Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Happy Haunting! Louis is off to collect candy. No, sorry, off to celebrate his first Halloween. He will be reporting back....

Thursday, October 30, 2008

History boy - by Daddy J

So there was me thinking that the so-called "most important election in a generation" was turning out a bit dull. For a couple of weeks now the polls have been suggesting that its all over and Nov 4th looms as a mere formality. It certainly seemed that way yesterday as I stared through the wall of fatigue at CNN and swilled down my umpteenth salt'n'sugar-based meal at the (tiny) airport in Charleston, WV. The only excitement on offer then was the prospect of a brush with a Buddy Holly style death in the twin-prop that was taking us back to Washington on a wintry evening. 

All that changed today with a fascinating interview we did with a black journalist from the Washington Post. After the tape stopped rolling he started talking more frankly as to how he felt about the election as an African American. He pointed out that he fully understood why Obama was working so hard on what seemed to me like campaign overkill - the mega-rallies, yet more fund-raising, the half-hour ads - when he's so clearly got his opponent on the ropes. He said that as a black man negotiating the American Establishment you're never confident you've really arrived, you've always got to try twice as hard as the next (white) guy and you're always watching your back. 

What worried him most he said - and here's the exciting bit - is that the financial crisis, the unpopularity of Bush, the weakness of McCain's campaign have all conspired to create a situation in which the only thing that could possibly prevent Obama from winning is race. And that makes a McCain win - from the point we are now one week out - potentially devastating. A million people are expected to make their way to Grant Park in Chicago to celebrate an Obama victory according to the mayor (an exaggerated figure of course, but it shows the level of anticipation and there are at least half a million journalists going) - imagine what happens if those crowds are let down at the last minute. There are already dark rumours of civil strife

But think of the broader picture too - an Obama win is supposed to send a signal to the world that just a generation on from the civil rights struggle America has finally laid its racial divisions to rest. What does it say if America simply refuses to elect a black man president? And now that McCain has proved to be such a confused and impulsive guy - is he really going to be able to lead a shell-shocked country through the backlash from all that - as well as the two wars and the mother of all recessions? Suddenly its hit me just how historic next Tuesday really is. Maybe Mommy will forgive me just a teensy bit for being in Chicago for her birthday after all.

Louis's Mama's for Obama

Yes, that's right, Louis's Mama's still for Obama despite the cheesy half-hour Obamamercial that just hogged the airwaves on all of the major broadcasters bar one. Seems like it went down well with Barack's disciples though: two minutes after it aired so many Obamaites were trying to log into that it crashed the site. (Louis and I were trying to see if we could catch him at a last-minute rally in Virginia.)

And I'm not the only Mama for Obama it seems. Take a peek at this lipstick-wearing Mom who uses her three minutes of YouTube fame to tell the world that she's voting Barack even though her son plays hockey. Go figure Sarah Palin! Talking of whom, can you believe she reckons she's going to have a crack at the top job in 2012? She told ABC News, "....I'm not doing this for naught." That's provided her and McCain actually lose next week, which everyone here now seems to be taken as a given. I'm still with the Independent's Mark Steel though: it's nerve-wracking times on babieswhobrunch hill. 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Swing State

Tantalising poll numbers today for our partisan news pup from some of the swing states. A new Washington Post survey gives Obama an eight-point lead over McCain in Virginia, an erstwhile Republican stronghold. The state has 13 electoral votes, which under US voting rules would give Obama 13 of the 270 electoral college votes he needs to become president if it were to turn blue on 4 November. 

Meanwhile, CNN puts Obama's lead in Ohio, a state that swung the election for Bush in 2004, at five points over McCain. With 7 per cent of the state's voters still undecided, there is all to play for however, which was why both candidates were back there this evening. As were Daddy J and Kevin Connolly, working on a Today package due to air this Friday. 

