iWife

A British Apple WAG's American adventures

ALBERT THE GREAT

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Now, I know we’re insanely biased but look at this gummy little guy… Isn’t he amazing?! Our dear Albert is nearing his seven-month birthday and wow, is he keeping Mr C and I firmly on our toes. We’re more overwhelmed, exhausted and completely in love with this chap than we ever imagined possible. That said, were just about starting to feel less like lost-in-the-fog new parents and more like Team Coward…

Don’t get me wrong, this loopy little threesome by no means resembles those weirdly organised, restaurant-frequenting families who actually get out the door on time. Oh no, if we manage to resist creeping back to bed during Albert’s morning nap, it’s a small miracle if we both get showered, inhale some cold toast and maybe put a laundry load on (whites, darks, delicates, poopy onesies all in)! And if you cant dial for dinner or throw it from the freezer to the microwave, forget it, chips and dips or cereal will suffice.

Its all run-of-the-mill, harassed-mum behaviour during the week Running red lights, scraping the car, getting locked out and public bra exposure are all regular occurrences. This once well-presented woman is now feeling fancy if she has deodorant on! Yep, the whole transformation has been challenging but I honestly can’t get enough of motherhood and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for this young man. And needless to say, Mr C is the relaxed, doting dad I always knew he’d be… Him and his ‘Big Guy!’ are the best of friends, acting like fools, rolling around and cackling away every chance they get (to the sound of my screeching, ‘Careful!’… ‘Don’t make him puke!’… ‘Not so high!’).

We’re basically the parents we never thought we’d be… If Albert’s awake, we struggle to hold an adult conversation and the moment he’s asleep, we can’t wait to scan through the day’s stream of Albert-adoring photos. We’d make the childless, career-minded Mr & Mrs C sick with all the unashamed soppiness that goes on around here.

This unconditional-love feeling seems to be contagious, not to mention transatlantic… Albert has something of a fan club. Not only do SF buddies scold us for not sharing him regularly enough but on our recent UK visit, he was completely adored by doting family and dear old friends. Grandma and Grandad had a nursery’s worth of baby paraphernalia waiting and whisked him into their arms at every waking (sometimes sleeping) opportunity. And his little cousins couldn’t get enough of bath time, bedtime, feeding time and generally anything Albert. It was lovely to share our little man and felt super sad to say goodbye when our week was up.

So, here we are, loving family life and trying to savor each and every milestone, believing those who say these precious early years disappear in a flash. As always, I promise to blog when I can but in the meantime, Mr C and I will keep taking each new day as it comes while giving constant thanks to patient loved ones, white wine and above all, our amazing Albert!

MAD ABOUT THE BOY

I’ve got a new man in my life and I must admit, I’m pretty smitten… After a little coercing here and there, our dear son Albert decided to make his entrance to the world on Saturday 28th July at 4.47am (PT), weighing in at 6lbs 13oz. A week overdue, this young man was in no particular rush to meet his eager folks but after a last supper of Mr C’s hottest chicken curry and a brief catch up on the Olympic Games opening ceremony, it was time to go to hospital. And true to the Zen character he turned out to be, our Bert’s birth entailed just six hours of manageable labour… Well, hypnobirth intentions went out the window (I couldn’t remember to breathe, let alone meditate!), a TENS machine was thrown across the room and my perfectly pedicured toes were hidden in hospital non-slip socks, but I’d do it all again tomorrow for this little guy!

The ever-faithful Mr C’s been my rock, acting as leg-holding, brow-mopping birth coach, cooking/cleaning/pillow-plumping postpartum carer and Albert-soothing Super Dad all rolled into one. As always, I don’t know what I’d do without him and we feel luckier than ever to have started our own little family. The past few weeks have been a blissful blur of coffee-shop strolls, star-shaped family naps to Sounds of the Womb and manic 1am bursts of swaddling and ‘SSSHHHHH’-ing in unison. And then there’s the intricate art of breastfeeding – phew, who knew it was such hard work feeding a marble-sized stomach?! It’s amazing how far we’ve come and it feels like Albert’s been around all along (the concept of ‘Baby C’ seems so very distant now)… I mean, we’re completely sleep deprived, can barely string a sentence together and constantly feel inexplicably sticky but we wouldn’t change things for the world!

