slowly made our way to the stage area. The decorating theme was Nickoldeon Orange and it was EVERYWHERE. On the way to the sound stage, the good people at Nick also had set up several fun areas for the kids: a dance floor, pictures with Nickelodeon stars and video games. We skipped all of this, though, because we wanted to secure a good seat inside before the fun began, which was due to start in about 30 minutes. It was a good thing we went straight in, too, because we really had to hunt for a seat since so many parents had spread out coats to save seats for their offspring still in the fun area. We finally got a good spot, but only because a woman who had saved enough seats for about 10 people (she was only saving for three others), decided to let us take three of the spaces.

Then we waited, and passed the time by counting the number of cameras, monitors and Nickelodeon signs. Finally, the warm-up guy came out and got us all on our feet dancing and screaming. After he did his bit, he told us we were going to be live on TV that day. What he really meant to say is we were "Live to Tape" (a term I learned when I saw an Oprah show, years ago), meaning they were going to run the show as it it were live. However, if a McFly had trouble reading the AutoCue, which he did, it also meant they could do it again and fix the mistake in the edit suite.

We spent the next two and a half hours watching various Nickelodeon stars win awards (I think the fix was in). I started to play a little game with myself, predicting the winners based on who they said would be at the awards show in the introduction. I was quite successful. I suspect that Thing One's T-shirt might even make it on to TV, given that he was standing behind the stars of H2O while they did a comedy bit. (By the way, they don't ACTUALLY have fins. I checked.) Thing One was thrilled to see David Beckham win Best Sports Personality (oops! Spoiler!) and Thing Two was thrilled to see The Simpsons win Best Movie (oops! Another spoiler!).

The Grand Finale, for which the audience was warned several times, was the Great Sliming of the Audience. Neither Thing One nor Thing Two were so keen on this idea. One woman in the audience even had a shower cap on her head in preparation. Once the Great Sliming began, we ran for the exits. We ran so we wouldn't get slimed, but also because we wanted to get the Nickelodeon Goodie Bags before they ran out.

It was hot. It was loud. It was something else. But in the end, it was fun. We will be watching on Saturday morning to see if we're TV stars now.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Harvest Time!

After months of watching, hoping and hardly any watering -- given that the skies took care of it for us this summer-- it was time to harvest our apple tree. As you can see from above, the yield was somewhat disappointing-- yes, we really only got three off our tree. (One fell off in the rain about two days before the harvest, and another was lost about a month ago).

So hardly enough for a pie, or even a small crumble. But the boys were thrilled. And it's possible we'll be able to double our output next year with just a little bit of work.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Happy Birthday Thing One!

Thing One is now officially 8 years old. Time flies when you're having fun.

I don't know how, I don't know when, but sometime in the last year, Thing One changed from a boy to a young man. He can engage in interesting conversations. He likes to go off on his own and read for a bit. His interests are getting older-- climbing centres instead of the playground, real golf instead of the purple plastic set, cello (!) instad of the recorder.

Over the weekend, as we were riding the tube up to St. Johns Wood, he wanted to sit on my lap. I realized that he's now too big-- too many long limbs-- to sit comfortably there. So then he moved on to his Dad's lap, and had the same problem. He was crestfallen (a bit) that his days of lap sitting were over. So I told him when we're at home and we have more room on the sofa, he can sit on our laps there. But how much longer will he want to do that?

We celebrated Thing One's birthday by visiting Disneyland Paris for the weekend (more on that later). Thing One's favourite ride was Space Mountain-- he rode it four times.

Finally, here is a short list of the things I love about Thing One:
1. His fearlessness. His love of roller coasters (see above) and all things fast at amusement parks.
2. His ability to try anything once. Last month, I made some fish pie for dinner. I asked Thing One, "Do you like it?" He replied, "Not really. But I'll eat it anyway."
3. His enthusiasm for new things: the cello, golf, all things electronic, Monopoly
4. His continued enthusiasm for old interests: Boy Scouts, swimming, Top Gear
5. His love of reading
6. His adaptability and love of travel.
7. His ever-present smile and laugh

Happy Birthday Thing One. May you have many more.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Well-Balanced Cultural Saturday

Experts say people should always eat well-balanced meals, advice I also like to apply to my cultural life.

Last Saturday, I started the day by reading "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy, and I finished the day humming the tunes of "Mary Poppins." A well-balanced day, by all accounts.

If you haven't read it, "The Road" is the Pulitzer Prize winning book detailing post-apocalyptic life in the U.S. It is bleak, bleak, bleak. If falling ash, gray skies, lack of life and total desolation is your cup of tea, go read this book. It is a haunting book that will probably stay with me for the rest of my life.

I've decided that the next time I'm really depressed, I'm going to read this novel again because I'm sure to conclude that no matter how bad I think my life might be at the moment, it wouldn't be in the same league as life in this book.

However, the book also forces the reader to evaluate their life, how they live it and what they're living for. It might also inspire some people to prepare emergency readiness kits. I took one crucial piece of advice from this novel: when you see the mushroom cloud, begin to fill up all of your tubs with water.

Having finished this bleak (but good) book Saturday morning at 10:30, I needed some sort of antidote to bring me back to normalcy. So I decided to go see "Mary Poppins" in the West End.

Mary Poppins was one of my most favourite movies growing up. London! Royal Parks! Dancing Penguins! Little did I know that 30 years later that would be my life-- other than the dancing penguins. Being an American, I had no idea that Dick Van Dyke's accent was so atrocious (though now it makes me wince). I still know all the words to "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Supercalafragalisticexpedaladocious." And since the musical is closing in early January, this was my last chance to see it. Luckily, I had young boys at the ready to drag along to the show, so I wouldn't be this sad thirtysomething sitting alone in the audience, singing along to the shows.

Thanks to my good friends at TKTS, I was able to score half-price tickets for the matinee that day for Thing Two and me. I extended the invitation to Thing One, but he was keen to go out with his dad. Our seat were in the stalls (the orchestra, for my American friends), but we only paid £30 for £60 tickets. One of the many perks of living in Greenwich is that we were only 30 minutes away from the theatre (including the walk from the train station), so getting there was easily done.

The musical was magnificent. The acting was a little wooden, sure, but you soon forgot about it when you saw Bert dancing on the walls and the ceiling of the stage-- my favourite bit-- and Mary Poppins flying over the audience. The staging alone was worth the price of admission. (Well done to my friend Pat, who worked on putting together the staging when it opened in 2004). It was a completely over-the-top musical with singing and dancing as only the West End and Broadway can do.