Swing states are strange beasts, especially when they carry as many electoral votes - 20 - as Ohio. And swing districts within those states are even stranger. Take Ironton, Lawrence County, on the Ohio-West Virgina border. A depressed iron town (the clue's in the name), Ironton is ignored by both Washington and the modern economy in a normal year. But come election time and suddenly its flavour of the month. Bush was so thrilled with Ironton's efforts to rally local Republicans last time round that he threw a special thank you dinner for the local party chieftains. This time, though, it is the Democrats who are busy wooing the residents. The bright lights of an Obama campaign office bring a glow to an otherwise semi-deserted Main Street. 

DJ will be hoping their piece doesn't have the same impact on Ironton's independent voters that the Guardian's infamous campaign in Clark County, Ohio, had last time round. Then, earnest Grauniad readers helped to turn the district Republican from Democrat after letters imploring residents to vote Bush out of office had the opposite effect. Thankfully their BBC package will be non-partisan. Just as well they didn't take Louis with them. He spent the weekend campaigning in his Obama onesie, although in line with BBC guidelines it's hidden from view by his (new) sweatshirt in his "swing" video below.  

Stuckhome Syndrome

So, since we arriving in DC fiveish weeks ago (as with Louis's age I've stopped counting), I've had probably five offers of potential babysitting. What's more, four of them would set us back no more than the cost of a takeaway pizza. I should be dancing with joy, booking theatre tickets and reading up on the hottest restaurants. But am I?

Um, no. Truth is, I'm suffering from Stuckhome Syndrome. My symptoms suggest it's a classic case of the psychological phenomenon that afflicts 99 per cent of new mums everywhere. Since my life was kidnapped on 5 June, I've become obsessed with my captor (the smiling cherub pictured - at home - above). I'm hostage to his every whim. When he smiles, I smile; when he cries, I cry; when he wakes, I wake. The doctors may have snapped the cord that bound us when they plucked him out, but in truth we are just as tightly attached as ever. 

I've given up even wanting an evening off when the odd time I've made a bid for freedom has ended in tears. His, not mine but they're practically one and the same thing. So while Daddy J jets off to Oxford, Long Island, St Louis, Nashville, Boca Raton and Charleston (West Virginia, not South Carolina luckily, where he is tonight), I'm really much happier here sitting here of an evening staring at my blank cream walls with the TV volume turned down low. Honest! Plus there's always the chance that he might wake and want me. Talking of which I can hear him now....

Friday, October 24, 2008

Yes We Carve

It's no exaggeration to say that people take Halloween pretty seriously over here. Half the first floor of our local Target has been devoted to pumpkin paraphernalia. From bat table runners to skeleton garlands, your every Halloween need is catered for in this uniquely American celebration of the night before All Saints' Day. (Although Wikipedia has it that it was actually the Irish who bestowed the tradition on the Yanks when they emigrated en masse in search of potatoes in the mid nineteenth century. But I digress.) 

With eight days still to go until the big day, houses in DC are already competing to outdo each other in the ghoulish stakes. Mini ghosts hang from trees, cobwebs stick to fences and fanged Draculas peer out from windows. Entire front gardens have been turned into mini cemeteries. Louis and I are running a competition to find the most outlandishly decorated property. 

It's also no exaggeration to say that Americans take their elections pretty seriously. Especially their presidential ones. For many, this translates into another home decorating opportunity: signs, banners, flag and even cardboard models of the candidates festoon entire neighbourhoods. 

So just imagine what you get if you cross Halloween with the presidential election. Yes, that's right, Barack O'Lantern (It sounds terribly partisan, but the guys behind the site, YesWeCarve, claimed that McCain O'Lantern just sounded "less snappy".) Louis will be getting carving as soon as I've worked out how to carry a 17lb baby and a 37lb pumpkin home from the store.... 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Shopaholic and baby

Who'd have thought that Louis and Sarah Palin would have had something in common? No, not their coyness about which newspapers they read and no, not even their inability to point to Russia on a globe but rather their personal shopping budgets. Turns out those foxy (for a Republican) skirt suits and killer heels don't come cheap. She blew $75K on a single trip to Neiman Marcus alone (note to Louis's Mom: don't, repeat, don't go and check out the DC branch). Relative to their body masses, that's on the level of Louis's Patagonia splurge last week. 

Surely, however, the Democrat sniping about La Palin's profligacy is missing the point? Rather than rubbing those Hockey Moms' noses in the proverbial, she was actually performing her patriotic duty of keeping the tills ringing. Just think of the trickle down effects of her shopping. Someone has to clean all those glitzy department stores after the big spenders have gone home. 

On second thoughts, perhaps Louis and Moose-killing Mommy Palin don't have that much in common after all. Louis's per diem from the UK government comes in at barely $5 a day; the Alaskan governor sought $17,000 in daily living reimbursements from her state's government. And as for their view on strollers.... Does Mommy Palin seriously think it's okay to push poor Trig around in a $295 stroller? Given the $150,000 she dropped on outfits and hair maintenance you'd think she could have stretched to a fancier pram.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Obama qualms

Wandering around Georgetown, DC's political phalanx, it is hard to believe there are two people running in next month's election. "Obama for president" signs adorn every porch, garden and door in the chocolate-box pretty neighbourhood, adding to a growing national perception that the Illinois Senator has this thing sewn up. Television networks are falling over themselves to call states for Obama two weeks before the country goes to the polls. Even Louis's Granddad emailed to say that he hoped the young newspup would be staying up to celebrate. 

Much as I'm loving the Obamamania, and thrilling though it is to be living here at the cusp of a new era in US politics, I'm wary of getting carried away. I'll happily admit that I'm wrong come 5 November, but for now I have an uneasy feeling about the election. Didn't the media all but hand victory to John Kerry four years ago? Even Obama has his doubts, last week warning against cockiness when "the press starts getting carried away and we end up getting spanked". 

Okay so Obama may have a near double-digit lead over McCain in the polls, but that is nationally, which counts for little in an election that can be won or lost in a single district of a single state. Obama's fans take heart from polls showing him leading McCain in states such as Florida, which won the election for Bush in 2000, but even here his advantage is narrow and polls can be wrong. Then there's the Bradley effect, named after the the African-American former Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley who lost his bid to become California's governor despite polls pointing to a clear victory, which suggests voters won't admit to pollsters that they don't intend to vote for a black man. 

Astute hacks are already offering their smitten colleagues "just-in-case kits" should Obama's bid collapse. Personally I'm working on the law of sod to decide the victor: at the moment Daddy J is due to spend election night (and my birthday) in Phoenix, Arizona, campaign HQ for McCain and potentially the glummest place on earth come 5 November. But there is talk of DJ being sent to Chicago, Illinois, instead. Surely then Senor Sod will step in to spoil the party for DJ, Obama and the rest of the liberal world? Still, it would probably be less incendiary to blame Sod than to suggest America is hotbed of closet racists. 

(Stop press: as of Tuesday morning Missouri, which has accurately predicted the winner in all but one of the presidential races since 1900 is polling 48%: 46% in favour of McCain....) 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Powell for Obama! (Gosh-darn)

So Colin Powell can't have thought much of Sarah Palin's cameo as herself on Saturday Night Live. Word was he'd been waiting for the veep contender to mess up before endorsing Barrack Obama. Babieswhobrunch readers will know the former Secretary of State had hoped to back him after the vice-presidential debate but Palin somehow scraped through. Seven weeks of listening to the Alaskan Governor's controversial campaigning, however, and Powell finally cracked, much to the excitement of our young news puppy who is claiming the story as his first scoop. (We'll gloss over the fact that there may have been one or two other rumours in the blogosphere about the potential Powell endorsement.)

Whether Powell's backing will be the knock-out blow that delivers Obama the White House will not be clear for another two weeks but there is no denying its value. Not least because his rival, John McCain, is clearly losing the battle for big endorsements.

Louis thinks McCain has only himself to blame for running a poor campaign. And no he's not referring to the hostile tone that it's adopted. Rather, our young newshound thinks McCain missed a trick by failing to court the vital youth vote: DC is swimming with Obama onesies (one today said "Babies for Obama because yes it is time for a change") but there are no McCain ones to be had for love nor money. Phew! Otherwise in the interest of BBC dependents' impartiality he might have had to wear one! 

