Archive for May, 2009

Expenses Furore

I wish I had been in the UK for the start of the expenses scandal. Luckily, we head to London next week, where I’m sure people will still be outraged by the latest revelations. My favorite is the MP who submitted expense claims for his duck house.

As a British taxpayer, I do feel irate that his ducks lived in greater comfort than I did (a tranquil cottage with a moat?! Unfair! I had to make do with a murphy bed, and a flat next to train tracks!).

So I hope the public anger helps to convince the MPs to give the money back. I am looking forward to the water cooler chat next week.

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Wedding Dress follow up

After realizing that my wedding dress is gone, we decided to file a claim with the moving company, to try to get something out of the whole debacle.

The movers insist I told them to leave the dress in the closet of our flat in London, and I would “deal with it later.” It was a chaotic day, but I just don’t remember saying that. What did I think I was going to do with a wedding dress on a nine hour flight from London to Atlanta, with nine suitcases and two kids in tow?

In any case, the dress is gone. It got left behind, but it’s not in that flat anymore. The new tenant told me that she threw away the empty dress box — the dress was already gone by the time she had moved in. Now she’s fed up with our phone calls, and refuses to take them.

I wish I knew what had happened to it. Did the new tenant keep it? Unlikely — she’s 60 years old, and let me into the flat to look around myself (before she got annoyed). Did someone take it? Sell it on eBay? Who would have known it was there?

All I know is that it’s gone now. But while we work to solve the mystery in the long-term, I would like to get some sort of recompense. We can’t replace it (that did cross my mind…but it would have felt odd going for wedding dress fittings after five years of marriage and two kids).

But we could put the money into a fund for my daughter to buy a wedding dress one day (she sure won’t be wearing mine!) if she chooses to get married.

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Or maybe we could buy it again…Pronovias still makes the style I wore, but not for long. They’re going to discontinue it later this year. Then it really will be irreplaceable.

Space

When a friend told me recently that she was moving from a New York City suburb into Manhattan, I felt a pang of jealousy – then quickly squashed it.

After all, my husband and I had spent the past several years plotting a move from London to a US suburb. Once we had a toddler and a baby, we wanted a house, a yard and some closet space.

That brought us to Atlanta, Georgia, last November. After living with two kids in a small two-bedroom apartment, we now have a house.

That means I can keep everything. The adorable pumpkin costume my daughter wore for her first Halloween in London went straight to the thrift store on November 1st.
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As my husband pointed out, she wouldn’t fit into it the following year, so there was no need to keep it (he was not as impressed by the neon orange outfit with the jack o’ lantern tummy as I was).

It was exceptionally puffy, and protruded from the one drawer we had dedicated to keepsake clothing.

Now, we have a closet big enough for a whole wardrobe of pumpkin ensembles. And our house is far from big by Atlanta standards. We put clothes, gyminis, and toddler artwork, along with my maternity clothes, nursing bras, breast pump and other pregnancy/infant gear, into a storage closet. So what if we’re not planning another pregnancy? We have the space!

And we have a yard. When the kids get antsy, we can take them outside with a ball. In London, we had to pack up the double stroller, cross two busy streets, and walk ten minutes to get to the playground. In the rain.

On a warm day, that park would be so packed that I would have to apologize to sunbathers lying two feet away from us when my toddler kicked her ball onto their towel.

While I used to take my toddler to Gymboree four times a week during lousy weather, just to get out of the apartment, we now play in our own playroom. In London, my daughter’s room doubled as my office, and my husband’s closet. Now we have a walk-in closet, and a separate office.

But the suburban lifestyle can be isolating. At Gymboree, I would run into other moms. Fellow mothers are less likely to appear in our playroom, unless we invite them in – and we still don’t know too many people here.

I also miss my street social life. In London, I ran all of my errands on foot. Between the drugstore, grocery store and coffee joint, I generally ran into at least two people I knew. Here, we drive, rather than walk, everywhere – we didn’t own a car in London.

The trade-off is I no longer have bags of diapers and groceries dangling off the stroller handle, with jars of baby food rolling out from the basket underneath.
Suburban life is endlessly convenient. In New York City, where I grew up, we went to the basement to do laundry in communal washers and dryers.

A realtor in Atlanta told me that he couldn’t sell a condo here because the washing machine and dryer were located just outside the front door of the apartment, by the elevator.

My family and I briefly lived in said condo, and loved the fact that we didn’t have to travel downstairs to do laundry. And, the dryer actually worked. This luxury eluded us in London.

An American friend was horrified when she heard that I didn’t have a dryer during my eight years in London. This was not unusual – often, people just didn’t have the space.

We used a drying rack instead. While it’s a greener solution than using an electric dryer, the clothes take a long time to dry. And when both of your kids get a 24-hour vomiting bug, as ours did one awful weekend in London, you have damp sheets, towels and clothes hanging on every imaginable surface. I don’t miss seeing my underwear swinging off doorknobs.

But once laundry becomes less of a focal point of our lives, we might consider moving back to a major city. When I was growing up in New York, I loved going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on school trips. It was always exciting when world leaders we were studying came to town. And as a theatre buff, I loved having access to Broadway shows.

So what if my track team had to run alongside the FDR Drive? What we lacked in gym facilities we made up for in cultural enrichment.

Once the kids have outgrown kicking a ball in the backyard, and I no longer have to sweet talk bus drivers into letting our Bugaboo onto the bus, maybe we will make that move.

But we’ll have to save up so we can afford a place with a storage closet. I don’t want to let another kiddie pumpkin costume get away.

