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.