So, two became three this side of the pond and us Cowards couldn’t be happier. True to his word, the doting dad has started a photo-dairy blog to celebrate his beloved firstborn (www.albertcoward.com) so I’ll leave you with our happy snaps… It’s been a pleasure to share my pregnancy journey and I promise to update iWife when my hands are a little less full!

 

GUESTS, NESTS AND A FULLY BAKED BABY

Well, can you believe it’s almost the end of Baby C’s pregnancy and the beginning of a whole new chapter for us Cowards?! Firstly, forgive my blogging absence, but I hope you’ll agree it’s somewhat justified for a fully functional nursery, belly bursting with (due-any-day-now) baby and brain overflowing with newborn information, preparation and anticipation… Yep, I’m finally stepping away from my control-freak, self-instructed reading list of pregnancy, birth and baby bibles to enjoy some simple pre-mum pleasures. These may involve little more than devouring Danish pastries on the deck, waddling the hills in a vain attempt at exercise and taking afternoon catnaps, but indulge me while I still have chance!

So, aside from Amazon ordering, childbirth-class craziness and just plain getting heavy, the past few months have seen a welcome whirlwind of visitors. Mr and Mrs C Sr. flew in for a gloriously sunny spell of deckchair lounging, beach bumming and tourist-attraction appreciating. It was great to get some family time in and we headed upcoast to Mendocino for a lazy weekend by the sea. Ahhh, the only thing better than watching the twinkling ocean meet blue skies from a bubbling hot tub would be doing exactly that while sipping an icy cold, stiff G&T… Well, two out of three isn’t bad and someone had to mix the drinks, right?! Yep, a wonderful time was had by all and many a happy tear was shed by the girls and back-slapping man hugs shared by the boys before the reunion was over. It was certainly fun to share our SF rituals with the grandparents-to-be and after a heart-to-heart (and maybe a glass or two of red), they bravely approved our new life Stateside. This nest-flying acceptance can’t have been easy and we’re only too conscious that such parental heartaches await us… I wake with night sweats over Baby C going to preschool, let alone leaving us to work in another country!

Following a speedy spare-room-to-nursery transformation, a dear British friend of mine arrived for a bout of good old girlie time. She didn’t seem to mind bunking in with bibs, nappies and nipple cream, and even co-concocted a beautiful baby-shower brunch with some sneaky SF friends. To top off this loved-one love-in, our old London neighbours recently dropped by on their California road trip (in a racing-red, convertible Mustang, no less!) for 4th July BBQ ribs and plenty of reminiscing. Once again, Mr C and I realised we’re blessed with friends like family and couldn’t feel one bit luckier if we tried.

And with old friends and new came even newer ones… I’ve met some lovely local mamas and have a great gaggle of girls to share the ups and downs of pregnancy and parenting with. Weekly meet-ups involve park dates, coffee-shop catch-ups and even a bit of baking at each others’ homes. (I’m sure such domestic goddesstry will soon deteriorate to tears, tantrums and eating soft cookies straight from the packet, but it’s such a comfort to know we aren’t alone in our bare-all birth experiences and dirty-nappy adventures.)

So, I’ll leave you updated yet hopefully not overwhelmed with late-pregnancy details. But rest assured this iWife will be back the moment our new addition allows me a millisecond to myself. Mr C’s even murmuring about an iBaby blog to shower long-distance loved ones with snaps of our dear offspring reaching each and every milestone (from burping to bathing to just blinking, no doubt), so watch this space for the proud father’s presence… In the meantime, wish us luck – I’ll lie back, think of England and return with names, news and far too many details before you know it!

MIND THE BUMP

What I lack in variety on the news front, I certainly make up for in volume… Baby C’s growing on a grand scale and so am I, for that matter. This should come as no shocking surprise – that’s the big idea about baby baking – but my rather rotund belly continues to amaze me, nonetheless. Now, call me controversial, but I just can’t get enough of it!