Dolled up houses

During my first outing with our new neighbors last night, I realized that people with houses spend a lot of time working on them, spending money on them, and, perhaps most of all, talking about them.

One woman explained that she had just installed invisible screen doors on her house to keep out mosquitos.

Another talked about the massive screen projectors she had installed in her house so that her husband could watch huge versions of his favorite sporting events.

And one talked about how much she loved her indoor garage. When she returned from an outing with her kids, she could leave them in the car, safely ensconced in the garage, if they didn’t want to stop watching the movie they were viewing in the backseat.

This detail stuck with me the most. Kids watching movies in the backseat of a van seems like the height of luxury. Only in a black taxi in London, where you’re paying about $10 a mile, having I experienced such decadence. And even then, I had to sit through ads.

In London, when my friends and I talked about housing, the conversation was more of an airing of grievances, rather than a description of home improvements.

When our boiler exploded and flooded our flat, we described the carnage to our colleagues. Several of them nodded sagely and said that the same thing had happened to them.

Two of my friends had to walk up several flights of stairs to get to their flats, and used to describe how they would wrestle their stroller, baby, groceries and other assorted sundries up the stairs at the same time.

I’m not sure anyone here in Atlanta could make the transition from huge houses with impeccable decor, down to the invisible screen doors, to an 85-step walk up to their two bedroom apartment, without storage.

Guests to our London flat had to step over our stroller to get into the front hallway. I still marvel at the clear entryway we have here. But we might hold off on any other luxuries – once you have floor-to-ceiling screens, it might be tough to give them up.

Over Appreciation

My week has begun with a trip to a stranger’s house to drop off a free meal. I volunteered with our neighborhood’s parents’ association to help out a family with a new baby.

I found myself apologizing as I handed over the pasta and green salad from Whole Foods (I think the idea is that you’re supposed to cook for the family, rather than bring them something store bought). And yet, with a cranky toddler of my own in tow, it wasn’t the easiest drop off (my daughter didn’t want to leave when she saw their toys. The family clearly did want us to leave promptly after we presented the entree).

But this was just the appetizer on the menu of free food that our new community expects from us. And I’m not complaining. I’m sure if we were in need, our neighbors would deliver homemade (or store bought, from the lazier households) meals to us. But I marvel at how different the attitude towards these sorts of things would be in the UK.

When a fellow preschool mom emailed the parents yesterday to say that next week is Teacher Appreciation Week, my (British) husband asked: “When is Parents’ Appreciation Week”?

Luckily, only I was there to hear this expression of sarcasm. It certainly would not have been welcome in this crowd.

One mother told us that the teacher in question enjoyed massages. Another enthusiastically volunteered to buy the teacher a gift certificate for a spa treatment, saying that she would just hate to think that our kids’ teacher didn’t feel appreciated. Others offered more, and increasingly valuable, gifts, based on the list that had circulated of this teacher’s favorite things.

In our London preschool experiences, we gave the teachers cards at the end of the year. It was never suggested to do anything more. It’s possible that they thought we were cheap ingrates. But I definitely think there is much more of a culture of giving here, and much less of a culture of irony.

The gifts we are giving to this teacher come during a week when we are also being asked to donate a lunch for our daughter’s class; fruit for all of the toddlers’ snacks; and a side dish for the parents’ end-of-year dinner. Opting out just isn’t an option.

My husband wonders why these meals we’re bringing in aren’t covered in the school’s tuition. That’s a question that we just have to keep to ourselves. Everyone else seems to be plotting just how many more extravagant gifts we can bestow on our kids’ teachers.

If we start asking probing questions, we might get left off the free meal recipient list. I wonder if you need to have a new baby to cash in…

Race for the Cure

It always inspires me to see how enthusiastic Americans are about causes. We joined hundreds of pink clad people in the early hours (we arrived at 7 AM — that’s early, even for us!) of Saturday morning to walk through Atlanta’s Atlantic Station in support of the fight against breast cancer for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

Racers wore signs on their back with the name of the person they were celebrating, or remembering. And everyone cheered when survivors raced by. Volunteers hugged them, and gave them flowers.

At the finish line, racers were greeted with a carnival of freebies — from decorate-your-own-cookie for kids, to instant rice. And there were vendors, too — Pfizer and Kaiser Permanente had colorful tents offering information about their cancer programs.
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To me, that was the one downer of the day. These companies make money off cancer treatments. I hope, as event sponsors, they’re trying to help survivors, and find a cure — not just new patients.
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Smoothie King

With Mother’s Day around the corner, I decided to indulge in a smoothie. And luckily, there is a Smoothie King in one of our local strip malls here in Atlanta. But after five minutes in the shop, I realized that the concept of indulgence had morphed into gluttony.

They were massive. The small was 20 ounces!! The large was 40 OUNCES!! Most people I know don’t consume 40 ounces of liquid in a day, let alone in one cup.

And these smoothies weren’t just any liquid. They were packed with protein powder, whey, and other ingredients I didn’t recognize.

There was one smoothie chain that I knew of in London, called Crussh. Their drinks were considerably smaller than US smoothies seem to be, and featured fruit based drinks — rather than the chocolate and peanut butter options at Smoothie King.

Whenever I fancied a dessert-type smoothie in London, I had to head to McDonald’s and get a McFlurry. You get less than 20 ounces, but that wasn’t bad for 99p. And it was quick.

After waiting for about five minutes in Smoothie King, I gave up — the line was too long, and it just wasn’t moving. I suppose generating 40 ounces of thick liquid doesn’t happen fast.