I loved it, as did Thing Two. And by the end of Saturday, I had managed to partake in a well-balanced cultural meal.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

International Talk Like A Pirate Day

Ahoy mateys!
Happy International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

They have a website , of course. (Who doesn't these days?)

I realize this post is too late in the (British) day for anyone to actually spend a large amount of time singing sea shanties while wearing black eye patches, but perhaps you could mark your calendar for next year.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A New Car Game

I am attempting to clean up my desk, which is no small feat, let me assure you. But while I was recycling old dress shop receipts, magazines, business cards, and scraps of paper I don't need anymore, I found an intriguing slip of paper. Last year, when we went to France for two weeks, I kept track of all the country car stickers we saw. It reminded me of the classic American car game when you try to see the most state licence plates, and then have bragging rights to the back seat. So this is my list from last year:

B Belgium
S Sweden
D Germany
NL Netherlands
F France
I Italy
DK Denmark
E Spain
L Luxembourg
CH Switzerland
CZ Czech Repulic
IRL Ireland
A Austria
GBJ Great Britain-Jersey*
(that's like seeing Alaska or Hawaii)

and finally, on the back of our own car,

GB Great Britain


In case you're wondering, yes, I did have bragging rights for the front seat, but it didn't mean much because I was the only one playing. Now back to the desk....

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Back at School


Thing One and Thing Two returned to school Tuesday. It was a sad day all around. They were sad because they knew it was an end to the lazy days of summer where normal operating rules do not apply. I was sad because they were gone and I missed them.

A week before, I kept thinking, "Hooray! Back to school! Two whole hours a day to myself!" But this morning, I kept thinking, "Back to school ALREADY? Summer was too short. Please, can't we just have another week?"

The sadness really surprised me, but the real shocker occurred when Thing One left me at the school door. Now that he is a Junior, and all grown up in the school's estimation, I drop him at the door and makes his way to his classroom. Previously, I left him at the door of the classroom, which enabled me to see his classmates, chat with his teacher if need be, and confirm that he made it to where he needed to be.

Thing One happily gave me a kiss, told me to have a great day, and he was off. I almost started to cry. It's such a small thing, having him go upstairs to his classroom, but all of the sudden he seemed so grown up to me. And all of the sudden, I could almost see all sorts of scenes from his short life flash before my eyes. I could hardly believe the cute curly-haired boy who taught me how to be a mother was now going off on his own.

When my boys were babies, it seems as though I always thought, "Faster. Faster. Faster," as I struggled though the monotony and hard work of looking after them. Now that they're older and more independent, I find myself thinking, "Slower. Slower. Slower," because I know soon enough they will both be more than happy to run ahead, and go off on their own.

Note: To see how much they've grown in the last year, go here.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Absurdity of Living in London: Example 2,472

When Mr. MarathonMum and I wanted to celebrate our 12th anniversary last night, I had to make reservations at two restaurants: one we really wanted to go to, and the second as our "safety" in case we didn't get into the first place.

Perhaps I could have been more organized and tried to book it at the beginning of the summer, rather than three weeks before. I'm not a London rookie after all. I know how these things work. I should have known better.

After several calls and e-mails around London being told there were no tables available, we got put on the waiting list at Locanda Locatelli. Then, much like applying to university, I found a "safety" where we were guaranteed a spot, but it wasn't our top choice. (I'm not going to name the restaurant because I'd still like to eat there some day.)

Being a fan of Georgio Locatelli and his cookbook, Made In Italy, and all things Italian, I really, really wanted to eat at Locanda. It's also known as a stomping ground for Madonna, Gwenyth Paltrow and others, so I thought we would some value-added celebrity spotting thrown in for good measure. As a lowly commoner in London, I decided the only way we were going to get a table would be to use my best talents: persistence and humour.

I shamelessly kept calling the reservation desk to see where we were on the list, and always threw in a few jokes to help our case. Honestly, I wasn't far from asking some people to write us some supplementary reference letters to help us get in. By Wednesday, she told me we had made it to No. 1 on the wait list. Woo-Hoo! By Thursday, we were still No. 1, but no one had cancelled their reservation. By Friday, we got the call we were waiting for: We Got In!

A tip to our not-rich and not-famous friends: Persistence and humour works.

We went last night. While it was perfectly lovely meal, it was neither the best meal we've ever had-- that honour goes to Angela Hartnett at the Connaught for our anniversary dinner in 2005, nor the best Italian meal we've ever had-- that honour goes to Antico Arco in Rome in 2003. It wasn't even the best Italian meal we've had this year-- that honour goes to The Silene in Pescina, Italy.

Don't misunderstand, we had a nice meal. We weren't disappointed exactly, but it didn't seem to be worth all the trouble to get a table. And we didn't see anyone famous.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Best Mother In The World

Friday marked the 10th anniversary of Princess Diana's death. The most moving part of the memorial service, attended by dozens of royals, prime ministers past and present, and a few celebrities, was the most simple.

Prince Harry, who was only 12 when she died, said in his eulogy, "To us, just two loving children, she was quite simply the best mother in the world."

Being a mother is the hardest job in the world. But isn't that how all mothers want to be remembered by their children?

Friday, August 31, 2007

Bruce Springsteen to be in my postcode!

The news nearly made me fall over: Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band will be touring the world in the autumn, and stopping in London in December. Not only will he be in London, but he'll be in my postcode-- SE10! (albeit on the other side of SE10, but still...)

I learned this the night before tickets went on sale, so I planned my strategy for Thursday morning at 9 a.m. Ideally, I would have preferred to be trying to get tickets online, but duty called and I had to be at the tennis courts instead, so I knew I would have to use my mobile to call Ticketmaster. How times have changed. Twenty years ago, the best way to score tickets would be to sleep out in front of the Ticketmaster office or the stadium where the concert took place. Obviously, I never scored good tickets 20 years ago because there's no way on earth my parents would have let me camp out for tickets.

Being the optimistic person that I am, I convinced myself that Bruce Springsteen wasn't nearly as popular in the U.K. as he is in my home state, N.J. "I think I'll get some tickets," I said confidently. "No way," said Mr. MarathonMum. "He's huge everywhere."

At 9:01 a.m., with the boys running ahead to the courts, I started dialing. Cheeky Ticketmaster has changed the phone system since 1987. Rather than getting a busy signal or a line that won't stop ringing, you get connected (and charged for) a recording that tells you that "due to the high volume of calls there are no ticket agents available." Thanks for nothing.