Having always sought safety in not-too-figure-hugging fashion, this mama-to-be is loud and proud about her new body. For example, I’m quite certain horizontal stripes belong nowhere near a pregnant lady, but they’re all over me. I’ve scoured every maternity outlet’s spring-striped rails and I’m pretty pleased with the contour-curving outcome. And this bump’s been getting a good airing, too… I wouldn’t have dreamed of showing off my non-pregnant physique in such a brazen manner, but my disappearing navel’s out on display at the slightest suggestion of a peek from loved ones. Maybe it’s because I consider it Baby C’s property to parade or perhaps I’m shaking off those twenty-something inhibitions that stuck around? Having said that, I’m really starting to regret that oh-so-clever teenage rebellion of getting my belly button pierced… A gentle reminder of the fun years ahead, battling with adolescent attempts at self expression, perhaps?!

Yep, all is well with these parents-to-be… Much to the horror of his fellow commuters, Mr C swots up on The Birth Partner every day during his iBus journeys. He’s just finished the C-section chapter and proudly informed me over dinner that this would be a much less messy option and perhaps easier for everyone involved… Hmm, thank you, dear. But that’s just it, I can’t wait for the birth – who knows what fate B-day will bring, but if I can go for it au natural, I’m there with gusto! Maybe it’s my primal instinct kicking in, but I know I’ve gone from feeling queasy about blood tests and fillings to happily studying episiotomies over a brew and a biscuit. Anyway, it’s less about my pain-tolerance intrigue and more about Baby C getting here healthily so bring it on, whichever mode of transport he/she opts for on the day.

In the meantime, I’m happy to keep waddling along, eating my own body weight in just about everything and going about my daily business. I finally found my groove at prenatal yoga (if only it wasn’t for gravity getting the better of me) and our new car’s given me city freedom I never imagined. For the first time since we arrived Stateside, I can honestly say I don’t mind not working… I suspect the longevity of my freelance career would have dwindled somewhat during my sloth-like early months of pregnancy. And who’d be willing to listen to my growth-spurt updates (let alone condone daily bare-all analyses) when I should be printing, proofreading and correcting?!

No, I’ll happily leave bump appreciation to the ever-faithful Mr C. Judging by the hearty hellos and goodbyes he bellows into my belly twice a day, this little one’s not going to be faint of heart. And we’re constantly reminded of our child’s pointy presence, with little limbs regularly poking out, as if to declare itself to the world. Only 16 weeks until we’re all introduced and we can’t wait to be kept on our toes and no doubt feel well and truly under that tiny thumb!

LICENSE TO DRIVE

With the somewhat daunting threat of becoming a stress-head, bus-user ‘mom’ looming over me, I decided to get myself mobile… Admittedly, it took an entire year to man up but I finally passed my California driving test and we just found ourselves some wheels! So no more 3am fears of cabbing it to the maternity ward when the time comes, trekking the hills with a pram and struggling with groceries. Yep, we’re certainly relieved to be a step closer to becoming the responsible grown ups our dear unborn child will no doubt be expecting come July!

Driving on the other side of the road and getting used to an automatic car? Big deal, you might say. But having ditched my cocky teenage driving ‘skills’ for years of London Underground frequenting, the thought of hopping in the driver’s seat didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Car hiring left Mr C clinging, white knuckled to the passenger door while stamping his foot on an imaginary brake, and I just didn’t feel any urgent need to do anything about it. Until, that is, this burgeoning belly of mine became a daily reminder of the unknown world that awaits us, where we suspect mobility could come in handy.

