Saturday, February 26, 2011

I am woman, hear me whimper

I have no idea how single parents keep their sanity.  I would go out of my mind if I had to deal with everything in this big, bad world of parenting and all that pertains to raising children by myself.  I know this sounds terribly old-fashioned, but I don't care.  Kids should be raised by BOTH parents.  I can say this because I wasn't, and saw, first-hand, how difficult it was for my mother.  She shouldn't have had to tackle those hair-clogged drains and ant infestations all by herself.

It never fails that the minute my husband goes out of town, something happens that requires his stereotypical male expertise.  He's the official checker-outer when there's a suspicious noise at night.  He's master of all things mechanical.  He's the one who provided the bulk of his DNA, and thus personality, to our teenage daughter and knows the best way to handle her latest hysterical rant.  He wheels the trashcans to the curb every week (when he remembers) and makes sure we have insurance for our autos, always.  When there's a toilet to unclog, he's all over it with that super cool black plunger that does the trick every time.

So, of course, he's out of the country when I need him most for life's little freak outs.  On Thursday I noticed some hunks of stuff, for lack of a better term, that had fallen into the hearth from the chimney.  I figured it had just become dislodged and fallen since this house was built in the 30s.  This morning when the youngest daughter and I came down the stairs for breakfast, we heard some pitifully weak chirping echoing down the fireplace and then it stopped.  

I immediately broke out into a cold sweat as I flashed back to the Squirrel Incident of 2006.  A cute little fluffy tailed squirrel got trapped in our chimney and died, whereupon the odor became unbearable and we had a fly infestation thanks to its rotting carcass.  My mind starts racing, worrying that the bird might somehow get into the house in its half-dead state or die up there and we'll have the joy of reliving this scenario yet again.  So where is my fearless and level headed husband as I start to hyperventilate?  Yep, he's enjoying the shorts weather over in Texas this weekend with his family.  

As if that wasn't enough, then we had the whole debacle with the boiler a couple hours later.  Folks from Texas just have no experience with these contraptions.  The boiler keeps the radiators warm and provides the house with hot water, but I have no idea why or how.  Honestly, I just wanna stay warm on cold nights and enjoy a nice hot shower.  How the whole process works is beyond me and I'm fine with my lack of basic boiler knowledge.  Of course, a little ignorance goes a long way towards misery when you're cold and can't get clean.  Ye old boiler quit working last night, but we didn't realize this until almost lunchtime.  I made a call to Texas, tracking down Mr. Fix It, for some advice.  To make a long story short, it was a breaker that had been thrown that was keeping the boiler from doing its thing, whatever that may be.  I still don't know.  

The man of the house returns on Wednesday.  In the meantime, I'm just praying one of the girls doesn't break an arm, since that already happened once when, you guessed it, my husband had gone hunting for the weekend.  At this point, I think a hangnail or paper cut just might send me over the edge.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's for Medicinal Purposes

I always enjoy going to the grocery store now that I don't work.  When I was still teaching, it was always a nuisance to shop on the weekends when everyone and their dog was doing the same thing.  Now that I'm a lady of leisure, I'm at leisure to shop during the day.

Thanks to the lack of preservatives in so many foods over here, it seems that I end up at the store several times a week.  Plus, I don't have anything better to do and can spend my time strolling down each and every aisle to check out the goods.  I've become my granny, squeezing the bread for freshness and sniffing the cantaloupes to see if they're ripe.  Besides seeing other stay-at-home moms cruising the aisles, I also see a lot of retirees. 

What I'm always amazed to see is how much booze these old folks are purchasing.  They seem to be partial to those handy cardboard packs that will hold six wine bottles, and usually are filling more than one six pack to purchase.  Another thing I've noticed is that it's the cheap stuff, the store brand wines that run around 2-3 pounds per bottle.  And it's typically red rather than white.  I guess at their age it's easy to pop out the old teeth and get the wine stains removed with a Polident tablet.

Recently I was behind this sweet looking little couple that appeared to be old enough to have helped build Stonehenge.  They were both white-headed and stooped over, shuffling along to the check out stand.  Neither of them could lift the wine six pack out of the buggy, so they unloaded them one at a time.  I guess at their age they don't worry about hangovers.  Loss of brain cells wouldn't be an issue either.  Maybe they use it in place of sleeping pills?  It certainly is cheaper than conventional medicine.  

As for me, I've been eyeing the bottles of Malibu Rum on sale.  It's terribly handy how they sell hard liquor in grocery stores.  I need to clue in the older generation that it's a much tastier alternative to the swill they're drinking.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sparing the rod, belt and switch

There are all sorts of fits you can have... hissy, conniption and walleyed. You can raise a ruckus, throw a tantrum or kick up a fuss.  We were admonished to straighten up and fly right or suffer the consequences.  Today's kids, not so much.

When I was a kid, there was no time out chair.  Two words - corporal punishment.  It wasn't truly meant to hurt us, but rather as a means of getting our attention and forcing us back into line with the adult in charge's way of thinking.  My parents and granny employed different, yet highly effective methods to obtain obedience.  My mother was the softy of the bunch, grabbing you by the fleshy part of your arm right above the elbow and giving it a good squeeze so that her dragon lady fingernails would dig into your arm while she used a soft voice that carried a wealth of threat.  My granny's favorites were a switch from her own tree out in the backyard or a fly swatter, the plastic sort that would leave checks on your legs.  Nowadays this would no doubt warrant a call to CPS.  I guess she figured a coat hanger a la Joan Crawford was going just a bit too far.  She always kept them on the top of the refrigerator and it was a conveniently handy location that had us minding our P's and Q's.

My father was really old school because that's the way he was raised, with a parent that enjoyed beating the crap out of him in the '50s.  I was a child in the mid to late '70s, in the days of "Urban Cowboy".  That's right, folks, the movie which popularized those thick leather western style belts with your name emblazoned on the back.  My father had one just like that and all he had to do was pat it and ask if he needed to take it off.  We knew that once it was off, we were destined for a butt-busting, so we always did a vigorous head shake that it wasn't necessary to remove this item from the loops of his starched Wrangler jeans.  Remember that bunch of horse hockey your parents would tell you... it's gonna hurt me more than it hurts you.  I dare you to find a kid that ever believed it.

I don't know if it's a British thing or indicative of all parents around the globe that they're more likely to put up with naughty behavior.  Just today in the grocery store I had to maneuver my shopping cart around this little black-headed spawn of Satan blocking the entrance to the store with his tantrum.  The gist of the fit seemed to be that he wanted something in another store they had passed and mom wouldn't let him have it.  So he's having a meltdown right there in front of the automatic doors.  Open door, loud tantrum sounds, closed door, muffled tantrum sounds.  His mom was down on her knees, trying to reason with the little devil and he was having none of it, preferring to wail and stomp his feet in the hopes of getting his way.  Or maybe she was pondering stuffing her scarf in the kid's mouth to shut him up.  She could have been contemplating a bribe, the last resort of all harried parents.  Just let mommy get a bottle of tequila with a 6-pack of beer to chase it in order to escape this insanity, and then I'll let you have whatever you want.  About the time I turned the corner into the dairy aisle, the wails got louder and I looked back to see the kid trying to drag mom back to the other store.  The only place I would have taken him was right back to the car.  There was bound to be a liquor store somewhere along the route home.

Seriously, what's the harm with a bit of an arm pinch or smack on the bottom?  Surely I don't need to break out the wooden spoon.  I'm doing this for your own good.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Gotta Be Me... OCD

Be careful what you wish for, like your sea can arriving from Texas full of household goods.  I bid a highly anticipated farewell to the cheap Scandinavian style rental furniture in order to welcome my much-loved leather sofa with the nailhead trim and family picture taken amongst the bluebonnets.  Little did I know that the process of moving in all our stuff would play out like a scene from the OCD files.

I'm a tad bit obsessive about tidiness.  I don't need to have a germ-free environment, but I MUST have everything in its proper place.  My one bit of nuttiness (I know, just one?) involves the floors.  The dust can be an inch thick on the surface of everything in the house, giant grandaddy dustbunnies, but there better not be a speck of anything marring the perfection of a clean floor.  My dear old granny had a bit of an issue with just this thing.  I can remember her sweeping the carpet in-between vacuuming.  And we had some ugly, mud colored carpet that could have provided camouflage for a barn full of cows with irritable bowel syndrome.  You couldn't tell when or if it was ever dirty, but by God that woman got a workout keeping the floors free of any perceived bit of stray food crumbs or flecks of soil.  

To my horror, the movers tracked in grassy debris earlier this week.  This was more difficult to spot on the hardwoods, but a real eyesore on the light colored carpet.  I bit my tongue and didn't say a word.  Then came light rain in the late afternoon of unload the sea can day, and I developed a twitch as they tracked some mud across the carpets.  If I'd had any hard liquor in the house, I would have poured myself a large drink at that point.  It took all my self-control to keep from busting out the vacuum, or at least broom, to attack the offending dirt.  I was reviewing how this scenario might play out, me looking like a bit of a loon and all, when it dawned on me that I should let the dirt dry and then try to brush it up.  

