Friday, December 31, 2010

Blog celebrates 5th birthday

London (BP) - The globally-esteemed weblog, Dances with Lyons, which tracks the activities of a London family, announced plans for its 5th birthday celebrations to take place today. DwL's Chief correspondent and founder stated: "Dances with Lyons was born five years ago today, as I was trying to close out a quiet half-day at the office. My friend Raina had a blog, and she inspired me to do one myself. It was New Year's Eve, and I thought it would be a good resolution to keep better track of things in 2006. It's hard to believe, but here we are, five years on."

DwL cites a reader community on at least 3 continents as a primary reason for its existence. "In the early days, the content was pretty boring, to be honest, and in fact the blog was dormant for about nine months as we prepared for our wedding. The arrival of our junior contributor in 2008 really accelerated the interest in the blog. It is the energy and enthusiasm of our readers which makes the late-night posts worthwhile." A further staff addition in 2010 meant that the editor had less time for providing content-rich posts on a daily basis as she tried to manage the expanded team. "We thank all our readers for checking in on and showing an interest in Dances with Lyons. I wish that every day you could log in to a new post, but we do the best we can. Every now and then I think to myself, when will I call time on the blog? but then I'll have someone mention that they enjoy reading it, and that's what all writers and publications need. At the moment, I guess I see its continuing indefinitely. This blog won't change the world, but it does allow me to record and comment on our world, which I enjoy doing. We are pleased to dedicate the 5th birthday to our readers!"

The London team will celebrate with a private party for staff at the blog's headquarters in southeast London, with champagne and pink milk to be served.

The rest of the week

I always seem to notice that the "Christmas season" seems to move so swiftly on once Christmas morning breaks. There is so much build-up -- all the shopping, the preparing, the carol-singing, the wrapping, the cooking, the even getting-emotional-about-the-birth-of-the-Baby-Jesus...and then all the presents get opened in a rush of torn wrapping paper, and all of a sudden it seems like a distant memory.

We headed back to London on Tuesday, which was Boxing Day (observed) here in the UK. Because of the way Christmas Day falls this year, in a calendar-sense, most people had Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off. On Wednesday we thought we would have an adventure into town to see the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum. Apparently we were not alone in having that thought, and we had to queue with hordes of people to get into the museum, and then again to see the dinosaurs, which were a lot of fossils as well as the big attraction - an animated T. Rex which seemed to scare Blake a little ("if we'd known you'd be scared, we wouldn't have stood for half an hour waiting to see him" I felt like saying, but held my tongue...).

On Thursday, Chris, Anna and Joseph came to visit - we hadn't seen them in a long time so it was nice to catch up; always amusing to see Noah and Joseph together, progressing along in their similar ways. And then all of a sudden, it's New Year's Eve...if any week epitomizes how quickly time flies, it has to be the week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas wrap-up

We have had a very enjoyable Christmas holiday thus far, though I know by the end of nearly two straight weeks with both boys 24/7, we're going to be exhausted!

We set off for Bishy's on the 23rd; the recent bad weather in the UK meant that we wanted to try to avoid getting stuck on some motorway in the freezing cold, and we were pleased that we got there before dark and that the ride was pretty smooth. I had packed up the car with the boys here that morning, and we met Matt who had gone in for a half day. I spent about half an hour stuck in the exact same place we were when we missed our flight this summer, but fortunately there was no real rush this time!

Christmas Eve was lots of fun as we built up the imminent arrival of Santa. We laid out some cookies and milk, and some carrots for the reindeer, a tradition I remember doing as a child. Blake got into the true meaning of Christmas by arranging a little scene with a stuffed hedgehog as the Baby Jesus and some dinosaurs lined up who seemed to be the Wise Men. He kept cradling the hedgehog so tenderly; it was hilarious. After the boys were asleep, I then went off to the local church with one of Elizabeth's friends to the midnight mass (fortunately it didn't start at midnight, but 11:15, and I'd had an afternoon nap with Noah so was feeling pretty rested). Elizabeth, on the other hand, was sharing a room with Blake and had woken up sometime around 6:00 am when he did, and did not have a nap (and cooked several meals for us), so she was ready for bed! The service was nice, with a few poignant carols, and it was somewhat magical to make the short walk back home with our feet crunching on the snow, and with the sky clear and bright. I filled up the boys' stockings at the feet of their beds - well, the travel cot in Noah's case - and laid out their "Santa presents" on the sofa before calling it a night. Blake was getting a space shuttle and Noah some little bug stackers. I hadn't actually even thought to get Noah something until a few days before, when I realized that for Blake's sake I needed for Santa to bring Noah something too!

On Christmas morning, I heard Blake's excited voice at 5:34; it took me a minute to realize that he and Bishy were already downstairs so he must have been up for at least 10 minutes or so by that point. Santa must not have received my letter requesting that Blake sleep in on Christmas Day! Once I'd recovered from the disappointment of its being soooo early, I headed downstairs to see what he thought of his present. They were admiring it but struggling with the packaging, which seemed to be a theme of the day. Everything was tied down with these wire twists that took an absolute age to get off, but once we got the space shuttle and its base extracted from all the packaging, Blake did enjoy discovering all the things it did. Noah, as I probably could have predicted, had eyes only for the space shuttle or whatever Blake was doing, so the bug stackers were probably superfluous to the day. Watching him gaze at Blake's antics - in awe? bewilderment? admiration? envy? - makes me smile and marvel at what a different view to life he must have to what Blake had at the same age. To think that Blake had no similar Tasmanian Devil swirling around him constantly, such relatively less action in comparison, and just us to dote on him...I just can't imagine how differently they must have viewed and view the world as 9-month-old's!

The rest of the day was nice; we opened presents leisurely, had a call with Grandpa John and Granny Karla who were in snowy Asheville with the Barretts, and enjoyed a delicious Christmas Day meal once Peter and his elder son Charlie had arrived from Ashow. I definitely felt that Christmas is meant for the young, and the old (and I classify myself with that label) just end up exhausted from everything. I was treated the next day by a very lazy Boxing Day, where I got to go back to sleep until about noon. I think I only got dressed at about 1:00 pm. Maybe Santa just got my letter a day late, because all I did ask for was a little extra sleep. Or maybe it was just his way of thanking me for leaving out the milk and cookies...
Christmas 2010

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from all the team at Dances with Lyons, spending a remote Christmas over the river and through the woods at Grandmother Bishy's house, where it's a real winter wonderland...we hope you've had a wonderful day wherever you are.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Love this!

Passed on to me by my Dad's cousin's wife - thanks, Diane - I love it!

Our anniversary!

It was one year ago today that we said goodbye to our friendly movers around 5:00 pm and wearily closed the front door of our new house. At the time we were just Meg, Matt and Blake, plus The Child Soon To Be Known as Noah (then nicknamed "BLT"), the newest residents of South London. 365 days on, the weather is not much different - we had snow at about this same time last year - and although we still have a lot of work to do on the house, it is definitely home.

I still don't have any regrets about choosing this house, and although it has been hard to spend a lot of time in it this year and be so ready and eager to make improvements, but be delayed by the approval process and a distinct lack of free time, I love our little street and the community we're in. I do wish Matt's commute were shorter, but I guess I wish none of us had to commute at all!

So far all we've really done is paint a few rooms and replace some windows, but all the credit for the state of the back yard goes to Matt, who has worked throughout the seasons to make it better for the future!

December 2009

Just after Noah arrived - note the brightness of the fence panels and the dryness of the ground!

July - shed about to be constructed with Chris's help...grass seed worked!

October 2010

December 2010, perfect for making snowmen in!
I don't even want to remind myself of how stressed out and exhausted we were by the buying and selling process this time last year, so I'll just wish us Happy Anniversary. Maybe this time next year we'll have some flowers and plants too!

