A Deal with the Devil

I prefer to get my news from British media. Therefore, I see a lot of stories about Nigella Lawson. For anyone not familiar with this domestic celebrity, she is a popular celebrity chef in London best known until recently for her sexy food shots from her book and show Nigella Bites. Her show was the first to do the closeups of manicured hands cracking eggs and folding dough. More recently she is known for a dramatic and quick divorce from well known advertising magnet turned modern art gallery owner, Charles Saatchi. After the paparazzi snapped pictures of them in a restaurant when she was crying and he had his hands at her throat, the domestic abuse allegations zipped around the media. The couple initialized and finalized their divorce shortly thereafter.

A few of the divorce story details have stuck with me for a while. First, Nigella did not make the claims of domestic abuse, the media did. Second, during the divorce proceedings Nigella admitted to using cocaine. Third, about two years ago Nigella received many media compliments for losing quite a bit of weight and expanding her media empire.

When we lived in London, we lived off Sloane Square a few blocks from the Saatchi Gallery. I had seen Nigella on the street many times. She did not fit the cultural standard of beauty; she was not a lean and leggy woman and she also wore the level of makeup that often mars a woman’s appearance. No matter, she was stunningly beautiful. So I wondered after all this news broke what would cause a woman who seemed to have everything to use cocaine.

The stereotypical reason, and the one Nigella claims, is marital unhappiness. But women—certainly wealthy and successful women like Nigella—are no longer trapped in marriages. And in high power women’s circles, divorce doesn’t stigmatize a woman, it liberates her. So why would she turn to drugs that can wreck the rest of her life?

I think I figured out the answer over the past few weeks. Last fall all of my children started to school and I gained many more hours for writing. I have written more in the past six months than I was able to write in years prior. But I still want to do more. I also want (really need) to exercise more, to say little of the stacks of books to read, and one to write. I have many more hours at my disposal, but still not enough to do everything I want to do.

This vexes me, greatly, and I don’t suffer from the ‘have it all’ syndrome. That is, I don’t feel outside pressure to do more. I’m not doing anything just to prove I can do it or because that’s what I think society expects women to do.

But the ‘have it all’ syndrome is real. We fourtysomething women were raised on a diet of you-can-have-it-all-as-long-as-you-time-it-right: education, career, then motherhood. Leaving the analysis of that advice for another day, regardless of what we think about having it all anymore, women aim to the All, and in epic irony, we aim to the All not necessarily because we want it but because we think other women expect us to achieve it. Pleasers to a fault, we are.

Among other things, we strive to remain young looking and thin while piling on the professional accolades. There isn’t enough time to do all of that even if the approved goals didn’t clash. (Skinny women over 40 look wrinklier, professional success leaves less time for exercise unless one’s profession is blue collar or athletic, etc.)

My internal pressure drives me enough for fits of frustration and cranky stupors. If I felt the external HIA pressure as well—and if I didn’t have my religious convictions that  support me during the fits if frustration—then a deal with the Devil might seem tempting. Pure speculation here, but I think that is what happened to Nigella. She made a deal with the Devil. Cocaine gave her more hours for her career and the coveted thinner figure. She published more. She appeared on new cooking shows. And that thinner figure landed her a British Vogue cover at the age of 54. According to The Telegraph, she is the oldest women to grace that cover. (It’s billed as a light makeup cover, even though she has more than minimal makeup on. But that is a whole other discussion about beauty.)

Nigella’s deal worked as promised, for a while. As we all know, the Devil likes to alter deals. Addictions are his auto-altering tool. In time, the “gift” stops serving us and we serve it.

Now I wonder if those infamous pictures of Saatchi’s hands at Nigella’s throat were taken completely out of context. Perhaps an increasingly worried and desperate husband had taken his wife out to a public place so that she had to sit and listen. Perhaps he told her how cocaine was choking the life out of her. Perhaps he put his arms and hands around her neck to illustrate. Perhaps she was crying because she knew the truth of his accusation. That would look quite bad in a snapshot.

This theory of the pictures isn’t just my random musing either. The cocaine use admission came out during the trial of Nigella’s assistants. Saatchi had sued them for embezzlement and one of their defenses was that Nigella had approved the contested payments to cover for her covert cocaine use. Nigella argued that she had only used cocaine once during her marriage to Saatchi and that they never saw her take cocaine. But the assistants who saw them regularly, knew their inner workings as well as most anybody—household staff has a privileged perch—they think the infamous photos were an intervention. Sadly, that makes quite a bit of sense to me. The pressure women put on ourselves to have it all is intense. And to appear to have it all, we have to hide the tradeoffs. Having it all is supposed to be effortless. That a rising star might try a chemical edge and then go to great lengths to hide this fact isn’t a novel story.  I guess this story made sense to the jury as well. They acquitted the assistants.

Nigella is trying to recover. Predictably, her career is still in good shape. She didn’t lose any jobs over this. She got that Vogue cover. There were rumors of an Oprah interview. But her marriage fell apart. And bridges have been burned with two once-trusted assistants.  Whatever the truth of her frequency of drug use, I do hope she is free of it now. Because the Devil always alters deals.


Turkey Bans Twitter, and I Have a Little Deja Vu

Reposted and updated from my previous blog, An American Housewife in London, April 2011:

The Puzzle of The Times, Muslim Feminism, and Copyright

We are back from Devon.  We had a lovely time, and I will have stories soon.  My blog inbox, however, brought me a surprise today, a possible copyright violation.
A few weeks ago I posted about Shaista Gohir, a woman who Stefanie Marsh called “the most feminist Muslim in Britain” in an article for The Times.  I’ve also posted on Veena MalikShaharzad AkbarSheryl WuDunnviolence against Christiansexporting feminism, and have linked to posts about the Taseer and Bhatti assassinations.   Recently, I learned that I had been banned in Turkey, I believe due to posts such as these. [Yasha was traveling in Turkey and tried catch up on my blog while there. I forgot the translation of the notice, something about a site containing unhealthy material. In hindsight, I wish I'd had him take a screen shot.]

The Shaista Gohir post contained an extensive excerpt of Stefanie Marsh’s article.  At the time I thought to give my American readers, who rarely have a Times subscription, a decent taste of Gohir without reposting the entire article.  So I excerpted and linked. Women like her are too valuable to remain unheralded.  Instead the post seems to have bounced around Turkey, hopefully reaching women for whom Shaista Gohir represents hope.

This morning I received a notice that my post had been pulled down by Blogger for alleged copyright violation.  After a little investigation, I suspect that it was not The Times or Stefanie Marsh who made the request.  It would be simple, but illegal, for anyone to pose as Ms. Marsh or a Times rep on the Google request form.  Furthermore, as I have received no other notices even though I have multiple Times excerpts posted on this blog, I suspect that someone other than The Times is behind the notices and attempting to use copyright as a weapon of censorship.  I also cannot find my notice archived on chillingeffects database though Google says that they report all notices to chillingeffects and other April 11 notices are already available.  Puzzling.

That said, I have not confirmed my suspicions with The Times. Therefore, I am pulling down my Times excerpts until I discuss with them how they would prefer bloggers excerpt their content.  More on this later, I am sure.

UPDATE: The author, Marsh, didn’t file the complaint against this blog. She’s checking at The Times. [It wasn't them. I eventually linked less to The Times for this worry—it was very easy for an impostor to file a complaint, and because the Times paywall meant that most of my readers couldn't read the article. It's a shame because The Times has some good writing. I used The Daily Mail for a while, which has most everyone beat for speed and updates but nothing else.]

“Well, we won’t let you do that to us. I promise.”

Diplomacy is delicate. It is nuanced. It requires experience.

