Friday, November 30, 2007

[Bracket} thoughts.

Now that my California cold that followed closely on the heels of my English cold has receded into a mere shadow of its former snotty glory, i feel almost clear enough to write again.

What keeps coming to my mind is the simple clarity of the month spent with my English family--why did that time feel so much more clear? On the most obvious point, it was just excellent to be with them, and enter into their lives, and get to just chat about the everyday-ness of life. But why else did it seem so clear and simple?

Anything outside my normal life has some magic to it, and some clarity. This i suppose arises from the fact of being a piece of time in brackets. You know, {Vacation} {Birth of a baby} Those are finite times with edges. My normal life is open brackets...just some vague dots trailing off...into...whenever...

i think that's one reason i enjoyed the whole baby/toddler/child raising time--it had edges. It had brackets. There needed to be meals, and naps, and baths, and bedtimes. Those were my mini-goals, to make it from breakfast to naptime, from dinner to bath to bed. Small brackets around small bits of my day.

While i was in England, the days were pretty clear--there was breakfast to be eaten, and the dishes from that to be washed. There were grubby boys to play in the garden, and clothes from that to be washed. There was a clear path from morning till night, with chores to mark the divisions of the day. Simplicity. Clarity.

Of course, i must factor in that my daughter has The Gift of Organization. As i've mentioned before, she'd rather wash dishes frequently than save them up and have an overwhelming pile. She'd rather pick up the toys and vacuum at the end of the day than to already have a mess at the beginning of a new day. i suspect she can actually see brackets: {these things go together in this drawer} {this is a logical time to do this chore.} i am challenged in these matters.

Other than the natural bracketing of the meals and naps of child-raising, i tend to be easily overwhelmed by life. i'm not schedule oriented, i enjoy being flexible and creative. But sometimes the open ended-ness of my life is daunting, especially when some of its days are so achy. i think i'm unsure of how to find the balance.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

(Some) attention span.

i just found out my husband "skims" my longer posts.

The only reason he reads them at all is because he complains of "no good email" ever coming to his account, so i said, "Well, i could sign you up to receive my blog." So i did.

i had thought my family (as in grown daughters, husband, sister) would be interested in my life and thoughts. Apparently i delude myself, as my sister is the only willing reader out of all the aforementioned relatives.

Now, this same skimming husband can watch hours of a program detailing the process of applying cotton to a cotton swab, or watch a Bruce Willis movie twice in the period of one airplane flight. But he feels the need to "skim" my posts.

So much for what i so optimistically felt to be my amusing and pithy observations on life.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

(Some) impulse control.

Written on Monday--
As i sit in my lovely reclining seat in the First Class cabin of a United Airlines flight home from England, i’m pondering the mysteries of self-discipline and impulse control. And yes, you read that right—First Class. There are some perks to a husband who has spent the last 32 years weathering the stormy seas (skies?) of the airline industry.

Why, you ask, am i pondering impulse control at the end of a lovely month spent with my daughter in England? Possibly because i am relieved i can still wear the same pants i wore on the flight to England, having spent the past four weeks being fed by my son-in-law who loves to cook.

Yes, i did go to be with my daughter so that i could help her in the time surrounding the birth of her third child. And yes, this could have included cooking, i realize, and i went prepared to do that if needed. But i am not a cook—i cook because my family should be fed, and nobody has starved on my watch. i enjoy reading cookbooks and watching others who love to cook on Food Network. But cook myself? Not such a fan. Now, i do have a really nice Bosch range, and some very cool Calphalon pans hanging from a ceiling rack, so my kitchen gives the impression of a person happily sautéing and stirring and banging about with pots. But again, not a huge fan. i’d rather bake cookies. Or knit.

All that to say, i have so thoroughly enjoyed being cooked for that my eating choices have been limited simply by being too full to eat another bite. Coq au vin, lamb roast with rosemary stuffing, thick, creamy soups of winter squashes, or lamb stew. And my daughter had previously been accused (by me!) of “cooking by color” (“well, if spaghetti sauce is red, surely chili powder being red will also go..." That meal, cooked in her college days, cleared the family’s sinuses for a week.) But this trip she made us a salmon pie with a dill sauce and creamy mashed potatoes, clearing herself of all past cooking judgements. (i mean, it has been a decade.)

i also love the whole English tea and biscuits concept. It’s a lovely thing to take a break in the afternoon for a milky cup of tea and assorted dippable biscuits (cookies in the U.S.) Why do i love their biscuits more than the ones in the States? i don’t know. Maybe it’s just the fact that i’m on vacation in a foreign land and feel it’s okay to enjoy them. Maybe it’s because they have buttery, crispy cookies of every description—“digestives,” a basic vanilla type cookie, but topped in dark or milk chocolate, or caramel and chocolate, and the ever famous Hob Nobs, a more grainy, crunchy type of the same thing, or a thin crisp wafer with fruity bits in them, or delightfully dunkable raspberry and cream filled sandwich cookies…the possibilities are endless! The English son-in-law says these remind him of church social times and children’s snacks, but call me a child, i love ‘em!

What i’ve been pondering is my choice of “living to eat” rather than “eating to live,” that seems to symbolize my lack of self-discipline. The thing is, i do have impulse control—many many times i wanted to run my hand across the stubbly head of the passenger in front of me on the nearly four hour bus ride to Heathrow Airport in London, BUT I DIDN’T. And when standing in line at the grocery store behind a lady with the shoulder length gray hair that is probably what mine would look like if i let it go to its natural state, i wanted to ask to drape it over my head and take a picture so i could see what i might look like should i give up on the whole hair-dying annoyance. BUT I DIDN’T.

And now, i’m sitting in United First Class, home of the many-course meal—several starters, salad and bread, entrées that include filet mignon and halibut with lobster sauce, side dishes, and if there is a single bit of space left in your tummy, the possibility of an ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce or the cheese and fruit course. Now, i know for the people who have paid dearly for the privilege of excess this is expected. But for me? i just love to be waited on, i freely admit it! If we were paying full price for our tickets we would be in the back of the plane by the toilets, eating boxed lunches of questionable freshness.

i’m thinking that, since this is Thanksgiving week, and the eldest child (who also loves to cook) will have that family meal under control, if i can manage to squeak by without cooking until Thursday and then take home leftovers, i should be able to extend this non-cooking gig for another week.

The next month, i fear, rather than getting my exercise by trying to keep up the housekeeping for a household with two young boys and a baby, and having my meals provided pleasantly and with no work on my part—i will gladly do dishes by hand twelve times a day if i don’t have to cook!—i will need to live on my elliptical and eat a steady diet of steamed vegetables. There will be no drizzle of cream on my morning porridge, and no clotted cream for my non-existent scones.


Pardon me now, i have finished my Haagen Dazs ice cream, and am preparing to lay my First Class Suite flat so i can cuddle up under the quilted blanket provided and take a nap. Ah, the life of a jet-setter.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Calling it what it is.

This sign startles me every time i see it here in England-- "TOILET." No "RESTROOM" here. i mean, how much resting really goes on in those places? Personally when i enter a public restroom, my goal is to leave as quickly as i am able, what with the general ambient scent of those places. Here, they call it like they see it: Do you need to use a toilet? Look for the sign, because it will state there is a toilet behind this door. If in a restaurant and struck with a need, one asks for the "loo" or the "toilet." Ask where the bathroom is, or the restroom, and you will get a puzzled look. Let's call it what it is, a toilet.

And how many of us have had a "shot" or an "injection"? Not that the word "shot" sounds all that pleasant, but isn't a "jab" more realistic? "Now you'll feel a tiny pinch," they say. "This might sting a little," they say. Often they say, "You won't even feel this." They lie. It's a JAB. Call it what it is.

Both these signs were spotted in Jon's offices where he is a General Practitioner. Gotta love these guys, they not only have cool accents, they call it what it is.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Gee, seems like i haven't blogged super regularly these last few days...wonder why?

Shawn and Ellie got to come home Friday afternoon--just 2 short days after the rather long day everyone had on Wednesday! Of course that meant we wanted to have the place all spiffed up for Shawn. i aired out the house since it was a beautiful, bright day. That's where the easy part ended. After that i did laundry, including bedding, and vacuumed and did dishes and straightened up toys and cleaned the bathroom. PHEW! i told my friend Melanie that usually i don't do all those things on the same day, i prefer there to be days or even weeks between chores. (Kidding! Well, a little.) But here comes the part i hate about housework--in no time it needs to be done again. *Sigh.*

Fortunately, this particular son-in-law loves to cook! So i haven't really cooked in the few weeks i've been here, which is great since that isn't my favorite chore. i've been blessed to have this one who cooks, another son-in-law who is a real live chef, and my oldest daughter loves to cook. i'm already planning my old age and how i will rotate months between children who cook. . .

On that note, i was just realizing how all three of my daughters are good housekeepers. That's a gift i never received. My mother was a good housekeeper, my sister and brother as well. Maybe it's because i was the baby that i didn't follow in their footsteps, who knows, but it didn't kick in as an adult, either. My kids weren't particularly clean as children, and we found the occasional petrified peanut butter sandwich behind the bed. But as adults, they are inspirational in their cleaning abilities!

Candie, the oldest, can't stand to have more in the house than fits. This means she's constantly going through things and rearranging and getting rid of. Shawn, mom of the new Ellie girl, has an amazingly neat home. Unfortunately, for those of us trying to keep up in her recuperation, she achieves this by doing dishes twelve times a day and picking up toys constantly and doing laundry pretty much nonstop. Cori, youngest of the three, is married to a man who cleans! cooks AND cleans. How cool is that? She is still a neat person herself, too.

i'm a little afraid for my son--he arranges his dvds and cds and games with great care. He hangs his towel and washcloth with precision in the bathroom. The neatness ends there. BUT he is still 19, there could be hope for him yet. Possibly i haven't ruined his chances at future tidiness forever.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


7 pounds and 8 ounces, 19 3/4 inches long...