At 9:10 a.m., I'm still calling and ignoring both my friends and my sons in my pursuit of The Boss. I'm developing a callous on my thumb from redialing.

At 9:13 a.m. I begin to worry that I'll run out of Pay-As-You-Go credit.

At 9:16 a.m. I begin to hear the start of a different message. Could this mean I've done it? Alas no. As the Ticketmaster recording woman adds to her spiel, "All tickets for the Bruce Springsteen concert have sold out."

At 9:17 a.m. I yell, "SON OF A BITCH!!!", oblivious to the fact that several young children are nearby.

So Bruce Springsteen will be in my postcode, but that'll be the closest I get to him in December. Unless he adds some dates (again, note the eternal optimism).....

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Beach, Or How I ALMOST Got To See The Rolling Stones


It was another beautiful autumn day here in London yesterday...

Oh, wait. The calendar tells me it's August. But surely with the gray skies, blustery wind and ongoing rain it must be November, right? In any case, it was another terrible day and our fruit picking expedition got cancelled, so we headed to....

The Beach!

(Or as Thing One calls it, "The Fake Inside Beach at the Dome.")

The Dome, now known as the O2 Centre, shipped in a couple of tons of sand and set up a beach. Desperate to remember the hot fun days at the Jersey Shore just a month ago, we went for a visit.

A good time was had by all. We made a sand castle, we played with the free beach ball and we buried our feet in the very COLD sand. But unfortunately, as we were leaving, Thing Two got his finger caught in the door at the S&M Cafe where we had lunch. ("I told you we shouldn't have gone there," he said between sobs. "We should have gone to Pizza Express.")

I carried him over to the concierege desk and asked to be taken to First Aid, so Thing Two could get some ice, a band-aid and some attention. In that order. The man took us through to what I thought was the office, where I heard some thumping music. He and the other man behind the desk were discussing where the closest first aid station was and they decided the closest place would be backstage. I perked up immediately. Now THAT could be fun.

I then asked where the music was from.

"It's the Rolling Stones, doing their sound check for tonight," he said.

I quickly did the math: Thing Two Needs A Band Aid + Backstage First Aid Station + Sound Check = ME MEETING THE ROLLING STONES!!

The excitement was short lived. As I was doing that calculation, the man behind the desk did some searching and found a plaster for Thing Two.

I Can't Get No Satisfaction.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Help Wanted

With stock markets around the world imploding, it made me ever-so-slightly nostalgic for my old job, where a 4 percent drop in the FTSE would be enough to give me either (a) an adrenaline jolt so big it would take me two days to get to sleep; (b) a nervous breakdown; (c) a combination of the two. However, I got this e-mail from a friend describing my current job, and it made me laugh, so here it is for you to enjoy too.

POSITION: Mother, Mum, Mama, Mummy, Momma, Ma

JOB DESCRIPTION:
Long term, team players needed, for challenging permanent work in an, often chaotic environment. Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work variable hours, which will include evenings and weekends and frequent 24 hour shifts on call. Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in far away cities. Travel expenses not reimbursed. Extensive courier duties also required.

RESPONSIBILITIES:
The rest of your life. Must be willing to be hated, at least temporarily, until someone needs £ 5. Must be willing to bite tongue repeatedly. Also, must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule and be able to go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds flat in case, this time, the screams from the garden are not someone just crying wolf. Must be willing to face stimulating technical challenges, such as small gadget repair, mysteriously sluggish toilets and stuck zippers. Must screen phone calls, maintain calendars and coordinate production of multiple homework projects. Must have ability to plan and organize social gatherings for clients of all ages and mental outlooks. Must be willing to be indispensable one minute, an embarrassment the next. Must handle assembly and product safety testing of a half million cheap, plastic toys, and battery operated devices. Must always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. Must assume final, complete accountability for the quality of the end product. Responsibilities also include floor maintenance and janitorial work throughout the facility.

POSSIBILITY FOR ADVANCEMENT & PROMOTION:
Virtually none. Your job is to remain in the same position for years, without complaining, constantly retraining and updating your skills, so that those in your charge can ultimately surpass you.

PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE :
None required unfortunately. On-the-job training offered on a continually exhausting basis.

WAGES AND COMPENSATION:
Get this! You pay them! Offering frequent raises and bonuses. A balloon payment is due when they turn 18 because of the assumption that university will help them become financially independent. When you die, you give them whatever is left. The oddest thing about this reverse-salary scheme is that you actually enjoy it and wish you could only do more.

BENEFITS :
While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no tuition reimbursement, no paid holidays and no stock options are offered; this job supplies limitless opportunities for personal growth and free hugs for life if you play your cards right.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Something that made my day-- if not my year

This morning, as the boys and I were cuddling in bed, trying to get ready to face the day (a daunting prospect for us all-- we're ALL ready for school to be done) and discussing whether Boris Johnson would be able to beat Ken Livingstone in the election for London's mayor...
(EDITOR'S CORRECTION: We were counting down the days until we get to Aunt Kathy's house at the seaside and deciding what sort of fun things we want to do in America when we get there),

Thing One turned to me and said,

"I'm so glad I was born into this family."

My day was made.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tour de France in Greenwich

The bikers of the Tour de France rolled through Greenwich on Sunday, and we were there to cheer them on.

It is odd, to say the least, that the Tour de FRANCE would be in London, but apparently, every year the First Stage is mounted in a country other than France, and this year for the first time it was London's turn.

It was a brilliant sight to see the bikers (and their hundreds of support vehicles and buses) pass by, albeit in a flash. If you were one of the unfortunate Starbucks patrons who was standing in the queue from hell, you would have missed them. All credit to the British fans who did not use the biker's passing as an opportunity to shout, "Roids! Roids! Roids!"

About two hours before the bikers, a "Carnivale" rolled through that had a few hundred trucks and scantily-clad women promoting all of the "Official Tour de France" companies. They seemed to have everything covered, sponsorship wise: water, newspapers, cheese, candy, camping sites, eyeglasses. Every once in a while, the scantily-clad women would throw a freebie to the kids. The thing they liked the most was a "Visit Western Australia" ID badge. They liked it so much they spent the rest of the afternoon telling me, "Mom. We need to go to Western Australia TODAY!"

Thing One and Thing Two were inspired enough by the sight of the Tour de France to ask for an afternoon on their bikes. They then raced each other on the play street and announced, "We're racing in the Tour de France."