Christmas Gavin and Stacey style

One of my favorite series here for the last couple of years is called Gavin and Stacey, about an unlikely young couple from different ends of the UK (Essex and Wales). It was just genius and this time last year everyone was looking forward to the Christmas special. Here is my highlight from that - Smithy singing "Do They Know It's Christmas?"...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

5 Little Pigs

Jingle Bells!

We've been trying for the last week to explain to Blake that in We Wish You a Merry Christmas, it's "to you and your kin" (not king!). He doesn't seem convinced. Here is some singing of Jingle Bells instead...and an insight into his continued fascination with rubbish disposal!

Sweet Noah

Name that tune

Here is Blake's rendition of the CBeebies winter song:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sleep report

I can't quite remember where I left it with Noah's sleep updates. I can hardly remember two nights ago, but I can definitely report that last night was GOOD! I was always really hopeful that once he got over his cold that he would remember the very important lessons I was attempting to teach him in the middle of those nights when we started controlled crying. I am sure writing this will jinx tonight, but last night he went down easily at about 7:30. Around 10:30 he stirred but went back to sleep, and I gave him a dream feed bottle sometime soon after. I think (if I am not forgetting some wake-up that I am too tired to remember) that he then slept til 5:30. I fed him a bit and he then went back to sleep until 7:30. This is, of course, as any mother suffering from sleep deprivation would agree, a GOOD night. I am really hopeful that, like the recent snow, this will stick!

We also tried giving the boys a bath together for the first time tonight. I am not sure they came out any cleaner but I think they had fun.

Since writing the first half of this post, we've also had some NORMAL nights, meaning that Noah's woken up and it's been tricky to figure out what to do, since I've stopped the night feeds but he's not settling very well. Hmm, watch this space...

Snow report

On Friday there was more snow, but only a little dusting. Matt had the day off and late in the day we took a walk in the West Norwood Cemetery. It was really really cold out but lovely and clear!

On Saturday morning at about 9:30 I looked out beyond the Christmas tree and saw that it was snowing - again. I was about to call upstairs to tell Blake, but at that moment I heard him cry, "It's snowing!" in his funny little voice. It was snowing sideways and in just about two hours it had snowed about 3 inches - at one point it was really coming down fast. I started to think about how many people are going to struggle to get to their Christmas destinations and I just hope the chaos eases so that people get to have the holiday they had planned. I thought back to April and the air travel problems caused by the volcanic ash - weather, and its effects, just remains almost the only thing these days that nobody can control.

Saturday's snow seemed finally to be the right kind for making snowmen (previous attempts have just been feeble but this was due to the consistency), and I was quite pleased to actually have some carrots in the fridge.

It was a low-key, snowed-in day, and it was great!

Last night, there was more snow - it's starting to feel routine now! We'll hope to go to Granny Bishy's on Thursday afternoon to beat the Christmas Eve rush. But it looks as if it will indeed be a White Christmas!

Party party party

Thursday was truly our party day, as we went from the pre-school play and party to Matt's work do that evening. We managed to get Noah asleep by 6:50 pm, and Blake had had his bath and was being read to by Granny Bishy when we left at 7:00. It had started to snow, and I felt really quite peaceful and ready to enjoy the evening.

Matt's parties are usually pretty extravagant affairs, and this year was a little less so, but still pretty impressive. The theme was "Glitter" although I misinterpreted the theme to be "Wine" and got rather tipsy. I had read an article about what a liability partners are at Christmas parties, so I did try to remember to behave myself, though.

When we got home sometime after midnight, Blake was on the sofa asleep next to Elizabeth. She said he hadn't been able to settle in his bed, but did fall asleep pretty quickly when he came down with her. He woke up when we came in but Matt carried him upstairs and he fell straight back to sleep. Bless his heart.

My company's party was also on Thursday night, so I'd had to choose between these two, but it meant that for me, the Christmas "party season" was over.

Second time this year I've worn a fake moustache (the first time being at Lucy's Hen Do)...

The Beckhams were there too! This was a great act, with these two guys changing their masks to become different famous duo's...

There have been times in years past when Matt and I have gone out - on that oh-so-rare occasion that we go out - and we've come home to find Blake fully awake at 11:00 pm or midnight with one or the other grandmother/sitter reading stories and having a whale of a time. I guess our little party animal is starting to know his limits...even if his mama still hasn't learned all of hers!

The meaning of Christmas

I will be the first to admit that my knowledge of Bible stories, and the church calendar, is actually pretty poor. Thanks to my mother for informing me that the 12 days of Christmas actually start on Christmas Day leading up to Epiphany on January 6th.
At our church playgroup last week the leader acted out the story of the Annunciation of Mary, when the angel Gabriel appeared to her to tell her that she was going to become the mother of the Son of God, the baby Jesus. I am sure it's not the right reaction, but here is what I think when I hear that story:
Angel Gabriel: "Mary, you're going to have a baby."
Mary: "What the...?! I'm not even married yet, man! Joseph's going to think I've gone and gotten knocked up by some other guy [this is where Joseph's visit by an angel comes in handy; I can see how the guy might not be convinced by the story]
AG: "And, oh yes, no pressure, but he's the son of God."
M: "Riiiiight..."

Last Sunday I had a note written in my calendar which read: "Innkeeper costume!" Blake's pre-school ambitiously staged a nativity play on Thursday, and he had been cast in the role of innkeeper, with this line: "I can give you my stable." We had been practicing lots at home, although most times I would ask the preceding question and he would just reply, "Yesssss!"

I had been Googling nativity costumes, and it seems there is a trend for "pushy parents" buying expensive nativity play costumes in order for their little ones to stand out among the crowd. I knew that I didn't want to spend a lot of money on something that was really, in the grand scheme of things, not that important, and another part of me - the part of me that causes the dark circles under my eyes when I over-plan, procrastinate, and generally do things in a very unwise or impractical way - had a plan to create his costume. I hesitate to say sew because, frankly, I don't know how to do that, but concoct something - I felt surely that was within my creative abilities.

I was supposed to devise this plan on Sunday; I imagined I probably needed to find some fabric, research some techniques, and maybe even start putting the pieces together. As often happens, Sunday came, and Sunday went, and well, I didn't even think about the costume. I did go up into the loft to get down the Christmas decorations, and while I was up there I happened to see, hidden away in the eaves by the door, a roll of fabric left by the previous owners. Ooh, it was like being visited by the Angel of Lost Sewing Causes! I pulled it down and it was perfect: a big roll of nice navy fabric just right for my project!

After I dropped Blake off at nursery on Monday, the mother of the play's Mary was telling me what she was going to do, and it sounded easy: fold a piece of fabric in half and sketch out a T shape, cut a slit for the neck, and then maybe loosely sew up the sides and sleeves, for a sheath effect. I thought I could do that!

Later that evening I set to work. I even got Raina's sewing machine out on the off chance that I might remember the details of a very brief tutorial she'd given me in 2007; turns out it has an Australian plug and I couldn't find an adaptor, so that was out. I would have to resort to the "basting" technique taught to me by my mother. In all honesty, I did enjoy making my little creation. I did make quite a big mistake which was to cut the neck opening WAY too big, so that when I put the outfit on Blake, the hole which was for the neck was as wide as his shoulders and it just pretty much slid off him. I had to go back and stitch it up a bit more, but I went to bed that night feeling ok about what I'd put together.

I had also drawn the short straw for refreshments, as when I saw the sign-up sheet on the door to his pre-school room, everything easy was gone so I was left with "assorted sandwiches". I boiled some eggs for some egg salad sandwiches, and also did some ham and cheese and tomato ones. I felt like that was definitely assorted enough.

The big performance time came, and it was hilarious. All the parents were gathered, excitement was in the air, and it was showtime! And honestly, if you blinked, you might have missed it - it lasted about 1 minute and 30 seconds. But it was very cute - we didn't hear Blake say his line (we're not entirely sure whether he did say it), and they did a really good job, keeping in mind that most of the kids are only or not yet 3. I was quite proud of my sartorial efforts, and I think Matt was too (he paid me a roundabout compliment by saying that he had thought we'd be on the "lower end of the costume efforts" but that actually he thought we were on the "higher effort end." I do love the use of the word "we"...I can write that because I don't think he reads this blog very often).