So, when my expat buddy Rosie suggested we get on with our written test, I was glad of the guidance and heartily agreed. But studying the CA Driver Handbook at home led to coma-like kips on the sofa (I’d blame the hormones but it really is a dull read). And joint revision sessions resulted in lost afternoons of tea-drinking, gossiping and generally procrastinating. However, determined to stick to our agreed written-test date, we nervously got in line at the local DMV office and tried our luck. (A single trip to this Godforsaken place the sights, the smells and oh man, the restrooms! is enough to scare you into passing anything.) But it wasn’t as simple as just ticking some boxes and getting the hell out of there, oh no… A rogue fellow student tried to copy Rosie’s paper and almost got them both thrown out for talking and I lost my nerve, had a hot flush and almost cried. Thankfully though, we both sailed through and all we had left to consider was the mere task of a driving test.

This is where I was on my own. Fearless Rosie had been whizzing around her home city before moving Stateside, but I suspected a lesson or two might be an idea for this clueless driver with precious cargo. So, I squeezed my pregnant lumps and bumps behind the wheel, listened to my instructor’s calming advice and gradually built up my confidence. Before I knew it, I was back at the dreaded DMV, waiting in a hire car for my test to begin. That’s where things got interesting (I swear that place is doomed). From the moment the examiner and I set off, I was faced with a series of extraordinary obstacles… A driver in front made a sudden three-point turn on a busy street, a drunken hobo staggered into the road and a mobility scooter rode diagonally across the intersection I was attempting to cross. It was certainly a relief to park up at the end but against the crazy odds, the examiner told me I’d passed. Big fat phew!

No doubt weary with hearing my Grand Driving Plan for months on end, Mr C was elated and my best friend even sent a card. And it didn’t take us long to sign for a sleek, grey Honda. Although, you know you’re growing up when trading young-couple dreams of a sporty Audi for the latest ‘Affordable Family Car of the Year’! No matter, we’re chuffed to bits with our wheels and can’t wait for a summer full of new-family outings (last-ditch efforts to make a newborn sleep, more like). First off, we’d better get ourselves to IKEA etc for some actual baby gear, as we’re 23 weeks in and own nothing more than a handful of novelty 0-3 month outfits…

THE BABYMOONERS

Just-married couples take a luxury break to celebrate their new life together… Just-pregnant couples book an equally indulgent getaway to savour what’s left of it! Only kidding, we await Baby C’s arrival with very much excitement, but thought we’d sneak in a relaxing couples holiday with B-day creeping ever closer. So, all two and a half of us packed our sun hats and headed to Mexico for a few days. A little calm before the storm, you might say!

We chose Sayulita, a stunning spot on the Pacific coastline, popular with surfers and those in search of unspoiled, original Mexico. If you don’t like fish tacos or Margaritas, this isn’t the place for you. Needless to say, what I declined in stiff drinks, I more than made up for in delicious local food (my stretchy new maternity gear certainly came in handy). Our beautiful B&B was perched on a lush, palm-tree-clad hillside with a spacious room overlooking the ocean and 100% sunrise/set satisfaction. A real off-the-beaten-track destination with only the jungle and crickets for company. Phone reception was non-existent, Wi-Fi was patchy and there was no particular need to know the time… We wished we’d booked in for longer from the moment we dropped our bags.

True to pale-skinned tourist form, we got ourselves into a few scrapes. Mr C incurred a cactus wound while donning a sombrero for a comical photo, shortly followed by a rock-climbing-induced bloodied back and badly scratched ankle. I lost my canvas shoe to the ocean and got chased by a Chihuahua but remained otherwise unscathed (thankfully, for Baby C’s sake).

Oh, and although we enjoyed one glorious afternoon of cocktail/7Up-sipping sunshine, the heavens opened from day two onwards. Of course they did we’re Brits abroad on our first sun-reliant holiday in years. Having assured me of February’s reliability of warm, dry days, the B&B owner named our micro storm ‘Hurricane Lucy’ in honour of my forecast-scouring doubt. The grey clouds and scattered showers didn’t spoil our fun, though… Much to the amusement of fellow guests, we took to the loungers with good books, swam in the pool and strolled along the beach (Mr C even braved the waves)! And sitting on our covered terrace, devouring locally picked mango and playing cards to the surround sound of raindrops drew no complaints from us. This was a much-needed mini break and we were just grateful to feel so wonderfully cut off from civilisation for a few days, albeit with occasionally damp feet!

So, when we weren’t sun-worshipping, dodging the downpours or eating our own body weights in seafood, we were taking afternoon naps or obsessively snapping our breathtaking view. Mr C remains convinced he spotted a whale in the distance (but that could well have been the tequila talking). We might not have impressive tans to flaunt but this was just what the doctor ordered for a busy bee man and his pregnant wife. And judging by the regular tummy flutters, I suspect Baby C rather enjoyed coming along for the ride, too!

HELLO, BABY C

Yep, it’s high time I broke this blogging drought and came clean Mr C and I are expecting our first baby! And if I’m honest, I’ve been finding it hard to think about much else recently. In among the aforementioned high drama of 2011, we pondered the more important things in life and Baby C’s timing just couldn’t have been better somehow. Well, the positive pregnancy test would’ve been much less guilt riddled had it not appeared during my 30th-birthday-weekend hangover, but no-one’s perfect, right?!

After the initial swearing, jumping and mixed emotions of manic elation and sheer terror, Mr C and I soon settled into the idea of becoming parents (darn cool ones, you understand?). But as always, there have been a few ups and downs The early days entailed three emotional ultrasounds, countless days feeling like road kill and you don’t even want to know how many trips to the loo! And I’m quite certain my poor doctor’s had enough of the obsessive, twice-weekly emails: ‘Where do you stand with Parma ham on pizza?’; ‘Help, I think I drank spoiled milk’; ‘I’m pretty sure I’ve got TB’; ‘And what about nail polish fumes?’ I’d just love to sneak a peek at her screen, where there’s no doubt, ‘CONTROL FREAK!!!’ scrawled across my notes.

And here we are, 16 weeks in, eagerly awaiting my modest bump to announce itself to the world rather than hiding meekly somewhere in my midriff. I’m at that embarrassing stage where polite people don’t know whether to give up their seat and I just feel like I’ve had a big lunch (which I usually have). Speaking of which, no-one tells you how insanely hungry you’re going to feel after the morning sickness (which no-one also tells you is actually 24-hr nausea and knackered-ness) has passed. My 4am banana snack breaks are a nightly occurrence, I’ve just polished off a jar of peanut butter in a week and there never seems to be any bread left. Ginger ale is my new Sauvignon Blanc and I’ve got a taste for cream cheese like I never knew possible, so needless to say, this little one won’t be going hungry! I tried to combat said appetite by starting prenatal yoga but my pale face and pea belly just didn’t find their place in a class full of huge-bumped, glowing girls ‘Omming’ by candlelight. I’m determined to persevere, mind, as the preparation benefits for, whisper it, the birth are meant to be endless.

So, a bun’s in our oven and the secret’s out, and we’re chuffed to bits if completely and utterly scared to death. There’s a whole new world awaiting us from mid July onwards so we’re squeezing in all the ‘You can’t do that when the baby’s here’ events while we can This started with a civilized dinner party (ironed napkins and everything), I’m working on my California driver’s license and we’re off to Mexico’s finest no-kids B&B next week. (Pregnancy books, daily baby/fruit-size analogy and general parent-to-be chit-chat will be strictly off-limits for five whole days.) It’s all good stuff for us Cowards we’re ready for a new challenge and an extra little person joining us on our American adventure. Good job, too, as something tells me we’d better be!

OH, WHAT A YEAR!

Let’s face it, 2011 was a crazy-kid year for us Cowards… This time twelve months ago, we didn’t know if it was time to grow up and get a dog or start a whole new life in San Francisco! And no sooner had we answered late-night calls from Apple HQ, attended a US Embassy interview and hugged everyone goodbye, were we blinking at one another in disbelief at Heathrow Airport.

Had we really upped sticks and left our careers, friends, family and beloved Greenwich flat to chance our luck in another country? I mean, the only thing guaranteed was Mr C’s fancy new job and a couple of British buddies waiting for us ‘on the other side’… Stupid? Maybe. Lucky? Certainly. Happy? Well, it naturally took a wee while to settle, but definitely!