Recall back in 2009 when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented her Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with a “reset” button to reset our relations after the oaf in office? The story is now famous. The outgoing SecState was fluent in Russian. The newly installed SecState wasn’t. The button didn’t say “reset”. Watch the short exchange.

Not letting the Russians overcharge our relationship–that isn’t working out so well. In fact, as I and countless others have written, the supposed simpleton VP candidate Palin and the retro-loving foreign policy candidate Romney called this re-charge. Palin even called it with specificity back in 2008.

I’ve seen two main defenses to the “told you so’s” from Palin and Romney voters. Obama and Kerry are pushing the latter themselves.

  1. Obama was faking. It only sounds like he didn’t understand the Russian situation because he thought that the nuances of foreign policy were too complicated for ordinary Americans to understand. As Dave Weigel put it in Slate, Obama was “playing to the cheap seats.” If true, this is shocking condescension, even for this president. Yes, he thinks little of our collective intellect and has dumbed down other complicated topics for purposes of securing his power, so consistency suggests this might be true. If false–and I do think it false, Obama really thought Romney’s  concern about Russia was silly–this is a respect destroying excuse. It’s a ‘the boss screwed up so blames his secretary’ defense on a national scale.
  2. Putin is nuts. He is unpredictable and unreasonable and our diplomats rely too much on the reasonable actor analysis. This is almost complete nonsense. Any student of history can predict Putin. We do rely on the reasonable actor analysis too much, but not about leaders’ characters. The main problem is not that we think all leaders are reasonable but that we assume their reasonable is our reasonable. I thought my husband put it well the other morning. “Our elite see the world through a rich man’s glasses,” he said. They assume that since they themselves worry about world opinion, the environment, and the common person that so does every other leader. This is the same mistake Kennedy made in the Vienna Summit. The assumptions, the posturing, the excuses–we’ve done it all before. And for as many times as the press has cried “Vietnam!”, they ought to at least be getting a broken clock’s twice-a-day luck.

One last note. I’ve seen a few articles on Hillary Clinton and her recent Russia and Hitler comparison. That is certainly noteworthy. I agree with the Best of the Web’s heated rhetoric point (first item). Hitler comparisons are more likely to overcharge than reset relations, no? But Hillary’s comments from the 2012 election bother me more. In response to Romney’s comments about Russia as our main geo-political foe she told CNN “I think it is rather dated to be looking backward.” (See the 25 second mark.) We all learn from experience. Diplomats must learn from our collective experience, throughout history. I think it is rather ominous to have a diplomat who doesn’t look back. But of course, this is one of the reasons I am conservative. Conservatives respect the known and tried, while the progressive motto seems to be ‘This time it’ll work’ without much regard or even knowledge of history or facts.


Kennedy Talked, Khrushchev Triumphed

The Day Berlin Was Divided

Woefully inexperienced and unknowledgeable diplomats seem to be a systemic problem for the State Department these days

Diplomat Buyers’ Club


три дня в Сочи (Three Days in Sochi)

America is big and surrounded by oceans. We don’t need a passport to go skiing, sailing, or sunning. We can do all that without leaving California. Insulated, we develop second-hand assumptions about the rest of the world. For many of us, the rest of the world is enlightened and, with the exception of customer service, Americans are backward.  We are racist, sexist, materialist, militaristic, unhealthy, wasteful—our list of offenses is long and our national habit of introspection is unappreciated. 

We go abroad while thinking of American practices as the upper plateau of societal vices, and get surprised. Note what Joffe’s scenes from a train ride in the link show: a little bit of anti-American hypocrisy—but we are supposedly the ones who see no fault in our country, right?  I’ve seen others go thought the shock. Posts like this one about a gay couple trying to get a hotel outside of Oslo aren’t difficult to find on expat blogs.* I’ve talked with many friends who found exchange family life discomforting because women are still expected to do everything domestic. It makes our typical complaints about 40/60 domestic chore splits seem like fiddling on a thumb violin.