Father Christmas then paid a visit and Blake was very excited to receive a toolkit. We then had to deal with questions about why Santa came early but I left those to Matt. I had used up all my creative energy in the past 24 hours!

Tea towel/dish towel for head scarf, my homemade sheath robe, braid from a shirt of mine, and Noah's teething keys = one innkeeper!

Blake looks rather less than energized here - he didn't have a nap all day so he was pretty tired by 5:00 pm...

But, toolkits can change that, and he's back in the room!

And so, I'll probably pack up the little costume with the rest of the Christmas decorations, so that we could use it again next year. I wonder if Mary had that feeling, that night in the manger, that she would do anything for her newborn baby, including making him clothes. No doubt she was probably a better seamstress than I am, but then again, swaddling clothes probably didn't need much needle and thread to get the fit right.

O Christmas Tree...

It has been a busy week here, although now that it's the weekend I actually feel like I can now relax and enjoy the next few days before Christmas comes.

On Tuesday Noah and I went to get a Christmas tree. Matt had been threatening to get a plastic tree, because he was worried about Noah eating the fallen needles and/or pulling a heavier real tree down. I fortunately had veto power on that, so off I went to the Christmas Forest on Lordship Lane. Since it was a weekday, it was fairly quiet, and the guy that helped me pick one was really sweet; he was quite patient as I flitted between rows trying to decide between 2 varieties: the Nordmann and the Fraser Fir. The Fraser Fir was a lot more slender and I thought that I maybe should go with one of those given that our living room is not that big, but the Nordmann reminded me more of what I thought a Christmas tree should look like. In the end I decided I would give the guy a break and I just picked one; it felt nice to be decisive.
I was even more proud of myself a few minutes later when I actually - on my own - managed to remove Blake's carseat and fold down part of the back seat so we could fit the tree in the car. I have had times in the past where I've had to phone Matt to talk me through what I need to do for things like this, so I felt a sense of satisfaction at being able to do it without assistance. I asked the helpful (ok, kind of cute) guy what he did when he wasn't selling Christmas trees; he's on his gap year (ack, very young!) before going next year to Sussex, where Matt went. He said he liked the job because buying a Christmas tree was a really happy thing and nobody was ever grumpy.

Now this was an interesting observation to me, because a lot of my memories of having a tree when I was growing up are of kind of stressful times, namely related to trying to get the tree to stand up straight in some ill-fitting stand. I also remember pretty vividly the year it fell over, with the decorations already on. It was always my mother who seemed to spearhead the tree efforts, and I guess it felt strangely familiar to me to be the one in our house this year who was driving the cause. The good news is that they seem to have improved tree stands quite a lot, so we managed to get it standing straight, and feeling very secure, in a matter of minutes. What was immediately obvious was that I had definitely leaned toward the bigger side during the selection process; the tree is a pretty chunky one which encroaches quite a lot on our living space...the foliage equivalent to one's eyes being bigger than one's stomach!

Lights were a different issue, because we went to get an extension cord out of the shed only to find that the lock on the shed is broken - or frozen shut. We therefore have lights pretty much on only the left side of the tree, but it kind of contributes to its uneven nature - since I hardly have any ornaments at the bottom of the tree so as not to tempt Noah.
Interestingly, it isn't actually Noah who seems that interested in making mischief around the tree; Blake's covering that pretty well - crawling underneath it, pulling off ornaments, nestling his toys and other possessions in the branches. Fortunately this only lasted a day or two and now everyone seems used to having it.
Once the tree was up, I definitely felt very Christmas-y.

This picture makes me laugh, because what Blake is examining so intently is an ornament that holds pictures, and they're ones of Matt and me from 2004 - we look really young. He is probably wondering who the people in the picture are!

This Lego bus ended up in the tree:
I have loved sitting up, after everyone else is asleep, with the glow of the lights in the room, and thinking about what a special time of year Christmas is. Even if it's stressful. And expensive. Yes, even I, when looking at the Christmas tree and remembering Christmas trees over the years - memories, essentially - don't feel grumpy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On the 12th day of Christmas...

I don't think Noah really would want his two front teeth for Christmas, but I sure wouldn't mind them if it meant less agony on the oral pain front. On Sunday I felt the first little sliver of a tooth so hopefully it won't be long for it to fully make its way out. I was convinced that Noah, like Blake before him, would get his top two teeth first, even though that's slightly unusual for babies. But I was proven wrong, as the one that's coming through is the bottom left, typical of the bottom ones usually popping through first. Please let it come quickly, and not cause him too much anguish. If only there was a tooth fairy that could come and quite miraculously deliver the teeth in a quiet manner, in the same way that they collect them! Maybe I'll put that on my list to Santa. Or maybe I should save it for the Easter Bunny...

On the 11th day of Christmas...

...we headed over to Greenwich to witness Nina and Kevin get married at the Ranger's House in Greenwich Park. It was a beautiful setting and a lovely service. It's also nice for me to now know that both of Matt's significant exes are now married! Hee hee. Back at the ranch, Blake had a playdate with Charlie and we also had a babysitter come help Bishy for a bit; all was fine and we came home to Noah sleeping and Blake ready for bed, so the day was a success.

At the wedding, we sat at a table with 3 other couples who had left their kids at home, and it was rather sad yet funny that despite being out - and being kid-free for at least a few hours - most of the conversation revolved around, you guessed it, our children. One mother of a 3-year-old girl was quite adamant that she did not want any "clippy cloppy (Barbie) shoes" for her daughter, and she asked me across the table, "Do you have any clippy cloppy shoes?!" I was thinking about it before our friend Laura interjected that it wasn't as applicable a question because we have boys, but in the meantime I was about to reply that no, I pretty much wore tennis shoes all the time! It reminded me that I'd been out recently in my boots and from the buggy, Blake asked what that cloppy noise was - he must have hardly ever heard me pushing the buggy not in flat shoes!

We didn't make it a big night, and got home about 9:00. It was a lovely wedding day for a lovely couple, and we were happy we had people to help us out with the boys so that we could go along.
Nina was very glamorous in a wintery way...
Slightly ginormous flower I'm wearing...

The wedding Routemaster...

Newlyweds on the bus

On the 10th day of Christmas...

Mary and Joseph spent an uneventful night at our house on Thursday, and that morning I had to return it to our church, All Saints, during our playgroup there (smAll Saints - clever, huh?!). I was pleased that they made it out of the house unbroken, but it was nice to host them and Mary stuck to the story and didn't give birth early or anything like that. Last year apparently the baby Jesus went around to all the houses with Mary and Joseph before someone mentioned that he probably shouldn't have made an appearance until Christmas!

Granny Bishy arrived mid-morning and later that day we went off to get Blake his Christmas present and to get a pot for the fig tree I'd bought Matt back in September for our anniversary. No pear trees, or partridges, but we now do have a potted fig tree in our garden.

On the 9th day of Christmas...