I decided that it wasn't necessary to make it a genuine experience by testing them for drugs.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Precious Things

Behind a non-descript door in the basement of our 200-year-old house sits a big black Victorian safe.

There’s only one problem with this big black safe: It can’t hold any of my precious things.

Mechanically, the safe works perfectly. Multiple keys, which we have, are needed to lock its many compartments and thick door. The heavy door, which could easily amputate a finger, is impressive. Inside the safe, there are several different-sized compartments and drawers in which to hold valuables.

So while the safe can easily store valuables, even though it sits empty, it can’t hold the thing I deem the most precious in my life: the good health of me and my family.

The importance of that simple thing—good health—came into sharp relief for me last November when I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. I was only 37 years old.

It was a long and painful road to that diagnosis, involving five doctors, four X-rays, one MRI and countless consultations during most of 2006. In the end, the correct diagnosis came from Google, the Internet search engine. I decided to try a consultation with Google after a medical study showed it was excellent resource to figure out hard to diagnose problems. Dr. Google came up trumps, later confirmed by two doctors.

Up until then, I took my own good health for granted most of the time. Why did I need to worry? I was in my 30s, I completed the London Marathon in 2005 and the only times I ever stayed in a hospital were when my sons were born. I never seriously thought I’d have to worry about the preciousness of my own good health.

My father, an eternal optimist, is fond of saying, “At least we have our health,” when things don’t go according to plan. In our family, that was always the fallback statement to make us feel better when things went wrong. When my father was made redundant, we said it. When I didn’t gain acceptance to the university of my dreams, we said it. When my brother got divorced, we said it.

But there have been times when the statement was no comfort at all. When my father was diagnosed with lung cancer when he was 48, we couldn’t say it. When my brother was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer when he was 40, we couldn’t say it. When I was diagnosed with arthritis when I was 37, I couldn’t say it. Our good health was the one thing we could always depend on when things went wrong. But once we couldn’t say, “At least we have our health,” we painfully understood how important and precious it was.

Last week, just as I was going to step into the shower, my mother called and said she had some news. As I could sense this was going to be a long call, and I was clothed only in a towel next to our front window on a busy street, I told her I would call her back.

By the time I did return her call, I had spent the previous 15 minutes pondering what the news could be. I worried that it could be news of a recurrence of my brother’s cancer. I worried that it could be news that the medical tests she just took revealed an undiagnosed serious problem. In short, I worried that the news was really horrible.

“We had a flood,” she told me, when I called back.

My first reaction was relief, but she was quite upset. A confluence of meteorological events meant the ground around my parent’s house got completely waterlogged, which led to more than 18 inches of water in their basement at the end of two days.

They lost many things that seemed precious but really weren’t: old records people hadn’t listened to in decades, boxes of my childhood schoolwork, love letters from my high school boyfriend. What broke my mother’s heart was the loss of hundreds of pictures, documenting our family’s history, and what she considered to be most valuable.

“But at the end of the day, it’s just stuff,” I told her. “It’s sad to lose it, but I was imagining news much worse than that.”

For good measure, I added, “At least you have your health.”

Because, like all precious things, good health is something you take for granted only until you lose it.


Editor's Note: There are many things I wanted to write about-- the Cutty Sark fire, our trip to Italy, the return of my running routine, but I'm short on time. Instead, I pasted above an essay I wrote for the Arthritis Care foundation for its writing competition. The only requirement to enter the contest was to have arthritis. The theme was "Precious Things."
"Result!" I thought. "Finally a perk of having arthritis. I've got it AND I can write. I"ll win for sure." As it happens, I didn't win, but I got a nice letter from them today saying that I was on the final shortlist, which makes me happy (though it would have been better if I'd won.)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Mr. Monopoly

If Thing Two is Mr. Movie (if you've ever witnessed his impressive grasp of the cinematic art form, you'll know why we call him that), than Thing One most definitely is Mr. Monopoly.

We experienced this first-hand last week while we were on holiday, as the lazy afternoons left us the several hours necessary to play the game (the adult, not the junior version).

Mr. Monopoly quickly gripped the nature of the game and devised a strategy. He bankrupted several members of his family in different games by loading up on hotels on just one piece of property (with his development on Bond Street being particularly effective). If you're wondering, his marker of choice was the dog.

He's now keen to resume the tournament this weekend, but first I'm going to have to excavate our own games, which are buried somewhere deep in the toy room, but I know not where.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Help Spread the Word About Madeline

I got an e-mail this morning about the disappearance of Madeline McCann from a friend urging me to send it to everyone in my address book. I decided to do one better and post it on my blog. I don't know if it will help, but it makes me feel better knowing that I did what I could.

If you haven't heard the story, Madeline McCann is a British four-year-old who went missing while on holiday with her family in Portugal. This is a story that has broken my heart, especially since she is just three days older than Thing Two. Her parents were dining in a nearby restaurant in their Mark Warner holiday complex. When her mother went back to check on her and her two siblings at 9:30 p.m., she was gone.

It is every parent's worst nightmare.

Here's what the e-mail said:
Madeleine McCann's family believe a new picture of the missing four-year-old
could play a vital role in the search for her.
The photo of the youngster shows clearly the her distinctive right eye,
where the pupil runs into the blue-green iris.
This is the picture:

It is this distinguishing mark that will identify Madeleine to those on the
lookout for her, according to aunt and uncle John and Diane McCann.
The Glasgow couple aim to distribute the appeal poster, which features the
Crimestoppers telephone number, as far afield as they can.

Mrs McCann said: "The purpose of the poster is to highlight the distinction
in Madeleine's eye. We want to make the most of it, because we know her hair could potentially be cut or dyed."

For more information about the search for Madeline, go to http://www.bringmadeleinehome.com/

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Happy Fourth Birthday Thing Two

Today is Thing Two's fourth birthday. I can hardly believe it, as it seems it was only yesterday I was walking slowly through Waterloo Station on my way to St. Thomas' Hospital, worried that I might give birth in one of the busiest train terminals in London. Thing Two very kindly waited to be born until I arrived in the hospital.

But I digress. Please indulge me as I list some of the things I love about Thing Two. Mr. MarthonMum might have his own list, but as this is my blog, I get to say what I want.

Top Ten Things I love about Thing Two:
1. How he loves kisses and hugs
2. His ever-present smile (even when he's upset)
3. His upbeat personality
4. His curly hair (shorter than it used to be, but still curly)
5. His appreciation of movies, thus earning him the moniker Mr. Movie
6. How he sings to himself when he's happy, but he doesn't want you to join in.
7. How he loves to cuddle up and read books, or page through them on his own.
8. His speed: all that marathon training paid off-- he's a fast runner!
9. How he loves his family, especially his big brother
10. How he gets excited and happy over really simple things.