My own surprise involved sexism and was a bit more memorable than scenes on a train. In college, I spent some time studying in the South of France. About a week into the program, prompted by our very appalled teacher, we called the police to complain of daily instances of men approaching us while masturbating. They’d corner us at the end of a pier or deserted area. They’d also lie in wait in cars and point in a way that, the first time, I thought they were asking for the time. The police laughed us off. Apparently, we were the prudish American girls making much ado about nothing. We resorted to laughing or snorting to dampen the exhibitionists’ enthusiasm.  Happily it mostly worked. None of us got attacked, just grossed out and inconvenienced (if cornered, we’d have to wait until they were finished.)

Later, a few of us girls went out with some local kids, who complained about boorish and sexist American men.  I recall thinking that America might have gender issues but that I’d never been cornered for a one man sex show at home, and if I had, then the police certainly wouldn’t have refused to act.

Serial expats can tell many such tales, like having to cope with distraught pregnant housekeepers or nannies in countries where you have to ship them back to their country of origin as soon as you learn of the pregnancy (see paragraph before Fees and Payments) because the generous welfare state of the host country only applies to citizens and Western immigrants. I know not to wear skirts or dresses and to yell if ever grouped on public transport thanks to friends who spent time in Hong Kong. Someone might still grab your buttocks but at least won’t be able to get any further.

But back to Sochi. Journalists should come home with some new perspective. Such as…

Hopefully these journalists, the people who tell stories to masses, will return home and open their eyes.

One last little tidbit: my husband did three years in Moscow. (He fled the first coup, drank tea and watched the second coup from his office balcony. Those are good stories.) He thought Sochi was an odd choice for the Olympic Winter Games. No, not because of its sub-tropical climate, or not only because of that bit of consummate absurdity. During the Soviet era, “three days in Sochi” was the euphuism for getting an abortion. That is what women did. They would spend three days at the abortion clinics in Sochi.


The Other Sochi



*Actually, those entries are not hard to find, but hard to re-find when you need them years later. I’m still looking for some expat blog entries, one about a Brit in Texas cooking cookies on her dashboard in August and another about comparing hospital heart care to a visit to the eye doctor with the shabby waiting room. But finding something on the web that wasn’t popular or isn’t recent is very difficult if you can’t remember the name of the blog. #expatbloggerproblems


I’m Going to Write a Blues Song

The kids watched Adventures in Babysitting a few weeks ago. Remember the part where Elisabeth Shue and crew find themselves on stage at a blues bar and may not leave until they sing the blues? She nervously starts reciting their woes and the musicians add a blues rif. Well, here, the song:

The past seven days put that blues rif in my head.

Work got away from me. Sometime two weeks ago, whether before or after the weather I can’t recall, I submitted an article on Jeff Davis. Not Jefferson Davis the Confederate President as my history buff commenters teased, but Jeff Davis, Texas Senator Wendy Davis’s ex-husband. I thought he sounded like a stand up kind of guy. A couple of odd things happened after that. One my husband sent me an email asking if he was my Jeff Davis. With the Jefferson Davis comments on my mind, I answered, “Kinda.” Wrong answer. Weird conversation. And for Yasha and me, that’s saying something. Then, my editor at PJL asked if I’d like to link to Ann Coulter’s weekly columns. I haven’t read her in a while but had linked to her Wendy Davis article in which she had also complimented Jeff Davis. I’ve avoided any regular writing commitments up to now as my time is still too unpredictable, but after confirming that he just wanted a link to her Wednesday column and a little commentary, I agreed. Those posts are relatively quick to do. Wednesday’s topic took me by surprise: immigration. Granted, that the GOP was talking immigration surprised everybody. I required a bit of extra reading to get up to speed, and killed my plans to work on a birth control draft. (More on that in a moment.)

I got frustrated with a busy body. Yes, most people get frustrated with a busy body, but this one was trying to be helpful, which I appreciate. But I get annoyed by safety advice from anyone who mentions they looked up from their phone while driving.