I'll start this post with some advice: if ever anyone in your family is not sleeping consistently through the night, if you're feeling even the slightest bit over-committed or like you're juggling too many things at once, or that your figure could do with a little toning, or even just if it's December, it's probably not the best time to book your brood in for a family portrait. That's what I'd done, however, for last Thursday, as part of a "prize" I'd "won" at a local craft fair. I put those in quotes because it's obviously just a clever marketing ploy, but one which is probably very effective at getting you to spend lots of money when you come to find that you really like the photos.
The photographer we were seeing has pretty impressive credentials, having once been on the official rota for photographing the royals, so I was excited - and a little apprehensive. It was such a relief to just get in car and have the Outfit Selection Crisis come to an end. I don't think I got it quite right, but it just didn't matter anymore.
Night 5 of the sleep project had been pretty much a disaster, with Noah waking at 3:00 again but this time with an obvious temperature, so all the plans went out the window and he came into bed with us. There was just no way I could let a sick child cry. I felt pretty disheartened by it all, but had to remain philosophical about it - my timing had just been off. He will sleep through the night at some point, of course...
Matt had the day off, so after the photos we came back here for a weekend-like day during the week. We all had a nap which was nice; it was definitely needed by everyone.
Our church has a travelling Mary and Joseph, based on a Mexican tradition called posada, which we hosted on Thursday night. A wicker basket, filled with straw and the figures of Mary and Joseph, travels around to different people's houses leading up Christmas and is meant to represent their search for lodging. The people who brought the posada to us were an older Scottish couple, and I had made some mulled wine and bought mince pies; this helped to bring something of a festive feel to what was otherwise our chaotic dinner- and bedtime hour for the boys. I got worried at one point that the man (who had a walking stick) was going to trip on a Lego brick or a Matchbox car...that would have been a great welcome! As part of the handover we had to say a set of prayers out loud and I nearly got the giggles during it but fortunately kept my control and got through it.
It was a very sweet scene though, and we blew out the candle (making sure not to set fire to any of the straw!) and let Mary and Joseph rest for the night. I was sure happy for some rest myself....

Here they are the next morning:

On the 8th day of Christmas...

...we finally opened Blake's Advent Calendar (I remember, because I asked him if he knew where the number 8 was, and then thought to myself that using an Advent Calendar to help teach numbers was not very effective when you forget to do it until December 8th).

We had completed night 4 of Noah's controlled crying program, and to be honest, it wasn't going anywhere as well as I'd hoped it might be! He'd had yet another night of being awake for about two hours - this time I think it was from between 3:15 and 5:10 am, so I was feeling pretty zombie-like that morning. It so happened that we had his 8-month review that day, so I went into it pretty frazzled and wasn't nearly as calm, cool and collected as I might have wanted to be. Still it was nice to discuss with the health visitor what I was doing in terms of the sleep, and whether it was the right thing. I mentioned that I thought he might have some painful teeth and a touch of a cold, and we agreed that it would probably be best to keep going with the crying-it-out, even if those things had probably contributed to not seeing much improvement over the four nights.

After that we headed over to Wimbledon, to another mall! I was really in a state over what we were going to wear to this photo shoot, having made the mistake of Googling "what to wear for a family portrait" and getting all sorts of ideas about what not to wear. All the good advice was good to know, but it wasn't having any effect when I actually got to the shops and just couldn't find anything that seemed right! The photographer's website had said to wear "anything you feel comfortable in, anything you look good in"; easier said than done in my case! I just didn't have anything, nor could I find anything! In one shop I got as far as pulling the double buggy into a dressing room to quickly slip on a shirt, only for Blake to kick the wall of the dressing room causing the buggy to shoot backwards and open the door exposing me and my bra (pretty much grey now from so two rounds of feeding and near constant wear). I gave up at that point, ran quickly to get some shirts for them at Gap Kids, and we headed back in the car to go to the last story time at Elm Green School until the new year. This story time has pretty much been exclusively for Blake and his friend Charlie, as we are always the only people ever to turn up! On the way home in the car, Blake proclaimed very proudly from the back that Noah was clapping his hands, and it was true - very cute as it was the first time I think he'd done it so it must have been quite an interesting sensation for him and he found it very funny.

That evening I tore through my entire wardrobe, hoping and praying to find some long-forgotten item of clothing that would be perfect for our photos. I didn't find it but settled on an old turtleneck which hopefully didn't look too horrible. To make myself feel better I had a few bites of Advent chocolate from days 1-7. I didn't think Blake would miss them; he doesn't have to know Advent doesn't start at Day 8...

On the 7th day of Christmas...

We have a book which must have been bought for Blake two years ago entitled My First Christmas. It's very basic but we've been reading it every couple of days or so, and Blake likes to stop and question me especially about the details of the nativity scene - what's the story behind Mary and Joseph, who the wise men are, where the shepherds were taking their sheep. I think he may be struggling slightly with the fact that Jesus is the baby in the story, since he thinks of Chris and Anna's Joseph when he thinks of a baby and the name Joseph.

Anyway, telling the nativity story last Tuesday evening, I had to wonder about how many people could tell correctly the story of the baby Jesus's birth (whether I could do it myself is questionable!). I had been that day to Westfield London, a veritable temple to consumerism on a normal day but seemingly in overdrive with Christmas shoppers in droves. The reason for my going was mainly to try to procure some sort of coordinated (but not matching!) outfits for the boys for a family photo shoot we were doing on Thursday, but I managed also to get sucked into several toy stores and the Disney store. I almost bought Blake some Toy Story undies for our upcoming potty training over Christmas, but there were literally about 30 people waiting to pay so I decided he might have to get less interesting "big boy pants" as I wasn't going to wait that long in line. I was feeling somewhat depressed after being amongst the masses of shoppers, which is pretty typical for me. I had also hoped to find something new for myself for the photos, but it didn't go very well. And, well, I just hate shopping, simple as that.
Fortunately after that retail hell I could head to something more pleasant, and that was to meet up with 2 other Hickory natives, Laura and Mollie. Laura is doing a PhD based in York, in the north of England, (with Peruvian/American/British husband, 4-year-old son, and baby on the way in January!) and Mollie is living in London with her Italian husband and 2-year-old daughter Eleanora. We met at the Tate Modern and it was nice to catch up on our lives since the good old days of Hickory High School! I had seen Mollie about a year ago so I had already met her sweet daughter, but Laura and I think it's been since 1996 or 1998 since we last saw each other. That is a long time!

It was a busy day, but seeing people from home in London made me remember what a small world it really is. If only the malls weren't so big...

Eleanora slept most of the time but was a delight when she woke up! She was saying loads of things in Italian which was so fun...

I had one of those moments where I felt like I wanted to be a tourist...

On the 6th day of Christmas...

For the past four Mondays, Noah and I have gone to a baby massage class at the local childrens' center. I put his name on the waiting list for this class a long time ago, but it was only recently that we got the call that we could get on to the current class. I hesitated to say yes, because the course advertises itself as being for "up to crawling age", and Noah was definitely on the move from Day 1 of the class. I'm really pleased we've gone, though, even if I am still not a very good massage practitioner, and Noah has spent the entire class trying to crawl away from me to go and infringe on the other, less mobile, babies' personal space.

It's a small class, with 7 mothers and their babies, and the teacher is a really sweet girl who has made it lots of fun for us. She starts off each class by asking us different things to share with the others. One week we told our birth stories, something which still fascinates me and brings goosebumps to my arms...I just love hearing about how a baby comes into the world, and even for stories which aren't the "ideal start", it's obvious that although it's very very important to how a new mother can feel about herself, her baby, and the early days of motherhood, the most important thing is getting the baby here, whether after 3 or 33 hours of labor, delivered at home or in a hospital, with or without drugs.

The next week she asked us to share what we thought were the best and worst things about being a mother. She asked us not to include sleep deprivation for the worst thing, although I was later chatting with a mum-of-two at our church playgroup and I think we decided the lack of sleep might indeed be the worst thing! My thoughts on worst were the feelings of no longer having any control whatsoever over how the day might go, and feeling as if I didn't really accomplish anything at the end of the day; second-guessing lots of decisions such as childcare; the best way to discipline; and (with a first baby) that feeling of trying to live up to the huge expectations I had about how wonderful every moment of having a new baby was going to be, and it being a lot more difficult, tiring and different than I'd ever imagined it could be. I think the best thing is just remembering that every single person was once a baby, and that I get to help shape a person's life and observe all the amazing milestones he achieves. This past week we had to tell how we chose our babies' names, and also share what the name meant, and I had to laugh at some of the meanings of Noah are "rest" (which he gives me little of these days), and "wanderer" - which definitely is a fitting description for him currently. Noah seems completely at ease with the other mothers (even if he's not paying attention to the massage); during the breaks he'll crawl into someone else's lap and then look around triumphantly as if he's just climbed Mt Everest.