I'm happy to report that we finally got the house more or less arranged downstairs today and I got out the vacuum to address the floors before I had a nervous breakdown.  Lo and behold, the dirt was easily removed from the carpet.  You know those markers that come in different stain colors to touch up hardwood floors?  I found mine in one of the moving boxes and plan to conquer scuff or scratch marks, one board at a time.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Back in Texas, we've got critters of the 4, 6 and 8 legged variety that keep you on your toes.  Skunks may look all fluffy and cuddly from afar, but they're armed with quite the deterrent system for anyone who wanders too close.  Tarantulas can be found beneath the ground in burrows, but we had a fuzzy fellow that liked to scale our house and cling to the screens of our windows.  It made for quite a shock when you opened the blinds to find him hanging out on the side of the house.  

A part of the crunchus shellus family, both roaches and scorpions are equally ickus bugus.  They can be found in the hill country of Texas, but the REALLY big ones measuring a couple inches in length are natives of southeast Texas where I was raised.  And the most disgusting ones are those with wings.  It gives me shivers just to think about it.  The upside is that they are harmless.  Not so, the scorpion. They are sinister little devils that can climb right up a plastered wall.  The little ones are kinda cute, akin to a pitbull puppy, but the bigger ones just look downright evil.  With the slightest provocation, they throw that stinger up over their back and mean business.  I've killed my fair share of them at school, a gratifying crunch of the exoskeleton, and once found a live one in my teacher bag amongst papers to be graded.  One of these days, I'll have to tell you about mowing over the nest of hornets several years ago in the backyard and earning 12 stings for my efforts to tidy up the lawn.  That was quite memorable.  

As I read over these two paragraphs I just typed, I am amazed that anybody survives Texas.  I haven't even listed the various venomous snakes, alligators, mosquitoes, fire ants and wasps that are also native to the state.  It's hard to get all fired-up about my ladybug infestation yesterday afternoon when compared to this bunch of true pests.

Since the day we moved in, I've noticed ladybugs in the master bedroom.  In a house that's at least 80 years old, I figure there are all sorts of nooks and crannies that would allow a ladybug to enter the premises.  I wasn't concerned because it was just our room.  My limited knowledge of bugs included the fact that ladybugs eat aphids, and we have some rose bushes in the backyard, a favorite meal for aphids.  I figured the ladybugs were just looking for a warm place to stay until spring arrives and they can get back to feasting on the aphids.

Obviously, the ladybugs have been busy procreating, because we had a ladybug explosion on Saturday.  Instead of the usual crowd of about 6-8, I discovered at least 40 of them crawling on or around the five bay windows.  Being cognizant of the fact that we rent, and not wanting to pay for a repaint of the walls if I started swatting them with a rolled up magazine, I hauled the vacuum cleaner upstairs and popped on the handy attachment that wouldn't leave any evidence of my dastardly deed.

That's right - I vacuumed up every stinking ladybug I could find.  I opened windows, shook blind boxes, ran a pen around the mouldings and even checked the radiator beneath the windows for strays.  I know, I know, they're just so darned cute.  They have that famous polka-dotted pattern a local bakery back home in Texas used to decorate sugar cookies and cupcakes.  People make ladybug costumes for their little ones at Halloween.  These darling little bugs represent springtime and flowers.  They can't protect themselves, with neither a sting nor strike.  None of those thoughts entered my head as I observed all those little crawling critters on the wall  because I was a woman on a mission.  Some poor spider wandered out - the first one I've seen in England - and he joined the ladybug graveyard in the vacuum cleaner bag.  

Let it be known far and wide amongst the insect population - I'm armed and dangerous.  Enter at your own risk.  I've got a Hoover and am not afraid to use it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Say What?

Really, I just sound slow but I don't have any learning or language disabilities.  The name of this so-called affliction is a Texas twang.  When you spend all but a few years of your life in the Lone Star State, you don't realize how pronounced it is.  Texans realize not everyone has that slow, steady cadence that's particular to certain parts of the US, but it's not a big deal because everyone else sounds like you.  Seriously - you can drive for hundreds of miles in almost any direction from the hill country and STILL be on Texas soil.  It has been made clear since landing in the the UK that not only is my accent different, but so is the way I hear things.  

Last week I was tired of doing halfhearted workouts in the house and waiting for a day with no precipitation to get out and exercise.  I discovered a couple local gyms, so I was on a mission to join one before my fifth chin developed.  I struck cardio gold at the first place and immediately signed up.

This week I had my two induction sessions at the new gym, and boy are they a chipper bunch, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed at an ungodly hour of the morning.  I must say it's a bit disconcerting that I could have given birth to the personal trainers on staff.  It's not that I mind the fact that they're so young, but rather that they are just so enthusiastic and gung-ho about the job.  If these guys are doing any pub crawling, their recuperative powers are amazing.  Ah yes, the miracle that is youth!  The first trainer on Wednesday looked like Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter series... the FIRST couple books.  The receptionist set up my initial session on Saturday when I joined the gym and I thought she said Ron's look-alike was named Zed.  So when I met him, I said his name and he corrected me.  He said (garbled name in rapid fire Brit accent I couldn't understand) and I repeated it incorrectly again.  He said it once more, and yet again I said it wrong.  On the fourth try, either I got it right or he finally just gave up on my pronunciation and let it drop.  