Happy Birthday Thing Two. May you have many more.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

American Sports Knowledge (or lack thereof)


It's a beautiful sunny day here in London, so Thing One dug deep into the hat box-- past the winter hats and mittens-- to unearth his new Pittsburgh Steelers hat.

This was the first time he got to wear the hat, a Christmas gift from his aunt and uncle in the Steel City. As we reached the door of his classroom, I realized that some of his friends might ask about the hat and who the Steelers were, so I thought I should check to make sure that he knew answers.

"Do you know what sport the Steelers play?" I asked.

"Umm....." [insert thoughtful pause here]

"Cricket???"

[Editors Note: For those not familiar with the 2006 Super Bowl Champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers are an American football team. Thing One never guessed the right sport, so we will be sitting down after school for a brief sports history lesson. I'm sure his relatives in Pittsburgh died a little death when they read the above.]

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Happy Marathon Anniversary


Two years ago today, at this very moment, I was running the London Marathon.

One year ago today, I was limping around, due to a mystery problem with my left foot.

Today, I know these three things: (1) I completed the London Marathon; (2) I have arthritis (3) Making that marathon my first, and last, one.

April 17, 2005 was, quite simply, one of the most amazing days of my life. I had been a runner since I was 12, and a marathon was something I always planned to do, but life (job, family, etc.) always got in the way. Finally, in 2004, I "won" the London Marathon lottery and got my place. My plan was enhanced by the fact that I had to do all of my weekday training with Thing Two, who was 23 months old by the time race day rolled around. I called him my personal trainer, and to this day, I am amazed at how patient he was about the training, though I think all of the raisins and fruit bars along the way helped.

Two years later, I can still hear the roar of the crowds, the mission I shared with the 33,000 other runners that day, strangers yelling out "Go M0!" and, yes, the brutal pain that made me wonder why I wanted to do it in the first place. To keep me going, I kept repeating the mantra: Pain is Temporary, Pride is Forever. I also kept in mind that if I didn't finish, my chosen charity CAMFED wouldn't get the sponsorship money I promised it. In the end I raised more than £4,000 to send African girls to school, an accomplishment that makes me quite proud.

Now that I have been diagnosed with arthritis-- an especially interesting problem, given that I'm only 38-- my marathon memories have become all the more special to me. In November, my doctor told me I'd never run again. Never one to take no for an answer, I kept nagging him until finally last month he relented and said I could give it a try if I took necessary precautions (i.e.: 20 mile runs are a thing of the past). I've now been out on four runs and I'm thrilled to say my foot is not hurting all that much (though sadly, it's not entirely pain-free).

Even though I'll never run a marathon again, I know that I've done one. I'm just glad that I did finally do it in 2005, or else it never would have happened.

The moral of the story: Just Do It (whatever It might be: a marathon, a novel, climbing Mt. Everest) because you never know what life will throw at you.

To everyone who ran the 2005 London Marathon, (but especially my friends Laura, Liz and Sam) Happy Marathon Anniversary!

Just for kicks, and because I can, I've rerun the picture of me and my personal trainer at the family meet-and-greet area, where he tried to steal (or eat) my medal, which he earned too.

Friday, April 13, 2007

So It Goes, Kurt Vonnegut

American novelist Kurt Vonnegut, author of several mind-bending books including, "Breakfast of Champions" and "Slaughterhouse-Five," died Wednesday. He was 84.

I always had a special place in my heart for Mr. Vonnegut-- he was a great writer, an astute observer of human nature and (sympathetically) seemed to be on the brink of madness. But I felt a connection to him because we share the same birthday-- 11.11.

Mr. Vonnegut's books were an acquired taste, to be sure, but once you got into the swing of things, they were a real joy to read, and unlike anything you read before. "Slaughterhouse-Five," published in 1969, became a best seller, but was also banned in many U.S. schools, so you know it has to be good.

I can still remember the weekend I read "Breakfast of Champions" twenty years ago. (And no, it wasn't required reading). I was a senior in high school and an aspiring writer, and I couldn't believe how original, crazy and astute the novel was-- not to mention hysterically funny.

When we lived in Chicago, Mr. Vonnegut, a legendary chain-smoker, went to the University of Chicago in 1997 to give a talk and sign books of his then newly published novel, "Timequake." We got there too late to get a seat for the talk, but we were able to purchase a signed copy of the book. When I turned to the autograph, there were still several ashes from his cigarette on the page. To this day, I still haven't read the book because I don't want to lose the ashes by opening it up again.

In the novel, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine,” he has his own unique advice for new members of the world:
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”

So it goes, Mr. Vonnegut.

p.s. One of the best obituraries I read yesterday (and where I found the advice to babies) was in the New York Times. Read it here.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Mr. Movie Alert!

This is such big news for Mr. Movie, I'm tempted to go upstairs right now and wake him up and tell him. However, I will resist the urge, as it's 11:30 p.m. and Bad Things Will Happen if I do.

In any case, if Mr. Movie (aka Thing Two) were awake he'd like you to know:
TOY STORY 3 WILL BE OUT IN 2009! (and yes, he would scream it, if he were up)

As reported in Variety (back in February, I'm just catching up), the film will be directed by Lee Unkrich, who co-directed "Finding Nemo," "Monsters Inc." and "Toy Story 2." The story will be written by Oscar-winner Michael Arndt, who wrote, "Little Miss Sunshine."

[Pause for Internet research here]
According to the Internet Movie Database, both Tom Hanks [Woody, for all of you philistines out there] and Tim Allen [Buzz Lightyear] already have signed on for the project.

So that'll be big news for the breakfast table, then.

Famous on Wikipedia (no, not me)

Wikipedia, probably the most popular web-based encyclopedia there is, prominently features a new topic every day. On Friday, the featured article was about The Turk, the chess-playing automaton. The 18th century machine fascinated people worldwide, mainly because people thought a machine couldn't be so smart. As it happens, the machine wasn't so smart, it was in fact (SPOILER ALERT!) a person inside who was so smart.

Why do I know so much about The Turk? Because my friend Tom Standage wrote a great book about it called, "The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine."

Wikipedia's featured article relied pretty heavily on Tom's book for source material, which was quite cool for Tom (though it didn't help his Amazon ranking much, unfortunately).

So read the featured article, and if that intrigues you, buy the book.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Easter Parade

To get everyone in the Easter spirit, here's a picture of Thing One and Thing Two and their school's Easter parade. In the spirit of full disclosure, this parade was actually two weeks ago, but I'm just getting around to posting the picture now.

Thing Two (on the left) is wearing a bird's nest on his head, with a chocolate bird perched precariously on the top (it fell off shortly after this was taken). Thing Two (on the right) is wearing a bunny head, complete with white furry ears and buck teeth. I think they look amazing, but of course I would think that, since I did most of the labour for this project (both sons took on a management role for this project).

To make a long story short, I could have given this post the headline, "Learning to be a Good Loser. Again."

We did not win. We did not even place. Thing Two, who luckily is obvilious to the world when presented with consolation chocolate by the nice PTA ladies, said, "Look Mom! I won! I won!"

Thing One, on the other hand, was not fooled. Not in the least. He thought for sure he had a prize winning entry this year. On the way to the parade, he was still talking about how he lost two years ago. Even Anna, the PTA organizer of the event (who could be a Bond girl in her spare time, with her cool Russian accent) hoped he would win, because she, too, remembered his crushing defeat of 2005.

So he lost. We had to walk around the corner from the event so he could have a good, long cry on my shoulder.

He's still learning how to be a good loser. But that's a tough lesson to learn when you're only 7 1/2. Maybe 2009 will be his year.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

An Evening With the Queen

This morning, as I was comparing schedules via e-mail for some Easter Break fun with my friend Anne, she dropped this bombshell, about five messages into the exchange:

"Hey, Chris met the Queen yesterday! He was at the Palace last night for some American Correspondents thing, and they shook hands. Jerry Hall was there too."

That's right sports fans: That's just a typical day of an American expat in London. You're just minding your own business, and before you know it, there's the Queen, with some amazing hat on and she wants to shake your hand!

As Thing One might say, "No, not really."

My friend Chris was at Buckingham Palace for a reception for Americans living in Britain as a warm-up for the Queen's visit to the U.S. in May.

But the funny thing was that when Anne told me about it, my first thought was, "Oh, that's nice." It's the same reaction I had when I was looking at a booking form for Charlton Athletic's (our local football club) football school and there, on the front page, was Prince William kicking around a ball with the team. It took me a moment to register, "Hey, he'll be the King of England some day!" I guess that after living here for more than eight years, the novelty of the royals has worn off for me a little.

But don't get me wrong: I would have been THRILLED to have been invited to Buckingham Palace. I'm assuming that MarathonMum's invitation got lost in the mail.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Internet Shopping

Thing One desperately wants a bird feeder and a bird house for our back garden. The plan had been for us to go to the local pet superstore-- where they have about 100 to choose from-- and buy one. However, after discussing the plan with Mr. MarathonMum, who also serves as chair of this house's uber-stringent Design Committee, he vetoed the plan. He decided instead that we could all choose one together on the Internet.

Thing One and I were driving past the pet superstore, when I explained that we wouldn't be stopping to find the bird feeder and the bird house.

"Daddy just wants to buy them on the Internet," i said.

After pausing for a long minute, Thing One replied, "Oh, I can understand why. When you shop on the Internet, you don't have to pay!"

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Happy Mother's Day. Now Get Some Sleep.

Here in the U.K., we celebrated Mothering Sunday last weekend. For MarathonMum, that meant I got a two beautiful hand-made cards, a fantastic bunch of flowers and a chocolate-walnut cake, lovingly made by Mr. MarathonMum.

But the thing I'd love most to get-- but haven't yet received-- would be a great night's sleep followed by a morning sleeping in without any interruptions. It's been a long time since I had a really, really good night's sleep. The type when you wake up and think you can conquer the world. The type where your first thought of the day ISN'T, "How quickly can I make my first cup of coffee?" (which is usually my first thought of the day).

I know for a fact that I haven't had a really good night's sleep since I became a mother. It's one of the biggest dirty-little-secrets they don't tell you in your prenatal classes. Since I became a mother, I hear every cough, laugh, wander, whisper and cry in the house. I used to be a heavy sleeper; Not anymore.

So when I saw the study by the U.S.-based National Sleep Foundation that found women weren't getting enough sleep, I was hardly surprised. The study found that half the women surveyed woke up almost every morning "unrefreshed," and 49 percent were awake a lot during the night at least a few nights in the past month.

Apparently, lots of women feel the same way I do about their morning coffee, because only 21 percent of those surveyed drank less than one or no caffeinated drinks the following day.

So what is it that wakes me up and keeps me awake? A sampling of the things that have disturbed my sleep in the last month:
• When Mr. MarathonMum is travelling, once a night without fail, I will sit bolt upright in bed and think that I haven't yet locked the front door. As my heart races away, I have to wake myself up, and think it through before I conclude that I did, in fact, lock it. Several times I'm out of bed before I'm awake enough to realize I've done it.
• (Variation on a theme, and an unwelcome new development) If Mr. MarathonMum is home, I will sit bolt upright in bed and think that I haven't taken my crucial arthritis medication. (This would be as bad as not locking the front door.)
Also in the last month, my sleep has been disturbed by:
• Thing One being so excited about a school event that he moved (in the night) from his own bed to the guest room.
• Thing Two had a bad dream and needed to come in for a cuddle and a guide back to bed.
• Odd noises in the house that I can't identify.
• Various questions that I don't have answers for, including:
"Why can't I get a £20,000 book contract after someone reads my blog?"
"Will this career break I'm on destroy my career?"
"Will I ever be able to get a job again?"
"What kind of job will I get once I do go back to work?"
"Is my arthritis medicine working?"
"Will I ever run again?"
"Will the arthritis put me in a wheelchair?"
"Does Thing One play Playstation too much?"
"When will Thing Two stop sucking his fingers?"
And on and on and on.

So yes, I had a wonderful Mother's Day. But I still didn't get a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mudlarking on the Thames

Thing One and I (along with our No. 1 science enthusiast friends Ella and Kirstin) kicked off Science Week in style, by putting on our very best Wellies and heading out to do some mudlarking on the Thames River foreshore.

This was our second mudlarking trip, and we were hoping for some good finds. It is truly amazing what you can find during the low tide of the Thames. The last time around, we found some interesting fish net tags, as well as loads of oyster shells, some old bones and a few broken bits of china. This time, as you can see below, Thing One even found a bike, but as we thought it wouldn't attract much interest on eBay, we left it where we found it.