Tomorrow is our last day of the class, and I'm looking forward to seeing what she asks us to talk about to the group. Even if I still don't know the difference between the Swedish and Indian milking strokes, it has been a good activity for us.

On the 1st day of Christmas...

The Christmas season is definitely upon us, so I thought I'd try to insert a festive theme into my posts. I only thought of this on the 8th of December, but for consistency, I'll start with the first of the month. I can't actually remember much of what happened over two weeks ago, but I'll try.

On the 1st we were still in the midst of all the snow, and that snowed-in feeling carried on into the weekend. Unfortunately all the cold weather and the chaos it brought to roads, trains, grocery deliveries, etc meant that we had to postpone our friends' Christmas lunch scheduled for Sunday the 5th at (the very brave) Simon and Na's house. Hopefully we'll get to do it in January...

And on Saturday night, the 4th, we started night 1 of controlled crying with Noah. I think I was up for about an hour and a half that night, from 1:45-3:15. But I kept telling myself that he would get it quickly, and that's what kept me going! It wasn't quite the silent night I'd hoped for, but it was only day one, after all...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Progress report

The problem with being a night owl is that the world expects you to wake up the next morning with all the other people who go to bed at a decent hour. I was feeling verrrrry tired this morning when Blake came in to drag the duvet off me. The title of this post is perhaps slightly inaccurate, as it didn't really seem as if there was much progress to Noah's night. He woke up for less total time, but more often, so I felt as if I was in some comedy show where just when my head hit the pillow and I'd drifted back to sleep, he would then be crying again and up I'd go to his room. I didn't feed him, however, so I guess I just have to hope that he'll soon "get it" and decide it's not worth waking up for. Please, let that happen soon!

Here are some of the photos from the recent snow. There are still patches of ice on the ground but for the most part everything has melted. I really loved the snow but when it does melt, you do realize how much easier things are when you don't have to navigate around it! With that, I'm off to bed...morning will come much sooner than I'd like!


Quotes of the week

Blake has really cracked me up with his turns of phrase this week. Noah has started to do a lot more babbling, of the "ba ba" and "da da" variety. The three of us were playing in Blake's room on Thursday and I said, "Noah, say 'mama'" to which Blake offered up, "Mom, Noah can't say 'mama' because he only speaks French." Hilarious. Later I tried to tell him that the French word would be similar but he wasn't having it.

Then on Friday morning Blake came up to get Noah and me out of bed, by saying, "Come on, girls, let's go downstairs." I had to laugh and go with him. Poor Noah, our sweet little "brothersister" and now a girl! Good thing he's all boy and a total bruiser...

The time has come

On Wednesday, I had Noah weighed at the local baby clinic, and was pleased to see that he's continuing to creep upward on the weight front. I had a quick chat with the health visitor about whether or not I should be thinking about letting him learn to "self-settle" (i.e. not feed him back to sleep in the night), and she thought it was probably worth doing. I think it was all the tiny reassurance I needed, so last night I decided that after a bedtime bottle, and then a nighttime (10:30 pm) bottle, he was probably full enough to get through the night. At 1:45 am, I heard him cry out, and when he cries, it's in stereo. He seems a lot louder than Blake ever did, but maybe it's just that the acoustics are different in this house compared to our flat. I don't think it's that, really, I just think Noah is a lot louder when he screams!
Anyway, at 1:45 he was screaming quite loudly, but this time at least I decided that there was no reason for me not to believe that controlled crying wasn't going to work. If Blake woke up, well, fine, we'd get him back to sleep too. I know from our chats that the next-door neighbor's 20-month-old is not a great sleeper, so if Noah woke them up too, well, so be it. And I just kept telling myself that if it worked, it would hopefully work within a couple of nights, and then, oh how it would be worth it.
I had to keep telling myself that for the next hour and a half, but eventually Noah did go back to sleep without my feeding him. It was tiring though! At first I was stroking his head and then I got a bit achy leaning over his cot, so I decided just to lie beside his cot. That was no good, however, as he definitely wanted to get closer to me and instead he ended up smashing his face against the bars of the cot. That was quite heart-breaking so I sucked it up and went back to leaning over the cot. At some point I thought he was asleep so I went back to bed, but he was crying within 10 minutes or so, so back into his room I went. At 3:15 he was finally asleep, and stayed that way until 6-something when I did feed him. I felt it was a pretty good result, but can only hope for better each night. As I was sitting on our bed at some point around the 2:45 am mark, I marvelled at what a crazy and painful process it is to get a baby to sleep through. I thought about all the books I'd read previously, all the tips you get from people, all the people you can employ to help you figure it out (once again, I'll just say that Lin's work with Blake was priceless, although I do now feel a lot stronger to try things out for myself with Noah), all the self-doubting you can do, and I just was bewildered to think about how many people were probably out there in the night, awake, feeding a child, wishing they could go back to sleep themselves, or wondering if there wasn't a better way to just have the little one go back to dreamy land without any tears. Of course I wish it was easier, but I'm just hoping that it's quick!

I'm up late tonight, having finally looked at my To Do list (of mainly correspondence...if you've sent a gift in the past 8 months and not received a thank you note - I'm working on it!) and realized that none of it was going to write itself. It's taken me the better part of the evening but I've made some progress, and I was still awake to go in and deal with Noah's 1:30 wake. I gave him his dummy (not getting rid of that yet, although I think he actually started sucking his thumb instead), and he rolled over and went back to sleep, although I'm not going to fool myself that that might be it for the night. For some reason Blake decided at the very same time that he was going to head into our bed, but Matt steered him back to his room and I think that for the moment, everyone is in the bed he should be in, and is asleep. I'm going to go join them now, and oh, how I hope to report good progress in a future post...

December, by Blake Lyons

December is a funny month. First of all, it snows in December, which is not like all the other months. I like the snow, it's white, and I don't think it's that cold. Mommy got a bit angry with all these people who kept asking her if Noah and I were warm enough when we were out in the buggy. I don't like to wear my gloves or hat but everyone seems to think I should. Mommy made snow ice cream for me on Thursday. I love ice cream!
The other thing which is happening which is not right is that Mommy and Daddy have started talking funny. It's like they are saying words but then all of a sudden I can't understand them. Here's an example: Mommy will say to Daddy, "We need to look at what we can get B from Ess ay enn tee ay." And he'll say, "Ok, I got him that pee you zed zed ell ee if you think he'll like that." I then have to say to them, "Daddy, what you talking like that for?" Strange.
All the while, they keep telling me that I'd better be good because if I'm not Santa won't come see me. Who is Santa anyway? I have never really heard them talk about him much before, so what's the fuss right now? I wonder if Santa is my friend Charlie; he came to play today.
We saw strange horses yesterday, or at least they looked a little like horses apart from they had big horns coming out of their heads. I have never seen them in any other month apart from December.
Mommy is sometimes nice and sometimes not. She says she's tired and when I ask, Why, she tells me that she isn't getting enough sleep. Why? Because Noah is waking up in the night. Why? I don't know, because he's a baby. Why? Because he's little, not like you, you're big. Why? Because you're bigger than he is. Why? Because you were born before him. Why? And then that's the end of that because she sighs and tells me to do something else. So then I ask to watch Chuggington and she sighs again and says no because she doesn't let me watch as much tv as I used to. I love tv. I also love Buzz Lightyear, and I am going to get a Buzz Lightyear from Santa.
In a few weeks, I have to say something at nursery when they ask me if my friend Ralphie can have a room to stay in. I am supposed to say, "I can give you my stable," but most of the time I just say, "Yes." When we were at my cousin Maya's birthday party a few weeks ago, someone gave me a plate of food and my Mommy said, "What do you say, Blake?" and I said, "I can give you my stable." That made them all laugh, because she just wanted me to say "Thank you."
But the one thing I do like about December is all the singing. I like especially to sing, "We wish you a merry Christmas!" And the CBeebies Winter song, I love that one too.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Winter, winter, here we come!