This morning I went to my second session at the gym, where it seems they pump pure oxygen into the place based on the level of enthusiasm that almost smacks you in the forehead.  Today my barely-out-of-his-teens personal trainer was named James.  Hallelujah, a name I immediately recognized and could speak in my own twangy Texas accent.  When he asked me the name of the trainer I worked with on Wednesday, I wanted to dig a hole and climb right in.  But since that wasn't an option, being on the second floor of the facility and all, I cleared my throat and made my best attempt, which could have been construed as Fred, Ted, Ned, Red or Ahmed.  I was hoping one of those would be correct.  

James of the easy name chuckled and corrected me.  Drat!  I still have no idea what Wednesday boy's name is.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wide Load

You know it's time to join a gym when

A)  you have to do deep knee bends in your fat jeans so you can zip them since reclining on the bed and sucking it in just doesn't work anymore
B)  you're chasing every meal, including breakfast, with a candy bar, the sort filled with caramel, nuts, nougat and some sort of crispy cookie crunch
C)  your kids have started referring to you as Big Momma whereupon this pet name is followed by a snicker and eye roll
D)  you feel it's your duty to eat a stick of butter every day because it's just so darned yummy
E)  all of the above

I wish I was brave enough to post a "before" shot of me like all of the diet programs you see on TV and in print.  On the other hand, maybe seeing all my jiggly-wiggly cellulite exposed in just a pair of shorts and sports bra would be a serious incentive to step away from the butter and sugar.  

I've reached this point because of the move since my precious exercise equipment was sent to storage.  I loved the fact that I had access to exercise at any time.  I could roll out of bed at 5 am and get in a session on the elliptical before heading to school.  Or I could wait until the kids were settled for the night and power walk through the newest installment of "The Housewives of Wherever they can get wealthy, spoiled women to agree to embarrass themselves on TV".  There's nothing better than watching a worthless reality show series and burning some calories.

I've been relegated to jogging/walking in the neighborhood since we landed in the UK and it's just not working for me.  I've tried to be creative here at the house, using the stairs and empty formal rooms as my exercise studio.  However, there is only so much you can accomplish with 2 cans of green beans as your weights and a cheap clock radio providing your motivational music.  Therefore, I joined the Elmbridge Leisure Centre on Saturday.  Just to clarify, Elmbridge is the borough where we live and it's got a fabulous space that's just about 4-5 miles from our house.  

So this morning I pulled out my stretchy exercise pants - thank heavens for Lycra - and I'm heading to my first Urban Rebound class.  I hope this will get me back on the road to better health... and a smaller pants size.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Picking My Poison

So yeah, the noises are keeping me awake at night.  I'm not talking about the voices inside my head, though they do take a turn now and again.  I would be referring to all of the sounds this old house makes.  The radiators make a popping noise as they heat up and cool down.  Sometimes it's sporadic and sometimes it's an incessant tapping noise.  The windows rattle in the wind.  And when it's a particularly strong gust, even the blinds will lightly smack the frame.  Foxes trip the motion activated lights in the backyard and they shine quite brightly on the wall outside our bedroom window.  And the yipping sounds those red-haired devils make - good grief.      

All of these things conspire to keep me awake at night when J isn't home.  I've tried sleeping with my fingers in my ears, but it's hard to doze off when you're in such an uncomfortable position.  Putting a pillow over my head doesn't help, either.  I keep telling myself that we're perfectly safe. It's not as if we live in an unsavory part of town, with an active criminal element.  My rational mind tells me there is no reason to be afraid, but every little bump or light in the night rattles me.

With J in Texas all week, I decided to be proactive and get some OTC sleeping pills at the local Boots, the UK version of Walgreens.  I perused the aisles, but couldn't find it amongst the vitamins and aspirin.  I tromp over to ask the folks behind the pharmacy counter where it is located and I am surprised to find it back there.  Seriously?  I wonder how many folks have successfully overdosed on a measly 8 OTC sleeping pills?  But wait, it gets better.  I asked for the smallest boxes of the two different brands of OTC sleeping pills so I could see which one works best for me.  I was quickly told no, that I could only purchase one.  

So let me get this straight?  I can buy all of the beer, wine AND hard liquor at the grocery store that I can load into my shopping cart.  I can purchase a variety of glues and paints right there on the shelves of the local DIY store.  It's also possible to get all sorts of toxic cleaning agents at both of these places.  I can use any of these methods to knock myself out for the night, killing all sorts of brain cells in the process, but I can't buy something which will let me safely get to sleep at night with no ill side-effects?

Sounds like I need to rethink the method of relaxation I'm using in order to get a full night's rest, huh?