And so my bumbling blog was born. I confess it’s not as regularly updated as I’d originally intended, but it’s certainly been a comfort to put things into perspective on screen. And aside from my most religious reader, Mr C Sr. and a few faithful friends, I’m pretty sure it’s not as logged on to as perhaps it once was. But the point is that it’s still going strong, as is our Stateside existence!

In the past ten months, we’ve been busy house-hunting, homemaking, meeting fascinating people and even exploring a bit more of our new homeland. And here we are, admittedly missing loved ones like mad and still suffering my accidental-housewife frustration, but loving life and remaining in one piece. Or just about… In among the happy summer months of BBQs, silly drunk nights with friends and brunch/baseball-filled weekends, Mr C got sick. But thanks to his amazing American doctors and good old British resilience, he lives to tell the tale so big smiles remain stretched across the pond!

Yep, we couldn’t be more thankful for pretty much everything right now. We’re certainly grateful for making some friends for life (British and American), whom we spent cheers-ing and hugging this New Year’s Eve. Can you tell how contently chirpy we look (nothing to do with Kate’s cocktails, honest)?! We’ve also enjoyed some emotional reunions, with yet more in the pipeline for 2012. Bring on the new year and may it be less life-threatening, more relaxing and who knows, maybe a bit more blogged about…

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Despite the absence of loved ones, our first California Christmas has seemed so, well, surprisingly similar to the British version we’ve known and loved for the past thirty-something years. Okay, there was the somewhat weird addition of good weather and lack of travel chaos, but we managed to forge a pretty traditional fare for ourselves…

As always, the build up to the big day was much fun. We joined friends and neighbours for drinks, dinners and even a festive quiz (at which Mr C was in the minority of taking the bad-outfit competition seriously). And Christmas Eve involved a trip to see The Nutcracker ballet where, suited and booted, we applauded until our palms stung and even shed a little tear when the curtains came down. We also got some feline time in with our out-of-town pals’ cats and were grateful for their fuzzy cuddled welcomes each morning when we called in.

Needless to say, it wasn’t all smooth running… In true Christmas spirit, Mr C insisted we carry our chosen 7ft tree home ourselves, to which I heartily agreed. A few blocks away, we buckled beneath the weight of our fine pine and, faces like thunder, muttered obscenities to each ‘Happy Holiday!’ well-wisher and car-horn honker. Oh, and our pre-ordered turkey failed to arrive, a Christmas pudding was nowhere to be found and Mr C cursed the Holy Day’s sunshine for obscuring his vision and warming his Champagne. So, somewhere between closing the blinds and cooking a chicken, we cheers-ed said beautiful tree, consumed an insane amount of chocolate and cheese and opened our lovely gifts.

Ah, the gifts… Much like children in charge of our own Christmas, we’d woken at 5am to open the stockings filled for each other, which caused much early-morning embarrassment on my part. My gifts to Mr C were plentiful yet novel (moustache paperclips, $100 bill tissues, retro RoboCop T-shirt), whereas his gifts to me were nothing but tasteful (miniature Champagne, deluxe chocolates, Chanel perfume). Oh well, good job I’d treated him to a padded winter coat, complete with fur hood, all wrapped up under the tree. It was only when he excitedly tried it on and began profusely sweating that I realised my second gift faux pas of the day. (Perhaps it’ll make an appearance for that sub-zero weekend away we’ve always dreamed of?!) Not to mention the books I’d spied on his Amazon Wish List and sneakily ordered, only to leave lying around unwrapped for him to disappointedly discover… From him, I opened a bow-topped box of yet more surprise, luxury lotions and potions. Oh, the shame!

Gift glitches aside, we had a truly magical Christmas spent eating, drinking and being merry, with a few games of ‘Post-it note guess who’ thrown in. And although familiar faces were smiling back at us over Skype rather than across the table, it was such a comfort to keep in touch. We ended our lovely, lazy day by settling in and watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time – could we get any more festive?! I’d better get my act together on Mr C’s list by next year, mind… And a turkey and some Christmas pud wouldn’t go amiss, either!

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

I have a confession to make: I only just visited the Big Apple for the the very first time. Well, what better place to up your festive quota for the Christmas season than hustling, bustling, twinkle-lit NYC?! So that’s exactly where we headed last weekend. Mr C was on business and I was, well, going along for the ride…

It was all a little last minute, so there was no need to bother with city guides and pre-planning, just time to check the forecast, pack sweaters and book a cab to the airport. Oh, and convince Mrs C Sr. that it wasn’t worth her hopping on a high-season flight for the briefest of family reunions, purely because it’s that bit closer than SF. We were truly touched by the 7am call, explaining her wild plan, but even the most heartfelt maternal intentions couldn’t justify such a time-pushed, pricey cuddle. Those happy times are yet to come and 2012 grows ever closer.

So, feeling a tad sad yet excited for an adventure, we jetted off to JFK and were soon being whisked to a swish hotel near Grand Central Station. Our 34th-floor room wowed us back to life after the flight and we couldn’t wait to explore nighttime New York… A walk through Rockefeller Center’s winter wonderland (picture-postcard ice rink and sky-high Christmas tree) and two big burgers later, we were suitably impressed and ready for our bed!

And boy did we sleep, 10 whole hours in fact. Good job, too, as Mr C had a full day of work ahead and I had a date with a map and a Christmas shopping list… So, I wrapped up warm and wandered through open-air markets, up and down exclusive Fifth Ave and around neon-lit Times Square. Having become so quickly accustomed to the California pace of life, all this came as quite a culture shock… I caught myself, wide-eyed with wonder (and a hint of new-city trepidation), just like my first time in London all those years ago. But I upped my pace and within a matter of hours, my list was sorted, my legs were tired and I was heading back to our hotel to drop bags and regroup with Mr C.

With one remaining day of tourist time together, we used it wisely: more map-mooching, a ferry tour around Manhattan and a show on Broadway. So, we passed all the must-see monuments, soaked up the bright lights and I even got to indulge my ‘dad crush’ from the third row of Seminar, starring Alan Rickman! Not to mention all the oversized breakfasts, fancy dinners and numerous stops for sweet treats, sub sandwiches and much-needed hot drinks. Yep, I think you could say we fully utilised the little time we had in this fabulous city.

Call us cheesy tourists but we had the most wonderful whirlwind of a weekend. I’m almost certain we barely skimmed the surface of the real New York, but what better reason to return?! And maybe next time we’ll plan ahead and make a family/friend reunion of it…

DESTINATION: RELAXATION

Mr C and I just celebrated our first Thanksgiving and, as the whole experience was new on us, we didn’t mind if it involved turkey and family tension or something totally different with friends. When our dear neighbour-pals invited us to join them on a road trip to the desert, we knew we’d be in for a treat!

Skirting the edge of Joshua Tree National Park, in the depths of Yucca Valley, lies a hot little haven for a couple of couples seeking sunshine, solitude and maybe a little Scrabble time. So that’s where we all headed last week and what a much-needed break it turned out to be… I won’t lie, the journey from Northern California to Southern was nothing short of epic; in a state almost double the size of our homeland, it’s no wonder we had numb bums and requested countless bathroom stops. But our brave buddies thought nothing of the drive and we were very grateful for their tireless perseverance and well-considered playlists! Yes, their trip-timed groovy soundtracks were far superior to our embarrassingly unoriginal contribution of The Joshua Tree album by U2…

A couple of freeways and a mile or two of sandy hills later, we pulled up in Rock Reach House driveway and followed the low-lit rocks to our hipster house for four. Oohs and aaahs echoed around the interior as we admired the uber-cool décor, surround-sound system and humongous beds. And this was all before discovering the outdoor attractions: open fireplace, wet room and cowboy hot tub! Zombified from the journey, we prepared a quick dinner, politely argued over who should have which room and promptly passed out.