In my mind, up until the beginning of this week, I still thought of it as being some time around the middle of October. I just don't feel as if I remember November coming and going, and a large contributor to my Seasonal Confusion Disorder is the disaster of my wardrobe. Somewhere in our house, I must have some winter clothes, but goodness knows where they are, or when I'm going to manage to find time to go retrieve them if they're in the loft as I suspect. Whether they'll even fit me is a completely different matter...

As the mother of a British toddler, I am aware of the change of seasons not just by being aware of what's happening outside with the weather, but by a very specific event that happens on the BBC's children's tv channel, CBeebies. I'll call it the "season song", and it's basically a kind of 2-minute song and dance type thing done by the presenters of the shows which describes all the joys of the particular season we're in, and is used as a "filler" between specific programs throughout the day. In the year or so since Blake has really watched CBeebies, the appearance of the new "season song" is a much-analysed, briefly-enjoyed event in our household. Is the tune any good? What about the words and the dancing, are they totally cheesy? Most importantly, what am I going to think of this after I hear it for the dozenth time? I remember when we moved into this house nearly a year ago that last year's Winter song was extremely irritating, and that we heard and watched it a lot over the cold months in the new house. Matt also likes to add some professional intrigue to the mix - if they didn't include a certain presenter or presenters in the season song, does that mean they're on their way out or soon to get the boot? (Matt gets bored of the same presenters, whereas I think it could be traumatic for the kids if certain ones were to disappear).

I think it was on Monday that I happened to see, as I was about to turn the tv off for the morning, the new Winter Song, and I thought it was pretty catchy. Interestingly enough, it features only 3 of the roughly half a dozen normal presenters - and not Cerrie, the main female, whose arm happens to be amputated just below the elbow, which I only noticed after about 6 months of watching. Incidentally I noticed this finally during last year's Winter song, when they had to do some dance move which involved raising their arms above their heads. There was evidently a lot of discussion on various forums when she first came on about whether the kids would be scared of her disability, but I've decided I loathe forums anyway so enough about that.

This morning at breakfast I started singing the new song (sample lyric: "Winter, winter, let's all cheer, it's cold outside but it's warm in here") and then went back as well to belt out the tune from the recent autumn one (sample lyric: "Picking and storing, while summer is snoring, autum has coooooooooome....). I then realized that we could find it online with the lyrics and Blake really got into it. He also knows how to click the mouse (soon enough infants will come out of the womb knowing how to do this, I'm sure) to watch things again, so he pretty much knew a lot of the winter song by the end of the day.

As for the real winter, it came in full force on Tuesday morning. When I went to tend to a crying Noah at 4:00 in the morning, I looked out to see flakes in the light of the streetlight and a white dusting on the cars. By the time that normal people were awake, it was still going, and continued really right through until we went to bed on Tuesday night. Without having to commute, I could just enjoy it and appreciate the beauty and the peacefulness that freshly-fallen snow brings. We enjoyed looking out the window at it ("Look at the snow snowing!" Blake said). His pre-school went out and played in the garden, and then he threw these sweet little snowballs at me on our walk home. When we turned on to our road, the lady in the corner house was throwing some grit on to the road and Blake questioned, "Why is she making brown snow?" Too funny. I had accidentally let it slip that we were supposed to make a visit to Bishy today, so all last night he kept asking, "When is the wind gonna come blow the snow away so that we can go to Bishy's house?" In the end this morning it just felt too risky to go out on the roads, so he was pretty upset at not getting to go. I tried to make it up to him by making hot chocolate in the afternoon.

Using the 2 out of 3 rule, I can only conclude that it is well and truly winter. CBeebies says it's so, Mother Nature has painted the world white, so it must indeed be that my clothes are a few months behind the times. And since I've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! Just let me figure out where my warmer clothes are first...

All bundled up, Blake having contributed objects for Noah to take along with him (toy money and lion)
This was the view on Wednesday morning...

Glad he can see the funny side of this weather

It is freezing here! It's been snowing since at least 4:00 am today (oh, the things one can discover in the middle of the night!), and I actually cannot remember a time today when it wasn't snowing. It's crazy!
Granny Karla thought Noah didn't look too happy in any of the last photos I posted, and she's right, so here is some footage of him finding the funny side of Mommy's inane babbling.

More snow reportage to come tomorrow...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Speaking of...

One of the more interesting aspects of our lives these days is the funny things that Blake comes up with to say. I love hearing not only what's happening in his imagination ("Mommy, run, that crocodile's about to eat you!"), but also how he tries to understand simple things that we as adults take for granted, and the subsequent grammatical attempts to ask the question: "Mommy, what's that?" "It's a garlic press." "What means, garlic press?" "Well, it's for pressing garlic." "Oh." Or tonight's, "What means, full of beans?"

On Saturday night I had a rare night out for Nina's Hen Do, and there were instructions beforehand that we were to all wear "special frocks." This was perhaps a good email to send, because it meant I had to start thinking about what to wear sometime before when I was actually getting ready to go, or else I might have ended up in some trendy club in carrot- and porridge-encrusted jeans with worn knees from too much time spent crawling around after Noah or playing dinosaurs with Blake. I managed to find something at a local shop which I thought fit the bill, and was pleased to hear when I came downstairs; "Mom, you look pretty!" It did make me smile. I was very good and restrained on the Do, though, and only had about 4 drinks over the course of 5 hours (one being a tequila shot about half an hour before I made an early exit, knowing that I wasn't even going to get an unbroken night's sleep!). Although the place we went was very busy, very trendy and very very loud (I felt SO old), it was fun to get out and not be a mother for the evening.

This morning as I was in the kitchen making toast, Blake came in and reported that "it's very tiring being a boy." Try being a middle-aged woman, son! After I picked him up at nursery later in the day, we were standing in the hallway zipping up his coat (it's absolutely frigid here at the moment). There were two Dads there as well bundling up their little ones, and Blake chose that moment to remind me that "you looked pretty in that dress". I am sure I blushed, as I most definitely did have some food encrusted on my jeans and my top was covered with massage oil from a Baby Massage class I'd done with Noah that afternoon (he is probably a little too mobile for this, so I spent much of the class trying to keep him from crawling off, and the oil just got all over me). I think it would have been quite hard to imagine me either in a dress or looking pretty. One of the Dads said to his son, "When you learn to talk, you'll have to remember that to say to your Mummy." This evening I heard that it was "very tiring being a super-hero". If only his super-hero trick could be to toilet-train himself, then we'd be in business!

Blake doesn't just voice his own ideas, of course; he has also apparently recently been employed as Noah's official spokesman ("Noah says he's not hungry." "Noah says he wants to go in the buggy.") Yet again I'm amazed that Blake can hear these things but not things which are much more obvious such as "Don't step on your brother!"

As for poor Noah, he for some reason is still referred to by Blake, about 50% of the time, as his "brothersister". I'm sure Blake knows he should just stop at "brother", but I think the "sister" just comes rolling off his tongue too quickly for him to catch it. I'm going to try to be better about writing some of these funny phrases here, but for now, I'd better run - a crocodile's after me!

Friday, November 26, 2010

My vague sense of history

Ok, so I'm not that good about historical dates, and I guess in the back of mind in my Thanksgiving post about Noah with his breadstick, I was thinking about Churchill and his cigars...but he is probably not classed as a '20's politician!
Here is the image that made me think of it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving, part 2

It's hard to believe, but my second Thanksgiving post is also going to be about breasts! On to that later.

I am not really a fan of "self-help" books, but Matt is often buying a manual that will give him good advice about something or another - running, or career-finding, or home-renovating, etc. I decided last night that I should really be dedicating my time to writing a book about how to over-commit oneself silly, and be constantly exhausted as a result.