The reason why the finds are so varied and plentiful is simple: people used to-- and sadly, sometimes still do-- throw everything away in the Thames. Broken crockery, animal remains, the last bits of dinner, industrial garbage: it all wound up in the Thames. During the Great Fire of London in 1666, some families threw their valuables in the river in the hope they'd find them later.

Mudlarking turned into a job-- of sorts-- during the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s when children and old woman would search the shores for things of value. Occasionally, the Great Fire valuables would turn up, but more often than not, they'd be fighting over a single lump of coal. It truly was one of the worst jobs in Victorian times.

While tripping over these old bits of china and oyster shells, I found myself thinking, "What in the world were they doing: throwing all this garbage in the river? Didn't they know any better?" But then I looked ahead 100 years when I'm sure there will be people thinking the same thing about how we live our lives.

By the end of the session, we found some great things: part of a tankard's handle from Medival times, the bottom of a pot from Tudor times, and some pretty pieces of blue Victorian china. The best find of the day, though, was made by someone in our group who found a perfectly preserved piece of a bottle's neck, made during the Tudor period [see above]. The man pictured is Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, a 17th-century Jesuit who abhorred drinking-- as well as King James I-- so his face was put on to alcohol bottles as a joke. You could consider it an olden-times-anti Surgeon General's Warning.

After a very muddy afternoon, we headed home with our Thames treasures.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

MarathonMum's Sons Take the Torch

As regular readers of this blog will tell you, running has not featured much in the past year. That's simply because I wasn't doing much, given the excruciating pain in my left foot (and no, I still haven't seen the movie). After several X-rays, one MRI and dozens of doctor visits with a variety of specialists, my problem was finally diagnosed by Google, who told me it was arthritis. Go Dr. Google! In any case, my rheumatologist told me in November that because of my arthritis, and fears that it would spread to other parts of my body, I'd never be able to run again. I was absolutely gutted.

So it is time to pass on my love of running to Thing One and Thing Two. As they are still both in single digits, age wise, it's still early days, but I hope they will love it as much as I did. On Sunday, we had a chance to race together (shh.... don't tell my doctor) in a 2K Fun Run around Greenwich Park. On the day our numbers arrived in the mail, both boys jumped around the house yelling, "Our numbers are here! Our numbers are here!" In the days leading up the race, both boys kept asking, "Is today our race?"

As you can see from the picture above, both boys already looked like champions-- or at least organized enough to get their numbers on correctly (with help) -- before we left the house. Now Thing One is a race veteran, having done a one-mile race 17 months ago. But Thing Two had never done one, and as he's only 3 3/4, just over a mile is a considerable distance for him to run. But he was psyched, so off we went. I figured he'd be one of the youngest racing, and I was right: I saw only one little boy younger than him.

We got there just minutes before the start, so we had enough time to find our friends, exchange some pleasantries, and the gun went off.

Thing One was quick to run off with his friends, and the next time we saw him was at the finish. With runners in front, behind and beside us, Thing Two was happy, excited and thrilled to be racing...Not to mention inexperienced in the art of dodging around people at the starts. So with 30 seconds of the race elapsed, I looked over to see Thing Two....

Do a face scrape across the pavement.

Needless to say, hardly an impressive beginning for his first race. But with a tenacity that would impress even the most seasoned professional athlete, he dusted himself off, took some "I'll make it better" kisses from Mommy, and we continued on our way. When he realized that we weren't going to win the race, he was unhappy, and then when he realized his face really DID hurt quite a lot, that only made him unhappier still. But we forged ahead-- running, walking, running, walking, running.

"This is a long way," Thing Two kept saying. "I'm getting really tired." Then, for added emphasis, "My head hurts!"

Finally, I did what any self-respecting mother would do when she wants to see her son get his first running medal: I promised him that we could go to McDonald's, a restaurant we make a point of visiting only once a quarter (four times a year). "I'm happy now!" said Thing Two, as he raced to the finish line.

I know that the Sports Gods will not be happy that I promised McDonald's in exchange for finishing the race, but I also know that the Mothering Goddesses would fully endorse my approach and understand why I did it.

So now Thing One and Thing Two are race veterans. For the record, Thing One finished in 12:40 (118th), and Thing Two (remember, he's 3 3/4, so his legs are VERY short) finished in 18:15 (159th, and crucially NOT LAST!).
Here's the face of tenacity (when promised lunch at McDonald's of course). The picture, unfortunately, doesn't do the injury justice.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscar Night 5:17 a.m.

So after 50 posts, two jugs of coffee, two chocolate chip cookies, one piece of cake and innumerable catty comments, we join "The Departed."

At least until we have to wake up in two hours time.

P.S. If you're reading this on Monday, you might want to scroll down to the beginning (you'll see a picture of two cute boys clutching an Oscar-- we have those sorts of things lying about our house) and read up. Then you'll be able to chart the night/morning as it progresses.

Oscar Night 5:14 a.m.

Best Picture goes to "The Departed."

We say, "Thank God!" But Mr. MarathonMum's alarm clock is about to go off-- if it hasn't already-- so we didn't beat the watershed.

Oscar Night 5:07 a.m.

Now we know what George Lucas is doing there: he's presenting Best Director with Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola.

And the winner is.... Martin Scorsese!

Good news for him, but better news for me, because, again, I was right. I take validation where ever I can find it.

Everyone is on their feet. God, he deserves it. And he's funny! But he's going on and on.

The directing mafia-- the four of them-- finally exit stage left. Or is it right? I think I'm hallucinating I'm so tired. Anne is so tired she's got nothing to say.

Oscar Night 5:01 a.m.

Sad Reese Witherspoon with the bad hair extensions is on to present Best Actor. It's just getting painful now. We want it to be over. Anne is saying (bitterly) she's not even going to bother to put on her PJs since we'll be getting up in a few hours. Yes, we're bitter.

Yeah! Forest (not Gump, but Whitaker) wins. Please God, I hope his speech is short.

By the way, MarathonMum fans, in the movie of my life, Forest would play my friend Jermaine. He totally looks like him AND he could capture Jermaine's gentle, cool nature.

Forest is choking up. That's sweet, but I'm still tired. This is a fine speech, which I think speaks to the benefits of preparation.

Oscar Night 4:50 a.m.

Ellen comes back on and says, "And that's our show for this evening." If ONLY, we scream in unison.

Philip Seymour Hoffman comes out to present Best Actress. I know he's a guy and all, and probably doesn't care about such prosiac things as HAIR, but it looks terrible and strange. Did they not give him a brush in his goody bag?