Elliette Julie Upton
November 7, 2007
It was a bit of a rough one--the initial cesarean went just fine, but Shawn continued bleeding too long. This meant a second trip to the operating room and a redo of her inner sutures, but it's all good now. :-)

Monday, November 05, 2007

The sound of silence...

i was checking my email, the sounds of Peppa Pig playing in the background. Little Euan loves Peppa Pig, and if you listen to the characters on the website, you'll hear how the children's voices sound here with their lovely little accents. :-)
Anyway, Euan was stretched out on the couch watching a Peppa dvd, enjoying his juice. He's a pretty quiet guy most of the time, going to Mummy off and on for a cuddle, asking the occasional question. When Elias is home, it's full speed ahead. Euan of course wants to be everything big brother is, do everything big brother does, and they are constant busy-ness together. While Elias is at school it's a different house altogether--not better, but definitely quieter.

All that to say--i was checking my email, sitting on the floor of the living room with my back up against a chair. All was quiet except for the sounds of Peppa. With just Euan home, this isn't an unusual sound, that of *quiet*. After some time i looked over at Euan, and this is what i saw:
...his hand still clutching his now empty juice drink, completely and absolutely surrendered to a parent's best friend, "Sleep." Is there anything sweeter than the face of a sleeping child? Maybe the sound of their laughter, but who could not love this sight?

i was telling Shawn that the way i see her children, at least in the American description of them, would be: Elias could be President. He's inquisitive, he's an absolute bulldog about something he wants, he's on the move and unstoppable. Euan, on the other hand--he would be the one who wants to facilitate the success of his big brother. "That was a great speech! You look great in that suit. Can I get you a cup of tea?" The loving, adoring younger brother.

i can't wait to see what the next child will be like! These children are amazing, and brilliant, and adorable, each their own unique person. i love this about both sets of grandkids, Candie's and Shawn's, they've been allowed to show their individual personalities. In some cases, be it fortunate or unfortunate, they've developed a bit of their parents' sense of humor. (Senses of humor? Sense of humors? Whatever.) i don't know if it's a matter of the childraising styles of today, or if it's just what happens when parents follow a more intuitive style of parenting, but i love that this present generation of little people is able to learn respect and manners while still being allowed to be their own inquisitive/mellow/busy/gentle/funny self.

For instance, that little cutie Elias, my 4 year old grandBrit--i was knitting on the baby blanket project i brought with me to finish for the new baby. Every time for the first few days he would see me knitting and say, "Grandma Julie--nice baby blankie," and give me his little grin. i love 4 year old humor. Because of it we've pretended to suck up the furniture in the vacuum, and shop the aisles of the grocery store with the car. But speaking of the blanket, i've now finished it!! Here's a photo--
You can't really tell from this photo, but it's lime green, blue and a purple-ish color. You can guess from this that i figured the new baby would likely be another boy, BUT, as Plan B, in the case of a girl, i have a long pink yarn chain to weave in and out of the edging of the blanket. And Wednesday morning, we shall see: pink, or no pink?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

3 Days till we know!!!

In just three days exactly we will find out if Shawn's baby is a boy or a girl--do i need to add the pink to the baby blanket i'm knitting or not? Will there be another boy in the household to play rough and tumble with his big brothers, or will a little sister be kicking their butts?

It's 9:45 a.m. Sunday in this part of the world. In California where i normally spend my days it's 1:45 a.m. But for both of us, come Wednesday exactly this same time of day, a new baby will join the outside world. So if you too are curious to know, watch this space. ;-)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

v. ex-haust-ed

Wow. i am so tired--i was going to find a cute little picture of a sleeping puppy to put at the top of this post, or maybe a funny little cartoon picture of a really tired grandma. But frankly, i'm just too tired.

We spent the day in town after dropping Elias at school (in his cute little gray man-trousers.) Shawn had her pre-op appointment this morning in preparation for the cesarean next Wednesday, so we did that and errands until it was time to pick Elias up from school. She's having a much tougher time at 6 days till Birth Day as far as walking/standing/anything requiring energy. So we planned to shop a little, sit in a cafe a little, shop a little, sit in a cafe a little till we were done.

i'm not carrying what looks like an overinflated basketball on the front of me, but i was grateful for the cafe breaks. Euan is the easiest little shopping pal for a 2 year old, reminding me of daughter Corinne in her toddlerhood--she would happily cruise along in her stroller, playing with her little toys, dreamily in her own world, taking the occasional nap as needed, the sort of thing that lulls you into a false sense of parenting ease. (Had my 4th been a first child he probably would have been an only child. i love him beyond dearly, but he was the Energizer Bunny on speed.) Anyway, even with Euan being a happy little guy, a 2 year old is a person with needs: food, snacks, steering, leg-stretching, etc.

It didn't seem like such a big deal in the planning stage, but several shops and two cafes later, i was incredibly aware of why God makes it so that 50ish year old women do not as a rule have the babies. That is a job for the young.