The sea lions are back in Newport Harbor for the summer cunningly disguised as otters.

Total, utter chaos!

Chaos! That’s the only way I can describe my life of late. If I am a regular visitor to your blog, my apologies, what with a trip over Easter, my son’s birthday, THAT wedding (no, I didn’t go but I stayed up way too late) and family visiting for the last two weeks, everything else has suffered.

We’re also gearing up for Sixth Grade graduation which seems to involve endless requests for photos, dedications, donations and form filling for parties, year books and videos.

Not only that! We’re getting ready to start a new school with meetings, tours and again lots of form filling.

I have to take along a translator in the form of Danny for these meetings. I’ve mastered sophomore, junior, etc but there’s always something thrown into the mix that I don’t know. And I don’t want to immediately establish myself as the annoying mother who asks obvious questions that everyone else knows the answers to.

I’m holding back on the PTA at the moment, assessing the lay of the land. There were parents desperate to register their need to be a part of it. I like to let them take the lead and come in trailing at the back.

Last night we sat and listened to new teachers telling us about the school, all capped off with some very happy cheerleaders. At some point, I’ll get used to them. I pray that I’ll get used to them because they’re going to be part of our school lives for the next eight or so years.

As we sat in the huge auditorium, I couldn’t help feeling as though I was watching an American film unfold in front of me. High School life has been so well documented in films and television, it’s hard to escape those images.

So, onward and upward to Middle School or as I like to think of it Rydell High or William McKinley High School, it’s definitely not Hogwarts!

A day at the Austin Rodeo

I was Texas Lorna for a few days last weekend, not quite as catchy but great fun was had by all.  I love Austin; it has a fantastic vibe.  We were there for the SXSW festival and enjoyed the parties and seeing friends.  My liver, however, is quite please to be home.

This time, we’d taken the boys so I decided to see what else Austin had to offer.  I just about survived the Duck Tour, with the boys delighted to be handed quackers to blow as we boarded the vessel, me, not so much!  We didn’t have much time there so I thought a quick tour and a launch into a lake would give a quick introduction to the city.  My favourite part was driving by a golf course.  The driver made everyone blow their quackers just as a guy was about to tee off.  He screwed up his shot and shook his fist at us.  I’m still laughing about it now, it was like something from a film. I know, I know, not very mature.

We also headed out to the Austin Rodeo.  I was so excited to experience a real, proper rodeo with cowboys and cattle, sunshine and barbecue.

The general area of the rodeo was a little disappointing.  It’s probably from watching films, but I expected the rodeo to be on a ranch with lots of cattle and hay bales.  I had skipped breakfast in anticipation of some genuine, delicious Texas barbecue.  The outside of the main arena was just a state fair really.  We have a fair here in Orange County once a year.  A traveling fair shows up with dodgy rides and terrible fried food and that’s what the rodeo was.

That said two wristbands for endless rides and a deep fried Oreo later and the boys were in heaven.

I’d pre-booked tickets to the Xtreme Bull Riding, the main event of the day.  And let me tell you, I only bought our tickets a few days before and the event was practically sold out.  It was fascinating watching a completely different culture, I just sat in the stands and people watched.  This was a big event for the Austin community.  As the stadium went dark for the start of the show, lasers and fireworks blasted off and then flames lined the edge of the arena.  The cowboys, about 30 of them in all, lined up along the length of the flames.  The announcer then led the stadium in prayer.  Some cowboys took a knee, all bowed their heads.  The prayer asked not for winning or championships, just to keep the riders safer.  I have to say, I was swept away by the romance of it all.

The bulls seem to know the routine, leap out of the pen, jostle around a bit, throw off the cowboy  and then run back into the pen.  We were near the pens where the bulls were kept before they leapt into the area, it was fascinating to watch it all take place.  I just needed a friendly cowboy to sit next to me and explain the logistics!  I had many questions to ask and keep meaning to read up more about it.  Clearly, there are a lot of rules and regulations to bull riding!  I should have just sidled up to one of these guys, I’m sure they’d have appreciated my enquiries.

Frankly, it looks quite easy, I don’t know what all the fuss was about:

I find it fascinating that there are so many cultures within the United States and really not that far away from one another.  Here in California we’re surrounded by surf dudes and yet a couple of states over and it’s cowboy boots and hats.  This country truly has a rich culture, I think people underestimate that sometimes.  It’s so much more than hamburgers and ‘Have a nice day!’

Tsunami day

The phone rang at 4am on Friday morning. It was a call from the City of Newport Beach warning that an earthquake had hit Japan and a tsunami was headed our way. It was our first experience of the emergency notification service. The message was very explanatory announcing that the tidal wave would only be a few feet high and there was no need to evacuate. We also have tsunami sirens. If it had been life threatening, the sirens would have sounded and signaled a clear indication that we should leave immediately.

We turned on the television to see the awful news of the devastation. It’s heartbreaking and my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in Japan.

I find it fascinating that an event miles and miles away across a vast ocean can effect us in such a way.

It seemed silly to worry about a few feet of water when we could see the overwhelming amounts of water pounding Japanese communities.

At 6.30, the phone rang with a message that school had been cancelled - a tsunami day. The school is on the beach and they weren’t taking any chances. As the boys woke up, we explained that they had the day off school due to a tsunami. They had a look of fear until they realized it was just precautionary.

Watching the news made me realize how vulnerable we are. I haven’t got an earthquake preparedness kit tucked away. We live on a very flat piece of sand, a peninsula jutting out, a tsunami would roll across it taking everything in it’s path. It’s utterly terrifying. I plan to prepare a kit with water and food next week.

There are many ways to help support the victims of this disaster. I hope you can make a donation.

We may have woken to a frightening phone call but it really was more of a reality check. We live in a vulnerable place - and we need to be prepared.

The Secret Lives Of Androids

A family of Androids moved into our house a couple of weeks ago.  The boys have been studying their behaviour and cataloguing their every move.  The results are quite fascinating:

Rather surprisingly, Androids prefer the iPhone:

Google Android iPhoneThey are scared of piranhas:

Use a leash when taking their AT-ATs for a walk:

AT-AT Google Android

Prefer Xbox 360 to the Wii but still fight over the controllers:

Storm troopers are happy to protect them when they venture further a field:

Some Androids take their real estate exam…this one has just closed a sale on the Taj Mahal:

Exercise is important to the Android and the bike is the first choice of equipment:

They weren’t given shoes to wear but that doesn’t stop them from trying out new styles:

As their fame grows, so does the need to hide from the paparazzi

Of course, it’s Valentine’s Day…some Androids can’t resist it…they fall in love:

And hope one day it will be legal for them to marry.

Finally, Android bedtime:

Happy Valentine’s Day!

We have a pile of lollipops and cards sitting on the kitchen table.  Around 70 in total, to account for the whopping amount of children in the boys’ classes at school (thank you, Arnold!)

Yes, it’s bloody Valentine’s Day again.

I think we Brits can be blamed for the party bag, an equally wasteful and annoying creation.  I’ve heard from several American moms that this tradition seemed to come over from the UK, I can only apologise.  The party bag is awful.  A waste of money and the contents always end up in the bin.

But the Valentine’s Day exchange at school?  Sorry, American moms, but you’ve got to take the blame for this one.  My boys keep looking at the pile of lollipops, dreading the fact that they’ve got to write out 32 names on the cards.  It’s got to be done by Monday or they won’t be able to participate in the great exchange of crap in celebration of love.  When they arrive home on Monday, bags bursting with chocolate, lollipops and cards, most of it will end up in the bin.

As I perused the Valentine’s Day cards yesterday, I was amused by how many types you can find.  One for my dog?  And perhaps worst of all, one for my daughter in law.  I’m a few years away from potentially having a daughter in law but I can promise, I will never, ever be sending her a Valentine’s Day card.  My DIL may be the next Mother Theresa, or radiate kindness like Diana, but I’m sorry, there’s no way she’ll be getting a card from me.  And here’s hoping she has no intention of sending me one either, otherwise my sons have picked completely the wrong women.

Let’s get Monday over and done with is all I can think.  Get those bloody names on the cards, stick on the lollipops and get them into school.  Get the crap home from school, sort out the chocolate and put the rest in the bin.  Done!

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all…especially future daughter in laws.

Moving up to Middle School

The school year seems to be rushing along at particularly top speed this term.  My oldest son will be leaving elementary school this summer and heading off to Middle School.  This seems to be a popular choice in the States – Middle School.  It’s for children who aren’t quite youngsters anymore but haven’t hit the full-blown nightmare of the teenage years.  They take a couple of years to adjust to Middle School before being thrown into the hell of High School.  At the last parents’ evening there was talk of Pre-Algebra and English Honors and other terms that meant nothing to me.  We’re about to hit a steep learning curve.  I can never remember what a freshman is or any of the other names they give to particular grades.  I think we’ll just get the hang of it as we go along.

I also got the Letterman Jacket thing wrong the other day.  Danny joked about one of the boys getting one of these illustrious jackets if they did well at a particular sport at school.  I asked ‘what letter do you think they would get?’  As in, would they get a ‘B’ for baseball or an ‘F’ for football?  Quite a logical question, I thought.  But you get the letters of your school not the letter of your sport.  My stupidity provided much merriment.

There was a reason for my question.  I won ‘colours’ for sport at school, for hockey and swimming and was given those badges to sew on my skirt.  So to have a letter ‘B’ for baseball seems quite logical.

It all just makes me think of Grease.  We even have the ding-dong-ding loudspeaker at our school for announcements and I always struggle to keep a straight face when the Principal’s voice comes blaring into the classroom with a message.  All I can think of is the two ladies from Grease sitting behind a desk.

At the end of my son’s school year there will be a graduation ceremony and a party going around the harbour on a party boat.  I’m actually looking forward to graduation.  It’s a big deal leaving one school and heading off to another and I’m glad they mark the occasion with such an event.  The graduation takes place on the beach with the ocean in the background.  Yes, I know, I know, how many children experience that?  The sad thing is, they’re oblivious and take it all for granted.  But I think they’ll look back when they’re older and realize how very special it all was.

There’s a class for the children to take in the coming months to prepare them for the move to Middle School.  But what about the parents?  Where’s our class?  What’s a freshman?  What’s Pre-Algebra?  And do they really do wrestling?  Really?! Oh dear!

Mission San Juan Capistrano

We boarded a yellow school bus today and headed to Mission San Juan Capistrano.  It’s easy to think that California’s history is relatively brief compared to Great Britain but it’s still fascinating.   In 4th Grade the children learn about the gold rush and the missions which were built between 1769 and 1823.

Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded in 1775 which is really old for California and the building is made from adobe and has survived earthquakes and other natural disasters.  The Missions (twenty one in total) were built to expand the the territorial boundaries of Spain and teach Christianity to the Native people of California.

The children have all been assigned a mission and have been encouraged to visit and then write a report on their mission.  Our mission was Mission San Miguel Arcangel - half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  The report has been researched covering the history, the effect the mission had on the local Salinan Indians and the role the building has today.  And the mission has been built - from a cardboard box - cunningly sprayed with a stone looking paint which comes in a spray can.  Some children build their missions from sugar cubes, or clay but we felt that our cardboard box worked well!

Tomorrow the reports go into school along with the models and we do a ‘Mission Walk’ taking in all the missions from around the State.

My favourite part of the day was taking photographs of the mission, the arches were beautiful.  And I didn’t lose any children along the way, which is always a plus!

And for those of you who know the song When The swallows Come Back To Capistrano, this is where to song is referring to - Mission San Juan Capistrano.

The swallows will be back soon!

It’s not just rugby

I don’t usually write very personal posts, as you may have noticed.  I tend to be rather snarky and sarcastic.

Well, today I’m pissed!  So here it is, a very personal post.

The Six Nations starts today, the rugby tournament between Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy.  The highlight of the tournament is the game between Wales and England because of the huge rivalry between the teams.  I was born and raised in England but my father was Welsh.  That means I support Wales through and through when it comes to rugby.  I despise the English team, I loathe them.  It probably doesn’t make much sense to think that I can be so very English in all parts of my life apart from rugby.

My father’s huge passion in life was rugby.  He grew up in Wales but when he married my mother, moved to England and spent most of his life living in Essex.  We would either drive to Cardiff for the Internationals or he would need complete and utter concentration at home when the game was on television.  We learned quickly not to disturb him.  I started watching the games with him and will never forget attending my first International – Wales v France at Cardiff Arms Park.  I sung Land of my Fathers, the Welsh anthem, with all my heart.

Today the game starts at 8pm in the UK and after seeing promos for the rugby on BBC America, I assumed they would, of course, be playing Wales v England – the most important game of the Six Nations.  But they’re not.  BBC America is utterly crap.  They fail to show anything of importance, just Gordan Ramsay, Top Gear repeats and endless Doctor Who.

But here’s where it breaks my heart.  My father died eight years ago.  Watching Wales v England, seeing the Welsh lads singing their hearts out, listening to the Welsh supporters, just seeing that sea of red brings him back just for an hour or so.

At midday today, I know the UK will be watching the rugby but I don’t have access to it.  So I’ll miss out on my once a year time to think about my Dad and show my sons what their Grandpa was all about.

Sorry, I did say it was personal.

BBC America – get it together – you truly are utterly, utterly crap.

Here’s what I’ll be missing…it gives me goosebumps!  And by the way, my favourite players are the ones who are so overcome with emotion that they can’t sing.