Helen Mirren, as predicted, wins! We love her dress. The nice thing about her dress is it goes nicely with her statue. They go well together.

I wonder if Queen Elizabeth II is up with us right now, waiting to see if Helen Mirren will win? Or does she have some underling watching to wake her for the category? Or perhaps, she's reading MarathonMum?

Oscar Night 4:45 a.m.

Just when Anne and I were hoping they were going to skip the "I See Dead People" feature, Jodie Foster strolls up to introduce just that. Damn her!

However, there is a fighting chance that Maureen Stapleton will be featured. And she is! She's number 18 out of 33. If you're curious as to who the most important dead person was, it was director Robert Altman, who won an honorary Oscar just last year. Seems like they gave it to him Just. In. Time.

Oscar Night 4:38 a.m.

Kate Winslet is presenting for something. Anne guesses editing, and she was right! She likes being right as much as I do.

"It's the moment we've all be waiting for," Kate says. No, Kate, the moment we're waiting for is THE END.

"The Departed" wins. We're both hoping she'll be short in her gratitude. It doesn't look likely.

I recommend "United 93" to Anne. It's one of those films that you wouldn't necessarily choose to watch, but you should watch it. It's fantastic. She duly notes it in her "Films to See" list.

Oscar Night 4:31 a.m.

The commentators from Sky talk about how there was an upset in Best Original Song since "Dreamgirls" didn't win. Who cares.

Will Smith is up to present something. He's talking about America in movies. Is this the film editing award? Oh, no. It's Michael Mann talking about America in the movies. We're bitter about this at MarathonMum HQ because it seems more and more likely that we'll still be up when Mr. MarathonMum awakes. This is just filler. This is also torture.

Oscar Night 4:28 a.m.

Finally! Best Original Song. We must be getting close to the final lap. Please, God, let the acceptance speech be short.

I think we just witnessed an Oscar first: A lesbian kiss!! Melissa Etheridge wins. Al Gore gets thanked. Yawn.

"Caring about the earth" yadda, yadda, yadda. Let's just get to Best Picture.

Oscar Night 4:22 a.m.

We finally figured out what Jennifer Lopez is doing there-- she's doing the introduction for one of the Dreamgirls songs.

Jennifer (we're so tired right now, I just had to look up her surname) Hudson has changed into a most fabulous red dress, but she still is, in Anne's words, "zaftig." I believe she's also got some incredibly serious support work going on underneath that dress that probably deserves its own Oscar.

Anne and I are now quite concerned that with Beyonce on the scene, we're going to be faced with some sort of dueling song thing, ala Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey a few years ago. Maybe one or the other will push the other one down. I'd put my money on Jennifer Hudson kicking Beyonce's ass. But I'm pretty sure they'll save that for the Vanity Fair party.

This must be some sort of medley of "Dreamgirls" songs. All we can say is we hope this award is going to be presented soon. We're getting tired and crabby.

Oscar Night 4:12 a.m.

Spiderman and Mary Jane, I mean, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst come out to present Best Original Screenplay.

We've altered our opinion on Kirsten's dress. It seems to wash out under the lights. But we still like it, just not as much as before.

I predict this award will go to "Little Miss Sunshine" and then it won't win "Best Picture." Though this one might also go to "The Queen" for the same reason. I'd be happy with either (not that it matters what I think).

I was right. God, I love being right. Just ask anyone who knows me.

I just noticed that the birds are up outside. I think I'll start taking bets about whether or not I'll be up when Mr. MarathonMum gets up. It's looking more and more likely.

Oscar Night 4:04 a.m.

Anne is in hysterics because I've just misstaken Hugh Jackman for John Stamos. I've got John Stamos on the brain tonight. Go Blackie, Go!

Original Score goes to "Babel."

"Great," says Anne, without enthusiasm. We're becoming just a little bit bitter at this point. Don't mind us. Tomorrow-- I mean today-- is going to be a long day.

Oscar Night 3:59 a.m.

We did some checking, and we found that the Oscars started 30 minutes later than last year, which doesn't bode well for our plans for sleeping. It is quite possible that I will still be up when Mr. MarathonMum wakes up for work in one hour's time.

Clint is translating for Enrico. Who knew Clint knew Italian? He truly is a multi-talented man. They just panned the audience, and Kate Winslet's brow is furrowed, as if she's trying to translate it herself. Anne and I just deduce that Clint doesn't actually know Italian, but he's reading it off a telepromter.

They just showed the balcony where Enrico's family is sitting, and I could SWEAR that's Idi Amin sitting next to Enrico's wife. But wait, Idi's dead. So I don't know who that man is.

Hooray. That's over, but it'll be another flipping commerical.

Oscar Night 3:50 a.m.

Clint Eastwood is presenting the honorary Oscar to Enrico Morricone. (Again, I doubt I'm spelling that right. Do you think I care at this point?)

We begin to lose the will to live when we realize we haven't even gotten to the "I See Dead People" feature of the evening.

Oscar Night 3:44 a.m.

Now we're on to the Best Short Documentary. We're hoping to God, that their speeches will be shorter than their short, but we doubt it.

Jerry Seinfeld shows up. It makes you think what he's doing at the Oscars, but I tell Anne he's got a new movie coming out this summer-- "Bee Season." He's doing a funny bit before he presents (yawn) Best Documentary. I wonder if he wrote it himself. We're both laughing. Then again, we're punch drunk, so perhaps our comedic taste can't be trusted at this point.

Al Gore wins! I just realize that our friend John Heasly worked as an intern for David Guggenheim before he went to Medill. So while David Guggenheim is holding the Oscar, I'm sure he was inspired by the fantastic photocopying of our friend John, which means we're only two degrees from holding an Oscar ourselves.

So Al Gore has won an Oscar, but didn't win the presidency. And he just got cut off, to which we say, "Thank God! We're tired!!"

Oscar Night 3:35 a.m.

We're perking up here at MarathonMum HQ.

Our man George Clooney shows up to present Best Supporting Actress. It's a heterosexual woman's dream: Clive Owen followed by George Clooney. I could be so lucky.

Jennifer Hudson wins, gets the Oscar, and even better for her, gets a kiss from George! What a lucky girl.

Lucky for you, the Academy and the millions of people watching, she had the good sense not to put her Judy Jetson jacket back on. Now, lucky for us, they cut her off. We're getting tired and grumpy.

We just noticed that George Clooney is going grey. We still totally fancy him, though. (But we both like Clive Owen more).