Friday, October 17, 2008


In Britain, stressed out babies are lucky if they get given a dummy but over here it is quite a different story. When the world all gets a little bit too much, DC tots can realign their chakras at one of the capital's baby-and-me yoga classes. Given how much yoga Louis got up to in utero, it's no surprise that he's taken to it well. Thursday's class at Tranquil Space is the highlight of his (or should that be Mom's?) week. 

You can see him here getting in a cheeky cobra before the teacher arrived. His latest girlfriend, Sophie, is practicing her corpse pose on the mat just behind him. So far, his favourite position is upward dog, although his child's pose is pretty good too. He's very excited because there's talk of a yoga retreat next month at Great Falls, a park just outside Washington where the Potomac River plunges through a deep gorge. 

I know Louis's Grandma is worried that he'll turn into Bertie, the 5-year-old protagonist in Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series, who deeply resents being dragged to yoga of a Saturday by his pushy Mum, but for now he is relishing the chance to broaden his social circle beyond his Bermondsey NCT baby chums. 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The real credit conundrum

Forget the interbank lending lockdown. The real crisis facing the US is how to convince Americans to keep shopping. Given that debt has underpinned the American economy like no other during the past eight years - Bush inherited a budget surplus but will leave a country nearly half a TRILLION dollars in the red - the prospect of a nationwide spending strike is fuelling the Dow's tailspin. What to do? 

Well, worry not, because the admen are already on the case. When the airwaves aren't screening a negative presidential campaign ad they are bulging with ways that canny consumers can spend money to save money. Sounds crazy but recession advertising is the hot buzzphrase on Madison Avenue. From soup to at-home gyms, plastic surgery to milk, companies are trying to persuade shoppers that they can't afford to stop splashing out. 

Retailers here are desperate to tout their wallet-bolstering credentials. Even Wholefoods, hardly renowned as the bastion of cash-strapped shoppers, has got in on the act. Its ads claim its customers get, "More of the Good Stuff. For less." Stores are brimming with "offers" to help shoppers save money (although shoppers should be warned that Wholefoods current two-for-$5 offer on bagged salad is less than generous when you consider that a single bag sets you back $2.50). 

So far, shoppers are resisting the bait. September's retail sales figures were the worst in the past three years, helping further to unnerve investors. The past week's freakishly warm weather, on the east coast at least, will have piled yet more pain on a struggling retail sector despairing of ever shifting any winter stock. But there is some light at the end of the shopping tunnel. With temperatures set to plummet here in DC by the weekend, one little chap decided there was no time like the present to invest in his first ever winter coat. What with that, a pair of trousers, a Ralph Lauren polo shirt, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a country music star onesie, a St Louis Cardinals t-shirt, a hat and two Obama onesies that he's bought since arriving in the States three weeks ago, Louis's shopping splurges could just help to head off a recession - in babies' stores at least. 

Monday, October 13, 2008


Monday's Washington Post made grim reading for Republicans. A new poll put Obama 10 points ahead of McCain, which means the Illinois Senator is starting to look like he might actually be the next leader of the free world. (I know 10 points may look like he has it sewn up, but the Wilder effect states that he needs to be up by at least double digits even to stand a chance - L. Douglas Wilder becoming the nation's first black governor in Virginia in 1989 by just one-tenth of a percentage point despite polls suggesting beforehand that he would win easily.)

The prospect of a Democratic win means passions are running high in towns across America. Not least in Annapolis, MD, the site of John McCain's alma mater, the US Naval Academy, and where the HQ of the Maryland Republican Party is the first thing you see on leaving the state capital's visitors' centre. We got the chance to witness that heightened passion at first hand on  Sunday when we were accosted in the street by Mrs Disgusted of Annapolis herself. The reasons? Louis's Obama '08 logo-ed change bag (as in "it's time for a change in Washington" and other diaper-related puns), which I was carrying. She stopped us and demanded to know if I knew anything about Obama. Well, yes, actually. I'm not entirely clueless. And then proceeded to harangue us for the next 15 minutes about the evils of a socialist way of life. 

From higher taxes to big government, she was convinced that social Armageddon would follow an Obama win. Rather than take responsibility for her fellow man, she insisted that poor people should be glad for the trickle down hand-outs from their rich superiors. Christ, they should probably pay her for the honour of cutting her grass! America, she said, was the greatest country on earth because it was a democracy. Er, yes, and one that as things stand is keen to elect an African-American Democrat as president, I pointed out. Only if you believe in the fallacies printed by the lying liberal mainstream media, she countered. 

What shocked us most about the McCainiac's ambush was that Americans are generally so friendly. It seemed unconstitutionally nasty to corner a couple with a small baby on the street and attack them like that. But then look what happened during a pro-McCain rally in Manhattan's Upper West Side.  

That's not to excuse the mean Republican witch in Annapolis. Poor Louis was so upset that he started to cry. God knows what she would have done if he had been wearing his Obama onesie. It was a relief to get back to the latte-sipping liberals of Dupont Circle. We'll clearly have to think carefully before venturing out of the District again. 

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Grannies' corner

Bonus Louis video...

Rocket science

Barack Obama may have won himself few friends among heartland Americans when he decried the soaring cost of arugula (that's Yankee for rocket), but the arugula munchers of liberal DC sure shared his pain. 

That hurt, however, was eased a little by today's Taste of Georgetown food festival, the highlight of a sun-soaked weekend in the capital. For $5 a plate, gastronomes could nibble away at some of the city's snazziest restaurants, which had all taken a stall to ply their wares. From Pad Thai, to steak sandwiches, crab cakes, to cupcakes, the festival met your every snacking need. (With the exception of Louis who still prefers to take his calories in liquid form.)

The event went some way to compensate Daddy J for the arugula-free week he had just spent on the road, where his culinary highlight was a McDonalds quarter-pounder in Paducah, KY. So much for his plan to eat only meat once a week; over here once you leave the veggie-friendly enclaves of the big cities, there is little else to eat but animal flesh. The further you venture into the countryside, the harder it is to find the fresh produce that puts the bread and butter on the tables of Joe and Jolene Six-pack. It is easier to find a farmers' market near a DC subway than on the road in middle America. 

Locating decent produce isn't the only battle round here. For a country built on cattle and corn, the cost of eating fresh food is scandalous. I'm not just talking about the cost of shopping at Wholepaycheck - sorry, Wholefoods - but the cost of stocking your cupboards with anything other than the drugstore staple of microwave Mac 'n' Cheese. Friends last week remarked that it was cheaper to eat out of an evening than to shop for a modest meal for four. 

The root of the problem is that away from farmers' markets, quantity easily trumps quality. With money worries soaring for the average American, it is too much to hope that will change any day soon. 

Thursday, October 9, 2008

She's no Barbie

How does she do it? Nearly 20 months into her husband's presidential bid, Michelle Obama, mother of two and wife of "that one", looked like she'd just jetted back from a spa break on Larry King last night. Widely revered as the most glamorous political spouse since Jackie Kennedy, Michelle is that and so much more. She's beautiful, yes; elegant, certainly; but also extremely eloquent. 

Her interview on CNN was like a breath of fresh air after the spin and stump speech soundbites of the previous night's debate. In the personality-driven world of presidential politics, the potential First-Lady-to-be is a real person with sense and sensibility. She had kind words not only for Sarah Palin - "an excellent example of the kind of roles that women can and should play" - but also for Senator McCain's wife, the size zero jean-wearing, bottle-blond beer heiress who is called Cindy but looks more Barbie than Barbie as she clip clops around after her husband. Hillary Clinton, Michelle said, had been "phenomenal...a real woman with character". And she seemed like she meant it. 

It's ironic that while Palin attempts to play the supermom card, loading her family on and off planes as the photo-ops require, Michelle actually gets on with being a supermom, making the Obamas a role model family for a modern generation. Her kids seem pretty cool too. When told that her Daddy has won the Democrat nomination as president, her 10-year-old daughter, Malia, apparently said: "Yeah, but if Hillary had won it that would have been amazing too." 

Okay, so Michelle can get derided for sometimes not treating her potential First Ladyship with the reverence some think it merits. For instance, she'll tell interviewers she'd rather her husband was a law professor or author, earning herself the nickname of the "first lady of grievance" among some conservatives, but that's just because she is a real person first and politician's wife second. 

Given the cyclicality of US politics, what I want to know is if (inshallah) the world gets Obama this time round, will it be Michelle's turn in 2016? 

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Less Iraq, more Spag Bol

For an election said to hang on the youth vote, Louis reckons the presidential candidates did a pretty poor job last night of appealing to the nation's children. Where were their policies on pocket money? On staying up beyond 7pm? Or eating spaghetti bolognese every night of the week? 

What's more, all this talk about bailing out Wall Street is one thing, but who, he demands to know, is going to bail out Father Christmas (sorry, Santa Claus) come December? It may only be October, but with Macy's putting the finishing touches to its "Holiday" department this week, Louis knows it's never too soon to start worrying about how those stockings are going to get filled. Especially when it's your first ever Christmas. 

That said, a special poll conducted this morning for babieswhobrunch puts Obama head and shoulders ahead of Grandpa McCain in the race for the White House. The clincher? Obama's promise during the debate to "help the people who need help", which our pollster interpreted as the first real reference to babies that he's heard so far during the campaign. How useful Obama will be in helping to ensure Louis gets more time on his jungle gym playmat or more feeds during the day isn't clear but our young pollster is looking forward to hearing more during the final debate next week. 

And as Louis never tires of reminding me - especially when he's wet - there's only one candidate who stands for change. Talking of which..... 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cairo, Illinois - by Daddy J

The piece I worked on over the weekend with Kevin Connolly went out this morning generating very positive feedback - golddust when you work in news, which at least goes some way to alleviate the pain of abandonning the family for a whole week. You can see some photos and listen back to it here.

The main thing we weren't able to squeeze into the piece (we could have made a half hour programme) was Cairo's momentous location at the confluence of America's two great rivers, the Mississippi and the Ohio, pictured here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Nashville Skyline - by Daddy J

Only two weeks into our American assignment way too much has happened to be able to assimilate properly but the highlight so far has to have been last night's impromptu audience with a country music legend. 

After an exhausting couple of days covering the VP debate in St Louis (compulsory baby souvenir shopping included), we headed South through the heartland in search of stories to illustrate what's happening in this fascinating country at this fascinating time. We were lucky enough to strike journo gold in Cairo, IL - the confluence of the Ohio and Mississipi rivers and a town which turned out to be a spellbinding microcosm of America's complicated racial history. Too much to explain in one short blog entry but all will be revealed in a piece we hope will run on the Today programme Tuesday morning. 

Suffice to say for now, when we rolled in to Nashville late yesterday evening we were ready for a boring hotel dinner and bed. Instead a call ahead to the one guy I know in Nashville - author and erstwhile music man Robert Hicks - was the cue for fabled Southern hospitality in the form of an invitation to see Willie Nelson play an intimate benefit gig in a field in Leipers Fork, Tennessee. Like many journeys in this country it was movie-perfect - a crescent moon lit the way through rolling hills past idyllic whitewashed homesteads set amid rolling hills. No wonder the hillbillies have all been displaced by the Hollywood jetset in this part of the world.

Willlie - well into his 70s and still partial to the Bob Marley cigarrettes according those in the know- had a little flu, appeared to be wearing some kind of parka against the autumn chill and rested his voice frequently. But the magical songs kept coming. He's not the best performer but there's a good case for arguing that he must be one of the greatest songwriters of all time. I never knew til last night that he wrote "Crazy" for Patsy Cline and "Always on my mind" for Elvis, both of which he sang wonderfully last night while rattling through his more rough and ready but no less brilliant hits "Whiskey River", "On the Road Again" and most poigniantly given the circumstances of this blog: "Mothers Dont Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys." All in all a precious evening of Americana.  


Credit crunch

Walking past both the Treasury and the Federal Reserve today really underscored DC's epicentre status in these credit-challenged times. Okay, so today might have been the first day Messrs Paulson and Bernanke weren't actually in work, thanks to Friday afternoon's volte-face by the House, but I doubt work was far from their minds. 

The whole credit debacle is never far from anyone's minds here it seems. Someone on the Mall today was muttering about the "mortgage crisis" while in a shop yesterday two assistants were seriously debating the merits of hanging onto your gold jewellery because "although it's worth a lot now, gold is only going to go higher given everything else going on". Taxi cabs resonate to phone-ins about the now-done-and-dusted $700bn bailout and even here in DC property signs shriek "Stop. Look. Lease," at you from the sidewalk. 

"Sale" banners hang in most store windows; it's not clear whether they are the remnants of a poor summer or the start of the winter markdown season. Old Navy, Gap's cheaper sister, is advertising a Columbus Day sale with 1,492 items on sale at $14.92. And it's only the beginning of October. Personally I'm relishing the prospect of some savage pre-Christmas discounting although I hope it comes before I face my own personal credit crunch when my dwindling stash of maternity pay runs out. 

It's good to see that Louis at least is showing some financial nous. He's eschewing banks in favour of keeping his savings - a crisp $2 bill that someone in the hotel donated to his college fund - safe and sound in his trouser pocket. Meanwhile as Americans fret about the safety of their bank deposits in the event of banking failures (now insured up to $250,000 thanks to the Senate's amendments to the bailout bill) what do Louis's parents go and do? Yes, you guessed it. Open a US bank account! 

Duke Shields

Nashville has Willie Nelson; Washington has Duke Ellington. Well, technically, had Duke Ellington as the jazz great "passed" as the Yanks would say, some years back. Which is why this week the Chocolate City (so called because it's America's blackest, not because it's the home of Hersheys) is paying tribute to its legendary son with the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival.

Jazz festival and baby might sound tautologous but we managed to find the week's one baby-friendly - an open-air concert on the Mall, in the lee of the Washington Monument. Our motives were twofold: as well as having fun, Louis was anxious not to be outdone by his Daddy, who called last night from a field in Nashville with the strains of country star Willie Nelson in the background. Plus today was his four-month birthday and a chap's got to celebrate after all. 

In practice, jiving with a baby under an unfathomably hot October sun was trickier than anticipated and we didn't see much of the action as had to both try and hide beneath the meagre shade of Louis's Bugaboo parasol. But he did have a little baby boogie to bassist Christian McBride's group, which you should be able to watch. (Note Louis's Obama nappy bag, because when he dirties his diaper, it's time for change.) 

Sunday, October 5, 2008

DC Baby

That's it. Louis is officially a Washingtonian. If that's what you call a DC-ite. How come? Because he spent the afternoon chilling in Dupont Circle. Or should that be on? Dupont Circle, for our UK readers, is one of the capital's sightseeing highlights. That is to say it features in the DC Neighbourhoods section of the Time Out guide and on my one and only previous trip to DC we duly trekked there to see what all the fuss was about. 

At the time we weren't too sure - Dupont Circle being essentially a giant roundabout. Hyde Park-esque, only with a smaller statue in the middle. But now we're residents we totally, like, get it. The fountain in the middle (honouring the Civil War admiral Samual Francis Dupont don't cha know) is surrounded by grass, which is where Dupontites like to hang of a sunny Saturday afternoon. Proof that the Circle has official "hanging" status lies in the fact that the area has WiFi. Cue Apple MacBooks all round. 

Hanging in Dupont capped a typically DC Saturday for Louis that started at 9.30am with a yoga class. His cobras have to be seen to be believed. And as for his lotus.... His shavasna needed a little work though as he didn't feel like lying still. Then it was brunch with friends (he has to live up to his babieswhobrunch moniker after all) before a leisurely stroll round the shops. Life's tough for a baby - and his official minder! We're off to the Dupont Farmers' Market in the morning. And it's only a 10 minute stroll from our flat. Who needs Borough?  

Saturday, October 4, 2008

You say diaper, I say disaster

Now my rational inner "Mom" knows I shouldn't blame US diapers (eng. nappies) for the umpteen babygro/sheet changes I have had to do each night, not to mention midday ensemble changes, but rationality goes out the window after two weeks of coping with a jet-lagged Louis. The middle-of-the-night diaper changes are doing nothing to persuade Louis that nighttime is for sleeping not playing/chatting/practicing rolling over (delete as appropriate).

Getting to grips with diapers (we're on our third brand already) is just part and parcel of working out how to be an American Mom. Louis is already sleeping in a crib with his pacifier on hand (although now he's nearly four months he'd rather use his thumb; pacifiers are for babies). Then, come morning time, he hits the streets in his stroller dressed in his onesie. Elevenses has become brunch at which point he gets nursed. And when he needs a diaper (and inevitably an outfit) change he has to find the restroom. Becoming bilingual may mean he can chat with his American cousins but it's bound to set his talking back months! 

Luckily he's found a new English girlfriend to hang out with. (Sorry May, Yoppy, Freya, Amelie, Ottile and both Charlottes....) Judging by the grins Sophie was giving him at lunch today she's already fallen for his Bermondsey charm. A second date is scheduled for Sunday. 

Friday, October 3, 2008


Watching Sarah Palin just now in the vice-presidential debate redefined the meaning of the phrase self-belief. Only someone with an innate sense of self-belief could honestly believe themselves capable of something which the rest of the (liberal) world thinks an impossibility - becoming vice-president of the world's biggest power. 

If you're wondering how she could imagine herself able to pull off such a role then I think I know the answer. According to the Sixties' R&B singer Dionne Warwick, she of Walk on By, American schoolchildren get that self-confidence drummed into them as part of the national curriculum. 

Warwick told an audience (including Louis and me) at last Saturday's National Book Festival on the Mall that her teacher told her to write American on the blackboard thus: "Amer-I-can". Warwick was then asked if there was a 't' in American. "No," she replied. "Well, there you go," said her teacher. You have to believe that Palin had a similar lesson because otherwise I don't know how she could even begin to imagine she could actually do the veep's job come January 19.

(Warwick was speaking at the book festival to promote her new children's book, Say a Little Prayer, a kiddies' self help book...... Louis was seeking tips!)

As the post debate dissection gets underway on the rolling news channels, all the talk of winners and losers seems to have missed the obvious loser of the evening: poor little Trig, Palin's six-month-old son. He was made to stay up for the debate so he could be handed to the Alaskan governor for a photo op at the end of the floor show. I let Louis sleep through it - after all, I know he'll be up at 5am and raring to tune into CNN's The Most News in the Morning to catch up on what he missed. After all, he'll need to be able to hold his own with the babies on babieswhobrunch hill come milk time in the morning.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Powell for Obama?

Never let it be said that the life of a stay-at-home Mum, sorry, "Mom", is all babies and breastmilk. We can do politics too. The word on the babieswhobrunch hill is that if a certain veep nominee fluffs her debating debut tonight then a certain African-American ex Secretary of State will finally come out in favour of Obama. (That's Colin Powell just to spell it out.)

Word is that Bush's former right hand man has been waiting for just the right moment to deliver his body blow to McCain's campaign and what could be more perfect than Sarah Palin's first unscripted moment in front of the nation she is utterly incredibly vying to lead?

Now I clearly cannot reveal my sources but let me just say that I heard that from someone who is very close to someone who knows. Okay so we're living in Washington, DC, so pretty much everyone can claim to have the ear of someone who works in the corridors of power but as a budding news puppy Louis was keen for his first blog entry to get people talking. 

He's already the talk of DC. (That's Louis, not Colin or even Barack.) Judging by the way people's faces melt when they see him, Washington has never seen a cuter baby. Louis is already doing his bit for Barack: he's worn his Obama'08 "onesie" twice already. It's hard to judge whether liberal Washingtonians smile more at his cuteness or his political nous. (I just nod and tell them that he watched last week's debate and made his own mind up.) Luckily the onesie is clean for tonight's debate - whether Louis will manage to stay awake for it is another matter.