Sunday, 25 March 2018

Chocolate and Wine

Alternate title:  What are the only two things that matter in life?

I've survived another two weeks of illness (six-day head cold - me) (still ongoing flu from Satan - Tamsin), poorly-behaved associates (children and dog), while not exercising enough, hosting a fancy dinner party, keeping my house spotless (on the day that I clean it) (for up to four hours or until the children come home from school or the dog needs to go out to pee in the rain and comes back in all wet, whichever comes first).

Tamsin woke up with a warm forehead on Monday at 7 am, and I decided to keep her home, missing my running group.  After a quick three-hour nap, she rallied and enlisted me to play Princess Snap, colour a LOT, and paint her nails with pink sparkly nail polish. 

Tuesday, then, I dragged her bodily out of bed and sent her off to school, but got a call at the end of the day that she was warm, they had given her paracetamol (British for tylenol, possibly?), and that they were putting her on the school bus to come home.  As Chris was going to be out late, I decided to coast on the temporary warm haze that medication was granting us and treat the kids to McDonald's.  It was sort of like watching a time-lapse photo of a piece of fruit decomposing... she just got paler and quieter and paler and quieter, and I carried her home from the bus stop, helped her into her jammies, and tucked her in before 7.

Wednesday, she was burning up all day.  She got out of bed every few hours for watered-down juice, saying please, thank you and sorry, breaking my heart.  She was the sweetest little patient ever.  She was still hot at bedtime, so I decided to keep her home again on Thursday. 

Oh.  Dear.  Lord. 

She did not stop talking for even one minute between 7 am and 1 pm.  It was a constant, stream-of-consciousness patter, and in the absence of consciousness, there was nonsense-sound babbling and weird giggling.  She followed me around and wanted to sweep, vacuum and mop with me as I cleaned the house for our dinner guests.  She chattered at me through the bathroom door.  The only lingering sign of sickness was that she went to bed without eating her creme brulee (see also, fancy).  So, Friday morning, when she was white (er than usual), coughing, and eating very little, I thought she was just being difficult.  And went for a nice 7.5 mile run.

She got off the bus at the end of the day, white and wan and still coughing, hot to the touch.  She dragged herself to bed and didn't get up till Saturday morning (early), despite being entreated with pizza and a movie.  We kept it low key for the morning, but then went out in the afternoon to pick up Ailsa at a birthday party at Westfields...and wandered the mall...and ended up carrying her.  Against my better judgement, we stopped for dinner at Jamie's Italian, which was surprisingly good.  About two bites into her spaghetti and meatballs, she put her head back, closed her eyes, and fell properly and completely asleep. 

Today, she was up at 7.  Cheerful, talkative, keen to go to the park.  We played football and had a picnic at the park, played fetch with the dog, then came home and cuddled on the couch to watch a cooking show before dinner. 

I tucked her in early, started reading Tom Sawyer to the older two, sent them to bed, then waited about 12 seconds before physically climbing up on the counter to reach the out-of-my-reach chocolate stash and pouring myself a glass of wine.  This may have followed by a second climb and a second glass.

Tomorrow, the plan is to pack her off to school, go for a 7-mile run, take the dog for a decent walk, and spend a good few hours writing.  However, I am mentally preparing myself to spend the day with a sick-but-not-sick little girl. 

I will lock up any and all (if any) remaining chocolate before I go to bed tonight, and hide my stepstool in a separate, undisclosed location.  And tomorrow, I will wake up ready for whatever may happen.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

I eat, therefore I am (no longer hungry)

Disclaimer:  Unsolicited, unpaid testimonial follows.  (Don't get me wrong -- I would totally accept payment for the following, preferably in food... )

Soooo, my friend Mel, who has four kids and somehow also manages to look well-groomed and run a successful business*, sent out a post on Twitter recently.

So, I did. 

Well, to be precise, I responded with a "hand-raised" emoji. 

And then she responded with "Click the link, woman!" 

So, because I follow directions well, and she scares me a little, I clicked the link.  I bought everything on her shopping list (except for chickpea pasta (subbed pasta), tamarind (soy sauce) and nutritional yeast (parmesan)), including salmon, which everyone who knows me knows I don't eat because it's "fish" and therefore "icky". 

(Chris is encouraged to eat as much seafood as he can when he travels, because a) then I don't have to make it, and 2) I don't ever need to be around his fishbreath.  We even have a little saying:  "Boys who eat fishes don't get kisses.") 

The kids, of course, like fish, for the most part, especially fish and chips, which is pretty much the lowest form of the healthiest food on earth, but meh - at least I don't have to make it.

I digress.

The chili-garlic salmon and bok choy (pak choi, here) was actually good.  I was going to make something else for myself, but then figured that I should actually set an example and try a little bit, and I managed an entire serving.  I even enjoyed it, when I wasn't thinking about how I was actually eating fish for the first time in 30+ years.

(True story:  I grew up mostly in Halifax, as a Catholic, so fish was on the menu every Friday for sure, and often other days, too.  Tartar sauce (which, I have pointed out before, is ratrat spelled backwards) made it bearable, but never good.  My mother finally gave in when I was about seven, and decided that she'd rather not waste perfectly good lobster (we'd sometimes have my own personal hell -- lobster boils -- in the summer) and also have to watch me try to choke it down, thus ruining the lobsterrific goodness for the rest of them.  After that, when seafood was for dinner, I was allowed to make a peanut butter sandwich.  And everyone was happy.)

I digress again.

It had an almost chicken-y texture, and wasn't fishy at all.  But my brain, my god.  I kept having salmon flashbacks for the rest of the night.  Folding laundry:  I ate fish.  Watching TV:  I just burped salmon.  Despite it tasting good and being SO healthy (30-year mantra:  I wish I liked fish!  It's SO healthy!), it was surprisingly, emotionally hard to come to terms with.

Does this mean I can no longer tell restaurants that I'm allergic? (Of course it doesn't!)

Does this mean I have to eat fish again?  (Of course it doesn't!)

How much smarter would I be now if I had eaten fish twice a week for the last 30 years?  (Fis can barely handle/accept my Supersmarts! (TM) as it is, so the world probably wouldn't be able to either.  It's totally for the best that I haven't.)

Anyhoo, all these existential questions aside, I salute Mel, whose recipes are delicious and whose motivation and organization is inspiring.  Years ago, BK (before kids) and WOOK (with only one kid), I would sit down on Saturday nights with a glass** of wine and cookbooks, to plan the meals for the week and write my shopping list for Sunday mornings.  It was sensible, civilized, organized, and... gee, I really should start doing that again.

OR, I could just cycle the Balanced Plate recipes for a week or two more.  We also ate cast-iron steak with sweet potato fries and a garlic-rosemary mayonnaise (my new, savoury spoon food, for when I find Nutella a bit too much), a burst-tomato pasta (with chicken, because no chickpea pasta) and a slow-cooker yellow split-pea stew, which made enough that we're having leftovers tonight.   Tomorrow will be the pork tenderloin... looking forward to it!

... and seriously, go check out the Balanced Plate Nutrition website or Twitter feed.***

* In case you're wondering, I manage neither.
** Technically true:  bottles are made of glass.
*** Just imagine how great this testimonial would be if I was actually being paid to write it!   (Mel -- call me! ;) 

Monday, 26 February 2018

Too Old to Snowboard/Too Cool to Care

It's February, which means... wait, what?  The kids have two weeks off?  Again?



...deep breath... face on...

Nothing says, "I am excited to spend two weeks with my children" like kicking off the two weeks in question with a 13-hour drive to Austria!  Away!

Ziggy went to stay with his Uncle Paul for a week of pampering and delight to the extent that he probably considers it animal cruelty to come back to our place, but we were happy, he was happy, and Paul said he was happy, so... we go. 

The drive was quite nice, considering.   We took the Tunnel Shuttle (drive on to an industrial transport-y traincar, sit there for 45 minutes while you are zoomed through a tunnel under the English Channel, drive off in France), then drove through France on large toll highways.  We slept in Nancy, then drove off through Switzerland, and finally to Austria.  We saw lots of snow (mostly flakes, as it was almost blizzarding), mountains, some old ruins set high up in the hills, and discovered the very European joy of driving through tunnels that run through mountains.  We ate at exotic places like -- and forgive me if I spell this wrong -- McDonald's.  And that was Friday and Saturday.

Goggles make for happy (yet goofy) kinderHuffs.
Sunday was spent exploring the tiny-yet-extremely-steep town of Pettneu.  We took the skibus to St. Jakob to sign the kids up for skischule, organized our rentals, then went swimming at the wellness centre at the end of our street.  A good day of planning and exercise was had by all!

We carried our gear up the street to the skibus (so we were already exhausted by the time we got to the skibus).  The kids did skischule from Monday to Wednesday:  two hours in the morning, one hour lunch break, then two more hours in the afternoon.  After the first day, when I raced frantically down the mountain to pick up Tamsin in time for lunch (and then shared her 13-euro noodles with sauce and a glass of milk), and Chris raced frantically up the mountain to pick up the older kinderHuffs in time for lunch (crowded lodge, had to eat sitting on the floor), we decided that for an extra few euros a day, we could enjoy ourselves more by abandoning our children to eat lunch with their friends while we, well, enjoyed ourselves.  
Tamsin (ein kleine kinderHuff) and I, all ready to shush down the hills!

And away we went!

On the way up the hill in the gondola, a woman had asked me how long I'd been snowboarding.  "Ten years," I replied, not knowing how else to reply.  Ten years ago, I took six weeks of lessons!  And the seventh week, I went snowboarding with Chris and Knowlton!  And I haven't done it since!

The view from Gampen.  This was either slightly before or just after the sobbing.
So... yeah.  Ouch.  And whimper.  And pow, splat, and snif.  Every muscle (go ahead, test me on my musculo-skeletal anatomy - IT WAS LITERALLY EVERY MUSCLE) was sore by the time we got off the hill the first night.  The second night was even worse.  Worse than that, though, were the overwhelming emotions of being not very good at something while being terrified of hurting myself and/or dying and the kinderHuffs having to grow up without a mother, while feeling extremely guilty that Chris wasn't getting to enjoy his snowboard vacation because he was sitting in the snow for 4 minutes every 20 feet, waiting for me to get back up.  Add, as well, the panic of not getting down the mountain in time to pick up Tamsin for lunch...  and the embarrassment of all this on Hoppelweg, the bunny hill.  Classes of tiny European children snowplowed by me, over and over.  

Freakin' Hoppel.  

Snowplow:  check.  The kinderHuffs can SKI.
The girls prepare to show me what they've learned.
We (the elders) took Wednesday "off", taking the kids on the skibus, then having second breakfast, reading for a while, then going for a lovely-in-theory Valentine's Day Anniversary Run in the snow!  Apparently, a 4000-foot elevation change affects how hard you work.  But anyway, it was nice.

Happy Huffs, at Gampen (midpoint of mountain).
Thursday and Friday, I swapped the Snowboard of Death for Skis of Relative Competence, and acted as Tamsin's personal assistant/ski instructor.  By the Thursday afternoon, she could use the button lift by herself, and while Chris took the big kids up to the summit one at a time, we happily stuck to the beginner routes.  On Friday, it was warm and wet, and we made it to lunchtime before calling it a week.  

One last apres-ski, one last feast with Sue and Liam (who joined us on the Wednesday), and that was it.  We packed up the car, and drove the two days to come home. 

Lessons learned: 

  • although snowboarding is super hard and maybe I should stick with skiing, or at least take another lesson or two, I am apparently unbeatable at Ticket to Ride
  • long road trips with kids aren't as bad as you're afraid they will be
  • books on tape save lives
  • unlike in Canada, here you can see (drive through?) three countries in a day
  • sometimes it's worth extra euros to drive on toll roads, especially when the weather is terrible
  • sometimes it's worth extra time to drive over the mountains and through beautiful valleys
  • nussschnecke is even more amazing as a food than it is as a word

Apres-ski in St. Anton, with Sue and Liam.  Bier, gluhwein, Hei├če Schokolade...danke schoen!

Monday, 5 February 2018

Pupdate 2018: The Sweetest Arroooooo

(Apologies to Sade)

Ziggy, who has more nicknames than I have shoes, is now 18 months old, meaning that he only has 6 more months until we can no longer blame his terrible behaviour on his age, but on his personality, and -- of course -- his trainer.  Luckily, most people guess that he is only 4 months old, which helps a bit.

Although some days, he impresses me to bits, His Zigness still doesn't walk very well on a leash, despite clicker training, treats, professional classes, and 3-4 training outings (with me) a day.  He has lately decided to never look at me, even when I'm holding a treat and saying, "Ziggy!"  "Look at me!"  "ZIGGY!"  "LOOK AT ME!!!" 

During these times, many, many other people look at me, but he won't.  It's very embarrassing.  He'll even sit down, facing away from me, pretending he can't hear me.

He will, almost always, perform his handshake trick ("Paw!"), his jump-up-on-things-like-benches-and-walls trick ("Hup!"), and work is still progressing on "sit", "stay", and "stick 'em up", the precursor to the play-dead trick ("Bang!").

He is welcome in some pubs, coffee shops, and restaurants, as well as public transit, which is weird and great and unhygienic and often embarrassing, but it really is something that I love about England.

He will not, however, lie down quietly under my chair at the pub while I have lunch.  He will also not sit and stare at me devotedly (see above) while I have a coffee at Starbucks, unlike that lovely King Charles Spaniel that I see there often.  Zoggins paces and circles and whines and hopes with his whole body that I will drop something tasty for him.  The "do nothing" training that they assigned to us on the first day of Puppy Kindergarten, over a year ago, has never once resulted with him sitting down or lying down out of boredom or resignation.  We can point to his doggy bed (ok, ok, one of his doggie beds) and say, "mat", and he'll spring onto it, lie down and look at us alertly until he gets a treat, at which time he will spring back off and resume his pacing.  More work is needed, and it's my job.


But until then... guess who has the sweetest howl ever

He was sitting on my lap, and suddenly threw his fuzzy head back and howled.  A sound so soft and high and sad, it would break your heart.  His little mouth formed into a tiny triangle, and he howled again.  It was SUCH a sweet moment...

...said nobody else on the bus, because yes, I was holding a howling dog on a bus. 

To be fair, the other dog, a gorgeous Scottie in a fetching red coat*, started it.  We boarded, I let the dogs meet by sniffing noses, then I returned to the front of the bus to keep some distance between potential loud-and-unruliness. 


The Scottie desperately wanted to hang out with Ziggins, so started to whine and howl.  Zognob, in return, whined and barked, then suddenly howled sweetly.  And howled.  And howled.  Scottie kept up his racket, too, and the two of them sang a poignantly beautiful song about how they would be best friends if only they were allowed, but alas, their parents kept them apart.  (I assume.) 

Luckily, the people behind us thought it was hilarious, and told us not to get off the bus, as we'd be waiting another 30 minutes till the next one came along.  Several other faces were less impressed, and when Scottie finally got off the bus, ZigZog quieted down.

If I can figure out a way to get his howl on video, I will.  Because it's just that cute.

* Ha!  Fetching!  Because he's a dog!  Ha!

Thursday, 1 February 2018

I Ran SO Far Away

So, my amazing and inspirational running group is still trying to kill me or convince me to go with them to run a half marathon in Utrecht.  I am not convinced that there is a difference.

On Monday, we ran from St. John's Wood to Canary Wharf, a route that my phone tells me is just shy of the planned 9.3 miles.  Most of it was along the canal, which alternates between being pretty and super sketchy.  Houseboats (barges) line the edges, and we share the narrow pathway with cyclists.  Floating beside us are, at intervals:  swans, ducks, gardens, garbage.  So much garbage.  And at least one animal "taking a nap" in the water each time I've run along it.

I gauged my water intake properly this time, in that, for the first time ever, I didn't spend the whole run thinking about how much I had to pee (like a meditation).  I did this by being somewhat completely underhydrated, drinking only half a cup of water when I got out of bed and then feeling thirsty even before getting to the meeting point.  So, my running mantra was thinking how thirsty I was (like a meditation).  Of the two, the latter is definitely better, and doesn't necessitate my pulling off the (narrow, public) path to squat like one of our group did last week.*  She is my hero.

After what felt like a very, very long way, I asked the woman beside me how much further we were going. 

"About two miles."

It wasn't that I was too tired to go on, because really, where was I going to go?  I had no idea where I was, and frankly, if another group of brightly-spandexed women ran by, and I got distracted for a second, I'd probably end up running with them wherever they were going, for as long as they were running. 

I enjoy the group, and their dynamic.  I enjoy the conversations, and being able to turn off my brain (except for the I-have-to-pee lobe) and just run through this amazing city.

The two runs I've done on my own (sans Ziggy) were longer and harder and farther than those I've done with the group.  I left the flat feeling strong and proud and like a real runner, and ran and ran, not checking my tracker until I was finished.  And each time, I discovered that although the runs felt longer and harder and farther, they were, in fact, only harder.  What I was sure was at least 6 miles was less than 4.  My hour-long run (in my mind) turned out to be only 39 minutes.  Both felt far faster than I usually run, but -- if you're following along, you'll know this one -- they were slower.  I need the group for direction, but also for distraction, which actually (and counter-intuitively) gives me focus.  Not, per se, on my form, pace, breathing and endurance, but on the people ahead of me.

Anyhoo, when we had arrived, we stretched and discussed where to celebrate with breakfast, and I made a bit of an announcement that I'd never run that far before.

"What?" they said.

"That's the longest I've ever run," I said.  "Why on earth would I run 9 miles if I didn't have to?"  (inside voice:  Why would anyone?)

Well, they all flattered me and told me that they thought I had already run hundreds of marathons, that I was making it look easy, but I meant it.  Without the group, I would not have done it.

 If I just follow them, I feel I can do anything.**

There's a joke here somewhere about making my pubic public, but I can't quite piece it together...
**  Have a cult?  Call me!

Monday, 22 January 2018

Adventure Day in Adventure Playground with Intrepid Adventurers

Sunday was a cold, rainy, wet-snowy day.  Chris had left earlier in the day on a flight to Canada, and I thought that the kids, dog and I should get out for fresh air and exercise early in the day so that we could have a nice, cozy, relaxing afternoon in fuzzy clothes, not having to go outside at all because we don't have a dog that sometimes has to leave the flat to pee, even when it's cold and rainy and snowy.  (sigh)

Unrelated, I'm starting to (perhaps rightfully) worry that, a few years from now, when all three children are in therapy, someone will utter the word "adventure" and they will all twitch involuntarily.  I digress.

A few weeks ago, I walked through Holland Park and was startled by a random peacock.  Then another.  Turns out, the place is lousy with peacocks.  We drove past it on Saturday, and I mentioned it to Tamsin.  She told me that she'd never seen a peacock before.  "Not even a picture?" I asked.  

I seem to have failed the third child.

So, out we went in the very wet cold.  There was a bit of grumbling on the way, and once we got into the park, we had to slog through very muddy paths, but then we saw it...the Adventure Playground.  Due to the sleet, mud and cold, we were the only idiots people in there, so I broke some rules and brought Ziggy into the no-dog zone and let him offleash.  He and the kids ran around, exploring the amazingness.  

And then we saw it.  

THERE WAS A ZIPLINE!!!  (Did the all-caps give it enough gravitas?)  

The kids actually took turns and helped Tamsin bring it back and get on it.

Ziplines actually foster teamwork!  Who knew?

Zipline Law is very clear about the mandatory screaming of "Cowabunga!"