We’d all agreed it best to arrive late, so the crazy beauty of the desert could be appreciated at first light. And so it was… As each of us woke the following morning, we padded through to the living area, gasped and snapped photos of the morning sun creeping over the moon-like landscape. With only jackrabbits, chipmunks and coyotes for neighbours, we soon realised we were completely secluded and relished the thought of being cut off from civilisation for a day or two. In fact, the closest thing to transportation we saw for a while was a dainty little roadrunner, to whom we cried, ‘Meep meep!’

Thanksgiving itself was very happy blur of hiking, film watching, hot-tub sweating, pyjama wearing and yes, a little Scrabble playing (and an early finish when the novelty wore off and the boys were winning). Traditional turkey was ditched for a herb-crusted leg of lamb followed by homemade pumpkin pie and we all dutifully announced what we were giving thanks for: friendship, life changes and lamb! The rest of the trip was filled with pancake breakfasts, more good music and a trip to Pioneertown, a Western movie set which, although complete with bank, saloon and ‘likker store’, was out of season and proved somewhat uneventful. The time spent lazing in and around our desert house was by far the highlight for us city kids.

So, it was the relaxing minibreak we all craved and we were soon on the road again. But this time, we took a detour to Hollywood! Windows low and hot sunshine beating down during a drive along Sunset Boulevard just about topped off the coolest vacation yet. Yep, this was a pretty special treat and Route 101 from LA to SF was perfectly accompanied by the sparkling Pacific Ocean winking back at us (somehow, we didn’t mind the long journey this time)… Wow, our future Thanksgivings have got a lot to live up to!

COLD COMFORT

Yep, its definitely that time of year again. Our sunshines efforts to keep us warm have been in vain and theres no denying that winters well and truly on its way. Crisp autumn mornings, short, cool days and dark, drizzly evenings mean weve finally traded in our sandals and summer jackets for coats, boots and scarves. Now, call me controversial, but theres something about this time of year that I cant help but love

You just cant beat hopping out of bed to fill the kettle, flick the heating on and jumping back in to snuggle down before sunrise. And theres no better closure to a winters day than locking the door, lighting the candles and snuggling in to watch a film. That said, our DVD delivery membership has included a somewhat eclectic array of viewing material, mostly watched from the laptop in bed. Like I said, we enjoy nesting. Our potluck approach has had us playing anything from Gandhi to The Hangover. And when Mr C decided to educate me through four grueling hours (in two sittings, may I add) of Apocalypse Now, I thought it only fair that he should endure Bridesmaids and, erm, The Lion King.

Film disasters aside, for us piggy Cowards, theres been nothing quite like preparing a few comforting meals to warm the cockles of our chilly hearts. And by that, I mean piping hot, thick, stick-to-your-ribs fare; the stuff I was brought up on in the depths of the Staffordshire Moorlands 6ft snowdrifts Cue my dear Mums bruised, battered cookery books once again! And, as were keeping up with our veggie-box deliveries, weve got an abundance of hearty produce – not to mention guilt when it goes rotten – so Ive been in my steamy kitchen-ed element this week.

Opening Delias Cookery Course to a suitably splash-stained recipe for leek and potato soup, I instantly remembered the cuddle-in-a-bowl meal we used to devour, so got straight to work. And having come over all creative in the kitchen last weekend, I knew Mr Cs homemade chicken stock would work a treat in this winter warmer Leeks sweated in butter, potatoes boiled in luscious stock and all I had to do was dash to the shop for a loaf of crusty bread. And tempted as I was to add a swirl of cream and a crescent of curly parsley (circa 1980), a twist of black pepper and a snip of chives finished off this little feast perfectly!

So there we are, a simple meal with a whole lot of substance. I think that blender of ours is going to get lucky rather a lot this season. The options are endless for this soppy soup fiend: lip-smacking spicy parsnip, porridge-thick Egyptian lentil and simple chicken, the ultimate soul food. So, its out with BBQs, salads and delicate dishes and in with casseroles, roast dinners and stodgy puddings. Hibernation times here and were all for it!