I got embarrassed working at a retreat. The theme was “Be still and know that I am God.” It’s not the kind of weekend one is supposed to bring her tablet to. But I have the KJV and ESV Bibles on my tablet, and I wanted to work on that birth control piece. At one point I had the volume too high when showing a friend A Guy’s Guide to The Pill . So into the parlor of knitters blared, “When you hear the words “birth control” you probably think of the Pill, and when you think of the Pill, you probably think about sex, and when you think about sex, you probably think ‘how can I get me some of that sex?’” My friend thanks me for that moment.

It rained on the retreat, and I took a wrong turn and almost missed the BBQ pit stop. I didn’t miss the BBQ, but I still felt stupid. And lyrics about wrong turns and BBQ–hmmm, maybe if I write a country song, that’s a better country music sort of lyric.

I came home to drama and minor trauma.  I hadn’t heard from home while retreating. I mistakenly assumed that nothing had gone wrong. Now, Tuesday morning, the dog fence is repaired, the children have new rules about playmates, and my mother and I know that we cannot bring my post stroke father over here unless we have a strongman around who can help us move him. (Yasha was supposed to be home this weekend but got called to Bagdad. That should be a blues verse all its own.)

Things had gotten better by Monday afternoon. The kids each had a playmate over so were outside playing or in their rooms doing Legos. Mom (oh, my mom officially moved in on Friday) and I got an impressive amount of life admin done for post school hours. Two of the moms hung out for a bit when picking up their kids. That’s my kind of afternoon. So the blues have blown over, except now I have to cut writing short to run to the grocery for school snacks. I’m the snack mom for this week and last. I bought all the snacks last week, but the children ate this week’s provisions over the weekend. This is only a time problem, but now I’m seeing Honest, True, Just, Pure, Lovely in every grocery aisle. Retail morality has gotten distracting.


I want to move back to London.

The urge will pass, but right now, I just want to go back to London.

When Virginia and I met as two lonely American expat moms, one of our favorite conversations involved trying to suss out what we liked about London and home.  We quickly figured out that the everyday London life rocked. The instant, however, something went wrong, from a lost, that is picked, wallet, to a medical urgency, to an ice storm, home trumped. We found huge differences in calling in a stolen credit card to American Express vs Barclays.

Mostly though, we loved the community, the combination of population density and green spaces that enabled us to socialize while going about everything else we had to do.

I find the day to day difficult in Houston. It’s lonelier. I can get the community. I have gotten it. It just requires more continual effort. In London, once you had a village, then it was there, available, at the ready.  Lately, my efforts here have tired me out. I feel like I’m having to wrangle a village together. (One friend can lecture me that this is completely my fault. Her texts got buried.)

Granted, my mom’s rapidly approaching move in here might have me a little on edge. She comes to live with us temporarily at the end of the week. I’ve no problem with mom being here. It’s her stuff. She keeps a bit more stuff than I do. She has been bringing it here. Last week she brought over my wedding cake, not the topper, the top layer. …Yes, I have been married for a while. Thirteen years, actually. The cake wasn’t identifiable except for the “Leslie’s Wedding Cake” label on the Tupperware lid. Persephone laughed when she came by to pick up my nephew. Yasha didn’t believe me when I Skyped him. My mom is just happy to have the big yellow 80’s vintage Tupperware bowl back. She’d been looking for it—for about 12 years it seems.

My wedding cake. I took the photo from its best side.

My wedding cake. I took the photo from its best side.

Last week’s ice storm didn’t likely help either. The kids and I had a bit of cabin fever. And we might get to do it again tomorrow!

So maybe those things have me a little on edge. But still, building community takes more work here. After a frustrating morning yesterday, a girlfriend came over with her girls. Thank goodness. She talked me down from the trees on Sunday afternoon and I felt better. But then school started this morning and there was more silly little nonsense of the kind I didn’t have to fight in London. (FYI to all my FB friends I’ve been chatting religion or feminism with this morning—I’m not referring to our discussions. Those kept me grounded. Practical things have vexed me.)

I’m going to take a walk to calm down and cope. Then I’m going to hit the grocery store to prep for Ice Storm 2014, The Duce. If I don’t prep, we will actually get iced in. Even that makes me ache for London. When we’d ice over, Virginia and Lily would walk over with their kids. We’d hunker down together. (Today we will hang out with Canadian expat neighbors. Yes, they are laughing at us and our “ice storm.”)

As it happens, M&M sent me an email yesterday. I had recently sent her some rogue signage from the London Underground and she teasingly asked in closing, “Do you miss us?” I got the email at my peak moment of agitation with Houston community life. M&M, Suzanne, Gnomz, Foxy, Lara—all y’all*—I miss you so much it almost hurts.


*Yes, my non-Texan friends, that is the plural of “y’all”.


UPDATE: We got another Ice Day. I spent the evening prepping so didn’t get to post comments for Sandbox on her post on Amy Glass until this morning. I was late on that because Calvin is learning to cook. Long story short, he paid too much attention to the oatmeal–the entire can of oatmeal that he cooked–and not enough to the bacon. No fires, he just smoked the kitchen. My vent doesn’t have much pull, so I had to open a few windows, not an ideal option when it is 30 degrees outside. The children ran back to their beds while screaming, “Are you crazy? It’s cold outside!” I should have thought of this last night! I should’ve cracked a window in the kitchen and use the cold to keep them in bed! Hindsight is always 20/20.

UPDATE II: Why do moms blog? Because it works. Within 10 minutes of posting, I got a friendly phone call from another repatriate. We are on the same London longing schedule it seems. Some Facebook discussion quickly followed. Within 30 minutes, I got a call from Maverick who wanted to check up on me. The consensus is in: helicopter moming takes much of the blame for this isolation. Working or not, American moms are too busy to connect with each other. (Mav is batting 1000 on repatriated friends who find American motherhood baffling. Canada and her friend Norway came over for coffee and agreed. I know team London does.) As it happens, I’m drafting an article about the helicopter mom discussions we don’t see. We talk about how it stunts kids’ maturity and how it exhausts mothers, but it has so much more dirty laundry. I have female isolation listed as one of the middle topics. I think I’ll bump it to first, or last, as benefits its status as the immediate consequence of hovering. (Oh, and I’m not being sexist by calling it “helicopter moming”. The tendencies of moms to helicopter more than dads is one of the missing discussions.)

Oh, and it did sleet, and snow. Sandbox, I see your comment from sunny and semi-urban San Fran. I stick my tongue out at you. Now, to make a fire. I think I remember how…

The Ice Day

Not a snow day. The weather people said it would snow, and it might have dropped a few icy flakes in the middle of the dark, but Houston, as usual, has no snow. We do have a inclement weather school shutdown, though. The mere threat of ice shuts the city down. (The snowflake cartoon, 3rd item, isn’t far off.) This “Wrap your pipes!” video has been a Houston cold weather staple for a few years now.


This snow day looks a bit like the one in the video, only a little grayer and wet. Here’s the Redneck Archeologist on the Great Freeze of 2011. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)

Favorite incident of the day: a girlfriend who recently moved to Georgia was flying back today for an event. They can’t land in Houston due to the cold, so they diverted the flight…to Chicago. She’s hanging out at O’Hare right now. She’s been sending “oh, the irony” messages.

Least favorite incident of the day, so far: our school district called with the closure notice about 5:45 this morning. I turned off the kids’ alarms and went back to bed myself. It was dark, cold, and quiet. And yet the children that we have to chisel out of bed at 6:30, 6:45, sometimes 7:00 am every other morning, all four of them were up by 6:30.

Yeah, I’ll be productive today.