It's very early in his life for me to be doing this (I thought, at 1:00 am this morning), but I had volunteered to go into Blake's pre-school and do a "bit" about Thanksgiving. On Monday of this week - or was it even Tuesday - I suddenly decided that I needed a book to support my story-telling efforts, so out I went to seek the book, something with pictures, that told a simple story about how and why it is that Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November.

I started at my local bookshop, Dulwich Books, and my opening line to the man there was, "I almost hope you'll say you don't have anything." But I asked anyway about whether or not they had any children's books about American Thankgiving. The guy was super helpful, but every search he did kept giving him no stock in terms of being able to order me something to arrive the next day. His theory was that all the big retailers would have bought the available stock, leaving nothing to the small guys. Another call to Village Books in Dulwich confirmed this - they didn't have anything either.

Now, believe me, on the one hand, this is great news. After seeing how big Halloween has gotten here (and if you are prone to consider it an American import, despite its religious background), I thought to myself that really there is no reason for many Brits to even be aware that a special day is happening in the US, so the news that every bookshop isn't promoting "American Thanksgiving" means that hopefully it can preserve its special status as an American holiday, even in an expat-laden area such as London. On the other hand, this was making my book search difficult! In the end, I gave my first thanks to Amazon's expedited delivery service, which delivered a story book to my door yesterday afternoon, and at least I could relax that if all else failed I could just read the story.

I then stayed up late last night "prepping" for the event - how much detail would I go into about why the original Pilgrims left England in the first place (answer - none)? What sort of counting games could I throw in to make the story-telling fun? That sort of thing. Before I knew it, it was 1:00 am and I was only finishing up some pumpkin cookies. In the meantime Noah had not stirred at his normal 10:30/11:00 pm wake-up time, so that was unusual.

This morning Blake and Noah and I headed into pre-school, which was exciting because Thursday is not one of Blake's normal days in attendance there. The class was all assembled on a rug waiting for me (picture me, panting, 5 minutes late, going, "Oh, hello children!"). I was unshowered because our boiler had stopped working sometime in the morning, and the ice-cold shower was too unbearable to contemplate. I had actually turned a gas lever off as I was rummaging around in the under-stairs cupboard, so fortunately later this afternoon hot water and heat were restored.

My story-telling left a little to be desired, but we then made turkey handprint pictures which was fun.

Back at home, Blake watched a bit of Cars while I made his lunch. Afterwards, he announced that he was going upstairs for a nap, so I waited in the kitchen to hear what I thought would be his next words: "Mom, I've done a poo." He has definitely decided to go away for privacy when he needs to do his business. I was busy in the kitchen, cleaning up some dishes and "getting ready" to start cooking the Thanksgiving dinner. It was much much much to my surprise, when half an hour later, I went upstairs to find Blake sleeping in our bed. Very Goldilocks of him. So I thought, fabulous, I'll just start working on the cooking.

One of the huge challenges of serving a true Thanksgiving meal is the timing - getting everything to the table together, hot and on time. I decided at about 3:00 pm today that given the way we live, we can't do this on a normal night, let alone a night where there is a special meal on the menu. So I just decided to seize the moment and get done what I could. By this point I think I'd managed to get Noah asleep too - minor miracle to have them both sleeping at the same time!

I did a quick search for what dishes might work for preparing in advance, and read something about being able to cook mashed potatoes and then keep them warm in the slow cooker. Sounded good to me, and we do a have a slow-cooker! So I started on those, prepared the stuffing, made some glazed carrots, got the turkey ready (decided to forego a trip to the store for dried herbs to smear on to it; butter, salt and pepper would have to do for seasoning). I was feeling AWESOME! At that point I decided to work on heating the mashed potatoes, so I went on to the stepladder to get the slow cooker down. In slow motion, then, I happened to watch as the lid fell off and smashed into about 1000 pieces. Sh*t! That's not good. I then heard the padding of feet; perfect timing! I cleaned it all up as quickly as I good, sweeping, vacuuming, doing it again. At this point Noah woke and was screaming his head off in his cot, but I had to clean up all the smashed slow-cooker lid in case Blake wandered into the kitchen and got something in his feet. Unintentional controlled crying, I guess! At this point I was feeling REALLY NOT AWESOME! It had all been going so well...

With both boys awake, I only had still to put the turkey in, and in the world of turkeys, this one would be a waitress at Hooters! I had been at Costco last Friday and happened to see turkey breasts for roasting, and hey, that seemed like a good idea and easier than preparing a whole turkey! The only thing was that the one I got was absolutely enormous - but it was the smallest one there. It's funny how I only really think anatomically about the turkey as I'm preparing it - never when I'm buying it. And what I mean by that is as I was patting this piece of meat dry, rubbing it with butter, and figuring out where to put the meat thermometer into its thickest part, I was thinking, this is a turkey's breast! And my word, it's big!

Matt was home around 6:15, and we actually sat down for dinner at about 6:45 or 7:00 -incredible by my standards. I had allowed myself a much-earlier-than-usual glass of wine at 5:00 so I was feeling great, and so pleased that the minor mishaps of the day were not worse.

As for thanks, we gave lots before we started eating: for our wonderful family and friends, for our home, and food to eat. Blake got pretty into that and would respond with his clearly-enunciated "Yes!" as we would say, "Are we thankful for x and y?" "Yes!"

It's such a crazy holiday in a way - so much stress to produce this huge and elaborate meal; only celebrated in this way, on this day, by people who have some connection to this one place in the world; and it could be very easy to forget what it's really all about. But then, when I see these three handsome faces around the table with me, it's all very clear. We are so lucky and so thankful for all that we have. Even if we do need a new slow-cooker lid.

He has the look of a 1920's politician smoking a cigar...

Ignore the burned oven glove serving as a trivet in the foreground...


Thanksgiving, part 1

This was forwarded to me in an email and I thought it was funny enough to post, although I have some reservations about doing so. Life's short though; I wonder if Hooters has any Thanksgiving specials...?!

HAPPY is a recipe I thought you would like for the holidays
1 whole turkey
1 large lemon, cut into halves
salt and pepper to taste
butter or olive oil, whichever you prefer

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Rub butter or oil over the skin of the turkey until it is completely coated.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and any other seasonings you prefer.

Take a knife and gently separate the skin from the breast meat;
Slide lemon halves under the skin with the peel side up, one on
each side. This way the juice from the lemon will release into the breasts.

Cover and bake for 30-45 minutes. Remove cover and continue to roast until juices run clear, basting every 15-20 minutes.

If you've followed these steps correctly, your turkey should look like the one in the picture.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Shopping with the wee ones

I just read a post by one of my Hickory friends Sabrina over at her blog, Aga Toast, and chuckled and smiled to myself the whole way through. It's so true what she says, although I feel as if her son Wolfi is a lot more well-behaved - or at least better-restrained - than Blake. I have been meaning to post this picture for a while now, but it was from one of our trips to our local supermarket Sainsburys, and we spent a good 20 minutes in the paper towel aisle as Blake experimented with enclosing himself in rolls of the stuff in the shelves.

"Bye!" I would occasionally shout. "Noah and I are going now. See you later!" and then I'd saunter off to hide behind a column in the aisle and peek from behind it to see what he would do. Would he worry I'd left? Panic if he didn't see us anymore? Cry out in anguish that he could no longer lay eyes on his beloved mother and brother? The hell he would...I must have used that trick too many times! What he would do was scamper over across the aisle to add toilet tissue to the paper towel fort, and then scamper back again to knock down several bottles of toilet cleaner so that he'd not only caused me to waste 20 minutes of my life trying to move us along to the checkout, but had now added several more minutes of work as I tried to restore order to the shelves...he surely wasn't going to pick this stuff up and put it back right when he'd decided he'd had enough of this pretend castle. It was, indeed, an exhausting trip to the store.