Ziggy enjoyed himself with a feather.  A large feather.  A large, brightly-coloured....waitaminute...

Tamsin saw her peacock, well, two peacocks, a peahen, and a fox.  And a suspiciously large pile of peacock-esque feathers.  We saw the fox several times (or possibly three different foxen), but bold as anything in the daylight.  He probably had a full belly and no fear.

The fun went on for about an hour, but the cold, wet, and mud added up to increasing crankiness from me (I wasn't on the zipline)... and then in some of the troops as well.

Shivering, muddy adventurer.  "Can I take off my socks?  They're wet."

The walk back to the tube station was considerably less exciting than the walk from, but the kids were highly motivated by the thought of Starbucks hot chocolate, which was conveniently available right beside said tube station.  So, yay!  Also, we wrapped Tamsin's wet feet in Ziggy's towel, which was very classy.

Wet, muddy, adventurers with hot chocolate.  (Well, not the dog, of course!  That would be crazy!)  (The dog has a puppuccino, which is seriously a thing.)  (England is so weird.)

We made it home eventually, despite one of the adventurers getting off the tube at Baker Street, unnoticed by me.  Luckily, Ailsa's outside voice alerted me (and most of Greater London) that Tamsin had escaped.  We got her back before the doors slid shut, but it was terrifying.*

When we got home, the kids were inside the flat, wet clothes in the washing machine, and into fuzzy jammies before I could even get my muddy shoes off.  Popcorn and peanuts, big glasses of water, and a movie later, and we all agreed it was a good outing...but I think we'll wait a little while for our next one.

Post-adventure, warm and dry in fuzzy clothes, settled in for a movie.

* All of the kids have been repeatedly drilled in what to do should they get off the tube alone or not make it onto the tube with the rest of the family.  So far, only one has been put to the actual test, and he failed miserably.  Luckily, it was a family outing, so Chris stayed with the girls and I flung myself back onto the tube like a movie star** after Vaughn, who had dropped his gloves.  We got to the next station, and I quizzed him (pop quiz!) about what he should do next (the correct answer is "get off at the next station and Stay There"), and he tried to cross the platform to get on a train that was on a different line altogether.  In short, should I have not been with him, I would still not be with him now.     

** Chris says that I did not look like a movie star, but he was probably just jealous that he didn't get to act like Keanu.***

*** Ha ha... ha.... "act" like Keanu.  I made myself laugh there.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Well, I did it

So, I finally had enough.  The last straw came when I was visiting my parents, and my mom kept suggesting that I use her hairdryer after showering.  So, I finally did, for about 40 minutes because that's how long it takes.   And yes, I guess it does "look nice" when I take the time, but do I really have 40 minutes to style my hair every second day?

The answer, of course, is no.

So, as it goes, I woke up yesterday, having a fairly good hair day.  And I thought I'd take a goodbye selfie.  Since my selfie skills are still very basic, the goodbye photo was actually about 12 photos, which felt very silly and vain.

Oh hello!  I didn't see you there!  .... Why, yes, I always look like this.

And here I am, 20 minutes lighter (at least).  We'll see how it looks when I style it myself.  It still fits into a teeny-yet-super-thick ponytail, and, if it turns out actually as I wanted, I will be mistaken for Kate Hudson* the next time I leave the house.**  The kids didn't notice for about 30 minutes, then Vaughn said, "Mommy!  Your HAIR!" and that was it.  Ailsa liked the curls and gave me a hug, and Tamsin said she liked it too.

When Chris got home, he sort of looked like he was going to cry, but then I started to look like I was going to cry too, and he got over it and told me it looks nice.  And that he supports my growing this out, "should I want to".  And also, he really liked my long hair. 

Would you believe that this is an actual photograph of Kate Hudson in my kitchen??? 
No?  Well, would you believe that the follow-up selfie actually took more tries than the original? 
Leading me to believe that I have made a horrible, horrible mistake? 

Ah well, too late now.

* Kate Hudson before the head-shaving.  Although....

** Since the whole "being mistaken for Kate Moss" thing hasn't really worked out.