Which is why, after years of just not getting with it, we have tomorrow our first-ever grocery order coming to our house, courtesy of Ocado, Waitrose's online delivery branch. This is big for us, and I hope it goes well. I had once or twice in the past thought of getting groceries delivered, but it seemed tedious to do the browsing for the items online, and it seemed expensive to pay the delivery charge. Now that I know exactly how precious our time is, the 99p delivery charge (off-peak, but this will at least mean the kids should be asleep so that we can unpack it all in peace) seems a bargain. After all, the Bob the Builder ride at Sainsburys costs 50p, and the cost of the medication to kill the headache I end up with at the end of a trip to the store is surely around 49p or more, so overall, perhaps we are saving money by doing it this way! I am excited about it.

This afternoon I - against my better judgment - took the boys to an arts and crafts store to pick up a few things, as arts and crafts are our new best friend (more on that later). As we walked through the door, Blake seemed interested in what I was looking for, sticking close to me and questioning what various items were (snap, Sabrina!). I would then love to have a digital MRI picture of what happens in his brain when, about 5 minutes later, he makes the connection that a shop, with its maze-like aisles, is the perfect place for him to wreak havoc and make my blood pressure rise. The first thing he did was find the section of dried fake flowers and pulled some fake roses out from their display cans. Next up that caught his eye was a spool of turquoise thread, which he found as he sat on the bottom of a shelf (a la the grocery store), and he topped it off by "riding" on a roll of white crepe paper which he said was "his broom". I had Noah in the Baby Bjorn, and for the first time ever, Blake's running up and down the aisles in an attempt to escape my chasing was made even worse by the fact that Noah then started shrieking with glee every time we did see Blake - as if it was in fact an intentional game of hide-and-seek that I was participating in! I kept telling myself to stay calm, and for the most part I actually just made sure I knew where Blake was and let him do his thing. Fortunately we had nowhere to be and I just guessed (and prayed) that he would get bored eventually.
And this where it gets good to be able to outsmart them, as I finally said to him that we could take his 3 chosen items to the checkout counter. He agreed to this, and as we walked up to the counter I lay the rose, the crepe paper and the thread on the counter and very quietly said to the 2 women working at the register that we "won't be taking these items, thank you" with a meaningful glance at Blake, whom I'd managed to seat on the counter. The two women at the counter were of drastically differing ages, and the younger one didn't seem to understand what I'd meant, but the other one, who was older and probably a mother if not a grandmother herself, got my drift instantly. We then had Blake help hand them the items that we did want to buy and we managed to leave the store with my sanity intact.

I have always felt that shopping was not for the faint-of-heart, but doing it with kids in tow does indeed add a whole new - generally unpleasant - dimension. Let's hope that we like our online grocery delivery. I wonder if they deliver arts and crafts?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Today was a beautiful day

Crisp air, beautiful blue skies and glorious late-afternoon light. I didn't get to capture as much as I should have but Noah and I took a walk with some friends down to Brockwell Park and I took these shots.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dartmouth Undying

This was going to be a post about how bleak the start of winter can sometimes feel, but I'm going to try to put a positive spin on it as best I can and make a link to Dartmouth, that beloved college of mine.

Two weeks ago I was getting Noah undressed on a changing table at the local baby clinic in order to get him weighed; next to me was a blonde woman was about to do the same with her little girl, who looked to be a couple of months younger than Noah. After a brief conversation about North American accents, the woman mentioned that she had a friend nearby who grew up in Hanover, New Hampshire, where she had gone to college, and lo and behold, I was speaking to a Dartmouth '95! It was quite a random connection to make just off the busy Norwood Road in SE London. Turns out she's also married to an Englishman and has a 2-year-old son as well as a 3-month-old daughter, so we arranged to visit them this week. It was fun to see the boys play together and think that years ago, in a land far away, their mommies spent one year together on campus without knowing each other!

On Friday I woke up to my usual selection of emails - mostly junk - and clicked on a link to an article from the eDartmouth that began "beloved art history prof passes". Although I could never be considered the most studious art history student, I did end up with a minor in the subject and thought I might know the professor. In all honesty, I expected it to be about an older, probably male professor, possibly a professor emeritus or someone who'd taught there even before my time. I was deeply saddened to see that instead, it was a vivacious and beautiful female professor, one I'd had in her first year, and my last year, at the College, who had passed away, evidently to cancer. I spent most of the day - which happened also to be very grey and bleak here in London - feeling incredibly saddened by this news. I felt sorry that I had not been a better student under her tutelage, as one of my poorest academic shows in my 4 years at Dartmouth involved this professor.

It was either fall or winter term of our last year, and at the beginning of the exam of the survey course she taught, she announced that for extra credit, we could list names of the artists we'd studied over the term...there were probably in excess of 300 names or so who were mentioned or studied in depth during the course. I had probably pulled one of my infamous all-nighters in preparing for the exam, and in a sleep-deprived fog I failed to remember this challenge as I wrapped up the last question. In the hallway afterwards, I met Beth (and one other of my 3 Dorrance roomies - Amy, was it you?), and realized only then that I had failed to do the extra credit! I ran back into the room, where the kind and generous professor was turning off the slide projector and packing up. I explained that I'd forgotten to do the extra credit. "All right," she said, "just tell me some names then." My mind started whirring to process the request, and I came up with...nothing. Not one name. Completely mortified, I just stood there in the hallway, unspeaking, until she said that I could accompany her to her office where it would be easier to perhaps write them down. In her office, I was able to come up with, maybe 2 names, before we agreed that the moment of the exam, the stress, the adrenaline, were gone, and that it was likely a lost cause. I felt utterly useless as a student, and remember having a fairly major meltdown later that day at the missed and wasted opportunity.

On Friday, I relived those moments as I remembered her and felt guilty once again that I had not been able to do better when she showed me generosity and kindness at extending the chance for the extra credit even when she could have just said, sorry, the exam is over (in fact, I think she may have initially said that, but I convinced her to let me try, and then failed miserably, which probably enhanced my humiliation). I shed some tears as I thought of the husband she leaves, also an art history professor at the College. I went and had a nap with Noah, and cried myself to sleep as I replayed the words from the article that she was survived by her parents; how unfair and cruel life is for any parent to have a child precede them in death. Later in the day I wondered to myself whether I had tried to explain myself to her in writing about the poor exam show - an apology of sorts that it wasn't down to her teaching - and I hoped that I had. I can't be sure though. I hoped for her sake that she had many more good students than unremarkable ones, as she was, by all accounts, a remarkable art historian and person. Mainly, I was just saddened at the way in which life can take even those who seem deserving of more time.

And so it was that a very sad death has led me to hum the words of one of my father's favorite songs about Dartmouth, not the Alma Mater, but a lesser-known one: Dartmouth Undying, whose lyrics are here:
Dartmouth, there is no music for our singing
No words to bear the burden of our praise
Yet how can we be silent and remember
The splendor and fullness of her days
Who can forget her soft September sunsets
Who can forget those hours that passed like dreams?
The long cool shadows floating on the campus
The drifting beauty where the twilight streams?
Who can forget her sharp and misty mornings,
The clanging bells, the crunch of feet on snow,
Her sparkling noons, the crowding into Commons,
The long white afternoons, the twilight glow?
See! By the light of many thousand sunsets,
Dartmouth Undying, like a vision starts.
Dartmouth, the gleaming, dreaming walls of Dartmouth,
Miraculously builded in our hearts.
—Franklin McDuffee ’21

Upon further reflection, maybe it's the way in which this song actually seems to paint a picture of the College campus that has led me to think of it - perhaps a connection to art? I actually think it's just that it has a sad tune, or that it highlights the passage of time that all of those who spend time at Dartmouth - students, staff or faculty - will encounter. But how lucky we are to have known life there, and to know that the beauty of the place will hopefully live on, even after we depart.
Here is a rendition by the Aires for those who don't know the song: